NEHEMIAH 8:1-12

11What an amazing event. The people of God re-gathered to hear the reading of the Law. When I was trying to visualize the scene it made me think: Hey, maybe this is where some of our current ideas about building a sanctuary came from. I can picture the Methodist church from my childhood. The pulpit was on a raised stage a la Ezra. On either side of the pulpit and back were 4 large wooden chairs – two on each side. Those officiating the service sat there – the minister, the choir director or a guest speaker. This same pattern was true in the independent Baptist church I joined when I came to Christ.

While there were no altar calls I remember as a child (not sure the Methodist did that sort of thing), there were several “invitations” to come forward in my time at Immanuel. When this was an expected part of the service, the front rows would be manned by our elders and deacons who would be ready to pray with and counsel any who might come in response to the call.

So, here stands Ezra on a specially built platform surrounded on both sides by the Levites – everyone ready to make sure the people not only heard the Word but understood the meaning.

I have to agree with today’s speaker – there is power in the spoken Word of God. The people’s hearts melted and they wept unashamedly. Those who understood – Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites comforted the people and encouraged them to see this as day to celebrate God’s faithfulness and their unity as a community.

Personally, I love to read the Scripture out loud. I often read aloud to myself, especially if the passage is difficult to understand. There is something about joining my hearing along with seeing that brings unexpected clarity.

I love it when someone in church reads it well. Case in point was Kevin B. just yesterday. The Words rang T.R.U.T.H!

What’s more I just told Betsy how much I like it when we are asked to stand to hear the benediction. It somehow gives honor and respect to what is being spoken.

The Truth is:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Heb. 4:12

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. Rom. 10:17

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Col. 3:16

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NEHEMIAH 7:5-73

10I have to say the list of names is not the first thing that gave me pause. It was the length of the passage! Verse 5 to 73? Really 73? Had to flip over to BibleGateway to check. Yep, 73 is it. Okay then, moving on.

Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy.

Nehemiah was to get all those people together. They were spread out; they had worked in small groups. They may have not even known how many they were who had served on this grand project.

But they had done hard things together: physical labor, faced unending opposition and spent hours in prayer. They had ALL experienced God with them and knew His help had allowed them to succeed. Now I think God wanted them to know He considered them faithful – sort of a “well done, good and faithful servants gathering”. In fact, he had kept a list…

Makes you wonder what Heaven is going to be like. All those people whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life – all together for the first time. Mind blowing, huh?

DAY 9 NEHEMIAH 6:15-7:4

09Fifty-two days may have seemed like a record making amount of time or just the fact the Jews were able to pull it off was amazing – either way, their enemies attributed the success to “the help of God.” Just the realization was discouraging and frightening to them.

Surely they had seen or heard about the intensive labor going on. Their threats had kept the Jews having to work with one hand and be ready to fight with the other. The bullies did everything to slow or stop the work but in the end they were forced to acknowledge God was in it.

I love what one IF:Sister noted. I’m calling it the “Preparation vs. Perspiration Ratio” – 4:2. Nehemiah prepared twice as long as he physically “worked”. The outcome “rang” God’s name, not his. If my life is about making God famous, then I need to mind the math!

Of course the finished project didn’t mean just laying back. The wall was done but Nehemiah continued to consider the big picture. They still had enemies; they were still vulnerable; they would still have problems.  Even though these future issues were not directly his to face – (I’m thinking he is getting ready to return to his job with the king) – he was not quite finished.

Where there had been rubble, he now formalized new order. Gatekeepers, singers and Levites were appointed. New leadership is established. Men he could trust and who feared God. Then safety procedures – limiting access to the city and guards to watch for unwanted intruders.

In the afterglow of personal victory it is easy to let down one’s guard. I see this in my own life. I need to remember the Enemy is still at work. It is just wise to acknowledge the potential dangers of unguarded thoughts or outdated allegiances.

The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. This last line seems so hopeful. He expected the houses to be rebuilt because the number of people would grow. Why else rebuild the wall at all? People would return to the City of God. Nehemiah had done his part. Others would follow.

