When Nehemiah received word from one of his brethren that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates had been burned with fire, he sat down and wept after hearing this disturbing news (Neh. 1:2-3). It was disappointing enough that the conditions of the wall were in such a sad state, but it was even more disappointing that it had been that way for so long. Nearly a century before under the leadership of Zerubbabel, a portion of the nation returned from their captivity in Babylon, to begin the process of rebuilding the temple. In time it was completed, but not without resistance. After it was finished, the nation rejoiced, though many were disheartened that it did not possess the same grandeur and glory as the previous temple that stood in its place (Ezra 3:12-13). Nehemiah’s godly concern, led to contrition and ultimately to a course of action as he prayed to the God of Heaven to intervene. Spiritual complacency had gripped the nation, dulling the passion that had once fueled the building program. His course of action included confession of sin both on his part and the nation’s (1:6). His prayer was answered when the door of opportunity swung open three months later, as he explained the reason for his sadness to king Artaxerxes. The result was that Nehemiah was able to secure the resources and permissions that would pave the way for his journey back home to inspect the damage and to inspire the people to repair the wall and the gates (2:1-8). So, it is with any great movement of God. It often starts with one person, spreads to a few more, and then to many as they each share together in a passion for God’s glory, a love for His people, and a plan to move ahead in the strength of the Lord.
The Prerequisites for Revival
But before revival can take place, some preliminary work always needs to be done first—spiritual heavy lifting to clear the path for God to work. After assessing the damage (2:12-16), Nehemiah set to work to stir up others (v. 17). He gave witness to God’s good hand upon him, a vision that was eagerly embraced by his peers who were ready to act. What started with Nehemiah, soon rippled through the ranks. Next on this road to revival was for the gates to be repaired, and significant areas within the structure of the wall that needed fixing.
The Process of Revival
When I think it through this passage, whether in my own life or in terms of corporate testimony, I clearly see how the same principles apply when it comes to revival. The task of self-assessment, asking the tough question “Am I truly pleasing the Lord in my life?” is a question that must be asked. Most of us think of walls as a negative thing, something that needs to be taken down to communicate openness to others. In some cases, that might be so. But in the spiritual realm, walls represent strength and protection from outside influences that would weaken and compromise the work of the Lord. It was that way for Israel, and it is that way also for the Christian. But if through neglect or companionship with the world, the gates of my spiritual life are broken down, is it any wonder then that spiritual strength is broken down? These gates and the order that they are repaired (Neh. 3) are typical and suggest the path that needs to be taken if revival is to break out as it did later (Neh. 8). These gates—the Sheep, Fish, Old, Valley, Refuse, Fountain, Horse, East, and Miphkad gates are highly representative of the areas of our personal lives that may still need repair if there is to be any revival at all, whether personal or corporate. The need to fix the areas of my life or even that of the local assembly that have been neglected or overlooked need to be addressed. Things such as worship, evangelistic outreach, tried and true elements from the past, humility, purity, fellowship, personal discipline, looking for the Lord’s return, and working for His reward at the judgment seat of Christ—all are typified by the repair of these gates. The fact that so many set their hands to the work demonstrates the corporate aspect of revival. Everyone seemed to be up for the task at hand—the men of Jericho, the Gibeonites, the goldsmiths, the perfumers—all except the nobles who did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord (v. 5). Some worked on more than one place on the wall (vv. 4, 21); whole families were involved (v. 12); some made repairs opposite their house which surely was done with great interest (v. 23); others were very diligent in their repairs (v. 20). No wonder revival broke out as recorded in Nehemiah 8.
The reason it occurred in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s day was because the preliminary work had been done. The difficult work of owning up to failure had been acknowledged and then acting on God’s goodness and grace made all the difference. And that is what will make all the difference in our personal lives and in the testimony of the church today if revival is going to happen with you, and me, and the fellowships we attend.