Who was Nehemiah in the Bible? Nehemiah’s heart broke as he heard the news. His beloved city was in ruins. The town streets he’d run through as a boy were now desolate. His beautiful childhood home was torn down. But worse than that, the gates that surrounded his city—a sure sign of God’s protection and provision—had been destroyed by his enemies.
So strong was Nehemiah’s anguish that he broke down in tears upon discovering this news. The grief lingered in his spirit long after his tears were dry. He carried the sadness and despair with him, crying out to God in his pain.
But even as the sorrow haunted him, God gave Nehemiah a vision—an idea of seeing his city restored. It would begin with the restoration of the city walls. This was no easy feat and the challenge would be overwhelming. Some would even say it was impossible.
Maybe you can relate. God has given you a vision too. Perhaps it wasn’t an actual vision in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s just a fluttering in your heart. A whisper the Spirit speaks into the stillness. Your vision might be to foster a child, start a new business, homeschool your child, or write a book.
Whatever it is, you might be looking at the task and feel as if it’s impossible. You might doubt that you have the strength and courage to accomplish it. You may think that other people are meant to do great things for God and well, you’re just…you.
Oh, dear one, don’t believe the lies of the enemy. If God has given you a vision, He can provide every resource you need to accomplish it. As Nehemiah’s story proves over and over again, no one can stand against the will of God.
Maybe you have wondered:
Who was Nehemiah in the Bible?
How Old Was Nehemiah When He Died?
Where was Nehemiah Born?
We will explore some of these questions as we uncover lessons we can learn from the biblical character Nehemiah. Here are five truths to carry with you as you start your own journey toward the vision God has given you…
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Introduction to the Book of Nehemiah
If you have read the book of Ezra, you will quickly realize that Nehemiah is a sequel to the book of Ezra. It walks you through the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem along with the recommitment of the exiles to fulfill their covenant obligations. I like this book overview from The Bible Project that walks you through an overview of the book of Nehemiah. You may also wish to use this Bible study book as you study the biblical character Nehemiah.
The Meaning of the Name Nehemiah
Of Hebrew origin, the name Nehemiah means comforted by Jehovah.
Who Was Nehemiah in the Bible?
Who was Nehemiah in the Bible? We will explore a snapshot into the life of Nehemiah and lessons we can learn from him that are applicable to our lives today.
Truth #1: Start with Prayer
Nehemiah didn’t immediately rush out and begin gathering tools, supplies, and men to help him with the wall. He didn’t make a list of daily to-dos. He didn’t create a timeline or try to get buy-in from other people who maybe couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see his vision.
No, Nehemiah had a radically different approach. He started by praying. His prayer is simple. First, calling out God as faithful (Nehemiah 1:5). When you start your prayers by acknowledging one of God’s attributes, it honors God and it also reminds you of your smallness. This humbles you and puts you in the right frame of mind.
You are having a conversation with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You have entered the throne room of Ultimate Power. The One you are speaking to has no rival or equal throughout all of history. This is the One to whom you are speaking. Approach His throne with familiarity and love but also reverence and trembling.
During Nehemiah’s prayer, he confesses his sins and the sins of his country (Nehemiah 1:6-7). Prayer must always include an honest evaluation of where we are and what we’ve done.
Confessing isn’t for God’s benefit. He already knows every decision you’ve made. It’s for your benefit. Confession cleanses the soul and renews the mind. It causes you to embrace a Spirit of humility and gentleness.
The third thing that Nehemiah does during his prayer is he reminds God of His promises. God is not forgetful as humans are bound to be.
In Isaiah 49, the city of Zion declares that the Lord has forgotten her. And this is His beautiful reply…
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
Although you may at times fear that God has forgotten you or forgotten His promises to you, let this truth take deep root in your heart today: you are tattooed on God’s very palm.
You’ve heard the expression, “I know that like the back of my hand”? That is how God knows you. He knows you deeply and intimately. He has never once forgotten a promise He’s made and He’s not about to start now.
So why then does Nehemiah take the time to recall His promise? Not for God’s benefit. But for his own. Nehemiah is reminding his own heart of God’s faithfulness and so he further honors God in his prayer.
Only after having acknowledged the Holiness and Worthiness of the King, confessing his sins, and reviewing God’s past promises does Nehemiah take a fourth and final step. He asks for God’s help.
