But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:20-21
What a glorious sight it must have been to behold the first temple in Jerusalem. Generations upon generations fought, and died for their promised land. Many grew up hearing of God’s promise, but never saw it fulfilled. So what better way to honor the God who brought them through all that hardship than to build a temple in His name. It was conceived by David, who thought that God deserved more than the tent and tabernacle they had been using. God’s response was along the lines of a parent who receives some macaroni art from a child,
“Oh, thank you, David. I don’t remember asking for this, but thank you.”
God knew that David’s heart was in the right place, but, after all, God has all of heaven as a dwelling place. God didn’t let David build the temple because he already had other things planned for him, but said he would let his son and successor to the throne, Solomon, build it. So, it came to pass that the temple was completed sometime in the mid-10th century BC during the reign of Solomon as King of Israel. The splendor and glory of the temple was due to much more than its size, much more than its priceless materials, but was due to being a sign of God’s presence and providence.
Unfortunately, just 410 years later, the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar II. He laid waste to not only the temple, but to the very walls surrounding Jerusalem. Many were killed during the siege, and others were taken into captivity. The Jews had to start all over.
The overwhelming majority of surviving literature from the earliest centuries are autobiographies from the Kings, Pharaohs, and other rulers of the time. The rest come from historians, sometimes called chroniclers, and prophets like Moses, Samuel, and others. The Bible, as you may have realized, is mostly written by God’s prophets. However, there are a few examples that do not follow this formula. One such example is the Book of Nehemiah. In it we find a new kind of story not just unlike any other in the Bible, but unlike any other writing of the time. Nehemiah’s lack of noble birth, his relationship with God, and his complete faithfulness in God’s promises makes his story more relatable to the times in which we live today than any other book of the Bible.
Nehemiah is not called by hearing God’s voice like the prophets. Nehemiah is not moved into action by an encounter with an angel. He doesn’t see a vision, dream a dream, or interpret a sign. The single most important thing that sets his story apart from all others in the Bible is that Nehemiah takes it upon himself to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem. He has no noble birth which obligates him to this task, and completely lacks any divine decree or appointment. While serving as a cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes I of Persia Nehemiah hears of the destruction of Jerusalem, and is so affected by the news that he breaks down into tears. He then begins a period of fasting and prayer to ask God for forgiveness and grace. Nehemiah shows complete faithfulness to God in his prayer:
Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations; but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.' Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. Nehemiah 1:8-11
Now, I don’t know about you, but God has never spoke to me through a burning bush. Nor have I ever met an angel. Nehemiah never experiences these things either, but still has such faith in God that he doesn't hesitate to begin the monumental task of rebuilding Jerusalem. His faith is exactly the kind that is often asked of us in this age, for Jesus said,
“Blessed are those who have not seen, but still believe.” John 20:29
Nehemiah petitions his King for resources, he collects supplies, and organizes labor. He fights the opposition from the enemies which surround Jerusalem on every side. He even combats opposition from other Jews inside Jerusalem, but completes his task of rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah may have never experienced the divine, but look at all he accomplished for God.
However, the second temple would be destroyed just 420 years later in 70 AD by the Roman occupation. Jewish historian Josephus had this to say about the destruction of Jerusalem,
Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, and the wall which enclosed the city on the west side. Part of the wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for those who were to lie in garrison in the Upper City, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued;
but as for all the rest of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, it was so thoroughly destroyed that there was nothing left to make those that came to Jerusalem believe it had ever been inhabited. -Josephus, The Wars of the Jews
All their hard work was undone.
However, we, being redeemed people, know that the presence of God no longer resides in a temple, tabernacle, or ark, but occupies His people. The entire life of Jesus Christ is proof that God is always willing to help us begin again. Christ himself did not come as a fully grown man, but started his life from scratch. God came as a child just as Isaiah prophesied,
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Not long after our creation we messed things up, but God helped us begin again by sending His son Jesus to make us new. Even today, Jesus lives so that any who come to God can begin a new life free from addiction, sin, anxiety, and despair. Sometimes, God is completely silent when we ask for a miracle. Perhaps in those times God is saying, “Just like Nehemiah, you don’t need a miracle, you just need to start over.” Often we pray for a miracle, but what we really need is to simply try again. Never be afraid to start all over. Grace only happens when we feel the conviction to start over. God said you deserve a fresh start. Who are you to disagree?