The Signs of the Times


December 6, 1883

Nehemiah Secures the Co-operation of the People


The royal letters to the governors of the provinces along his route, secured to Nehemiah an honorable reception and prompt assistance. And no enemy dared molest the official who was guarded by the power of the Persian king and treated with so marked consideration by the provincial rulers. Nehemiah's journey was therefore safe and prosperous. ST December 6, 1883, par. 1

His arrival at Jerusalem, however, with the attendance of a military guard, showing that he had come on some important mission, excited the jealousy and hatred of the enemies of Israel. The heathen tribes settled near Jerusalem had previously indulged their enmity against the Jews by heaping upon them every insult and injury which they dared inflict. Foremost in this evil work were certain chiefs of these tribes, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian; and from this time those leaders watched with jealous eye the movements of Nehemiah, and endeavored by every means in their power to thwart his plans and hinder his work. ST December 6, 1883, par. 2

Nehemiah continued to exercise the same caution and prudence which had hitherto marked his course. Knowing that bitter and determined enemies stood ready to oppose every effort for the restoration of Jerusalem, he concealed the nature of his business until by previous observation he had been enabled to form his plans. Thus he was prepared to secure the co-operation of the people and set them at work before his enemies had opportunity to arouse their fears or their prejudice. ST December 6, 1883, par. 3

Yet, although he had been so highly favored of God, Nehemiah did not move out in an independent, self-sufficient manner, as if able to carry everything by his own ability. He selected a few persons whom he knew to be worthy of confidence, and to them he made known the circumstances which had led to his visit, the object to be accomplished, and the plans which he purposed to employ, and secured their assistance in his important undertaking. ST December 6, 1883, par. 4

On the third night after his arrival, the burden weighing so heavily upon his mind as to preclude sleep, he rose at midnight, and with a few trusted companions went out to view for himself the desolation of Jerusalem. Mounted on his mule, he moved about by moonlight, surveying the ruined walls and broken gates of the city of his fathers. Painful were the reflections that filled the mind of the Jewish patriot. Memories of Israel's past glory stood out in sharp contrast with the marks of her present degradation. Because she had not taken heed to the word of God, because she had not received reproof, and corrected her ways, she had been left to be thus reduced in power and honor among the nations. The people for whom God had wrought wondrously, had trifled with their privileges, set at naught his counsels, and joined themselves to idolaters, until he had withdrawn from them his special presence and protection. ST December 6, 1883, par. 5

With sorrow-stricken heart, that visitant from afar gazes upon the ruined defenses of his loved Jerusalem. And is it not thus that angels of Heaven survey the condition of the church of Christ? Like the dwellers at Jerusalem, we become accustomed to existing evils, and often are content to do nothing to remedy them. But how do they appear to the eye of one divinely illuminated? Would he not, like Nehemiah, look upon ruined walls, and gates burned with fire? ST December 6, 1883, par. 6

Are not every where visible the shameful tokens of backsliding from God and conformity with a sin-loving and truth-hating world? In these days of darkness and peril, who is able to stand in defense of Zion and show her any good? Her spiritual state and prospects are not in accordance with the light and privileges bestowed of God. ST December 6, 1883, par. 7

The same reproofs are applicable to her today as to the people of Israel when the Lord said by his prophets, “Thus have they loved to wander, they have not refrained their feet, therefore the Lord doth not accept them; he will now remember their iniquity and visit their sins.” ST December 6, 1883, par. 8

In secrecy and silence, Nehemiah completed his circuit of the walls. He declares, “The rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work.” In this painful survey he did not wish to attract the attention of either friends or foes, lest an excitement be created, and reports be put in circulation which might defeat, or at least hinder, his work. ST December 6, 1883, par. 9

Nehemiah devoted the remainder of the night to prayer; in the morning there must be earnest effort to arouse and unite his dispirited and divided countrymen. Although he bore a royal commission requiring the inhabitants to co-operate with him in rebuilding the walls of the city, he chose not to depend upon the mere exercise of authority. He sought rather to gain the confidence and sympathy of the people, well knowing that a union of hearts as well as hands was essential to success in the great work which he had undertaken. When he called the people together on the morrow, he presented such arguments as were calculated to arouse their dormant energies and to unite their scattered numbers. ST December 6, 1883, par. 10

They knew not, neither did he tell them, of his mournful midnight circuit while they were sleeping. Nevertheless that very circumstance contributed greatly to his success. He was enabled to speak of the condition of the city with an accuracy and minuteness that astonished his hearers, while the actual contemplation of the weakness and degradation of Israel, deeply impressing his heart, gave earnestness and power to his words. He presented before the people their condition as objects of reproach among the heathen. The nation once so highly favored of God as to excite the terror of all surrounding countries, had now become a by-word and a hissing. Her religion was dishonored, her God blasphemed. ST December 6, 1883, par. 11

