Working Cooperatively

Explore the Bible Series

December 31, 2006


Background Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-3:32

Lesson Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-4, 11; 2:4-5. 8b, 17-18; 3:1-2



Many years after the initial return to Jerusalem, much of the city of God remained in ruin, the rebuilding task unfinished.  The Jews completed their reconstruction of the Temple about 516 B.C.; nevertheless, eighty years later little progress had been made on other aspects of rebuilding the city.  In particular, the city walls lay in a shambles; thus, the citizens of Jerusalem lived in constant peril from attack.  More importantly, the broken walls served as a symbol of an unfinished task.  God’s people, even after all these years of opportunity, had let God’s work become a low priority.


In the Persian winter palace in Susa (Shushan), a Jewish man named Nehemiah served faithfully as the king’s steward.  During the king’s twentieth year in power (c. 446 B.C.) a delegation of Jews gave a dismal report to Nehemiah.  The news broke this godly man’s heart, and he immediately took himself to prayer concerning the disgraceful circumstances in Jerusalem.  His prayerful agony continued for months, but finally he determined to ask King Artaxerxes for permission and resources to return to Jerusalem to reconstruct the city walls. 


God often interrupts the comfortable routines of his people to call them to high and holy tasks.  Like Nehemiah, Christians may tremble at the magnitude of the duty at hand; yet, the Lord moves their hearts to undertake seemingly impossible assignments, simply because God has burdened their souls.  Nehemiah held a position of honor in the court of Artaxerxes; indeed, this remarkable man was the most trusted servant in the king’s household.  No doubt, Nehemiah lived in comfort, luxury, and honor.  The last thing he wanted was a difficult and demanding responsibility like leading an expedition to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem; however, when God made his designs clear, Nehemiah stepped forward to carry out his divine destiny.  The assignment proved difficult, and Nehemiah faced many discouragements and hostilities, but he remained faithful to God’s call on his life. His noteworthy faithfulness carved Nehemiah’s place in history. If Nehemiah had remained in his position of comfort and ease, his name would never appear in the pages of the Old Testament. Like William Cary, this ancient servant of God learned the valuable lesson, attempt great things and expect great things.


Perhaps many of you stand at some crossroad today.  The specter of “ruined walls” and unfinished tasks troubles you day and night.  God has made clear that some great need exists and the Holy Spirit has stirred your heart to engage in the work.  However, you now enjoy some ease and comfort in your present circumstances, and the demands of a new assignment and additional responsibilities cause to recoil from thoughts of undertaking the work.  What shall you do in this decisive hour? Well, begin your considerations by making a careful study of the Book of Nehemiah.

Outline of Background Passage:


I.                   Learn of the Needs the Situation Demands (1:1-3):

A.    Nehemiah’s circumstances in Susa (v. 1):  In the late fall of 446 B.C., Nehemiah welcomed a kinsman named Hanani to the winter palace at Susa.  Hanani brought grievous news about the disgraceful situation in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah held the  trusted position of wine taster for King Artaxerxes.  His responsibilities included safeguarding the king’s food and wine from would be assassins who might try to poison the ruler.  As the king’s steward, Nehemiah attended the court in the very presence of the monarch.  He would, of course, be one of the most trusted men in the royal service.

B.     The sad conditions in Jerusalem (vv. 2-3): After decades of Jewish presence in Judah, the city of Jerusalem still laid in general disrepair.  Apparently, Hanani gave Nehemiah a thorough report; thus, the Lord’s servant did not engage in this enterprise hastily.  Instead, he learned what he could about the situation before he made decisions about his involvement in the renovation of the city.


II.                Turn to Prayer as Your First Resort (1:4-11): Often, God’s servants must resist the temptation to rely on human ingenuity and plans.  Nehemiah avoided that pitfall, and he turned to prayer as his first recourse. Note some of the main features of Nehemiah’s prayer.

