Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader: When Revival Happens (Neh 3)
When Revival Happens
Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them. The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors…
When does revival happen? What characteristics are necessary in order to have revival? How do we bring radical change in our work place, ministry, or the family God has placed us in? We can learn principles about this from Israel’s response to Nehemiah’s leadership in Nehemiah 3.
As we read this text, we will be tempted to think there is nothing in this chapter for us. It is just a bunch of hard names to pronounce and details about the building of the walls of Jerusalem. Though we do not have a diagram, it is detailing the rebuilding of the circular walls around Jerusalem in a counter clockwise motion from the Sheep gate mentioned in verse 1 to the other side of the sheep gate at the end of the chapter.[i]
However, what is written here is actually very practical to our lives. Let us remember the context; Israel was in rebellion towards God and, therefore, was sent into exile into Babylon. Israel was called to be a light to the world. As a nation of priests, they were to bring the Gentile world to Yahweh. However, instead of being a light to the world, they became like the world and worshiped the gods of this world. Therefore, they forfeited the blessing of God and received his curses instead. For this reason, they were exiled in Babylon. Israel was no longer fulfilling God’s will; they were a derision, a reproach, and a shame (2:17).
Those who had returned from exile were constantly open to attack because the city had no walls. This left the nation open for continual derision, mocking, and even raids from those who would steal their crops.
In fact, in chapters 2 and 4 specifically, we see the anger of the neighboring nations, even at the possibility of Israel rebuilding their walls. This would mean less profit for them, and therefore, they worked hard to sabotage the building project.
How does this apply to the church? This applies in many ways. When Nehemiah started rebuilding the wall, he was essentially helping to restore the call of God on the nation. He was turning them back from their depression, their scorn, and restoring their call to be a light to the world.
The church has also been called to be salt and light to the world (Matt 5:13-14). Where Israel failed and received the judgment of God, the church today is called to be a “holy nation,” a nation full of priests to bring the world to himself (1 Peter 2:9).
However, as we look at the church today, it is similarly in much disarray. It is far from being the light that it has been called to be and reaching the world for Christ. I have no doubt that many churches have encountered the curse that Jesus promised the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2:5. Listen to what he said: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”
Jesus told this church that if they did not repent, he would blow out the lights of the church. It would no longer be a light to the world; it would no longer be effective in reaching people for Christ. It would be alive but dead. Ephesus was the church that had the apostle Paul as pastor, then his disciple Timothy, and finally John the apostle, as seen in 1 John. It had a tremendous history, but sadly, it is no longer here today. The lights were eventually blown out.
When we look at many churches and ministries today, they are a shell of what they used to be. It is very possible for our lights to be blown out as well, for lack of putting God first. The history of Christianity is full of Christian churches, institutions, and nations who once were on fire for God but now are just an edifice of what they once were for God. All they have now is a history of how God used them. The walls were broken down that initially kept the enemy out, allowing him to bring compromise and then destruction.
Yes, what happened to Israel happens to Christian churches, Christian institutions, and even individual Christians every day. They get put on a shelf and the grace of God is removed from them. In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet Ezekiel, through a vision, actually saw the glory of God leave the temple and leave Israel before Babylon destroyed her. Yes, it is possible to have the lights turned out on us, becoming ineffective and unprofitable for the kingdom of God—lamps with no oil that are good for nothing (cf. Matt 25:3).
This makes Nehemiah’s work in motivating Israel very real to us. How do we rebuild the walls of our church to keep out the attacks of liberalism, false teaching, and apathy that are running rampant among the people of God? How do we begin to have the revival God wants in our churches so that we again can return to the high calling God has for us?
As we look at this text of Nehemiah reviving the hearts of the Israelites, we see aspects that were necessary for every revival from the beginning of time. In this chapter, we will see six principles that leaders must know about reviving the hearts of people to do the work that God has called them to do.
Big Question: When does revival happen? What characteristics of revival do we see in this text, and how can we apply these principles as leaders?
Revival Happens When Leaders Set the Example
Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel.
Interpretation Question: What was the Sheep Gate and what is significant about the priests’ activity in rebuilding it?
As we start to study the rebuilding of the walls, what must jump out to us first is that the spiritual leaders led the way. Eliashib, the high priest, and the fellow priests began to rebuild the Sheep Gate. There was only one high priest, and therefore, Nehemiah means to show us that when the rebuilding started, the spiritual leaders began the work.
