You remember the story? Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall around the city—a big project for his team of Jewish exiles! We read from vv. 1-4 that Nehemiah was troubled when he received report that the Jewish people in Judah were in distress, and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down. This left the city vulnerable to enemy attacks.
Upon hearing this news, Nehemiah mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. The story goes on to describe how he received a vision from God. From the outset, it is clear that the vision to rebuild the wall was formed out of an intensive desire to meet an important need. So, what did Nehemiah do? First, he went to God. The answer to the vision is not a strategy or a plan. The answer is God. He sought the Lord and prayed earnestly.
Secondly, Nehemiah was wise enough to realize that he could not just plunge into a wall rebuilding project. Something important had to be dealt with—the sin of Israel (read vv. 6-7). An important lesson can be gleaned from this passage. As the people of God, we cannot move ahead when God is in the midst of purging our sinfulness. We will be frustrated all the time. We need first to confess sin. I always ask God this: is there sin behind all the pain and trauma of God’s people? Nehemiah stood between the people’s sin and God, and confessed their sin to God. We cannot move ahead when people’s sin is in the way. Without confession and turning away from sin, the Spirit cannot break through to us. We need God’s cleansing of our sins.
Thirdly, the people of God need to claim God’s promises for meeting that need (vv. 5, 8-11). Then God will lead and commission them to meeting that need. What was it that Nehemiah remembered about God’s promises to his fore-father Moses? God promised to gather his exiled people and bring them to the place he has chosen as a dwelling, if they repented obeyed the Lord.
How do we know if a vision is from God? There are two confirmers of a vision. One, the proclamation validator. As leaders, we need to share it publicly, risking opposition and rejection. That’s exactly what Nehemiah did. If leaders are afraid to tell people about it, the vision is not from God (2:1-3). Two, the permission validator (2:4-8). If the people do not give you their permission to go ahead, stop!