Historical Introduction to Nehemiah
Through Abraham, God had made covenant with a particular people on earth. Through Moses and Joshua, God had set His covenant people free from slavery and brought them into the Promised Land. Through David, the Lord established Jerusalem as the city of the great King. God’s desire was to glorify Himself through a people whom He could call His own. God wanted to shine His light and share His life and speak His truth into a lost world. To do that, He needed a people who would live in a holy, covenant relationship Him.
Some time after 1500 B.C. Moses led Israel out of Egypt. Around 1,000 B.C. David was crowned king and the nation reached its highest level of power and prosperity. Prosperity continued under Solomon and then a gradual decline led to a civil war and the dividing of the nation into two separate entities. The Northern Kingdom, containing ten of the original twelve tribes, was called Israel and included the regions later known as Samaria and Galilee. The Southern Kingdom, comprised of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, was called Judah and included Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
However, over the centuries, the two kingdoms turned from God and fell into idolatry, injustice and immorality. God patiently called to His people through the prophets — pleading, warning.
When Israel and Judah ignored God’s call, the Lord’s response was to judge His covenant people. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and deported many thousands of Jews. In 605 B.C. God used the Babylonian nation to defeat the Southern Kingdom (Judah). Many thousands of Jews were deported to Babylon at this time. (Daniel a young boy at this time, was taken as a captive to Babylon. He later became an important official in the court of the Babylonian kings and still later, in the court of the Medo-Persians).
In 586 B.C. the Babylonians returned and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Thousands more of the people were taken away into exile in Babylon. At this time, Jerusalem, the temple and much of the land was reduced to ruins. There was not one stone left on another in Jerusalem.
In 539 B.C. the Persians defeated Babylon and assumed control of the empire. Daniel, now an elderly man, then became an official in the court of the Persian king. The following year, 538 Cyrus the Persian King decreed that the Jews could return to their native land and rebuild their temple.
After 70 years in captivity, the first group of exiles returned led by a man named Zerubbabel. This group immediately began rebuilding the Temple and it was completed in 516 B.C. Though it was far less beautiful than Solomon’s temple, and though the glory of God had long since departed, nevertheless, it provided a spiritual center for the exercise of the Jewish religion.
A second group of exiles returned under Ezra’s leadership in 458 B.C. During all this time, however, Jerusalem was never rebuilt; it lay in ruins.
The book of Nehemiah begins in 446 B.C. Ninety years had passed since the first group of exiles had returned and 70 years had passed since the temple had been rebuilt (in 516 B.C.). Nehemiah, a Jewish official in the court of the Persian king, receives word that after all this time, Jerusalem remained in ruins and the survivors are in great distress (Nehemiah 1:1-3). The wall of Jerusalem is still broken down and the gates are nothing but ashes.
Literally, the rebuilt temple was surrounded by the garbage and rubble of an uninhabited city which had been destroyed 140 years previously. Worshippers traveled from the neighboring villages, passed through the ruins of Jerusalem to worship at the temple, then returned to their homes outside the city.
This is the historical setting as we begin the book of Nehemiah.
Restored From Rubble
A famous evangelist was in town. He was the latest thing, had his picture in the paper. He intended to make it in the religion business and was moving up the ladder.
This was during World War II and while he was preaching in the area he was invited to a nearby army training center. During his tour of the base he was taken to a building set apart from the others.
From the outside he could hear shouting and screaming. As he entered, the noise was unearthly. His eyes followed a stairway and at the top of the stairs were iron bars. Behind the bars were hundreds of men crouching, hiding, writhing on the floor, crying out. Broken men, broken by the horrors of war in the South Pacific.
Behind a desk sat a full colonel, watching the minister staring at the soldiers. The evangelist was repulsed by the scene and amazed that such a high ranking officer would be in charge of such a terrible place. He wondered, “Why is he wasting his life here? No great battles will be fought, no glorious marches into the history books. What’s he doing?”
The evangelist turned to the officer and rendered a cheery, empty, hypocritical greeting. The colonel, as if sensing every thought in the vain soul before him, rose from his desk and approached the evangelist with a loud, defiant response.
“Reverend, I don't care what you think about anything in this building.”
Then putting his hand roughly on the minister's shoulder and thrusting his face into the face of his startled visitor, his voice quaking with emotion, the colonel added, “Reverend, these boys are lost. Do you know what it means to be lost?”
The officer continued, “The reason I'm here is because I want to see the day when one mother will enter, hear the voice of her son, race up the stairs and call his name. And the son will reply, “Ma, I don't know where I've been.” And the mother will reply, “Son, it doesn't matter where you've been. Let's go home.”
The evangelist said, “I was converted that day. Not to Christ -- I already believed. But I was converted to heaven's way of seeing. I caught a glimpse of heaven's vision.”
Do you know what he saw? He saw the treasure of one lost soul.
Jesus said the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and finding one of great value, sold all and bought it (Matthew 13:45,46). This is what our Lord did. He left the splendor of heaven, took off the robe of His glory and being clothed in human form, gave all of His love, spent all of His heart, poured out His life on a cross to purchase a pearl of great price.
That pearl is you. You are the reason Jesus came to earth. You are the only treasure God is interested in.
Hell will spend anything to trash you.
Heaven spent everything to redeem you.
Hell wants to trash your marriage, your health, your life.
God treasures your marriage, your health, your soul.
What does it mean to be redeemed? It means that having trusted in the atoning blood of Jesus and having accepted His Lordship, we have been forgiven of our sin, redeemed from slavery to sin and death and reconciled to God. Someday we will stand in the presence of the Lord and worship His glory. But there is more to salvation than this.
Having been redeemed by God and reconciled to God, He desires now to shape and mold us, rebuild and restore us into a vessel of honor through whose life He may show forth His glory, His mercy, His wisdom and power and holiness. He wants to extend His Lordship into every area of our life that He may be glorified in and through us.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
You are the pearl of great price, a city set on a hill and the Lord does not intend to hide you. Rather, he wants to reveal Himself through you. He wants to conform you to Himself and fill you with His life, that He might pour His life through you into this hurting world.
You are the pearl that shows forth the treasure of heaven.
You are the city that shows forth the kingdom of God.
You are the light that shows forth the glory of God.
The problem is, when we came to the Lord, there were areas of our lives that had been broken, areas intended for beauty but reduced to rubble. Rubble obscures the light, hides the pearl.
How did that happen?
Some of the rubble is part of our family or cultural inheritance. We didn’t ask for it, we just inherited it, born into a fallen family in a fallen world. Some of the rubble is due to sins committed against us when we were too young or too vulnerable to resist. Some of the rubble is due to our own sins committed in ignorance, during our years apart from the Lord. Some of the rubble is due to our willful disobedience and aggressive rebellion against God. But whether the rubble resulted from inheritance, ignorance, disobedience or rebellion, the damage was grievous.
During those years when we were separated from the Lord, we were at the mercy of the god of this world. Just as the armies of Babylon were ruthless in their desire to tear down and destroy the representation of God in the city of Jerusalem, so Satan is ruthless in his desire to tear down the image of God in people.
The result is a human personality burdened with doubt, shame, fear, lust, greed, compulsive behaviors, bitterness, confusion and every expression of sin. Even after a man or woman has been forgiven of sin and reconciled to God and though it is God’s purpose to show forth His glory through this redeemed life, there is still the rubble of past years.
Rubble obscures the light, hides the pearl.
We have two choices. We can deny the truth and pretend we are OK.
Or we can be honest and confess our need to God. When we do, we discover a God who meets us in the rubble, not to shame us but to rebuild and restore us.
We have a picture of this in Nehemiah. He lived many years after the destruction of Jerusalem (586 B.C.), after the death of multitudes of Israelites and the exile of thousands more. A generation had returned to the Promised Land in 538 B.C. and by 516 the temple had been rebuilt and the worship life of Israel was restored. But 70 years later, Jerusalem was still in ruins. The temple was literally surrounded by the rubble of an abandoned city.
When Nehemiah heard the news, he was grieved. He knew that the purpose of God for Jerusalem and all Israel could not be accomplished while the holy city lay in ruins. God is not glorified by a rebuilt temple surrounded by rubble.
As Nehemiah wept and prayed, the Lord called him to rebuild. The book of Nehemiah is the historical record of that rebuilding.
In that historical record, we see a spiritual picture of the One who comes to rebuild our lives. Who is He? His name is revealed in Nehemiah’s name. In Hebrew, Nehemiah is Nechem Ya: Yahweh Comforts (Jehovah Comforts).
As Jesus neared the end of His earthly ministry, He promised,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Counselor, Comforter), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans (comfortless); I will come to you” (John 14:16-18).
Jesus promised that though He was leaving His disciples, He would still be present with them through the ministry of another Helper. The word another refers to another of the same kind, someone like Jesus who will take His place and continue His ministry. The word which we translate Helper is Paracletos, which may also be translated Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor.
Jesus tells us more about the ministry of this Helper,
“But the Helper (Comforter), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:7-14).
Jesus promised to send a Helper, Comforter, Advocate who would indwell the disciples and teach, lead, glorify Christ. This indwelling Comforter also ministers transformation, restoration, consecration:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:17,18).
The Holy Spirit, the Helper, Comforter, is committed to the ministry of transformation, restoring what the enemy has broken. There is a reason why the Lord never backs off from the rubble in our lives. It is because salvation is not merely a judicial statement whereby God forgives us of our sin and declares us to be just. Salvation is also a process of restoring that which sin has destroyed.
Picture a city which once was conquered by a counterfeit king but now the true king has returned and recaptured the city. Salvation is not merely the recapture of a ruined city, the ransom and release of a city from the hands of a conqueror. Salvation is also the rebuilding and restoring of that city by the true king.
This is why the Lord works so slowly and carefully in our lives. He is the consummate craftsman and is building us for time and eternity, that He may be glorified through us now and so that in eternity we may stand in His presence blameless in holiness.
“For are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
The Lord, the Comforter, our Nehemiah, is crafting us, rebuilding us for glory. Someday we will stand in the presence of the Lord and worship His glory. Until that day, He desires to be glorified in us and through us day by day.
He has the authority, the resources and the time. He has a blueprint. He will not back off until the restoration is complete.
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
1:1 Nehemiah identifies himself.
Nehemiah is a Hebrew name which means God (Yahweh or Jehovah) comforts. He identifies the time of this event. It is in the month Chislev (Nov / Dec) and in the 20th year (that is, the 20th year of the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes who reigned from 464-423 B.C.). So the time would be about 444 B.C.
He identifies the place, “While I was in Susa” (also known as Shushan). This was a city east of Babylon and north of the Persian Gulf.
1:2 His brother, Hanani, and some other Hebrew men have returned from Jerusalem with a report of conditions there.
1:3 Many years after the first exiles had returned to Jerusalem, after the temple had been rebuilt, the walls were still broken, gates still burned, the city still lay in rubble as it had since the destruction of the city by the Babylonians over 140 years previously. The worship life of the nation has been restored but no one lives in the city and the temple is surrounded by the ruins which speaks of past defeat.
Why do they mention walls and gates in particular?
In Bible times, walls represented identity, definition. Within the walls is our city. Outside the walls is not our city. Walls define the city. A city without walls is a city with no identity — you can’t tell where the city begins and where it ends. It is also a city with no defense — anyone can come in or out. Walls provide definition, defense, security.
People also need a healthy sense of definition or identity. Within these boundaries, this is me. Outside these boundaries, that is not me. We shouldn’t build walls for the purpose of keeping people out of our lives but we each need a strong, secure sense of who we are. In a world that is constantly deceiving, lying, seducing, we need to be able to say, “I know who I am in Christ.”
Why are gates important? In a biblical city, gates were not just swinging doors on the walls. In earlier days, the elders met at the gates, heard judicial cases, made governmental decisions. Sometimes, located alongside the gates was a complex of buildings compared to our City Hall. The government of the city functioned there and so gates represent the wise exercise of governmental rule.
Gates also were used as instruments of authority. They would open to that which was good, close to that which was harmful or evil.
A healthy personality also needs to be able to exercise wise, discerning self rule under the Lordship of Jesus. We assess the information that comes to us and we make decisions. We open our lives to that which is good, close to that which is evil. Gates represent our capacity to make wise decisions and assessments.
In Nehemiah’s day, a city without walls and gates was a city without identity, security or authority. That is a vulnerable city. We can say the same thing about a person who has no stable sense of identity or security, who has no capacity to exercise personal authority or autonomy.
In Proverbs 25:28 we read, “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit.”
That is a vulnerable person.
1:4 When the report came that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down and the gates destroyed, Nehemiah wept, mourned, fasted and prayed for many days. The report said that the survivors were in great trouble and shame and truly they were. It was good that the temple had been rebuilt and worship had been restored but there was so much more to do.
God is not glorified by a temple surrounded by rubble, where there is no identity, no defense against evil, no governmental authority. God wanted a city on which He could place His name and His glory, a city filled with people through whose lives He could shine and speak and reveal Himself to a lost world. Without walls and gates, even the rebuilt temple was vulnerable to Israel’s enemies.
The city of the Great King was a pile of rubble and the people were ashamed and troubled.
I believe Nehemiah’s tears were an echo of the Holy Spirit’s grief for the shame of God's people. The Holy Spirit wept over the face of the unformed deep, wept for the unfulfilled purposes of God for Jerusalem. God grieved a holy temple surrounded by rubble.
I believe the Holy Spirit is grieved today over that which has been torn down, that which is unfulfilled, in God's people. It is good that we have come to believe in the Lord and have been born again, forgiven, redeemed from slavery to sin and death. When we invited Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, His Holy Spirit came to indwell us, the temple of our spirit was restored as a place of worship and habitation of the Lord. This is good and wonderful.
But during those years when we were separated from the Lord, we were at the mercy of the Evil One. Just as the armies of Babylon were ruthless in their desire to tear down and destroy the representation of God in the city of Jerusalem, so Satan is ruthless in his desire to tear down the image of God in people.
As with the broken walls and burned gates of Jerusalem, there may be aspects of our identity or self concept that have been breached or maybe never formed properly and so the enemy enters in and wreaks havoc. There may be an inadequate sense of authority, manifesting in the inability to exercise wise self rule under the Lordship of Christ. There may be the inability to defend against the corrupting influences of the world, resulting in uncontrollable habits, fear, shame, bitterness and a host of other destructive forces. Even those who came to know the Lord at an early age have known the damaging impact of living in a fallen world. It’s not just our own sins that have scarred us. We also bear scars from generations past.
Yes, it is good that we are the temple of the Lord but a temple surrounded by rubble is less than what God has purposed for us. And the Holy Spirit weeps over the face of the unformed deep, weeps over the unfulfilled purposes of God for the people of God.
I do not mean that God is ashamed of us — we are His children and His treasure and He loves us. But He wants us to stand with a strong sense of identity in Him, able to say: “I know who I am in Christ Jesus. I know the plan and purpose God has for me.” God wants us to stand with a sense of authority in Him, able to say: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
It is good that worship and fellowship have been restored between God and a believer, but God wants to do more than that. More than the forgiveness of sin, He wants to restore that which sin destroyed. More than restoring relationship with Himself, He wants to extend that relationship into every area of our life.
Why? So He can reach out through us to a hurting world. More than reconciling sons and daughters to Himself, God wants to reconcile a lost world to Himself through us. We are a city set on a hill, individually and corporately as the church. Jesus said,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
Your soul is your command center, the capital city of you. The Lord wants to rebuild and restore these rubble strewn areas of our soul, wants our inner being to be like a lovely city, where He can set His name and His glory. Restoration is what the Lord purposed for the Hebrew people and why He shared His grief with Nehemiah. As Nehemiah wept and prayed, he was able to receive the Lord's burden to go and rebuild Jerusalem.
1:5 Nehemiah’s prayer is recorded for us. He begins by hallowing God’s name, that is, by praising God’s attributes and works. Praise is a wonderful entrance into prayer.