No doubt, the priests would be highly interested in the Sheep Gate for this was the gate animals would go through in order to be sacrificed.[ii] The priests were willing to use their hands to do manual labor. This set the tone for reviving the hearts of the people.
This was not the priest’s job; the Levites were the ones who did the manual labor, especially in the temple. The priest, typically, offered the sacrifices and taught the people, but, nevertheless, they were willing to get their hands dirty and set the example.
But, even more than them being mentioned first, we also see that they were doing more work than most people. They are mentioned again in verses 22 and 28: “The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region… Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house.” They were leading by example.
Listen to what Peter said about elders in 1 Peter 5:1-3:
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Peter gives three vices that are common to those in leadership. Sometimes they serve out of laziness (because they must), greed for money, or for power. Peter was appealing to them to serve properly. In a sense, he is trying to revive the leaders so that they can revive the flock.
Let this then challenge us as leaders: small group leaders, deacons, elders, leaders of our families and communities. If there is going to be a stirring of people’s hearts from apathy, it must start with us. Much of the teaching in the church is void of power simply because the leaders’ lives don’t demonstrate it.
No doubt, when Nehemiah came to Israel, one of the primary jobs he focused on was motivating the leaders to get on fire and to lead the way. Peter did the same in his epistle to scattered and discouraged Christians living throughout the Roman Empire. Peter said to the leaders, “Set the example for the flock.”
Therefore as leaders, if we are going to preach evangelism, let us be evangelists. If we are going to preach on prayer, let us be zealous on our knees. If we are going to preach on zeal, let us burn with the fire of God. If we are going to preach on the importance of Scripture, let us be zealous in study.
Paul told Timothy this:
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4:15-16
The saving of the hearers only happens when one’s life and doctrine are both being protected from sin or blemish. Revival and transformation only happen when the leaders set the example, when they not only teach on humility, perseverance, diligence, and honesty, but also embody it with their lifestyles. It is only then that our hearers and those who watch us can be transformed.
Decay through Leadership
In fact, because of their crucial role in bringing revival to churches, institutions, and communities, leaders are constantly assaulted by the enemy. In chapter 5, Nehemiah will share about the corruption of the previous governors who overtaxed the people and abused their power (v.15). We also saw this with the kings of Israel. Saul fell away from God, and it negatively affected Israel. Solomon fell away as well, leading Israel into a cycle of disobedience and idolatry.
Biblical history is full of corrupt leaders who helped bring decay amongst the people of God, and for this reason, we can be sure that leadership is the focus of many of Satan’s attacks. In fact, when you look at some of the battles the church is fighting, much of it is over leadership. There is a battle about whether homosexuals can be in leadership; there is a battle over gender in leadership.
Why is that? It is because the enemy is always attacking the leadership of the church. He knows that when the leadership falls, the people fall. He knows that David’s pride in taking a census of Israel brought the judgment of God upon the people (1 Chronicles 21). He knows that when Solomon fell away from God, it led the people away from God as well.
Therefore, the enemy works overtime in coming against the leaders of the church in order to bring spiritual decay. However, when there is revival it similarly starts with the leadership.
Application Question: How should we respond to this strategic call on the lives of leaders in helping bring revival?
1. We must remember to pray for our leaders.
First Timothy 2:1-3 says,
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.
Leading from the front is never easy. It makes our leaders special targets of the enemy. Let us remember them in prayer daily. Let us lift them up, and let us serve them at all times for they watch over our souls. If we do not pray for them, it will affect our ability to live “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim 2:2).
2. We must submit to our leaders.
Nehemiah 3:5 says this: “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.”
Here, it seems that these nobles (the wealthy) were marked not only for not getting involved but also for not submitting to their “supervisors.” Romans 13:1-2 says this:
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
By not submitting to our leaders, we actually rebel against God (v. 2).
In this text, God honored those who submitted to the leadership by sharing their work and names in the book of Nehemiah; however, God also dishonored those who did not. The nobles were dishonored in the reading of the book then, and they are dishonored now before us. We must obey and submit to our leaders, and by doing this, we obey and submit to God. If the hearts of the people are going to be revived in serving the Lord, it must first begin with the leadership.
Application Question: Why is leadership so important? In what ways is God challenging you to better serve your leaders or to become a more effective leader to help bring revival?
