What do you do when you are feeling worn out, depleted, and need a bit of rejuvenation? Do you hop on a plane and head for a warmer climate? Can you call up your best friend, the one who will always listen and offer an encouraging word, and go out for a cup of coffee? Maybe you’d like something a bit more exotic? Did you know that there is a place in California called “Camp Getaway” that is just for adults? There you can join in a sing-along, have water balloon fights or play a game of kickball. You can even sneak out at night and to wrap someone’s car with toilet paper. I guess there’s a twelve year old lurking in all of us somewhere. If you are a musical type, how about trying the “Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp”? For only $299 a day you can join in a jam session with real musicians from groups like “Kiss” and “Van Halen” and “Chicago.” And if your tastes run more toward jazz, the blues or even country, you can find a place to live out your dreams as you pound the drums or strum your guitar. (K.B. Yancey, “Get Away From It All,” USA Today, 7-28-06)
If the kind of inspiration you are seeking is spiritual in nature, what do you? Every follower of Jesus has ups and downs in life. There will be times when you feel so close to the Lord that you’re sure you’ll look up and see him standing there. We will also have moments or even stretches of time when God seems distant or the excitement seems to have drained out of your faith or it feels like you are just going through the motions. This happens to all of us, and if someone says they never have such experiences, don’t believe them. Our lives get invaded by deep concerns for loved ones. We come face to face with situations that defy solution. There may be periods when you spend a great deal of energy caring for others, and then your tank is dry.
Annually this church is gracious enough to send those of us on the pastoral staff to a midwinter pastors’ conference that is sponsored by the Covenant denomination. Two weeks ago I was in Chicago along with 1100 other pastors, youth leaders, children’s pastors, military and hospital chaplains for five days of learning and renewal. We can sit on seminars that focus on biblical texts or personal issues or pastoral concerns. In addition to the learning opportunities, I had the chance to reconnect with some of my oldest friends. One of the best parts of the week were the worship times where my soul was invigorated by the music and my heart was inspired by top notch speakers.
The people living in Jerusalem in the mid 5th century BC were in need of renewal, too. For the past month we’ve been studying the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. It’s the story of how this Jewish man who had attained a high ranking position in the Persian empire, was called by God to restore the security of Jerusalem. The people there, Nehemiah’s fellow Jews, were in a precarious position because the city walls had been broken down and burned by enemies. So with the blessing of King Artaxerxes he traveled form Persia to Palestine, examined the damage, and gathered the people into a potent work force who enthusiastically began the rebuilding process.
Here’s a reconstruction of the chronology of what is described in the first six chapters of this book. The Hebrew names for each month are in parentheses:
• November (Kislev): Nehemiah heard about the plight of Jerusalem and began praying on behalf of the city and its people.
• March (Nisan): After four months of prayer, God revealed that he wanted Nehemiah to go help the city, so he gained permission from the king to go and also obtain the necessary materials for the project
• March to July (Nisan-Ab): Nehemiah prepared for his trip, traveled to Jerusalem, arrived in the city and surveyed the wall. He invited the people to join him in making the city safe again. Then he created a plan and acquired the needed lumber and whatever else was needed for the job.
• July 25th (Ab): Work on the wall commenced. The total circumference of Jerusalem was likely about 1:5 miles. One section had to be totally rebuilt and the rest restored.
• Sept 10th (Elul): The wall was completed in only 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15)
Consider everything that happened in a very short period of time. Nehemiah had been occupied with all this since the previous November. However the people only met him, heard how he came to be in Jerusalem, and were recruited in July. Then in the space of just two months the whole city was rejuvenated. They went from being weak, vulnerable and dispirited to becoming a community that was stronger, protected, and unified. All of this took place because God’s hand was on them, and they all knew it. This may not have been as mighty an act as the Lord parting the Red Sea, but it was no small thing. God had put his vision in the heart of a leader, turned the heart of a king to help, and gave all of them the strength to complete the job. They saw Nehemiah coalesce a group of people he didn’t know, manage the building process, and cope with outside forces that threatened to disrupt them and internal problems that could have divided them. And that wall went up in just seven weeks and three days.
