Here is the second lesson in my Nehemiah series. What I neglected to mention in Part One is Nehemiah’s conversation with King Artaxerxes. He had a way with words, did Nehemiah, which is one of the things I like about him. The king said, “Why are you sad when you are clearly not ill. This is surely the sadness of the heart.” A very sensitive guy, this king. And Nehemiah replied, “Why shouldn’t I be sad, when my city lies in ruins, with its walls destroyed and its gates burnt to ashes.” Fortunately for everyone concerned, King Artaxerxes could appreciate snarkiness as much as I do. “What can I do for you?” he said kindly, and proceeded to give Nehemiah everything he asked for. But perhaps this isn’t the best example for a the Sunday School classroom! So, on to part two:
Last week, we learned that Nehemiah was sent by the king to Jerusalem to rebuild the city gates and walls. The king of Persia had provided everything that would be needed for this great work.
Now Nehemiah is in Jerusalem, but he does not start building right away. He does not even tell anyone why he has come. Instead, he goes out at night with just a few friends to look at the ruins of the old walls and find out just exactly what needed to be done to rebuild them. Close your eyes and picture Nehemiah on his trusty horse, riding carefully in the dark around the city, picking his way through the rubble of the broken walls in the moonlight. Sometimes the piles of stones from the fallen walls were so big, he had to ride far out of his way to go around. Perhaps the moon cast eerie shadows from the ruined bits of stonework. Nehemiah took note of all the damage done. He knew how important it was to make a plan.
Here is what the word PLAN stands for: Pray, Learn, Ask, and kNow what you’re doing. What comes first when you make a new plan? PRAY! Prayer always comes first, doesn’t it? Nehemiah prayed before talking to the king, and kept right on praying every step of the way to Jerusalem. If we don’t do a job the way God wants us to, we may as well not do it at all! So we must always begin by asking God what He wants us to do.
We must also be sure to LEARN all there is to know about a job before we begin. Nehemiah wisely looked at the walls and gates, so that he knew exactly what work needed to be done. But he didn’t learn how to build a city wall in one night, did he? He must have been studying about how to build walls for months, while he was waiting to go to Jerusalem. We can begin preparing ourselves for whatever work God has planned for us to do by studying now and learning as much as we can from God’s Word and from our schoolwork. If we learn all we can now, we can be ready to do God’s work when the time comes.
ASKING for help and advice is also important. Nehemiah took his friends with him to look at the walls because he knew they could give him good advice and might spot things that he might miss. No matter how much you learn, you just can’t know everything, can you? There’s always something that someone knows that you don’t know. Your parents, teachers, and even your friends can help you in whatever task you have at hand. God never means for us to work alone. He puts other people into our lives to work with us–but we must ask!
Now, I know that KNOW doesn’t begin with “n”! But I had to make it fit with the word PLAN! Always try hard to KNOW what you are going to do before you begin. An artist sketches out a picture in pencil before starting to paint, so that he will know how the picture will all fit together. A writer always makes an outline before he begins writing a story, so he knows how all the details will fit together. A builder makes a blueprint copy of his plans so he knows how the building will fit together. Nehemiah made a plan of how the wall was going to fit together before he started building. God expects us to use the brains He gave us to plan our work so that we can do our best for Him.
Remember that Nehemiah had not told anyone but his few special friends why he had come to Jerusalem. Only after Nehemiah made his plans, did he then reveal the plans to the people. Everyone was excited and ready to begin work at once. Do you think they would have been so excited if Nehemiah had said, “Let’s rebuild the walls. I don’t know how to do it, but we’ll figure it out somehow.” I don’t think so! Nehemiah had planned very carefully, and was able to give each family a job to do so that they were able to begin working right away. Every family in Jerusalem had specific job; not just professional builders, but also the priests, the store-keepers, the blacksmiths, the farmers–even the jewelry makers and the perfume makers! Men, women, and children worked side by side, following the plans that Nehemiah gave them.
But the enemies of the Jews were not happy about this building project! Two men named Sanballat and Tobiah began to mock the people and try to discourage them. What does it mean to mock? It means to make fun of someone. It hurts when people make fun of the work you are doing, doesn’t it? But Nehemiah just said, “The God of heaven will give us success.” We can say this, too, if anyone tries to discourage us from doing God’s work. Then Nehemiah said to Sanballat and Tobiah: “We have every right under heaven and by the king’s command to be here and to do this work. But you have no right to be here at all. So go away!” And they went away. But only for a while! Next time, we’ll learn more about the evil schemes of Sanballat and Tobiah, and how Nehemiah outsmarted them!