Posts Tagged 'Nehemiah'



EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 14

Revive Us Again!

Nehemiah 8

For people who don’t find history interesting, Nehemiah chapters 8—11 are a refreshing change of pace. The first 7 chapters of Nehemiah’s book are two parts history with one part of intrigue. Very often, the following 4 chapters are referred to “revival chapters,” because they contain all the elements of a genuine spiritual revival. Students of revivals throughout Church history will readily recognize the four elements:

  • A renewed and sincere interest in the Word of God and a return to expositional preaching;
  • A conviction of sin under the ministry of the Word of God;
  • Fasting, prayer, confession of sin, and heightened awareness of God’s justice and mercy;
  • A commitment to learn and follow the will of God.

When these four things are present in a church, then we might say that church is in a state of revival. Add verse 10 into the mix, and we not only have a revival, but a truly satisfied congregation:

…the joy of the LORD is your strength.

The setting of chapter 8 is found in the last verse of chapter 7:

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns…

Let’s look at what happened when the people of Judah had finally settled in their towns. It all began with the Preacher.

1. The Preacher, 8:1

They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.

We haven’t heard from Ezra in a long time; it had been years since the end of his book and the beginning of Nehemiah’s. But Ezra hadn’t been idle during those years. While he may not have been directly involved in Nehemiah’s reconstruction efforts, he was very much involved in his own reconstruction efforts. Scholars generally agree that Ezra had already been teaching the Scriptures to the people of Judah; he was “reconstructing” the Law of God in their hearts. This was important because the generation now living in Jerusalem had no exposure to the Temple, the festivals, or most of the aspects of the religious life of their parents and grandparents; they had to be taught, and Ezra did just that.

It was not accident or coincidence that the people asked Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. Their hearts were ready for more of God and ripe for a move of God.

2. The Place of Meeting, 8:3, 4

It’s hard enough for a modern preacher find a congregation that can pay attention to the Word of God for a mere one hour Sunday morning, but here, Ezra read the Word of the Lord all day, and the people listened!

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. (verse 4a)

So we have recorded for us the first time a pulpit was used in the ministry of God’s Word. It wasn’t the Baptists that invented it, it was the people of Ezra’s day. It was a special elevated platform (the Hebrew means “tower”) built specifically for this purpose, about 300 feet from the Temple grounds.

To most people, a 40 minute sermon seems like an eternity, but the people who had gathered to hear Ezra had been in captivity all their lives; they heard stories about the old days when God moved during the ministry of His Word; they had a taste of His Word and they were hungry for more.

3. The Listeners, 8:2—3; 5—6

A. They were many but not all, verse 2

the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

Notice who was there to hear the Word: those who could understand it. This tells us a couple of things. First, from the perspectives of Ezra and Nehemiah, some preparations must have been made. Ezra had prepared their hearts for more through his ministry. Perhaps they made arrangements for babies and children to be looked after so as to keep distractions down to a minimum. But also, not every citizen was there; some didn’t show up for “whatever” reason. Maybe they had better things to do that morning, like wash their cars or plant their gardens. The point is, a true revival of faith is brought about when faithful followers of Christ have an interest and show up.

Second, the people that cared enough to show up that day already had an understanding of Scriptures. They didn’t need to be taught more; they didn’t need to be convinced to listen to Ezra. They understood what God wanted of them because they understood the Scriptures.

These things help us understand the nature of a true revival. It starts, not with an evangelist and praise band; it begins with individual believers who are already sold out to God; who are already in His Word and devoted to studying it. To those, revival comes.

B. They listened, verse 3

And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

This verse is quite remarkable for two reasons. First, the people, who already had an understanding of Scriptures because they knew them, listened “attentively” as Ezra read it. They knew it, they could probably recite it, yet they still listened “attentively.” They paid strict attention as they heard the Word being read. This is really astonishing. Very often, we Christians, who are so familiar with the Bible, have the bad habit of skipping over the verses or stories we think we know so well. They were more interested in the book than the preacher; they sought the message, not the man.

The other reason this verse is so remarkable is the fact that the those who gathered to hear the Word read, stayed and listened “from daybreak till noon .” Imagine that! For some 5 hours or longer, the faithful stood and listened as Ezra read the Scriptures. Talk about devotion and reverence. They were really interested; they had been held in exile for 70 years, finally they’re out and they can’t get enough of the Word of God!

C. They were reverent, verse 5

and as he opened it, the people all stood up.