Once the wall was done, what then? For a very short and intense period the people were intensely focused on a clear objective – put up those walls and secure the city. Then the task was finished. What is it time then, to be back to normal life? It may have been so long since life was “normal” that they may not have known what that looked like. They had seen God at work, witnessed his handiwork up close. What would be the next step?
About a week later they found out. At the very end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8 it says, “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate” (7:73 – 8:1). After the wall was done the people who didn’t live right in Jerusalem had gone back home. Yet on this day they were all there again, but not to build a wall. There is no indication in the text as to why they came, but everyone showed up. There were men and women, young and old. It seemed spontaneous, but in reality is almost certainly a movement of God’s Spirit that drew the people together.
What happened next? They turned to Ezra, one of the priests. He had been living in Jerusalem for 13 years by this time, having come to the city from Persia with an earlier wave of immigration. The Old Testament book that bears his name comes just before Nehemiah’s writing, and in chapter 7 verse 10 we find the purpose of Ezra’s life, “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” The people asked him to bring out the book of God’s law and read it to them. He was happy to comply. A platform was built for him, and then he got up on it and began to read the scroll that contained what was likely the first five books of the Bible, Genesis through Deuteronomy. He started at daybreak and read until noon – about six or seven hours! As Ezra read, there were Levites spread out around the square who made sure everyone could understand. In verse 8 it says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” This likely means that they repeated what Ezra was reading so that everyone could hear and interpreted what it meant for the lives of the people. The goal was not just to hear the Word of God but to let it sink in so everyone understood it.
Can you imagine people just standing to listen to someone read for six hours – and later on we find out this went on for seven days! There were no blaring loudspeakers or projection screens, no eye-catching images or computer animation to keep their interest. It’s hard to fathom this taking place today with peoples’ miniscule attention spans. This was an oral culture. There were few written materials and most couldn’t read them anyway. So folks had to listen and remember.
From their encounter with God’s Word, the people responded in three distinct ways. These are important for us to observe, because I believe they tell us how God brings renewal, rejuvenation, and resolve into the lives of believers. So what happened?
Look at verse 9, “For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” Why were they crying? Wasn’t this a time to rejoice in what God had done? Sure, but that came later. I believe their emotions were heightened as they listened to the Scriptures because they realized that the the God who had revealed himself to them in the last two and half months was the same God who had saved Noah from the flood, gave Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age, delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, and helped David defeat Goliath. In each situation the people had nowhere to turn but God. They had no possibility of getting themselves out of trouble or pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. Yet God their Savior had delivered them from enemies and miraculously delivered them. And now he had done it again by miraculously bringing them a leader and enabling them to rebuild the wall. God was still God. They were still his people. He was still faithful to them. When this realization dawned on the people they must have felt a combination of the deepest gratitude and a profound sense of unworthiness.
When was the last time you looked at your life and remembered how much Jesus has done for you? You may be in one of those places where the Lord feels distant and it seems like everything is going sideways or downhill. You may think God has abandoned you, but he has not. Do you have “spiritual markers” in your life that you can draw on in times of difficulty? Those are the times when you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the hand of Christ was on you. Perhaps it was when you came to know him and understood that he bore the cross for your forgiveness. It might have been a time when a prayer for a loved one was answered. It could be that at one point you were facing financial devastation or a seriously broken marriage or a friend who betrayed you, and either the Lord flat out delivered you from your circumstances or made it possible for you to make it through. When you read the Scriptures and come across all the ways God helps his people, take a moment to remember how he has helped you. That help has never come because you were deserving, but purely as a matter of his mercy. Take up the book and read, and find your own life there.