Revival Happens When Everyone Is Unified
Observation Question: What are some of the various types of people seen in this text rebuilding the wall?
One of the things that must stand out as we study this text is the great number of different people God used in rebuilding the wall. Look at some of the people who were used. There were builders from diverse regions of Judah: the Tekoites in verse 5 and the inhabitants of Zanoah in verse 13. They came from diverse professions: the goldsmiths and the perfumers in verse 8. There were both sexes working on the wall: Shallum and his daughters in verse 12. Even the spiritual leaders served including the high priest and his fellow priests (v. 1), the Levites (v. 17), and many district leaders (verse 9, 12, etc.). In fact Malchijah, the “leader of the district of Beth Haccerem, repaired the Refuse Gate” in verse 14.
Revival happens when there is unity. We see in this text that people from various backgrounds came together to serve. Men, women, sons, daughters, goldsmiths, perfumers, priests, Levites, and district leaders worked together in order to accomplish this great task.
Similarly, unity always precedes revival amongst the people of God. Listen to what Christ said in John 17:20-23:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus said when the church is unified, we will see many souls come to Christ; the world will know that Jesus came from God. In fact, when we consider Billy Graham crusades or revivals, where thousands of people got saved, unity was always one of the characteristics that marked those revivals.
With Billy Graham’s crusades specifically, he would call together Christians from Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Brethren, Catholic backgrounds, etc., in order to reach the city for Christ. He often was criticized for this, and in some cases the criticism may have been valid. Sometimes, these crusades did not discriminate, even amongst those who professed a different gospel.
Sadly, most ministries swing to the other extreme. Most churches and ministries work very independently. In fact, they are often so worried about losing members that they never work with other churches at all. However, when you look at the early church, which also experienced revival, they were very unified. When there was a doctrinal question about Gentiles practicing the Law, the church got together in Jerusalem to discuss it (Acts 15). When the Jerusalem church was suffering, the churches in Macedonia and Corinth sent finances (2 Cor 8). These churches were interacting over hundreds of miles. It is no wonder that the church multiplied at such a fast rate. It is also no wonder why evangelism has slowed to a crawl in most churches and denominations. Often churches, even in the same denomination and the same city, rarely work together.
When we are unified, Jesus said the world will know. Now this works on a macro level and on a micro level. Listen to what David said:
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
David said that when brothers are in unity, this is where God’s blessing is. If we are going to have revival even on a micro-level in our individual church homes, we must start to reconcile relationships and we must start to work together.
We can be sure that because of this reality, Satan works over time to bring division. He knows that when there is disunity, there is no blessing from God. In fact, it only opens the door for Satan to bring destruction. Listen to what Paul said in Ephesians 4:26: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Paul used war terminology. To allow division in the church or in our families is to break down the walls and allow the enemy to attack. It gives the devil a “foothold,” a base to attack us and God’s church from all different angles. If we are going to have revival, we must have unity.
Application Question: What can we do to help bring unity, and therefore, the blessing of God upon the church?
1. To bring unity, we must labor to reconcile any relationships that the enemy has divided.
If there are any relationships out of order, we must seek reconciliation. This means forgiving anybody who has hurt us and trying to restore those relationships. It includes laboring to restore relationships between others in the church. Paul said this in Philippians 4:2-3:
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Paul called for a person in the church to help these two women agree in the Lord. Many times there is a need for a mediator—a peacemaker to help bring reconciliation. It is not okay for us to say that it is not our problem and we don’t need to get involved. It is our problem because division removes the blessing of God on the church (Psalm 133). We must labor to be peacemakers in our churches.
Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
2. To bring unity, we must labor to reconcile churches so that the world may know that God sent the Son (cf. John 17:23).
The early church worked together as they served the Lord (Acts 15, 2 Cor 8). We also must work together to spread the gospel and bring revival in our nations and communities. Certainly, there is a place for separation from those who are in error. However, if we are unified on the gospel, then I believe we can partner together in select ways such as: prayer, service, evangelism, fighting for righteous laws in society, etc.