They didn’t have padded pews to sit on. They stood up as Ezra read the Word for 5 hours. They stood up; a sign of reverence and obedience. These people, as a show of their high regard for the Scriptures and of their devotion to its admonitions, “stood up.” No wonder revival came to these people; they were ready for it every way.

D. They responded, verse 6

They people responded in two stunning ways:

…and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”

When the crowd shouted, “Amen! Amen!,” they were basically shouting to Ezra, “We’re with you! We’re with you!” And the fact that they repeated it twice shows how intense the feeling was behind their affirmation.

Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Their second response was to “bow down.” This phrase occurs only a handful of times in the Old Testament and it’s an undignified posture. These people got down on all fours, with their foreheads on the ground in humble, reverential worship of God.

From the posture, they “worshiped” God. They responded to the demands of the Word by assuming a humbling position and offering God the adoration of their hearts. They yielded completely to the Scriptures with all their being.

4. The preacher

A. He blessed the Lord, verse 6

Ezra praised the LORD

Literally, Ezra the preacher began by “blessing the Lord.” He recognized God as “the great God,” far greater than himself or his ideas. The message of God was great; Ezra was merely a messenger. To “bless” the Lord means to make God smile. When we bless the Lord, we make God happy.

B. He stuck to the Book and spoke clearly, verse 8

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

It seems as though several preachers read and interpreted the Scriptures that day in addition to Ezra. Some scholars think Ezra was the “head reader” and the Levites were assigned by him to paraphrase the Hebrew into the language of the exiles. Some of those born in exile may not have had a good understanding of the Hebrew language, so Ezra made sure that he did whatever was necessary to make the plain meaning of the Word clear, and the people understood.

Ezra and the Levites made the Law of God clear, they did not teach their own ideas. They simply enabled the people to grasp what was being read: the Book of the Law. They did no engage in silly histrionics in trying to make it more interesting. How different from today’s church, where all manner worldly methods are employed in “preaching the Word.”

As R.L. Stevenson correctly observed: “The Bible should be read as freshly as a book, not dreamingly as the Bible.”

Ezra and the Levites were not song-and-dance men, they were not entertainers. Their job was to make the people understand the Word of God. For the preacher, it is not enough simply to read a verse or two and tell humorous stories. It’s not enough for the people in the pews to simply hear the Word. They must use their reasoning minds to understand it; to grasp intelligently the mind of God.

We have to admire Ezra as much as we admire Nehemiah, for he was faithfully adhering to the prophet Jeremiah’s admonition:

Let the prophets who have dreams tell their dreams, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:28)

5. The effect of the Word

A. They wept, verse 9

For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

This was the first response of the people to the Word of God. They were filled with sorrow because of a consciousness that the Law of God had been broken. The powerful exposition of God’s Word will always bring about a deep conviction of sin. Notice, it wasn’t a hymn or worship chorus that brought about the tears, it was the preaching (exposition) of the Word of God. This is what brings about revival in a person’s heart. Revival is not an emotional gimmick, but a conviction of the heart caused by an honest exposition of God’s Word, not a manipulation of it.

This kind of sorrow is not a kind of self-centered remorse, but a genuine sadness of knowing how far from God’s ideal you have fallen and how much you have offended Him. But this kind or sorrow is not meant to last long:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

B. They rejoiced, verse 12

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

When the Ezra and Nehemiah saw the people weeping, they said something that may sound odd at first, but was actually very wise:

This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” (verse 9)

This revival among the people was NOT about the people; it was about God. The day during which the Word was read was a holy day to God; it was set apart for HIM, not THEM. Had the people continued in their weeping and mourning, the day would have degenerated into a wishy-washy self-centered celebration of emotionalism, and that is not what a revival is for. The religious leaders forced the people to get a grip on their emotions and to remember Whose day this was.

Then they told the people what they should be doing:

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (verse 10)

Repentance was to be followed by celebration. God’s Word, at first, may cause sadness and conviction and it may cause a heart to melt or break, but that’s not the end it! The end-goal of godly conviction must always be rejoicing and celebration in the Lord. Or, another way to look at it: mourning because of sin must always precede the joy of salvation.

C. They ministered to those in their midst in need, verse 10

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.

The beautiful words at the end of verse 10 have formed the basis of many sermons: The joy of the Lord is your strength. Now you know the context. Repentance, followed by joy leads to service, which leads to the ability to tap into God’s strength. This is how believers look after each other. Those who have share with those who don’t have, in the strength of the Lord. True revival will lead to needs within the community of faith being met.

