Nehemiah Builds the Wall
April 20th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM
NEHEMIAH BUILDS THE WALL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-20-86 10:50 a.m.
We are going to have the most precious place in the world to call upon the name of our Lord. You are welcome listening on radio and television to our First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Nehemiah Builds the Wall. And let us turn now to Nehemiah, chapter 4, and we shall read together the first six verses. Nehemiah—1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, right in the middle of the Old Testament—the Book of Nehemiah, and we are going to read the first six verses. In the eighth chapter of this book, in the fifth verse it says, “When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up” [Nehemiah 8:5], and that is what we do. All the people stood up in the presence of the Lord and His holy and heavenly Word. Nehemiah, chapter 4; we read out loud the first six verses. Now together:
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and he took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall. Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before Thee: for they have provoked Thee to anger before the builders. So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work.
Now, let’s read that last verse again, verse 6. Let’s read it out loud again, “So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work” [Nehemiah 4:6].
Now, we’ll be seated. There are several most interesting things about this Book of Nehemiah and about the man who inspired it. First, he was a layman. He was not a professional religionist. He didn’t make his living by serving in the house of the Lord. He was a layman. He was the cupbearer of the king [Nehemiah 1:11]. We would say in our modern political nomenclature, he was the prime minister of the Persian Empire. He was a layman.
Another thing about him, he lived in an era of the greatest men who have ever existed in this earth. He was the prime minister under Artaxerxes Longimanus [Nehemiah 2:1]. Longimanus means “long hands.” Longimanus was born with a deformed right hand. And as the emperor and king of the Persian Empire, he was known as Longimanus. He reigned over forty years, and under him the Persian Empire reached its highest glory.
He lived in the era of the greatest men of the ancient Greek kingdom. In the days of Nehemiah, Pericles flourished in Athens. Their military leader and ruler and philosopher, Pericles was doubtless the greatest Greek who ever lived.
In the days of Nehemiah, Herodotus, the father of history, began to write. And Thucydides, the incomparable historian and Xenophon, who wrote the March of the Ten Thousand, all of them lived in the days of Nehemiah.
In the days of Nehemiah, Socrates was teaching Plato. In the days of Nehemiah, Aeschylus was writing his incomparable tragedies, and Aristophanes was writing his brilliant comedies. In the days of Nehemiah, Democritus was propounding his atomic theory of the nature of matter, of existence. You’d think he lived in this modern day, Democritus.
In the days of Nehemiah, Ezra the scribe and Malachi the prophet were flourishing. It was a marvelous era in the history of men. Nehemiah himself is one of the most unusual men to whom you could ever be introduced. He was a contrasting personality. He was as sensitive as a woman, and he was as iron in resolution as a prophet of God. When Hanani, his brother, came back from Judah and gave a report to Nehemiah, it says that Nehemiah prayed and wept from Chisleu, when Hanani came to Shushan, the summer palace of the Persian king, from Chisleu—that’s November, December—until Nisan, that’s in April. That’s how long this great man wept and prayed before the Lord [Nehemiah 1:1-11].
He did not say: “Don’t tell me of my people and don’t burden my heart with the tragedy of their captivity and servitude.” Rather, he opened his heart to their need and to their cry—the sensitivity of this layman to his people [Nehemiah 1:5-11].
On the other hand, he was an iron resolute. He jeopardized his life in making an appeal for his people, but like Esther! “If I die, I die” [Esther 4:15-16]. And when the king was moved by his request and appeal, he made tremendous preparations for the purpose to which he was dismissed for a while to go to Jerusalem in Judea [Nehemiah 2:1-9].
When he arrived, when Nehemiah arrived, he saw the city in ruins [Nehemiah 2:11]. And the wall had lain in rubbish for one hundred and fifty years, as it had been torn down by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar [Jeremiah 52:14]. And the people—the little struggling band that had returned from Babylon to Judea, the little struggling band that lived there was subject to raid, and pillage, and violence, and robbery by all of their hostile neighbors [Nehemiah 3].
