Nehemiah 1:4 Prayer to the God of Heaven
Today we begin to examine the last of the historical books of the Old Testament, that is, from a chronological stand point. It was written about 90 years after the decree of Cyrus and the date of the first return of the exiles after the 70 years of captivity. The only book that is later is that of the prophet Malachi which is about 50 years closer to the New Testament period. It would be about 400 years before Heaven would speak again in the voice of Gabriel an angel of the Lord to Zacharias the priest, as he served in the temple, announcing the birth of the prophet John.
The book of Esther represents a period predating this by about 75 years and the two post exilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah predate Nehemiah by about the same number of years.
The young man Nehemiah had been born in captivity and had providentially found his way into the service of King Artaxerxes as his cupbearer (winetaster). Shushan is in modern Iran and there is much archeological evidence supporting Biblical references.
The obvious devotional aspect of our present chapter is the prayer of our devout author. Upon hearing of the condition in Jerusalem he became burdened to do something about it and begins by committing the matter to the Lord before presenting his project to his master. The answer to his prayer becomes the subject of the remainder of this book. William Carey’s motto was, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” Here we have a classic example and it reminds me of some lines from a hymn by John Newton which I think are quite special:
Come my soul thy suit prepare
Jesus loves to answer prayer,
Thou art coming to a King;
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such
None can ever ask too much.
Nehemiah 2:10 “There Was Come a Man”
Having read the book of Ezra numerous times and yet never quite getting the sense of it
straight in my mind (I thought Ezra built the temple– wrong!), I have spent a bit more time than usual on this new undertaking, viz. the book before us. I have learned, among other things, that a number of commentators, not the least of which is Jamieson of the JFB set, indicate that the queen seated by Artaxerxes at this time was probably Esther “whose presence would tend to greatly embolden Nehemiah in stating his request” (p.607- 1945 Moody Press edition in 6 vols.). This in spite of the fact that this work as well as others indicate a spread of 75 years between the books of Nehemiah and Esther. This must make the latter to be over 90 years old and leads me to question the 521 date for the book of Esther.
Perhaps sometime we can research the above problem further, but for now we must press on and we do not want to miss the essential material here in our present chapter. It is here that we meet the triumvirate of evil with which we must put up throughout the book (v.19) and it reminds us of the wicked satanic forces against which we all must faithfully wrestle (Eph.6:12). Only this week we have learned of how some of our missionary friends in Ecuador have faced lies from among co-workers and I remember afresh when I too cried out with David against those who “speak lies” (Ps.63:11). If we “seek the welfare” of God’s work (v.10) we may expect opposition, must we not?
“Let us rise up and build” (v.18), but let us take heed how we build (I Cor.3:10) for there are various kinds of materials that might be used and there will be a day of reckoning as to what sort we use.
One reason why Nehemiah was a wise master builder and warrior is because he was a man of prayer and in this chapter we can learn much from his use of this weapon (Eph.6:18- like Paul). When suddenly confronted with an important question from the king, he shot a prayer heaven- ward so quickly that no natural eye or ear was probably aware of it, but God heard it and Nehemiah’s success was an indication that He did!
Nehemiah 3:1 And They Builded”
Walls and gates. What do they represent? Do they have any meaning to us today who rarely even have a fence around our property let alone a wall around our town? Obviously, walls, gates and fences are designed to keep something or someone out. They represent among other things the sense of security. Praise the Lord, we in our modern society do not feel the need of building walls of bricks and mortar for the most part and we feel sorry for those who in their imagined insecurity are engaged in building walls to keep even those who love them at bay.
Sometimes as “Bible thumping” fundamentalists we are accused of building walls of intolerance when we take certain stands against what we deem, the forces of evil. In our text there is no doubt that Nehemiah was carrying out God’s directive. What basis do we have for building walls of separation? For example, can we as Bible-centered churches have fellowship with the “Emergent Church”? Certainly there must be some things we all agree upon. Just as certainly there
is some good food in the garbage pail. Do we have a standard by which we judge food to be acceptable or not? In the same way we have a standard by which Christian fellowship must be tested. That standard is the clear teaching of the Bible.
A recent statement by a prominent leader of the evangelical Emergent church, Brian McClaren, represents, to my way of thinking, spiritual garbage pail mentality when he said, “I believe our future is ecumenical with Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostal, Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Christians. I think our future requires us to join with people of other faiths – Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and others – in the pursuit of peace.”