The second response of the people in Jerusalem was joy. It was certainly appropriate for them to weep over God’s demonstration of goodness toward them, but then Nehemiah had to remind them their encounter with the Lord should fill their hearts with joy. In verse 10 he said, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” One of the great benefits of following Christ is access to joy. Be sure you don’t confuse joy with happiness. Happiness is OK, but it’s circumstantial, it’s tied to what happens in our lives. When things go well we are happy. IF you get a raise at work, your kids are successful or you actually keep your New Year’s resolution and lose weight, you feel good. But when things run amok, we’re sad or anxious or confused; happiness seems impossible. Joy is very different because it’s not tethered to circumstances but grounded on the solid, everlasting love of God. When you know that you are loved by the Lord you can find joy even in the midst of sorrow or trouble or calamity. It’s an unshakable conviction that you are held in the palm of his hands no matter what is happening around you. That’s why Ezra wanted the people to understand what they heard from the Scriptures, because then they’d know a truth that could not be altered by events. Then they would know true joy. The same is true for us.
The final response of the Jerusalemites was obedience. When they grasped what God had done, they wanted to follow him. That meant paying close attention to what was in the Word. As Ezra read the law, the people realized that there was one festival the Lord had commanded them to observe every year, called the Feast of Tabernacles, that had been neglected. In fact if you go to verse 17 you’ll read, “From the days of Joshua … until the that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great” (Nehemiah 8:17). So this practice had not been repeated since the time of Joshua. When did he live? He became the leader of Israel when Moses died around 1400 BC. What year was the wall rebuilt? In 445 BC. So for more than 950 years the people of God had forgotten to obey the command of God to observe this festival. It was time to make things right again. So they made all the necessary preparations to celebrate this holy day and restarted the tradition. The result was great joy.
If we have realized again how good God has been to us and been filled with the joy of the God, our hearts will be prompted to respond with obedience. Is there some part of Christ’s teaching which has gone neglected in your life? None of us is familiar with everything the Bible teaches, and some of it is hard to understand, but what if we just focused on living out the parts we do know? How about starting with the Ten Commandments? Do we worship only God or have other things become our idols? Do we honor the parents who raised us? Do we speak truthfully with one another? Or look at what Jesus taught in his “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7. There he instructed us to love our enemies, do our good deeds in secret so we’re not showing off, and make sure we’re watching over our own behavior before we criticize someone else. Then, as we discover more and more we can let the Scriptures continually mold us into a more perfect likeness of Christ.
The people in Jerusalem had seen God do a wonderful work among them. Their hearts were already turned in his direction so when they listened once again to the story of God’s love, they realized they were listening to their own story repeated in other places. Thus it led them to humility, joy and obedience. If you want renewal in your life, you want a fresh experience of Christ’s presence in your life, try these and watch God work. AMEN
PROBLEMS NEHEMIAH FACED
By David J. Riggs
A. Nehemiah was a godly man, and was much concerned about the welfare of God’s people. Neh. 1:1-4
B. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king, and he wanted to return to his homeland and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Neh. 2:1-6
1. Notice that he prayed in the middle of a conversation. Vs. 4
2. He obtained permission from the king of Persia, and returned to his homeland to begin the work of rebuilding the walls.
C. Let’s examine the book of Nehemiah and notice some of the problems Nehemiah faced as he undertook his work.
1. Many of the problems he faced are the same ones we have as we try to build the church of our Lord.
I. RIDICULE AND CRITICISM.
A. Those faithful Jews had to face ridicule and criticism as they began to rebuild the walls. Neh. 4:1-3
1. Sanballat and Tobiah used ridicule to try to discourage the Jews from building the wall.
a. Ridicule can cut deeply, causing discouragement and despair.
2. Instead of trading insults, Nehemiah prayed. Vs. 4-5
3. The work prospered because the people had set their hearts on accomplishing the task. Neh. 4:6
a. They did not lose heart or give up, but persevered in the work.
B. Christians will be ridiculed and criticized as they try to build according to the pattern.
1. When persecuted, the early disciples responded similarly to Nehemiah. They prayed. Acts 4:23-31
2. We should never allow ridicule and criticism to keep us from doing God’s will.
3. If we diligently pray about the matter, we will be strengthened and aided by God.
4. If we have a mind to work, much good will be accomplished.
II. OPEN WARFARE.
A. When ridicule and criticism didn’t work, the enemies began to threaten warfare against God’s people. Neh. 4:7-12
1. Nehemiah encouraged the people to be prepared at all times. Neh. 4:13-14
2. They were to aid one another in this great work. Neh. 4:19- 21
B. We, too, are to wage the good warfare. 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Tim 6:12; Jude 3
1. Our warfare is not carnal but spiritual. 2 Cor. 10:3-5
2. Evil men and seducers will grow worse and worse. 2 Tim. 3:13
a. False teachers soon learn that when truth and error are placed together, someone will see the truth. Thus, within time they will flee from us. Prov. 28:1
3. When we earnestly contend for the faith, we grow spiritually.
a. It is the apathy and indifference toward God’s cause that destroys us.
