I Came… I Saw… I Constructed (Nehemiah 13:1-31)

What do you want on your Tombstone?

The usual answer was, “Pepperoni and cheese.” Possibly a little morbid for mediocre frozen pizza, but the television ad campaign was memorable.

What do you want on your tombstone; the real one that will mark your grave?

Mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen was the first person to calculate the value of π (pi) to 35 decimal places. It is inscribed on his tombstone.

Rodney Dangerfield wanted to be remembered for his comedy even after death so he chose the epitaph, “There goes the neighborhood.”

You gotta love Mel Blanc’s tombstone. If you don’t recognize his name, you’d recognize his voices: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, Speedy Gonzales, Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner, and the Tasmanian Devil. For the man who voiced so many of our favorite cartoon characters, the epitaph on his tombstone reads, “That’s all, folks.”

Tombstones have gone hi-tech. Some have RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags embedded in them that can store text and pictures. When you are near with a smartphone equipped with compatible technology, the information is displayed on the screen.

More recent tombstones utilize QR codes and Near Field Communication.

Before you can answer what you want on your tombstone, we should take a look at what Nehemiah said about being remembered:

Neh 13:30 Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service,
Neh 13:31  and to bringing the wood offering and the firstfruits at appointed times. Remember me, O my God, for good!

First and foremost, Nehemiah wanted to be remembered by God “for good” he had done. He was concerned with what God valued – not with what men valued.

Nehemiah more specifically asked the LORD to remember his “good” in two houses: The houses of the Israelites, and the house of God – the Temple. If God values those houses… So must we.

I’ll organize my comments around those two houses: #1 God Will Remember You For Your Conduct In His House, and #2 God Will Remember You For Your Conduct As His House.

#1 – God Will Remember You For Your Conduct In His House (v4-22)

I haven’t told my family yet, but I want to be buried in the the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. That’s where Café Strauss is located. It’s a café located within a cemetery. (Believe it or not, cemetery cafés are increasingly popular in Europe).

A Google search turned up a couple of cafés in the US near cemeteries, but I couldn’t find one inside a cemetery. We could be the first in America.

Maybe the good people at Grangeville Cemetery would let me set-up a coffee cart during funerals. I have a working name for it: Death Before Decaf. Insensitive?

Perhaps I’ve gone too far, but I really am trying to make a point. All of us want to be remembered for something more than a hobby or an activity. I don’t want people to remember me for owning 75 coffee makers; or liking civet coffee; or creating the hashtag #PastorsPour. We ought to be remembered for something God values.

Let me set the stage for chapter thirteen. After a dozen years as governor in Jerusalem, Nehemiah returned to Persia. Then, according to verse six, “after certain days,” Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem. We don’t know for certain how long he was gone; not too long. But long enough for the Israelites to once again neglect their houses and the house of God.

Verse one begins, “on that day…” In verse four you read “now before this…” Nehemiah began a topic, then pivoted to talk about something else:

Verses four through twenty-two are the pivot, describing how the Israelites were neglecting the house of God.
Verses one through three connect with verses twenty-four through thirty-one to describe how the Israelites were neglecting their own houses.

Neh 13:4  Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah.

Tobiah appeared at the beginning of the book, during Nehemiah’s first stint in Jerusalem. He vigorously opposed Nehemiah’s efforts to rebuild the wall. Tobiah had married into a Jewish family, as did his son – even though this was prohibited by God’s Law. It was sinister.

Neh 13:5  And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests.

It was incredible that such a person would be held in high esteem. Worse yet: Eliashib gave him a room in the Temple the size of a small warehouse and allowed Tobiah to live there.

Neh 13:6  But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king,
Neh 13:7  and I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.

I would have liked to have been there when Nehemiah found out that his nonbelieving Gentile archenemy was living in God’s house. It would be like Superman finding out Lex Luther had a winter home in the Fortress of Solitude.

Can this apply to us, in God’s house on earth, the church? It comes to mind that we might become Tobiah-like. The apostle Paul warned believers not to “give place to the devil.” It’s not as though he, or a demon, can posses us; they cannot. But if I willfully yield myself to his temptations, I give him a place, a foothold, from which to further ruin me.

Neh 13:8  And it grieved me bitterly; therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room.

I’m reading between the lines, but I don’t think Nehemiah packed-up anything with foam, or hired movers

Neh 13:9  Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

Somebody like Billy the Exterminator was called upon to spiritually fumigate the space Tobiah had been occupying. Then Nehemiah returned it to its intended purpose.

To finish the becoming Tobiah-like illustration: If you confess your sin, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive it. You can ‘evict’ sin any time. Don’t wait; do it now, before you feel at home with it.

Neh 13:10  I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field.

Temple servants were to be supported by these offerings. They were being withheld, forcing the Levites and the singers away from God’s house to manual labor.
Neh 13:11  So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place.

Before the ministry, I was in a few corporate meetings where folks got “set… in their place.” It wasn’t pretty.

Neh 13:12  Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse.

The prophet Malachi, contemporary of Nehemiah, had a colorful way of describing the Jews withholding of their tithe. He said they were robbing God. Let that sink in.

I probably should say it more: If you give anything at all to Calvary Hanford, God bless you. We are thankful.

“Tithe” means 10%. We don’t think New Testament believers are commanded to give 10% of their before-tax income, although some graciously do. It’s not commanded, but since it was so common, some Christians adopt it.

Whether it is 10%, more or less, you are to give regularly, cheerfully, and sacrificially, as you have purposed in your heart. The hard truth is that the majority of believers don’t tithe. Neither do they give the New Testament way. Are they robbing God?

One reason we don’t pressure folks to give: If you give nothing, and aren’t reproved by the exhortation that you are robbing God, nothing I can say will matter.

Neh 13:13  And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouse Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah; and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren.
Neh 13:14  Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!

Nehemiah set in order the daily ministry of the House of God. They were “good deeds” he wanted remembered.

With Temple life out of order, so was their daily worship life. It affected, for example, their observance of the weekly Sabbath.

Neh 13:15  In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions.
Neh 13:16  Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.
Neh 13:17  Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day?
Neh 13:18  Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

“Added wrath” was a reminder that God calculated the length of the Babylonian captivity – 70 years – by adding-up all the Sabbath years that Israel had failed to observe.

Neh 13:19  So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day.

Nehemiah forced them to obey the Sabbath regulations. Israel was a theocracy.
They weren’t free to keep the Sabbath or not. We are, BTW. Free from the Sabbath entirely in terms of observing it physically.

The issue for us: What are we doing with our freedom? Are we involved in God’s house on earth? Is the church a priority?

Neh 13:20  Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.
Neh 13:21  Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath.

“I will lay hands on you” is like Bruce Banner saying, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Neh 13:22  And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!

Nehemiah jump-started the Levites, getting them out of the fields and back to the house of God.

Simple exhortation here: Those believers you know who don’t attend a local church – Try to jump-start them by inviting them. Put loving pressure on them.

Two of the three times Nehemiah says, “remember me,” are in the verses we just covered. It’s worth noting that in none of those instances does he say “remember me as the guy who rebuilt the wall in only 52 days.”

Let me put it another way. If you were asked, “What did Nehemiah accomplish?” you’d most likely say, “he rebuilt Jerusalem’s wall.”

The wall was certainly important, on the one hand. But on the other hand, it was nothing. Could God protect Jerusalem without a wall?

Nehemiah was letting us know what God values. In this first case, it was His house on the earth. Not the stick and stone structure itself; its ministry of redemption and salvation.

I can’t leave this point without quoting First Timothy 3:15, “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

Based on you conduct in the church, what is a fitting epitaph for your tombstone?

#2 – God Will Remember You For Your Conduct As His House (v1-3 & 23-31)

Returning to verses one, we learn that Israel had not remained separated from the Gentiles surrounding them. They had, in fact, intermarried – a thing forbidden (for good reason) in the Law.