He praises “the great and awesome God.” He praises the God who preserves covenant love for “those who love Him and keep His commandments.” Though their walls may be broken down and the gates are burned, though the city is filled with the rubble of past judgment and destruction, nevertheless, God preserves covenant love. God had made a covenant with Abraham that a nation would spring forth from his seed. God had made covenant with Moses and led the Hebrew people out of slavery and into the land of promise.
The Lord had exercised judgment over His covenant people. The nation had been conquered, the capitol city and the temple destroyed, multitudes had been killed and thousands taken into exile. But many years before, God had promised through the prophet Jeremiah that after 70 years of discipline, a remnant of the covenant nation would be restored (see Jeremiah 29:10-14 and 25:12-14).
Who would comprise that remnant? “Those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Neh. 1:5).
He is a God who makes covenant and keeps covenant with those who keep covenant with Him. He is a God who makes promises and is always faithful to the utmost to keep and fulfill every promise to “those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
Nehemiah knows this and praises the covenant keeping God.
Notice that Nehemiah moves into prayer by appealing to the unchanging character of God. God answers prayer for His name’s sake, for His glory. He intervenes in our lives and in this world because of who He is. His perfect, holy being will never change and therefore, His purpose will not change. He will act in a manner entirely consistent with His name.
1:6 Nehemiah moves from praise to confession of sin on behalf of the nation. This was also Daniel’s pattern many years previously (see Daniel 9:3-19). The intercessor prays on behalf of the people and identifies with their sin. He confesses “the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against you.” The pronoun we reveals the mark of a true intercessor. He does not hold himself apart from the people.
He also understands, “We have sinned against you.” All sin is ultimately against God.
1:7 Nehemiah confesses that they “have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes nor the ordinances which you commanded your servant Moses.” All sin can be reduced to lawlessness. Though the people had continued to practice the rituals of their religion, they had also continued to act in a lawless manner, flagrantly disregarding the commandments given by God through Moses. God’s response was to reject their worship, their prayers and their sacrifices.
In Proverbs we read, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, how much more when he brings it with evil intent” (Prov. 21:27).
God does not receive worship in the context of unrepented sin. He considers that to be hypocrisy.
Centuries before Nehemiah, the Lord had spoken to that mindset of religious lawlessness through Amos the prophet,
“I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24).
The Psalmist said, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). Even Solomon, tainted as he was by sin and compromise, understood this, “He who turns away his ear from listening to the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Prov. 28:9).
Jesus spoke to that same mindset of religious lawlessness in His day:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matt. 7:21-23).
God does not receive outward expressions of religious ritual from lives compromised by sin. What God will receive is the humble repentance of a broken heart. As David said,
“For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16,17).
Because Nehemiah understands this about God, he comes before the Lord with humble, worshipful confession of sin.
1:8,9 He then reminds God of His Word: if you return to me (repent) and keep my commandments (walk in obedience): I will gather you and I will bring you “to the place where I have chosen to cause my name to dwell.” Nehemiah may have been thinking of the promise made through Jeremiah so many years before:
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile’” (Jeremiah 29:10-14).
The Lord had made some marvelous promises to the nation: “I will be found, I will restore, I will gather, I will bring you back." But there was also a condition: “Call upon me, come and seek me with all your heart.”
This is what Nehemiah is doing. He is seeking God with all his heart. People have returned to the land but the nation has not been restored. A temple surrounded by rubble is not restoration.
1:10 Nehemiah reminds the Lord of His mighty act of deliverance in redeeming Israel in times past. He is probably referring to the exodus from Egyptian slavery. Israel could not have fulfilled God’s covenant purpose while living as slaves. It was God’s power, God’s strong hand that had brought about deliverance. God had redeemed them, not simply from slavery, not merely out of Egypt, but into the purpose and the land that God had ordained for them. They had been redeemed to be God’s covenant people.
Again, in Nehemiah’s day, Israel is unable to fulfill God’s covenant purpose. The Lord had purposed that they would be His covenant people, on whom He would place His glory, through whom He would shine His light. They were to be the covenant people who will receive the Messiah and go forth to the nations proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God.
The reality is a rebuilt temple surrounded by rubble, a city with neither gates nor walls. In this condition, they will not fulfill God’s covenant purpose. Nehemiah is trusting that the same God who did that mighty work of redemption in Egypt and in the wilderness, will again redeem Israel by His power and for His glory.
1:11 Nehemiah closes His prayer by beseeching the Lord to hear his prayer. He reminds the Lord that he, and those who pray with him, reverence the name of the Lord. He asks for success and compassion when he goes before the king.
It sounds like he has a plan. You see, he has access to the king. He is cupbearer to the king, meaning he had the responsibility of testing all the beverages that came to the royal table. In modern terms, he was head of the Secret Service, charged with protecting the security of the reigning monarch. This gave him a unique relationship of confidence and created opportunities to communicate with the most powerful ruler in that part of the world.
Nehemiah knows exactly what he intends to do but he appeals to God for success. He understood that the most powerful person in this world is not any mere mortal ruler, not the Persian king. The great powerbroker is the King of kings, God Almighty. He understood this principle, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord, He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1).
God had positioned Nehemiah to be His personal instrument in the accomplishing of covenant purpose — the restoration of Jerusalem. As with Joseph, Daniel and Esther, God always positions his servants where and when they need to be in order to serve His purpose.
God has also positioned a Nehemiah for the restoring of our lives. Who is this Nehemiah? His identity is revealed in His name. Nehemiah, Nechem Ya: God comforts.
The Apostle Paul said that the light of the glory of Christ has shined in our hearts and we carry this treasure in the earthen vessel of our lives (2 Cor. 4:6,7).
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16).
We are the light of the world, a city set on a hill. We carry the glorious presence of Jesus in our hearts and the Lord does not intend to hide us. Rather, His purpose is to reveal Himself through us. We are purposed to be the vessel that shows forth the kingdom presence, power, mercy and glory of God. The Lord wants to conform us to Himself, fill us with Himself and then pour His life through us into a lost, broken world.
The problem is that when we came to the Lord there were areas of our lives that had been intended for beauty but had been reduced to rubble. Rubble obscures the beauty and the glory that God wants to shine through us.
We have two choices. We can hide from the truth, insist that we are OK just the way we are. Or we can be honest, confess our need and open our lives to the transforming, restoring work of God in us. When we open our hearts to the Lord in humility, we encounter a God who meets us in the rubble, not to shame us but to restore us.
We have a picture of this in the book of Nehemiah. Jerusalem had been destroyed because of the unfaithfulness of God’s covenant people. Many years later, two groups of exiles had returned to the land and the temple had been rebuilt. But Jerusalem was still in ruins, the gates were burned and the walls were still broken down. The temple was surrounded by the rubble that once had been Jerusalem.
The lack of gates and walls represented a lack of identity and authority. God wanted a city that would represent His glory and His covenant purpose in this world. An uninhabited, garbage strewn ruin surrounding a restored temple could not fulfill the purpose of God.
So God raised up Nehemiah for the rebuilding of the city.
In chapter one, Nehemiah heard about the condition of the city and wept, mourned and prayed. He took his grief to the Lord. Now he stands in the presence of the king.
2:1,2 Nehemiah is an official in the court of the Persian king, one of the men charged with guarding the security of the king and who regularly entered the king’s presence. On this day he comes to serve the king but he is sad because the condition of Jerusalem is weighing heavily on his heart.
The king asks the reason for his sorrow and this caused Nehemiah to be afraid — sadness in the king’s presence was dangerous. If this sounds odd it is because we are not associated with rulers who exercise absolute power over every aspect of our lives.
2:3 Even though Nehemiah is afraid, he gives an honest reply, “Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?”
2:4 The king replies, “What is your request?” The king does not question Nehemiah. He simply asks him what he wants. This signifies the favor of God in Nehemiah’s life. He throws up a quick prayer and replies.
2:5 “If it please the king and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my father’s tombs.” A bold, simple, direct request. Send me to Jerusalem to rebuild it. He has heard from God.
2:6 The king’s immediate response is, “How long will your journey be and when will you return?” Again, the king doesn’t question Nehemiah. He simply asks, “How much time do you need?” Nehemiah set a definite time and the king evidently agrees. That is favor.
At this point, Nehemiah becomes a symbol to us of someone greater than himself. His name, Nechem Ya, means: God comforts.
King Jesus, said: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper (Comforter), that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16,17)
The word which we translate Helper or Comforter is Paracletos, one called alongside to help: Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor. Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit who comes to indwell all confessing Christians. Just as the Persian king sent Nehemiah to rebuild the city of God’s covenant people, King Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit for the rebuilding of the lives of covenant people.
The Persian king did not set the time for Nehemiah's work in Jerusalem. Nehemiah did. He went with a commitment to stay as long as it took to rebuild and restore.
That’s how it is with our Nehemiah, the Comforter. He comes to us with a commitment to spend as much time as is needed in restoring our lives. Sometimes people say, “I'm through with you.” God will never say that. He knows exactly how long our life will be and will spend every moment of that time rebuilding and restoring.
How wonderful is the faithfulness of our God!
The prophet Jeremiah witnessed the judgment of God on Jerusalem, yet he testified, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22).
Through the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord said to His covenant people, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jere. 31:33).
Even though God judged His covenant people, He never ceased to love them, never nullified His covenant commitment to them, never ceased being faithful. God is utterly, perfectly, unceasingly faithful because of who He is.
David said, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). For His name’s sake — because of who He is, God faithfully ministers grace to us. God always acts in a manner perfectly consistent with who He is. Therefore, He is perfectly righteous when he judges sin. And He is perfectly merciful, faithfully pouring out grace and lovingkindness on all who call upon Him.
Jesus says, “I will never fail you nor forsake you” (Hebr. 13:5b).
“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, faithfully committed to stay until the work of restoration was complete. In the same way, the Holy Spirit comes to us, faithfully committed to stay until the work of restoration is complete.
David the Psalmist worshipfully exclaimed to the Lord, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16).
The Holy Spirit knows how long your life will be and just as Nehemiah set a definite time for his work, so the Holy Spirit is willing to take all the time, every moment of life, in this process of restoring.
2:7 Nehemiah asks for and receives letters of authority from the king. Those letters bore the seal, the stamp of the king. The bearer carried the authority of the king and no one would dare to resist him. In the same manner, the Holy Spirit comes to us in the name of the King of Kings, the name above all names in heaven and on earth. Jesus said,
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26).
“When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of me” (John 15:26).
The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in the name of Jesus. Who can resist HIs authority?
2:8 Nehemiah asks the king for necessary resources and the king gives him timber for building gates and walls, “Because the good hand of my God was on me.” He rightly understands that he has favor with the king because he has favor with God.
2:9 Nehemiah did not ask for soldiers to guard him but the king granted that because it was needed. The king even provides what Nehemiah does not ask for, such is his favor.
Rightly did the Psalmist say,
“For not from the east, nor from the west, nor from the desert comes exaltation (promotion); but God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another” (Psalm 75:6,7).
Nehemiah arrived with the timber needed to build, the soldiers necessary to guard the work, and no doubt with every other resource needed to rebuild the city because he had favor from the God who pulls down and exalts according to His purpose.
So our Nehemiah, the Comforter, comes to us.
“My God shall supply your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phlpns. 4:19).
“His divine power has made available to us all things pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter. 1:3)
Whatever is needed to restore you to God's full purpose for your life, God has already positioned these resources and He will lavish them upon you. Such is His grace. The Holy Spirit is sent by King Jesus for the purpose of rebuilding and restoring our lives. He comes with all the time, authority and resource needed to rebuild. All this is from our King.
2:10 Nehemiah’s arrival is displeasing to the enemies of Israel. They understand that he has come seeking the welfare, the restoration of the covenant people of God. There is a foreshadowing here of opposition to come. The rebuilding program will be opposed.
So with us. It is displeasing to the Adversary that someone has come seeking the welfare, the restoration of the people of God. There is opposition. The Apostle Paul reminds us,
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
There will be opposition to this work of restoration, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57).
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place” (2 Cor. 2:14).
2:11-16 Nehemiah develops a plan, a blueprint. In the darkness of night Nehemiah arises and surveyed the needs and the rubble. He surveys the Valley Gate and the Dragon’s Well, the Refuse Gate, the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool. Before he ever called anyone to work, before anyone was aware of his intentions, Nehemiah develops a plan.
So with us. While we were still asleep in the darkness of sin, before the sun had risen in our hearts, the Holy Spirit was watching, yearning, brooding over the face of the deep. When at last the sun arose and the day of salvation came, the Holy Spirit had a blueprint prepared for the restoration of our life.
A hymn writer put it this way:
“Unnumbered comforts to my soul thy tender care bestowed
before my infant heart could know from whom those comforts flowed
When in the slippery paths of youth with heedless steps I ran
thine arm unseen conveyed me safe and led me up to man”
Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29-31).
The Comforter’s ministry in our lives is based on a blueprint which itself is an expression the omniscience, the perfect, timeless wisdom and knowledge of God.
Let’s review what Nehemiah took with Him when he went to Jerusalem. It is what our Comforter, the Holy Spirit, brings to us.
1. A commitment of faithfulness: 2:1-6
The king did not set the time for Nehemiah's work in Jerusalem. Nehemiah did. He went with a commitment to stay as long as it took to rebuild and restore.
So with us. The Holy Spirit knows how long our life will be and is committed to take all the time needed to do the work of restoration. He will be faithful moment by moment until this life is ended.
2. Nehemiah went in the name of the king, bearing the king's authority: 2:7
So the Holy Spirit comes to us in the name of the King of Kings, the name above all names in heaven and on earth. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father in the name of Jesus. Who can resist His authority?
3. Nehemiah came with all the resources needed to rebuild: 2:8,9
So in our lives, the Holy Spirit comes to us with all the resources of God necessary for the rebuilding of our lives.
4. Nehemiah came with a plan, a blueprint (2:11-16).
Nehemiah came to Jerusalem with a commitment of faithfulness, authority, resources and with a blueprint. In all of this, we see a picture of the Holy Spirit coming to us with a specific plan based on the omniscience of God, for the restoring and rebuilding of our lives.
But there are two things Nehemiah did not bring.
1. He did not bring any tumbled down, broken stones.
We will see later that they rebuilt the wall using the tumbled down, broken stones that were already there.
Sometimes we have said, “If I could just be like that person over there.” But God does not need another version of “that person.” He is not rebuilding you to be someone else.
He is rebuilding you to be the full person He purposed that you would be. And He is using the very stones — the talents, gifts, knowledge and experience — already resident in you. These stones may have been trashed by the enemy and buried under rubble, they may even look like rubble. But God can use the very rubble of your life to build a lovely city.
2. He did not bring all the necessary labor.
Nehemiah could not rebuild the city by himself. The people would have to cooperate. They would need to receive his plan and surrender their hands and hearts to the work.
2:17 Nehemiah says, “You see the bad situation we are in.”
The people have been walking through the ruins of Jerusalem for so many years, going to the temple to worship God and walking through the ruins for so long, they may have become desensitized to the destruction. They may have made peace with rubble. Maybe they were saying, “This is how it is. This rubble is our life.”
Maybe they had become accustomed to destruction, acclimated, conformed to rubble.
Nehemiah focuses their attention on the problem and exhorts them to rise up, to take accountability. He wants to stir them, plant in them a desire for change.
The Holy Spirit also will focus our attention on the necessary work in our lives, He identifies the problems with gentle clarity. He focuses our attention, calls us to accept ownership and then inspires in us the confidence to rise up and work with Him.
2:18 “I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work.”
When the Holy Spirit shows us some area of rubble in our life, we can deny the problem and pretend we don't see. We can cover the problem with religious rituals or ministry business. We can play little religious games or self denial games. But at what cost?
