Every Good Gift

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Throughout the history of Israel we see a series of interactions between God and Israel. God would do something and then Israel would react – good or bad – to God’s actions. Here in Nehemiah the people are remembering their history with God through a prayer. The section I am addressing today is somewhat short but no doubt evoked powerful memories and emotions in the people as they remembered God’s actions. Let’s continue to step our way through this wonderful prayer with more memories of God’s actions and Israel’s reactions.

What God Did

You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, And allotted them to them as a boundary. Nehemiah 9:22 NASB

This section of this prayer begins with an action of God. Now notice carefully what happened: God gave Israel something. Now that something was kingdoms and nations. Don’t rush through this. What does this gift mean? Is there anything we can draw out of this that is not on the surface? I think so.

If God gave kingdoms and nations to Israel, that means God owns those kingdoms and nations. He has the right to do with them what He pleases. And it pleased Him to give them to Israel. Now what nations and kingdoms did God give Israel? Ultimately it was Canaan for they were in the land God gave Israel. Was Canaan a righteous nation? Not by a mile! So what does this say about God?

He is sovereign over all nations, not just Israel. He can do whatever he wants with whomever He chooses. It is God who raises up rulers and puts them down (see Daniel 2:21). This should be a sobering thought.This should remind us of just Who is in charge. This should remind us of our place as the created ones, not the Creator. The fact of God’s sovereignty over everyone should give us comfort.

But does it? I hope so.

 Israel’s response

They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon And the land of Og the king of Bashan.Nehemiah 9:22 NASB

Sihon was a king of the Amorites and Heshbon was a city east of the Jordan. In Number 21:21-32 the story of the encounter with this king is given. Israel wanted to pass through his land on their way to the promised land. He didn’t want them to pass. Lets just say it didn’t end well for good ol’ Sihon! God gave Israel Sihon’s land and the Israelites took it.

The same thing happened to Og. He too was an Amorite king who decided he’d take on Israel and Israel’s God. As with Sihon, it didn’t end well for Og. He was purported to be a giant, mighty in his own sight. He ruled a kingdom of 70 walled cities and was quite impressed with himself. But God was not impressed. He gave him and his kingdom to Israel and they possessed it.

We should learn a valuable lesson here. Just because a nation appears ferocious and invincible, does not mean that they actually are that. God owns everything. As He said in Daniel 2, He decides who is on the throne. Again we should find comfort in this statement. No matter how ungodly and anti-Christian a leader of a nation may appear to be, God owns him and will do what He pleases with him. But God will accomplish His work in His time. So let’s be patient with His plan for the world. He owns it and He will accomplish His purpose.

What God Did

“You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, and You brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers to enter and possess. Nehemiah 9:23 NASB

God chose to prosper the nation of Israel. How many stars are there in the sky? That is how many descendants of the original nation there are. God did that. God is not sovereign over the land of the world – not only is He sovereign over kings and kingdoms – but He is also sovereign over descendants. Now I realize there are a number of views regarding family size. But regardless of what we think, God is sovereign over the conception and birth of a child.

Well God not only prospered the descendants in a numerical way bit He also prospered them in a land sort of way. Notice that it was God who brought them to the land He had promised their parents. They eventually possessed the land. God kept His promise and fulfilled that promise through these children.

God keeps His promises. Take comfort from that.

 

So God brought Israel to the land. What did they do? The parents of the descendants who entered the land refused to take it. So God took them on a forty year journey through the desert. And then He brought the descendants back to the land. So what happened this time?

Israel’s Response

So their sons entered and possessed the land. And You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, And You gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, To do with them as they desired. They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, Hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, Fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, And reveled in Your great goodness.Nehemiah 9:24-25

Israel took the land. They possessed it. They took over and conquered all who lived in the land that God had given them. It didn’t matter if they cities were fortified (with walls and defenses) or not. Israel simply followed God and took possession of the land God had promised to them. This land – filled with cisterns for water, fruit trees for food and every good thing. This was a sweet place to live. And they had it because God had given it to them. But though the gift was made many years before, it was theirs when they took it.

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We need to be careful with this but far too often we don’t possess the promises God has made to us. He has promised not to abandon us. He has promised that we would one day be dwelling with Him.  He made these promises. He will keep them. But will we posses them? Do we live like folks whose destiny is settled?

I’m not saying we should with reckless abandon but with righteous abandon. Since we have the promise of God that He will keep us until the end of time on earth, we should never fear death, torture or anything else.

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom of William Tyndale. He was strangled then burned at he stake on this date in 1536 for the great crime of translating the Bible into English. His work provided the basis for the majority of the King James version of 1611. He died doing what was right. Evidently he valued his possession of the promises of God rather than his possession of physical life. We should not seek martyrdom. But we should not shrink from it. God has made very real promises to the Church. Just as He kept His promises to Israel as recounted here in Nehemiah 9, He will keep His promises to the Church.

Let’s live like those who possess the promise of heaven and eternity with the One True God.

True Compassion

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Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

When we remember all that God did to deliver His people from Egypt we should be amazed. God performed miracle upon miracle to get His people out of that place and to glorify His name. One would think that the ones who were delivered would never forget about the wonderful things God did. But they did forget. Boy, did they ever forget!

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.  -Nehemiah 9:16-17

Just as the people recalled God’s goodness, they also remembered their ancestor’s rebellion. Look at how they are referred to in this passage. They are called arrogant, stiff-necked and disobedient. They did not listen and did not remember. They chose to go in a different direction than God had for them. They sure were kind of “out there”. Lets look at a few things in this description.

First they became arrogant. Have you ever seen this type of transformation take place? It is a sight to behold. But it is a sad thing to witness too. To see a previous humble servant of Christ get full of himself and believe that everything is all about him is sad indeed. Politicians, singers, bands and writers have suffered through this type of transformation.

Next they became stiff-necked.  Now what does this mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is that they rebelled and rebelled obstinately. So think of someone so set on rebellion that they have no other course of conduct available. That is sad isn’t it?