A.    He worshipped the Lord (vv. 4-5): Too often, the Lord’s people fail to cleanse their hearts of self-serving motives before they begin a new work.  Perhaps many of us have begun a new enterprise because secretly we entertain notions of our own advancement and renown.  Nehemiah began his prayer with a confession of God’s holiness, grandeur power, and faithfulness.  All true kingdom work begins with our focus centered on the glory of God.

B.     He repented of his sins and the transgressions of the people (vv. 6-7): Nehemiah understood that, in some sense, he shared in the infidelity of the Hebrew people; that is, he felt some solidarity with this unfaithful and disobedient people.

C.     He took consolation in God’s faithfulness (vv. 8-11):  Nehemiah’s familiarity with the promises of God brought him great encouragement to petition the Lord for a renewal of the covenant people.  He did not plead the innocence of the people; rather, he called on God to keep his glorious promises.  All true work of God begins with this rock-ribbed confidence in a covenant-keeping God.


III.             Set Your Heart and Hands to Do the Work (2:1-3:32)

A.    Nehemiah sought the aid of King Artaxerxes (2:1-10):  Nehemiah respected the authority of the civil leaders, and he sought to enlist their help and approval for the work. He shared his vision with Artaxerxes, and the Lord gave his servant favor with the king (See v. 10).  Furthermore, Nehemiah asked for letters of authorization to complete the building of the walls and for the king’s provision for the building materials to complete the walls of Jerusalem.  Again, God gave Nehemiah favor with the king on all these matters.  Verse ten introduces Sanballet the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite.  These men, sadly, will viciously oppose Nehemiah’s work, and we will encounter them often in the next few chapters.  As we learned from our study of the Book of Ezra, no true work of God goes without significant opposition, and we will, in our continued study of Nehemiah, observe the nature of this opposition.

B.     Nehemiah’s observation of the devastation to Jerusalem’s walls (2:11-16):  Confidence in God’s promises does not preclude good planning.  At first, Nehemiah did not confide in any of the inhabitants of the city; instead, he wisely chose to devise his strategy himself.  This, I think, is the role of a leader.  Leaders should be visionaries who determine God’s course of action. The Lord enables his servants to envision the course of the work.  Seldom, it seems to me, does God lead his people through a “think-tank” method.  God’s people should prayerfully select good leaders, and then they should follow their God-appointed leader.

C.     Nehemiah’s communication of his vision to the people (2:17-20): After surveying the magnitude of the assignment, Nehemiah enlisted the support and aid of the people.  He assured them of the Lord’s promise, and they energetically volunteered to help.  Verse eighteen reveals that the Jews did not make some idle pledge.  They had a heart for the work, and they put their hands to the worthy task.  God’s promises and blessings must be attended with diligent labor for the Kingdom.  Note that Sanballet and Tobiah immediately opposed the rebilding of the walls, but Nehemiah, for all practical purposes, ignored them and continued with his plans. 

D.    Nehemiah assigned each family a certain section of the wall to rebuild (3:1-32):  This chapter reveals some very important principles of the Lord’s work.  No one family or group shouldered the sole responsibility for building.  Each family had a stake in the work; therefore, these people depended on each other.  If one family failed to complete their assignment, all of the people suffered.  Leaders, like Nehemiah, understand the principle of enlisting trustworthy people to help with God’s work. 



Questions for Consideration:

  1. What vision does your church have for building the Kingdom of God?  Is your church adrift without vision or direction?  If so, why?
  2. Does your church support the vision set forward by the God-ordained leadership of the congregation?  Do you treat your pastor like a chaplain who “marries and buries”; or, do the people truly regard them as God’s shepherds for the flock?
  3. What is your task in the overarching work of the church?  Have you left others to build your part of the “wall”?
  4. When naysayers oppose the God-ordained leadership, how do you respond?


Brethren, “wall-building” is seldom glamorous work.  These folks devoted themselves to dirty, back-braking labor.  Most Kingdom work is like that.  It will not bring applause of worldly approval.  However, when the work is completed, it brings glory to God and safety and satisfaction to God’s people.