Posts Tagged 'Nehemiah'



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

EZRA/NEHEMIAH, Part 7

GETTING READY TO WORK

Nehemiah 2:11—20

Nehemiah is one of Longfellow’s “great men”:

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints, that perhaps another—
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main
A forlorn and ship-wrecked brother—
Seeing, shall take heart again.

His footprints have been left behind, distinctive footprints, on the sands of the history that serve well to inspire with fresh courage many discouraged hearts in service to the Lord. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re discouraged in your work for God. Perhaps you feel like you’ve been banging your head against a brick wall for so long and that your prayers haven’t been getting past the ceiling. If that’s how you feel, look at what Nehemiah did. He is a fine example for you.

His trip from Persia to Jerusalem took three months. So far, as we have learned, God had answered all of his prayers, and now Nehemiah has put his faith where his mouth is. He was now on his way to work. Let’s take a look at how Nehemiah did that. Notice that he—

1. Took time time to reflect

I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days… (verse 11)

There must have been a lot to see and think about in Jerusalem because Ezra, when he first went to Jerusalem, did the same thing!

So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days. (Ezra 8:32)

Both men were literally on fire to get Jerusalem rebuilt, we wonder why they simply waited around town for three whole days. Why not get started right away? Knowing Nehemiah as well as we do by now, we can be assured that he didn’t just “wait around.” We imagine that he spent the three days in prayer and thoughtful consideration. This is a good lesson for us to take away: we should never be in a reckless rush to work for the Lord.

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

To wait upon the Lord means to trust in the Lord; it means to have His thoughts on a thing; it means to be sure things are done His way. It’s not sitting around thinking about Him. Waiting on the Lord is not a passive activity you engage in when you don’t know what else to do. Nehemiah, for done, knew exactly what needed to be done, yet he took three days before he did anything, making sure he was walking in lock-step with His God. David did the same thing, by the way. When he was confronted with a crisis, here is what he did—

Then King David went in and sat before the LORD… (1 Chronicles 17:16a)

Things happen to a believer when they spend time alone with God. If you are living a feckless Christian life, maybe it’s because you don’t spend enough time in His presence.

2. Made an honest assessment

I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. (verses 12, 13)

Three days after his arrival in Jerusalem, Nehemiah decided to make secret tour of the city walls, taking just a handful of close friends with him. Perhaps he didn’t want to cause undue alarm or speculation, so he did this survey at night.

While he did not make a complete circuit of the walls, he did carefully examine the most vulnerable areas to the north. Just like a wise doctor who begins treatment of a patient by making a thorough diagnosis of the case, Nehemiah made a thorough investigation of the walls. What he found was far worse than he could have imagined. There was so much debris that Nehemiah had to dismount and walk carefully among the rubble. Everywhere he looked was the evidence of the complete and utter destruction the city suffered at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the great Babylonian army generations earlier.

A lot of Christians today are living in a fool’s paradise because they stubbornly refuse to believe things are as bad as they really are. How many Christians pray for Christian persecution in China and around the world? Do we even believe Christians are being persecuted? Have believers bothered to noticed how many of their freedoms have been taken away in this country? We wonder where some believers have their heads stuck when it comes time to ask for prayer requests and they can’t think of anything!

It is definitely true we live in a sinful world and it is equally true that things are destined to get worse and worse as the Lord tarries, but that doesn’t mean we don’t pray for the country in which we live and the world in which we work. More Christians need to be like Nehemiah was and do what he did: look at their world and make an honest assessment so we know how to pray and, like Nehemiah, know what to do.

3. Asked for helpers

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” (verse 17)

Nehemiah called a meeting of the leaders in the surrounding area of Jerusalem, and at the meeting, the matter was clearly laid before them. The cupbearer told them his story, of how God had called him to undertake the work of rebuilding the walls and of how God had moved on the heart of King Artaxerxes. And these people needed that kind of encouragement. The walls and gates of Jerusalem had lain in ruins for close to 140 years in spite of attempts to rebuild them. They had become so discouraged and so frustrated in doing the work of the Lord, they had pretty much reconciled themselves to the fact that the walls and gates would never be rebuilt.

How many believers are in exactly the same position today: discouraged and frustrated with their faith, their Church, and maybe, if things are bad enough, with God Himself? Believers like that need to be encouraged by those of us who have experienced the goodness of God firsthand.

There was a lot of work to be done, and one of the best ways to begin a work for God is get others working. Notice the carefully chosen words Nehemiah used. He did not say, “Go and build,” rather, he said, “Come, let us rebuild.”