They disobeyed, didn’t listen and didn’t remember. They were a mess.They chose their path and walked down it. They left God and His precepts. This rebellion led them to their destination. And that destination wasn’t freedom. No, that destination was slavery.

Before we get all full of ourselves and criticize Israel for doing this lets consider how many times we have done the exact same things. Have you ever wandered? Ever refused listen to the Holy Spirit and either doing something or not doing something He is prompting? Me too. Too many times in fact. But we should be encouraged by the person we know as God. Look at the next verse or two:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Therefore you did not desert them,   -Nehemiah 9:17

Grace and compassion

God shows His graciousness towards Israel. Notice how God is described: forgiving, gracious and compassionate. Are you known by those words? When I ask myself that question, I’m not too pleased with the answer. I often can be one of those three once in  awhile but I have a difficult time being all three all of the time. Maybe this is true of you too. But thankfully God is not mankind. He is all these things.

The final sentence here is spellbinding to me: Therefore you did not desert them. Think about the statement being made. God had every right to desert Israel. Hey, for that matter, they had already deserted Him! God would have been fully justified in leaving them behind. But He didn’t.

Similarly we wander from God, We don’t listen or obey. We judge, hurt and become proud. God has every reason to desert us – we have already deserted Him. But, just like God’s actions towards Israel, He doesn’t desert us. What a loving and compassionate God we serve!

And what’s more there seems to be no limit to what God endured with the Israelites.

When there were idols

even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.    -Nehemiah 9:18

The Israelites, I’m sure you remember, decided to have an idol. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below cast themselves an idol and gave the credit for their deliverance from Egypt to this newly-minted golden idol. That had to hurt.

When they wandered

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.   -Nehemiah 9:19

Remember the wandering in the desert? That would have been a great place for God to say “I’ve had enough of you. I’m leaving. Figure everything out for yourselves.” But God did not do that. He lovingly and compassionately led them through their sojourn in the desert. He used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Interestingly, in the Temple, there was smoke or cloud in the most holy place where the glory of God would reside. Finally, He gave His Spirit to guide them.

These folks had it all. Boy, I wished we had this type of guidance today. But you know, we do. We have it even better. We have the Holy Spirit – God Himself – dwelling inside our mortal body. He guides. He instructs. He leads. Think about that. God Almighty lives in us so that He can guide us. Do we listen and follow like we should?

When they complained

You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.    -Nehemiah 9:20

The Israelites complained while wandering in the desert. They complained about the heat. They complained about the food (the Hebrew word Manna means What is it!) It seems they were always upset about something and never thankful for anything. What a bunch of whiners! I bet God really taught them a lesson for all their whining. He did. Just not the lesson that may have popped into your head.

God kept feeding them. God kept giving them water. God sustained them for forty years. An entire generation of people were sustained by God. Their clothes remained in good condition as did their shoes. Their feet never swelled up in spite of all the walking they did. Yeah, God taught them a lesson alright. He taught them  a lesson about love and compassion. How we need that lesson today.

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

So how are you doing showing compassion and love to everyone around you? Don’t make the mistake thinking loving someone means you never disagree or even rebuke their conduct. Love will be present in those situations. Compassion will be there too. Perhaps God is tugging at your heart as you are reading these words like He is tugging at mine as I write these words. Maybe we need to redouble our efforts to show compassion and others to others in spite of how others are…or how they act.

 

Following God’s Provision

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God is still guiding us through His word, the Bible. He still provides food, shelter, water and all we need to survive. While the means of this provision seem natural, these provisions and guidance are still from God.

We begin this week with a continuation of the Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. We continue to see God acting in supernatural ways. We also see that the people in Nehemiah’s day have not forgotten how He acted toward them. Let’s take a look at the next few verses and see what God supernaturally provided for Israel.

Supernatural Guidance

“And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way In which they were to go. Nehemiah 9:12 NASB

We need to notice first and foremost what the people continue to notice: this is all about how God led Israel, not how Israel followed God. We’ll get to how Israel followed – or failed to follow – God throughout their history. This part of this prayer is all about what God did. And it is pretty awesome!

In v. 12 we see that it was God who led during the day and night. He chose a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Think of the spectacle for a moment. Here is a nation of people, just freed from years of slavery being led through some very treacherous areas.

The cloud must have been huge to be seen by the entire nation. Here they were trudging across the desert following a cloud (or fire). That must have looked strange. But still they followed. And still God led.

How strange it must seem to those around us today to see a bunch of people following the teachings contained in a collection of books written thousands of years ago. How stranger still is there are those who are strangers to the culture and language of this collection of books. We don’t get a cloud or a fire. How strange that must seem.

Do we still follow?    Are we listening?    Do we even care?

Do we still look for God’s leading in spite of the roughness of our culture? God is definitely still leading us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Supernatural Instructions

“Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. “So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law Through Your servant Moses. Nehemiah 9:13-14

The people continue with their recitation of history by stating that it was God who came to them. Look here in v. 13: YOU (God) came down to Mt. Sinai. Notice that God did not call the people to ascend to heaven to converse with Him or receive instructions. NO, God came to us. How strange is that! God decided to descend and speak to man on man’s turf, so to speak. Some would say that shows weakness in God but I don’t think so. I think that shows great strength. Only a weak and insecure God would demand that man should come to Him. But God isn’t like this. He is all-powerful but He chooses to come down to speak with them.

Look what God did. He didn’t have useless small talk. No, He gave rules and regulations that would provide instructions on how to live. These are thought of as “good” by the people in Nehemiah’s day. But isn’t that just the opposite of today? Doesn’t our society view rules and laws as impediments rather than helps? I think the answer is “yes” to that question. Think about it for a moment. We hear quite a bit about man’s freedom, but not so much about God’s sovereignty. Man loves to think he is in charge. Any hint of a rule or regulation seems to be met with the shout of LEGALISM! Why do we rebel so much against the good rules?

Yet God has provided us with rules and regulations to conduct our life.  Rules that are meant to ensure our compliance to God’s standard and provided for our benefit.