b. There is a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia named, “Church of God Grill.” Someone called and asked about their unusual name and the reply was, “We had a little mission down here, and we started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills.
People liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church services. After a while, we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that’s ‘Church of God Grill.'”
c. This incident is similar to many congregations and denominations who have, over time, drifted from their original purpose.
d. Let us, as a church of our Lord, continue to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Let us continue to uphold, defend, and proclaim the truth that souls might be saved. 1 Tim. 3:15
III. INTERNAL TROUBLES.
A. At first, all of their problems came from outside; however, now the trouble was internal. Neh. 5:1-5
1. Many of the returned exiles were suffering at the hands of some of their rich countrymen.
a. The rich would lend money and when the debtors missed payments, they would take over their fields.
b. Left with no means of income, the debtors were forced to give up their children to slavery.
2. Nehemiah quickly and courageously corrected the problem. Neh. 5:6-12
B. Internal problems often hinder churches from doing their God- ordained work.
1. When there are internal problems, more often than not, members of the church go to war with each other, rather than teaching the gospel to the lost.
a. Much time and energy is lost which could otherwise be used in leading souls to Christ.
2. We need good leaders who courageously rise to the occasion and help us to quickly correct our problems. Problems, when quickly corrected, can be put behind us and the church can move forward.
a. Let us be a united front for the cause of truth, rather than warring among ourselves.
b. When bird dogs have no birds to hunt they often snap and growl at one another. However, when they are out with their owners, working the fields, they are busy trying to find the birds.
c. Similarly, let us be busy in our God-given work and not be fighting among ourselves. Gal. 5:15
IV. COMPROMISE. Neh. 6:1-4
A. Sanballat, Tobiah and their company were desperate. The wall was almost completed, and their efforts to stop its construction were failing.
1. Thus, they asked Nehemiah to come down to the plains of Ono and meet with them.
2. Nehemiah was wise in seeing this plan would only harm him and his cause.
a. He gave them a good reply. Vs. 3.
B. The spirit of compromise is very dangerous.
1. The “Liberals” are always wanting us to send a delegation to one of their “Unity Meetings.” One of them recently wrote,
“Why not band together in the restoration movement and accomplish more than we ever thought we could accomplish?”
a. Why can’t we equally ask, “Why don’t we band together with the Catholics so that we can ‘accomplish more than we ever thought we could accomplish’?”
b. No, we dare not “band together” with any who are teaching or espousing error because it would cause us to be lost. Matt. 15:9; Titus 1:13-14
c. We, too, are busy doing a great work, and we see no need to go down to the plain of Ono where concessions of truth are being made. Gal. 2:4-5
2. While some of us would never compromise the truth, we will:
a. Compromise our time; e.g., using it for ourselves rather than the Lord.
b. Compromise with the world; e.g., in what we watch on TV, or in the way we dress.
A. In conclusion, notice a few significant verses regarding Nehemiah and his work.
1. Neh. 4:9 – Nehemiah constantly combined prayer with preparation and action.
a. We show God we are serious about serving Him when we combine prayer with thought, preparation, and effort.
2. Neh. 5:16 – Although Nehemiah, had authority from the king and led the entire construction project, he worked on the wall alongside the others.
a. He was not a bureaucrat in a well-guarded office, but a leader who got involved in the day-to-day work.
b. Those who lead best do so by setting a good example.
3. Neh. 6:15-16 – God is the basis for our victory as well. a. Let us continue working as His servants, and great good will be accomplished to His praise, honor, and glory.
NEHEMIAH | How to Live a Life of Influence