Summary: Caution: Studying the book of Nehemiah may lead to doing things God’s way. You will find the world will marvel, worldly Christians will snipe and criticize, and...God will be pleased.
October 6, 2002
A few short quotes about the man called Nehemiah, before we dig-in to the book called after the man:
“Nehemiah was an energetic leader who combined a deep trust in the Lord with precise planning, careful organization, and discreet but energetic action.”(1)
“He stood like an anvil, till the hammers of opposition wore themselves out vainly beating against him.”(2)
“As a self-contained man. A man of his own counsel. A man with the counsel of God alone in his mind and in his heart. A reserved and resolute man. A man to take command of other men. A man who will see things with his own eyes, and without all eyes seeing him. A man in no haste or hurry. He will not begin till he has counted the cost. And then he will not stop till he has finished the work.”(3)
In his commentary introduction , J. Vernon McGee calls Nehemiah the “loyal layman.”(4)
At the outset, let me tell you – I LIKE THIS MAN! This is a man’s man. Had I any choice in the matter, I would go back to the days before I became a “religious professional” and I would strive to be the kind of loyal layman we see on the pages of God’s account – I’d follow Nehemiah around, learning how to be a servant and prayer warrior.
Our journey through the Nehemiah Journal must begin with a bit of background, so that we may fully appreciate what God did with this man. What we have is Nehemiah’s personal account, or journal, set against the backdrop of history.
In the 8th Century B.C. Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. The prophets foresaw it; the Lord brought it to pass. The people had become backslidden. Instead of worshipping the Lord God, they had fallen-in with the pagan nations surrounding them. It isn’t much different in America today.
A few centuries later the southern kingdom followed suit, as Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian empire. Later it was the Persians whose dominance in the ancient world replaced Babylon. We are talking here not only about ancient history. The regions extend from Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The problems we face today internationally, as we stand on the brink of war, frame just another chapter in the ongoing saga of strife in the Middle East. Jacob and Esau have never ceased their struggle.
In the 5th century, seven decades after being conquered and deported, the Persian rulers began allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem. It happened in stages.
First a man named Zerubbabel led a group to begin the rebuilding process. The city had been destroyed, and lay in rubble. But, Zerubbabel’s efforts only partially restored things.
Fifty years later Ezra, a priest, returned to rebuild the temple.
Then, fifteen years after Ezra the story we are about to investigate begins to unfold in Susa, the capitol city of the Persian Empire.
Nehemiah was a Jew, probably born in exile. He was a sharp pencil, trained in the art of business and administration. He was also the man God would use to change history’s map and the courage of a nation he called “home” – even though his eyes had never seen the place.
Some of Nehemiah’s accomplishments include rebuilding the walls and military defenses of Jerusalem. Later he also instituted reforms among God’s people. He helped restore purity in worship, and integrity in family relationships. In short, he helped restore behavior among God’s people more in line with the belief God’s people claimed they had! We Baptists claim to be a “people of the Book” – that is only validated when we act like it!
What is so profitable about the book of Nehemiah is that he accomplished all that in the face of great adversity. Among the obstacles he faced were these several:
a. He was not a “ruler”, but part of the conquered exiles, outnumbered and with little “moving and shaking” ability.
b. There was a widespread laziness among God’s people to overcome.
c. There were plots from his own people, attempting to cause his efforts to fail.
d. Misunderstandings and lack of faith abounded.
All of Nehemiah’s mountains to climb are present today in the Christian experience. We NEED to explore this.
Today we also see the same problems Nehemiah encountered...
The walls are broken down. American life and culture is obsessed with self, sex and little direction for family life.
Community in America, even in the church is anemic, if not comatose.
The typical approach that most Christians have when trying to address problems, or just living life in general, center on the worldly model rather than the Biblical model. We can shake our heads and cluck our tongues all we wish…but when God’s people do things the worldly way, and then celebrate our cleverness, or gush over how wonderful we are, we are standing in the midst of crumbling walls. That’s the trouble with rubble!