Finally I want to notice that God did all this through a man. This man was referred to as “[His] servant Moses.” I hope you notice what I notice. While God is the author, He uses man as the messenger most of the time. God seems to work this way throughout history. Look at Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, the Apostles and others. He used these folks to spread His message. And it remains that way today.

I’m not saying that what we say or do are necessarily inspired by God. In fact, when someone says that I tend to doubt the authenticity of their claim. What I do mean is that God has ordained the preaching of His word as the way of spreading His message. More often than not, God speaks through His word being preached through man rather than a burning bush speaking to a man. We should take that to heart. If you belong to Christ you have been ordained to communicate His good statues, laws, and ordinances to a hurting and dying world. Are you doing that?

 

Supernatural Provision

 “You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them to enter in order to possess the land which You swore to give them. Nehemiah 9:15 NASB

Well not only did God supernaturally guide and instruct the Israelites, He supernaturally provided for them. Look at what He did.

He rained down bread from heaven. This bread was known as manna. The meaning of that in Hebrew is “What is it?” Imagine every day having that day’s meal needs being provided by God. It may have been monotonous to eat the same thing each day, but obviously the food was nutritious. God provided for them. But it wasn’t only food. God provided water. But He didn’t have them dig a well or turn on a faucet. God provided water from a rock. A rock! Now that is miraculous. He gave the Israelites what they needed through some really unlikely sources. Food, water, instructions and guidance. What more could the Israelites want or need?

He not only provided for their journey but also for their destination. God swore to Abraham to give them a land – He promised them a land – and delivered on that promise. God is a promise keeper. When He says He’ll do something, you can count on Him doing it.

What does all this mean for us? How does this affect us? First and foremost, God is still working. But it isn’t just with Israel. God is still guiding us through His word, the Bible. He still provides food, shelter, water and all we need to survive. While the means of this provision seem natural, these provisions and guidance is still from God.

 

Are you thankful for what God has provided for you? Are you willing to follow God through the deserts of life? The deep seas of despair? To where He has promised to lead you – and me – heaven?

Mad About You

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While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

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Years ago there was a sitcom on TV titled Mad About You. It was about  man and his wife and the challenges a married couple faced in New York as newlyweds. One of the stars was Helen hunt. I don’t remember who played her husband. Anyway, the show documented the struggles of newlyweds, with some of the things quite humorous. Both the husband and wife, though sometimes at odds, were mad(ly in love) about each other.

In this week’s section in Nehemiah 9 we see that Israel is mad about You as well. The You being God. lets see what we can glean from this passage this week.

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. “Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. “You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. Nehemiah 9:9-11 NASB

 

The first section – actually all the verses today – remembers how God led Israel out of Egypt. Now why do you think this is so? Well, if we look at this section through the eyes of those who are returning to Jerusalem and all they have experienced, the reason may become clearer. Think about this for a moment: the returnees to Jerusalem experienced similar events as their forefathers. They had been slaves, then they had been led out by God and then they reoccupied the land. I think that is a wonderful thing to begin with – remembering God’s faithfulness to previous generations as they experienced it firsthand.

The exodus from Egypt was a big event in the history of Israel. There are about forty Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s miracles. These forty words are used about five hundred times in the Old Testament. Now here is the interesting thing: about half of these five hundred uses were descriptions of the exodus. So the exodus is a seminal event in Israel’s history. Here they begin with the fact that God saw the affliction of their forefathers in Egypt and their cry by the Red Sea.

They saw God not as some far off deity but as a very personal God who was concerned with His people, Israel.

Boy, could we learn a thing or two. How often do you start your prayers with a listing of God’s faithfulness to you, the  saints that have gone before and the events of history that demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the church? I need to work on that too.

This section continues by not only recalling God’s faithfulness but also His actions that demonstrated His faithfulness. Then you performed… is a remembrance directed to God. Did God need to be reminded of what He did?  Of course He didn’t. But this type of remembrance is a wonderful type of praise. God demonstrated His power to pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. God made sure that they knew that Israel’s God is the only true God.

 

Remembering  God Cares

Israel recounts how much God cared for them next. You knew…begins this short section detailing God’s care for His chosen people. Though the arrogance of the people of Egypt and especially of their pharaoh (who fancied himself a god) permeated all levels of their society, God was not napping during the difficulties Israel faced. God knew how the Israelites were treated by Egypt. God knew about it, He did not learn about it. God knew – He knew. That must have brought great comfort to them considering what this generation had just experienced.

Though they were exiled, God knew what was happening. And He cared about it.

Once again we should sense the conviction of God here. We (at least in the United States) have not experienced anything like what Israel experienced in Egypt or Babylon. Yet it seems that we doubt God knows about the various challenges we face. We feel all alone even though we (in the US) are still relatively free. We should be ashamed of ourselves! God is not ignorant of how the world and its agents are treating the Church. We feel surrounded by ungodliness and betrayal. Yet God knows all about this and is working through these events to sanctify us and bring about His will. We should find great solace in that.

 

Remembering God’s Actions and Provisions

The final section of this weeks section demonstrates what God did and the provisions He made for Israel during the exodus. This section has three very important phrases: [You] made a name for Yourself, You divided the waters, You hurled. Clearly Israel was mad about Him. They are recounting His actions which ensured the survival of the nation of Israel. Lets look at these three actions.

 

You made a name for Yourself

God’s actions were so radical – so awesome – that He established His name in the land of Egypt.

The Egyptians never forgot about the God of Israel and how He humbled their pharaoh, his magicians and their nation. God certainly made a name for Himself there. How did He do it? Well remember the miracles? The plagues? The Nile turned to blood. Frogs, flies, dead cattle. You’d think that the Egyptians would eventually get a clue…well they did but only after the angel of death swept through and killed every first born.

You divided the sea

So God took Israel out of Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. We don’t know exactly where they went but we do know that the Israelites felt they were cornered. Add what happened? Did God abandon them? Nope. He did what seemed impossible: He parted the Red Sea so Israel could walk over to the other side on dry land. But He didn’t stop there.

