Where is God in all this?  

12 July – Nehemiah


Returning from exile: The practicalities and spiritual challenges of recovering from disaster

Notes and discussion questions for home groups or personal study – Brian Bull

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Readings          Key verses


Nehemiah 2:11-20             “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.”

Ephesians 4:11-16              “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body  of Christ
                                              may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith.”

John 16:12-24                     “Now is your time of grief. But I will see you again and you will rejoice,
                                              and no one will take away your joy.”



In the last study, we learned how Jeremiah prophesied that the Israelites would be taken into captivity in Babylon. That prophecy was fulfilled, Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people carried into exile. It was indeed a disaster of major proportions. But God also foretold, through Jeremiah’s prophecy, that God would bring a time of restoration and renewal.

Read Jeremiah 29:4-11

  • What difference would it have made to those in exile if they understood and believed in God’s promise?
  • What aspects of God’s promise to Israel can we apply to our situation today?
  • How might it change our own outlook on current events to be able to see things from God’s viewpoint?

Whether or not Nehemiah has been ticking off the number of years Israel has spent in exile, God’s time has come for Jeremiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled. 

Read Nehemiah 1:1 – 2:8

  • How does Nehemiah learn about the situation in Jerusalem?
  • How does he react? … what does this show about his character?
  • Why would Nehemiah be afraid to present his ideas to the King (Neh 2:2)
  • To whom does Nehemiah give credit for the King’s favour and support (Neh 2:8)

What are the main lessons, from Nehemiah’s attitude and response to learning of the state of disaster in Jerusalem, that we can apply to our own response to the challenges following Covid-19 and the need for rebuilding our own future?


Counting the cost

Nehemiah’s first concern was to assess the true state of affairs.

Read Nehemiah 2:11-18

  • Why do you think he decided to carry out his reconnaissance by night?
  • What problems might he be trying to avoid?
  • Who did he have to convince?

There are many discussions taking place right now about how to take advantage of the opportunities to change our society for the better once the Covid-19 pandemic has abated. Take some time to discuss what might need to be changed or improved.

  • Where is our own society broken?
  • What particular sections of our “broken wall” need special attention?
  • What attitudes in society might prevent necessary changes from being implemented?


Rebuilding together

Nehemiah chapter 3 makes some interesting reading as it catalogues the different people responsible for rebuilding different sections of the wall. Some of those mentioned in the list include:

Religious leaders, including Eliashib the high priest (verse 1).
Political rulers and governors (verse 9, 14).
Volunteers from other towns and provinces (verse 2, 7).
Merchants, goldsmiths and perfume-makers (verse 8, 32).
At least a few women as well as men (verse 12).
Ordinary citizens who worked on sections close to their own homes (verse 23).

  • What would it take to get all these people working together?
  • Which examples do you find most surprising?
  • What can we learn from the example of all these committed workers?

There is just one negative comment in verse 5.

  • Who were the people not pulling their weight?
  • Why do you think they let the side down?

Verse 5 tells us that the men concerned “refused to work under the construction supervisors” (NLT)

Clearly the overall construction work had to be supervised by skilled engineers, and the workers, whatever their normal position of authority or professional skill, had to submit to their oversight.

  • Have we ever been guilty of refusing certain jobs or responsibilities because they are “beneath us”? What does Jesus’ own example have to teach us? (see Hebrews 5:8)


Facing opposition

Not everyone, of course, was happy to see progress being made.

Read Nehemiah 4:1-6

  • How did Sanballat and Tobiah try to discourage the work?
  • How would their opposition have been expressed in today’s world?

(NB: Bishops who recently made their views known after the Dominic Cummings controversy received insults and death threats.)

  • How did Nehemiah and the people respond to these threats?


Working together for the common good

The task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was also very much an exercise in rebuilding community. Those working beside each other on the wall were people who would probably never have come across each other in normal everyday life.

Read Ephesians 4:11-16

  • How does our role in building God’s Kingdom resemble the work of the people of Jerusalem rebuilding the walls?
  • Clearly we are not all called to be pastors, evangelists or teachers, but are any exempt from being part of the process? (see v.7, 12)
  • Under whose supervision are we called to build? (v.15)
  • What are the things that help us to work together as a single body? (v.15,16)

Lockdown has reminded us that we are still able to function and support one another as members of the church even though our buildings are currently locked down, and may not resume normal services for many months.

  • How has lockdown changed our view of what church really is?
  • What opportunities does it give us for doing church in a new way?


Final thoughts

There are many examples in the Bible of people who go through difficult times and end up with greater blessings than before.

  • The story of Job finishes by telling us: “The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (Job 42:12 ).
  • Naomi goes through bitter and traumatic loss, but ends up with a new, loving family and becomes great-great-grandmother of King David.
  • The exiles who return from Babylon turned from their immorality and idolatry and found a new, living relationship with the Scriptures and reformed faith.

These times are very hard and painful for many, but as God’s people let’s pray for a spirit of hope and trust in God’s faithful loving kindness.

Pray for those who are badly affected by the pandemic and economic consequences. Pray for opportunities to reach out with Christian love (Matthew 25:35-36).