Nehemiah’s Midnight Ride
Mr. Nathanel Reed of Swastika, Ontario, fellowships at Kirkland Lake Bible Chapel. With appreciation we welcome this his first article to appear in “Food for the Hock.”
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 2:9-6
The year is 445 B.C. The children of Israel have lived in exile by the waters of Babylon for the past 70 years. Nehemiah, cupbearer to the Persian king, has been granted permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall. Three days after arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah and a few of his men rise late in the night and go out to survey the ruined walls and make their plans.
Nehemiah’s midnight ride took him past five different sites mentioned in verses 13-15; the gate of the valley, the dragon’s well, the dung gate, the gate of the fountain, the king’s pool, and finally his return to the gate of the valley. I believe we can see in the arrangement of these specific sites a beautiful picture of another journey — the spiritual pilgrimage of the believer.
Nehemiah’s clandestine journey began in the silence of the cool desert night. He and his men rode quietly out of the city through the gate of the valley, keeping close to the ruined walls; surveying, planning, making mental notes as they picked their way among the rubble. As they weaved in and out of the debris, their journey no doubt took them down into the area which the valley gate overlooked — the Valley of Hinnon — known to the locals as “Gehenna,” where the refuse of the city was dumped; where generations earlier the Jews had sacrificed their infants to the abhorrent Ammonite god, Molech.
Overlooking the cesspool of the Holy City, then, was the valley gate, through which Nehemiah’s journey began and ended. How mindful this is of the state into which we were ushered at birth — “born in sin and shapen in iniquity.” The entrance to Gehenna, wherein is the first visible source of relief for the pilgrim is the dragon’s well.
“And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon’s well, and to the dung gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem…” (Neh. 2:13a)
The “dragon” (AV) is rendered by some translators as “jackal” or “serpent.” Scripture, of course, refers to Satan as both a dragon and a serpent, and even in the nocturnal jackal, we see a picture of our wily foe.
Many are the pilgrims who go for refreshment to the well of the evil one, and many, too, are the blessed who can say with Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
Indeed, even the kingdoms of the world are but dung, fit for deposit through the dung gate into the Valley of Hinnom, when compared to the spiritual heritage granted to those who are called according to His purpose.
With the Preacher we might say of the journey thus far, “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2).
But just as the pilgrim can taste of the water of the dragon’s well, so too he can taste of the water by the gate of the fountain. Christ said, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21:6).
Thirsty, sin-stained pilgrims, soiled from their journey through the Valley of Hinnom can drink of the fountain of life and be revived. But the refreshment for the pilgrim does not merely end with a taste; the king’s pool allows him the luxury of immersing himself in the waters of the King, cleansing himself of all filth clinging to his raiment and body.
“The blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
The pilgrim, though, knows that the journey does not end with the cleansing at the king’s pool; as with the journey of Nehemiah, the labour and trials continue. But note a final thought from verse 15: the travellers continued on their way “by the brook.” So often in Scripture we see water as a type of the Holy Spirit, and we rest in the indwelling presence of the divine Comforter.