When we refuse to join with the Holy Spirit in the work of restoration, something will remain unfulfilled, unbuilt, in our lives. This will limit God’s use of us. He has a purpose for our lives, wants to shine His glory through us. But He cannot shine glory through rubble. Rubble obscures the glory. Those works which God prepare beforehand will go unfulfilled. How sad.
Far better that we would agree with our Nehemiah, rise up and put our hands to the work of rebuilding.
Will there be opposition to the work? Yes, but they overcame. So can we.
Will there be there threats, times of discouragement? Yes, but they overcame. So can we.
In time the wall was rebuilt and God had a lovely city which He could bless, where He could manifest His glory and fulfill His purpose.
This is God’s desire for us.
You are the light of the world, a city set on a hill.
There is no question about it.
God is able to rebuild and restore any area of your life that may have been trashed.
No question about it.
Here's the question: Will we put our hands to the work?
2:19 Once the people are committed and the work begins, now opposition begins. Notice the enemy's attack:
1. They mocked them, as if to say, “Who do you think you are to suppose you will ever change? You’ve had this rubble forever. Just accept it — this is who you are.”
2. They despised them, as if to say, “You're a conquered people, that's all you are. Don’t pretend to be someone more than you really are. Don’t even try to imagine being something more. This rubble, this is who you really are. This is the real you.”
3. They accused them of rebellion. That’s a serious charge. Rebellion would be quickly crushed by the king. So with us, the adversary wants us to believe the lie that the rebuilding of our lives is rebellion against God. “Who do you think you are to rise up against the king? What are you doing, stirring around in this rubble, talking about being restored, rebuilt. This must be God’s will for your life because this is how it is. Are you rebelling against God’s order? Your place is in the dust and that is where your dreams and hopes and aspirations belong — in the dust.”
What a lie! But the enemy speaks through our memory of times when we have failed and fallen. He speaks through circumstances of rubble that may surround us. He speaks through loved ones who may mean well but who remind us of failure. He can speak through religious teaching or ritual that over emphasizes guilt and under emphasizes grace.
Remember, Nehemiah began this whole process by confessing the sin and failure of Israel to God (1:5-11). If we have done this, if we have sincerely confessed our sins to God, we may be certain that He has forgiven and cleansed us. Indeed, confession is the act that begins the entire work of restoration.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
2:20 “So I answered them and said to them.” Nehemiah’s response to the accusers is three fold:
1. “The God of heaven will give us success.”
Nehemiah knows God intimately enough to carry in his heart the assurance that they are not rebelling against God and God is not their enemy, rather, God is their source. We need to know God well enough to resist the accusation of the enemy. We need to know the mind and heart of God so intimately that we are not deceived by false doctrine or false accusation. God is not against us in the rebuilding of our lives. He is the One who comes to us, initiates the process and completes what He begins, if we will allow Him. From beginning to end, the work is based on His authority, His resources and His faithfulness. It is God and God alone who will give us success.
2. “We His servants will arise and build.”
This is a statement of commitment. It’s a statement of faith. Because God is committed to us, we will commit to Him. Because God is faithful to us, we will be faithful to Him.
3. He reminds the enemy that he has no right, no portion, no place in this work. Get out. The enemy does not have a vote or a voice on the purpose of God in our lives, so why should we listen? Jesus said, “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him” (Luke 8:18). The voices we listen to will determine how much we are willing to receive from God.
“So faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Are we listening to voices that build faith or diminish faith? Paul reminds us, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (I Thes. 2:13).
The Word of God performs its work in us who believe because that Word is living, active, powerful, dynamic. But there is also some power in words that are evil. Whose word are we listening to?
Nehemiah said to the accusing, mocking, threatening enemy, “You have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.” You have no place or voice in this rebuilding process. Get out.
It is the Lord who comes to us to redeem us and to rebuild what He has redeemed. He is the only One who has the right to speak into our lives because He alone is our Creator and our Redeemer. He comes to us with the authority, the resources, the time and the commitment to restore. We can trust in His faithfulness, as the Apostle Paul reminds us,
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phlp. 1:6).
Abraham Lincoln was walking through an army hospital and stopped at the bed of a young soldier. He was scarcely more than a boy and obviously dying. Moved with compassion, the President asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Would you hold my hand until I cross yonder river?” the soldier replied.
President Lincoln sat down, held the boy’s hand while he breathed his final breaths.
This is a picture of the tender faithfulness of God.
The Lord would say, “It’s a long way to yonder river. Let me take hold of your hand and your life and let us walk together. Along the way, if you will surrender to me the ruins and the rubble, I will rebuild it with you. Together, you and I.”
Is there anything you need to surrender today?
Chapter 3 is the chronicle of the families that rose up to work. It is reassuring that the names of the people who put their hands to the good work of rebuilding and restoring Jerusalem are recorded in this history. We do not earn our way into heaven but we are held accountable for the work we do and we will be rewarded. Paul says that our works will be assessed by Christ (I Cor. 3:11-15, 4:5). Even a cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name is rewarded (Matt. 10:42).
3:1 Notice in verse one, the first group of workers are the high priest and his brother priests. Other priests are mentioned in verses 22 and 28.
3:2-7,13 Men came all the way from Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon and Zanoah to assist in the restoration of Jerusalem. As the Holy Spirit restores and rebuilds your life, conforming you to the likeness of Jesus, don’t limit the help God can bring you from outside your own walls, from north, south, east and west.
Verse seven also indicates that administrative officials from the governor helped with the work. However, verse 5 reports that some of the nobles would not support the work. We will see in chapter 6:17-19 that they were compromised in their loyalties, pledged to support the enemies of the work of rebuilding. They may have owed their wealth, their prestige and their power to the adversaries of Nehemiah. Therefore, the rebuilding of the city is a threat to their exalted position. It is no surprise that they refuse to help. But they are the exception, not the rule.
3:8, 31 Craftsmen participated in the work: goldsmiths, perfumers.
3:9, 12 The son of an administrative official represented his family as did an administrative official and his daughters.
3:17,18 Levites, who assisted the priests in the temple, rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
3:26 Temple servants took their place at the wall.
3:32 Merchants shared in the work. People from all walks of life, from all vocations and social classes put their hands to the good work. The entire community rose up together and partnered with God in the restoration of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was sent by the king with a blueprint, with royal authority and resources but the work would not have been accomplished if the people had not joined in.
So with us. Restoration is a work of God. But we must commit ourselves to the work.
The Holy Spirit is committed to rebuild us, consecrate us, conform us to the image of Jesus. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). The Lord is crafting us, shaping us for works which He prepared for us. Whatever particular works and ministries the Lord has purposed for each of us, we know that the great desire of the Lord is that He would be glorified in us and through us. We are individually and together as Christ’s church, the light of the world, a city set on a hill through which the Lord may show forth His glory.
However, even though the Holy Spirit has come to us with a blueprint, with authority and resources, the work will not be accomplished unless we give ourselves to the work.
4:1,2, The spiritual warfare intensifies as the building progresses. Sanballet, the leader of the opposition is furious that Jerusalem is being rebuilt. In the same way, Satan becomes angry that our lives would be restored.
The people were going back and forth from the surrounding villages into Jerusalem to work. Each day they passed by Sanballet and those who opposed the work, listening to their mockery. Remember this — creation and destruction in the spiritual realm are through words. God created a universe of light and life through His Word. Satan seeks to extinguish light with the darkness of his curses and accusations. We are surrounded by a battle of words.
Whose voice will we listen to?
Sanballet mocks Nehemiah and the people, asking five questions:
1. “What are these feeble Jews doing?”
He is calling attention to the inadequacy of the people. He is saying, “You’ve been here all these years and you’ve done nothing. Look at the rubble — what makes you think any of this will ever change?
He has no concept of the reality that God is active in history, making covenant with people, working through covenant people to reveal His glory and establish His kingdom. He has no clue that the rebuilding of Jerusalem is part of the eternal redemptive purpose of God. It is God who brought them back to the land. It is God who inspired the rebuilding of the temple. It is God who is inspiring the restoration of the city. Because this is God’s work, the Jews are not feeble at all. They are empowered by the God who “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). This is the God who “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11 ). They are not feeble at all. It is God’s work.
So with us. The rebuilding of a life is impossible from a human perspective but all things are possible with God. We are not feeble. We are mighty in Christ. Whatever work God is doing in us and through us, it is God’s work accomplished by God’s power. The Apostle John exhorts us,
“You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4,5). Overcomer is one of the New Testament words for believer.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phlpns. 4:13).
The work of restoring, rebuilding and consecrating our lives is God’s work accomplished by God’s power.
2. “Are they going to restore it for themselves?”
Because he does not understand that God works with and through covenant people, he does not understand that this is not only for the Jews. It is also for God and for His redemptive purpose on earth. Because God has purposed this and it is not only for the Jews but also for God and for His glory, the work will be completed.
So with us. The Lord is restoring us for His glory and He will see it through.
3. “Can they offer sacrifices?”
The meaning is unclear but possibly Sanballet is implying that the people will need to offer sacrificial bribes to God in order for the work to be completed. This would be the way of idol worshippers. Offer enough sacrificial offerings, say enough prayers, chant enough chants, mumble our way through the right rituals, and maybe the gods will have mercy on us and our work will be successful. Again, there is no concept that it is God who inspired this work and if the people will only give themselves to God, the Lord will accomplish His work.
So with us. God will accomplish His work in us if we will surrender ourselves to the work God is doing. We don’t need to bribe God with religious payoffs. The restoration of our lives is God’s idea, accomplished according to His plan, by His authority and with His resources. He requires only that we give ourselves to the work.
4. “Can they finish in a day?”
If Sanballet can’t prevent the work from starting, maybe he can create enough resistance that they will quit. Maybe he can cause them to be discouraged about the challenges and the length of time needed to finish. He doesn’t know that Nehemiah has come with a commitment to stay as long as is necessary to finish what they have begun.
Can they finish in a day? No, but Nehemiah will be there with the authority and resources of the king as one stone is set upon another and the city is rebuilt, brick by brick.
So with the Holy Spirit. He is committed to work with us and in us until God’s purpose is accomplished. We won’t be restored in a day. But we will be restored. We have this promise:
“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless (without fault) with great joy” (Jude 24).
We also have this promise as a corporate body, the church:
“That He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27).
In fact, our salvation and restoration was purposed before there was a universe:
“Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:5).
We won’t be restored in a day but we will be restored and we will stand in the presence of Christ, holy, blameless and “beyond reproach” (Col. 1:22).
5. “Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble, even the burned ones?”
Sanballet reminds them that they are pulling stones out of rubble and these stones are dusty, covered with ash, a memorial to the destruction of Jerusalem years ago. “How do you hope to rebuild a city out of garbage and even the garbage bears the marks of the fire that destroyed you?”
This is Satan’s question to us: “Can you make stones rise up from rubble? Can you resurrect, revive, restore a life after all the sin and failure you have known?”
The honest answer is, “No, I cannot but my God can.” This is the God of whom David testifies,
“He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:2,3).
He is the God who, “Gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist” (Rom. 4:17). This is the God who gave a son to a barren, 90 year old Sarah. This is the God who promoted a former slave and prison inmate, Joseph, to Prime Minister of Egypt. This is the God of whom the angel testified to Mary, “With God, all things are possible.”
4:3 More ridicule. Tobiah is Sanballet’s sidekick and he chimes in, “Yeah boss, even a fox could knock this over. The restoration is so superficial, so fragile, it can’t last.”
Satan is always looking for someone to agree with him. As we partner with God in the rebuilding of our lives, we hear these evil whisperings, “They'll never finish what they've started. You've always been a failure. Who are you to think anything will ever change in your life, your marriage, your church? Just a little breeze of trouble will knock down the progress you think you’ve made.”
Be careful who you listen to. Notice Nehemiah’s response:
4:4,5 Nehemiah does not argue with his adversaries or defend himself. Neither does he ignore their threats. He takes his case to the Lord: “Hear, O our God, how we are despised.” In Ephesians chapter six, Paul reminds the church that we are in a war with a spiritual enemy but after reviewing the tools of our warfare, he calls the church to prayer (Eph. 6:18-20).
In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus faced the challenge of the cross, He directed His disciples, “Watch and pray” (Matt. 26:41). Peter may have been thinking of that night when, many years later, he exhorted the church:
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (I Peter 5:8,9).
How do we resist the devil? Peter gives good advice in the preceding verses:
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:6,7).
How do we humble ourselves before the Lord, casting all our cares upon Him? Two good ways to do this are prayer and worship. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to employ thankful, worshipful prayer:
“Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phlpns. 4:6,7).
Nehemiah responded to threats, mockery, ridicule and intimidation by humbling himself before the Lord in prayer. God alone is our shelter and our refuge and He will vindicate us when we call on Him and depend on Him. Isaiah reminds us:
“‘No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper; and every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from me,’ declares the Lord” (Isa. 54:17).
The Psalmist reminds us,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock” (Psalm 27:1, 3, 5).
Nehemiah prays what is known as an imprecatory prayer. He prays judgment on his persecutors, “Return their reproach upon their own heads.” He is not being hateful, rather, he is praying in agreement with the judgment which God has determined for those who oppose His loving, redeeming purpose in this world.
However, Jesus gave us a higher example, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). Jesus shows us what this looks and sounds like when, from the cross, He prayed forgiveness for those who had mocked and crucified Him. So powerfully impactful was this prayer that He had scarcely given up His spirit when the Roman officer and his soldiers testified of the Deity of Christ (Matt. 27:54).
The first martyr of the church, Stephen, shows us the value of praying for our persecutors when, as he was being stoned to death, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). One of the young men holding the coats of Stephen’s murderers later had a life changing encounter with Jesus and became the greatest missionary-evangelist in the history of the church. At that time he was called Saul. He is better known as the Apostle Paul.
4:6 They continue to build even in the midst of opposition and the wall is built to half its height, “For the people had a mind (heart) to work.” They press on, they persevere in the work and so will we for it is God who gives us grace to continue. We are partnering with God in the establishing of His purpose and who can resist God?
4:7,8 The enemy is angry and intensifies the opposition. They move from mockery to conspiracy and intimidation. They conspire to come and cause a disturbance. They are threatening real violence. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The enemy of our soul will stop at nothing to destroy the work that God is doing in our lives. Jesus will stop at nothing to establish His life within us.
With whom will we partner? To whom will we surrender? Creator or destroyer, Redeemer or adversary?
4:9 Nehemiah’s response: “We prayed to our God and … set up a guard against them day and night.” Pray and be vigilant, night and day. The wall is partly rebuilt but the work is unfinished — don’t let your guard down.
Again we are reminded of the words of Jesus, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). The flesh is weak, there are still entrance points where the gates and walls are unfinished. Be vigilant, stay disciplined, watch out for those points of vulnerability in your life. Keep praying and partnering with God in the work of rebuilding.
4:10 Their strength is failing and there is so much more work to do. They are becoming weary, demoralized by the rubble and the challenge. This also is a tactic of the enemy: wear you down, bring you into discouragement with words, rumors, opposition.
It means so much when someone speaks the Word of God into our weariness. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Galatian church with these words,
“Let us not lose heart in doing good for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Gal. 6:9). The King James says, “Let us not be weary in well doing.”
Many years before, the prophet Isaiah encouraged Israel with these words:
“The wilderness and the desert will be glad, and the Arabah will rejoice and blossom. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble (NIV: strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way). Say to those with anxious heart, ‘Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water. And the ransomed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isa. 35:1, 3-7, 10).
Yes, we do grow weary. Yes, there is much rubble. But we will reap in due season. Be encouraged and be an encourager.
4:11 The enemy continues to use verbal intimidation but the threat level escalates. They are not just mocking or ridiculing. They now threaten violence and these are real threats, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” Behind the rising tension we sense Satan’s desperation. His goal has always been to oppose and defeat God’s salvation purpose on earth. Essential to Satan’s goal was the destruction of the covenant people, Israel. The rebuilding of Jerusalem represented a major defeat in Satan’s campaign.