Nehemiah then dedicated himself to the building of the wall [Nehemiah 2:17-18]. And he accomplished it miraculously within fifty-two days [Nehemiah 6:15]. His dedication of the wall was wonderful [Nehemiah 12:27-13:31]. That’s when Ezra read the Bible, read the Book. “And when he opened the Book, when he opened the Book, all the people stood up” [Nehemiah 8:5].
It is wonderful to see people in a deeply reverent attitude toward the Word of God, not taking it flippantly or lightly or indifferently, but reverently and earnestly and prayerfully. “When Ezra opened the Book, all the people stood up” [Nehemiah 8:5]. And the record of their dedication is just simply, incomparably great. “And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out all the Levites in all of the places and brought them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, with thanksgiving, with singing, with cymbals, and psalteries, and with harps” [Nehemiah 12:27].
Verse 35: “And the priests’ sons sounded the trumpets” [Nehemiah 12:35].
Verse 36: “And they played with the musical instruments of David the man of God” [Nehemiah 12:36].
So they stood there and gave thanks to the Lord, and the singers sang loud. “And they rejoiced for God had made them rejoice with great joy [Nehemiah 12:40-42]. The wives also and the children rejoiced so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off [Nehemiah 12:43]… For as in the days of David and Asaph of old, they were the singers. And songs of praise and thanksgiving, they offered unto the Lord” [Nehemiah 12:46].
Now, that’s what I like, too. It says here in the Bible: “And they sang loud!” [Nehemiah 12:42]. I like that. When you sing, don’t sing apologetically, as though you wish you were hidden in a corner or something. Sing it out, my brother. Make it known. And when the trumpets play, play them. And when the trombones play, outshine the trumpets. Don’t let them give you a complex. And when these flutists flout, when the flutists play the flute—oh, it’s wonderful! I can’t tell you how I rejoice in you. A wonderful music program, that’s God.
Can you imagine what they sounded like? In the days of David, there were over four thousand Levites that sang. Think of it, a choir of over four thousand singers and two hundred and ninety-seven instrumentalists [1 Chronicles 25:1-31], all of them playing to the ability of their souls and lives and love and glory to God. Well, that’s the way they dedicated that wall.
The assignment that Nehemiah had, we also have. We have a building to receive from the hands of God and to prepare for the use of our young people. This is a providence and a gracious one of the Lord. On that corner, beyond the plaza where Federal and Ervay streets come together, God hath given us a building that we are dedicating to our young people. It costs four million, six hundred thousand dollars. It costs one million dollars to remodel it for their use. And it will cost a hundred thousand dollars to furnish it.
Part of that we have already paid. We lack four million dollars, and in the precious providences of God, Mrs. Ruth Ray Hunt has given us two million dollars, half of it, and asked that all the rest of us match the two million dollars, dollar for dollar. For every dollar we give, she gives a dollar. This is our assignment; our building program in this moment and day of our blessedness and remembrance from God.
In the Arabian Nights, the wall rises by magic in one night. You’ll find nothing of that in the Bible. Nothing! When you read of the building of the wall in Nehemiah, it is in prayer and in dedicated labor, in whole-hearted devotion.
In prayer: when I look at the first chapter of Nehemiah, in verse 4: “I prayed before the God of heaven” [Nehemiah 1:4].
- In verse 6: twice it says that he prays [Nehemiah 1:6].
- In verse 11: three times he is described as praying [Nehemiah 1:11].
- In verse 4: “So I prayed to the God of heaven” [Nehemiah 1:4].
- In chapter 4:9 and chapter 11:17: he is bowed before God in prayer [Nehemiah 4:9, 11:17].