Sorry, but my wall will keep Mr.McClaren out. He is the enemy and he is even more dangerous because he appears as a minister of righteousness. Satan appears as an angel of light (II Cor.11:14). Sanballet and Tobiah, as we shall see in the next chapter, were unmasked by the concept of a wall of separation. Do we have one and on what solid basis does it rest? Can we defend the need of it from Scripture. If we can’t, we may be troubled at being labeled “intolerant”.
Nehemiah 4:6 So Built We the Wall
It is interesting to speculate on why the enemies listed in verse seven did not want the walls
of Jerusalem to be built. Apparently they were not greatly disturbed by the fact that the temple had been rebuilt. It is true, there had been resistence which had caused delay, but nothing like that occurring in this chapter. The enemy has turned violent and is ready to fight in order to hinder God’s work. Something has changed the attitude and it was the presence of a wall that did it.
The devil isn’t very disturbed about the saints “playing church.” Everybody has to have some religion, so let them have their little temple, besides, he thinks, it won’t be long before I’ll be able to infiltrate their set up and find ways to short circuit their power base. Having a wall would make the enemy’s work a bit more difficult and besides, it was God,s idea to have the wall and He must have thought it was important.
See how these people came together with a mind to work. They meant business! All but the Tekoite nobles (3:5) who “put not their necks to the work of their LORD.” We have too many of this breed in our churches these days. They come Sunday mornings because it’s the thing to do. But Sunday School and evening service that’s getting too serious and prayer meeting – that’s being a bit fanatical! Join the church, sign the covenant to watch over each other and practice church discipline and separation – not my neck! So many think that this is just too much to ask.
Nehemiah’s workers were serious about this wall, however, and they worked hard to see it “joined together.” They prayed (v.9), dealt with the rubbish (contemporary stuff), and even got out their weapons and kept their swords handy. Say, its people like this that really know the importance of having a wall. They have convictions!
Most of all, as they worked, they listened for the sound of the trumpet. What faith they had as they “laboured in the work.” They knew that they really didn’t need to be afraid for they said “our God shall fight for us” (v.20).
Nehemiah 5:9 Walking in the Fear of God
This chapter has to do with how brethren are to treat each other. Either these particular nobles and rulers were ignorant of the Scriptures or were callously ignoring them as they greedily took advantage of the situation.
There are numerous references in the law forbidding usury among Jewish brethren (the receipt of interest on loans). See Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37; Deuteronomy 23:19 and the reminder in Psalm 15:5. It seems highly unlikely that these could be overlooked but since being in captivity it is possible that they had been forgotten and given the quick response to Nehemiah’s rebuke, we perhaps should give them the benefit of the doubt.
It is suggested by some Jewish authorities that this was the year of Jubilee when servants and lands were to be freed and returned, a law which Jehovah had given to remind everyone that He was the ultimate Owner and Master. Human nature and the timing of these things would militate against the beneficent observance of the law.
Our hero, Nehemiah, when he realized what was taking place, became filled with righteous indignation and after due consideration called the offenders into question. His main appeal was, “ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God?” The fact that He, in effect, owns His people and closely monitors all their actions and motives should be reason enough to do what is right. Praise God, in this instance there was immediate acquiescence!
Unfortunately, in the church there are far too many who are unfamiliar with what the Word of God teaches about brotherly love and callousness about truth that is known abounds. We are to do good to all men, but especially the saints (Gal.6:10). I have often wondered, in the light of their treatment, how some of my brethren really understood the concept that we are members one of another (Rom.12:5). On the other hand, I praise God for those who readily comply with Scripture that teaches us to “love the brethren,” don’t you?
Nehemiah 6:14 “They Would Have Put Me in Fear”
The enemy will go to any length to destroy the work of God. Here in a matter of a few verses we see three separate methods employed. “Let’s get together and talk (4 attempts); you have an ulterior motive – we have evidence that you want to be king; you will be killed if you don’t flee to the temple.” Our good man rebuffed them all.
In the first series tempting him down to the plain of Ono he felt they were out to do him mischief, perhaps to assassinate him and he gave them a good answer, “I am doing a great work so that I cannot come down.”
He perceived in the second ploy that it was based on lies. Of course it should never surprise us that the enemy uses this type of strategy since he is not only a murderer but a great liar and the father of lies. I know personally what “mischief” can be done by this means. But we can be thankful that God says, “thus far and no further!”