Over two hundred words are used during Nehemiah’s prayer and only 15 of those are related to his actual request. The point is not about how long a prayer is. God can hear an earnest prayer of 15 words as easily as he can one of 15,000 words.
The point is Nehemiah’s approach. He spent more time focusing on his relationship with God and showing Him deep reverence than he did making his request.
It’s clear from his language that Nehemiah was not only familiar and intimate with God, but also that he did not view God as a cosmic vending machine that would give him whatever he wanted if he merely added the right words.
Truth #2: Favor Comes from God
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, which means he was the one to bring the king his wine. In all of his years, Nehemiah had never showed up with anything less than a pleasant demeanor. But on this day, Nehemiah can no longer hide his despair over his homeland.
When the king learns of this, he asks Nehemiah what he wants (Nehemiah 2:4).
After saying a quick prayer, Nehemiah phrases his request in a short, eloquent way, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:5)
It’s easy to get so caught up in what’s happening around you that you believe you need the favor of others. Perhaps because you want a foster child, you need the favor of the social worker. Maybe because you want to start a business, you need the favor of a local investor. Perhaps because you want to homeschool your child, you need the favor of the school board. Maybe you’re writing a book and you need the favor of an agent or editor.
But no matter who seems to be the one “in power” in the situation, never forget that favor comes from the Lord.
Proverbs 21:1 beautifully illustrates this concept. “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.” (NLT)
No matter who you’re facing, you can stand with the confidence that you know the One who controls every heart.
He can soften the heart of a social worker who seemed against you in the beginning. He can cause your school board to look favorably on your family. He can send the right investor to your doorstep. He can guide you to the agent that He has handpicked for your book.
You serve the God who holds every heart in His hand and what’s more, this same God is for you.
In Romans 8:31-32, Paul boldly declares, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
You can rest in the knowledge that no matter who it seems the situation hinges on, God is actually the one in control. His hand is on the wheel, precious one.
Truth #3: Evaluate in Silence
There may come times when God has given you a vision and it’s not yet time to share it with many people. Perhaps God has called you to work in silence for a season while He positions the resources and tools you need. Maybe God is still moving you into the right place to accomplish His vision.
In Nehemiah 2:12, he explains, “I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.”
Since God has given him this vision, Nehemiah doesn’t appear to have done much. After all, he said a prayer and looked at the work to come.
Maybe you’re one of those people that likes to jump in feet-first. You think you’ll figure it out along the way. You’re more than prepared to do great things for God. All He has to do is hand you a list and step out of the way.
But one of the wisest things you can do before you begin a project or a new journey is to pause and evaluate. Often saying “yes” to something new means saying “no” to something else.
You might feel God prompting you to go back to school in the evenings, so what will you need to give up to make that happen? Will you have to cut back on your TV time or simplify your nightly routine? Do you need to talk with your spouse and kids and get them on board with helping out more?
There are no right or wrong answers here. But it is important to count the cost long before you start.
Consider whether the vision you have is truly from God and if you deeply long for it. Do you want it enough to risk being uncomfortable as you’re stretched into a new place? Do you desire it so strongly that you’re willing to make changes to your current routine?
It might be helpful to talk these answers over with one trusted friend or your spouse. If you have no one or don’t feel led to share your vision just yet, consider journaling the answers instead.
Truth #4: God Provides the Way
When God has given you a vision, you can trust Him to provide the way. This is what He did from the very beginning with Nehemiah. Not only did He grant him favor in front of the king, but He also provided for him as well.
The royal cup bearer asked for letters to provide him safe passage and the timber he would need (Nehemiah 2:7-8). The king of course granted these requests. But listen to how Nehemiah explains what happened…
“And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.” – Nehemiah 2:8
Note that Nehemiah didn’t say “because the king was gracious” or “because I asked so eloquently” or even “because my plan was flawless”. What Nehemiah does in this instance and throughout the book is point back to God’s favor and goodness.
Did you know that God delights in you? Do you believe it? When something good happens in your life, do you point back to it and say, “God blessed me with…”?
Maybe you have trouble with this concept. Perhaps you’ve never known what it’s like to be “delighted in”. Your father was abusive. Your mother rejected you. Your siblings mocked you. Your friends betrayed you. You feel used up and unwanted. You doubt that God could look at you and see anything worth “delighting in”.
Oh, but He does, dear one. He enjoys the sound of your laugh. He chose the freckles that would dust your shoulders. He picked the color of your hair and chose exactly where that one birthmark would be placed.
