A Large and Spacious City

Nehemiah 7:1-4

On August 22, 1912 Mayor Curtis began his address at the dedication of the new Portland City Hall with these statements

“To be enduring in its character a city must be endowed with certain specific qualifications, through natural origin, to enable it to fortify itself against adversity and disaster.

Such attributes will afford it a basic constitution to withstand any disturbance, whether it be through the neglect, carelessness or warfare of man or the possible displeasure of a higher power, as viewed from human eyes…

Cities are not made in a day, but grow only through a long process of physical and commercial development, made possible by their geographical location, their facilities, their affiliations, their climate, their people and their country…”

Jerusalem, in September of 445 BC, possessed some of these qualifications but was lacking in others. God in his great love and wisdom would use Nehemiah as his agent in working to satisfy the rest of Jerusalem’s needs so that it might be an enduring city once again.

For nearly 140 years the Holy City had been insecure and indefensible – large breaches in the wall, doors missing from their places in the gates, barely any inhabitants. Once again, though, in God’s perfect time the city was –

A. finally secured v.1

wall completed

in 4:6, breaches had been repaired/filled in up to half height

in 6:1, breaches had been completely repaired to full height

at each stage of completion, city is more easily defended and protected

doors hung in their openings

heavy two-leaved wooden doors, held together with iron bands, perhaps covered with metal sheathing to make them fireproof

secured on the inside with bars to hold them closed

strong enough to withstand all but the most determined assault

gatekeepers appointed

perhaps from the ranks of those normally serving at the temple

would be trained & skilled for that kind of work

would be able to train others to help maintain security

worship revived

properly functioning church essential to secure city and strong families

ultimately God’s protection has greater significance than safety of walls

can only be counted on when people are honoring God in their worship and daily actions

B. faithfully governed v.2

given charge of the city

a healthy secure city requires leadership, someone in charge

pure democracy doesn’t work because man’s heart isn’t pure

everyone deciding everything ends up with no one in charge of anything, at worst, anarchy with every man for himself

so that wouldn’t happen, Nehemiah assigned leadership, hand-picked men

faithful and God-fearing

two considerations – experience AND character

both men had track record – Hanani, trip to Shushan to request help from Nehemiah; Hananiah, in charge of the viceroy’s “palace” in Jerusalem where Nehemiah and others in his capacity lived

by their actions, both had demonstrated their character

done their jobs well without giving up or abusing position; had shown themselves faithful with a little, could be trusted with more

had a reputation for godliness that made them stand out in a crowd

C. alertly guarded v.3

selected from residents

those who had a stake in their own protection – in their own best interests to do a good job

would generally be most trustworthy, reliable

some at guard stations

on duty at the gates

making sure (to limit of human discernment) that all who entered

had a right to do so – people to see, business to conduct, worship at the temple

meant no harm to residents of the city

some near homes

second line of security

against those who escaped notice at the gate

against those who climbed over the wall

specific instructions

not left unguarded, open only during peak business hours

demonstrate to all who observed they were taking security seriously

D. largely unfilled v.4

large and spacious but few people

far fewer returned from exile than were taken into captivity

many of those who returned to the city didn’t stay there

moved into the outlying towns for safety and financial reasons

for city to remain healthy and prosper, needed people

those who would be permanent residents – building houses

those who would contribute to the life of the city – civic, economic, religious, social

It isn’t a great stretch to see a model for the church in the Holy City, that is, Zion. The church is large and spacious with room for all who will turn to Christ in faith. Jude’s epistle tells us of Enoch, Old Testament saint, who prophesied saying “Behold, the Lord comes with myriads [ten thousands] of his saints” Jude 1:14 When the Lord Jesus returns in glory he will be accompanied by a throng of saints too many to number. Each has been purchased by the blood of Christ, adopted by the Father into his family, made holy by the Spirit of God, nourished and matured in Christ’s church.

We pray for that day to come, we sing of our longing for the Lord to return, and so we should. We must understand that in order for that prayer to be answered, Christ’s church must be filled; so long as there is one empty space he waits patiently while he draws to himself “with gentle cords, with bands of love” (Hosea 11:4) those who belong to him, “a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). We must have a passion for the lost, a determination to do our part as the means God is pleased to use as he continues to build his church. Expressed by the hymn-writer:

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing thy redeeming grace.

May God grant us the privilege of being his means to bring the world to Christ, with loving zeal, with fervent prayer.

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