Neh 13:1  On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people, and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God,
Neh 13:2  because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing.
Neh 13:3  So it was, when they had heard the Law, that they separated all the mixed multitude from Israel.

Verse two is a great summary of a longer story in which Balaam was hired to curse Israel, but couldn’t. Wanting to get paid, he told Israel’s enemies to send Moabite women into the camp, to entice the Israelite men. Then God Himself would discipline His people – which He did.

This story from the Word – they knew it, but they didn’t heed it. It was a classic case of hearers, not doers. Anointed by God, Nehemiah brought the story back to their remembrance, and they immediately practiced its implications.

One reason a believer should attend church services: You’ll hear things you already know, but are not obeying, as the Holy Spirit anoints the Word in your hearing.

Neh 13:23  In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.
Neh 13:24  And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.

There were practical reasons for prohibiting intermarriage. The children born down the line would no longer speak or understand Hebrew – the language of their Bible.

God’s Word would be lost to future generations. We wouldn’t have it today.

Neh 13:25  So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves.

Before saying anything else, let me point out that Jewish marriages in which a Gentile partner converted to Judaism were not considered intermarriages. God was all about saving Gentiles.

He probably pulled out their beards. It was a sign of discipline – to go around with part of your beard violently removed. We have no such practices!

Neh 13:26  Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin.
Neh 13:27  Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?”

Nehemiah grounded everything in the Word. He used examples skillfully. So should we.

Neh 13:28  And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I drove him from me.

It was an evil strategy of Satan; a web of intrigue and interference. Decisive action was needed. No procedure, no due process; just get out!

Neh 13:29  Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.

A couple of things you definitely DO NOT want to be remembered for – defiling yourself and/or others with you. I’ve heard too many empty eulogies.

The final three verses summarize:

Neh 13:30  Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan…

That is, he set in order their individual houses.

Neh 13:30  … I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service, I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service,
Neh 13:31  and to bringing the wood offering and the firstfruits at appointed times…

He set in order the house of God.

“Remember me, O my God, for good!”

We do; and we can be assured that God does, as Nehemiah awaits his physical resurrection from the grave.

What do you want on your Tombstone? If you want God to remember you for good, here is what Micah said God is looking for: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8).

The Book of Ecclesiastes ends with what would be a great epitaph. I’ll adapt it for a tombstone: “He/She feared God and kept His commandments.”

Celebrate! Celebrate! Advance To The Music (Nehemiah 12:26-47)

The character coming out of retirement to resume his or her exploits is a common occurrence in film:

In the Star Wars original trilogy, who knew old Ben Kenobi was retired Jedi Master Obi-wan Kenobi.

In the first Cars, Doc Hudson comes out of retirement to help Lightning McQueen in his quest to win the coveted Piston Cup.

Speaking of Paul Newman… As Henry Gondorff, he was coaxed back for one last Sting.

I want to suggest to you that the Israelites “retired” for seventy years in Babylon from something very dear to them. You’re told what in Psalm 137.

Psa 137:1  By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down, yea, we wept When we remembered Zion.
Psa 137:2  We hung our harps Upon the willows in the midst of it.
Psa 137:3  For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song, And those who plundered us requested mirth, Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Psa 137:4  How shall we sing the LORD’s song In a foreign land?

Known for joyous choruses of praise, their Babylonian captors asked and expected them to sing. They would not; they could not – not while in Babylon, with their city, its walls, and its Temple in ruin. They “hung their harps in the willows,” which I take to represent all their instruments.

They hung it up… Until the dedication ceremony marking the completion of the wall. Jerusalem was protected; it was being repopulated; the Second Temple was open for spiritual business. They would come out of worship ‘retirement’ in a big way as two choirs advanced toward one another atop the wall.

Something seems to stick out in the text. In the NKJV, the choirs are called “thanksgiving choir[s]” in verses thirty-one, thirty-eight, and forty.

In his very good commentary on Nehemiah, Derek Kidner points out that the phrase “thanksgiving choir[s]” is a single word in Hebrew. It is the word “thanksgivings.” While there were indeed two large choirs singing, they were to be seen and heard as “thanksgivings,” as if they embodied the very quality itself.

If you embody someone, you put him or her “in-body” – like when an actor gives a complete and compelling representation of a character. Before he was Iron Man, Robert Downey, Jr., gave a critically acclaimed, Academy Award winning performance of Charlie Chaplin. He embodied the character.

You can also use embody to describe character traits you see in a person, like, “He embodies truth,” or, “She is the embodiment of hospitality.”

We’re going to talk about Christians embodying thanksgivings. About giving a concrete form to; expressing, personifying, or exemplifying… thanksgivings.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Waiting Encourages You To Advance In Thanksgivings, and #2 Worship Encourages You To Advance In Thanksgivings.

#1 – Waiting Encourages You To Advance In Thanksgivings (v27-30)

Billy Graham wrote,

Are you thankful no matter what? Perhaps you have lost your job recently. Or you may have lost your health, or a loved one. Such circumstances can be tremendously difficult. But even so, we all have much to be thankful for. Thanksgiving… should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ.

The sentence that sticks out to me is, “such circumstances can be tremendously difficult.” Amen to that!
Our tremendously difficult circumstances are where we can retreat or advance in thanksgivings. As wisened old preachers used to say in cliché, “You can grow bitter; or you can grow better.”

If it was easy; if it came naturally; if all we needed was a positive attitude; then thanksgivings would be devoid of any supernatural quality. We wouldn’t need God, and His superabundant grace.

You remember the Geico caveman commercials. To roughly apply their slogan, “If thanksgivings were easy, even a nonbeliever could embody them.” We’re talking about a deep, settled gratitude toward God – no matter what.

It isn’t a matter of counting my blessings – because sooner or later, my list of bummers will exceed it. It’s a supernatural matter of reckoning God is good and embodying gratitude.

The first few verses describe the gathering of the participants for the thanksgivings.

Neh 12:27  Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps.

Seventy years held captive by the rivers of Babylon, where they sat down, and hung up their worship. After Cyrus’ decree giving the Israelites permission to return and rebuild, many more decades ensued before the Second Temple was completed. More time elapsed before the wall was finished.

Those were the circumstances the Israelites endured. For a people who were identified with Jerusalem and the Temple, to say this was “tremendously difficult” would be a tremendous understatement.

They offered “thanksgivings and singings.” They embodied thanksgivings in their singing.

You already know that Thanksgiving 101 is to live above your circumstances, trusting in the mercy of God – even if it is a severe mercy.

Stripped of everything else, you remain saved, for eternity. You can at the very least always embody the hope of eternal life.

If that’s not thanksgiving-worthy, I don’t know what is. Job once said, “though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job’s theology of exactly what was happening to him was uninformed; God wasn’t trying to kill him. But his declaration that God is to be trusted was spot-on.

Job would also declare, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” He does indeed. It’s Jesus, risen from the dead, with the promise of eternal life.

That promise is guaranteed by the down-payment gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Aren’t you feeling thanksgivings-ish now?

Neh 12:28  And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites,
Neh 12:29  from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem.

The “singers” were a class of servants that served in the Temple. Again, remembering how much time had passed since Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Solomon’s Temple, it’s amazing there were Temple singers all over Israel.

Levites were born into their calling. It was hereditary. Not so singers.
With no need for them in Babylon, they nevertheless continued, and were ready thanksgivings.

Neh 12:30  Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.

Likely this means animals were sacrificed, and according to the Law of Moses, their blood sprinkled by the Levites on themselves and the rest.

Here is the parallel for us:

The Israelites had been in tremendous difficulties in the world, but in the end they gathered in Jerusalem, embodying thanksgivings.