The Word of the Lord, read and taught faithfully, will bring about a revival in the hearts of those who hear it IF they are seeking more of the Lord. The Word of the Lord will convict of sin, which will lead to repentance, ending in joy. This idea of “joy” was one reason why John wrote his first letter:

We write this to make our joy (or your) complete. (1 John 1:4)

God does not want any believer to be miserable, He doesn’t want you to have a little bit of fun. God wants His people to have a whole lot of fun around His word and in service to Him. Studying the Word of God and listening to its exposition ought to bring an abundance of joy into your life. If it doesn’t, there is a problem in your life that you need to face up to. Something is seriously wrong with a Christian who has no interest in God’s Word; no interest in reading it, studying it, hearing it preached, and no interest in Christian fellowship. Those are the things that must precede any revival.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 12

The Enemy’s Stealth Attacks

Nehemiah 6:1—9

Believe it or not, it took slightly less than two months to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. But in those 52 days, Nehemiah faced every form of opposition imaginable. After the account in chapter 5 of the social problems among the Jews, we return to the continuing account of the opposition of Nehemiah’s enemies, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Try as they might, they had been unable to frighten Nehemiah with the threat of an armed attack, so now they will try a more subtle approach.

It’s interesting to read these ancient accounts through the lens of heaven. Of course, it was Satan who was trying to stymie Nehemiah in his efforts to do the work of God. We have to give God’s man some credit here; he held up admirably under all of Satan’s attacks. Satan does exactly the same thing today to believers as they try to live for Christ. The difference between Nehemiah and Christians today is that we generally fail and Satan succeeds. However, God does not want us to fail. God does not want us to stumble and fumble in our journey to Heaven, and He has made it possible for us to triumph over Satan all the time. We need not fail. We need not succumb to Satan’s tricks.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

James makes a very matter-of-fact statement here. Believers can resist the devil. You can overcome every temptation. You can be a complete success as a Christian. The key, however, is not in resisting, but in submitting to God. Christians must re-learn what it means to be in submission to God.

Nehemiah was in total submission to God. Here he was, a cupbearer, doing the work of God in less-than-ideal circumstances. By this time, the wall was almost finished:

…I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates…(verse 1)

We have to admire this man’s honesty. Nehemiah must have been a lot like Nathaniel, of whom Jesus remarked,

Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47)

There was no cleverness or subtlety in Nehemiah. He didn’t exaggerate his accomplishments. He was simply honest. Now, he will face two more temptations designed to stop him from hanging those doors.

1. The compromise temptation, verse 2

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

Word had reached the enemies that the wall was all but finished. Now, they will try a different approach. They tried a show of strength and a threat of violence, but now, with a show of friendship, they sent messengers to Nehemiah with what appeared to be friendly, reasonable request.

In theological circles, this temptation is called, “When you can’t fight them, join them.” Satan has more success with this particular temptation today than any other. It takes many forms: the ecumenical movement; the church growth movement; the tolerance movement; and so on. Any time the Church of Jesus Christ is seen compromising on basic Biblical principles, she’s yielding to this trick of Satan’s.

Nehemiah, though was on his toes. He said, “On NO” to Ono. Here’s how he faced this temptation:

A. He knew his mind.

I…cannot come down… (verse 3)

Notice what he did not say:

  • I’ll pray about it.

  • I need to think about it.

  • God doesn’t want me to go down.

  • My advisors are telling me not to go down.

  • You come up and see me here.

Here was a man who knew his own mind; here was a man of conviction, entirely devoted to the work of the Lord. He didn’t need to consider their tricky request, his moral compass pointed in one direction and he could not be dissuaded, even by this innocuous request. He knew what he believed, so much so that his whole being revolted against the enemy’s proposal.

This was a man with the moral authority to lead the people in the right direction. A leader has authority based entirely on his worldview. When that worldview is rooted in the Bible, rooted in Godly ideals and righteousness, the people he is leading are content. When a leader has no moral compass, has no godly convictions, he will come down on the wrong side of every issue. This is true of church leaders and civic leaders.

Nehemiah’s feelings were like those of Peter and John when they said,

As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)

Just like those New Testament evangelists, Nehemiah’s calling had become part of his being; he wasn’t a man doing the work of God, he was God’s man doing his job.

B. He knew his work.

I am carrying on a great project… (verse 3)

Nehemiah had been entrusted by God with a job. Nehemiah’s loyalty was to God, first and foremost. This reply, “I am doing the work of God” should be what we all say when we are tempted to compromise the truth of Christ. Nehemiah was not confused by the messengers. He was a “separated man.” He was a holy man, doing a holy work. He didn’t need to hear anything his enemies had to say. They had no role to play in his work. God gave him a job to do. God gave him the plan to complete that job. Why would he have to listen anybody not following God?