It is this last thrust that seems the most subtle of all and the one, I think, we must be on the alert for continually. Satan knows Jehovah better than we do particularly His holiness and he reasons that if he can just get us to do something that displeases Him and put us out of favor, he will achieve the goal intended.
In this case, Satan reasoned that if he could get Nehemiah to flee to the temple to save his life (v.11) he would have him “dead to rights.” Such an act would violate God’s holiness and is the very essence of the meaning of trespass. Nehemiah was no fool and he did not take the bait (vss.12 & 13).
Not being skilled in the word of righteousness lays one open to being ignorant of the enemy’s devices and here we see how important it is to be faithful in the study of God’s Word. It is not enough just to read it, beloved, and for certain, this is a problem in our time and place.
Let us pray also for the persecuted church which has little opportunity for study. Hamidi’s uncle has confiscated her Bible and her father forbids her attendance at church, how then can she learn what she needs to know as a new believer? Please pray for her and others in the same boat.
Nehemiah 7:3 “Shut the Doors and Bar Them”
A quick glance at this chapter of seventy-three verses is enough to alert us to the fact that most of them have to do with technical genealogical material and indicate those who came up out of Babylon (v.16) being present in their dwellings by the seventh month. These were the ones who in our next chapter (8) would listen to Ezra as he read from the book of the law of Moses (8:1) during the feast of Tabernacles (8:14).
As we have seen, the primary theme of this book has to do with the building of the wall around Jerusalem. Walls are dividers and they separate those who are on the outside from those on the inside.
Jerusalem, once the rebuilt wall was in place, became what we call today, a gated community and as such is an apt picture of the Church of the Firstborn (Hebrews 12:23). I have taken the liberty of capitalizing the first letter of the word Firstborn in order to draw attention to the fact that Christ is the Head of the Church, but in the verse referred to, the word is in its plural form in the Greek and this is a reference to us, who are the members of this “general assembly.” The connotation reflects back to the story of the flight from Egypt in Exodus 12 and implies that only those who are “under the blood” are true members of this Church. These are the ones who are on the inside of the wall of separation pictured in Nehemiah. All others are on the outside. The way in is through Christ’s atoning death (John 14:6) and (10:9). In this sense the Church is a gated community.
It is the responsibility of both the pastor and the members of a local church to attempt to superintend each individual assembly to keep what is inside the walls as pure as possible that it may more nearly represent our Living Head Who is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb.7:26).
Some would maintain that local church membership is not taught in Scripture. They are wrong for it is clearly the case that those on the “inside” had a responsibility to judge the internal affairs of God’s gated community while He assumes complete authority of dealing with all on the “outside” (without) (I Cor.5:12&13).
The children’s chorus goes like this: “One door and only one but its sides are two. I’m on the inside, on which side are you?”
Nehemiah 8:2 “The Seventh Month”
Just as in our own calender year, we have a seventh month, so did Israel in theirs. In Ezra 3:6 it is clear that the seventh month referred to is in the very first year of their return (the foundation of the temple had not been laid). The events in this chapter, however, take place much later after the temple had been built and also the wall (7:1). It should also be noted that the sense in verse 17 concerning the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is that it had not been carried on so, that is in such a manner as it was on this occasion. The outstanding feature at this particular time had to do with the extensive reading from the Book of the Law.
What must be seen here is the honor being given to the Word of God. On the first day of the seventh month (v.2) Ezra began to read and “day by day” throughout the entire period, it would seem from verse eighteen. Leviticus 23:34 states that the actual feast lasted from the fifteenth until the twenty-second day of the seventh month.
There were actually three Jewish feasts all rolled into one during this seventh month. It began with “a memorial of blowing of trumpets” on the first day (Lev.23:24). On the tenth the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was celebrated and on the fifteenth to the twenty-second occurred the actual Feast of Tabernacles ending with a great convocation on the eighth day of that particular feast (Lev. 23:39).
It would seem from the text that throughout the entire period the Word of God was read daily from a raised pulpit of wood while the people stood to hear it (vs.4&5). Not only was it read, but the meaning was enlarged upon and they were caused to understand it. When they reached the part about dwelling in booths they acted it out (v.16).
In all our churches the Word of God (not music) should be central. The sermon should be an exposition of the Word taking up the major part of the time allotted for worship. When the Word has its proper place, “the joy of the LORD” will be our strength (v.10).