We will be in tremendous difficulties in the world, but in the end we will be resurrected or raptured, gathered in the heavenly city New Jerusalem, embodying thanksgivings.

You might argue that the Israelites did not embody thanksgivings while in captivity, awaiting their physical return to the Temple. Maybe not. But we are not in captivity. We have been set free from the power of sin, and from Satan, and from death. We are the Temple as we journey homeward to our city.

If I set my affections on things above, and remember I am already seated with Jesus in the heavenlies, and allow my heart to be thrilled at the joy of my salvation – past, present and future – I can embody thanksgivings, no matter how great the tribulation I endure in the world.

In one sense, our entire time on earth is to be spent advancing through suffering in thanksgivings in the light of our future hope, our future home.

#2 – Worship Encourages You To Advance In Thanksgivings (v31-47)

Candlelight. It’s a Christmas tradition at Disneyland that is as old as the park itself. Choirs from High Schools all over Southern California proceed caroling down Main Street carrying candles. They fill-up the choir stands set up at the Train Station, joining a full orchestra. They perform traditional Christmas hymns and carols, while a guest celebrity reads the story of the birth of Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Luke. So cool.

So much cooler was Nehemiah’s dedication of the wall:

Neh 12:31  So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate.

Might wanna rename that gate – just for the festivities. “You guys head toward the Refuse Gate; I mean, the Redemption Gate.”

One group went clockwise on the wall, the other counter-clockwise, advancing toward each other while singing with musical accompaniment.

I’m guessing they did some rehearsing. Too many moving parts to simply wing it. Some people feel that spontaneity is inherently more spiritual. Usually it isn’t. God is mostly a planner, isn’t He? Do you wake up each day thinking God is just gonna wing it in your life?

Neh 12:32  After them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah,
Neh 12:33  and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam,
Neh 12:34  Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah,
Neh 12:35  and some of the priests’ sons with trumpets – Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph,
Neh 12:36  and his brethren, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them.

The mention of David is pause-worthy. Before David, there had been no mention of the use of musical instruments in worship. Five hundred years after Moses received the Law, God commanded King David to use musical instruments when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. God instructed David to establish worship with “the musical instruments of God” (First Chronicles 16:42). Some scholars believe David invented several instruments to praise the LORD. Add ‘luthier’ to his resume.

When Solomon dedicated the First Temple, the Levites worshiped with “instruments of the music of the LORD, which King David made to praise the LORD” (Second Chronicles 7:6).

The point in Nehemiah mentioning David here is only to emphasize that they were back to worshipping God as He had prescribed for them, in His Temple. It wasn’t a prescription for future worship.

Temple worship practices are just that – for the Jews in their Temple. We worship God in Spirit and in truth, having great and gracious freedom with regards to styles, songs, and instrumentation.

Hey, they sacrificed animals. We don’t. So why would we be bound to their style of praise? We’re not.

Neh 12:37  By the Fountain Gate, in front of them, they went up the stairs of the City of David, on the stairway of the wall, beyond the house of David, as far as the Water Gate eastward.
Neh 12:38  The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall,
Neh 12:39  and above the Gate of Ephraim, above the Old Gate, above the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel, the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped by the Gate of the Prison.

You can picture the scene for yourself. It would have been magnificent, for sure. It was primitive, but powerful, surround sound.

Neh 12:40  So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me;
Neh 12:41  and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Minjamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets;
Neh 12:42  also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer. The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director.

It reads like a program. As we’ll hear momentarily, it had a “director.” This was a highly organized, carefully executed, praise-a-thon.

Neh 12:43  Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.

Family worship is a good thing. We do it here on Wednesday evenings, and it’s worth attending just to hear the kids sing and pray.

Advancing on the wall, singing with the worship band, they could be heard “afar off.”

The apostle Paul founded a church in Thessalonica. He was only there a short while – twenty-one days best scholarly guess. Writing to them, he noted, “For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything” (First Thessalonians 1:8).

Something “sounds forth” from every church. Sadly, sometimes the sounds are somewhat weird or worldly, even sinful, as Christians falter and fail.

We should strive to have “sound forth” from us “the Word of God.” Not just that we are teaching the Word; that should be a given. That we are under its authority, and can be trusted to be worshippers of God in Spirit and in truth. To be a safe place, spiritually speaking, not lording over others. A place where a person can hear the Gospel and be saved; then grow in their walk. A place to discover your gift or gifts; to serve, and be served.

Not just the noise of singing was heard coming from Jerusalem; joy was heard afar off.

Again, it was a kind of embodiment. The Gentiles who heard the singing wouldn’t have understood Hebrew. But they could sense the joy of the participants.

Some of this hearing from afar was supernatural. God was, and is, always reaching out to save. He thus amplified their praise to be heard, and the Holy Spirit presented it to lost souls as a joy they lacked.

The chapter closes with a description of the after-worship activities and assignments.

Neh 12:44  And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.
Neh 12:45  Both the singers and the gatekeepers kept the charge of their God and the charge of the purification, according to the command of David and Solomon his son.
Neh 12:46  For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chiefs of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.
Neh 12:47  In the days of Zerubbabel and in the days of Nehemiah all Israel gave the portions for the singers and the gatekeepers, a portion for each day. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites, and the Levites consecrated them for the children of Aaron.

Day-to-day responsibilities are less exciting. Like tending to the storehouse, and distributing stuff. Every week wasn’t a wall-walking worship service. The dedication of the wall, the culmination of the restoration project, deserved its own day.

The Israelites had the weekly Sabbath… the seven annual feasts… the Sabbath year every seventh year… and Jubilee every fiftieth year.

If you attend a church, there is a calendar of worship opportunities. Whichever one or ones you are led to attend, I’d like to believe they advance your worship of Jesus and thereby lead you into greater thanksgivings for Who He is, and for what He has done.

Habakkuk was a believer who embodied thanksgivings. God revealed to him that Israel faced tremendous difficulties. They would be overrun and taken captive by Babylon. Habakkuk responded, saying, “I will take my position and be on watch, placing myself on my tower, looking out to see what he will say to me, and what answer he will give to my protest” (2:1 BBE).

He retreated, to wait. You might say he retired.

His retirement was short-lived. Waiting, he advanced to worship, exclaiming,

Hab 3:17  Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls –
Hab 3:18  Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
Hab 3:19  The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. To the Chief Musician. With my stringed instruments.

There were no blessings to count – except the LORD and His promises. It was enough for Habakkuk to embody thanksgivings.

It is for us, too.

Hit Me With Your Best Lot (Nehemiah 11:1-12:26)

You’re shipwrecked, adrift in a lifeboat with several other crew mates. Supplies have been spent. The time has come. The highest ranking crew member suggests you cast lots.

According to one nautical writer,

Casting lots in a lifeboat in this situation was already a long-standing custom of the sea.
Even the most naïve deckhand knew what to do in a lifeboat when all the inhabitants were starving, because the sea shanties and ballads memorialized the tradition.

Speaking of cannibalism… Two cannibals met one day. The first cannibal said, “You know, I just can’t seem to get a tender missionary. I’ve baked them, I’ve roasted them, I’ve stewed them, I’ve barbecued them, I’ve tried every sort of marinade. I just cannot seem to get them tender.”

The second cannibal asked, “What kind of missionary do you use?”

“You know, the ones that hang out at that place at the bend of the river. They have those brown cloaks with a rope around the waist and they’re sort of bald on top with a funny ring of hair on their heads.”

“Ah,” the second cannibal replied. “It’s no wonder… those are friars!”

Ordinarily, casting lots has a decidedly negative connotation. We associate it with extreme situations, like the lifeboat crew, where the ‘winner’ is the loser.

It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that casting lots was a perfectly proper, prevalent, prominent, proven procedure in Old Testament times for determining the will of God. The writer of the Proverbs goes so far as to say, “The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD” (16:33).