You hurled into the depths

This is a clear indication of what happened once Israel passed through the waters. God didn’t just get Israel across the sea. No, He then threw pharaoh’s pursuing Army into the sea like a stone into raging waters. Have you ever seen what happens when a stone is thrown into raging waters? It disappears almost immediately beneath the  turbulence. And  that is what happened to pharaoh’s army. God hurled them into the raging waters of the Red Sea and they disappeared.   Now that is a great protection plan!

 

So what about us? Well we should take some very important lessons away from this passage. First we should always remember and recount how God has remained faithful to the Church in spite of our own wanderings. Second, let us not forget that God does care about what we are experiencing here on earth. If He is sovereign and omniscient (and He is those things and much more) then He is not surprised or overwhelmed by the events we face. Third, we must realize that in spite of the way our world wants to isolate and ignore God, He has already made a name for Himself. We need not be discouraged by the constant drumbeat against God. God isn’t dead. He isn’t even sick. He is on His throne. He is reigning from on high and He is coming back for us. Just like He was faithful to Israel in Egypt and in Babylon, He is faithful to His Church.

While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.

Repentance, Worship and Revival O My!

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God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous

When revival starts to spread in the land a number of things begin to happen. Here in Nehemiah 9 we will see two of the more prominent things that happen when revival hits the land.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Nehemiah 9:1-4 NASB

Repentance

Repentance is an interesting thing to observe. The reason it is interesting is that it is more than one action but it is only one action. Have I confused you yet? Let’s see if I can clear things up a bit.

The twofold nature of biblical repentance is what sometimes gets confusing. The first aspect of repentance is a turning from action. Now what is this turning from action? It is a turning from sin and a sinful heart. Here we see the beginning of their turning from in v. 1 – sackcloth and ashes is a way to illustrate mourning. Then in v. 2 we see that they separated themselves from foreigners. Now this separation is not based on frivolous things. This separation is based on religious grounds. Do you see what is being said here? The people had recognized that the Lord had made them a special people that was distinct from all others. They turned from their inclusion of other nations. They chose to return to the way the Lord wanted things done.

Now for the turning to part of repentance. We start to see this in v. 3: they stood and read from the book of the Law. They turned to God. So not only did they turn away from their previous sin, they turned to God and the way He wanted them to do things. This turning to God led them to worship here in vv. 3-4. This worship will continue in a different form in the coming verses.

Worship

This section constitutes one of the longest prayers in the OT. It was meant not only to serve as a traditional prayer but also to instruct those who were hearing it. This occurs in some of the Psalms (78, 105, 106, 135, and 136). It is quite interesting to see the heart change from grieving to rejoicing.

The first thing I want you to notice is God is praised as the Creator and maker of everything:

Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens…” Nehemiah 9:5-6b NASB

This is always a good way to start a time of intense prayer. How often have you begun your prayers with a simple praising of God for who He is and what He has done? Regardless of what Mr. Darwin thinks or theorizes, we did not arise from a bubbling sea of cosmic ooze to then evolve into man through a number of random mutations (all of which were positive). No, we were specially created by God to reflect His image in His creation.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Think of what is happening in your body right now. You are breathing, your heart is beating. You are reading this blog and comprehending the thoughts I have written. You do all this with very little effort. Just think of what you would need to to if you had to think “breathe in lungs, heart beat again, think brain!” I doubt much else could be accomplished if we had to will ourselves to continue to perform  basic functions.

In the next section we see the Lord as the all-sovereign one. He is the one who chooses man, not the other way around.

“You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise,
For You are righteous. Nehemiah 9:7-8 NASB

I love these verses in Nehemiah – they are theologically rich and so challenging to me. I hope they are challenging you to take a look at your life and how you are conducting yourself in this world.

Look how this section begins: You are the Lord God…. The declaration that their God, known by His covenant name YHWH, is THE sovereign one is quite the statement. these folks were not worried to say their way was the only way. Seems like we could learn a thing or two from them. Standing for what we believe is all good. But standing for truth is better. Are you ready to say that our God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – is the ONLY God in the universe worthy of our worship? I hope so.

Continuing through this section we also  see that His sovereignty is affirmed when they state that He chose Abram and called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Notice it doesn’t end with the call of Abram. God made a covenant with Abram to give him the land of the various “ites” that lived in the promised land. But God’s covenant didn’t end there. He swore to give the land not only to Abram but also to Abram’s descendants. So who are these descendants? Israel of course. It doesn’t matter what others think – the land known as “Palestine” belongs to Israel. Period. They will inherit it. They will possess it. Why? Because God promised it to them.

The final observation I want to make about this section is the final few words: You are Righteous. Now we may not think much of those words but they are heavy. To be righteous means to be without sin. Who could make such a claim? Only God can. He is the only one who is, by nature, without sin.

Revival

I don’t care what society thinks. Whether they recognize this truth or not, God is not dead. God is on His throne. And I don’t care if I am a laughingstock, a backwards man, or anything else. I will continue to say “God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous.

How is your revival going? Are you reviving your relationship with God every day? If you know about your sin and repent of it – like the Israelite’s did here in Nehemiah – you’re on your way.

But you also need to work on your worship. Recognizing God’s worth, recognizing who He is, is key to revival and worship. One very important way of worshiping God is how we pray. How are you in your prayer life? This one in Nehemiah sets the bar pretty high. But learning from it this week (and in the coming weeks) can only help you and me be better at praising God when we begin our prayer time. It will help us stay focused on this important truth:

God is still God, and I am not.

Revived!

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We must make doing the word of God a habit we embrace

 

When revival sweeps the land, it creates a hunger and thirst for knowing what the Bible states, not just reading it. To know the Bible we must spend time in it studying it. We must take time in this study to consult those who have studied it much more deeply than we have.

I have written before about progressive sanctification. In fact, that is one of my favorite subjects! While the Holy Spirit is primarily in charge of our progressive sanctification, we have a responsibility in this too. Our responsibility includes knowing the Bible. Notice i didn’t say reading the Bible. We must know what the Bible states not just read it once in awhile.