Same for each of us who follow Jesus – we are building the Kingdom. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Eph. 2:10

DAY 8 NEHEMIAH 6:1-14

08The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom… Psalm 111:10

When I read this passage the word that comes to me is discernment. Nehemiah listened to the voices that called him away from his work and was able to know that they were not from God. That is a pretty amazing gift.

In Nehemiah’s case he really had to armor up and stand his ground. Four times the enemy wrote and asked to meet. That might have been tempting as any appeal to one’s ego might be. “Hey dude, we are leaders and obviously you are the leader. Get out of the labor pool and meet with us. We’re having a leaders only forum down at Hakkephirim and we want you to join us.” Nehemiah didn’t fall for it. He knew they intended to do him harm.

The second attack was a pack of lies about Nehemiah’s motives. It could have undermined his leadership and who wouldn’t feel like they needed to defend themselves? Nehemiah, that’s who. He shot back “you’re nuts” and kept working. He knew they were trying to frighten them into stopping the work. He just prayed for more strength.

The third attack was an inside job – a plant by the enemy. “Man, they are coming to kill you. Let’s hide out in the temple.” Nice try, but there are a couple of red flags here. First, Nehemiah knows God has called him to work not run. And second, he knows God’s laws and there is no way he is going in the temple. The enemy was trying to make him afraid, cause him to sin and discredit his name.

What was Nehemiah’s response to these attacks? He turned them over to God. O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.”

Three times in the book of Nehemiah he refers to “fearing God” as the source of wisdom in knowing what to do.

      • Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God Neh. 5:9
      • But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. Neh. 5:15
      • I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. Neh. 7:2

It seems that Nehemiah’s faithfulness, endurance and wisdom come from his willingness to fear God above all else. Like the psalmist Nehemiah can teach: Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Ps. 34:11

Lord, let me learn from Nehemiah that fearing You is the answer for every question, the antidote to every challenge. Amen.

DAY 7 – NEHEMIAH 5

07So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God…”

Having addressed the obvious opposition outside the walls, Nehemiah’s next challenge is the self-destruction between the Jews themselves. As with many societies, the conflict arises between the “haves” and the “have nots”. It is a problem we are all too familiar with today.

Often we do not consider our brother’s need over our own interests. Even more often we are blind to how the practice of our advantage termites away until our nation lies in waste. Often, maybe even always, our first clue comes only when the oppressed cry out. If we are to heal, someone must hear, listen and take up their cause.

The Jewish community was working together physically on the wall but the poor are starving. Not because of their enemies but because of their own nobles and officials. The poor are doing and have done all they can to stay afloat – mortgaging or selling their property and even their children. The rich are simply in strictly-business mode, taking advantage of every “good deal” at the expense of those in trouble.

Nehemiah, like God, hears the cry of the oppressed and does not delay in taking action. He addresses the offenders: “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God…”

God is not in it when we exploit our brother. God is not in it when our view only addresses our own gain and comfort over the wellbeing of others. God is not in it when we are deaf to the cries of the poor – in whatever form their poverty takes.

God is for those who hear the word of admonition and respond. May we of privilege be like these leaders, who were blind to their actions but now were willing to see. May we be quick to action, even though it costs us something. May we be glad and appreciative of the true privilege of serving our brother and walking in the fear of our God.

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If I were asked to preach on this passage there are about 50 lessons on vision and leadership in these verses. I’m tempted to make a list right now but …well, okay. Just a list.

  1. Nehemiah was aware of what was going on with his people.
  2. He listened to everyone, not just some, because the restoration was about everyone.
  3. He was quick to identify the root of the problem.
  4. He knew God’s heart. How? Prayer and knowing the Word come to mind. (There are several “laws” that come to bear. The Jews were not allowed to charge interest from other Jews. Some believe this “year” was a sabbatical year so land/property that were sold were to be returned to the original family. While God doesn’t decry the distinctions of “rich” or “poor” as wrong, He does expect mutual submission and caring for one another.)
  5. He was angry but did not react in anger. He took time to consider his actions and how to best deliver his message.
  6. He was bold and clear and practical. He pushed the solution beyond a willingness to comply, establishing accountability and consequences. (The consequences were not something he imposed but were named and left to God to carry out. – That is trust in God’s sovereignty!)
  7. He did not make the rules about right and wrong – He spoke in terms of God’s expectations.
  8. Nehemiah lived with his people and as an example to his people. He and his servants worked alongside them. He did not tax the people even though it had precedent. To do so would have been counter to his message, a burden to the bigger work of God and would have separated him from the people he served.
  9. Nehemiah lived out generosity and hospitality.
  10. I would guess there are more but I.HAVE.GOT.TO.GO! 🙂

DAY 6 – NEHEMIAH 4:10-23

06

When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.