The Israelites cast lots in chapter eleven of the Book of Nehemiah:

Neh 11:1  Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities.

Now that it was secured by its walls and gates, Nehemiah wanted the Israelites to repopulate Jerusalem.

They cast lots and one out of every ten families were required to move from the country into the city.

Their response is certainly not what we expect:

Nehemiah 11:2  And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.

The 10% were held in high esteem by the majority, and even though they were compelled to cast lots, they are described as “offer[ing] themselves.”

We don’t cast lots, but as Treebeard said, “Let’s not be too hasty.” There are lessons to learn from the practice.

I’ll organize my comments around two questions: #1 Have You Discovered God’s Lot In Your Life?, and (if you have), #2 Are You Directed By God’s Lot In Your Life?

#1 – Have You Discovered God’s Lot In Your Life? (11:1-36)

Remember the Magic 8 Ball? There are twenty answers floating inside – Ten of the possible answers are affirmative, while five are non-committal, and five are negative.

A Magic 8 Ball feature film is being discussed. While you’re anxiously awaiting that, you can download the Magic 8 Ball app.

A Magic 8 Ball is how we tend to think of the casting of lots in the Old Testament. It wasn’t a form of entertainment. Neither was it like a Oujia board; it wasn’t divination. It was how God’s will was revealed in certain circumstances.

Israel cast lots, a lot:

The conquered lands of Canaan were divided among the Israelites by lot (Joshua 18-19).

The sin of Jonah was determined to be the source of the storm threatening the ship by casting lots (Jonah 1:7).

The high priest was selected by lots at the time of David (First Chronicles 24:31).

One historian explained,

The exact process by which lots were cast in ancient Israel is not always clear; there were probably several different methods. One way was by using different colored or marked stones, producing binary outcomes – yes or no, good or bad, selected or rejected. Pieces of broken pottery could have names or marks written on them as well, thereby offering a wider array of possible outcomes.

The Jewish Feast Purim involved casting lots. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said this:

I have [Proverbs 16:33] written over the Book of Esther. In his pride Haman cast lots to determine the day of destruction of the Jewish people. But God intervened and delivered His people; and the Jewish Feast of Purim (meaning “lots”) is a celebration of that providential day.

That is how the Israelites understood casting lots. God ruled over it, or He overruled it.

We are always quick to point out that casting lots is not the way believers in the church age discern or determine God’s will. The last valid lot-casting is in the Book of Acts, where the disciples cast lots to choose someone to take Judas’ twelfth spot as an original apostle.

It was justified by Scripture; it was exactly what they ought to have done.

Casting lots as a means of discerning an answer from God ended there as the promised Holy Spirit was soon after given to the church on the Day of Pentecost.

I want to use the word lot, instead of will, because it is the language of the text, and because I think it better communicates that God has a definite will for you to discover – what we commonly call your “lot in life.”

Chapter eleven suggests everyone has a lot in life from the Lord in that, scattered amidst many names, you find various callings and vocations. Let’s begin by reading verses one and two again; then we’ll get into those lots in life.

Neh 11:1  Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem; the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities.
Neh 11:2  And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.

We think of the 10% as being volun-told where they were going to live. To a freedom loving people like us, it sounds like forced relocation. Imagine being told you must move to Riverdale.

But to them, when the lot came up “Yes,” they were excited to offer themselves, knowing God had made the choice.

The 90% recognized that the others were specifically chosen by God to receive special blessings.

From what we’ve said thus far… How would you answer this question: What lot has God cast into your lap?

Whatever it is – Are you spiritually excited, knowing it is in God’s will for you – even if you don’t understand it? Are you offering yourself to God in it?

If you are looking upon someone else – on their lot in life – Are you blessing them in it? Do you see it as a privilege – whether it seems good or not good?

That’s a ‘lot’ to think about.

Verse three tells us how the rest of the chapter shakes out:

Neh 11:3. These are the heads of the province who dwelt in Jerusalem. (But in the cities of Judah everyone dwelt in his own possession in their cities – Israelites, priests, Levites, Nethinim, and descendants of Solomon’s servants).

This is likely the list after the lottery. Verses 4-24 are the the families that dwelt in Jerusalem, while verses 25-36 are those living outside the city.

If you scan the verses, you’ll find the following callings or vocations: priests; valiant men; overseer; leader of the house of God; brethren who did the work; mighty men of valor; one of the great men; overseer of business outside the house of God; the leader who began thanksgiving with prayer; overseers of the Levites; singers in charge of the services; and the kings deputy.

The titles may be different from ones we use today, but the general idea is the same:

In the house of God, there were full-time servants, e.g., priests, Levites, and singers. In the church, the current “house of God,” on earth, there are full time ministers and missionaries.

In Jerusalem, there were government employees, e.g., the kings deputy. In the church, we find many who work for one or another local, state, or federal agency.

They had “mighty men of valor”; “great men.” We have military, law enforcement, fire services, first responders.

There was at least one guy who worked in business outside Jerusalem. He stands for all who don’t fit into the previous categories. He is an everyman or woman, living for the Lord out in the world – just like you.

Let’s switch back for a moment and use our more familiar term, and ask, “How do I discover God’s will?”
The most basic place to start is with the apostle Peter’s great exclamation, God “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (Second Peter 3:9).

Have you received Jesus Christ as your Lord? As your Savior? Nothing else matters if you haven’t. It is God’s will that you be saved. In the Gospel of John, we read, “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:40).

After you get saved, Jesus continues to work in you. It’s called sanctification. It is Him, in cooperation with you, making you more like Himself day-by-day, until the Day He presents you perfect and without blemish in Heaven. To that end, the apostle Paul exhorted, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (First Thessalonians 4:3).
Contrary to current trends, there is sexual sin. God established marriage as a covenant of companionship between one biological man, and one biological woman, to be monogamous and to last as long as both shall live. Within those reasonable, protective, loving boundaries, sexuality can be thoroughly explored and enjoyed.

Anything sexual outside of marriage, well that’s gonna be sin: Fornication (which is voluntary sex between unmarried persons), adultery (which is fornication committed by a person who is married), homosexual or lesbian behavior, rape, pedophilia, incest, and beastiality would be major headings on the list.

Sexual sin includes seeing these things – not just doing them. After all, Jesus said lusting after a woman was adultery.

This is a good spot to insert Romans 12:2, which says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We’re to hold to the Bible’s standards, e.g., those regarding human sexuality, without wavering and thereby we will “prove” God’s will is both acceptable and perfect.

Next in discerning God’s will, there’s First Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

A great overriding philosophy of life. You’re not thankful for everything, but you can be in everything, because God is good, and God is in charge.

Let’s return to our primary question, “Have I discovered God’s lot in my life?”

Start with the five or six verses I just referred to. Get saved. Once saved, pursue holiness, and be thankful.
These form a basic foundation, or framework, upon which to discover your more specific lot in life.

#2 – Are You Directed By God’s Lot In Your Life? (12:1-26)

Let me read you a quote I encountered in my research:

You don’t have to go far in either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament before you hit them – those lists of unpronounceable names! The lists and genealogies in the Bible have been a source of much consternation (and sometimes merriment) as hapless readers struggle through exotic and multisyllabic Middle Eastern names in their Bible study groups. Do we really have to bother with these lists? Is it so bad to just skip them?

They may be a tongue-twisting challenge, but there can be great benefits to studying the lists in the Bible. Quite often there are treasures buried in the driest, hardest places in God’s word, hidden for those who love the Bible enough to start digging.

I agree. But I’m still not going to read them aloud. For you who are more spiritual, the author I just quoted listed the following four reasons YOU should read the lists:

Names have meanings.

They show the Bible is a book of genuine history.

Looking through the generations reminds us of God’s faithfulness.

And, details are often included amidst the names that make a point.

