An Exposition of Nehemiah 7:4-73
What were these Jews thinking in Nehemiah 7:4-5? Hadn’t God just worked through them to complete this wall?They look at it and begin to draw back from the next necessary step of populating God’s city. This rebuilt Jerusalem certainly was not as great as other contemporary cities, nor did it reach its former splendor; however it was a city that was great and wide. The Hebrew terminology here refers to an object that was too big to grasp with two hands in order to possess it. The Jews were not calling this city the greatest city in the world nor the largest. They were saying that this city was more than they could handle. In their eyes God’s help most certainly was missing. When we look at this passage we cannot blame the Jews of Nehemiah’s day too much. We like them look at the wonderful things God has accomplished for us and in spite of seeing his power we become frightened at our new responsibilities and return to our former ways of living.
- Personally, if we see how Christ has redeemed us and transformed us into the very image of holiness before the Father; it may be easy for us to see the rigors and demands of living out the holiness that is ours and turn instead to the ease of gratifying our former sinful lusts.
- Congregationally, if we recognize that Christ in saving us has fitted us together for life with one another as believers in one body; it may be very easy for us to see the hard work of loving unconditionally, sacrificially, and confrontationally with those who make up our local church and revert instead to church hopping, un-forgiveness, conflict, and silence over public sin or unfaithfulness.
- Evangelistically, when we realize that Christ in Acts 1:8 is not calling us to a step by step process but to a massive harvest field; it may be very easy for us to see the task of evangelizing the whole world and turn instead to create a seeker-sensitive church where the world will not hear about sin and repentance and we can feel comfortable that simply inviting people to come to our emotionally driven, decisional “Jesus shows” is enough.
Verse 7:4 does not stop with this account of a city that was too big to handle. As it is so many times in life when we face something intimidating we begin to make excuses as to why we cannot handle such a problem. Nehemiah lists two of the common excuses of his day here.
- We have too few people. While it was true that there were less people in the province than there had been in the nation before the Exile there were certainly enough people to fill Jerusalem. Looking on down into the passage we see that there were no less that 42, 000 people who made the first return to rebuild in Ezra. At its height Jerusalem could only have supported roughly half that many people, and most certainly babies had been born, as well a new group of returnees came with Ezra and Nehemiah.
- Where would we put any new people anyway? This begins to get more to the heart of the problem. While there were certainly people Jerusalem was not going to be an easy town to resettle. No one could call the local real estate office and buy a pre-furnished home to move into. No those who did move in would have hard work ahead of them. With the opposition and difficulties faced in building a wall certainly moving to Jerusalem and establishing residences would mean an almost daily reliance upon God. After all if God could help build a wall, couldn’t he also build a house (Ps 127).
- Does that sound familiar? As Christians we must daily take up our cross and follow him. This is the real difficulty in the situation we face. We must trust him for our salvation and sanctification every day. This demand is simply too much for some people. Therefore they will make all sorts of excuses as to why they cannot live the holy life God has called them to live. Churches as well have the same complaints which reveal a lack of trust. The community has changed. There are no people who live around here. Our pews just seem empty today. Those excuses are at best exaggerations and at worst outright lies to keep from practicing regenerate church membership and intentional as well as personal evangelism.
So how does Nehemiah handle this situation? Verse 7:5 reveals to us that Nehemiah did what good leaders always do. He turned to God and laid out the people’s problems. God’s response is beautiful. The people said they could not handle or hold in their hands the responsibility for Jerusalem. God from his hands gives into Nehemiah’s hands the perfect tools to prove them wrong and reveal their hardened hearts. He moved in Nehemiah’s heart to call an assembly and then to call role. Why? Think with me about the Lord’s Supper we celebrate. This Supper reminds of Christ’s great love for us proved in his broken body and shed blood. It reminds us that nothing is impossible with our God. Further if we followed old Baptist traditions this Supper would have been preceded by a business meeting where roll was called. Those who were absent or in sin were confronted and asked to repent. This was done because unrepentant sin is a sin of distance from God and absence was a sign of hidden sin. If we love our brother we cannot sit idly by while he drifts into sin. The Supper is our assembly to remember Christ’s love and practice that same love. (John 13:34-35) Nehemiah’s census was a similar assembly to the Lord’s Supper both of which serve to remind us that our Lord is not missing, but an ever present help in an hour of need.