Summary: Nehemiah, Pt. 1


William J. Bennett’s “The Book of Virtues” tells of how England’s King Richard III lost his kingdom in the late 15th century. King Richard III had sent his groom to the blacksmith to ready a horse for battle; however, the blacksmith had no more iron after supplying the king’s whole army for the last few days. Fortunately, the blacksmith found a bar of iron enough to make four horseshoes but, unfortunately, after nailing on three shoes, he was short.

When the blacksmith informed the groom that he was short one or two more nails, the groom exclaimed, “I told you I can’t wait. I hear the trumpets now. Can’t you just use what you’ve got?” The blacksmith repeatedly warned the groom that the last shoe was not as dependable as the others. Nevertheless, the groom urged the blacksmith to hurry and finish the job or suffer the king’s wrath. As the battle raged on, one of the horseshoes fell off the horse of King Richard as he was riding to his solders’ aid. Of course, the frightened animal fell, and then ran away.

When all was almost lost, the frantic king waved his sword in the air and shouted his known last words: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” The battle inspired a famous saying:

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe, a horse was lost,

For want of a horse, a battle was lost,

For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost,

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail!”

(Adapted, The Book of Virtues 198-200, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1993)

It’s been said, “One is the magic number” as well as “One is the loneliest number.”

About 145 years after Jerusalem’s captivity in 586 B.C., midway through King Artaxerxes’ reign (464-423 B.C.) and four and a half centuries before Jesus was born, a promising civil servant in the king’s court caught the vision of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He was not the first man to lead the exiles back to Jerusalem; Zerubbabel the prince led the first group after seventy years of exile (Ezra 3:8) and Ezra the priest (Ezra 7:1) the next group. What was unique about Nehemiah was that he was not a prince or a priest; he was a professional, a volunteer and a layman, in the loose sense of the word. He was a high-ranking official in the king’s court, so he did not have the luxury to leave work, drop everything and travel abroad. Further, life outside of Babylon was a blur to him; he was born and raised in Persia. In other words, he is like your typical American-born Chinese, Asian-American, or 1.5 generation. All that changed one day. Before that day, he was merely educated, informed and privileged; now he was empowered, inspired and practical.

What can one person do? What has to happen before God can use a brave, able and willing individual?

Replace Indifference with Genuine Compassion

1:1 The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Neh 1:1-4)

Frank Layden, who coached Utah Jazz for eight seasons in the eighties, had his hands full with a talented basketball player he had difficulty motivating. Finally, in exasperation with the player’s performance, attitude and progress, he summoned the unmotivated player to his office for a heart to heart talk. The coach looked the player in the eye, and asked, “Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?” The listless player replied, “Coach, I don’t know and I don’t care.” (Sports Illustrated “They Said it!” 1990 Oxmoor House 26)

What is indifference? To be indifferent is to feel nothing, to value nothing and to heed nothing.

In England, a graffiti question scrawled on a wall poses this question: “What is apathy?” Next to it was the graffiti answer: “Who cares?”

Indifference is Nero’s response while much of Rome was burning in A. D. 64, pretending nothing is happening while the city was on fire for nine days, and ten of Rome’s fourteen districts were in ruin. While two thirds of Rome was leveled, Nero was playing his fiddle miles away in a cool coastal resort. Historians suggest Nero, hoping to build an elaborate series of palaces in its place, set the city on fire and placed the blame on Christians.

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