Nehemiah, sold out completely to God, was focused on what God gave him to do. He couldn’t be tricked by these godless Samaritans. They were enemies of God and Nehemiah would have nothing to do with them.

C. He knew the danger of compromise.

Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? (verse 3)

Four times the Samaritans pestered Nehemiah with a request to meet, and four times he gave them the exact same answer. Satan is nothing if not persistent. Nehemiah held firm. Do you? Nehemiah knew the danger of compromising. Do you?

It would have been easy to meet with these Samaritans. They were tricky people; hard to figure out sometimes. They were, in reality, God’s enemies, but they pretended to serve Him. They spoke the right words. To some, they might have appeared to be believers.

They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. (2 Kings 17:33)

Only somebody with real discernment, and guts, could make the right call. A true and faithful believer should have nothing to do with anybody as phony as the Samaritans were. A true believer needs to remain faithful to his calling and his God; guarding that which has been entrusted to him. Whenever a true Christian never mixes with deceitful people like the Samaritans, for he knows he will lose what he himself has.

What good is it for you to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit your very self? (Luke 9:25)

2. The gossip temptation, verses 5—7

The Samaritans were certainly persistent. Satan always is. Of course they didn’t want to be friends with the Jews. They didn’t want to compromise with Nehemiah; they wanted Nehemiah to compromise and come over to their side.  They weren’t trying to help these poor Jews out. The next letter sent to Nehemiah was written in very polite language, but it was really a hook with bait attached to it.

And it was a terrible threat. It was essentially a letter full of lies, but most people are quick to believe a lie. It was also a dangerous threat, because if this groundless gossip ever got back to King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah would be neck-deep in boiling hot water!

Notice what Nehemiah was being accused of. The Samaritans were pretending to warn Nehemiah that other people (not themselves, of course) believed the Jews to be rebelling against the King; that Nehemiah was essentially leading a nation-wide revolt against the Persians; that he himself was trying to make himself king over the Jews. In short, the enemy was accusing God’s man of being full of pride and self-seeking.

This is a pretty common accusation. Human beings are basically selfish and even Christians sometimes have a difficult time understanding how a true person of God can do what they do simply to glorify God. Very often as we seek to live for Christ, our motives will be questioned and our actions misinterpreted by those with carnal minds.

Nehemiah met this challenge head on with a two-pronged approach.

A. He rebuked them.

Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” (verse 8)

Nehemiah did not mince any words! He came right out and called this letter a lie, which it was. This took courage, because he called the integrity of one of his enemies into question:

It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true… (verse 6)

Geshem was a total gossip, but he was also a man with power. Nehemiah called him out; he called him a liar who was full of delusions. The phrase, “making it up” comes from Hebrew word meaning, “something from deep inside.” The KJV renders verse 8 like this:

There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.

It’s hard to fight against gossip when it comes “from deep inside” a person. Jeremiah teaches that the human heart is deceitful above all things; it cannot be trusted.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Nehemiah had to sternly rebuke these liars. It was customary to read these letters aloud so the whole community and beyond could hear them. When the lies were read aloud, who knows how many people would have believed them; Nehemiah’s entire leadership could have been compromised by this gossip. He had no choice but to fight back with the unvarnished truth. The one who would be faithful to God can’t always speak in a politic way, and his words won’t always be easy to take. Mealy-mouthed ministers never accomplish much for the Kingdom of Heaven. A true Christian leader, a true and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, will sometimes rebuke and reprove, as well as exhort.

B. He prayed.

But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Nehemiah did what a godly leader should do. Sensing the urgency of the situation, he went to the Lord in prayer. And he knew it was an urgent situation. He could see right through these Samaritans and he knew exactly why they were doing what they were doing:

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” (verse 9)

The phrase “their hands will get too weak” is a way to translate a Hebrew verb that means “to become slack.”  It’s a word that is used to describe “demoralization” and “discouragement.” Nehemiah, with laser-like focus, knew the tactics. He also knew that these tactics, as transparent as they were, had the potential to actually work. So that’s why he went to prayer.