In our section this week we’ll see what happens when those who once rejected God’s Word embrace it with joy.

 

Investigating the Word of God

If you truly want change, you must study the Bible

Have you ever been around a Christian whose only desire is to know the Word of God? I know such a man. The joy his intense interest in knowing the Bible brings to those around him in overflowing! This man has this figured out. For you and I we must be serious about the Word of God if we truly desire life-change. Reading it isn’t enough: We must investigate it.

Here in Nehemiah 8, revival is sweeping the land. The people, who had completed the wall in spite of much opposition, have now turned their attention to rebuilding the spiritual life of the Nation. Let’s take a look at what we can glean from this newest rebuilding effort here in Nehemiah 8.

Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. Nehemiah 8:13-14 NASB

The first important thing we need to recognize is the fact that the representatives of the people and the priests came to Ezra to learn what the Word of God was teaching them. They recognized the need to seek out the expert in the Law to learn. That would be nice to happen today. Whenever anyone wants to know something about the Bible, instead of seeking out someone who has studied the Bible intensely at the feet of  theological giants, most simply use the internet and their favorite search engine. Sadly, the internet has made everyone an expert. But is was different here in Nehemiah. They sought out THE expert of the Law. And not only did they come to Ezra, they listened and learned.

They learned that they had been neglecting an important festival that the Lord had commanded. Look at verse 14: “They found written…” Have you ever discovered an important truth in the Bible? How did that make you feel? What did that encourage you to do? Well here they learned that the Lord had commanded them t  live in booths in the seventh month. Now what is that about?

The feast of tabernacles (or booths) was a feast that the Lord instituted in Leviticus 23:40-43. It was a feast that served as a reminder to future generations of how the Lord had brought the Nation out of Egypt. During this time they were out of Egypt and int he desert, they lived in booths. This feast served as a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness. So they learned this but it didn’t end there.

 

Initiating the Word of God

Once you know the Bible, you must act on it

So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and [h]wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. Nehemiah 8:15-16 NASB

The leaders of the people and the priests didn’t just learn about what the Lord required, they acted on it: they initiated the Word of God in their daily lives. In verses 15 through 16, the people sent out a proclamation to everyone to go out and gather the necessary parts for these booths. And everyone did. Each family built their own booth and lived in it on the roof of each person’s own house.

These folks, who had built the wall, built their homes, now chose – they CHOSE – to follow the instruction of the Word of God and live in a booth made of branches. That could not have been comfortable. But once they knew that the Lord had commanded them to do this, there was no question that they would follow through. It was as if there was no choice in the matter. And in a real way, there wasn’t a choice. Sure they could have ignored the command but the choice to follow was so clear – so necessary – that they really didn’t have any other choice than to follow through.

 

Installing the Word of God

Knowing the Bible and acting on the requirements leads us to making it our habit

In this final section, we see the effects of following the Lord’s commands. Notice in v. 17 that there was great rejoicing. Think of this for a moment. The Nation had not done what the Lord had commanded for generations. But when they followed the command, there was rejoicing. Following the Lord’s commands doesn’t kill the joy we experience in life. No, following the Lord’s commands enables us to experience true joy in this life. This lesson should not be lost on us. WE must follow the word of God like the Nation did following the end of their exile.

The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance. Nehemiah 8:17-18 NASB

 

In v. 18 we see that the Nation celebrated this feast for seven days and read from the  Law as well. They began to make some  muscle memory. They weren’t satisfied with just reading the word of God, they had to investigate it – they had to look deeply into it. But they didn’t stop there. Once they investigated the Word of God, they initiated it in their life as a Nation. Just knowing wasn’t good enough. They observed the feast of booths for the first time in many years. But it didn’t end there! They then installed the Word in their life as a Nation. They made it a part of their routine. They made it a part of their National life. They developed a habit.

So how are we doing? Are we satisfied to just know the word of God? Or maybe we’re satisfied to simply know about the word of God. It seems that the Christian world is satisfied with doing the least possible amount of study…we seem to want to just get by.

But that must not be enough for us. We must look deeply into the word of God. We must begin or initiate the word into our life. And finally – WE MUST – make doing the word of God a habit. When we do this, then we will have real change. We will really have progress in our sanctification. Perhaps we will finally become the unified body that Christ so wants us to be.

Revival at the Gate

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The wall has been finished. Jerusalem has been occupied again. The job is finished, right? Well not really. The reconstruction of the wall and gates is done that is for sure. But there remains work to be accomplished. In some ways this task will be more difficult than the reconstruction of the wall. This task is the reinstruction of the people.

 

The Desire for the Law

And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the LORD had given to Israel. Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.         Nehemiah 8:1-2 NASB

This chapter begins with a marvelous statement – “all the people gathered as one man” – at a certain place. As I read this I come to the conclusion that this was a spontaneous meeting. They gathered at this place because they were of one mind, one purpose. They were not ordered there by Nehemiah or someone else. They chose to gather together. And I don’t think the place was a mistake. Ezra, who had led the effort to rebuild the Temple, was there.
The first lesson we need to understand was that the people were hungry – they desired – the Law of Moses. They wanted to hear what was expected of them. They wanted to know the rules and regulations they were expected to follow. In short, their desire for the Law of Moses indicates their desire for God to lead them.

They wanted their relationship with God restored.

How wonderful this attitude would be if the Church had it! I sometimes wonder how many folks who attend Sunday services at a church are there out of duty. I wonder how many are there for a show. I know some who are. I even know some who sit in the place of a pastor because they think that will earn them points with God. How sad.
You see when we go to church out of duty, guilt or selfish motives we miss the blessing of gathering to gather to hear God’s word and be drawn closer to Him. When we gather together to appear to be holy, we demonstrate we have no real desire to be holy. When we gather together to be seen of men, we demonstrate that we do not want to be seen of God. When we gather to soothe our conscience, we demonstrate that our heart is in need of repair. Our motives for gathering together say everything about our condition before God. Here in the first verses of chapter 8, the motives are clear: they want to hear from God. What are your motives for attending church?