Nehemiah 9:33 “We Have Done Wickedly”
Only by paying close attention to the timing of this event in chapter nine is the meaning brought home in full force. It was after the keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles, ending with the solemn assembly of the eighth day that the children of Israel assembled with fasting and in sackclothes (8:18). They had been specifically instructed not to mourn during the feast (8:9&10) but apparently the Word of God had such a profound effect upon them that instead of going home they reassembled with an attitude of repentance.
It is especially striking after all the time spent for days hearing the law read that they would spend another half day standing and listening to more after having confessed their sins.
At this time occurs one of the longest prayer in the Bible as Levites lead them crying “with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.” It is worth noting that this plus two other lengthy prayers, those of Ezra and Daniel, occur in the 9th chapters of the respective books. It might be well to make a study of these three prayers.
This prayer is an outline of their history during which over and over Israel had failed but Jehovah had pardoned them being “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness” (v.17). He is praised as the Creator and Preserver Who is worshiped by the host of heaven (v.6). He is worshiped as “the great, the mighty and the terrible God who keepest covenant and mercy” (v.32). Twice His “great goodness” is extolled (vs.25&35). All of these are good examples of how we too may worship Him.
Don’t miss the fact that as they end this prayer while they have His ear, these suppliants remind God that after all that He had done to give them this land, at this point they are only servants in it. Kings are over them, having dominion over their bodies and this is very distressing to them. They are not satisfied just to be back in the land. It will only be after the tribulation that believing Israel will see this condition altered forever.
Nehemiah 10:20 Let’s do it Magpiash!
The last verse of chapter nine (v.38) introduces the first section of our present chapter in which the lists of the princes, the Levites and the priests who lead the revival are catalogued. If one had the time it is always interesting to examine the meaning of some of the names in these lists. For example, one such man with a particularly strange name is Magpiash which means “an exterminator of the moth.” We wonder how he might have come by it. He symbolizes in his name just about all these men were able to accomplish!
From verse twenty-eight to the end there are at least nine different resolutions set forth in the covenant they were making with God. There were such extremely important measures such as the separation from the people of the land which the law of God had enjoined them to do since they left Egypt in the book of Exodus. “Having knowledge and having understanding” (v.28) they “entered into a curse and into an oath to walk in God’s law.” There is no doubt but that their intentions were good, but the flesh was weak. As we shall see a bit later in just a few years, Nehemiah found when he returned from a twelve-year absence that they had grievously failed in their high resolve (13:23).
It was the same way with regard to the keeping of the Sabbath (v.31) (compare 13:15).
One of their most solemn pledges in our present text had to do with being faithful to the law in the giving of tithes and offerings (vs.35-39) closing out the chapter with the forceful statement that they would not “forsake the house of God” in caring for the Levites’ needs. Yet, in those few years between this account and the events of chapter 13 we find that they had so failed in this endeavor that the Levites had “fled everyone to his field” in the effort to sustain themselves (13:10).
What does all of this tell us? The most conscientious efforts to keep the law always failed miserably. It is only by grace that we are saved, not of works lest any man should boast. We feel sorry for Nehemiah for he tried so hard. It requires the work of Calvary and a crucified risen Savior. Jesus is the way.
Nehemiah 11:2 Our Lot
Living in Jerusalem in those days was not as desirable as it would have been in less troublous times. It was the duty of the rulers to live there and this class would be made up of princes, priests and Levites (Ezra 9:1) but the common people apparently preferred to live in the smaller surrounding towns (vs.25-36). In order to guarantee a general population it was determined to choose among the returnees by means of the lot thus requiring one-tenth of the people to reside there. Whether verse two refers to those who willingly chose to abide by this measure when it fell upon them, or whether, as some commentators feel, there were a number of people who volunteered to dwell there, perhaps taking the place of some of those selected by the lot.
Whether this verse refers to the general spirit of those required to do so, or to a special group, is not clear, but what is important to see is the attitude. It was apparently not the choice of most to live in a place under constant assault, where gates and walls were necessary to protect but someone had to do it. We often find ourselves in similar situations. Most pastors must agree to live in the housing that is provided for them though in recent times many now have opted to own their own homes. We do not get to pick and choose the brethren in our assemblies with whom we must associate. Some times the people we must live with or work with are not of a pleasing temperament. In all such cases it is only right for us to accept our lot willingly.