(For the record, I either read the names, or listen to them being read, in my devotions. I’m not completely carnal).

I did take the time to count the names in the first twenty-six verses: 108.

As I’m fond of suggesting, if you are pregnant with a boy, you might want to consult this list. At least your son won’t have the same name as four other boys in his class. There’s something cool about being the only Ginnethen, or Bakbukiah.

Neh 12:1 Now these are the priests and the Levites who came up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,

The first twenty-six verses of chapter twelve are a register of priests and Levites. There’s a little overlap in these verses about the dedication of the wall described at the end of the chapter. We’ll look at them in conjunction with that dedication next week (Lord willing and rapture permitting).

In Israel, priests and Levites especially understood this idea of having a lot in life. Israel, as you recall, consisted of twelve tribes. In order of birth, they are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph and Benjamin.

(The tribe of Joseph included his sons, Ephraim and Manasseh).

God chose the tribe of Levi to serve the Temple. All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests – only the descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother, the first High Priest.

You were born into your Levitical lot in life. Nothing you could do about it. There was no changing tribes. There was no dropping your buffs to merge, á la Survivor.

It’s like being born Italian. Not all of us have been so uniquely blessed.

One result of their birth was that, unlike the other tribes, Levites inherited no land. I might have made that sound like a bad thing. We usually think that way. We should not; quite the opposite. Listen to this (from The Bible Knowledge Commentary):

At first this may seem puzzling, but closer examination reveals that in lieu of territorial possessions the tribe of Levi was allotted the sacrifices or offerings (Joshua 13:14), the priesthood (Joshua 18:7), and the Lord Himself (Joshua 13:33). Who could have dreamed of a greater inheritance?

These guys were definitely directed by their lot in life. And at this point in Israel’s story, they were going for it with all their might.

If you’re not in open sin, or rebellion, you are most likely right where God has cast your lot. He’s probably giving you many of the desires of your heart in terms of family and career; He’s good like that.

Are you going for it in the Lord?

For example: The apostle Peter, in a section about our lives in the world, said, “For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men” (First Peter 2:15).

Fools aren’t a small subset of humanity. It isn’t that one guy or gal at work that creeps everyone out. A fool is anyone not in Christ. In their hearts, they say “No” to God.

“Doing good” doesn’t mean you are a model employee or student or citizen. That’s a given; it goes without saying. It means doing whatever you do as a model employee, student, or citizen unto the Lord so there is no mistaking your love for Him.

I’m not suggesting you aren’t doing enough. But let’s face it: The New Testament frequently exhorts believers to awaken from spiritual slumber, to stir-up the gifts and callings of God. It was to a seemingly successful local church in Ephesus that Jesus said, “You have left your first love.”

We shouldn’t be looking for Magic 8 Ball answers. With that, you can keep shaking it until you get the answer you want.

We should be cultivating an ever growing, ever deepening, relationship with Jesus, offering ourselves as living sacrifices. From a foundation or framework of pursuing holiness, He will reveal our lot in life, and supply it with superabundant grace.

God’s House Is A Very, Very, Very Divine House (Nehemiah 10:1-39)

Noh-truh deym? Or Noh-ter dahm?

Decades of neglect threatened Notre Dame Cathedral well before it recently burned.

Jean-Michel Leniaud, president of the scientific council at the national Heritage Institute, told reporters, “The lack of real upkeep and daily attention to such a major building is the cause of this catastrophe.”

A 2017 Time Magazine article on its deterioration noted, “the features of Notre Dame’s famous gargoyles looked as worn away as the face of Voldemort.”

Neglect is mentioned in the last verse of our chapter, at the end, where the Israelites promise concerning their Temple, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

That phrase, “the house of our God,” appears eight times in the final twelve verses. The repetition suggests its application to us.

In our time, in the church age, “the house of our God,” is the gathering of believers in Christ. Collectively, we are the building, the Temple, the house. We go by the name “church.”

Leading up to their promise, the Israelites commit to several behaviors that would keep them from neglecting the house of their God.

I’m pretty sure none of us want to neglect the church. To that end, maybe we can glean a few things from the insights of the Israelites about how to not neglect.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Not Neglecting Means That You Have Organization, and #2 Not Neglecting Means That You Have Obligations.

#1 – Not Neglecting Means That You Have Organization (v1-27)

There are a few Christian clichés that need to die:

“When God closes a door, He opens a window.” I see what they’re saying; God is still leading you. But He may not open anything. He may want you right where you are until He opens the right door.

“Let go and let God.” I get that we are to rest in God. But the kind of rest the Bible describes is an active discipleship, a pursuit of holiness, a striving to win the race. It isn’t lethargy.

“God will never give you more than you can handle.” Of course He will. He does all the time. He won’t give you more than He can handle, living through you, empowering you.

I’m certain that I have said one or more of these. Don’t be discouraged – but do stop saying them.

Here is one more: “The church is not an organization, it’s an organism.” I get that. We shouldn’t run the church according to a worldly model, or suggest secular principles for spiritual progress. We are, after all, compared to an organism – a living, human body – with Jesus as its head.

Guess what? An organism is organized. The apostle Paul recognized that the body was organized when he wrote to the Corinthians and said, “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. (First Corinthians 12:18-21).

It’s been a while since I’ve watched the classic Star Trek pilot, “The Menagerie.” If I’m recalling correctly, at the end the woman, Vina, refuses to leave. It’s because her beautiful appearance was an illusion. In reality she is much older, and was left severely deformed by the crash of Columbia. For a moment you see her as she really is. She wasn’t reassembled quite right because the Talosians had never seen a human before. They didn’t know how to organize her various body parts.

Your physical body is organized, and so should the body of believers be. Let’s look at the opening verses of chapter ten with an eye for organization in the church.

Neh 10:1  Now those who placed their seal on the document were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah,
Verse two, “And there were eighty-two other guys with difficult to pronounce Hebrew names.”

There is something important to notice in the list. The names are organized:

In verse one, Nehemiah and Zedekiah are the civil authorities who had been placed over Israel.

We are told that the names in verses two through eight are those of priests.

Next are listed the Levites and their brethren in verses nine through thirteen.

Last but not least, they listened to a lengthy list of lineage leaders.

Israel had an organized government. More importantly, they had a very organized religion.

We went through the Book of Exodus. You remember the meticulous set-up, sacrifices, and offerings. The priests and the Levites had specific duties. They weren’t free to change things.

The two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, found that out when they offered what the Bible calls “strange fire” on the altar. Fire came from God and consumed them.

A worshipper didn’t just walk in and do as he pleased. There were procedures; there was organization.

Read through the New Testament and the only conclusion you can honestly come to is that Jesus has called believers out from the world to meet together as His body in local assemblies. For example: Everywhere the apostle Paul went on his missionary journeys, he established churches. He preached Christ, and Him crucified, but he didn’t leave converts to do as they pleased. He organized them under gifted leaders – pastors, teachers, elders, deacons.

I’m not going to talk about the various biblical forms of church government.

You can biblically argue for at least three. In practice if not philosophy, most churches end up with elements of them all.

I will say this: Whatever form of church government a local church adopts is not as critical as the men in leadership being committed to keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. They must work together in love, not law.

It’s enough for today to recognize that the believers of the church age are organized as local assemblies.

This isn’t news to you. What might be news is what is being called the “house church movement.” The proponents believe small churches were a deliberate apostolic pattern in the first century, and that they were intended by Jesus. Listen to this bold statement by a house church proponent:

A largely hidden, yet growing phenomenon is changing the face of Christianity in the West and profoundly affecting the way in which Christians are choosing to practice their faith. Disillusioned by the lack of New Testament realities, abusive authority, and the spreading apostasy within large segments of institutionalized Christianity, thousands of Christians across America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are gathering in homes to study the Scriptures together, pray, share the Lord’s Supper and experience the fellowship and simplicity of first century Christianity.