Purposed from the heart

He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Nehemiah 8:3-5 NASB

Ezra read the Law at the square or plaza in front of the Water gate.This was one of the gates that were in the wall that surrounded the Temple.Interesting, huh. The people flocked to the Temple. I mean they FLOCKED there. They acted as if they had one mind. And it wasn’t for a sermonette. I remember my first Pastor saying that sermonettes (short sermons) were for Christianettes! Anyway, these folks came prepared to hear a message that would last a bit longer than most of our messages today. Do you notice the phrase “from early morning until midday”? I wish NASB had translated this “from first light until noon”. The Hebrew is clear that the people gathered when they first had light and remained until noon. With that in mind, this gathering was probably five or six hours long. And we gripe if our pastors exceed their time limit of 45 minutes.

But they weren’t just standing there. Notice the phrase “were attentive”. The Hebrew here is quite colorful. In the Hebrew, this phrase means “the ears of the people were toward…” Can you picture that in your mind. Imagine a group of people, gathered to hear what God wants them to do, how to conduct their lives, all with their ears toward the speaker so they wouldn’t miss a thing. Could we learn a thing or two?

I’m sometimes discourage when I see folks in church playing on their smart phones or just doodilng away instead of listening intently to what our Pastor is saying. Have you ever experienced that? I admit, sometimes my mind wanders as well. In the hustle and bustle of a harried life, I sometimes don’t pay attention to what is being said. What a mistake that is! We should strain to hear what is said. This is God’s word being preached. Let’s listen to it!

We see that Ezra was on a wooden platform to address the crowd. This platform was constructed for this very purpose. This was probably quite large given the literal translation of this would be something like “wooden tower” or “tower of wood”. This was not to elevate Ezra. This was so that his voice could be heard throughout the crowd. It gives us another view of just how many had gathered. I tend to think it was the entire population of Jerusalem at the time. Remember that in chapter seven we learned that everyone in Jerusalem at that time was right around 50,000. Can you imagine that? There were fifty thousand people straining to hear God’s word that day. Wow. I mean….WOW!

Response from the heart

The last thing I want you to notice this week in our passage is the reaction of the people when the Law of Moses was opened. What did they do? In verse five, they all stood up. So what is that significance? Well, if we think about it, standing when someone enters a room is a sign of respect. The people, when the Law of Moses was opened, stood up out of respect for it. Notice that this occurred when it was opened, not just when it was read. Now that is some kind of respect!

How wonderful it would be if people had that kind of respect for the Word of God. Sadly though I think that is long gone. We have become too familiar with it. Not that we actually know it. No, we know just enough to be dangerous. Everyone has their view and feels their view has equal authority as the ones who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible in the original languages, submitting to instruction from men who have demonstrated faithfulness to the Bible, knowledge of the Bile and wisdom from the Bible. No, the Internet has made everyone an expert. Only that it hasn’t.

Our respect for the word of God – and the ones who preach it – is not what it used to be. In fact, I’m not sure it will ever be what it used to be. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we did see the Bible the way these folks in Nehemiah saw the Law of Moses? Wouldn’t it be wonderful each Sunday morning the people gathered in the churches throughout the world were straining to hear it preached and explained? If we had that attitude, would we be in the pickle we are in today? I doubt it.

But here we are. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Everyone seemingly does what is right in their own eyes. There seems to be no standard. Many churches, in an effort not to offend, have adopted a view of “live and let live”. But this is so wrong.

The Bible is THE Authority for life. There are standards for the conduct of life regardless if one wants to believe them or not. It is God’s message to man. We cannot expect others to listen if we, the Church, don’t listen to the Bible’s instructions to us.  O how we need the wisdom in the Bible to permeate our souls today.

 

 

 

 

New Day, Same Routine

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The wall has been completed. The work was done. Or was it? Did the work continue after the wall was built? Did the completion of the wall signal only the beginning of the work Nehemiah had to do?

Now when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, then I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many. Then I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot, and while they are standing guard, let them shut and bolt the doors. Also appoint guards from the inhabitants of Jerusalem, each at his post, and each in front of his own house.” Nehemiah 7:1-3 NASB

Nehemiah continued to take precautions and be aware of the situation he and his fellow workers were in. They were still surrounded by adversaries who were bent of destroying them. These enemies, while suffering the set back of the wall built were nonetheless still opposing the Israelites moving back into Jerusalem. These enemies had enjoyed their ruling of the area when Israel had been sent into exile by God. Now they are losing their grip on this land. And they are angry.

You know when we do the work God has called us to accomplish, our enemy Satan is the same way. He gets mad. He gets violent. He never forgets that we are doing something to his kingdom of darkness. We must be ever vigilant to be on our guard as we work. Even when there is a victory, we must stand alert, ready and able to stand firm on God’s word regardless of the attack of the enemy.

Moving In, Looking Up

Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogies. Then I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up first in which I found the following record: Nehemiah 7:4-5 NASB

In listing all the people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah is accomplishing a few things. First he is giving credit to all who helped build the wall. Remember that not all were actual builders. Some built the wall, some guarded, some ran errands. Everyone had their job. Nehemiah gives everyone credit for their part in securing the city. Second, Nehemiah indicates that they must continue on doing what they have begun. Now most of these folks came back under Ezra to rebuild the Temple. They did that and helped rebuild the wall. Nehemiah reminds them that there is still more work yet to be accomplished. He sets in motion a line of succession. He appoints godly men to carry on the work when he is gone.

Let’s not let this be lost on us. A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself and makes sure that when he is gone through moving, death or something else happening the work will continue. Although Nehemiah led the wall rebuilding project, he knew that the project belonged to God. Nehemiah was simply a steward for a time. He made sure someone else would be the steward of the on-going project of rebuilding Jerusalem.

  A good – no, a great – leader always trains someone to take his place. He always knows that the work is more important than himself. 

Checking the Books

Now from here on through verse 60 there seems to be an endless list of folks and their ancestry. Why include it here? Quite simply, Nehemiah wanted to make sure that only those who belonged to God entered Jerusalem. Nehemiah took seriously the fact that only those who belonged to God could reside in God’s city of Jerusalem.