Aside from the possibility of violence, the enemy hopes to tire them out and discourage them with a sustained high level of stress. The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of a life involves struggle. We need to learn perseverance, to press on. At the same time, we need to learn how to be refreshed in the midst of the struggle.
The Psalmist reminds us, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1,2).
Mountains seem so solid but sometimes solid things quake and shake and fall into the sea. Economies can be shaken, our resources, our wisdom, our relationships, sometimes all of society can be shaken. But notice what the Psalmist says next,
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy dwelling places of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns” (46:4,5).
Where is this place that will not be moved?
It is the dwelling place of God. Out of His presence there flows a river of peace and joy and mercy. In His presence there is fulness of joy and a peace that passes all comprehension.
How do I enter that dwelling place in a world of storms, in a world where everything can be shaken? Again in Psalm 46, the Psalmist hears the Lord answer that question:
After reminding us that mountains do shake,
that waters do roar and foam,
that the earth is subject to change,
that kingdoms do crumble and fall,
after remembering that there is a river that flows
from the dwelling place of God, he hears the Lord say,
“Cease striving (be still) and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
The Psalmist responds with quiet confidence,
“The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold”(Psalm 46:11).
As storms shake the world around us, in the stillness of prayer and worship, we enter the presence of the God who is present. We fix our eyes of faith on Him.
We can press on with the building because God is our refuge and our source of strength. Press on and be still. How do I do that? We press on in stillness as we abide in the Lord, relying on His strength, drinking from the pool of His life and peace and joy.
4:12 Fearful rumors begin to spread among the people, “They’re coming for us.” Ten times the threat is repeated. But it’s not the enemy repeating the threat. Now it is the Jews themselves. Be careful that those close to you do not plant defeat in you with their words. Be careful that you are not planting defeat in yourself with your own words. Heed the warning of Solomon:
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Prov. 18:21).
Listen also to the words of James,
“From the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh” (James 3:10-12).
We must not bless the ministry of Christ in our lives and curse that same ministry. We must not speak words of doubt, death and defeat over the restoring work of God in our lives: “I’ll never change. There’s no way God can restore the mess I’ve made.” Speak the life-giving blessing of God over your life. Learn the Word and speak it over yourself. Position yourself in places where people are speaking the blessing of God into you and over you.
4:13 Nehemiah takes the precaution of placing guards in the exposed, unfinished places along the wall. The King James reads as though Nehemiah stationed the families in the finished places while stationing himself and his own men in the places that were unfinished, exposed:
“Therefore set I in the lower places behind the wall and on the higher places, I even set the people according to their families with their swords, their spears and their bows.”
That would be as if the Holy Spirit said, “You are responsible to guard and keep what has been restored in your life. But the places where you are still weak and vulnerable, where the wall is still broken down, I will guard that.”
We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul,
“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
The Comforter faithfully watches over our lives, restoring, rebuilding, lavishing grace upon us with such patient, tender care. In the struggle of our warfare, we can rest in the promise of our Lord,
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29).
4:14 Notice Nehemiah says, “When I saw.”
Earlier, the enemies of the work had said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” But Nehemiah does see. He is watching out over the people.
So with our Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He is all knowing, possess all truth, is aware of all events that ever have happened or could happen. Nothing escapes the gaze of the all-seeing God:
“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebr. 4:13).
Nevertheless, as the threat intensifies, so does the fear of the people but Nehemiah exhorts them:
1. “Do not be afraid.”
Countless times in Scripture we are exhorted, “Fear not.” But in the midst of such grievous, frightening warfare, how can we consistently resist fear? Nehemiah tells them exactly how to overcome fear:
2. “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.”
Remember that it is God who has come to us to redeem us, to restore us. Remember that we did not choose Him — He chose us. Remember that when we were spiritually dead He raised us into everlasting life. Remember that when we were spiritually blind and deaf, He gave us eyes to see and ears to hear the Gospel of Jesus.
Remember that He is Almighty, perfect in wisdom and power. Remember that He creates out of nothing, He speaks and life exists. The entire universe consists in Him and is upheld by Him.
Many years before Nehemiah’s time, three armies were marching against Israel, intending to destroy the nation. The Spirit of theLord came upon a man named Jahaziel and he exhorted the people,
“Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s ... You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them for the Lord is with you’” (2 Chron. 20:15,17).
How do we resist fear? By remembering that though we are required to stand in faith and face the enemy, the battle is really not ours. It is the Lord’s battle for it is He who came to us, redeemed us, began the work of restoration and He promises to perfect what He has begun.
We are required to stand and face the enemy. But remember that the battle is the Lord’s.
3. “Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.”
We also resist fear by remembering that it is not merely our own life that we are contending for. Nehemiah exhorts them to remember their loved ones. Remember that this is not just about you. It is about the many people around you whom you, as a restored man or woman of God, will influence. It is not only about your future but the future of those whom you love, the future of those whom you will touch someday. It is necessary that your life be rebuilt so that God can set His name and His glory on you and release through you His blessing to others.
Jesus said, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). It is as much His pleasure to give you the kingdom as it was His pleasure to create man and woman and give them dominion over creation. God’s purpose has not changed. His desire is to restore us and give us restored dominion.
But restored dominion is not only God’s gift to us. It is something which we must contend for. Nehemiah said, “Fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” The battle is the Lord’s but we stand in the midst of a spiritual struggle and with spiritual weapons, we contend for the faith.
Jude exhorts us to “Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul exhorts Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called,” and to “guard what has been entrusted to you,” (I Tim 6:12,20).
The battle is the Lord’s but we stand in faith, we contend earnestly for the work which God has begun in each of us.
4:15-18 God frustrated the plans of the enemy because the people had taken a stand in faith.
James reminds us, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
The people continue the work of rebuilding while some labor as warrior / guards and some as builders. But even the builders had a weapon. They worked armed. Everyone was prepared to fight. Those who stand on the wall armed and vigilant remind me of the intercessors, those who watch and pray over Christ’s church. But whether our ministry is intercession or teaching, administration or helping, the restoring of a life will bring us into spiritual conflict.
In Ephesians 6 Paul reminds us that we are engaged in a spiritual war. Three times in verses 11-14 he exhorts us to stand. We don’t chase the enemy, we stand. We have better things to do than to chase persecutors and demonic powers. But we labor armed and ready.
Nehemiah and his warrior laborers carried swords, spears and bows. However, the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but divinely powerful for the pulling down of spiritual strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4 Eph. 6:10-19). In particular, Paul exhorts us to pray, for prayer is a mighty instrument of spiritual warfare.
Nehemiah and the people labored, armed and ready. What happens to those who labor with Christ in restoration? They overcome. It is our nature to overcome. Even as it was our old nature to be overcome, it is our new nature to overcome.
In I John 4:4 we are reminded that God dwells within us and greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. In I John 5:4,5 we are reminded that it is our nature to be overcomers because there is nothing greater than the God who indwells us.
In Revelation 12:11 we are told that the victorious saints, overcame “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony and they did not love their life even when faced with death.”
1. They overcame by the blood of the Lamb. We were not redeemed with silver or gold “but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Peter 1:18,19). Your worth as a person before God is not based on wealth, real estate or religious works. You stand worthy before God because of the blood of the Lamb. It is true that we were sinners unworthy of salvation but having been offered a covenant of grace and having entered through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, we have been made worthy as children of God and heirs of the kingdom.
We overcame the enemy when we believed and confessed what God accomplished through the blood of the Lamb.
2. They overcame by the word of their testimony. We confess what God has done and is doing in our lives. The Word of God applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, teaches us, restores, recreates. The Word obeyed and spoken through us gives the Holy Spirit substance to work through and is a sword of truth cutting through the lies and deceptions of the enemy.
3. They overcame because they loved the Lord more than their own lives. There is a wonderful liberty of abandonment in prayer, in worship, in service to the Lord. When we try to hold on to our lives, we lose our lives (Matt. 15:25). When we let go of our lives in joyful abandonment to the Lord, we find security and fulfillment.
As we believe and confess what God has done, as we lay down our lives in surrender to the Lord our Creator and Redeemer, the enemy is overcome.
4:18-20 Everyone was busy and scattered around the city so the trumpeter stood near Nehemiah. At the sound of the trumpet, everyone was to gather in unity. Again he reminds them that it is the Lord who fights for them. But there is an important truth here about unity and the manifest presence of God.
God manifests His presence and power in a setting of unity.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head” (Psalm 133:1,2). Oil represents the anointing, the manifest presence of God among us. It flows in a setting of unity.
We see this in the early life of the church.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord (or “all together”) in one place" (Acts 2:1). “All together” is a weak translation. “With one accord” is better but still falls short.
The Greek word which we translate “one accord” is “homothumadon,” literally, “like-passioned.” This is more than mere geographical unity or intellectual agreement. It is a unity of heart and soul. Those men and women gathered in the upper room shared one overriding passion: to know, worship and proclaim Jesus Christ. That passion-in-common was their connection point with one another and an important characteristic of the early church.
In Acts 1:14 we read that this is how they prepared for Pentecost, “These all continued with one accord (homothumadon) in prayer.” In 2:46 we see that this was part of the lifestyle of the newly birthed church, “And continuing daily with one accord (homothumadon) in the temple, and breaking bread.” In 4:24 we see that this was the church's response to persecution, “They lifted up their voice to God with one accord (homothumadon).”
There were times of doctrinal disagreement (Acts 15). They would soon lose their geographical unity, spreading out across the earth. They certainly had a diversity of background. It quickly became a multi-racial, cross cultural, trans-national church. Caught up in the outpouring of God's Spirit that first Pentecost were people from Africa, Europe and the Mideast. There were men and women, Jew and Gentile.
But the variety and diversity of the church did not hinder them. They conquered the Roman Empire as they walked and labored in a unity of heart and soul. Their point of unity was a common passion to love Christ, to know Him and to make Him known.
This unity of heart is absolutely necessary in order for God to make full use of our lives. If we would see God’s purpose accomplished in us and in the multitudes who are coming to know Christ, we must learn to labor in unity.
Nehemiah reminds them that though they must gather and fight, it is God who fights through us and for us. What is the context in which God manifest His power? A context of unity. “At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.”
4:21 They labored from “the rising of the dawn until the stars appeared.” Ministry is not a nine to five job. Restoring Jerusalem was at the center of God’s salvation purpose and the people labored in partnership with God to the point of exhaustion. So with us. The ministry of restoration in our lives requires our commitment every day, all day.
Leadership is not a nine to five job. Notice that Nehemiah made the same sacrifices as the laborers and the guards. This is a model of true authority. When Jesus spoke of leadership in His kingdom, He talked of servanthood and He offered Himself as the model:
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
Nehemiah led the work and the sacrifice and the people gave all they could give.
So with us. The Comforter lifts up before us the sacrifice of Jesus and we follow sacrificially. Restoring our souls so that the glory of Christ can shine through us — this is a ministry that requires the outpouring of our lives. Who are the overcomers? Those who “love not their lives, even unto death” (Rev. 12:11).
4:22,23 They labored at their assigned posts and when they were exhausted, they slept at their post. They even carried their weapons when they went for water. There was no higher priority than rebuilding the walls and gates of Jerusalem.
Is this also our highest priority — yielding our lives to the redeeming, restoring work of the Holy Spirit so that others can see the light of the glory of Christ shining through our earthen vessels, so that they too may be redeemed and restored? How much of our life, our time, our resources are we willing to surrender to this good work?
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24,25).
5:1-3 As the city was being rebuilt, there was a poor harvest which resulted in famine. This was forcing people to mortgage their fields, vineyards and houses just to buy food. Evidently, wealthier men who had grain were selling at inflated prices. This resulted in “a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brothers.”
5:4 In addition to this, the king’s tax on their land was so great that, combined with the poor harvest, many were forced to borrow money to pay their taxes. The money was lent at excessive interest rates (see 5:10) driving the people into deeper debt. This is called usury and had been condemned by God many centuries before in the Law of Moses (Ex. 22:25-27 Lev. 25:35-37).
5:5 Evidently, the poor people were also giving their children as surety for their debts or selling them as indentured servants.
Who was lending money at excessive rates? Who was foreclosing on property and taking children into servitude for the payment of debts? Who did that? As we read in verse one, the outcry of the people rose up “against their Jewish brothers.”
These Jewish oppressors may have been the nobility referred to in 3:5 who refused to join in the work of rebuilding. They are probably related to the nobles of 6:17-19 who were involved with Tobiah, one of the leading enemies of Nehemiah. They were Jews in name only.
What a disgrace they were! While Jerusalem was being rebuilt, they were busy bringing their own people into slavery for a profit. So Nehemiah needed to not only overcome satanically inspired opposition but also he had to overcome the greed of some fellow Jews.
This is not unlike a church calling people out of slavery to sin and death, only to bring them into slavery to religious guilt and lifeless ritual. This is similar to a ministry promising prosperity to poor people while manipulating them with emotional appeals for their money. Throughout the centuries, we see the false people of God oppressing the true people of God.
Notice that in chapter 4, the threat was from the outside — Sanballat and Tobiah, Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites. But now the threat is from within. How typical of the adversary. He tried to destroy the work of God with ridicule, mockery, accusation and threats of violence but the people overcame and the work of rebuilding continued. However, if Satan can’t destroy the work from without, then he will try to destroy from within. How sad that as Jerusalem began to rise from the rubble, the people began to oppress one another. The threat now is from inside.
How often, over the centuries, the prophets of Israel had warned that economic injustice and oppression would result in the judgment of God upon the nation. The prophet Amos is typical in his warning,
“Thus says the Lord, ‘For three transgressions of Israel and for four I will not revoke its punishment, because they sell the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals,’” (Amos 2:6).
“They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks with integrity. Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, yet you will not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, yet you will not drink their wine. For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate ... I hate, I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; and I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:10-12, 21-24).
The oppression of the people with debt and slavery reminds us that one of the primary reasons for the judgment of God on Israel, for the destruction of the nation and Jerusalem and the temple, for the exile into Babylon, was the failure to observe the year of Jubilee.
What was the year of Jubilee?
In Leviticus 25:1-7, the Lord commanded that every seventh year was to be a Sabbath in which land and laborer should rest. There would be neither sowing nor reaping. The people would eat what they had gathered in the previous six years and what would grow of itself in the seventh. This was not the Year of Jubilee. It was something of a Sabbath preparation for Jubilee.
In 25:8-22 we read that every forty-nine years (at the end of seven periods of seven years), on the day of Atonement (when sacrifice was made for the sins of the people), the priests were to blow the trumpet and proclaim Jubilee. This fiftieth year, the Year of Jubilee, was to be consecrated as a holy time of Sabbath rest for the people and the land. With the blowing of the trumpet, the priests were to proclaim liberty to the people and everyone was to return to their family and to their family property.
If an Israelite had sold himself as a servant (25:23-38), he was to be released in the Year of Jubilee, then with his family to return to their property. If he had sold himself to a foreigner, he could be redeemed by himself if he was able. But if was too poor to redeem himself, a blood-kinsman would redeem him.
Servants were released from bondage, families regained possession of their ancestral property, debts were forgiven and everyone rested in a holy, Sabbath year of worship and praise to the God of new beginnings. It is especially significant that the Year of Jubilee was to be announced — the trumpet was to be blown — on the Day of Atonement, a day associated with forgiveness, cleansing, starting over.
We must note, though, that the purpose of Jubilee was not merely freedom for the slave nor economic readjustment for the debtor and the property-less. The deeper, ultimate purpose of Jubilee was to bring the people to a holy, renewed communion with the Lord. Without that communion, neither liberty nor economic justice would be truly established or preserved. The human heart, scarred and twisted by sin, is incapable of inaugurating or maintaining authentic liberty and justice except as we abide in sacred fellowship with the Lord of all liberty and justice. Therefore the essence of Jubilee is renewal of relationship with the Lord.