Paul handled those who had wrong doctrine and a false gospel totally differently. Those with a false doctrine such as the church of Corinth, he lovingly corrected. To anyone with a false gospel he cursed saying, “Let him be eternally condemned” (cf. Gal 1:8-9). Sadly, the church often curses both those with different doctrine and a false gospel as though they were the same. One is a part of God’s family who is in error, and the other is at enmity with God. There is a great difference, and therefore, they shouldn’t be treated the same. God calls for us to labor to keep the unity of the Spirit, and we must do that if we are going to experience revival.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced God’s blessing through unity? In what ways have you seen Satan make churches or ministries ineffective through division? How can we help be agents of unity?
Revival Happens When Everyone Does His or Her Part
This stems from the last point on unity. Not only must there be unity for revival but also each person must do his part. When we look at the rebuilding of the wall, it is clear that almost everybody was involved. It is no different in the church when there is revival. Everybody begins to do his part. Listen to what Paul said: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
Paul says the church grows “as each part does its work.” The counselor counsels, the person with the gift of service serves, and the person with the gift of helps, helps people. This is how the church grows. In fact, I love the analogy of the ligament that Paul uses. See, ligaments “connect” things together; they connect the joints. This means if we have ligaments in the church that are not functioning properly, the rest of the body can’t grow or operate correctly. The body begins to limp; it can’t run, jump, or do many of the things it is supposed to. In fact, other parts of the body start to overcompensate, which eventually wears them down. When each person doesn’t do his part, the church essentially handicaps itself and ceases to grow.
In the same way, most churches, ministries, or organizations are handicapped because their ligaments, muscles, vital organs, etc., are not doing their part.
Application Question: What can we learn about each person serving and doing his part in the church from Israel’s rebuilding of the wall? What applications can be made?
1. Sometimes serving means doing what you do not want to do or what you are not equipped to do.
When you look at this story, you see priests, perfumers, and women rebuilding the wall who probably did not have training in this area. Often the church has focused on spiritual gifts and how we need to make sure that we are serving in our gifting. However, God often calls us to do things that we are not equipped for and maybe don’t want to do.
In fact, there is one person who served in the building of the Dung Gate who should be noted. Listen to this: “The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place” (Nehemiah 3:14).
The Dung Gate was the place where the excrements were taken to be discarded. No doubt, Malkijah probably had a “wonderful perfume” he could smell while serving. Now, I have no doubt that the Jews who read this would be shocked. “A district leader did this? Certainly, he would have used his power to get a better job, a better ministry.”
I can imagine Nehemiah asking for volunteers for different locations. He says, “Dung Gate? Dung Gate? Anybody want the Dung Gate?” The people are quiet and start looking in other directions, and then Malkijah steps up and says, “I will do it.”
I think sometimes we overemphasize spiritual gifts and what we like to do. God does not always call us to do something we like. Many times he just says, “Who would like to serve?” “Who will go for me?” “Who would like to get involved with what I am doing?” The believer says, “I’ll do it,” and then, God equips them to do the work.
Sometimes God’s work will not be in your preferred area; it may not even be your gifting. But, will you do it to honor God and to bring pleasure to him? I cannot but think that this type of service is many times a sweeter offering to him.
2. Sometimes serving means doing more than others.
We see this with the men of Tekoa and the priests mentioned several times in the text.
The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa…Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.
Nehemiah 3:5, 27
Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate…Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house.
Nehemiah 3:1, 28
Sometimes, it is hard to keep a good attitude when you are doing more work than others, when you are doing something you do not feel competent to do, or that you just do not like. I believe that is when God’s words to Paul come into play. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (1 Cor 12:9).
God delights to put us in circumstances that are sometimes hard, that may not be part of our gifting, and may feel like too much work, in order to give us more grace (James 4:6). Sometimes his grace is seen in him providing people with those giftings to help us out; other times he may supernaturally empower us to complete the job. God always gives grace as we do our part.
In what ways is God calling you to serve?
Application Question: In what ways do you feel God has equipped you to serve him? Has God ever put you in areas of service where you did not feel equipped or did not like the job? What was the result of that scenario?
Revival Happens when We Take Responsibility for Home
What other things do we notice in the building of the wall? We cannot but notice the places that God called many people to serve. Look at Nehemiah 3:10, 23, 28 and 29:
Adjoining this, Jedaiah son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house…Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house…. Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house.
As people were discerning how they could best serve the Lord, many of the places that God called them to serve were right next to them. They served and rebuilt the walls right next to their houses. This teaches a great deal about serving the Lord and being part of revival. Many times the Lord calls for us to serve in areas right in front of us and with people who are often closest to us.