The Church needs to learn a lesson here. We are far too quick to accept anyone into the fellowship of the saints. But do we really believe that everyone belongs with us? We can’t know for sure who truly believes in Christ as their Savior but we can take some steps to be reasonably confident. We need to ask hard questions of those who profess faith in Christ. We need to take a look at the person’s life to see if his walk matches his talk.
While we’re at it, have you taken a hard look at your faith? Do you belong to God or are you a foreigner trying to fake your relationship with God? I ask these questions not to make you doubt or waver but so that you may be sure of your ancestry – that you belong to God through faith in Christ. 

In vv. 61 through 65 we see some who could not prove their ancestry and the consequences of that.

These were they who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai, who took a wife of the daughters of Barzillai, the Gileadite, and was named after them. These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood. The governor said to them that they should not eat from the most holy things until a priest arose with Urim and Thummim. Nehemiah 7:61-65 NASB

So here we are. A number of folks can’t prove their ancestry – that they truly belong to God. Some of these were even among the priests! So Nehemiah says that they were excluded from performing the functions of the priesthood and considered unclean. Notice that they were considered unclean. Nehemiah does not declare them unclean.

Nehemiah excluded those who were priests from performing the functions of a priest for their own protection. If someone who was not a priest tried to perform the functions of a priest (like offering a sacrifice) a severe penalty was enforced. Out of an abundance of caution, Nehemiah tells these folks that since they can’t prove they are a priest, they can’t do the work of a priest.

This is a very important point for us. Those who may be wavering in their faith in Christ need not be rejected by those confident in their position. No, when someone wavers we should consider them as not Christians so that we can love them either into a friendship with Christ or back into an intimate relationship with Christ.

The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and their female servants, of whom there were 7,337; and they had 245 male and female singers. Their horses were 736; their mules, 245; their camels, 435; their donkeys, 6,720. Some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 gold drachmas, 50 basins, 530 priests’ garments. Some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas. That which the rest of the people gave was 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,000 silver minas and 67 priests’ garments. Now the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants and all Israel, lived in their cities. And when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in their cities. Nehemiah 7:66-73 NASB

The closing verses of the chapter give the number of people who returned to Jerusalem. Then there is an account of a great offering that was taken for the rebuilding of the walls. Finally, a note on how the suburbs of the city were settled.

Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts.

Let us never forget that while we may accomplish a goal God has for us, the work continues. As that work continues we need to be vigilant to be on guard for the attack of God’s enemy Satan. And while we work and while there are some victories, let’s remember that we can’t accomplish a thing alone. Yes we each need God active in our life. But we also need each other. We need to realize that each project God gives us to accomplish takes many different skills, talents and gifts. When the task is completed and we move onto another one, share the credit. Recognize those who contributed to the success of the project. Most of all let us give God the glory for what He has accomplished in and through us.

Charles Edward Montague, an English essayist who lived from 1867 to 1928 said “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” -Disenchantment, ch. 15 (1922)

I’d like to change that to “there is no limit to what the Church can accomplish for God’s kingdom when we recognize that God gets all the credit” Let’s go out and live for God, not looking for credit but looking for ways to serve.

Strength Through Opposition

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If we never have resistance, we never become stronger. 

Have you heard the saying “Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger” (or some variant)? I have. Sometimes I wonder why folks say that in the midst of a trial or some type of tribulation. Sometimes I wonder if they think they’re being profound. They sure don’t seem to care much about what I’m going through. Perhaps you have heard the same thing in similar circumstances and felt the same as I. But you know what? I’m wrong in my feelings.

 

The truth of the matter is that trials and tribulations enter our lives because God chooses them to enter our lives for the purpose of refining us and strengthening us (James 1). If we never have resistance, we never become stronger. But when we face resistance with the right attitude and meet it head-on, strength for our journey of faith is increased and God is glorified.

 

We just saw what discouragement can do to us through the example of Nehemiah and his builders. They were fatigued, frustrated and fearful. But did they stay there? Or did they find the result of the resistance to doing God’s was better – much better – than their initial reactions. Let’s take a look and see.

When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water. Nehemiah 4:15-23 NASB

 

Resilient

The first way we are strengthened by opposition is that opposition makes us resilient.

When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. Nehemiah 4:15 NASB

Notice the progression here in verse 15. There enemies heard that their plans had been revealed to the builders and that God had frustrated their plan. The result was that the workers – all of them – returned to work on the wall. While the builders were initially frustrated at their circumstances, their circumstances made them resilient enough to bounce back – with faith and reliance on God – and continue the work they had been called to accomplish.

Nehemiah didn’t give lectures to the workers. He didn’t try to guilt the workers into returning to work. Nehemiah simply reminded the people that God was for them, not against them. That God had brought them to this point not to break them but to build them. God was making them into a resilient bunch!

How are you doing in being resilient in spite of opposition? I know this is an area where I struggle quite a bit. Sometimes I just want to hide when opposition to my serving God occurs. Does that ever happen to you? When it does, remember this lesson from Nehemiah –

God is for you, not against you. Bounce back and get back to building your wall.

 

Rethink and Reorganize

Another way we are strengthened by opposition is by the opposition making us rethink and reorganize our priorities. Nehemiah had already organized the people in chapter 3 and they had finished half of their task. Now, however, a new situation had come about that required a change in organization.

Nehemiah had to rethink his strategy for building the wall. Before this opposition, Nehemiah had organized the builders in teams and everyone built their portion of the wall. Now that there was some serious opposition rearing its ugly head, Nehemiah revisited that strategy. He had to think anew – rethink – the best way to accomplish this task in light of changing circumstances. We shouldn’t let this get lost on us. When our circumstances change and we are opposed by the enemies of God, we need to rethink our strategy. We need to be flexible enough to change how we are going about doing God’s work. So Nehemiah thought and came to a conclusion: if the enemies were going to attack they would most likely do so at the weakest places. So Nehemiah put guards at all the vulnerable spots. This served two purposes – it discouraged the enemy and it encouraged the people because it dealt with their fear.