There is a great lesson here. For some of us, our faith may be strong and we may be right in the mainstream of God’s will and we may be exercising spiritual discernment night and day. But we still need to lean on God. Paul understood this:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (1 Corinthians 10:12)

No believer is so spiritual that there is no chance he’ll ever mess up! We all need to do what Nehemiah did. We should always pray for strength, whether we think we need it or not. Nehemiah had everything under control, but the Hebrew behind his prayer is imperative. The word “strengthen” is written with great energy behind it. His prayer was an energetic prayer. He needed strong hands to finish the job. Hands that hung down were useless hands. Nehemiah knew a deep spiritual truth long before Paul put it in words:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 9

The Power of Perseverance

Nehemiah 4:1—11

Perseverance is one of those remarkable qualities that is becoming increasingly rare these days. We live in a culture that wants everything “right now.” Instead of saving up to make a large purchase, we simply go and “get a loan.” Rather than starting at the bottom, apprenticing, taking our time learning to become experts in some area, we go to college and get a degree, thinking that piece of paper will open every door and we’ll be able to start at the top. We want success that same way: we want it right away; we want it guaranteed; we don’t want anything to detour us on our way to success. But success in almost everything doesn’t work that way. Success doesn’t always go to the most educated. Or the most wealthy. Or even the most talented. Herodotus got it absolutely right when he wrote this:

Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.

People just don’t know how to “stick to it” anymore. They have forgotten how to solve their own problems. They don’t know what it means to “persevere.” So many people, even Christians who mistakingly think success for them is guaranteed simply by virtue of their relationship with Jesus Christ, can take lesson from them the lowly postage stamp:

…its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there. (Josh Billings)

In Nehemiah 4, we will see what perseverance looks like when believers are engaged in the work of the Lord. The really interesting thing about Nehemiah’s experience is that God had told the Jews through Ezra and Nehemiah to go and rebuild that wall around Jerusalem, and that they would have success. God never mentioned the obstacles we will see in this chapter; and probably for good reason! In fact, there are probably two reasons why God never told His people the whole story in advance. (1) Had they known about persecution they would face, many of the workers might have chosen to stay home. (2) The people needed to learn how to persevere. The more a young oak tree is bent in the wind, the deeper its roots dig into the hard earth below. Perseverance in the face of persecution is what the people needed to give them spiritual depth.  Persecution, not necessarily something we ought to covet, isn’t something we should shun or avoid it, either.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2—4)

1. What Nehemiah’s opposition was like

The difficulties Nehemiah and his people faced actually took three forms. Even though these things happened thousands of years ago, in this chapter we see the ways in which people of God are constantly attacked when they are trying to forge ahead.

a. The were mocked and their efforts ridiculed, 4:1—3

What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”

It looks as though that when Sanballat heard that Nehemiah was actually going ahead in rebuilding the wall, be brought his whole army of half-breeds, Samaritans, to the outskirts of Jerusalem for the sole purpose of mocking him and the Jews. How small this man must have been! How petty his attitude was that he would marshal an entire army just to make fun of people. His jeers to the form of five questions, shouted out in rapid succession:

  • “What are those feeble Jews doing?” The word for “feeble” is used only here in this form in the entire Old Testament and means “frail,” “miserable,” “withered,” “powerless.” That’s how these Jews appeared to the Samaritans. The J.B. Phillips translation translates the word “pathetic Jews.” That’s how any minority appears to the majority. But what Sanballat and his forces didn’t see was the legion of angels behind the workers. They didn’t know that God was on their side.

  • “Will they restore their wall?” Another way to translate this phrase could be, “Would they expect to build this by themselves?” It’s a difficult phrase to put into English, but the sense is that this decrepit bunch of people had no business even trying to do this work. It was beyond their abilities. They were foolish for thinking they could build the wall without any outside help.

  • “Will they offer sacrifices?” The Samaritans were wondering if the Temple would eventually be open for business again. Of course, it was eventually. By chapter 12, the Jews had succeeded in offering sacrifices as they had done in the distant past.

  • “Will they finish in a day?” The Jews were working at a feverish pace, and this caused the enemy to mock them even more.

  • “Can they bring the stones back to life…burned as they are?” Sanballat made fun of the people, possibly using some of the old stones in the rebuilding efforts. Their aim was too lofty, in other words; they had bitten off more than they could chew.

But it was Tobiah, the Ammonite, that drove the nail home. He made fun of the wall, suggesting even a fox could knock it down.

