Grab your bibles and let’s dig back into Nehemiah and see what God has for us today!
After the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians, they became the new world power. Persia often allowed exiles to return to their homelands. This included the Jews following Cyrus’ proclamation in 538 BC (2 Chron. 36:22–23). Since the restoration of Israel did not get off to a very good start, God sent prophets and leaders to encourage the people to rebuild the temple and prepare for the Messiah. Nehemiah was one of these key leaders. Nehemiah, a Jew serving in the Persian court, was facing the loss of his traditions as Jerusalem lay in ruins and the people of God were held in reproach. He had to learn how to be faithful to the Lord while under the rule of a king who did not know the God of Israel.
We are faced with a similar dilemma with the current state of our nation. The moral decay of our youth and the aggressive invading of worldly agendas into everyday society is more and more prevalent. It is too easy to get caught up in focusing on the demise of the culture, but we must never forget that this world is demised in sin. Only salvation in Jesus brings true and lasting obedience to God. We must lead in all we do with the gospel of Jesus Christ and never set it down to play only in the political realm. Our greatest weapon is the good news. Let’s be sure to keep it in the center of all we do. Our hope is not in this kingdom or in our next leader or the next laws we will vote on. Instead, our hope is in Jesus. Do we need revolution? YES! But the only true and lasting reformation will come when the church leads with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Nehemiah 1:4-11, we read Nehemiah’s prayer! This is a remarkable prayer for its emphasis on the Lord’s covenant faithfulness, which God displayed not only in blessing His people, but also in bringing about the curses that He warned of in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God is by nature faithful and thus keeps His promises, so when Israel boldly violated the terms of the covenant and refused to repent, they reaped the consequences. Nehemiah was not afraid to acknowledge both sides of God’s covenant faithfulness and so this prayer stands as a model to us. The faithfulness of God to His word also involves disciplining us for sin, so we ought not think that He is being less than true to His covenant when we feel the hard but loving hand of His discipline (Heb. 12:3–11).
Assassinations via poisoning were common in the ancient world and kings would take precautions to ensure that their food and drink were safe. Often they would employ cupbearers who would taste their food and wine ahead of time to make sure that it was not poisoned. A cupbearer held an important place in the royal court and had to be a trustworthy individual. The fact that Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to the ruler of Persia shows he was trustworthy. Nehemiah understood that confidence in the sovereignty of God does not mean that we say a prayer and then sit around waiting for Him to move. Instead, those who rightly understand the Lord’s sovereignty pray and act at the same time knowing that any risk they take for the kingdom will not finally derail the plan of God. He went to work and God used his faithfulness to set the table for big things. In Chapter 2, we read that Nehemiah shared his sadness over the poor condition of Jerusalem and asked the king for help in returning to the Holy City and rebuilding the wall. Amazingly, the king granted Nehemiah’s request, providing him with letters of safe conduct and materials to use in reconstructing the wall around Jerusalem (vv. 3–8). On his way back to his home, Nehemiah heard of the opposition of Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite to his efforts (vv. 9–20). These men would threaten the progress of rebuilding the wall, but that should not be surprising to anyone who has ever served in the church. Satan does not like it when the people of God are in the process of returning to Him and he often stirs up people to speak and act against the work of God honoring reformation. There is always a cost to serving the Lord and Jesus Himself warns us of the price to be paid in this world for following Him (Luke 14:25–33). Let us not underestimate this cost, but be willing to pay it for the glory of Christ.
In Nehemiah 5, we see it is easy to become wearied and feel like giving up after a long period of suffering. This is what happened during Nehemiah’s wall-building project. Eventually, the people complained that they were unable to continue their work because of money problems — famine had made food scarce, families were in over their heads financially maintaining their farms, and so on (Neh. 5:1–5). Some of the people did not give because they were too focused on storing grain for themselves (vv. 1–2). This is the faulty thinking that plagues many in the modern church today. It is often not a lack of funds that keeps them from giving regularly and sacrificially but an unwillingness to give up a certain lifestyle in order to obediently give God his first fruits. We need to see it as our joy to be saved and get to participate in the building of God’s kingdom. Here is a practical look at what happens when we get too focused on building our own kingdom.
Having rebuilt the wall, Nehemiah recognized that a physical defense for the city wouldn’t matter without a change in the hearts of the people. So he gathered the people together to hear Ezra read the law of God and express repentance for the sins that had put them into exile in the first place (Neh. 6–11). There was also a great celebration at the dedication of the wall around Jerusalem, for the Lord had been faithful to grant the people success in their important endeavor (Neh. 12:27–47). Nehemiah chapter 13 notes that there was much going on that could have led to the reintroduction of idolatry into the covenant community. Nehemiah kicked Eliashib the priest out for he was related to Tobiah the Ammonite and had been trying to make the house of God into a house for the pagan ruler. (vv. 1–9). Intermarriage with forbidden and foreign people was a significant problem for the restored exiles (vv. 23–27). God had commanded Israel not to intermarry with the Ashdodites, Ammonites, and Moabites because of the temptation that they would lead the hearts of the Jews to follow other gods (Deut. 17:17; 23:3–6). Other violations in Nehemiah’s day included the breaking of the Sabbath and the failure to provide for the clergy (Neh. 13:10–22). Evidently, these sins were renounced in public, but the hearts of a majority of the people remained hard. Thus, Nehemiah’s effort for reformation did not last, and things faded out until the coming of Christ. The gospel must be recovered anew in every generation. Let’s be sure to obey God’s word in all things and keep the true and living gospel at the center of our words and testimony. We need to be reminded of the gravity of our sin and the greatness of our Savior in order to live in grateful obedience to His word. Our prayer is that many will realize their sin and their need for Christ alone, so that they repent and believe and be saved and their lives transformed.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC