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A Case Study: The Water Gate Renewal—a look at the significant revival of Nehemiah's day Part One

I am continuing to read about some of the major revivals and revivalists/evangelists in history (especially this century).

This week I read an article by David Smith about the revival that took place in Wales in the first part of this century. He writes: "As Christmas neared in 1904, the small Celtic country of Wales was in the middle of the last great revival it has experienced."

Jails in mining communities throughout the country were emptied, leaving police without much to do.

Shops did little business because people were focused on revival. Businessmen still made money, though, because people were so convicted of sin they were paying old and forgotten debts, insisting that interest be included.

Stories of dramatic "Damascus road"-type salvation experiences were told throughout the land.

One mining supervisor, who for weeks had heard accounts of the revival, waited alone for two hours in a tunnel until a Christian worker came by."I want to be saved," the supervisor said. The two knelt in the dirt of the mine and the supervisor....[became a Christian].

Many coarse, hard-living miners repented and were converted during that time. Their lives were so changed that it was not uncommon for horses pulling carts to cease working. The miners had cleaned up their language—and the animals, accustomed to curses, didn't understand the miners' new commands.

One London newspaper reporter, sent to Wales to debunk the so-called insanity of the masses, arrived and heard repeated reports about changed lives. He went to a crowded service where Evan Roberts, the 26-year-old preacher who had prayed for 13 years for revival, spoke briefly. The reporter finally found a seat in the balcony to hear Roberts. During the meeting (as usual dominated by prayer, singing and testimonies), people came under extreme conviction because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and they cried out to the Lord. In the middle of the service, the reporter cried from the balcony, "I am a lost sinner. I need Christ. Pray for me."

The Welsh revival began in November, 1904 and lasted until the summer of 1905. As many as 152,000 people—about 8 percent of the 1.7 million people living in Wales at the time—came to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Note: This is of great interest to me because one of my pastors, John Clement, who greatly influenced me, came from this area and was affected by this revival. Now I am approaching the end and beginning of a new century, and interestingly, revivals seem to cluster around the century mark.

Romans 12:1-2 is a very familiar passage. "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2] Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

These are far-reaching verses. Obviously this passage is not referring to the salvation of the preChristian, because of the reference to "brothers." What is contained in these verses is not a suggestion; he says,;"I urge you." But it is implied that this will not be a snap; it is called a "sacrifice."


We are urged in view of God's mercy (Rom. 1-11) to "offer" all of our inner selves as well as our physical bodies to God. Amazingly, this transaction will be a "spiritual act of worship." As Donald Grey Barnhouse notes in his commentary on Romans, "There is both the body to be presented and the self that does the presenting"—God's Discipline, in Expositions of Bible Doctrines: Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 4 (1964; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1988), p. 10.


Barnhouse continues by saying we are "not conformed, but transformed...this is the life of the true believer in Christ. The first of these two words, conformed, is the translation of a Greek word meaning that we are not to go along with the world's schemes. The second, transformed, is a Greek word which means a very radical change from one nature and life to another. It is the word metamorphoomai which has given us our word metamorphosis. When a tadpole is changed into a frog or a grub becomes a butterfly, we speak of it as metamorphosis. There has been a marked and more or less abrupt change in the form and structure of the creature"—Barnhouse, God's Discipline, p. 27.


Charles Swindoll puts it this way: "For the believer, that change isn't cosmetic surgery but radical reconstruction—from a human shaped by the world, to one being conformed into God's image, which is Jesus Christ (see Rom. 8:29; I John 3:2). In other words, consecrating our lives to Christ involves more than simply shedding our skin like a snake. It involves our complete metamorphosis. Metamorphosis is seen most dramatically and beautifully in butterflies, where the larval stage differs greatly from the adult. This transformation occurs during the inactive pupal stage, in which the organs and tissues break down into liquid and are reorganized into an adult structure"—Charles R. Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, Insight for Living, 1987, pp. 116-117. How's that for a radical change?


We can sometimes grovel in the world's dirt, worming around in our little vermicular (wormlike) routines. (The worm has an entirely different perspective than the butterfly in flight.) But if we want more than just a seasonal change of skins, if God is going to truly transform our lives, we'll have to lie down on the altar. Before God can ever give us wings, He must dissolve our old self and restructure it according to His design.


What will prepare an individual for such a revival, similar to what Wales experienced in 1904-05? Remembering that the words of Roman 12 are addressed to believers, what specifically needs to be done or experienced in our lives in order to make the transformation from a wormlike existence—far below God's intention for us—into spiritual flight and beauty? In order to answer that question, we will once again return to the Chalk Revival.

In particular, we are focusing on the whole area of individual spiritual renewal. It is not uncommon for people desiring renewal to simply mimic exterior actions/manifestations without any critical analogy, if there is no counsel or information available to them about the heart issues. I am convinced this is one of the potential mistakes of modern spiritual renewal.

People hear the stories/accounts of what is happening around the world, and they react either negatively or positively, but their actions are based only on anecdotal information or rumors. The danger is that a person might pick up the responses and manner of operating in renewal, but not know the heart of God.

As a church, however, we have declared and believe the Lord is leading us into a time of reviving of our own hearts through seven special prayers.


I Want To Pray For


  1. A revitalization of my spiritual life and also of this church and our nation—2 Chronicles 7:14-15; Is. 6:1-8; 57:15.


  2. A repentance from sin—secret sins—sins that wrap around my feet and trip me up; along with confession of sin to others; restitution for sin; and the granting of forgiveness to others when appropriate—Heb. 12:1; James 5:16; Luke 15:21; 19:1-10.


