A few years after the temple’s completion, Nehemiah heard that the wall around Jerusalem had yet to be rebuilt. Artaxerxes succeeded Darius over Persia and Nehemiah rose to a prominent place in Artaxerxes’ court. When Nehemiah was informed of the situation of the city of David, he was ready to leave his post in the king’s immediate service and work to restore Jerusalem to its place of prominence.
After Hanani informed his brother Nehemiah that the returned exiles were in great trouble and that Jerusalem’s wall had not yet been rebuilt (2 Chron 36:19), Nehemiah “sat down and wept” (Neh 1:4). After prayer and fasting, Nehemiah beseeched God to act in behalf of His name, despite the sins of His people. Nehemiah prayed for success before the king; he wanted the king to release him from his duties in order to undertake the work in Jerusalem (Neh 1:10-11). When Artaxerxes noticed Nehemiah’s waning countenance, he inquired as to the cause of his sadness. Upon hearing the matter, Artaxerxes granted Nehemiah permission to fulfill the desire of his heart. Being “graciously strengthened” by his God (Neh 2:8), Nehemiah asked the king for orders of safe passage and timber “to rebuild the gates of the temple’s fortress, the city wall, and the home where I will live” (Neh 2:8).
The author mentioned nothing of Nehemiah’s journey to Jerusalem, but moved quickly to the drama of Nehemiah’s investigation of the city and its walls (Neh 2:11-16). Nehemiah was ready to act. He exhorted the officials, “Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace” (Neh 2:17). And they did. Nehemiah 3 lists some of the Hebrews that devoted themselves to the work. Side by side, they rebuilt the walls, entrances of the city gates, and the towers.
But the work was not without opposition, as the author described in Nehemiah 4. Just as the enemies of Judah and Benjamin attempted to inhibit the construction of the temple (Ezra 4:1-5; 4:24-5:5), Israel’s enemies did the same when Israel attempted to rebuild the temple (Neh 4:1-2). Nehemiah and company did not falter before Sanballat and Tobiah, who even attempted to kill the inhabitants of the city and those constructing the walls (Neh 4:4-23). Half of the people continued to work, while the other half acted as guards, watching out for them with swords, spears, bows, and armor (Neh 4:13, 16-23). Nehemiah and the other leaders felt so threatened that they did not feel free to bathe without having a weapon at hand. Nehemiah charged the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the great and awe-inspiring Lord, and fight for your countrymen, your sons and daughters, your wives and homes” (Neh 4:14).
Though Nehemiah was burdened to tears for the welfare of Jerusalem and toiled for its fortification, his beloved city was later overtaken. In the storyline of Scripture, the significance of Jerusalem reaches its pinnacle not in the kings of Israel and Judah, nor in the devotion of Ezra and Nehemiah, but in Christ. In Christ, the Mosaic law has been fulfilled and the city of David granted an eternal, spiritual quality that is distinctly related to Him.
(1) The author of Hebrews encouraged his audience that in Christ they had access to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God (Heb 12:22). The Jerusalem to come is the place of festive gathering of angels and the fellowship of all those whose names are written in heaven (Heb 12:22-23). The heavenly Jerusalem is where the righteous will enjoy fellowship with God the judge and Jesus the mediator, forever (Heb 12:23-24).
(2) John described the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as the place of God’s dwelling with His people (Rev 21:3). “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it,” John wrote, “because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Rev 21:23). Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will enter (Rev 21:27).