“I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (Neh. 6:3).
Nehemiah’s narrative continues as he faces schemes and opposition from nearby leaders. His opponents try to distract him from his work on the wall and bait him to give into fear. They try to thwart his efforts four times by enticing him to come down, and on the fifth time, they question his work and intentions publicly in an open letter. And after all of their efforts fail, Nehemiah’s opponents hire a false prophet to try to lure Nehemiah away from his work.
However, Nehemiah boldly responds to his enemies, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down,” and he prays in the midst of this persecution, “O God, strengthen my hands” (Neh. 6:3, 9).
Nehemiah refuses to “come down” and relies on the strength of the Lord to see the work on the wall through to completion. “So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (Neh. 6: 15-16).
Nehemiah remains faithful to do the work of the Lord while under attack, leads the people effectively, and shows integrity and mercy in his leadership. While surely a character to emulate, he serves mainly to point us to the perfect servant leader. Rebuilding the temple and the wall around Jerusalem foreshadows the work that Christ will accomplish on the cross and the building of his church. It gives us a foretaste of the perfect protection we can now know as Christians securely positioned inside the walls of Christ’s salvation.
Jesus, who came as the personification of the temple, also refused to “come down.” He lost his very life in order to save ours because he refused to listen to his detractors and come down:
And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Matt. 27: 39-43).
As Matthew recounts, when Jesus yields his spirit, the curtain in the temple is torn from top to bottom and the earth shakes and saints are raised from the dead.
And we know the events three days later when Jesus, as promised, is restored at the resurrection. As his work on the cross is finished, hear his enemies’ response:
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54)
When God is at work, our enemies can only stand back in awe of what only he can accomplish. Nehemiah’s completed wall was only a foretaste of the deep soul security made possible by the cross. And his enemies’ fear of the Lord’s work pales in comparison to the awe inspired by the completed work of the cross and the defeat of our greatest enemies: sin and death.
As he strengthened Nehemiah, may God also strengthen our hands for the work he has set before us, as we remember daily that he chose not to come down from the cross, but loved us so deeply that he endured its shame. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13-14).