Here is how the world views the work you do for the Lord. The world belittles your efforts. They mock your testimony. They poke fun at your lifestyle because it’s different than theirs. Christians—genuine, Bible-believing believers—are in the minority (sometimes even in their own church!) and to the “mighty majority,” maybe we do look like the pathetic Jews of Nehemiah’s day and maybe our efforts don’t appear to “measure up” to what they can do. But when we are engaged the great work of the Lord, there is no power on earth that can stop us. We are reminded of 1 John 4:4—

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

We all know this verse, yet many of us live as though were had been overcome, instead of like overcomers. We are the people who should be walking on water, metaphorically speaking. There is nothing we can’t do in the Name and Power of Jesus Christ. There really is no way we can’t succeed because when we are on God’s side, He is on ours.

He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. (Proverbs 3:34)

b. They were conspired against, 4:7—9; 11

They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. (verse 8)

Before we get to the conspiracy, we read this in verse 6:

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

They had already succeeded; the end was in sight; the people worked together and accomplished an incredible thing in the face of mockery and derision. Notice, though, as soon as their efforts were measurable, their enemies did more than just mock them; they began to cause trouble. Sanballat and his allies, including many nations around Jerusalem, planned a concerted attack against the Jews. The rubble couldn’t stop the Jews. The mockery didn’t dishearten them.  Their lack of skill didn’t slow them down, so now these enemies were about turn up the heat. This was a terrible conspiracy between nations that hated God’s people. In verse 8, the word translated “trouble” means literally “confusion,” “chaos,” and “perversion.” Apparently, these people weren’t going to use swords and arrows to stop the Jews, they were going to use a much more insidious device:  discouragement.

In a sense, it’s easier to fight against an enemy you can see and defend yourself against literal weapons. But when the enemy uses things like “confusion,” “chaos,” and “perversion,” the believer has to be doubly on his guard! It’s hard to guard against emotions and temptations. That’s how the Devil works, though.

For such persons are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. (1 Corinthians 11:13—15)

Christians have to be alert to the schemes of the Devil and his minions. We need to realize he is no horned goat and his followers aren’t spaced out, tattooed thugs. The Devil looks like whatever is good and pleasing to you. His followers are clean cut and say the things you want to hear. He is the master of deception, and years ago Petra put the Devil’s techniques to song:

You got the clergy working overtime to widen the narrow way
You’ve got politicians everywhere listening to what you say
You’ve got false apostles teaching lies perverting the only way
You’ve got principalities and powers waiting to obey
You’ve got philosophies and vain deceits lying to deceive
You’ve got hate, and greed, ungodly lusts in the deadly web you weave
Somehow you’ve got so many thinking you’re not even there
One look is all it takes to get them blinded by your glare! (Angel of Light, as performed by Petra)

Be alert! Don’t be blinded by the Devil’s glare.

c. Doubting friends causing discouragement, 4:10, 12

Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” (verse 10)

Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (verse 12)

Poor Nehemiah. It wasn’t enough to overcome the enemy from without, but he had to contend with enemies from within. Opposition is bad enough when it comes from the “usual suspects,” but when it comes friends, it’s just plain heartbreaking.  How sad it is when believers buy the Devil’s lie, then peddle it to their friends.

Judah got discouraged because they took their eyes off of God and started to look at the circumstances around them: the workers were tired and there was so much more work to do. Verse 10 sticks out as being so negative: “we cannot rebuild the wall.” That is the voice of discouraged people, and discouraged people are are worse than useless—they are a positive hindrance.

Did you know it only takes one negative person in a congregation to shipwreck that congregation’s faith? Negativity and discouragement spread like wildfire in the Christian community, and nobody is immune, no matter how strong in the faith you think you are, you can be caught off guard because, truthfully, serving the Lord, being faithful to Him, and working for the Kingdom can really take their toil on you. And if you aren’t careful—if you aren’t in the Word and if you aren’t in church, and if you aren’t having good fellowship with strong Christians—you won’t recognize discouragement when it comes sniffing around. It will seem like a friend, and before you know it, you will have become a positive hindrance in the Body of Christ.

Remember the words of Joshua; inscribe them on the tablet of your heart:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

2. The importance of character

The friends Nehemiah could count on had three important character traits that we should not only cultivate in our lives, but find in the lives of the people we choose call “friends.”

a. Determination and perseverance, verse 6

So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.

Look at the determination in that verse; no negativity there! These people didn’t sit around moping about how tired everybody was or how bad their situation had become; they didn’t sit around talking about the glory days, finding fault with everything as it was. No, these people worked with “all their heart.” Literally, the people “had a heart to work.” The work—that project for the Lord—was all that mattered. Now that is perseverance. That is determination. That is what distinguishes a Christian who just wants to go to heaven from one sees how ripe the field is and isn’t afraid to work in that field. But it takes perseverance and it takes determination.  It takes those things to be consistent in the work and it takes those things to be different from rest.