Nehemiah couldn’t do it all himself. Jerusalem could not be restored to its former glory by the hard work of one man any more than the work of building the Church of Jesus Christ can be accomplished by the pastor alone. Every member of the church needs to be involved in building it. Unity of faith ought to be manifested in unity of effort. As a ruined Jerusalem was an embarrassment to every Jew, so a weak and powerless Church is an embarrassment to every member.

4. Was inspiring

I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me. (verse 18a)

Discouraged Christians need encouragement, and there is no more encouraging word than a testimony about what God has done for you. Naturally, in order to be an encouraging Christian you yourself have to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. You have be praying prayers that get results. You have to be the recipient of God’s blessings.

Nehemiah had all of that going for him and he wasn’t afraid to tell his story to those who needed to hear it. He took the time to tell them of how God had called him to undertake the matter of rebuilding Jerusalem and how God had moved on the heart of the king.

These people were discouraged. They were down hearted, and what they needed was precisely what Nehemiah could provide: a vision and decisive leadership. God’s people need leadership today just as much as they needed it Nehemiah’s day. We may think that things “have never been this bad before,” as we look at the state of the Church of Jesus Christ. But the fact is, God’s people have forever been targets:

The idols speak deceitfully, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (Zechariah 10:2)

Sounds like the typical, hapless Christian and church member today, doesn’t it? And it also sounds like too many Bible teachers and preachers, who think nothing of spewing false teaching, leading astray those who follow them. No wonder the Church is trouble today. Judah of yesterday was in trouble, and at the right time, God sent them Nehemiah, the man with vision and leadership.

The earnest appeal was received by the people, who were ready to get to work.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (verse 18b)

All it took was one man with a vision of something bigger than himself. They began the “good work.” The stage was set for a most remarkable feat to be accomplished. In our wildest dreams, we could never imagine the enormity of the task at hand for the disorganized, largely unskilled and scattered remnants of Israelites in Judah.

5. Faced opposition

But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” (verse 19)

That’s par for course, isn’t it? The more Christ-like you become, the more bitter others become. Remember; the people hated Jesus without cause, and the disciple is no greater than His Lord.

So, it became obvious at the very beginning the rebuilding, the job was going to be a little harder than they thought! Sanballat and his henchmen were relentless in their mocking of God’s people. Sanballat means “strength and courage,” and sometimes the world seems that way to believers. We feel overwhelmed when we are confronted with the world and its ideas and philosophies. Tobiah means, strangely enough, “the Lord is good,” and is very typical of one who claims to be a believer, one who may be a believer in name only. The Church is chock full of people just like Tobiah: people with a good name but a bad heart. These are people that will side with the world if given the choice. These two laughed and mocked the people of God. They saw what they were doing and misinterpreted it; they thought they were rebelling against the king,not knowing the rebuilding efforts had the blessing of the king!

It’s sad but true that sometimes the greatest opposition to the work of God comes not from without but from within. Sometimes the work genuine believers do will be laughed at and mocked and misunderstood by other “believers” just like Sanballat and Tobiah.

6. Declared the whole truth

The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (verse 20)

Nehemiah faced the scoffers—the “practical atheists” of his day—head on with a simple, brief, fearless, and determined statement. He declared to them the whole truth about God. Look at the faith of that statement! Here was a man who knew what he had to do. Here was no wishy washy, middle-of-the-road, open-minded, milquetoast Christian that we are so familiar with today. Nehemiah didn’t need to hear “all sides of the story” or take seriously the objection of people who didn’t matter. No opinion matters, no philosophy matters, if they are contrary to God’s revealed Word! It’s past time that Christians started to take seriously the words of God to Isaiah:

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread. (Isaiah 8:13)

The work of Nehemiah and his partners was God’s work, not theirs. All they had to be was faithful in the work. God was for them. He was in the work. When we are working for God, it’s the same thing. We cannot fail when God is in our work.

And Nehemiah pulled NO punches: these naysayers would have NO part in the rebuilt Jerusalem. They would have no part it in its blessings. They would forever be on the outside looking in because they were never part of God’s work

These  losers, Sanballat and Tobiah, remind us of Simon the Sorcerer. He followed Peter around because he saw the power of God in Peter and he wanted that power for himself. Of Simon the Sorcerer, Peter declared:

You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. (Acts 8:21)

It’s frightening to think of how many “Simon the Sorcerers” fill our pews today, wanting the good things of God but doing absolutely nothing of value for the Kingdom of Heaven.

When the walls of the New Jerusalem are finally built, will you be on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking in?

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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