It is often helpful to first examine a problem and see what needs to be done, quietly and prayerfully in the presence of God, rather than under the glare of the public spotlight. This is what Nehemiah does when he arrives in Jerusalem after a 1,000-mile-long journey. Like Ezra before him, he rests for three days (Nehemiah 2:11; Ezra 8:32); we can be sure he spends the time praying. Then, he embarks on a secret night inspection of the damaged walls and gates. Nehemiah knows that it would be foolish to make a grand announcement and cause a stir without knowing in detail what needs to be done. So, he wisely makes a private assessment of the damage to the walls first.
The inspection begins at the Valley Gate in the west, probably the easiest gate to get through. The Hebrew word for ″examining″ (Nehemiah 2:13, 15) means ″careful probing″, the way a doctor would examine his patient. Nehemiah probably inspects the walls with tears in his eyes, as he realises the severity of the damage and the vulnerability of the city’s inhabitants. He goes along the wall southwards to the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate (v. 13) at the southern tip of the city. Then he proceeds northwards to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool (v. 14). Nehemiah is unable to proceed further as there is too much debris for his horse to manoeuvre through. He seems to have dismounted to see more on foot, and then mounted his horse again to retrace his steps back to the Valley Gate.
Up to this time, Nehemiah had been keeping his plans to himself. ″I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem″ (v. 12). Now that he has seen enough to know how bad the damage is, how much rebuilding work is needed, and how huge and challenging the task will be, he is ready to speak to the local leadership.
Nehemiah’s actions show us that clear, cool-headed and realistic assessment is needed before embarking on any task. Inner prayerful reflection in God’s presence must precede public announcement and mobilisation. It is good to avoid showmanship and grandiose speeches that lead nowhere. ″Think before you speak″, ″pray before you act″, ″know the problem well before you offer solutions″, are good reminders that can apply in many situations.
Why is it important to examine a problem carefully in God’s presence before doing something about it publicly? How can we avoid the temptation of making grand statements publicly before we have done so?
How do you think the other leaders might have responded when they realised that Nehemiah, though a newcomer, knew the situation very well?