Nehemiah and company are in the middle of rebuilding. They started with zeal and were re-invigorated by prayer and their leader’s encouragement. Now they are at “hump day”. They are getting weary and the enemy is plotting against them.

Now is the time to pull together. Nehemiah refocuses them.

  1. Do not give in to fear
  2. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.
  3. Be ready to fight for your people, your family and your homes.
  4. Take notice that it is God who has revealed the plot of our enemies and they know it. Our God will fight for us.”
  5. Here’s our new strategy: We need to work and protect ourselves. We are in this together and we need to have each other’s back.

Again the people rally.

Nehemiah’s message is for every weary worn warrior of the faith, isn’t it? When the rubble still seems deep and the opposition seems loud we are not to quit. We are to support each other and trust “our God will fight for us.”

DAY 5 – NEHEMIAH 4:1-9

05Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.

If Nehemiah were still around, I’d be asking to meet at Starbucks just to sit and pick his brain. The guy is deep with God, humble and brilliant in his execution. And if Jesus himself could join us…well, I’m just saying.

Bullies bully to cover their own insecurities. They think anger will protect them and plotting violence makes them tough. They thrive on the attention of their own crowd and banter in one up sarcastic words – mostly to each other. Bullies are actually weak precisely because their strength and bluster is all they’ve got. Their words nevertheless can still be a scratchy irritation to a life of faith.

Nehemiah spends exactly zero minutes addressing them. Instead he goes straight to God. This is where his insight is so remarkable. Though the offensive behavior is directed to them Nehemiah knows it is actually an affront to God, prompting God’s anger. In fact, the severity of his hopes for the mockers is pretty much in line with Jesus’ words for anyone who would cause even one of His children to stumble.  “If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea. “ Matt 18:5 GNT

Revisiting “their opposition” in light of its offense to God and His purposes, strengthened and encouraged the builders. Where the bullies hoped for confusion, Nehemiah helped the people reinforce their solidarity and faith in God’s purposes. Now, even more,the people had a mind to work.”

And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. This reminds me that the work of God is likely to come under attack – physical or emotional or both. In fact, just my life in Jesus is a work of God the Enemy may hope to confuse or delay. I have been given some spiritual armor from this passage:

  1. Make God my first refuge (pray). Do not engage in verbal battles with fools or bullies.
  2. Remember the work is God’s work. Opposition is really directed at Him and it makes Him angry.
  3. God does not take lightly the forces who would like to cause me to stumble. (Inversely, I should be careful not to be one who undermines another’s faith.)
  4. Ask God what “guards of protection” I should employ. Could be something physical or it could be the Holy Spirit guarding my thoughts.

DAY 4 – NEHEMIAH 3

04How do you move a mountain? One rock at a time.

Rebuilding was nothing if not an overwhelming task. But one section at a time, handled by one small group, one family or even one person and the overwhelming becomes within reach.

Leaders challenge us to new heights because they know we have it in us to do the good works God has prepared for us. When Nehemiah asked the king for timber he could have just as easily asked for laborers. “If it pleases the king, send with me with 1000 slaves that I might repair the city walls. Or send me with 10,000 gold coins that I might buy some laborers.” (Dare I think God has actually equipped and gifted the body to accomplish the hard work of ministry rather than hiring a laborer so we can “count on them”?)

No. The finished wall would come to stand as more than simply a wall. It would be a testimony to God’s glory by God’s people, working side by side. Every individual part of the whole. Every family named – for evermore joined together.

There were some, there always are, who found the work of God beneath them. They chose their high tower away from the messiness of manual labor. They saw their place as above it all. God is no respecter of persons. Their names were written forever as well. Everyone has a purpose, we laugh…some serve as the “bad example”. Fortunately their number was few. I don’t think God is happy about giving out this destination.

