While the Book of Nehemiah is a historic display of leadership and God’s love, blessing and protection of His people, it is also a symbolic representation of how the Holy Spirit works to rebuild and restore the brokenness of the human personality. ♦
In the middle of the Old Testament is the Book of Nehemiah. I once heard the noted Pastor Jack Hayford call this a “flyover book” as it is often bypassed or quickly read since it seems simply a straightforward historical accounting of the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem by a Hebrew leader named Nehemiah. It is actually an amazing depiction of God’s response to prayer, intervention in human affairs and protection of His people in the midst of their enemies. But even beyond that, Nehemiah is himself a symbolic picture of the Holy Spirit, that “comforter” who helps rebuild the broken rubble of our lives as He protects and restores our very soul, mind and will.1 Such is the richness of Scripture when seen in full context.
Distressed Jerusalem 445 B.C.
The book of Nehemiah continues the story begun in Ezra. It is mid-5th century B.C. and some of the Israelites (Hebrews) had returned from their 70-year Babylonian exile, an 800 mile journey back to Jerusalem. Their beloved homeland had been invaded and destroyed 150 years earlier by the brutal Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (predicted in Habakkuk, experienced by Daniel, Jeremiah and Ezekiel). The invaders had thoroughly destroyed the walls of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, and her central religious shrine, the temple. The temple was rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra, but the city remained exposed and in disarray. Most distressing to Nehemiah was that the surrounding city walls were still in ruins.
And they said to me, “The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days; and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. – Nehemiah 1:4
Rebuilder of Walls
Nehemiah served a Persian king and lived in Susa, the capital of what is now Iran. He was of Jewish heritage and ached for his once proud nation and people. No self-respecting city could operate without walls in vulnerability to marauders and looters from surrounding cities of their enemies. After praying and confessing on behalf of the people of Israel for their rebellion and disobedience against God’s “commandments, statutes and ordinances” given to Moses (see Nehemiah’s prayer 1:5-11), Nehemiah approached the king and received permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. The king even provided supplies and letters of passage.
Nehemiah’s rebuilding project was a success, despite the opposition from non-Jewish residents in and around Jerusalem who mocked and threatened attack. Nehemiah brilliantly devised a practical solution that combined spiritual devotion and pragmatic execution. He records:
“So we prayed to our God, and set a guard as a protection against them day and night…So neither I nor my brethren nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon in his hand.” – Nehemiah 4:9,23
The rehab work was a group task with people from all walks of life – rich and poor, men and women, skilled and novices – joining the effort. They each built the section nearest their own homes since they had a vested interest in making sure they were secure.
Rebuilder of Human Rubble
Years ago I went through an in depth study of Nehemiah by Jack Hayford who noted that the name Nehemiah in Hebrew actually means Comforter.2 This insight opened up new perspectives on this historic scriptural narrative. Typology – study of types and prefigurative symbols – is common in the Bible. For instance, Moses and David are shadow precursors to Christ. The Hebrew Passover event in Egypt is symbolic of the saving blood of Christ. There are many more. Nehemiah, as a picture of the Holy Spirit, gives us a view of how we can be restored and renewed from the broken rubble of our sinful past while we are reassured and protected from mockery, guilt and shame from our own selves and/or our Enemy/Adversary.
Just as the resettled Israelites had reestablished worship with the rebuilt temple, we can all reestablish our connection with God through acceptance of his atoning sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, on the cross. Yet the Israelites were still vulnerable, exposed and shamed by the rubble around them as a constant reminder of their past disobedience. Likewise we may worship God but are still weighted down by past sin, shame, self-doubt and remnants of brokenness of our human personality. The Holy Spirit, our Comforter, intercedes and protects us as He directs a rebuilding of our human mind, soul and will.
Do you know you have Helper, a Comforter, the Holy Spirit to rebuild and restore your own brokenness?
In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. – Romans 8:26-27
1 Rebuilding the Real You – God’s Pathway for Personal Restoration, by Jack W. Hayford, Regal Books, 1986, 2003.
2 Restoring the Walls of the Human Personality: A Study in the Book of Nehemiah, by Jack W. Hayford, Audio Cassette, Living Way, 1980.