Getting Ready For Work

Bible Book: Nehemiah  2 : 9-20
Subject: Nehemiah; Work, Getting Ready To; Preparation
Series: Nehemiah

Nehemiah chapter 2 is a transition chapter. In it Nehemiah moves from Persia to Palestine and from a servant to a leader. Having obtained the favor of the king for which he had prayed, Nehemiah traveled “…to the governors beyond the river, and gave them the king's letters (2:9),” along with a royal escort that had been assigned to him.

This journey from Susa to Jerusalem was at best 2 months. It was long and arduous, and yet it was necessary if Nehemiah was to reach the city and begin his work. In many ways, the long journey was the just beginning of the process that had to take place in order to get ready for the work of rebuilding.

Before mortar could be mixed and stones laid there were preparations that had to be made. Nehemiah had now carried his burden for some six months, and it would have to be carried a little longer before it could be unloaded into the work of the wall.

This portion of Nehemiah reminds us that our eagerness to do the work of God must not cause us to be impetuous or imprudent. There is always preparation for any work that is done well. The need may be urgent, but that does not mean that the work can be rushed.

Notice what we observe in this section with regard to getting ready for the work. Nehemiah points us to three important aspects of preparation. First of all, he demonstrates the work of:


In verse 11, Nehemiah’s memoirs record, “So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days.” We are not certain why Nehemiah waited these three days. It could be that he needed to rest from the long trip. It may be that he was just trying to lay low. Either way, this three day pause is an example of the methodical way in which Nehemiah worked. He is never in a hurry.

After three days, Nehemiah records that, “…I arose in the night…” He then proceeded to take a midnight ride, and survey the southern portion of the wall. He says in verse 15, “Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned.”

In this incognito investigation, Nehemiah points us to the need of assessing a situation before we try to fix it. We can do the work properly until we understand the work fully.

“It is utter folly to refuse to believe that things are as bad as they really are. It is vital in any undertaking for God to know the worst, for whenever there is to be a wonderful movement of the Holy Spirit, it begins with someone like Nehemiah who was bold enough to look at facts, to diagnose them, and then to rise to the task.”[i] – Alan Redpath

Note a couple of things about this work of assessing the conditions. Note first of all:

A. Nehemiah’s method of assessment

There are a couple of things to note about the way in which Nehemiah assessed the walls. For one thing, it was a discreet assessment. Nehemiah three times mentions that his work was done at night. He adds in verse 12, “…neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem…” And again in verse 16, we read, “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.”

The reason for his privacy and secrecy is not completely clear. One writer speculates that the “careless leakage of information as this early stage”[ii] might stop the project prematurely. Whatever the reason for his discretion, “[w]e see him in these verses as a man with the counsel of God in heart, conferring not with flesh and blood…”[iii]

His method of assessment was not only discreet, but it was also detailed. Though it does not appear that Nehemiah surveyed the full length of the walls, the parts that he did inspect were examined thoroughly. He says in verse 15 that he “viewed the wall.” The word translated “viewed” is a word that means to look carefully into something. It was a medical term that described probing a wound to assess the damage.

Notice not only Nehemiah’s method of assessment, but note also:

B. Nehemiah’s motive for assessment

Nehemiah had letters from the king, supplies for the job, and a throbbing burden in his heart, yet he took the time to thoroughly assess the condition of the walls. Why? There are at least two reasons. It is certain for one, that Nehemiah had personal reasons.

Yes, Nehemiah had been given a report about the conditions of the walls, and he was aware that they were damaged to some extent, however, Nehemiah needed to see for himself how bad it actually was.

There were likewise practical reasons for assessing the walls. Nehemiah was about to stand before the people and ask them to join him in the task of rebuilding. He needed first-hand knowledge of what the work was going to require. As the foreman, he needed to know the job-site in order to assign the workers to their position.

“Those who get the job of rebuilding done do not rush in before they do their homework. They take a good long look at the situation for themselves. It is a part of the price of leadership.”[iv] – O.S. Hawkins

Nehemiah reminds us that before we begin a work for God, we need to spend some time surveying and assessing the situation. We need to let God speak to us about what is needed, and how we should proceed.

Notice a further preparation we find in this chapter. In getting ready for work, Nehemiah points us not only to the importance of assessing the conditions, but also to the critical task of:


There is no such thing as a lone leader. Nehemiah illustrates this as he goes about the task of assembling his work-force. As driven as Nehemiah was, he could never have rebuilt the walls alone. He needed cooperation from the people of the city.

Likewise, the kingdom of God is made up of individual Christians, but it is not built up by individuals working in isolation. Any work of God that succeeds can be traced back, not just to a person, but to a people who cooperated together to get the job done.