In their way of thinking, there should be no mega-churches, and a church like ours ought to be at least 10-20 house churches.

Francis Chan is now a house church guy. In his most recent book he says, “God wants meaningful interactions when we gather. For this reason, we keep our churches small (ten to twenty people) meeting in homes to create a family atmosphere.”

It’s true, the first century believers did meet in homes. Except when they didn’t:

In Ephesus, the apostle Paul met for two years in the school of Tyranus (Acts 19).

When correcting the Corinthians about their behavior at the Lord’s Supper, one of the things Paul said was, “Do you not have houses to eat and drink in?” (First Corinthians 11:22). They were gathering someplace other than a house to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

The first century church didn’t only meet in homes. You’ll find no instruction about its maximum size. In fact, the very first, first century church cancels out the house church movement:

First – The disciples in the upper room numbered 120, and that’s way too many for the house church crowd.
Second – After Peter preached to the crowd at the Temple, they were an instant mega-church.

BTW – You’ll also find that, whether house churches or not, the first century churches had a plethora of problems. We should model ourselves after them only to the extent they followed the teachings of the prophets and apostles.

The important thing is to follow the Lord’s leading, and apply the organization of the New Testament. I’ve told you before that a church ought to have a story of how and why it was established. Or I should say, you should be able to ask how or why the fellowship was established.

The church isn’t, as some pejoratively say, “organized religion.” The church is an organism, comprised of living believers, organized by Jesus as Head of His body.

Not neglecting it requires that you have significant contact with a local fellowship with biblically organized leadership.

#2 – Not Neglecting Means That You Have Obligations (v28-39)

Obligations. Obligated. Obligatory. I don’t like the sound of that at all. Sounds like legalism.

“Much obliged.” That’s better. We use it when we are grateful for someone’s assistance.

I approach the obligations that the Israelites put themselves under as them being “much obliged” to the LORD for His faithfulness.

Neh 10:28  Now the rest of the people -the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding –

I can almost feel the excitement, the expectation, of the entire assembly of Israel. It was, to use a descriptive word, palpable.

The more we realize the truth that Jesus is in the midst of the gathered church on earth, the more palpable our times together will be.

Neh 10:29  these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes:

Don’t get hung-up on the word, “curse.” They were confessing that they would keep God’s Law – the Mosaic Law – and if they didn’t, they acknowledged there were consequences.
They were much obliged to have the Law – even if they would be disciplined for disobeying it.

Neh 10:30  We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons;

The reason for this was religious, not racial. Foreign spouses would result in the Israelites worshipping foreign deities.

There are no ‘racial’ barriers, in the church, insofar as marriage goes. But there is still what we might loosely call a ‘religious’ restriction. The apostle Paul indicates a believer in Christ should not wed a nonbeliever.

Neh 10:31  if the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.
Apparently the Jews had been reasoning that buying from Gentile merchants on the Sabbath was not a violation. It was. They repented.

They also committed to keep the every seventh year Sabbath as prescribed in the Law.

I’m not going to go into a long apologetic on why we in the church age are under no obligation to observe the Sabbath. We did that a lot in our studies in Exodus. I’ll simply point out this one thing. The Sabbath is a lot more than Saturday worship, and not working from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. It involved a Sabbath year every seventh year; and a Jubilee year every seven times seven years.

To my knowledge, none of the groups who insist a believer must ‘keep’ the Sabbath are observing the Sabbath year, or Jubilee. Thus despite their claims, they are NOT keeping the Sabbath.

Neh 10:32  Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God:
Neh 10:33  for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.

They were much obliged to give financially to the support of the Temple.

We talk about giving when it is in the text we are reading. In the church age, we can establish from the Bible that a believer in Christ should give money regularly, joyfully, and sacrificially as you have purposed in your heart.

Ask yourself:

Do I give to my church regularly?

Do I give joyfully?

Is my giving sacrificial, as the Lord and I have purposed in my heart?

Considering all that Jesus has freely given us, we ought to be much obliged to use our money to support His body on the earth.

Neh 10:34  We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God as it is written in the Law.

Have you ever thought about how much wood they needed to stoke the fire of the Temple altar? More that the one or two cords we used to be able to burn before Big Government discovered air quality.

I read that the Israelites had to gather wood nine times throughout the year.

No one was specifically tasked to do it in the writings of Moses, so they used the biblical method of casting lots.

A long, long time ago, in a younger body far from mine, I would go out and cut wood with the really manly men. There’s nothing quite like the fellowship you share over chain saws and wood-splitters.

These Israelites… No tractors that toppled the trees in an orchard… No chain saws… No hydraulic splitters.

It speaks of hard work. Are you much obliged to do what is hard, or less glorious, serving in the church?

Neh 10:35  And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the LORD;
Neh 10:36  to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God;
Neh 10:37  to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities.

Everything that was “first” belonged to God. Putting God first – that’s something you should be much obliged to do. What does that mean, though? The Oswald Chambers daily devotion the other day was titled, “Put God First.” He discussed putting your trust in God first… putting God’s will first… and putting God’s Son first.

Then he said, “Am I allowing my natural life to be slowly transformed by the indwelling life of the Son of God? God’s ultimate purpose is that His Son might be exhibited in me.” Think on that.

Neh 10:38  And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse.
Neh 10:39  For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.

10% of the 10% went to the Levites to distribute to the priests. It was their only source of income.

I can’t make a direct correlation to New Testament ministers and church staff, except to say that the apostle Paul thought it important to pay ministers while he worked to support himself.

What I do see in this is that the priests must have often had very little. When the people backslid, and withheld their tithe, the priests felt it. But they continued, trusting God – much obliged for the privilege of serving Him in their calling.

Their promise, “we will not neglect the house of our God,” would be kept by their doing these things. Rededication – it’s a good thing.

Fire was destructive for Notre Dame. It was formative for the church. Told to wait for the promise of the Father, on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus ascended to Heaven, the disciples experienced the coming of the Holy Spirit.

He was visualized as a wind-whipped fire in the second chapter of Acts. It spread over those gathered, and from them throughout the church age, right up until today.

Three thousand listeners were saved on the birthday of the church as Peter preached Jesus.

The sound of the wind, and the appearance of the flames, were a one time, not-to-be-repeated event. But the coming of the Holy Spirit to empower our service – well, that’s ongoing as the church proclaims the living Christ; and it’s why we sometimes describe believers as being “on fire.”

Not neglecting leads to being on fire. Let’s not neglect the church, the House of the Risen Son.

Come And Listen To The Story Of A Clan Called Jews (Nehemiah 9:1-38)

I opened my gift, and it was a box of cereal. Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran. Growing up, Geno remembered it as being my favorite, but since it was more expensive than others, it was rarely on the shelf.

It was an extremely thoughtful gift. The sentimental value was obviously priceless.

It ought to have been like that moment when the food critic tasted the ratatouille in the Pixar film by that name.

There was just one small problem. I had no memory of ever eating Cracklin’ Oat Bran – let alone it being my favorite.

I was concerned Geno had lost his mind… Until I realized that all the other members of my immediate family had a shared memory of my passion for Cracklin’ Oat Bran.

Maybe if I tasted it, every wonderful memory would come flooding back. Let me tell you something about Cracklin’ Oat Bran. It tastes like cardboard; worse, wet cardboard. You’d be better off using the cereal as cat litter and eating the box.

In the movie, The Forgotten, a woman believes that she lost her son in a plane crash 14 months earlier, only to wake up one morning and be told that she never had a son.

There’s no physical evidence she ever had a son. Her husband and her psychiatrist think she’s going crazy.

Spoiler alert: Aliens are conducting a memory experiment on her. That can’t be true… I hope.

I got to thinking about how we remember the past because our text in Nehemiah rehearses Israel’s past. There is something constant in Israel’s past.