What a marvelous festival! “Blow the trumpet,” God was saying to Israel, “and proclaim release to the debtor, sinner and servant and to the land. Return to your inheritance, the place of your beginnings. Proclaim a holy renewal of rest in me, the Lord of new beginnings.”
That sounds like the Good News that we preach: forgiven of our indebtedness to God, released from slavery to sin and death, restored to our inheritance as children of God and resting in Sabbath fellowship with God.
Jubilee was not an option. It was a commandment. Israel’s failure to observe this command resulted in judgment at the hands of the Babylonians who, “Burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its fortified buildings with fire” (2 Chron. 36:19). Many were killed, many were carried away into Babylon, “Until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete” (2 Chron. 36:21).
God enforced the Year of Jubilee through the destroying avenger of the Babylonian armies. Then, when seventy years were complete,
“In order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it into writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him and let him go up!” (2 Chon. 36:22,23).
The Lord decreed the judgment of Jerusalem and decreed the return of the exiles. The temple was rebuilt, the city is being rebuilt under Nehemiah. But some of the wealthy and the powerful are again enslaving and oppressing the people, forcing them into debt, forcing them to mortgage their land and sell their children, violating the spirit of the law of Jubilee. They were reinstituting the criminal economic system that had only recently caused God to judge the nation!
5:6,7 This grieved and angered Nehemiah, that people who had been set free from slavery in a foreign country, who had returned to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem, would then be oppressed by their wealthy countrymen. He contended with the threat within the city as he had contended with the threat from without. He condemned the nobles for their usury (the charging of excessive interest). In fact, the Law of Moses forbade Israelites requiring any interest on loans of food, money or any item to fellow Israelites (Lev. 25:35-38).
As we said, this is a picture of the Holy Spirit contending with the oppression and enslavement which religious institutions inflict upon its members. How disgraceful, that people who have been set free from slavery to sin and death by the mercy and power of Jesus would then be bound again to dead rituals and powerless religion by corrupt church institutions.
How tragic, that people who have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, would encounter greater darkness within the kingdom of light. How sad, that people would flee the corrupt city of the world, seeking refuge in the city of God, only to experience greater corruption.
Throughout the history of the church, the Lord has continually confronted the compromised church while launching reformation and revival, creating new structures, new paradigms of ministry, birthing fresh vision and setting people free from the control, oppression and manipulation of dead religion.
This is also a picture of the Holy Spirit contending with the worldliness, immaturity and sinfulness in our own lives. There are aspects of our life, our personality that may be drawn back toward the world, drawn back to live again the slave patterns of our former life. The Holy Spirit will confront those aspects of our personality not yet matured in the holy likeness of Christ. Even as He confronts the enemy without, He will also confront the enemy within.
How do we overcome the aspects of our being that continue to rebel against God?
In Colossians 3 the Apostle Paul exhorts us:
3:1-3 Set your mind on things above.
We focus our attention, our affection on God’s truth and beauty.
3:5-8 Reckon yourself dead to former way of life, put off the old ways.
How? By not practicing old habits, not giving place to worldly thought patterns.
3:9,10 Put on the new self.
How? By practicing the new way of life. For instance:
3:12 Practice compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
3:13 Bear with others, forgiving others just as the Lord has forgiven us.
3:14 Put on love.
How? By practicing love.
3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart — that is an act of the will, a choice.
3:16 Let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you.
How? By entering into the discipline of reading and studying the Word of God, listening to good teaching and especially, obeying the Word.
3:17 Do all things with thankfulness.
Gratitude, thankfulness to God is a choice.
That is a description of the overcomer. The Holy Spirit will come alongside us and assist us as we put off the old nature and put on the new.
The Holy Spirit will also contend with the religion business for the freedom of those whom Christ has set free. Again, Nehemiah is a picture of this.
5:8-10 Nehemiah rebukes the oppressors for their enslavement of those who were redeemed by the Lord and he contrasts their oppression with his own generosity in redeeming some who had been slaves in exile. He also reminds them that he is loaning money and grain at no interest, which is what the law of Moses requires.
We are reminded of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church. The people had been set free by Christ but were being oppressed by false teachers who said that they must submit to the yoke of Jewish law and ritual. Paul condemned the false teachers and exhorted the church:
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery,” (Gal 5:1).
5:11 Nehemiah requires the oppressors to restore what they took from the people. The Holy Spirit also wants to restore what may have been stolen from us by the world and by world-bound, controlling, oppressive ministries. He wants to restore our freedom to worship the Lord without guilt or manipulation, wants to restore the clear, truthful teaching of the Word, wants to restore our peace and our joy.
5:12 The nobles agree to return what they have taken dishonestly and they take an oath before the priests to follow through on their promise.
5:13 Nehemiah pronounces a curse, the promise of God’s judgment, on all who renege on their promise. In fact, the wrath of God had been poured out previously on the nation because of the greedy, idolatrous oppression of the poor. There should be no question that He will judge them again if this practice continues.
5:14-19 Nehemiah recounts his faithfulness to God, how he refused to lay burdens on the people, even supporting his personal guards and assistants, 150 in all, with his own money. He refused to purchase land for himself, though he could have at the most advantageous price.
He not only confronts the dishonest, greedy tactics of the oppressive nobles. He also models the servant leader.
So with the Holy Spirit. He confronts anything in or around us that would rob us of our freedom in Christ. And He points us to Christ, the Servant-Shepherd, enabling us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “The author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebr. 12:2).
6:1,2 The walls have been rebuilt and though the gates are not finished, the work is nearly complete. The enemies of restoration had been unable to prevent the work. So they try to lure Nehemiah out of the city, out of the place of protection, away from the work God has called him to do, to a place where he would be vulnerable.
There is an adversary to the work of God in this world and in our lives. If he cannot prevent God’s purpose from being accomplished in us and through us, then he will try to lure us away to places we don’t need to be; distract us with work we are not called to do; tempt us with activities we do not need to be a part of. He will try to break our focus.
Furthermore, Nehemiah would be away from the protection of the walls and gates he has rebuilt. He would be away from the protection of the people he has been working with. Having isolated him, the enemy could kill him and thereby destroy any future work.
So with us. The enemy will try to lure us into circumstances where our physical, emotional and spiritual life will be in jeopardy. He will try to draw us away from the safety of accountability relationships.
We must learn to rely on the Holy Spirit to provide us with discernment as to what is legitimate and what would do us harm. Do not stray from the place and the work to which the Lord has called you. Make sure you hear from God. Pray for a heart to discern His voice over all the other voices of the world that call to us.
6:3 “Why should the work stop while I leave?”
Nehemiah discerned their true intent to harm him. He has no intention of abandoning the work or exposing himself to unnecessary danger.
Don’t let the enemy distract you from the work of God in your life. Don’t let the enemy draw you into places and activities that are not God’s choice for you. There are places you do not need to be when serving God. There are activities you don’t need to be involved in while serving God. Don't go there. Don’t do that.
It is easier to stay where we belong than to resist the devil when we arrive some place where we ought not to be. Stay in the center of God’s revealed will. If we know what God is calling us to do and where God is calling us to be, then we should stay focused on what we know to be true.
6:4 The enemy persists, sending four messages. Notice the repetition of temptation and threat. Our adversary does not ease up in his opposition to the purpose of God.
6:5 Now the enemy sends an “open letter.” Official documents were rolled up and sealed. An open letter, unsealed, shows disrespect. Also, because it is open, anyone can read it. It contains false accusation, slander and threats and by sending it unsealed, the intent is that anyone can read the lies and threats. The enemy is again trying to spread fear and division among the people of God and trying to intimidate Nehemiah.
6:6 ,7 Nehemiah is accused of seeking to make himself king in Judah. This would constitute rebellion against the king of Persia and the enemy threatens to report Nehemiah to the king.
The truth is that the king had personally commissioned Nehemiah to this work, based on a relationship of trust and respect. He had provided resources, authority and armed guards. The restoration of Jerusalem is not an act of rebellion. It is an act of obedience. But if the king were to believe this lie, he would send soldiers to destroy Jerusalem again. Nehemiah would be arrested and executed for treason.
Saballat’s letter concludes with these words, “So come now, let us take counsel together.” The enemy is using slander and false accusation to lure Nehemiah to a meeting which would certainly have resulted in his death.
It is the same with us. The adversary will try to convince us that it is it is an act of rebellion against God to restore the broken walls of identity, to rebuild the ruined gates of authority. He will whisper the lie that it is more spiritual to stay defeated and oppressed, that we should worship God in a context of rubble, that the restoration of our life is rebellion against God.
What a lie! Believing that lie is nothing more than an exercise in false humility. The longing to be restored and transformed in the image of Christ is not rebellion against God. It is God, through His Son Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb, who came to us to redeem us. It is God, the Holy Spirit, who begins the work of rebuilding what sin destroyed, restoring the image of God in our souls. It is not rebellion to partner with God in this work. It is obedience.
6:8,9 Nehemiah’s response is three-fold:
1. He speaks boldly to the lie. He does not insult the enemy. He simply calls a lie what it really is, an invention of the heart. Jesus responded to the lies of Satan with the truth of God’s Word, “It is written.” The Holy Spirit within us will enable us to discern the lie of the enemy and will bring God’s truth to our minds. We respond to a lie with truth.
2. He recognizes the intent of the enemy, to intimidate and discourage the people. The phrase, “They will become discouraged” is, literally, “their hands will drop.” He recognizes that the enemy is trying to disconnect the hands of the people from the work of restoration.
3. He calls on the Lord, “But now, O God, strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah recognized that the source of his strength is God. He was a dynamic leader but he knows that the source of his power to lead is not his natural gifting. It is the power of God. Therefore in a crisis he does not lean on his own strength but on the strength that God provides.
The Apostle Paul recognized this in his own life. He had asked the Lord to relieve him of a “thorn in the flesh,” some tormenting problem or affliction. The Lord did not give Paul the healing or deliverance that he desired. Instead, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (I Cor. 12:9).
Reliance on the strength that God provides inspired Paul to pray for the church, “That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16).
Reliance on the power of God inspired Paul to boast in the Lord, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philpns. 4:13). It inspired him to celebrate, “Now to Him who is able to do abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21).
Men and women who accomplish great things for God understand that the source of their greatness is God and God alone.
6:10 Now the enemy tries to intimidate and mislead Nehemiah with false counsel from within the city. We will see in verse 12 that Shemaiah was hired by the enemies of Nehemiah for this purpose, to bring false counsel, “They are coming to kill you. Let’s flee to the house of God.”
Run and hide in the temple, flee from your responsibilities. Hiding in the temple would have discredited his leadership in the eyes of the people. It would also have removed him from the exercise of leadership. He can’t hide and lead both at the same time.
There are false prophets, false teachers and lying temptations that will try to persuade you to run from restoration: the job is too big for you, give up, run back to your former life. But cover yourself with the stuff of religion, hide in the busy-ness of religion, hide from the responsibilities of restoration but hide in the temple.
6:11 Nehemiah responds, “Should a man like me flee?” What kind of man? A man called by God, appointed to an important work and anointed to complete that work. A man working in the authority of the king, with the resources of the king. A man partnering with God in the outworking of kingdom purpose on earth.
We should have the same attitude. Should a person like me flee from the work of restoration? Who are we? We are persons created and redeemed by God for His glory. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them,” (Eph. 2:10).
6:12 God gives Nehemiah discernment that Shemaiah is a false prophet hired by the enemies of Israel. He is a hireling, prostituting his gifts to the highest bidder. We are reminded of Balaam, the false prophet hired by Balak to curse Israel (Numbers 22:1-6). Jesus taught that as history moves closer to the end, there will be an increase in lying teachers and false prophets (Matt. 7:15 24:11, 24; see also 2 Peter 2:1-3 I Jn 4:1). We must pray for a spirit of discernment.
6:13 Nehemiah perceives that this man is a false prophet, hired by the enemies of God to speak a false word to him for the purpose of frightening him into sin. The sin would have been to run and hide from the calling and purpose of God, to abandon the work of leadership in rebuilding Jerusalem.
The Holy Spirit gives us discernment so we can distinguish between truth and lies. Satan will use a false word to frighten us, to plant in us a spirit of fear. If our actions then are motivated by fear, there is a good possibility that we will sin:
1. By getting ahead of God.
2. By acting in ways that God has reserved for Himself, taking responsibiliy that God has not given or taking what God has promised but not yet given.
3. By fighting battles that only God can fight.
4. By running and hiding from responsibility.
6:14 Nehemiah takes his case to God, “Remember, O my God.” Surely God does remember.
“The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry. The righteous cry and the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 35:15, 17,18).
“I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebr. 13:5).
The Lord hears, the Lord sees. The Lord takes into account all that is happening in Nehemiah’s life and the Lord will bring him through. So also with us.
6:15 The wall was completed on the 25th day of Elul (Aug / Sept) of 445. It had taken 52 days to complete.
6:16 The enemies lost their confidence when they saw that the wall was completed, “For they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” The finished work was a testimony to the enemies of God that Israel’s God is alive, is mighty and is acting in history. Jesus said, “You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria and even to the remotest part of the earth,” (Acts 1:8b). Yes, but our witness is not just in words. Our works, our very lives, are a testimony to the presence and power and wisdom of God.
Rebuilding the city of Jerusalem was an important part of God’s kingdom purpose. So is the restoring of a redeemed person. God’s purpose to redeem, rebuild and restore was designed in eternity past and as it is worked out in time, the enemies of God see the power and promise of God manifesting in history. Demons can see the presence and anointing of God in our lives. They see the work of God that is ongoing. Notice how often in the Gospel stories the demons cry out, recognizing Jesus. They also see Christ in our lives.
The Apostle Paul said that grace had been give to Him to preach the riches of God’s grace in Christ, “So that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places,” (Eph 3:10).
In sharing the gospel of grace with the world, we are also revealing the manifold wisdom of God to the spiritual rulers in the heavenlies. “Manifold wisdom” suggests a design, a purpose of glorious beauty and variety. How truly glorious God's purpose is, that though we rejected God, He would nevertheless love us while we hated Him, treasure us while we despised Him, choose us while we abandoned Him, pursue us, woo us, pour out His own life to redeem us from slavery to sin and death and restore us into reconciled fellowship with Himself in the community of saints known as the church.
What is more astounding about this is that this manifold wisdom, this glorious purpose of God, is made known through the church in union with Christ to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies. These spiritual rulers are the angelic powers, who, evidently, do not have complete insight into the purpose of God. The holy angels rejoice to see the redeeming purpose of God revealed through the church. Fallen angels, though they will not praise God, see clearly God’s glory revealed in the salvation of lost sinners, in their restoration and in their preservation in God’s church.
These fallen angelic rulers are not to be feared. Though we must “wrestle” against them (Eph.6:12), they were made subject to Christ (I Peter 3:22). Following His resurrection, Jesus was seated at the right hand of God, “Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph. 1:21). All things have been put “in subjection under His feet,” He is “head over all things to (for) the church” (1:22). And we have been raised with Him, seated with Him in the heavenlies (2:6). We do not fear them. Rather, God displays His glory to them through us.
In I Corinthians 4:9, Paul says that the apostles are a spectacle to angels and to men. The word spectacle is theatron, from which we derive the English word theater. The ministry of the apostles, and of the church, is not limited to time and space, to what we can see and touch. The church is God's messenger to spiritual rulers as well as to the rulers of the world. Through the church God displays the spectacle, the theatrical presentation of His glory.
