"After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the Mighty Men" (Nehemiah 3:16)
When an entire people or even one individual ignores history, they are doomed to not just repeat the errors of the past but to make it even worse. We see this in modern corrupt society where people, whose point of historical reference begins the day they were born, and cannot see the larger picture but the narrow doctrines of the day.
There is tremendous significance in how God constantly reminds the Israelites in the Old Testament of not just WHO He is, but what He has done in the past, is doing now and will do in the future. That fact those ancient peoples refused to take heed to what He says, is to their loss….and most times, to their eternal loss.
Nehemiah 3:16, coming as it is in the middle of a long narrative, would not earn even so much as a glance in the grander scheme of things. The gem embedded there in this passage….though is exciting to those who love the Scriptures, Biblical archaeology and the history of the “People of the Book”!
The backdrop of this entire scenario was the complete destruction of formerly pagan Jerusalem by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, seventy years earlier and the return of a tiny portion of the former exiles. These exiles were led by the prophet and now governor of Jerusalem Nehemiah, who was commissioned by the Persian King to rebuild God’s city. However, the Nehemiah mentioned in verse 3:16 of Nehemiah chapter 3, was not the same as their leader – the brave and prayerful warrior Nehemiah, son of Hakaliah.
At this point in the book, each man and head of household who followed the will of God out of the now comfortable (to the mass of exiles) rich city of Babylon, had come back to the Jerusalem ruins. They were truly a remnant. They were so small a remnant, their names could be listed in the Book of Ezra. These were the ones who rebuilt an entire city wall system by following the textbook example of leadership set down by Nehemiah. By each household concentrating on his own assigned job, in front of his own piece of the wall, in front of his own house, little by little, they got the job done.
This in itself, is a lesson for us. In general, our job on this earth, is not to change the world as many pridefully think they can. Our main assignment here in this lifetime, is to apply ourselves fully to our immediate surroundings, our homes, families, community and workplace. If we do the best we can in all aspects of daily living in each of these things, while living according to the Word of God, we will have done well indeed! Each of us is called to use what God has given to His glory and for the betterment of others.
So what about "the Tombs of David" in Nehemiah 3:16? The Bible records that when King David died (at the age of 70) he "slept with his fathers" (Read 2 Samuel 7 here) These Tombs were (are) outside the current city of Jerusalem but were then in what was still called the "City of David". David had ruled Israel for 33 years from Jerusalem after he drove out the pagan Jebusites from there and made it the City of God. The palace he built for himself is south of the current Jerusalem and tradition is that his burial place is in the hills south-east of current Jerusalem. David set the standard there and several later kings of Judah were buried there: from King Hezekiah (from the days of the Prophet Isaiah) to Manassas. There are current archaeological digs going on around the areas of the tomb.
The artificial pool mentioned is estimated to have been built during or after the rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah. It had to be close to the source of water which fed part of that now growing city.
Continuing in the historical context of this verse, and what is particularly intriguing is "the House of the Mighty Men". These were the elite of David's troops who were on the run with him from King Saul, protected him and are recorded in the Scriptures as doing some incredible things! One man killed a lion in a snowy pit. Another defended Israel's food supply against hundreds of the enemy and destroyed them all and on and on. One of them was Uriah the Hittite, the husband of Bathsheba.
The "house of the Mighty Men" was the living quarters of these elite men of the King and were not your normal soldier "barracks". They had their wives living with them. The Mighty Men Military living quarters were close enough to the Palace to protect the king, because David was able to look into Bathsheba's bathroom from his own roof top. (Read of David's Mighty Men here).
Taken in historical context, the early days of the land of Israel were a reference point for the new builders of the city walls by Nehemiah's men. As we look back over 2500 years ago at the context of this verse (Nehemiah 3:16), we find the returning exiles themselves, being students of history as they seek to remember their past (King David and his Mighty Men); restore it to its place of honor, and then to rebuild.
Remember, Restore, Rebuild: these are the things which should guide a modern people to true progress. As the Lord Himself, Who is big on remembering His past wonderful deeds, encourages us - we should remember who we are, Whose we are and where we came from.
Then we are to restore that which was lost by recalling and evaluating our standing in life, our own personal shortcomings and sins and anything that hinders us from a right relationship with God. Then repent and renew.
Finally, repentance and renewal of our vows of obedience to the Lord should lead us to a massive rebuilding project. This one is not just a rebuilding of our relationship with God through Christ, but to build on the solid foundation of Scripture, prayer and discipleship....while there is still time. If we resolve to do these things, then the ancient words of Scripture always come alive to reveal more and more truth. These are the priceless gems of the eternal Walk with the Master, which is the perfect calling of the Redeemed!