What justification do we have in looking for Christ in this book? Surely there is no better authority than Christ Himself, ‘“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: but they are they which testify of me”, John 5. 39. How we should have loved to hear His exposition of the book during the Emmaus discourse, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”, Luke 24. 27.
In viewing Nehemiah himself we see several parallels with Christ. Significantly, another meaning of his name is conduct of the Lord. Here was one who:
In the palace at Shushan (or Susa), the ancient capital of Persia, Nehemiah was a highly respected servant of the king, as his cup-bearer. In the royal courts of heaven we know that Christ was not a servant but “was daily his (Father’s) delight, rejoicing always before him”, Prov. 8. 30. When He came here God could say of Him, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth”, Isa. 42. 1.
Nehemiah learned of the sad plight of his brethren in Jerusalem, and after much heartexercise and prayer he determined to go and provide a remedy. The task was formidable, the obstacles enormous, but he was fully persuaded of the purpose and power of God to see it through. With Artaxerxes’ blessing and approval, therefore, he left the splendour of the palace, to go to despoiled, desecrated Jerusalem. This is but a poor picture of the One who “made himself of no reputation, … and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself …”, Phil. 2. 7-8. How perceptive was His assessment of the need, “the world of sinners lost and ruined by the fall”; how willing He was to come “in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin”!, Rom. 8. 3.
A notable feature of Nehemiah’s visit to Jerusalem was his confrontation with the enemies, principally:
Sanballat, whose name means “the enemy in secret”;
Tobiah the Ammonite, whose name means, paradoxically, “the Lord is good”. (Ammonites were the descendants of Ben-Ammi, the result of Lot’s incestuous union with his younger daughter. They proved a persistent thorn in the side of the Israelites and were denounced by several of the prophets);
Geshem the Arabian, whose name means “corporealness”, or “bodily, material”.
When Christ came into this world He was opposed by “the enemy” himself — He was tempted forty days of the devil in the wilderness, Luke 4. 2. He experienced antagonism from His own people, and even from His own relatives, John 7. 5, as well as from the Herod family, who were Idumaeans (or Edomites), descendants of the fleshly line of Esau. There were those, too, who could not see beyond the material structure of the temple fabric, when He referred to the “temple of his body”, 2. 18-22.
Nehemiah’s enemies expressed their opposition in at least five ways. They:
Christ experienced similar opposition, and much more of course, during His earthly mission. His blood relatives were “offended at him”, Mark 6. 3. How continuing was men’s scorn; He was “despised and rejected of men”, Isa. 53. 3, and how furious was their anger on occasions, “when they heard these things, were filled with wrath”, Luke 4. 28-29. At the climax of His work how cruel was the ridicule, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross … He saved others; himself he cannot save”, Matt. 27. 39-44. With what subterfuge and malicious guile did Judas Iscariot betray the Lord, “Master, Master; and kissed him”, Mark 14. 43-46.
Like many great men of God in the Old Testament, Nehemiah prayed concerning his enemies, “My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat”, Neh. 6. 14. In contrast, how gracious are the Saviour’s words uttered at Calvary, “Father, forgive”, Luke 23. 34.
Notice that Nehemiah did not disclose his plans immediately on arrival, “neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem”, Neh. 2. 12. Why not? Would they have feared the enormity of the task, and been ..scared by the strength of the opposition? Did they have inadequate experience of the presence and power of God? When he eventually said “Come, and let us build”, v. 17, there were men prepared to follow his lead.
Spiritual strategy is a necessary ally to spiritual vision and foresight. We should remember that it was not until Peter’s declaration of Christ’s divine Godhood identity that the Lord plainly revealed the purpose of His coming, Matt. 16. 21.
Nehemiah is characterized by single-mindedness and perseverance. Before he left the palace he knew what his task would be, and much of what it would involve. He allowed no man and no circumstance to deflect him from the fulfilment of his mission, and finally rejoiced in its glorious completion. How characteristic this is of Christ who said, “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work”, John 4. 34. Later on, “when the time was come … he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem”, Luke 9. 51. He was the One “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame”, Heb. 12. 2. How triumphant are His words, “It is finished”, John 19. 30. What rejoicing is ours!
Nehemiah countered opposition to the work in a variety of ways — silence, expressed confidence in divine help (“the God of heaven will prosper us”), prayer and resolution, watching, and stating clear priorities. There were problems too, caused by his own people — human weakness, “we are not able to build”, Neh. 4. 10, and strife caused by greed, “a great cry of the people and their wives against their brethren the Jews”, 5. 1. Christ overcame the enemy’s attempts to thwart His purposes, also by various means. How significant were His silences; how intense the prayers to His Father; how clearly He stated His priorities! But the sharpest opposition came from one very close to Him — “Peter … began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee”, Matt. 16. 22. It is a solemn possibility that Satan can use the child of God to voice opposition to God’s will. At the climax of His work, Christ was challenged with the words, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross”, 27. 40, 42. Surely it would not be irreverent to imagine that His thoughts then were similar to those expressed by Nehemiah, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down”, Neh. 6. 3.
Among the many things which Nehemiah effected before he returned to Shushan were the reading and teaching of the Scriptures, and the reinstitution of the feast of tabernacles. He recognized the Scriptures as the keystone to individual and corporate life. The feast of tabernacles was of prime importance as an act of worship and dedication to God. Christ knew how important the Scriptures would be in the life of His church, so He gathered His disciples together, and opened “their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures”, Luke 24. 44-45. He also instituted a feast — the Lord’s Supper — the means by which His people should remember Him in His redemptive work, and anticipate His return.
Nehemiah’s work had been completed, so he appointed men to continue the worship and work associated with the temple and the care of the people. When Christ left this scene and “ascended up on high … (he) gave gifts unto men”, Eph. 4. 8, for the continuance of His work. How well are we using His gifts? Unless, on an individual basis, we fulfil what the Lord has given us to do, it will remain undone — He has no one else to do it.
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he discovered that the enemy was in the temple, that spiritual activities were neglected, that the Sabbath day was abused, and that there were mixed marriages. We notice that he cleansed the temple by removing Tobiah and all his “household stuff”, re-established the Levitical order, renewed the sanctity of the Sabbath, and effected moral separation, ch. 13. When Christ returns to earth, that lawless one “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God”, 2 Thess. 2. 4, will be standing “in the holy place”, Matt. 24., 15; but the Lord “shall suddenly come to his temple”, Mai. 3. 1, and “shall consume (him) with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy (him) with the manifestation of His presence”, 2 Thess. 2. 8; see R.V. A study of Ezekiel 37-44 and parts of Zechariah will clearly indicate how Christ will re-establish spiritual activity and renew Sabbath sanctity.
In that coming glorious day, “the Lord shall be king over all the earth”, Zech. 14. 9, and we shall reign with Him. What a prospect! How well are we qualifying for positions of future responsibility?