There is the obvious lesson about the individual actions I take in my sphere that build the kingdom. Using my gifts, my time, talent and treasure so that God’s kingdom might be seen on earth as it is in heaven.

We are the church, wherever we may be founded building, but I’m struck by the unique call of this story. They were asked to restore the walls of their own city. And, yes God cares about cities – or more accurately God’s cares about the people in those cities.

But that is not my point. This was God’s city. Can I say this could be the church- my church, your local church? Can I say there is work to be done there? Are there any Nehemiahs who believe in our God instilled potential to truly rise up and do the hardwork made lighter by being yoked together?

You [all of you together] are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill [for good or for bad] cannot be hidden. Matt 5

This is how all men will know that you are my disciples, because you have such love for one another. John 13

 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. Eph. 4

…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him…  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Eph. 4

DAY 3 – NEHEMIAH 2:9-20

03And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.”

There is so much to learn from the way Nehemiah approaches his job.

First, he addressed the powers who might potentially oppose his work. They weren’t all that happy but he did his part to make it known he had permission to be there.

Next, he took a tour of the job site – alone. He wanted to evaluate the work ahead for himself without politics or fanfare. Plans on the drawing board aren’t much good until you see the actual space to be renovated. 🙂

After he felt confident in his planning he addressed the people. These were people who had been in Jerusalem a while, living in the broken down ruins. I’m sure they were not all that interested in some new guy showing up and giving them a new project. This is why Nehemiah’s words to them were so brilliant.

First, he points out the trouble “we are in”. He owns the problem with them.

Next, he reminds them that the destroyed wall is a sign of derision and mockery upon them as a people. He appeals to their desire for dignity.

Then, brilliantly, he reveals how God is leading the way, even in granting them favor from the king! This is not something they need to make happen under their own steam. They simply need to partner with God.

The people respond in excitement and willingness which is another sign that God is in the whole thing.

Of course, 5 minutes of victory is followed by discouragement blasting from STG Undermining Inc. This could be crushing to a brand new venture except that Nehemiah, as their leader was well prepared and confident. He boldly shields his people with words of confidence and God given authority.

“The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah’s leadership qualities: Prayer, preparation, planning, partnership, diplomacy, confidence, God given authority.

DAY 2 – NEHEMIAH 2:1-8

02“What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

I think I have always loved Nehemiah because he is so practical. I love problem solving and “practical” solutions can sometimes just seem so obvious to me. It’s a helpful gift but after a few decades you learn the downside of over confidence. Just ‘cause you can doesn’t mean you should is a healthy balancing mantra. It turns out what I want most is God-confidence not my own.

Surely in the 4 months Nehemiah had been praying and lamenting over Jerusalem, plans had been formulating in his mind. He must have felt God organizing these ideas into some tangible action. If he was anything at all like me, he was chomping at the bit. Except for that one little first thing…you don’t just get to quit your job when you work for the king. Now that I think about it, this is sort of like “I have these great ideas I’d like to put into action but what do you do about the husband, the person you give care, the money, the calendar… etc.?”

I guess the obstacles aren’t all that different. Nehemiah was a responsible guy. He was probably torn between this calling and his day job. Much to his credit he was not a “wheeler-dealer”. In fact, if I feel the need to “wheel and deal” my way into something…well, JUST STOP. God, IMHO, does not W&D. Wasn’t that a lesson from just YESTERDAY? (Lord, if you aren’t going don’t let me go either). I’m good with that. I want “God” certainty if at all available.

So, the big challenge for Nehemiah and certainly for me, is not wondering if we know what we are requesting. We have had that answer – for months in N’s case. We know how to approach the problem; we just need the right kind of confidence to walk through the open door. After 4 months of preparation, a speed dial prayer to the God of heaven was for Nehemiah the equivalent of: “Ok, I think this is you Lord, here I go…”

“If it pleases the king…”

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Interesting aside about Nehemiah and Queen Esther
http://juniaproject.com/queen-cupbearer-connections-esther-nehemiah/