Not too long ago the Lord enabled me to preach through the book of Nehemiah in its entirety. It was a marvelous experience, one that went far better than I anticipated, but it was also much more of a mental workout than I expected. To encourage and equip you to preach or teach this vital but neglected book of the Bible, here are four reasons why you should consider preaching through Nehemiah:
- Preaching through Nehemiah will push you to rigorously exercise your exegetical, biblical-theological, and applicatory skills: I’m not entirely sure why, but I assumed that preaching through Nehemiah would be relatively easy. I studied Nehemiah in Bible college, and have heard more sermons on it than most other Old Testament books. I’ve done a good bit of Old Testament preaching myself (including taking my church through the entire book of Genesis) and assumed that Nehemiah would be fairly straightforward. I was wrong. There are plenty of passages that caused me to scratch my head in bewilderment and wonder how on earth I’d turn them into sermons. I’ll say more about this in a minute, but there are a number of long lists of names (similar to the genealogies in 1 Chronicles) that are very hard to preach. If you’re a pastor or regular Bible teacher, I’d definitely encourage you to preach Nehemiah—but look at it like running a 5K race. You’ll need to prepare yourself to work hard, perhaps do some remedial training, and keep your thinking cap on. But the end results will be worth it.
- Preaching through Nehemiah will force you to finally figure out how to expound genealogies: Nehemiah 3, 7, 10, 11 and 12 all include long lists of strange Hebrew names. These are the sort of chapters that cause the guys on my Scripture-reading team to wake up in a cold sweat, having night terrors about trying to enunciate before our congregation names such as “Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Mal-luch…” (Neh 10:3-4). Now, each of these lists are inspired Scripture and are in God’s word for an important theological reason. I chose to give each of them their own sermon (covering the entire book in 17 sermons). In retrospect, I think it would have been wiser to combine some of these lists and to cover them all in one or two sermons. That is challenging to do, since most of them have their own theological significance, but it may be a good idea, depending on your congregation’s composition, experience with expositional preaching, and level of patience.
- Preaching through Nehemiah will teach your people much about Old Testament biblical theology: I grew up in a tradition where the only sermons I ever heard on Nehemiah were in conjunction with our church building programs. This church was constantly building bigger facilities, so we frequently heard exhortations such as, “Just like God helped Nehemiah build the wall, so also God is going to help us build our new administration wing!” Since then I’ve learned enough hermeneutics to understand that such an approach to Scripture is deplorable, at best. However, having now preached through Nehemiah, I can sympathize as to why preachers so often fall into this sort of thing. You’re trying to preach God’s word with contemporary relevance, so what do you do with these long passages describing the reconstruction of the wall around Jerusalem? It’s already Thursday night, you’ve got a funeral all day on Friday, and you’ve got to preach Nehemiah 4 this Sunday. The temptation to moralize the passage and apply it to your church facility (or to some other program the flower committee has been opposing) is very strong.
Let me just exhort you, for the salvation of souls, for the transformation of your people, and for the glory of God, aggressively fight this temptation. Do not succumb to moralizing God’s word simply because you have to say something come Sunday. Doing so teaches people bad hermeneutics and will alienate discerning listeners. Instead, learn how to preach Nehemiah in its redemptive-historical context; learn how Nehemiah fits into the overall storyline of the Bible, a coherent storyline that ultimately climaxes in Jesus’ death and resurrection (the discipline known as biblical theology). Then, once you understand the biblical theology of Nehemiah, move to contemporary application. This is not only the intelligent way to preach Old Testament narratives, but since the power of God to save and to sanctify is found in the God-intended meaning of the text, preaching this way will result in the salvation and sanctification of your hearers.
- Preaching through Nehemiah will probably be better received than you’d expect: Perhaps the biggest surprise I experienced while preaching through Nehemiah was how warmly and enthusiastically my congregation responded to it. I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I secretly assume that people universally find the Old Testament less interesting and exciting than the New. Thankfully, this assumption was thoroughly disproven. I don’t recall ever hearing more frequent encouraging comments after sermons than during this series. The lessons on prayer, spiritual renewal, remaining steadfast in the faith in a hostile culture, and God’s grand drama of redemption were evidently very helpful. Realize the lessons in Nehemiah are lessons your people need to hear and, if preached accurately, will engage and excite your people.
As far as resources for preaching Nehemiah, those I found most helpful included Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther: New American Commentary by Mervin Breneman, Ezra & Nehemiah: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries by Derek Kidner, and Renovator’s Dream by Phil Campbell and Greg Clarke.
Why not try preaching through Nehamiah for your next expositional series? It’ll make you a better teacher of God’s word and, in the end, both you and your people will be the happier for it.