We also call it “true grit,” and a person can’t go to college to learn it. You can’t learn it from a book. It’s a character trait, but if you don’t have it, you can get it! The Holy Spirit has it, and the Holy Spirit can give you all that you lack if you would but yield to Him. Do you have trouble with perseverance? Start walking in the Spirit; it will come to you.

b. Prayer, 4:9

But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.

That is an interesting verse. These faithful people prayed, but then they also posted a guard. That’s God and man working together. A working mind should be accompanied by a praying heart. A Christian can’t just work; he must also pray constantly. Did you know that work and prayer go hand-in-hand? Those who rarely pray, rarely do anything of lasting value for the Kingdom of Heaven. Ephesians 6:11—18 is an instructive passage on this. Believers are called, not only to “put on the whole armor of God,” but also to “pray” all the time! We can’t do one or the other; success in perseverance comes when we do both: work and pray. When we work in the Spirit of God we will have His strength both in our bodies and in out hearts.

It is interesting to see how often “watching and praying” are linked together in the Bible. But “watching and praying” is not the same thing is sitting around and waiting for “the Spirit to move” you; it’s not the same thing as merely studying the tactics of the Devil. “Watching and praying” means that we pray about our God-given work and that we watch out for the interests of our God-given work.

In 1 Peter 4:7, Peter offers this piece of advice to his readers:

Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.

“Watching and praying” means that we are alert; our eyes are open; we are aware of things going on in our world. But we aren’t phased or driven to fear: our minds are to be sober. We claim the objective truths of the Bible; the truths that tell us success and victory are ours regardless of what the circumstances may be.

Believers, working for the Lord, need to be persevering in their work. They need to be watching and praying. When they do these things, they can’t help but succeed no matter what.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, PART 8

Nehemiah and his friends, hard at work.

Nehemiah at Work, Chapter 3

When we first glance at this chapter, it seems to lack any sense of importance. At first glance, it seems like a detailed list of all the principles involved in the reconstruction work. But if we just stop at the first glance, we would miss so much, because there are several very important teachings contained in Nehemiah 3, which we will get to in due course.

The work had now begun, and one thing becomes abundantly clear throughout this chapter: God’s work is a highly individual thing. God’s work is always a massive undertaking—things like building a church, for example—and it is a corporate responsibility, all are to be involved in Kingdom work. But at the same, Christians are not like “worker bees,” indistinguishable from one another. They are more like highly skilled specialists, each one specially called to do a certain task for the Lord. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of the Holy Spirit, this chapter is overflowing with the names of those who took part in a great work. They worked because, just like Mary, they wanted to honor the Name of God. Work done in God’s Name stand like footprints in the sands of time.

This chapter reads like a page from God’s “big book of service,” and we hope our names will be found in it, along with the work we did for God, like the great men in Nehemiah 3.

1. A great need

The walls around Jerusalem were broken down, smashed to pieces. By faith, the walls around Jericho fell to the ground in pieces, but the walls around Jerusalem were not going to be built up by faith alone. According to James’ practical theology, there is clearly a sphere in which something more is needed, in addition to faith:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? …faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. (James 2:14, 17—19)

Many Christians are familiar with verse 19, but they never make the connection between that verse and the preceding ones. According to James, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, simply having a belief in God in not nearly enough; work is essential in maintaining saving faith. We are not saved by works, but they are part of an our obligation to God. He saved us, we work for Him.

Those bricks and that mortar strewn all over the ground weren’t going to magically pile themselves up into the form of a great wall around God’s city no matter how much faith Nehemiah had! Somebody had to role his sleeves, grab some tools, and get to work. In the Kingdom of Heaven, nothing ever “just happens.” A soul doesn’t just “get saved!” Somebody had to witness to that soul or at the very least be praying for that soul. Work was involved in saving that soul—work done by Jesus on the Cross, work done by the Holy Spirit, and work done by God’s people.

There is such a need for workers in the Church of Jesus Christ today. Not a need for singers or musicians, not a need for more religious hacks, but a need for genuine, prayerful, compassionate believers with a love for lost souls and for God’s Church. We need believers like Jesus Christ:

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

2. Work for all to do

It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with an assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. (Mark 13:34)

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “Anyone who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

What great “rules for living!” This teaching holds true with regard to spiritual things (Mark 13:34) and temporal things (2 Thessalonians 3:10). What right does anybody have to “feed of the profits” off another’s energy? What right has anybody to continually feast on God’s blessings without doing a thing to deserve them? God blesses His children so that they can in turn bless others, yet far too often, we hoard those blessings; we want to keep them all to ourselves because they “make us feel good” or they “make us feel loved.” However, those of us who are trying our best to work for the Lord have discovered that the love of God is often best found in working for Him; that real and lasting satisfaction in life comes from what we do for the Lord not from what we can get out of Him.

