Few in number and living in a city without any defenses, the returned Jewish exiles in Jerusalem faced many threats in 445 BC. So, it must have been a welcome sight when they saw Nehemiah, the newly appointed governor of Judah, come to Jerusalem with a company of Persian army officers and horsemen (Neh. 2:9). It would have been clear to the Jews that Nehemiah came with royal authority and that his work enjoyed imperial approval.
Nehemiah spent three days in the city before going out at night to inspect the city walls. He told none of the Jewish officials what he was up to (vv. 10–16). Commentators note that this is yet another example of Nehemiah’s wisdom. He did not want to announce his plans before he had a thorough grasp of the problem at hand. Certainly the people would be more likely to join with him if they were confident that he had seen the walls of Jerusalem and had an idea of what it would take to restore them.
Today’s passage reveals that Nehemiah faced opposition as soon as he arrived. Leaders of other people groups who lived near Jerusalem—Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab—were displeased that Nehemiah had come to improve “the welfare of the people of Israel” (vv. 10, 19). Extrabiblical documents indicate that Sanballat eventually became the governor of Samaria, if he had not already reached that rank when Nehemiah arrived. The enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans described in the New Testament did not begin in the first century but went back several hundred years before the time of Christ (see John 4:9).
These enemies jeered at Nehemiah, accusing the Jews of preparing to rebel against Persia (Neh. 2:19). Nehemiah, however, remained confident in the Lord, asserting that God would prosper the work of rebuilding the wall and the city. His faith and strength of character had a profound impact on the Jews, for they eagerly joined with him to work on the wall of Jerusalem (vv. 17–20). So, as we see in Nehemiah 3, the Jews arose and began to repair the gates of the city and reconstruct the walls. Of particular note is that the entire community of Jews worked on the project. Men, women, temple servants, goldsmiths, merchants, priests—all these and others used their hands and tools to rebuild the wall, with success (3:1–32). When God’s people are united under one mission regardless of their background, much good can be accomplished.