Long before Nehemiah was ever born, God had formed a new people out of Abraham’s family and gave them a new home in Israel. God formed this people to be a light to the world—to show all of the world God so that all the people of the world could be blessed. Jerusalem would become the central city of Israel in time—the seat of the monarchy and more important, the home to the temple—the connecting point between God and mankind.
But the people rebelled against God and began to worship false gods. God warned them over and over again through the prophets, and yet except for pockets of revival, the people continued to plunge deeper and deeper into sin. Eventually, God took the people out of the land and into captivity to discipline them for their unfaithfulness.
Jerusalem was in ruins. The temple was leveled and the walls were torn down.
In time, some of the people were permitted to return to the land and the temple was rebuilt, but Jerusalem’s walls were still in ruins.
Meanwhile, Nehemiah was in Persia serving as cupbearer to the king. That’s where we pick up the story in this week’s session, Nehemiah Heard News of Jerusalem. (Unit 18, Session 3) When word reached Nehemiah that Jerusalem’s walls were still fallen and that the Israelite people back home were in great trouble and disgraced, he sat down, wept, and mourned for days.
That seems like a strong response from Nehemiah. Why weep and mourn over some broken walls and burned gates? Because Nehemiah understood that this was more than a public service project. Jerusalem’s condition was far more serious than that.
Nehemiah understood two things. First, he understood that without strong walls and gates, the city of Jerusalem would be perpetually under threat from Israel’s enemies. In that day, people needed a strong fortified city for protection. When a threat presented itself, all the people could come into the city from the surrounding areas, shut up the gates, and be protected. But Israel had no such protection and was left vulnerable. This was at the heart of Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter one. He recalled God’s promises to protect Israel and a strong city was a way God could do that.
But that wasn’t the only thing Nehemiah understood. And it wasn’t even the most important thing. Nehemiah also knew how Jerusalem in ruins made God appear to the people around it. The city was more than a place of protection—it represented God’s power and character too. How did it make God look for His people’s city to be in ruins? The city was supposed to reflect God’s glory to the world, but instead it was a source of laughter from the other people and shame for God’s people.
I suspect that was the reason Nehemiah was moved so deeply. And that is what drove Nehemiah to pray and then ask the king for permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.
The story of Nehemiah is so important because it not only establishes the setting for the arrival of Jesus a few hundred years after this and shows us the power of God to work in and through His people in the building project, but also because it reminds us of God’s faithfulness to His people, as is mentioned in the Christ connection.
God promised to keep His people safe and give them a home. God always keeps His promises. Jesus died on the cross for our sin so we can have a home in heaven. When we trust in Jesus, we will be with God forever.
Help your kids see that God is faithful and keeps all of His promises. Remind them that God loves for us and that He cares for us and provides for us and protects us. But above all, point your kids to see that seeing God bring His people back home to Jerusalem is a picture of how God provided Jesus to bring us home to be with Him forever.
What promises of God are most meaningful to you? Leave a comment below.
Here is more help for leaders preparing for the February 5, 2017 session (Unit 18, Session 3) of The Gospel Project for Kids.
Brian Dembowczyk is the team leader for The Gospel Project for Kids. He served in local church ministry for over 16 years before coming to LifeWay. Brian earned an M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a D.Min. from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Brian, his wife, Tara, and their three children—Joshua, Hannah, and Caleb—live in Murfreesboro, TN, where Brian enjoys drinking coffee and teaching 4-5 graders at City Church.