Now, it is true that not all believers can do the same work. We all have different talents and abilities. The daughters of Shallum, for example, probably couldn’t do the heavy lifting that the son of a goldsmith might have done or the son of an apothecary probably wasn’t as skilled in building as were the sons of Hassenaah. But all of Judah came out to do their part in building the walls, and they did it in the Name of God. The apostle Paul seemed to understand this, and he put in a humorous way in 1 Corinthians 12—

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (1 corinthians 12:17—20)

In other words, if you can’t handle a trowel, surely you can pray and offer encouragement. There is work for all do to in the Kingdom of Heaven!

3. God wants YOU, to volunteer

Back in Nehemiah 2:18, we read this:

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.

Nobody was forced by Nehemiah to do anything. He set the need before the people, and they volunteered to work. That’s what God wants from His people: willing hearts; people that take a need to heart, make up their minds to do something about it, and then get to work, making sure that need gets met.

We feel sincerely sorry for Christians who loiter around the “ecclesiastical marketplace,” waiting to get hired. Nobody ever gets ahead just sitting around. This applies in the workplace, and it also applies in the Kingdom of Heaven. Solomon got it:

A wise man’s heart is at his right hand… (Ecclesiastes 10:2a, KJV)

Indeed, the wise man’s desire is to work. The wise believer’s love for God is manifested in action that produces results for the Kingdom. But, as important as working for God is, Jesus forces no one to do it. He has an expectation, however, that those who love Him and call Him “Savior,” will step up and volunteer:

Take my yoke upon you… (Matthew 11:29)

In case you are wondering what a “yoke” is, from the World English Dictionary:

a wooden frame, usually consisting of a bar with an oxbow or similar collar-like piece at either end, for attaching to the necks of a pair of draft animals, esp oxen, so that they can be worked as a team.

Jesus is looking for workers to put His yoke on.

4. They worked together

As we read Nehemiah 3, we notice how many times the phrase “next to him” appears. Every person working on that wall had their own particular job to do, yet their work joined with their neighbor’s work. And why wouldn’t it? They were united in faith, united in heart, so of course their efforts were united. These people named in Nehemiah were fired up and inspired, not by any kind of selfish ambition or desire for rewards, but by the glory of God’s Name and the sincere desire to do something tangible for Him.

We’re good at talking about God these days, but what have we done for Him that others can see? We should be like the hard-working Jews in the book of Nehemiah. They worked, they encouraged one another, and they got the wall built.

…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds… (Hebrews 10:24)

It’s not a bad thing to urge our brothers and sisters on in doing good works for the Kingdom of Heaven. The writer to the Hebrews says we should “consider” it! Imagine how much the Church of Jesus Christ could accomplish if we, led by the Holy Spirit, encouraged and spurred on each other, in love, to do good deeds. Instead of resembling a well-oiled machine, too many of our churches resemble the mob around the tower of Babel, each member babbling nonsensical things nobody wants to hear. We’re filled with the Holy Spirit! The Church ought to be the most encouraging place for you to be:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

5. The work was successful.

Nehemiah and his people “rebuilt” or “repaired” the broken walls. In the Greek, the word for “rebuilt” and “repaired” is seen over 30 times and refers to a “successfully completed work.” These people didn’t just attempt to repair the wall, the DID repair the wall. They were successful. Each person did the work assigned to him successfully.

In the Kingdom of Heaven, success is not punished! You don’t get taxed in the Kingdom of Heaven. Success in God’s good work is expected and it is rewarded. It’s not enough to “want” to work for the Lord. It’s not enough to talk about doing something for the Lord. Success in doing the work of the Lord is measurable.

The thing that made Nehemiah’s workers so successful was their determination and the fact they would not be discouraged no matter what. Verse 5 is a telling verse:

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.

Even with terrible leadership that refused to work, the workers of Tekoa did their work anyway. The Church is full of “Tokoan nobles,” members who “would not put their shoulders to the work.” Those kind of lazy members, though, should not discourage YOU from doing the good work God wants you to do. Ultimately, you are answerable to God, not to any member the church.

Those whose hearts have been touched by God, allow Him to touch others through their good work. And those who diligently work for God , doing the work God has given them to do, He prospers.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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