Paul adds, “This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11).That the church would be God's instrument in making His glorious wisdom known is not something the Lord thought up suddenly. It is according to His eternal purpose which He has accomplished through Jesus the Messiah. “Eternal purpose” can be translated “purpose of the ages.” It has always been God’s purpose to reveal His redeeming grace through Jesus and through his church. Not only has God always intended this but all of history moves toward it. Now, “in the fulness of time,” as Paul says in Galatians 4:4, in Christ Jesus this purpose is realized. Through Christ's church this purpose is proclaimed.
The rebuilding of Jerusalem and the redeeming and restoring of our lives is a part of God’s eternal design. At each stage of the work, the glory of God is revealed. The adversary sees this. It is a testimony of his defeat and Christ’s triumph.
6:17 Not all of the people of Jerusalem were celebrating the restoring of the walls and gates of Jerusalem. Again we read of nobles, men of power and wealth, who had not been involved in the work of rebuilding and were not rejoicing in the completion of the work. They were instead communicating with the enemy, sending Tobiah letters and receiving letters from him.
6:18 Why? Because they had allowed the enemy to marry into their families. Tobiah, the adversary of Nehemiah, had married into a priestly family. This was a serious matter because Tobiah was an Ammonite and Ammonites worshipped false gods. A primary reason for the judgment of God upon Israel in centuries past had been idolatry, the worship of false gods. The Lord had forbidden marriage into other cultures because it had often led to idol worship.
Nehemiah is leading the rebuilding of Jerusalem which had been destroyed because of unfaithfulness. Yet here are Jewish noble families allowing worshippers of false gods to marry their children. How can we partner with God in the work of rebuilding what the world has destroyed, if we are allowing our lives to be bound up with the world and its idols? It is no coincidence that these compromised nobles did not participate in the work of rebuilding nor celebrate its completion.
Rightly did Paul exhort the church,
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14).
Poor choices in relationships have compromised more than a few lives. We cannot partner with God in His kingdom purpose if we are bound up in the world. How can God restore in us what the world destroyed if our heart is still in the world? We have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Those who turn back to darkness reveal that they never left the darkness.
When a man or woman comes to Christ but is married to an unbeliever they cannot undo a past decision. Instead, they should trust the Holy Spirit to restore the fullness of His design in their life and let the rebuilding of their life be a testimony to the unbelieving spouse. But do not share again in the values of a world which deceived you and nearly destroyed you.
6:19 These compromised nobles are giving Nehemiah a good report of Tobiah the adversary. That's how bound and blind they were, giving a good report of the one who was trying to destroy the work of restoration in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Tobiah is still trying to intimidate Nehemiah.
Jesus said, “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him” (Luke 8:18). What we hear determines how we receive from God and therefore, how we live and respond to the challenges of life. We are surrounded by the testimony of a world that is in violent, perverse rebellion against God, against God’s truth and purity and love and holiness. It is no surprise that the world gives a good report of its violent perversity and a bad report of God’s goodness. It is no surprise that the world calls darkness light and light, darkness.
Take care how you listen.
7:1 The work is complete, the walls are rebuilt and the gates are hung. Nehemiah now appoints gatekeepers, singers and Levites.
Note the interesting combination of appointments. Gatekeepers are entrusted with the physical security of the city, guarding the entrances and exits. Singers lead the people in worship and Levites assist the priests and the musicians. They are spiritual guardians of the city, gatekeepers in the realm of the spirit.
Nehemiah is concerned with protecting the physical and spiritual well being of the city as it is being restored. So he appoints guardians.
In our own lives, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, watches over our physical and spiritual well being but also calls us to shared responsibility. Only the Lord can restore His image in us but we are called to commit our lives to the discipline of restoration.
It is a partnership. The Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy,
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge” which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (I Tim 6:20,21).
Timothy is exhorted to guard the work of God in His life. In the following passage, Paul recognizes that it is the Lord who guards what He has begun in us. But that does not release us from our responsibility.
“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Tim. 1:12-14).
Paul says it is the Lord who guards the life that we have entrusted to Him. But he reminds Timothy that he is required to retain the truth, that is, hold on to the truth. How do we do that? By reading the truth, meditating on the truth, living and obeying the truth. The Lord will guard what we hold onto.
Paul then exhorts Timothy to guard the treasure entrusted to Him. That treasure is the work of Christ and the life of Christ in us. How do we guard that work and that life? “Through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” It is a partnership.
Nehemiah appointed physical and spiritual gatekeepers. The Comforter, the Holy Spirit appoints us to partner with Him in guarding the work of restoration in our lives.
7:2 Nehemiah puts his brother in charge of Jerusalem. His qualifications? He is faithful and he reverences God. So with us. The Lord appoints us to greater responsibility as we demonstrate faithfulness and reverence to God.
7:3 Nehemiah is still aware of the threat against the city. It was normal for city gates to open at sunrise and close at sunset. But he directs the guards to wait “until the sun is hot,” that is, later in the day when the city is active. He also orders a guard to stand watch when the gates are closed.
We re reminded of the exhortation of the Apostle Peter, “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8).
There is an adversary outside the walls who seeks our destruction. Be vigilant, be discerning. But there is also an enemy lurking within the walls —our own unredeemed humanness. Therefore Jesus directed His disciples to “keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
7:4 “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.” The city was still mostly rubble, even after all these years. Few people lived in it. But now in addition to a restored temple, the walls and gates have been rebuilt.
The walls provide a sense of identity and security. The gates provide authority, opening to that which is good and closing to that which is evil. The foundational work of restoration is complete. In time, the houses also will be rebuilt. God will have a city on which He may place His glory.
So with us. There are stages of restoration. Regaining the purpose of God, growing into the men and women who can live that purpose — this is a process.
What was the Lord’s purpose in Jerusalem? Not merely a rebuilt city but a city on which He could place His glory, through which He could shine His light, declare His truth and release His kingdom. A rebuilt temple surrounded by rubble would not serve God’s purpose. So He sent Nehemiah to restore and rebuild.
At this point, the walls and gates of Jerusalem have been rebuilt. But Jerusalem is far more than walls and gates. Jerusalem is people. And so the Lord begins to rebuild the people who will inhabit the city. This process begins by recording the genealogical record of the people who had returned to Jerusalem many years before with Zerubabbel (7:5-73).
We are reminded that our names are recorded in a greater book, the Lamb’s book of life “written from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 23:8). This books contains the names of the redeemed. From eternity the Lord chose to set His love upon us, redeem us, restore and rebuild us and show forth His glory through us.
8:1,2 The people ask Ezra to read the book of the Law of Moses to them. This would be the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. They gathered as a covenant community and listened to the word together, reverenced the word together. It was lack of reverence for the word that had led to the downfall of their nation. We see in this our need to be part of a faith community in which the word of God is taught clearly and the word is honored, reverenced.
This took place on the first day of the seventh month. This would be the month of Tishri (our Sept / Oct). As we will see later in the chapter, Israel had been commanded to observe a special festival at this time but had not been faithful, primarily because they had become unfamiliar with the word of God and its commandments.
How will we understand and obey God’s word unless pastor / teachers are faithful to preach and teach the word with clarity? As the Apostle Paul said, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14,17).
8:3 Ezra read the word to the people from early morning until midday, a period of at least 6 hours. The people were hungry for the word of God. Peter reminds us that the word is nourishing, like milk (I Peter 2:2). Jesus said that God’s word is as necessary as bread (Matt. 4:4). The Psalmist tells us that God’s word is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Indeed, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17). God’s Word is alive, dynamic, powerful, creative, piercing down to the deepest place of our being (Hebr. 4:12).
When we commit ourselves to study God’s word, we are opening our lives to the transforming power of God.
8:4 Standing on the platform with Ezra were leaders, possibly priests. They are publicly demonstrating their agreement, their unity.
8:5 When Ezra opened the book of the Law, “All the people stood up.” This was an act of reverence for God’s word. When we reverence God’s word, it will have a dynamic, life changing impact on us. The Apostle Paul said,
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe,” (I Thes. 2:13).
8:6 The people respond to the word with “‘Amen, Amen’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” They are listening to the word in an attitude of worship, humility. When we listen with that attitude the Lord is able to accomplish everything in us which He intended.
8:7,8 The people remained in their place while the law was read and explained. The leaders weren’t just reading the word. They were explaining it (that’s what the word translate means), giving the sense of it.
8:9 They wept as they heard the word because they understood why the city, the temple and the nation had been destroyed. The judgment of God had fallen on their ancestors because of continual unrepented abominations against the holy, righteous God. Their ancestors had been clearly warned in the Law (and by generations of prophets) but they had refused to turn from their sin. So God had judged them.
The tears of the covenant community reveal repentant hearts They are receiving the word with repentance. This is what happens when we listen to God’s word in a spirit of reverence. The word performs its work in us because it is alive, powerful, creative:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebr 4:12).
It accomplishes God’s purpose in us because God is intentional in all that He says and does,
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will my word be which goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10,11).
The Word of God pierces our hearts with truth when we receive it with humility. As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, the multitude of listeners were deeply impacted:
“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37,38).
As Ezra read the Law and the other men explained its meaning, the covenant community received the word of God with reverence and wept over the sins of Israel. But the leaders encouraged them, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.”
Yes, God is righteous and therefore He punishes sin but He is also a God of grace who makes all things new. In spite of judgment and terrible destruction, the exiled people had returned, the temple had been rebuilt and now, the gates and walls of the city were restored. Truly, it is a day of new beginnings, a day of rejoicing.
8:10 The people are encouraged to go and celebrate together, “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” It is to be a day of feasting and rejoicing, sharing in the joy of the Lord.
What a wonderful thought, that God was rejoicing over the people and they were invited to share His joy. The prophet Zephaniah foresaw a day when God would rejoice over a restored Israel:
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy. He will rest in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17)
The word rejoice is giyl which means to spin around under the influence of great emotion. Shouts of joy is rinnah, from the root word ranan which is a ringing cry of exaltation. This is a picture of a heaven that shouts, whirls about, dances and rejoices over repentant and restored people (in this case, over Israel in a time of national repentance and restoration).
Why does God rejoice over a person, family, church, nation that sincerely repents and returns to Him? Because then God can restore His purpose, pour out His blessing and fulfill His promise to and through that person or body of people.
There was a time when unconfessed sin was wasting King David's life. But when he confessed his sin, he discovered the wonderful forgiving grace of God. But more than that, he found that he was surrounded by God's song of triumph. David then rejoiced in the wonderful reality of God’s saving, redeeming presence in his life:
“You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble, you surround me with songs of deliverance” (Psalm 32:7).
David then hears God make this promise:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8).
God promises to instruct the forgiven, restored sinner and among the many wonderful truths that God teaches us is this: He teaches us how to sing His joyful song of triumph. In Isaiah 57:18,19 the Lord says that He creates the fruit or the praise of our lips. He teaches us to praise and in Psalm 40:1-3, the Lord gives a new song of praise to the person whom He delivers.
Notice in Psalm 32:11, David exhorts us to, “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones and shout for joy." This word shout (ranan) is the root of the word songs, ron, used in verse 7, when David realized he was surrounded by God's song of deliverance. In verse 11, God's song of deliverance has become David's shout of joy. David has learned God's song.
God surrounds / covers the repentant sinner with shouts of victory and teaches David heaven's joyful shout of praise so that David can sing it back to God. Beneath the canopy of God's joyful song, God will teach us heaven’s dance and song of deliverance so that we may sing it back to Him in joyful thanks. Truly then, the joy of the Lord becomes our sources of strength.
8:10,11 The people of Jerusalem are exhorted to cease from their weeping and to share in the joy of the Lord over their restoration.
8:12 They celebrated as a covenant community for “they understood the words which had been made known to them.” They celebrated because they understood. As the Psalmist said, “The unfolding (entrance, teaching) of Thy words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
How great our rejoicing when we hear the Word of God and understand it!
“The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11).
They listened to the Word with reverent humility and wept in repentance. Then they rejoiced, sharing in the joy of the Lord, for it is that word which is able to restore us. Just as Jerusalem was rebuilt by God’s Nehemiah, so are we rebuilt and restored as we listen to the word of God with reverence and understanding. The same God who created a universe with His spoken word is also able to recreate, transform and restore us through His word.
8:13 Again, for a second day, the community gathers to gain insight into the God’s word.
8:14-16 In the Scriptures, they rediscover the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This festival was commanded by God as a time of holy remembrance of Israel’s years in the wilderness and God’s faithfulness to provide. It was a celebration of God’s protection, provision and deliverance during the journey from slavery in Egypt to blessing in the land of promise. It was also a celebration of the autumn harvest.
8:17 Having rediscovered this festival, they now reinstitute it. They are reclaiming their holy history. Part of restoration is to remember and reclaim where we have been with God, the faithfulness of God in times past, who we were called by God to be and therefore, who we are now and who we will be tomorrow.
Notice that this feast had not been celebrated since the days of Joshua, approximately 1,000 years before. (Actually, in Ezra 3:4 the feast was observed but not with such passionate repentance. It may have been more of an exercise of religious ritual, outwardly observed but not with inner conviction).
The point is that the nation had lost touch with its spiritual history. When we forget where we have been, and the faithfulness of God to bring us through, there is then a tendency to fall into pride, self exaltation. We tend to give thanks to ourselves when we forget to give thanks to God. This leads to a spirit of independence and leaves us vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy. How truly this is demonstrated in the history of Israel from Joshua’s time to Nehemiah’s time.
8:18 They celebrated for seven days and part of the celebration was daily reading from the book of the Law. They were feasting but also feeding on the word of God. Jesus reminded us of the necessity of this holy food,
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4).
Peter also exhorts us, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2).
They celebrated, feasting on the bounty of the land and the word of God.
Notice that on the eight day, they held a solemn assembly. This was not commanded in the Law but was an overflow of the zeal, the passion, the thankfulness of the people toward God.
As we partner with the Holy Spirit in the work of restoration, let us continually feed on the word of God which is able to build us up. And let us take time to remember where we have been with God, celebrating His faithfulness and giving thanks.
9:1 Historically, the Feast of Booths / Tabernacles was followed on the 10th day of the month with the Day of Atonement. Whether this was that observance or a continued response to the reading of the Word of God, the people again humble themselves before God. Fasting and sackcloth and putting dust on their heads are outward expressions of an inner conviction of grief over sin. They were humbling themselves before God as they confessed their sins.
9:2 They also are separating themselves from foreigners while confessing their sin. There had been much intermarriage and intermingling with pagan cultures since the first exiles had returned. This had always been forbidden by God because it always brought Israel into intimate contact with foreign gods which led to the abomination of idol worship. Such practices in previous centuries had resulted in a downward spiral of social injustice, personal immorality and idol worship which included child sacrifice, the offering of infants on the fiery altars of false gods. This had led to God’s judgment of the nation.
Now, as the Word of God is being read to the covenant community, the people are freshly convicted of sin and convinced of the need for personal holiness. Their response is to separate themselves from all that is unholy. The Apostle Paul also exhorts the church,
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers, for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial (an ancient name for Satan), or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
As the people worshipfully listen to the Word of God, they enter a time of fasting and confession of sin. They then act on their confession, separating themselves from relationships and customs that would separate them from God. God is rebuilding a people to dwell in the rebuilt city. They do this as a covenant community.
Those who have experienced the pain of divorce might find Nehemiah chapter nine to be troubling. Israelites were separating themselves from all that was foreign and idolatrous, including relationships that entangled them in idolatry, but this is not the same thing as one spouse merely rejecting another. God had made covenant with Israel so that His redemptive purpose could be fulfilled in history. In order for Israel to remain faithful to that purpose, they needed to maintain separation from the idol worshipping nations around them. Without fail, the worship of those idols led people into moral failure, social injustice and spiritual adultery toward God.
This process is described in detail in Psalm 106. In verses 35 an 36 we read that the Israelites “mingled with the nations and learned their practices and served their idols which became a snare to them.” Notice the progression — they mingled with the nations, then they learned their practices. Those practices included serving / worshipping the idols which then became a snare.
