Summary: This is the first installment of a series I preached on Nehemiah’s one holy passion, the glory of God.
One Holy Passion
February 11, 2001
¡§The Trouble with Rubble¡¨
A Timeline to Understand Nehemiah
722 Assyria conquers the Northern Kingdom (Israel)
606 Babylon carries off first captives from Southern Kingdom (Judah)
598 Daniel and companions carried to Babylon
586 Jerusalem falls; temple is plundered
538 Persia, under Cyrus, conquers Babylon
537 1st Jews return to Jerusalem from Babylon
516 Temple is restored
479 Esther becomes queen of Persia
458 Ezra leads 2nd expedition to Jerusalem from Babylon
445 Nehemiah rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem
Nehemiah, the man
¡§The book thrills and throbs and pulsates with the tremendous force of this man¡¦s will.¡¨ G. Campbell Morgan
„h A man of responsibility
„h A man of vision
„h A man of prayer
„h A man of action and of cooperation
„h A man of compassion
„h A man who triumphed over opposition
„h A man with the right motivation
¡§In every generation,¡¨ wrote Ray Brown, God equips trusted servants for effective leadership.¡¨ Was there ever a need for Nehemiah in his generation!
Things had been pretty good in Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon, the first three kings God had given to the nation. Following the death of Solomon, however, a bloody civil war ensued which resulted in the division of the nation into two separate kingdoms: Israel, or the Northern Kingdom, and Judah, the Southern Kingdom. Israel quickly turned to the worship of other gods and so, as God had promised, they were conquered by an outside force, Assyria, in 722 B.C. The goal of the Assyrians was to destroy any sense of identity on the part of conquered peoples, and so they would take captives and disperse them throughout their empire, all the while moving captives from other nations into newly conquered space.
Judah was able to hold out longer, but a little over a hundred years later, they began to be invaded by the Babylonians, who made three forays into the land beginning in 606 B.C., with the final one in 586 B.C. when they plundered the temple and took all but the poorest of Jerusalem into captivity. About five decades later, Cyrus led Persia to conquer Babylon. Cyrus had a different philosophy from the Assyrians who had conquered Israel; instead of hauling captives away in order to assimilate them into a new societal structure, his idea was to allow them to stay at home, and worship their own gods. He even sent some captives back to their homelands, his reasoning being that these peoples would be more favorably disposed toward his government if he allowed them a reasonable amount of freedom. The first group of captives set off for Jerusalem the following year in 537 B.C. under Zerubbabel. Some eighty years later, Ezra the priest led another contingent of people back to Jerusalem, followed thirteen years later by Nehemiah in 445 B.C.
Ezra and Nehemiah are joined as one book in the Hebrew Bible, which makes sense since they are really two parts of the same story in most respects, and here is the theme: God remembers and restores! He had promised just this through his prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and Ezra/Nehemiah form the two-part story of Him making good on His promises.
Nehemiah came to Jerusalem, as we shall see, as a civil governor (as opposed to Ezra, who came as a priest); Nehemiah had the authority of King Artaxerxes I of Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, but his story is one which involves building on two levels: the literal building of the walls and the spiritual building of the people. As J.I. Packer put it, ¡§Nehemiah, through God, built walls; God, through Nehemiah, built people!¡¨
As we study this great OT book, we will find many touch points, but I mention two major ones today:
„h There are significant parallels in the book of Nehemiah between the job he did building walls and the job God calls us to do of building the church. As I pointed out two weeks ago, the church is the one thing Christ promised to build, and He uses us to do that building. Ironically, at the same time, we are that building! We can learn much from a wall-builder about church-building!
„h There is also much to be learned from Nehemiah on an individual level. God is in the life-restoring business! Jesus is our Redeemer, and our Restorer! If your life is a mess (and to one degree or another, at one point or another and in at least in some senses at all points!) our lives all are in that boat, God wants to do a rebuilding project in us!
Let¡¦s look at this fascinating book! Notice first
i. The Report to Nehemiah ¡V vv. 1-3
Let me translate verse 1 for you: Chislev is likely December, of the 20th year of the reign of Artaxerxes, and Susa was the winter capital of Persia. Nehemiah had been born in Persia and lived there all his life, but while Susa was the capital of Persia, Jerusalem was the capital of Nehemiah¡¦s heart. We can understand this: even today, there are people who live in this country, even having been born here, whose hearts long for their ethnic homeland, whether or not they¡¦ve ever been. Without the benefit of CNN, the only way he could learn of his homeland was through word that came from fellow Israelites who were in the know. Verse 2 records that his love for his homeland and his people caused him to care enough to inquire about their well being. One question shaped a destiny; God was working in the heart of Nehemiah to cause him to ask, and he was open to the leading of God when the answer came.