They did it in praying. First, he prayed; they prayed. Then when I turn to the third chapter of the Book of Nehemiah, they all shared in the labor, all of them. It starts off with the priests, with the pastors [Nehemiah 3:1]. They builded, and next under them builded; then, they and next under them repaired, and next under them repaired. Then next under them; and next under them; and next under them; and next under them; and next under them; and that entire third chapter—and it’s a long chapter with thirty-two verses—everyone of those verses begins with, “And next unto them repaired. And next unto them builded” [Nehemiah 3:1-32].
They all shared in it; it was something in which each took a part, and each one builded over against his own house [Nehemiah 3:23, 28]. And I can just hear the shout as they complete this section of the wall and the trumpet sounds and the people sing and rejoice; and then this one—and then that one and that one—until the whole sacred circle is complete. They prayed unto the God of heaven, and they poured their devoted labor into the task [Nehemiah 4:6]. And that will bring a like wonderful victory to us as we seek the payment for our building and the arrangement of it for the use of our young people.
Now, in closing, I have two things to observe about it. One arises in the light of the future, and the other is in the light of the past. First, in the light of the future: there came to me about ten days ago or so, there came to me four fine, gifted, dedicated businessmen from a sister Baptist church in our queenly city of Dallas. And they said to me, “Our church is dying. And we just wanted to talk to you about the possibility of the amalgamation of our congregations, that we be a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.” Then as they talked to me about their church, they said, “The average age of all of the members of our congregation, the average age is over sixty-seven. The average age is over sixty-seven. And our church is dying.”
Strange thing how sometimes your mind will work. And this is one of those strange providences. When they said to me, “Our church is dying, and the average age of our congregation is over sixty-seven,” my mind went back to a conversation that I had in one of my visits with David Ben-Gurion who was the first prime minister of the new state of Israel. I was telling Mr. Ben-Gurion about our city of Dallas and about the Jewish community in our city and their affluence, and their dedication to the cause of Israel, and to the great response they make when they have those drives and appeals for funding the state of Israel. I was describing to him our Jewish community in Dallas.
And he said to me, he said, “What we need is not their money; and what we need is not their support; and what we need is not their influence and affluence, though we are blessed by it.” He said, “What we need is their young people. We need their young people. And if they will send us their young people, we have an assured destiny and future for the state of Israel.”
Isn’t that an amazing observation to make? “What we need is our young people.” When I turned that over in my mind, that was what came to remembrance when those men said to me, “Our church is dying. The average age of our congregation is over sixty-seven. We don’t have any young people.”
The future lies in them. And if we have any destiny, if there is any tomorrow for our congregation and for our church and for the witness of Christ in the heart of this city, it lies in those children and in those teenagers. And that is our futuristic appeal. We are with God’s help, building a wonderful church and a wonderful witness for the morrow in supporting these young people.
Now my second and last observation concerns the past. What do you think you would feel in your heart if you supported them? If you did something gracious for them—what do you think? Would you be glad that you did it? Would you be grateful to God that you tried and helped? Would you?
As most of you know, for thirty-six years Pat Zondervan, who heads the great Zondervan Corporation, by far the largest religious publishing house in the world, and my dear precious friend—for thirty-six years, Pat Zondervan has come to visit us here in our church on the second Sunday in January. He comes, as you remember, to make an appeal for the Gideons, taking up an offering. And we always graciously respond to buying Bibles distributed by the Gideons.
Well, this year we were in the Vietnam War, and when Pat Zondervan stood here to make his appeal, he had a little Testament, one of those little military New Testaments that he held up in his right hand. And as he held it up in his right hand, he said, “This little New Testament was taken off of the body of an American soldier. He was a Georgia boy.” And he said, “These bullet holes that went through this little New Testament went also through the heart of that Georgia boy, and he lay there, a sacrifice for our country.”
And as he held up that little New Testament with the bullet holes through it, that had been taken off of that American soldier, he said, “I wish that it had been my forty-seven cents that bought that New Testament carried next to the heart of that Georgia American soldier boy.”