However, the downward spiral of sin does not stop there. The idol worship of the surrounding nations included child sacrifice. So we read in verse 37, “They even sacrificed their sons and daughters to the demons and shed innocent blood.” The result is that “the land was polluted with the blood” (Psalm 106:38). Not only did the land become polluted — the people also “became unclean in their practices” (Psalm 106:39).
Again, notice the progression — they mingled, learned, served and were snared in the demon inspired worship of idols, which included child sacrifice until both land and people were polluted, unclean. This resulted in God’s judgment — God “gave them into the hand of the nations” (Psalm 106:41). This is called judicial abandonment — God gave them up to their choices. They chose the nations and rejected God, so God gave them up to their choices.
Yet even in judgment, God was gracious, “Many times He would deliver them; they however, were rebellious in their counsel and so sank down in their iniquity” (Psalm 106:42,43). God delivered, the people sinned again and sank into the mire of their choices.
Yet God continued to act in faithful, covenant love, “He remembered His covenant for their sake ... He also made them objects of compassion” (Psalm 106:44-46). After the destruction o the nation, the Lord in His kindness restored the people to their land, the temple was rebuilt and the city is being restored. But the people have begun to fall back into old patterns of mingling with the nations around them. So the Lord inspired this time of separation, cleansing and recommitment.
9:3 For a fourth of the day they listen to the Word being read and taught. For another fourth of the day they confess their sins and worship the Lord.
9:4,5 There was a platform for the Levites who are the worship leaders and they lead the people in worship: “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever.”
9:6 They worshipfully declare that God alone is the Creator of heaven and earth. God alone gives life to all that live and therefore all should worship Him, in heaven and on earth.
9:7,8 They worshipfully declare that God is the God who sovereignly makes covenant with those whom He chooses. He is the God who called Abram, gave him the name Abraham and made covenant with him to give him the land of promise. Their worship included the profession that “You have fulfilled your promise.” The proof is their return from exile to the land that God has promised. God is restoring them to live in a restored city because He is faithful.
9:9-11 They recount the miraculous deliverance from Egypt and worship the God who judges the arrogance of kings and thereby glorifies His name (“made a name for yourself”).
This is the God who hears the cry of all who call to him in humble repentance and true faith. This is the God who responds, who divides the sea and makes it a highway for His people.
9:12 They worship the God who shepherds His people, recalling God’s faithfulness to guide them in the wilderness.
9:13,14 They worship the God who reveals truth and teaches people how to walk with Him, recounting their encounter with God at Mt. Sinai and the gift of the Law.
9:15 They worship the God who provides, recalling God’s miraculous provision of manna and water in a desolate, thirsty land. They remember God’s command to enter and possess the land of promise which God gave them.
We must always enter and possess what God gives. God had given their ancestors this land but they had to enter and possess the gift. To put it another way, God brings us in to what we are called to possess. In recent days, the Lord had given them the opportunity to restore the city but they had to rise up and build and defend God’s gift.
So with us. The Lord has begun a process of restoration of the image of Christ in our lives. Only God can restore but we must join in the holy discipline of restoration.
9:16, 17 They now remember and confess the arrogant pride, rebellion and stubbornness of their ancestors. That rebellion had two components:
a. “They refused to listen.” When we refuse to listen to God’s Word, we are easily taken captive by the false philosophies of false gods.
b. They “did not remember your wondrous deeds.” They became forgetful. Forgetfulness leads to ingratitude, compromise and pride. Failing to give thanks to God, we usually give thanks to ourselves and our false gods.
While confessing their sin, they worship the God who is gracious, abounding in mercy and forgiveness, who does not forsake His covenant people.
9:18-20 They worship the God who is faithful. Even while their ancestors had worshipped false gods and committed blasphemy, God in His compassion did not forsake them but continued to guide, instruct and feed them.
9:21 God’s gracious provision was such that for forty years in the wilderness their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet swell, even in all that desert wandering.
9:22,23 They worship the God who is faithful to prosper His people. In spite of their sin, the Lord had brought them into the land that He had promised and caused them to multiply. God brings us into what we are called to possess because He is faithful to His promises.
9:24 They worship the God who gives victory, who enabled them to subdue their enemies. It was not that Israel was mighty, but “You gave them into their hand.” Victory was God’s gift to His covenant people.
9:25 The song of worship continues as they recall how their ancestors had inherited a fruitful land from the Lord “and reveled in (God’s) great goodness.”
9:26,27 They worship the God who judges sin. Once again, worship includes confession of failure, confession of God's justice in judging the people and remembrance of God’s mercy. Having cast away the Law and killed the prophets, what other way could God reach them than to give them up to oppression and destruction?
Yet even in judgement there is mercy. They cried out, God answered and delivered “according to (His) great compassion.” God always acts consistently within His character. He judges sin and responds to repentance with grace and mercy. He is faithful to chastise and forgive. He glorifies Himself in mercy and in judgment, in tearing down that which is sinful and building up that which is holy.
9:28 But as soon as they had rest, they did evil again. Notice God’s terrifying response to their sin: “You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies.” Judicial abandonment is an act of judgment on sinners. In Romans chapter one Paul is writing about humanity’s rejection of God and the resulting downward spiral into idol worship and degrading, destructive sin. In 1:24,26,28 we read these sobering words: “God gave them over.”
God called to Israel through the prophets for centuries but when the people would not listen, He gave them over to their choices. When people will not turn from their sin, God will allow them to reap the consequences of their choices. But it is not final abandonment. God's judgement is for the purpose of moving them to repentance so that He might deliver them. “Many times you rescued them according to your compassion.”
9:29 They worship the God who calls people to His truth so that they may live. For many years the Lord had admonished the nation to turn back to His commandments which, if a man observes them, he shall live. But they would not listen. Israel became increasingly rebellious, hard-hearted and stubborn toward God.
9:30 They worship the God who is patient, long suffering, who mercifully bore with them for many years as the Spirit of God admonished them through the prophets. The Lord continued to call, year after year, century after century, through His anointed, inspired prophets. And year after year, the people refused to listen. Therefore the Lord gave them into the hands of their enemies. This refers to the destruction and judgment exercised through the Babylonians.
9:31 They worship the Lord who preserves a righteous remnant of covenant people so that He may continue to work out His salvation purpose in history. Even in judgment, God would not make a full end of Israel. Why? Because He had made a covenant with Abraham. A remnant survived so that God could continue to work His merciful, redeeming purpose in history. Mercy tempers judgement. There is a boundary around the judgement of God called mercy.
9:32,33 They worship the God who is great, mighty and awesome, “Who keeps covenant and lovingkindess.” They worship the God who is always righteous and holy in all that He does, confessing that God has been just in all that has come upon them. God acted faithfully while they had acted wickedly.
9:34-37 They confess that neither their kings, their priests nor their fathers had kept God’s law. Therefore they are now slaves in their own land. They are grateful that God has brought them back, but they are servants of a foreign king.
They understand that they lost their freedom because of their sins and the sins of their fathers before them. They understand and confess that it is God who set this foreign government over them. In Eden, there were no kings. Man and woman were governed by the Spirit of the Lord guiding their pure hearts. But their sin was an act of rebellion against the government of God. Now, God sets governments over people because we will not be governed by God and in the world's fallen condition, there is a need for lawful restraint of sinful people.
The kings of Israel had been unfaithful and so now there is no king of Israel. They are ruled by a Persian king. This is both an act of judgment and mercy. It is the judgment of God to give them into the hands of a foreign government. But it is the mercy of God to place them under the protection of a king, for in a fallen world, we need the peace and stability which a government provides.
So in our own nation. God allows foolish, unrighteous leaders to rise to positions of authority in our government, as a means of judgment on our sins as a nation. But in mercy, God allows government to continue, for without it, even as flawed as it is, we would fall into anarchy and every form of evil.
This long recitation of God’s faithfulness and mercy, set against the confession of Israel’s unfaithfulness and rebellion, is a song of worship. Jesus said that the Father seeks those who will worship Him “in spirit and truth” (John 4:23). Worshipping God in spirit means that from the deepest part of our soul we express our adoration of Him, “All that is within me bless His holy name” (Psalm 103:1). Worshipping in truth means we worship God as He has revealed Himself to us in holy Scripture. Since we know that God is holy, then we must worship Him with “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-6). So confession of sin and repentance is as much an act of worship as the profession of God’s great mercy.
9:38 Having recalled the history of Israel’s sin and God’s faithfulness, having repented of their own sins and separated themselves from sinful practices, having worshipped the Lord in spirit and in truth, the people now renew their covenant commitment together.
The wall was finished. The gates were hung. God is now restoring a people through whom He may show forth His glory.
10:1-27 The renewed covenant is signed by the leaders whose names are listed. The people had partnered with Nehemiah and with God in the restoring of Jerusalem. Now they renew their commitment to partner with God in the restoring of their lives. God wants a city through which He can be glorified but Jerusalem is comprised of people. God wants a people through whom he can show His glory.
When we make covenant with God as a community of faith, we are entering into relationship. We are committing ourselves to be accountable to God and to one another for the way we relate to the Lord, to one another and to the world around us. God considers covenant unfaithfulness to be spiritual adultery.
10:28, 29 The priests, the worship leaders and temple servants and all the people who had not compromised their lives by joining themselves to the pagan cultures around them, united in agreement with this renewed covenant. They agree to observe the law of Moses and maintain holy separation from the sinful, idolatrous practices of the God-rejecting societies around them.
God is able to restore lives if we will commit ourselves to walk close to Him, if we will be accountable to Him and separate ourselves from the evil that nearly destroyed us.
Salvation, the forgiveness of our sins, peace with God, eternal life in God’s presence, the restoring of our personality and talents and calling, is God’s gift to us. Salvation is by grace through faith. But there is also a process of discipline and obedience whereby we commit to walk with God while separating ourselves from the evil customs, idolatrous religions and false philosophies of a world that is in violent rebellion against God. Failure to commit to this discipline will negate the process of restoration which God desires to work in us.
Their agreement not only included an oath to observe the law of Moses but they also took upon themselves the curse which accompanied that Law. Centuries before, when God gave the Law to Moses, the commandments were accompanied by the promise of blessing and judgment:
“Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the Lord your God …. But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God to observe to do all His commandments and His statues with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deut. 28:1,2, 15).
Because of willful disobedience and rebellion, the curse of the law had come upon them. Today we have a new covenant with God, a covenant ratified by the blood of Jesus, the unblemished Lamb of God. Jesus Himself bore our curse so that now we may enter the blessing of God:
“For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us— for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree,’ in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:10-14).
Through faith in the blood of Christ, we have been redeemed from slavery to sin and death, saved from the wrath of God and the curse of the Law. Now, if we will commit ourselves to the daily discipline of holy living, we will experience the restoring work of God.
10:30 They commit to keeping their sons and daughters separate from entanglements with pagan neighbors. In our day, we certainly can’t control who our children marry but we can raise them with a sense of distinction between that which is holy and that which is profane, that which is Godly and that which is ungodly. We are exhorted to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
There is an intentionality in the way we live our lives, raise our families and relate to the world around us. We are not neutral observers. We are invested in presenting Christ to the children and youth in our families and churches. We share and model Biblical principles of living and we actively disciple them. The world is militant in sharing its pagan lifestyles and philosophies. We also must be intentional, committed and faithful in protecting our young ones from mental, emotional, spiritual and relational entanglements with a fallen, idolatrous, God-rejecting world.
10:31 They agree to keep holy days holy and to keep the year of Jubilee (see chapter 5). A restored people remember reverence and mercy.
10:32-34 They agree to remember to give offerings, to sow into the house of God for the work of God.
10:35-37 Included are the first fruit offerings. When a harvest came in, they would offer the first fruit to God.
10:38,39 The purpose of these offerings was to support the ministries of the temple. As God blesses us, we return a portion of our blessing to the Lord as an act of worship, thanking Him for His kindness in providing for us.
11:1 It was only natural that the people wanted to return to their ancestral property but it was also necessary to repopulate Jerusalem. The leaders, Nehemiah and those who assisted him in government, lived in the city. To fill out the population, they cast lots and one of every ten families moved into the city.
11:2 Even though they cast lots, it appears that the people volunteered to accept their lot. Those who volunteered to stay were blessed by the people and the others returned to their ancestral homes.
11:3-19 The names of those who lived in the holy city are recorded. This reminds us that the names of the redeemed are also recorded and we too will live in the holy city, but not the old Jerusalem. We will live in the New Jerusalem which comes down “out of heaven from God” (Rev. 21:2).
12:1-26 The names of the priests and Levites are listed who had returned with the first group of exiles under the leadership of Zerbbabel in 538 B.C. Their descendants continue to exercise priestly duties. They are listed here because this is a new day, a new beginning in a restored Jerusalem.
12:27-29 The worship leaders are summoned to Jerusalem to “celebrate the dedication” of the walls “with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving” accompanied by cymbals and stringed instruments (and trumpets, v. 35). Just as Solomon’s temple was dedicated and also the rebuilt temple, so are the walls dedicated with praise and thanksgiving to God. Only God can restore what has been destroyed. Only God can raise up what has been broken down. Only God is worthy of glory and honor.
The Lord is restoring us personally and corporately as vessels of His glory but there is not one final moment of dedication in this life in which we celebrate the Lord’s completed work in our lives. Restoration, consecration, is a process encompassing all the days of our life. Nevertheless, we give thanks and praise to God daily for His faithfulness as He recreates, transforms and consecrates us for His purposes on earth. And we give thanks for the promise that God will perfect what He has begun in us when we stand before Him in glory.
12:30 Before they sang, the Priests and Levites purified themselves, the people, the gates and the wall. Notice that they are not only consecrating the gates and walls of the rebuilt city. They are also consecrating the people who will live and work and worship in that city. It is the people whom God will bless or judge. It is the people who will carry the glory of God or the wrath of God. It is the people who will beautify the city or again reduce the city to rubble and garbage.
This purification was a symbolic act, a ritual of some kind, possibly involving the blood of sacrifices or consecrating oil. What matters is not the form or ritual. The ritual represented the inner work of God in the hearts of those who truly repented of sin and cried out to God for cleansing.
The outward act of dedication is meaningless if our hearts are insincere. But when we truly humble ourselves before God and practice the disciplines of holy living, God will create in us true holiness.
Then we are qualified to worship:
“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
and has not sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3,4).
12:31-39 Nehemiah appoints two great choirs to stand on top of the wall with the leaders. Not only are singers on the wall but also those who play instruments. The restored city is surrounded by musicians lifting up praise to God.
As the Lord works restoration in our lives, how wonderful to surround the work with grateful praise and thanksgiving. The will fill our praise with His presence, for truly, the Lord is “enthroned upon the praises of Israel” (or “inhabits the praises” Psalm 22:3).
12:40-42 Singers also took their stand in the house of God, the place that symbolized the presence of God in their midst.
12:43 They rejoiced and we rejoice because God gives us great joy. It was God who rebuilt Jerusalem. It is God who restores our lives. We praise God because He alone redeems, restores and keeps His beloved. He alone is worthy of our thanks. The word worship derives from the ancient Anglo-Saxon word — worth-ship — ascribing to God the praise of which He alone is worthy. He is the God who lavishes His grace upon us and He alone is worthy of our praise.
God “had given them great joy.” God not only gives us reasons to praise Him. Even the joy of our praise is His gift to us. Indeed, as Nehemiah had said to them previously, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
David expressed this truth in Psalm 40. The Lord had brought him up “out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay.” But in addition, the Lord also “put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3).
Notice that their joy “was heard from afar.” In a world which refuses to give God thanks or glory, in a world which glorifies itself and its false idols, when we worship God in spirit and in truth, the sound of our praise echoes throughout the world.
12:44-46 They restored the worship life of the nation and committed themselves to support those who served in the temple and those who led them in worship. A restored Jerusalem will be a city of praise. God desires a city on which He may place His glory, a city set on a hill that glorifies Him.