Consider a couple of lessons Nehemiah teaches us about assembling a cooperative group. First of all, he teaches us about:

A. The priority of getting cooperation

When we see how Nehemiah approached the people in Jerusalem we see that he recognized just how important it was for him to gain the cooperation of the people. In the next chapter, you find the fruit of this cooperation, and it sheds light on why it is such a priority in preparation for the work.

O.S. Hawkins illustrates the priority of getting cooperation by pointing to the reasons that migrating geese fly in the “V” formation. He says, “Each bird flaps his wings and creates an uplift for the birds behind. A bird has 71% more flying range in a ‘V’ formation than he does by flying alone.”[v]

Nehemiah recognized the priority of getting the people to work together. Notice not only the priority of getting cooperation, but notice also:

B. The process of gaining cooperation

Nehemiah’s gifts as a leader are once again on display as he finally decides to speak to the people about the work God had placed upon his heart. He records the heart of his address to them in verses 17 and 18. “Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me…”

There are some things we recognize about the process Nehemiah used to gain the cooperation of the people. First of all, he used association. Take note of the pronouns he used. He talked about the distress that “we” are in. He said, “Let us build up” He was not condescending or disconnected. He associated with the people.

He also used articulation. Nehemiah made clear the essence of the problem. He called them to wake up and recognize the terrible condition of the city, and the “reproach” that it brought upon them and consequently their God. People need to be told the truth, and called to see things as they really are. He likewise articulated what needed to be done. He said, “Let’s get up and rebuild these walls!” People need to know what it is they are being asked to do.

Lastly, Nehemiah used affirmation. He gave the people encouragement about the prospects of success. He assured them that God had blessed him, and he offered as proof the permission that had been given him by the king. Often people need to be motivated by hearing someone simply say, “It can be done! We can do it!”

There is a third aspect of preparation that we find in this passage. Nehemiah points us to the need for assessing the conditions, assembling the cooperation, and also the necessity of:


Twice in this chapter we are told of people who were less than enthused about Nehemiah and his plans. In verse 10, we read, “When Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, heard of it, it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.”

In verse 19, there feelings come out in the form of ridicule and criticism. It says, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king?”

Often the work of rebuilding is not hindered so much by the conditions of the walls as it is by the critics outside the walls. Nehemiah reminds us that when we are getting ready for work, we had better be prepared to deal with criticism.

“Part of the unwritten job requirements for every leader is the ability to handle criticism. That’s part of the leadership package. If you never get criticized, chances are you aren’t getting anything done.”[vi]

What does Nehemiah teach us about dealing with criticism? There are at two lessons in this chapter. First of all, he teaches us to:

A. Hear the criticism

It is important to note that Nehemiah does not merely ignore the critics. He does not stop his ears and act as if no one is being critical.

Some people feel that good leadership is only listening to those who agree with you, and dismissing those who do not. This is a foolish way of handling criticism, because it could be that the critic is right.

Nathan was critical of David’s sin, and it is fortunate that David was willing to listen. Criticism must be discerned before it can be dealt with.

Nehemiah teaches us not only to hear the criticism, but also how to:

B. Handle the criticism

Once Nehemiah heard what the critics were saying, he recognized that their criticism was not legitimate, and he handled it accordingly. He knew that they opposed the work for selfish reasons. He knew that they were resentful to the rebuilding of the city because they had a financial interest in a weakened Jerusalem, and they likewise cared nothing for God and His people.

Understanding that, Nehemiah handles them by saying, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem (2:20).”

It is interesting to note that Nehemiah did not shake his royal paperwork in the face of his critics, and cite his earthly authority as the reason why they were working. No, Nehemiah pointed his critics upward and then inward. He informed them of the high nature of the work they were doing, and then reminded them that they had no part of that place or that work.

“His words resonate with persuasive confidence. Whatever the nature of human opposition, God will bring the work to a successful conclusion but His name must be magnified from the start.”[vii] – Raymond Brown

No successful work has ever begun without some kind of preparation. God initiated this work in the heart of Nehemiah in the palace. Nehemiah traveled 800 miles to get to the job site, but could not begin until preparations had been made.

We learn from him that we need to thoroughly understand the need, build a coalition of people who will help us with the work, and then we must be ready to handle the enemy who never sits idle when we get ready to work.


[i] Redpath, Alan, Victorious Christian Service, (Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, NJ, 1958), p. 45

[ii] Brown, Raymond, The Message of Nehemiah, (IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 1998), p. 56

[iii] Redpath, Alan, p. 43

[iv] Hawkins, O.S., Rebuilding: It is never too late for a new beginning, (Annuity Board, Nashville, 1999), p. 40

[v] Hawkins, O.S., p. 46

[vi] Swindoll, Charles R., Hand Me Another Brick, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1990), p. 60

[vii] Brown, Raymond, p. 59-60