So many missionaries have had to live in difficult if not dangerous conditions and we bless them for it and when they do it willingly we know God also blesses them.
If the lines have fallen unto us in pleasant places (Ps.16:6) let us be thankful, but it will be glorifying to God if wherever He puts us we accept it cheerfully. Beloved, the important thing is to know beyond the shadow of doubt that we are in the center of His will. It is there that we shall be safe and content (Phil.4:11-13). Be there at any cost!
Nehemiah 12:43 “God...Made Them Rejoice With Great Joy”
“Verses 10-11. This is the important register of the High-priests, the descendants of Jeshua, or Joshua. From now on in the history of the Jewish people chronological reckonings were no longer made by means of the reign of kings, but by the successions of High-priests. Jaddua is unquestionably the same who is mentioned by Josephus, the Jewish historian. In his High-priestly robes he met Alexander the Great as he besieged Jerusalem, and was the means of saving Jerusalem. Alexander fell on his face when he saw Jaddua, for the great King claimed to have seen this very scene in a dream vision.” (The Annotated Bible - A.C.Gaebelein, Vol.3, pg.73).
Beginning with verse 27, the remainder of this chapter has to do with the dedication of the wall. The Levites and the singers were assembled in Jerusalem from all of their outlying residences, some of which had built special villages to accommodate those of their particular calling (v.29). Nehemiah organized the leaders into two great companies one to go in one direction on the wall and one to go in the other. They marched around accompanied by musical instruments and met (v.40) at the house of God where sacrifices were offered and there was great rejoicing with women and children joining as the chief singers (v.46) led, singing loudly (v.42). It is stated that the “joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.”
Times of dedication are always special. I remember when in Oct. 1955 we dedicated the meeting place of Evangel Baptist Church in Bucksport. Starting from scratch in the fall of ‘52 with a small Sunday School that was then under the auspices of The American S.S. Union we got a few adults together for a Bible study in town and held preaching services Sunday nights at Bucks Mills Community Club building. Looking for a permanent place to meet, we found a closed bowling alley on Central Street, and bought it for $4000.00 with the help of the Bangor Saving Bank and moved in to hold services and remodel it. By Christmas of “53 we had a new oil furnace and were back in business having been driven out of our new home by the severe cold of that fall in Maine.
It was a great time of rejoicing for us when we could organize our church and dedicate our building. Rev. Ken Robbins, president of the New Brunswick Bible Institute, preached the dedication sermon and I think we sang as loudly as when Nehemiah’s wall was dedicated. God’s praises are still being sung there every Sunday!
Nehemiah 13:14 “Remember Me, O My God”
I know of a pastor who is an evangelical but is so “wishy washy” that he doesn’t seem to take a clear- cut stand on anything. When people remember him, they will think of him as “Mr. nice guy” – I will not speculate about how God will remember him.
There are those who fail to come to grips with the doctrine of separation in the Bible. True, the book we are reading is in the Old Testament and we are not under law but under grace so when we read verse 25 we tend to dismiss the whole book, but that is an excellent example of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” We forget God is angry with the wicked every day and He is going to do more than pull a little hair someday soon. It was the Lord Jesus who said “the zeal of thine house has eaten me up.”
Poor Nehemiah had just returned from a long hard journey and right off he is confronted with the fact that the effects of the so-called great revival had worn pretty thin. How quickly people had grown lax and returned to their old ways. Again, we must remind ourselves that under this dispensation the believer did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit to pluck at the hair of his conscience. How thankful we should be to have His ministry of conviction when we begin to be “carried away” (Ezra 10:6&8) into sinful practices.
Obviously he had a “wishy washy” high priest to deal with in Eliashib. It was an “evil” thing that he had done in allowing Tobiah storage space in the temple (13:7-8) and furthermore even Sanballet had achieved an alliance with him (13:28). To think that these two wicked rascals had wormed their way inside the high priest’s good graces is incredible when we think of their vicious activities earlier in this book. We can almost hear Satan cackling in glee from the wings.
Here we see how imperative it is that our churches promote Bible study. Do not belong to one that is not noted for it. I do not say leave it, but if no one else will see to it, be a Nehemiah and do something to bring about change (chiefly through prayer). It won’t be long before Satan will be in full control in our fundamental churches if God’s people become ignorant of his devices. Ignorance comes through lack of study of books like Nehemiah! His legacy – “remember me” might be ours as well.