No, it’s not baseball. (You get that reference if you remember James Earl Jones’ assessment of American history in Field of Dreams).

The constant in Israel’s history was, and remains, the faithfulness of God. Every act of His toward His chosen people had been, and would always be, faithful.

Believers in Christ – including myself – don’t always see God’s faithfulness in the past. Trouble, tragedy; suffering, sorrow; these can alter how we look back on our spiritual pilgrimage. Even if we continue to believe God is faithful, it’s bothersome that we can’t always see how He is faithful, given our afflictions.

If you look back, questioning God’s faithfulness, you might draw encouragement from this text.

I’ll organize my comments around two points:

#1 If You Don’t See God’s Faithfulness In Your Past, Look Ahead,

and #2 If You Don’t Serve God Faithfully In The Present, Start Again.

#1 – If You Don’t See God’s Faithfulness In Your Past, Look Ahead (v1-31)

What happened in Budapest?

In The Avengers, during the Battle of New York, Black Widow says to Hawkeye, “It’s like Budapest all over again.” Hawkeye responds, “You and I remember Budapest very differently.”

Fans want to know, but maybe what happened in Budapest should stay in Budapest.

Israel’s history was accurately recorded in the Scriptures. They’d have no trouble remembering it.

With amazing brevity, chapter nine reviews about 35 centuries of history – from creation to the Second Temple.

Neh 9:1  Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.

The Feast Of Tabernacles had concluded two days earlier. We are reading about a special assembly, not a regular calendar activity. They had prepared by fasting with prayer over those two days, and they dressed with their pull-away clothes and bags of dust as was customary to indicate repentance and what we might call rededication.

Neh 9:2  Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.

This wasn’t racial; it was religious. Foreigners could believe, and be saved. But on this day, God was dealing with Jews.

Neh 9:3  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.

We’re talking six hours. During that time they listened to the Word being read, and they “worshiped.” The word “confessed” here isn’t a confession of their sin, but a confession – an acknowledgement – of the greatness of God.

Neh 9:4  Then Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites and cried out with a loud voice to the LORD their God.
Neh 9:5  And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said: “Stand up and bless the LORD your God Forever and ever! “Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!

There were two groups on the platform, with some overlap of names. Laymen and Levites led the liturgy, lifting lively lyrics to the LORD.

Neh 9:6  You alone are the LORD; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, And You preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You.

This is one of those verses that has so much packed into it, I wish we had more time. In it we have an apologetic for the following doctrines: Sovereignty, special creation, the supernatural realm, divine providence, and monotheism.

The text jumps about 2000 years to Abraham.

Neh 9:7  “You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram, And brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, And gave him the name Abraham;
Neh 9:8  You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, The Perizzites, the Jebusites, [the Troglodytes] – And the Girgashites – To give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous.

One verse on creation, then Abraham. It lends support to something we always allude to: Creation is merely the backdrop, the stage, for God to deal with humans. In the Psalms this is made apparent when David exclaims, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, And the son of man that You visit him? (8:3-4). It’s not arrogant to think we are alone in the universe in terms of life on other planets.

We jump ahead to their enslavement in Egypt and the Exodus.

Neh 9:9  “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea.
Neh 9:10  You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants, And against all the people of his land. For You knew that they acted proudly against them. So You made a name for Yourself, as it is this day.
Neh 9:11  And You divided the sea before them, So that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; And their persecutors You threw into the deep, As a stone into the mighty waters.
Neh 9:12  Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar, And by night with a pillar of fire, To give them light on the road Which they should travel.
Neh 9:13  “You came down also on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments.
Neh 9:14  You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant.
Neh 9:15  You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger, And brought them water out of the rock for their thirst, And told them to go in to possess the land Which You had sworn to give them.

God was faithful to deliver them. What about the 400 years preceding the Exodus – when Israel was enslaved? Pretty slow delivery.

These returned Jews were declaring that God was faithful despite the much suffering of their ancestors. They saw His faithfulness, by faith.

Neh 9:16  “But they and our fathers acted proudly, Hardened their necks, And did not heed Your commandments.
Neh 9:17  They refused to obey, And they were not mindful of Your wonders That You did among them. But they hardened their necks, And in their rebellion They appointed a leader To return to their bondage. But You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them.
Neh 9:18  “Even when they made a molded calf for themselves, And said, ‘This is your god That brought you up out of Egypt,’ And worked great provocations,
Neh 9:19  Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, To lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, To show them light, And the way they should go.

God was faithful to not forsake them even in their grotesque idolatry and sin.

He continued to dwell among them, in their midst, in the form of the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night.

Neh 9:20  You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, And did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, And gave them water for their thirst.
Neh 9:21  Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out And their feet did not swell.

They had food, clothing, and shelter; plus central AC and heating from the pillar.

My feet swell after a few minutes shopping at WalMart. John Candy, describing his tired feet to Steve Martin in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, famously quipped, “My dogs are barking.”

On a more spiritual note, God sent His Spirit to instruct them. Although our understanding is that the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell them as He does believers today, He was active among them as a teacher.

Neh 9:22  “Moreover You gave them kingdoms and nations, And divided them into districts. So they took possession of the land of Sihon, The land of the king of Heshbon, And the land of Og king of Bashan.
Neh 9:23  You also multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, And brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers To go in and possess.
Neh 9:24  So the people went in And possessed the land; You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, The Canaanites, And gave them into their hands, With their kings And the people of the land, That they might do with them as they wished.
Neh 9:25  And they took strong cities and a rich land, And possessed houses full of all goods, Cisterns already dug, vineyards, olive groves, And fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and grew fat, And delighted themselves in Your great goodness.

In the days of Joshua, God went before them, annihilating their enemies, and giving them the spoils.

In the New Testament we are called “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). We are called “more than conquerors” in the midst of a list of incredible trials and troubles that come upon us, which we must endure either for a time, or for a lifetime. God is faithful regardless the length or severity of the assault upon us.

Neh 9:26  “Nevertheless they were disobedient And rebelled against You, Cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets, who testified against them To turn them to Yourself; And they worked great provocations.
Neh 9:27  Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their enemies, Who oppressed them; And in the time of their trouble, When they cried to You, You heard from heaven; And according to Your abundant mercies You gave them deliverers who saved them From the hand of their enemies.
Neh 9:28  “But after they had rest, They again did evil before You. Therefore You left them in the hand of their enemies, So that they had dominion over them; Yet when they returned and cried out to You, You heard from heaven; And many times You delivered them according to Your mercies,
Neh 9:29  And testified against them, That You might bring them back to Your law. Yet they acted proudly, And did not heed Your commandments, But sinned against Your judgments, ‘Which if a man does, he shall live by them.’ And they shrugged their shoulders, Stiffened their necks, And would not hear.
Neh 9:30  Yet for many years You had patience with them, And testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.
It was the time of the Judges. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. We might describe them as faithless. God remained faithful. He didn’t disown them; He disciplined them using the Gentiles they ought to have defeated.
Neh 9:31  Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful.

Gracious… Merciful… Patient… Righteous… Slow to anger… Abundant in kindness… Not forsaking… Great in goodness… These are just a few of the superlatives mentioned in these verses to highlight the faithfulness of God. Looking back upon their history:

There were times in their history when they brought judgment upon themselves, e.g., the time of the Judges. God was faithful to use Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia as a rod of discipline upon them.

There were times in their history when they seemed to suffer for no apparent reason – like the four centuries spent in Egypt. They were enslaved because the Egyptians thought they were growing too numerous. It wasn’t a discipline; it wasn’t deserved.

In all their times, God was faithful, and looking back they could see, by faith, His faithfulness – even when suffering seemed uncaused.