When he came back to be seated by me there, I said to him, “Pat, would you put that little Bible in my hand? Let me have it.” So he put it in my hand, and I turned it to the back, and on the back these are the words that I read: “On this day—and he dated it—on this day, I, Eldred Thomas take Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.” And he signed his name again, “Eldred Thomas.”
I felt like Pat Zondervan. I wish it had been my forty-seven cents that had bought that Bible for that American boy. I feel the same about our appeal for these teenagers today. If one of them is saved, I wish it could have been my gift that helped guide the youngster to the Lord Jesus. And if one of them grows in the faith, I wish it could have been what I gave that would have helped that youngster in the way of the Lord.
In all of the unfolding future, and as I look at what I have done, I will be grateful to God that I had a part; that some of me is in that dedicated ministry to these teenagers. This will almost certainly be the last project that I shall ever have a part in guiding to fruition and consummation. And I love to think that it is dedicated to young people. Nothing could please my own heart more than that we had a part; we shared in doing this for them.
An old man going a lone highway,
Came in the evening cold and gray
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim
The sullen stream held no fears for him.
But he turned when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You’re wasting strength with building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day.
You never again will pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide.
Why do you build the bridge at the evening tide?”
The builder lifted up his old gray head,
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followeth after me today,
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been naught to me,
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He too must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
[“The Bridge Builder,” Will Dromgoole]
We are like that in this dear church. We are getting ready for the ministry of Christ and the witness of our Lord in the years that are yet to come. And we do it through these children and these teenagers—the church in the immediate and next generation.
And with what fullness of heart do I come before the Lord in prayer that God will move us, each one of us to respond. And that we have the joy of seeing these youngsters growing up in the faith and nurture and knowledge of the Lord.
To you who are visiting in the church, at the 8:15 service, our youngsters are the choir. And they are beginning to fill up this whole front of our congregation. And on Wednesday night, I see they are the choir again at our Wednesday evening service.
O dear God in heaven, how could I frame the word to say it? How could I verbalize it? How could I put it in sentence and syllable, the infinite gratitude of my soul for our children and our young people, our church tomorrow? Now, may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, looking down upon us in grace and in love, in Thy goodness and remembrance, dear Lord, make it a glorious success, the appeal that we make in behalf of our children and our young people. They are called in the Bible the heritage of the Lord [Psalm 127:3], and they are no less that to us. “We thank Thee for them, even all the trials that sometimes attend their going up, and their growing up, and their preparing for the work that lies before them. For all of it, Lord, we are grateful to Thee, and glad that we can have a part in it, and that You assigned us the responsibility for it. And dear Lord, may our church find it in heart, and love, and prayer, and intercession, and gift, and response, may they find it a joy and a gladness to do this for them and for Thee.”
And in this moment that we bow before the Lord, the appeal is made for you to respond to the urging, to the invitation of the Spirit of our blessed Savior, to come for prayer, “Pastor, I would be so grateful if someone would share with me the burden of my heart and life.” We would love doing it. “Pastor, I want to accept the Lord Jesus openly and publicly as my Savior, and I’m coming.”
“Pastor, this is my family, all of us are coming into the fellowship of our dear church.” “God has called me for an assignment, and I’m giving my life in response.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Make that decision now. And in this moment when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come. May the angels attend you in the way, and God bless you in the response of your life.
And thank You, Lord, for the gracious harvest You give us, these who come this meaningful hour, in Thy wonderful, saving, and keeping and blessed name, amen.” While we stand and while we sing.
NEHEMIAH BUILDS THE WALL Dr. W. A. Criswell
1. Layman, not a priest
2. Lived in a time of many great men
c. Judah – Ezra, Malachi
3. Contrasting personality
4. Vast need to rebuild the wall
5. Built in fifty two days
II. Appeal for the new youth building
3. For the future
4. Will be glad we did it