When we’re discouraged, one of the things we can do is to reorganize our priorities. You can look at your life. You can adopt a change in approach instead of becoming so discouraged that you quit. Do you have a problem in your marriage? In your job? Church? Walk with God? If so, don’t bail out! Rethink your problem, reorganize your thoughts and keep moving toward the goal to which God has called you.

In verse 16 the workers reorganized again by dividing responsibilities – half worked and the other half kept watch. Those who worked used one hand for pushing the wheelbarrow, and with the other hand, they carried a weapon. And, they worked together as a team.

 

Remain

Now let’s back up and look at this passage as a whole. Do you see what I see? The workers did not flee. They remained at the worksite, they remained building the wall. That is the final thing I think we can glean from this passage in Nehemiah. When opposition comes (and it will), remain where God has called you.

When I was a pastor of a small church, there were times where I just wanted to flee. I just wanted out. Why? The opposition had planted a Sanballat and Tobiah in our congregation. They stirred up trouble and discouragement. It was difficult to be sure to get in the pulpit each week knowing – KNOWING – that I was going to be criticized for how I preached that morning or how I failed to do something according to the expectations of the enemies of God’s work. But I remained. It wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t fun. I focused myself on what God had called me to do and not my circumstances. God eventually peeled the veneer off my Sanballat and Tobiah. He revealed them for who they are. Now it took the death of the church I pastored for that to happen. But is was a worthwhile price to pay for others to be warned about these folks and their unrepentant divisiveness.

 

Remember and Redouble

Are you experiencing opposition in your service to God? Perhaps it is from a friend as it was in my case. Maybe your government is acting against you. Maybe it someone else. Whomever is opposing your work, remind yourself that they are opposing God, not you. If they hate you, they hate you because of your relationship with Jesus Christ. Let the haters hate. Let them say what they want. Redouble your effort to be resilient in your response, rethink and reorganize your priorities and method of doing your work and remain at the task God has given you.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. I Corinthians 15:58 NASB

 

Standing Firm

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The wall workers were initially excited. They began the work with great anticipation and joy. In fact, in v. 6 the workers were described as having a “heart” to work (translated “mind” by NASB and others) Everything was going well. The work was going on, the wall was going up. Progress – glorious progress – was being made. Then something happened.

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders. So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. Nehemiah 4:1-8 NASB

 

Have you ever led a ministry? Have you ever been in a ministry that received negative attention from others? If you have ever led anyone or any ministry, I’m guessing you have received criticism. Criticism goes with leadership – and especially when that leadership concerns kingdom work. In this section of Nehemiah, we’re going to see what happens when Nehemiah and his workers receive some taunts, verbal jabs and some veiled threats. Lets take a look at this and learn some important things about leadership and handling the discouragement that comes into our lives.

We need to understand a few things about discouragement. First, it is universal. No one is immune to discouragement. Every one of us has been discouraged at one time or another. Second, it can be recurring. Getting this disease of your soul does not impart immunity to it. If anything, when one contracts this, one can expect that it will occur again. Third, it is contagious. If you are discouraged, chances are that you are infecting others.

Here in Nehemiah, there are some verbal stones that are thrown at him and the workers on the wall. These verbal stones can – and usually does – cause discouragement. In fact, the type of these stones indicates to me they were intended to cause discouragement. Lets take a look at these verbal stones and how they affected the workers.

Stones being thrown 

Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work. Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities seriously, Satan stirs up agitators to block the work of God. These enemies used two types of external forces.

verses 1-2: “Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews.”

Rocks of Mocking

This is the third time in the book that we come across Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s stiffest opposition. Every time we read about him he is standing against the work of God, rejecting and mocking everything that Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. This is nothing new. Satan often mocks those who do the work of God. Remember how the soldiers mocked Jesus when He was on the Cross? How about Goliath mocking David (and all Israel)? What about Satan (as personified by the snake) wryly mocking God in the garden? Satan mocks, that is what he does when he is confronted with folks serving God. Mocking is a powerful weapon too. Often the bravest person in the face of bullets flying past him in battle will fold oh-so-quickly when mocked.

Sanballat calls the workers feeble. The word used means miserable and withered.  Think of a person about to die. Think of a person who has lived long and lived hard. You know what I’m talking abut, right? Someone whose life is spent – one who is empty. That is what Sanballant called the workers. Now the evidence is that they were not feeble. They are building a rock wall with no construction equipment other than their hands, back and feet. This was his attack on their physical appearance. But it doesn’t stop there.

Rocks of Undermining

Sanballat then asks some mocking questions designed to impugn their character and intentions. They were also intended to undermine their confidence. The first question was Will they offer sacrifices? This is to undermine their confidence that what they are doing will be blessed by God and will result in the offering of sacrifices in the Temple. He moves on to ask Can they finish in a day? designed to attack their perseverance. You see, Sanballat knows if he can get them to focus on how long they have to go, they may never finish.

Then Sanballat asks Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones? Sanballat attacks their building materials. It is as if he is saying Geez guys, your building material is old and decrepit. This will never stand. Why even try?

Sanballat’s friend Tobiah joins in v. 3 and says “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Ouch! So now Tobiah joins and says their wall is so weak and decrepit that a little fox jumping on it would cause it to tumble. Tobiah was working hard to undermine their confidence. The workers were the punchline to these jokes. They were on the receiving end of these stones thrown at them by Sanballat and Tobiah. These stones hit there mark. And they undoubtedly hurt.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you engaged in kingdom work only to be criticized? Ridiculed? Mocked? Steel your resolve Christian, these things are to be expected when we engage in work that is ordained by God.

If the work we do meant nothing, then Satan would have no reason to attack and try to discourage us.

 

Take heart Christian if you have been attacked by those who oppose the work of God. Take heart that God has counted you trustworthy enough to undertake this type of work. Take heart because our labor for the Lord – doing what He has called us to do – is not useless, void, worthless or unrewarding. Stand firm and remember that He has prepared you for this.