He then told them how, in a distant land, he had heard of their affliction, how he had entreated the favor of God in their behalf, and how, while praying, the plan had been formed in his mind, of soliciting permission from the king to come to their assistance. He had asked God that the king might not only allow him to go to Jerusalem, but invest him with authority and render the help needed for the work. His prayer had been answered in such a manner as clearly to show that the whole thing was of the Lord. And having thus laid the matter fully before them, showing that he was sustained by the combined authority of the Persian king and the God of Israel, Nehemiah put to the people directly the question whether they would take advantage of this favorable occasion, and arise with him and build the wall. ST December 6, 1883, par. 12

This appeal went straight to their hearts; the manifestation of the favor of Heaven toward them put their fears to shame. With new courage they cried out with one voice, “Let us rise up and build.” ST December 6, 1883, par. 13

The holy energy and high hope of Nehemiah were communicated to the people. As they caught the spirit, they rose for a time to the moral level of their leader. Each, in his own sphere, was a sort of Nehemiah; and each strengthened and upheld his brother in the work. ST December 6, 1883, par. 14

There is need of Nehemiahs in the church today,—not men who can pray and preach only, but men whose prayers and sermons are braced with firm and eager purpose. The course pursued by this Hebrew patriot in the accomplishment of his plans is one that should still be adopted by ministers and leading men. When they have laid their plans, they should present them to the church in such a manner as to win their interest and co-operation. Let the people understand the plans and share in the work, and they will have a personal interest in its prosperity. ST December 6, 1883, par. 15

The success attending Nehemiah's efforts, shows what prayer, faith, and wise, energetic action, will accomplish. Living faith will prompt to energetic action. The spirit manifested by the leader will be, to a great extent, reflected by the people. If the leaders professing to believe the solemn, important truths that are to test the world at this time, manifest no ardent zeal to prepare a people to stand in the day of God, we must expect the church to be careless, indolent, and pleasure-loving. ST December 6, 1883, par. 16

Among the first to catch Nehemiah's spirit of zeal and earnestness were the priests of Israel. From the position of influence which they occupied, these men could do much to hinder or advance the work. Their ready co-operation at the very outset, contributed not a little to its success. Thus should it be in every holy enterprise. Those who occupy positions of influence and responsibility in the church, should be foremost in the work of God. If they move reluctantly, others will not move at all. But “their zeal will provoke very many.” When their light burns brightly, a thousand torches will be kindled at the flame. ST December 6, 1883, par. 17

A majority of the nobles and rulers of Israel also came nobly up to their duty; but there were a few, the Tekoite nobles, who “put not their necks to the work of their Lord.” While the faithful builders have honorable mention in the book of God, the memory of those slothful servants is branded with shame, and handed down as a warning to all future generations. In every religious movement there are some who, while they cannot deny that it is the work of God, will keep themselves aloof, refusing to make any effort to advance it. But in enterprises to promote their selfish interests, these men are often the most active and energetic workers. It were well to remember that record kept on high, the book of God, in which all our motives and our works are written,—that book in which there are no omissions, no mistakes, and out of which we are to be judged. There every neglected opportunity to do service for God will be faithfully reported, and every deed of faith and love, however humble, will be held in everlasting remembrance. ST December 6, 1883, par. 18

Against the inspiring influence of Nehemiah's presence, the example of the Tekoite nobles had little weight. The people in general were animated with one heart and one soul of patriotism and cheerful activity. Men of ability and influence organized the various classes of citizens into companies, each leader making himself responsible for the reaction of a certain portion of the wall. It was a sight well pleasing to God and angels to see the busy companies working harmoniously upon the broken-down walls of Jerusalem, and it was a joyous sound to hear the noise of instruments of labor from the earliest dawn “till the stars appeared.” ST December 6, 1883, par. 19

Nehemiah's zeal and energy did not abate, now that the work was actually begun. He did not fold his hands, feeling that he might let fall the burden. With tireless vigilance he constantly superintended the work, directing the workmen, noting every hindrance, and providing for every emergency. His influence was constantly felt along the whole extent of those three miles of wall. With timely words he encouraged the fearful, approved the diligent, or aroused the laggard. And again he watched with eagle eye the movements of their enemies, who at times collected at a distance and engaged in earnest conversation as if plotting mischief, and then drawing near the workmen attempted to divert their attention and hinder the work. While the eye of every worker is often directed to Nehemiah, ready to heed the slightest signal, his eye and heart are uplifted to God, the great overseer of the whole work, the one who put it into the heart of his servant to build. And as faith and courage strengthen in his own heart, Nehemiah exclaims, and his words, repeated and re-echoed, thrill the hearts of the workers all along the line, “The God of Heaven, he will prosper us.” ST December 6, 1883, par. 20