This post on Nehemiah is based on the sermon my pastor Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois, preached on October 27, 2019. The title of his sermon was “Nehemiah: Vision.” This post is part of the series of posts on Nehemiah. When the sermon was preached, I was out of the state and unable to write the post. The late publication of this post is intended to complete the series of studies on Nehemiah.
I want to thank Jeff for allowing me to work with him on this series on Nehemiah. Jeff is a pastor who loves to preach sermons from both the Old and New Testaments. His series of sermons from the Old Testament include sermons on Jonah, on Hezekiah, on The Ark of the Covenant, on Gideon, and on others topics. The sermons on Gideon can be found here.
When Nehemiah’s brothers Hanani came to Susa, the capital of the Persian empire, with the news that the people living in Jerusalem were in great trouble and shame and that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down (Nehemiah 1:3), Nehemiah began to develop a plan on how to help the people and restore the wall of Jerusalem. When he approached King Artaxerxes and asked permission to return to Jerusalem, Nehemiah had a vision of what could be accomplished with the help of the people who lived in the city, “what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem” (Nehemiah 2:12).
Vision is the act or the power of imagination. Vision is not the capacity to see with one’s eyes what is already, but the ability to imagine what it could be. Visionaries have the unusual power of discernment to see the possibilities and of making that vision become a reality. Everything that has been accomplished began with a vision.
Nehemiah was a visionary. He was stirred by faith and by his trust in God to be a part of being God’s instrument to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. His vision stirred him to action. But he needed help to make his vision become a reality. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to cast his vision and challenge the people of Jerusalem to be involved, to motivate them to accomplish something important, to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that the people “may no longer suffer disgrace” (Nehemiah 2:17).
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he waited three days before going to inspect the broken wall (Nehemiah 2:11). Nehemiah spent these three days resting from his long journey. He probably also took some time to visit members of his family who lived outside of the city in order to obtain more information about the conditions of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah took a few men with him and went out during the night to see with his own eyes the broken wall and evaluate what needed to be done. During the inspection of the wall, Nehemiah rode a mule while the men with him were on foot since Nehemiah said that there were no other animals with him except for the one on which he rode (Nehemiah 2:12).
The inspection was done at night, in secrecy, because Nehemiah knew that the local leaders would oppose the rebuilding of the wall as they had done before (Ezra 4:4-5). The few men who accompanied Nehemiah were probably members of his family who knew what Nehemiah was planning to do. However, it was important to be secretive about what he was planning to do until he could evaluate the problem and determine the best way to accomplish the work of rebuilding the wall.
Casting the Vision
After inspecting the wall, Nehemiah returned home without telling anyone of his plan: “The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest that were to do the work” (Nehemiah 2:16). But Nehemiah needed help. He had a vision given to him by God, but in order to make his vision a reality, he needed to inspire others, he needed a well-informed plan that would motivate the people to action.
So, that night Nehemiah formulated a plan of action and in the morning he called the people to share with them his vision. When the people came to see Nehemiah, he said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace” (Nehemiah 2:17). The words of Nehemiah reflect the condition in which the people were living. The people were walking in ruins, living in shame and this conditions brought reproach to God.
Nehemiah emphasized that the wall of Jerusalem needed to be rebuilt so that “we may no longer suffer disgrace” (Nehemiah 2:17). The Hebrew word translated “disgrace” is ḥerpāh, a word that carries the idea of casting blame or scorn upon someone. By using such a strong word, Nehemiah was telling the leaders of Jerusalem that the trouble and shame the people were facing and the broken wall of Jerusalem brought dishonor and shame to God.
The People’s Commitment
Nehemiah had a vision on how to rebuild the broken wall of Jerusalem and its gates which had been destroyed by fire. Nehemiah formulated his plan of action, he gathered the people, and he share with them what God had put into his heart to do for Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:12).
Nehemiah emphasized to the leaders of the people the importance of rebuilding the wall of the city. The people were living in shame and disgrace. A people in disgrace was a disgrace to the people of God. The new wall would be built for the glory of God. After the wall was rebuilt, the glory of Jerusalem would be restored and the people of God would no longer live in disgrace, embarrassed by the ruins of the city and by the disgrace of the nation.
Nehemiah told the people that God had blessed this project. He told them how the hand of God had been gracious upon him. He also told them the words that the king had spoken to him and how the king allowed him to return to Jerusalem and had provided all the things he needed. The king had given him more than he had asked for.
When the people heard what God had done through Nehemiah and when they realized that he was acting under divine influence, they responded with a united voice, “Let us rise up and build” (Nehemiah 2:18 RSV).
The unanimous response of the people reveals the skill Nehemiah used in casting his vision and persuading the people to commit themselves to the work of rebuilding the wall: “So they encouraged one another to begin this God-pleasing work” (Nehemiah 2:18 GWN).
The words of the people, “Let us rise up and build,” indicate that the people recognized that Nehemiah had a good plan and that the project had the approval of God. Nehemiah had asked God to give him a vision of what the new city could be. Nehemiah had evidence that his vision was inspired by God because he knew that the hand of God was on him (Nehemiah 2:18). When Nehemiah shared his vision with the people, they realized that they could no longer live in shame. The people’s eager response and their commitment to begin rebuilding right away showed that they recognized Nehemiah’s zeal to rebuild the wall was motivated by God.
Nehemiah was a visionary and a man who knew how to motivate people. He had a vision and he knew what needed to be done. He was a man of faith and a man of action. The people had lived many years in squalor because of their poverty and because of their neglect. After the disaster that befell Jerusalem in 587 B.C., the city of Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians, the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates were destroyed by fire, and the people were living in shame and disgrace.
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, the city was practically empty, the buildings, the wall, and the gates of the city were in general disrepair. Nehemiah came with a strong vision for the future of the people of God. Nehemiah’s vision for Jerusalem united the people and his words had a deep impact in their lives and in their hearts. With one voice the people made a commitment to do the work of rebuilding the wall by saying with a unanimous voice: “Let us rise up and build.”
The video below is the sermon Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois, preached on October 27, 2019. The title of his sermon was “Nehemiah: Vision.” The text for the sermon was Nehemiah 2:11-18. The above post is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Jeff finished his sermon by mentioning the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King which was delivered during the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. In his speech Martin Luther King used descriptive language to describe the glorious future when people would live together as brothers.
Jeff said that Martin Luther King’s dream was “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.” His vision moved a nation to action; his vision moved many people to action. Nehemiah was a visionary leader who was inspired by God to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. He was a charismatic leader who inspired a troubled community to rise up and work during a perilous time, to work together for the glory of God.
Sermon: “Nehemiah: Vision” by Jeff Griffin
Studies on Nehemiah
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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