So with us. God wants to restore our lives so that He may show forth His glory in us and through us. He does not desire to hide our light. It is essential to the work of restoration that we grow in our passion to glorify God, to worship Him in spirit and in truth.
12:47 The people brought their offerings, worshipping with their voices and with the produce of their harvest.
Nehemiah returned to Persia in 433 B.C. and was absent until 424. During his absence, the priests, the leaders and the people fell back into old patterns of spiritual complacency, corruption, compromise and sin.
Sabbath laws were being violated (which revealed a hardness of heart toward God). Jewish men were divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying foreign women (which exposed them to the worship of false gods). Injustice and oppression were becoming characteristic of social and economic relations (which revealed a lack of love toward fellow Israelites).
It was during this time that Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, exercised his ministry in Israel, speaking against the unfaithfulness, compromise and complacency of the people, calling them back to a sincere commitment to the Lord.
This cycle of faithfulness / unfaithfulness had been occurring in Israel for centuries, ever since they had left Egypt and especially since they had entered the promised land. God would bless the people, they would then become complacent, apathetic and then unfaithful. Spiritual adultery would bring the judgment of God. Judgment would lead to repentance and as they cried out to God for deliverance, God would respond with mercy. The people would give thanks and then the cycle would repeat.
It is the same in Nehemiah’s day. Jerusalem was rebuilt, Israel was blessed, the people gave thanks and then fell into unfaithfulness during Nehemiah’s absence.
13:1,2 “On that day” probably relates to the earlier renewal which began as Ezra read from the law (see chapters 8 and 9). Nehemiah was still present.
The reading of God’s Word shines light on unholy practices. The people had been allowing unbelievers to enter the assembly, Ammonites and Moabites, whose ancestors had refused hospitality to the Israelites when they passed through the wilderness in the days of Moses. Rather than sharing bread and water with Israel, they had hired a false prophet to curse the nation. God had turned the curse into blessing, as only God is able to do.
Now, centuries later, the descendants of those who were blessed are inviting into their fellowship the descendants of those who had cursed them. They are not inviting the Ammonites and Moabites for the purpose of leading them to faith in the true God. Rather the presence of the unbelievers is evidence of Israel’s lack of faith, of a compromised faith.
How sad, when the Lord has turned our curse into blessing through Christ, when we have been set free from slavery to sin and death, that we would invite into our lives representatives of the world that had cursed and enslaved us. The Apostle Paul exhorts the church,
“Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord.’And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,‘says the Lord Almighty,” (2 Cor. 6:14-18).
If in our past there was some habit, ritual, belief or relationship that overpowered our wholeness or holiness, and Christ set us free, why would we then invite that same unholy influence back into our life? “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
13:3 The reading of the Word results in the entrance of light which produces repentance. As a result of changed hearts, life styles change. A changed life demonstrates a changed heart. Israelites repented an unbelieving, idol-worshipping foreigners were put out of the fellowship.
Again, the Israelites were not inviting unbelievers into the temple for the purpose of leading them to the knowledge of the true God. They were fellowshipping with idol worshippers and inviting them into their hearts, their homes, their families and their place of worship because their own lives were compromised by sin and unbelief.
This was dealt with during the time that Nehemiah was with the people. The reading of the word re-acquainted compromised lives with God’s standard of holiness, resulting in national repentance and renewal. But as we said, during Nehemiah’s absence the people had again slid into sin and compromise.
13:4,5 Eliashib was the High Priest at that time. While Nehemiah was away, Eliashib had prepared a room in the temple for Tobiah, the Ammonite who had led the opposition to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The temple, the holy place that represented the presence of God in the midst of the people, now has an apartment in it for the man who represented and incarnated Satanic opposition to the purpose of God for Israel! It is entirely possible that Tobiah brought with him his idols and set them up in his apartment there in the temple chambers.
His apartment is in the rooms formerly used to store grain offerings and the incense and utensils which were used in the services of worship. This room also had been employed to store the offerings used for support of the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers and the priests. This was a room which had been dedicated for the storing of holy things used to support holy work and holy people. Now it is an apartment for an enemy of God and possibly housing the representations of false gods!
Imagine that! Tobiah had helped to lead the resistance to the work of restoration, yet the High Priest invites him into the center of the holy place. Why would he? It says in verse 4 that Eliashib was related or close to Tobiah. The High Priest had allowed a representative of Satan to gain entrance into his life — he was in relationship with darkness.
Nehemiah calls this what it is — evil (see verse 7). Syncretism, mixing darkness and light, is always evil. But we see this today: churches inviting the mind of the world and customs of the world into its doctrine, preaching, worship and fellowship. We see this on a personal level: men and women who have truly been redeemed and restored inviting the world to re-establish relationship, welcoming the mind of the world, practicing the customs of the world, making an apartment, a dwelling place for the world in the life that has been redeemed and restored.
Jesus told a parable about the danger of opening our lives to the powers of darkness after we have experienced a ministry of cleansing and restoration:
“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation” (Matt. 12:43-45).
13:6,7 Nehemiah explains that during this time of apostasy, he had been away, having returned to Persia to report to the king as he had promised when he left. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he learns that a room has been prepared for Tobiah “in the courts of the house of God.” Nehemiah does not dilute his words. He calls this what it is — evil.
13:8.9 Nehemiah’s response is to throw all of Tobiah’s household items out of the room. Notice the similarity to Christ’s cleansing of the temple five centuries later.
“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ He said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of robbers’” (Matt. 21:12,13).
Nehemiah then directs a reconsecration or cleansing of the rooms and returns those items which were formerly stored there. Here is a good prescription for all followers of Christ. When the Holy Spirit shows us an area of compromise in our lives, ask God for the spiritual strength to cast out the evil, invite the Lord to cleanse our temple and restore proper order by reconsecrating our lives to Christ.
The Apostle Paul exhorted the church, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor” (I Thes. 4:3,4).
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear (reverence) of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Through the Apostle Peter, the Lord exhorts us, “You shall be holy for I am holy” (I Ptr. 1:16).
Because we have been brought into covenant relations with a holy God, we are directed to live in holiness, not just in regard to this one area of life but in all our ways.
13:10 Nehemiah also discovers that the people had become unfaithful, complacent, compromised in their giving for the support of the temple. This resulted in the Levites and singers returning to their homes because there was no support for their ministries.
What irony! There was room in the temple for Tobiah, the satanically inspired enemy of Jerusalem’s restoration, but there was no support for the worship leaders of Israel. So the faithful worshippers had gone home, leaving the temple to those who were compromised, complacent, corrupt worshippers of idols.
13:11 Nehemiah reprimands the leaders who allowed this and asks, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” He then restores “them,” meaning the Levites and worship leaders, to their God-ordained responsibilities.
13:12,13 In response to Nehemiah’s dynamic, Spirit-led leadership, the people bring their offerings to the temple so that the holy work can continue. He also appoints responsible men to positions of oversight. Good leaders train and appoint good leaders to carry on the ministry. Paul advised Timothy,
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2).
13:14 Nehemiah asks God to remember his good works. It is important to know that God does remember our works and we will be held accountable for our discipleship. The angel said to Cornelius, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:14b). Jesus said that even a cup of cold water given in His name will be rewarded (Matt. 10:42).
Paul reminds us that we will stand in the presence of the Lord and give an account for the way we used the time, resources and opportunities which the Lord gave us.
“Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire,” (I Cor 3:12-15).
13:15,16 Jerusalem had been restored but the people were failing to observe the sabbath. The sabbath was being treated as any other day of work and commerce with no thought of God. The reason the Lord directs us to observe a holy day is not so that we may become bound up in religious rituals and laws but so that we might have a special day set aside to rest and to remember and worship the Lord and to receive instruction from His Word.
Jesus objected to the Pharisees and their endless sabbath laws because they had set aside God’s true intent for the Sabbath and substituted man made regulations which had become burdensome to the people. But Jesus never nullified the Father’s purpose for a holy day of rest and worship.
It is for our good that the sabbath was instituted. Failure to observe it revealed a lack of reverence and gratitude toward the Lord who had restored them.
13:17,18 Nehemiah admonishes, reprimands the leaders who were involved in this failure. He reminds them that unfaithfulness in prior generations had led to sin which brought the judgment of God upon Israel.
Again, what irony! God had set Israel free from foreign enslavement so the people could return to the land of the covenant. He had enabled the people to rebuild the temple and inspired them to restore the city of Jerusalem because a rebuilt temple surrounded by rubble does not glorify God.
The Lord had also restored the people, consecrated them to be again His covenant people. But now the people refuse to glorify God even on the holy Sabbath. They were nullifying the very purpose for restoration.
So in our lives, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, knows where a lack of reverence or gratitude will lead. He is constantly watching over us and will shine His light into any areas of compromise in our lives.
13:19 Nehemiah set a Sabbath guard at the gates. So our Nehemiah, the Holy Spirit, jealously watches over and guards what has been restored. We were restored so that God may be glorified in and through us. If we then refuse to glorify God, we have nullified the purpose of restoration. May it never be!
13:20,21 Traders and merchants camped outside the gates once or twice on Sabbath eve, just as the tempter camps close to those who make themselves available to his temptations. Nehemiah drove them away with his warning. Peter reminds us,
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith” (I Peter 5:,8,9a).
The enemy of God’s redeeming, restoring purpose in our lives actively seeks those whom he may destroy. The Holy Spirit watches over our lives but we too must be vigilant, disciplined, committed in faith. We cannot invite evil into our minds without damaging the work of God in us. Paul exhorted Timothy,
“O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you” (I Tim. 6:20).
The Lord said to Cain, the son of Adam and Eve,
“Sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Gen.4:7).
So the Lord would say to each of us. Be vigilant, guard the work of restoration and the treasure of God that has been planted in us.
13:22 Nehemiah directs the Levites, who were worship leaders, to purify themselves and be gatekeepers on the sabbath. What better way to guard what the Lord has entrusted to us than to develop a holy heart of worship and praise?
“Yet you are holy, O you who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel” (Psalm 22:3).
God is enthroned upon the praises of His people and where God is enthroned, He rules. The life of praise is a life where the walls and gates are well guarded.
13:23 A generation had intermarried with their pagan neighbors in violation of the law of Moses (Ex. 34;15,16, Deut. 7:3), the covenant made with Ezra when they returned to the land (see Ezra chapters 9,10) and the covenant which they made with Nehemiah (9:38) which had been signed by the leaders of the people, including the Levites, worship leaders and gatekeepers (10:28). As has been emphasized, intermarriage with idol worshipping cultures was forbidden because it always resulted in Israel falling into idolatry which then led to a host of sins and abominations.
The follower of Christ is often warned by the New testament writers against opening our lives to the false philosophies and unholy customs of a fallen world. It is from enslavement to that world system that we have been delivered. Why would we marry our souls again to that which would have destroyed us, if not for the saving, gracious intervention of our Lord?
13:24 Having married into the God-denying culture around them, their children were more literate in the ways of the world than the ways of God. They spoke the language of the world system but not the language of Israel. They were more acquainted with the words of godless people than the Word of God. Probably they were also much more familiar with the customs of the world than with the customs of the people of God.
How tragic. I grew up in a Christian home but in Sunday School and youth group there was no instruction in Godliness, no mention of our need for a Savior and the atoning work of the holy Lamb of God. Our youth group was as secular as anything in public school. I then attended a college that was affiliated with a major Christian denomination but there was nothing of Christ there, only dead religion in a context of massive immorality and sin.
We were not taught the ways of God and as a result, I entered young adulthood with no foundation of faith. I was quite literate in the ways of the world but completely ignorant of the ways of God and the Word of God. My walls and gates were completely torn down and the city of my being was rubble, completely vulnerable to the onslaught of the enemy.
Had it not been for the sovereign intervention of Jesus Christ, I would have been lost forever. How many generations grew up in a church or in the shadow of a nearby church yet were illiterate in the ways of God but well versed in the customs of the world?
This ought not to be.
13:25 Nehemiah is grieved and angry at the people of God who have compromised not only their own lives and the well being of their nation, but also have compromised the well being of the next generation, their children. But Nehemiah loves them and because he loves them, he contends with them, even used harsh language and he struck them.
God also disciplines His children, allows us to experience some of the harsh consequences that we may have married ourselves to. But in mercy, God is always ready and willing to deliver when we call upon him. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us (in 12:4-11) that the Lord disciplines us out of a loving regard for our well being.
Nehemiah makes the parents take an oath that they will no longer give their children to the ungodly, idol worshipping cultures around them. In many communities today, the children are being consumed by false gods which intend only to destroy. Consider the high rate of depression, suicide, substance abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, gang affiliation, criminal activity and interaction with the juvenile and adult justice systems among our youth. Consider the high percentage of young people who intentionally cut themselves in their misery and confusion.
How wonderful it would be if Godly parents stood in their churches and made covenant together that their children and the children of their neighborhoods will not be destroyed by the God-rejecting culture around them. How wonderful if Godly parents practiced the counsel provided by the Apostle Paul to the church:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction (or nurture and admonition) of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Only the sovereign intervention of Jesus Christ will save this generation. But He will intervene through His holy people.
13:26 Nehemiah reminds them that a man as great as Solomon fell into sin because of his involvement with ungodly, idol worshipping women. As wise as he was, as blessed and beloved of God as he was, nevertheless, when he married idol worshippers, he himself became joined to idols. He then became entrapped and he fell.
13:27 Nehemiah confronts the evil of their unfaithfulness, which is really spiritual adultery. He reminds them that they have been “acting unfaithfully against our God.” All sin is, ultimately, sin against God but especially the worship of false gods is sin against the true God. We have entered into covenant with this God, intimate communion. To worship any other god is to commit spiritual adultery against Him.
13:28 Even the grandson of the High Priest married the daughter of Sanballat, who with Tobiah was the leader of the forces which had resisted the restoration of Jerusalem. Think of it: Tobiah lived in the temple and the grandson of the High Priest was son in law to Sanballat. The devil had not been able to intimidate the Jews into ceasing their work of restoration. So he waited until they were finished and he then infiltrated and corrupted the people of God.
Nehemiah drove the offending man away. So with us. The Holy Spirit desires to purge us of any infiltration of the world into our lives. James exhorts us,
“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:7,8).
The devil will not flee from the life that is submitted to the world rather than to God. But if we will submit daily to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of life, if we will surrender daily to the holy discipline of God’s cleansing, purifying work, then the devil will flee.
12:29 Again Nehemiah asks the Lord to remember his good works. We are assured that God does remember and record that which we do with a heart to glorify Him.
12:30,31 “Thus I purified them from everything foreign.” Having restored the city, Nehemiah now concludes the restoring of the people. He concludes the work of consecration, purification, without which no one can serve God.
Having concluded this purifying, restoring work, he appoints the priests and Levites to their duties. This is God’s goal, the restoring of a people who can serve Him in their appointed ministries, a people upon whom God can set His glory and through whom He may proclaim His excellent greatness.
Peter reminds the church,
“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ … But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:5,9,10).
We were redeemed to serve God as a holy priesthood, royal priests who “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Christ redeemed us because He loves us and because He loves the lost sheep who are not yet in His fold. Through our lives He will shine his light, pour out His mercy and speak His truth, if we will give ourselves to His purpose.
That we might be restored as His shining lights in this world, He sent to us another Comforter, the Holy Spirit. Even as Nehemiah, whose name means God’s comforter, was sent to rebuild Jerusalem, so our Comforter has come to us. He is the Third person of the Trinity and He indwells all who have truly trusted in Christ for their salvation.
He is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth. He is the Sanctifier, consecrating our lives to God. His goal is that we will indeed be a city set on a hill, even as God intended for Jerusalem.
As we submit our lives to His restoring, consecrating ministry, we truly become the light of the world, shining forth the glory of Christ’s presence.
May it be so in our day.