  3. A restoration of my love for and study of the Word—Ps. 119:97-106; 2 Tim. 2:15.


  4. A release of the Holy Spirit to give me empowerment for service and a compassion for lost people—Eph. 5:18-21; I Peter 4:10-11; Matt. 9:36.


  5. A return to my first love, to love God and family more than ever before—Rev. 2:4; Mal. 4:5-6.


  6. A remembrance and thanksgiving for all He has done for me—Rom. 1:21; Eph. 5:4; Heb. 12:28.


  7. A reshaping of my praise and worship so I truly worship with my whole heart, body, and life—Ps. 95:6; 100; Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:18-21; Matt. 5:16; James 5:13.


For an example of what spiritual renewal looks like, turn to Nehemiah 8.

The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem after 70 years of exile under bondage by the Babylonian and Persian empires. According to the book of Ezra, the Temple had been rebuilt. Another need was then made known—the rebuilding of the walls. This was important, because with the walls in disrepair, Israel was vulnerable to enemy attacks. Nehemiah requested that he be allowed to go back and rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem.

At the time of Nehemiah 8-9, life was coming back to the city in which God had placed his name. Jerusalem was and is central to the life of the people of Israel, so it was important that the work of rebuilding the wall be finished. If these people were to remain strong and free, there was a need for spiritual renewal to take place as well.


Ezra and Nehemiah were strong, imposing, charismatic leaders, and as long as they were around, the people would follow their lead. But there had to be a rebuilding of their individual spiritual lives so that they could be strong in the Lord and stand on their own. Recently, as I was doing the eulogy for one of my mentors, I realized the most appropriate response for me was to stand on my own and be a mentor for others, as he had been for me.


So in chapters 8-9, the leaders of Jerusalem are reinforcing the stone walls with a foundation of spiritual values for the people, i.e., "people building."

The Purpose of the Study

As we study these two chapters, we will look at some great principles of revival. In order to be prepared for these studies, we should ask ourselves two foundational questions:


  • Are we willing to have these principles applied and integrated into our own lives, individually and as a Body of believers?
  • Where is there disrepair, a deterioration in our own spiritual lives where the walls have fallen down and we are vulnerable to schemes and attacks from the enemy of our soul?

Before we answer these questions, let's also look at

The Setting of These Chapters

Nehemiah 8:1a—When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns..." (Remember, this is 70+ years after the beginning of their captivity.) These events take place in the seventh month of the year—the feast month of Israel (Lev. 23). This was the month that Israel celebrated:


  • the Feast of Trumpets
  • the Day of Atonement
  • the Feast of Tabernacles

    It was also the month when the Ark of the Covenant was moved to the Temple—2 Chron. 5:35.

During this time, the Israelites returned back under Zerubbabel to Jerusalem and sacrificed in the ruins for the first time after 70 years of captivity—Ezra 3.

Chapter 8 details a great assembly, with all the people in front of the Water Gate (which was the name of a particular gate)—8:16. The Water Gate, unlike that in American history, was not a place people broke into, but where Israel gathered together. This was the first time since the completion of the wall that they had gathered, that they could come together without fear of attack. They were now protected, so this was a time of rejoicing.

The purpose of this assembly was, plain and simply, to hear the Word of God. 8:1b—They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

Why would they want the Word read now? We don't know for sure. Their hunger for the Scriptures may have been rekindled when they finally realized they could only be preserved as a people through obedience to the Word of God.


Also, they were probably reflective at this moment. They saw the Temple was rebuilt, although not with the same glory as Solomon's temple, and the walls were in place. But they may also have realized this was the same for their forefathers, who had yet gone into captivity and exile because of their sins.

Likewise, we need to be reflective in this season of our church life. Churches like ours have become satisfied and eventually complacent. So much is going on that they settle back and relax. Soon they become lukewarm (Rev. 3:14-18). Prayer: "May it not happen to us".



The key figure of the gathering is Ezra. From the book of Ezra we find the following information:

He came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. to teach the statutes and judgments of God's Law—Ezra 7:10. He led them in a revival, but then we don't see his name recorded in the book of Nehemiah. It could be that he was too old to participate in the rebuilding of the wall, and/or that he returned to Persia and then came back after the wall's completion.

About the Assembly

Nehemiah 8:2—So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

Notice a few of the particulars:

It was a time for families. Present were "all who were able to understand..." This was not an isolated instance in the life of Israel. It was customary for women and children to be included in such solemn occasions—Deut. 31:12; Josh. 8:35; 2 Kings 23:2. These were hallmark moments in Israel for all those old enough to understand. The application to us is obvious: The Lord is always interested in the spiritual nurture of the entire family. Spiritual renewal is not just an adult thing, but will affect the whole family of those being renewed. Everyone who can understand should be included and encouraged to have his/her own renewal ("Chalk Revival").

How will you do that, parent? One summer when my son Shaun was about 12, we spent two hours a day having a spiritual renewal time. We went to various parts of the city, and I taught him how to spend "7 Minutes with God," and we made entries in a "Spiritual Journey Notebook." It was a wonderful, hallmark experience for him and for me. I encourage you to find age-appropriate times like this for and with your kids.



It was a service that lasted from sunrise until noon—six hours.


Note: In many cases, we will know spiritual renewal is happening when the length of our services and individual prayer time speeds by. It doesn't mean everything will be painfully long, it's just that time is not the controlling factor. In this renewal in Nehemiah, that was the case.

A special platform was built for Ezra and 13 others so they could be seen. Can you picture the scene with the Gate in the background, people in front, and Ezra and others standing on the platform? (Note: Platforms are not special, spiritual places; they allow the audience to see! It appears Ezra read for some time, until he became exhausted; then one of the other men on the platform would take over and read on from the law, so Ezra could have a rest.—vv. 3-4—He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.