We have many people who want to serve the world in missions, go here and there, and that is great. But most times, God will first call us to serve right where we are, where ever home is. Revival often begins at home. How do we see this in the rest of Scripture?
Application Question: What applications can we take from the fact that in the revival many were called to rebuild right beside their house?
1. Revival starts with ministering to our family.
Look at what Malachi prophesied about the coming of Elijah:
See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.
Malachi 4:6 prophesied that Elijah would come to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children. This prophecy was fulfilled in part at Christ’s first coming with John the Baptist. I believe this prophecy will also be fulfilled at his second coming by another Elijah figure (cf. Rev 11:6). When God called John to rebuild the walls and start a revival in Israel, he started with the family. He turned the hearts of the fathers back to the children and the children back to the fathers. Revival starts at home.
Since that prophecy was only partially fulfilled and awaits another Elijah figure, it means that before Christ’s second coming the nations of the world will be characterized by broken families. There will be a need for God to restore these families before Christ comes again.
Is this not true of families today? Divorce is all but the norm. How many families have been neglected for career, education, church ministry, or work? Many children, even among our pastor kids and missionary kids, harbor great anger towards their parents for this very reason. There is a need to restore the family.
Certainly, we see this call to prioritize family in the New Testament as well. Listen to what Paul told Timothy about how to run the church in Ephesus. He said:
But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God… If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.
1 Timothy 5:4, 8
Paul said believers should first put their religion into practice by serving their family, and if anybody does not care for their family, they are worse than an unbeliever—they probably are not saved. It is no wonder that those who truly get on fire for the Lord often are agents of change first with their families. It is only natural for one’s heart to burn for their brother, their sister, their mom and their dad. In fact, in order for one to be a pastor they must already show this special care for their family, “He must manage his own family well” (1 Tim 3:4).
This priority of serving at home first has often been neglected for other pursuits, and therefore, the walls of our families are in disarray and again need to be rebuilt.
Application Question: How can we be faithful in seeking revival with our families first? How can we apply this?
Maybe this renewal starts with forgiving a mom, a dad, or a sibling. Maybe it starts with beginning a Bible study with relatives or inviting them to church. I had a close friend who would Skype with her mom weekly for Bible study. This was her way of putting family first. As husbands, we must prioritize being the spiritual leader of our families, leading our wife and children in seeking God daily, and serving in a Bible preaching church. Certainly, one of the ways we put our family first is by constantly praying for them.
In what ways is God calling you to serve your family? Revival starts with our own family.
2. Revival starts in the areas where God has placed us, such as our church, our workplace, our community, and our city.
Look at what Christ taught his own disciples before they began the mission of winning the world, right before he ascended into heaven. He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
It is no surprise that they had to start their ministry in Jerusalem, then Judea, then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. This is where revival had to start; it had to start in the city where they were before it went to the world.
As people are considering missions and serving the kingdom abroad, they should ask themselves, “Am I serving in my Jerusalem? How am I building up the community or city that God has placed me in?”
To be placed here (wherever that may be) means to have a responsibility here. It was only after serving Jerusalem that the apostles were to go to Judea, Samaria, and the rest of the earth.
Are there homeless people near you? Serve them. Are there youth near you? Mentor them. Are there unbelievers near you? Evangelize them. Let us first consider how we can best serve those closest to us before we go elsewhere.
Application Question: How is God calling you to help rebuild right by your house? How can we make sure that we don’t neglect our family for ministry?
Revival Happens When a Few Souls Get on Fire
Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.
Interpretation Question: What is significant about Baruch son of Zabbai? Why does Nehemiah give special attention to his work?
What else can we learn about revival from the description of the rebuilding of the wall? Certainly, one of the verses that must stand out is verse 20 and the description of Baruch. As we look at Baruch, we see a man to whom Nehemiah gives special attention.
Each of the people listed as serving were on the honor roll. They would have been exalted as the list was read before the families of Israel. However, one man gets special honor; he is basically the valedictorian. It says that Baruch “zealously repaired another section.” The word “zealously” means “to burn or glow.”[iii]
In some way or another, this man worked more zealously than others. As we look at times when God brought revival or renewal throughout history, a few men or women glowed more brightly than others. Consider what Christ said about John the Baptist: “John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light” (John 5:35).