He knit you together (Psalm 139:13). God Himself chose every element of your DNA. You are His creation, and you delight Him. Not because of what you’ve done or haven’t done. Not because of what you’ve said or haven’t said.
You delight God simply because you are His unique creation. You are His child, and your very existence fills Him with joy. He rejoices over you. He sings over you every night (Zephaniah 3:17) and carries you in His arms each day (Deuteronomy 1:31, Psalm 68:19).
Like Nehemiah, you can boldly proclaim that “the gracious hand of God is upon me”.
Truth #5: There Will Be Trouble
After his quiet evaluation, Nehemiah meets with the officials and the nobles to share his vision with them. This is the point where he needs buy-in. He needs other people to agree with him so the work can be done.
Everyone is quick to nod along. They believe in what he wants to do. They can see the vision God has given Nehemiah.
The next verse described exactly what happened at the meeting…
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. – Nehemiah 2:18
Everything sounds great, right?
Yes, let’s restore the walls!
The project is started with enthusiasm. Everyone is energized and excited. God is moving and people want to help.
Then of course, the mocking and the ridicule start. Three men in particular are named— Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab. These three men would cause countless problems for Nehemiah.
You might think that just because God gave you a vision, everything should flow smoothly. While that does happen occasionally, the sad truth is that most of the time things don’t work that way.
You’ve no sooner picked up the hammer to start “restoring your wall” then trouble shows up. You decide to write the book of your heart only to suddenly have new caregiving responsibilities added to your days.
You decide to start the business that God has laid on your heart only to learn that your house has toxic mold, and you’ll need to live somewhere else during the renovations.
You decide to go back to school to get your degree and pursue that passion God has given you only to have the scholarships fall through at the last minute.
So, how do you handle these situations? Should you bite your nails and fret? Should you throw in the towel and give up now? Should you despair of ever seeing the vision God has given you come to life?
Well, you could do those things. But first, let’s take a look at how Nehemiah handled the trouble that showed up at his door.
When Sanballat and Co show up on the scene, they want to know if Nehemiah is rebelling against the king. It’s a serious accusation and the wrong answer could easily lead Nehemiah and those around him to their deaths.
Here was Nehemiah’s response to their accusations…
“The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:20)
Nehemiah proclaims that God is the one who will give him success. He focuses on what he’s supposed to be doing (start rebuilding) and reminds his enemies that they have no claim in this place.
Too many times in life, we give away ground to our enemy who has no right to be there in the first place.
As a child of God, you have the Spirit of the Overcomer within you. Consider these parting words that Jesus gave to His disciples…
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
What if you took that verse and you personalized it to your situation today? What would that look like? Maybe something like this…
- “I have told you these things, Sarah, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you have financial difficulties. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
- “I have told you these things, David, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you have chronic illness. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
- “I have told you these things, Tia so that in me you may have peace. In this world you have marital struggles. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
What if you wrote out the verse right now with your name and your trouble? This is what it might look like…
- “I have told you these things, (your name), so that in me you may have peace. In this world you have (your struggle). But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Victory is yours for the taking. Not because of who you are or what you’ve done. But because of who your Savior is and what He has done.
You don’t have to snivel in the corner when obstacles come your way. You don’t have to fret about how you’re going to pay for that degree or where your next meal is coming from. You don’t have to bow to the darkness that’s telling you that you’ll never overcome the addictions that have plagued your family.
You can live free. You can walk in victory. But first, you have to understand that you are already victorious. You are an overcomer simply because you are a beloved child of God.
Paul, the man who had faced false imprisonment, persecution, and sorrow proudly proclaimed to the Roman church, “Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:37, NLT).
Nehemiah Character Study
Who was Nehemiah in the Bible? There is much we can learn from the life of Nehemiah that is applicable to our lives today as Christians. Why not do your own in-depth character bible study of Nehemiah as well as download a Bible study worksheet to help you accomplish this.
Who Was Nehemiah in the Bible?
Whatever vision God has given you, He can accomplish. You might be saying that you’re not qualified. That you’re not smart enough to homeschool your child or strong enough to foster a hurting child or polished enough to write a book.
But that’s the thing about it. God is not looking for “enough” because He is enough. He’s looking for broken vessels that are completely surrendered to Him. He’ll do the rest.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8
Heed the call today, precious one. Strike out in faith and go after the vision God has planted in your heart. This will be the adventure of a lifetime!