Matthew 11:12 says this: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”
Forceful men, those who really get on fire for God, are especially used as agents of revival. They get on fire for evangelism. They get on fire for the youth. They get on fire for the nations, and it is these forceful people who have always been greatly used to advance the kingdom of God. No doubt, Baruch’s zeal in serving the Lord inspired and challenged all those around him, and it is for this reason that God exalted his name in the Holy Scriptures.
I once had a pastor who often said, “One soul on fire for the Lord can do innumerably more than a million souls who have simply been enlightened by the Spirit.” Another person said, “Get on fire for the Lord and people will come and watch you burn.” Every revival needs souls like this, souls who get on fire and inspire us all. Their witness challenges every Christian to be what he should be and do what he is called to do.
Let the fact that typically only a few get on fire and inspire others not relinquish our responsibility to get on fire for God. For they represent what we should be. Listen to what Paul says:
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:58
God is calling each one of us to be filled with zeal; he is calling each one of us to glow. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
Are you glowing? Do you glow at work while you serve the Lord? Do you glow while studying at school? Do you burn with zeal for God? Have you lost your fire? Your fire or lack of fire affects the corporate flame of your church and it fulfilling God’s will.
How is God calling you to get that fire back? We need people who are willing to get on fire for God and keep that fire burning.
Application Question: In what ways have you been inspired by people who were on fire for God? Recall the time when you were most on fire for God. What was it like; how can you get it back and keep that fire burning?
Revival Happens When Everyone Practices the Humility of a Servant
Interpretation Question: Why is Nehemiah never mentioned in the honor roll of those who built the wall? What can we learn from this?
What cannot but stand out in this narrative about the rebuilding of the wall is the fact that Nehemiah never mentions his own name. He is the governor, the mastermind around the rebuilding. He brings many of the resources such as the logs from the forest of the king (cf. 2:8), but he does not mention himself in the passage at all when honoring those who served.
What can we learn from this?
Nehemiah practiced servant leadership. See, a servant serves, many times behind the scenes, but often never gets the glory for his service. The glory goes to the master. Well, Nehemiah not only served God, but he also served Israel and gave honor to them instead of himself. This is how Jesus taught us to serve:
So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
It is great to have a pat on the back, but Jesus says a servant should not expect one. He serves because it is his duty to serve the master. He also practices secrecy in his service, as he is not seeking honor from man but from God. Nehemiah demonstrates this as he takes no glory for himself in this honor roll of those who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
Listen to this: one of the greatest hindrances to revival is pride. Pride says, “I do not want to get involved.” “I do not want to commit.” “I do not like the leadership’s plan or what they are doing.” When pride does work, it seeks for glory and brings division. We saw this amongst the young disciples who argued about who would be greatest and lobbied to sit at Christ’s right hand in heaven. Pride is a poisonous root that can spoil revival. James said this:
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
How many of our churches and ministries have been destroyed because people want glory—they want to be seen? They want to serve as elders and deacons so people can look up to them and give glory to them. I have seen this at work in many churches. Leadership brings power and honor, and therefore, many seek to be in these positions in order to be served instead of serving.
If we are going to rebuild the walls of our communities, churches, families, and our lives, we must let go of our pride. We must let go of our selfish ambition and become servants of God and others. That cannot but standout as we look at Nehemiah who does not even mention his name in the honor roll of those who built. Humility does not care who gets the glory as long as God is glorified and others edified.
Let this be our passion as well. Let us bring glory to God and honor to others.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen a desire to be recognized and honored hinder fruitfulness in a church, organization, or simply somebody’s life? How can we better practice the humility of a servant?
When does revival happen? What are its characteristics? How can leaders start to be agents of change in their communities? Leaders must understand that:
Revival happens when leaders set the example.
Revival happens when everyone is unified.
Revival happens when everyone does his or her part.
Revival happens when people take care of home.
Revival happens when a few souls get on fire.
Revival happens when we practice the humility of a servant.
Application Question: How is God calling you to help bring revival in your own life? How is God calling you to take steps toward being an agent of revival in your family, church, or organization?
Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader is currently available as a a pre-order. If interested, click here. Please pray for God to use this book to raise up leaders to build his kingdom and bless the nations.
[i] Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 92). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
[ii] Getz, Gene (1995-06-22). Men of Character: Nehemiah (Kindle Locations 1038-1039). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 41). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.