When you are in a suffering of your own doing, that’s one thing. But I’d venture that, for most of you, suffering and sorrow, trials and troubles, have come upon you more often when you are walking close to the Lord. It’s in those times we can either doubt His faithfulness, or not see it.

Warren Wiersbe recently went home to be with the Lord. (On his tombstone they ought to carve, “Be Home”).
Regarding suffering, from Wiersbe’s review of the Bible, he said, “Pain purifies. Pain draws the Christian closer to Christ. Pain glorifies God. And pain today means glory and honor tomorrow.”

Paul’s words to the Thessalonians were similar:

1Th 5:23  Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1Th 5:24  He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

Paul associated God’s faithfulness with your glorious future. Your certain future guarantees God’s faithfulness in the present. No matter how you think or feel, He cannot leave you, or forsake you. He is always there with you with sufficient grace to endure. And not just endure grudgingly, but joyfully.

If you can’t see God’s faithfulness as you look back, look forward to all He has promised to do for you. THEN look back, knowing that in your light affliction, which is but for a moment, God has been, and always is, faithful.

#2 – If You Don’t Serve God Faithfully In The Present, Start Again (v32-38)

I’ll tell you who is really the worst about giving you a second chance: Darth Vader. He told his general, “You have failed me for the last time,” then remotely choked him out – promoting a reluctant captain to be the next admiral.

God gives you unlimited second chances. His grace is no excuse to sin; but it is superabundant to the disobedient, to the rebellious, to the prodigal son or daughter of God, who repents.

Neh 9:32  “Now therefore, our God, The great, the mighty, and awesome God, Who keeps covenant and mercy: Do not let all the trouble seem small before You That has come upon us, Our kings and our princes, Our priests and our prophets, Our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria until this day.
Neh 9:33  However You are just in all that has befallen us; For You have dealt faithfully, But we have done wickedly.

“Do not let all the trouble seem small before You” means the disciplinary methods God used had been effective in leading Israel to repentance.

Neh 9:34  Neither our kings nor our princes, Our priests nor our fathers, Have kept Your law, Nor heeded Your commandments and Your testimonies, With which You testified against them.
Neh 9:35  For they have not served You in their kingdom, Or in the many good things that You gave them, Or in the large and rich land which You set before them; Nor did they turn from their wicked works.
Neh 9:36  “Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, To eat its fruit and its bounty, Here we are, servants in it!
Neh 9:37  And it yields much increase to the kings You have set over us, Because of our sins; Also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle At their pleasure; And we are in great distress.
Neh 9:38  “And because of all this, We make a sure covenant and write it; Our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.”

Instead of “serving” the LORD, they had been, and still were, “servants” of Gentile nations. They were rededicating themselves to the LORD. They were rededicated men walking.

We hear “rededication,” and immediately associate it with backsliding.

We think of folks in sin, returning to the Lord, as those needing to rededicate themselves.

They do; but so may you and I. In these unredeemed bodies, amidst the unyielding spiritual warfare for our affections, we can get apathetic. We can go into a spiritual slumber from which we are called to awaken. We may settle in ways that need stirring-up. We may doubt or draw back.

In fact, we will do all these at one time or another.

I’m not saying you have to come forward to rededicate yourself. You may need to; if the Lord is prompting you.

I am saying God is faithful and you can always start fresh serving Him by His superabundant grace.

Speaking of God’s faithfulness, a verse in the New Testament comes to mind:

1Tim 1:15  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…

All of us here are sinners. Some of us are saved-sinners. If you are not in that group… Why not? Jesus said that by being lifted up on the Cross, He would draw all men to Himself. He is the Savior of the world and specifically of those who believe.

We mentioned Abraham. He was saved because he believed God.

Do you?

You Can Hide Your Cryin’ Eyes (Nehemiah 8:1-18)

Tony Stark quipped, “Everything special about you came from a bottle.”

He was insulting Steve Rogers, whom a super-serum transformed into super-soldier Captain America – The First Avenger.

We are all too familiar with sports stars seeking super-serum to supercharge skill and strength.

Sammy Sosa… Mark Maguire… Barry Bonds… Were serum-enhanced and thereby exhibited meta-human strength to more often hit a baseball very, very far.

In our text today we will encounter the amazing phrase, “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (v10). Is “joy” a spiritual super-serum that gets us pumped up on our journey homeward?

We’ll need to determine what the Holy Spirit might have meant when He inspired Nehemiah to say it to the returnees, and to record it for future generations of believers.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 The Lord’s Joy Is Your Salvation, and #2 The Joy Of The Lord Is Your Strength.

#1 – The Lord’s Joy Is Your Salvation (v1-12)

Let me tell you up front how we are going to define “the joy of the LORD.”

It is the joy He has. It is the joy OF the LORD, not the joy from the LORD.

Yes, joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit – produced in believers as we abide in Jesus (Galatians 5:22-23).

Yes, believers are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).

The fruit of joy, and the choice to rejoice – Those manifestations of joy do not in any way contradict the biblical fact that Jesus has His own joy. In the New Testament Book of Hebrews we read,

Heb 12:2  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

A joy was “set before” Jesus that would be His only after He “endured the cross.”

Since there is disagreement among scholars as to precisely what the Holy Spirit intended, I’ll quote a few godly men:

Citing scripture along the way, Warren Wiersbe comes to this conclusion: “The “joy that was set before Him” would include Jesus’ completing the Father’s will, His resurrection and exaltation, and His joy in presenting believers to the Father in glory.”

William MacDonald put it this way: “He kept His eyes fixed on the coming glory when all the redeemed would be gathered with Him eternally.”

Another commentator said, “Jesus pursued the greatest imaginable joy, namely, the joy of being exalted to God’s right hand in the assembly of a redeemed people.”

Each of those men emphasized Jesus’ joy in believers, redeemed and assembled with Him forever.

I don’t think it’s going too far to say that you who are in Christ – You are the Lord’s joy. Your salvation was what was after the cross that Jesus endured.

What Jesus did, in obedience to His Father, He did to be the Savior of all men – especially those who believe. His work culminates in salvation for all who call upon His Name.

We read, twice, in the Gospel of Luke that, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:7, 10). While I’m sure angels rejoice, Jesus said there’d be joy “in their presence.” Maybe He was referring to His joy.

Our text begins with the public reading of Scripture.

Neh 8:1  Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.

Nehemiah was the builder. Ezra was the builder-upper. That’s how God gifted them in their calling.

You are called and gifted. There are times when, regardless your gift from the Lord, you have to step up and fill a spiritual gap.

Timothy was a pastor, but the apostle Paul encouraged him to “do the work of an evangelist.”

Stir-up your gift or gifts and remain open and flexible to step-up and serve.

Neh 8:2  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.

Think of this as a one-day, all-day, outdoor Bible conference.

“All who could hear with understanding” means young adults and children who could pay attention and understand. I think sometimes we make too much of this – whether we interpret it as being inclusive of children or restrictive of them. It doesn’t set any precedent either way. It wasn’t a normal service. We are free in the Lord to determine our own inclusions or restrictions.

Neh 8:3  Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

Conferences or retreats usually have a theme. For this one I’d suggest, First Five – since they read the first five books of the Bible, called the Pentateuch. Or maybe, Five Talkin’.

Neh 8:4  So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood [13 guys with hard-to-pronounce Hebrew names] Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam.

They built a raised platform large enough to easily accommodate at least fourteen men. It’s been suggested these other guys took turns with Ezra reading portions of the Law of Moses.

Neh 8:5  And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.

Biblical acoustics always amaze me. This was a huge crowd – numbering in the tens of thousands, according to the census. Yet all could both see and hear.

The people stood in reverence to the Word. Again – no precedent was set. We might want to stand for a reading of Scripture; we might not. Whether it’s hats or head coverings, we have freedom in our choices.

Neh 8:6  And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

If this is chronological, Ezra opened the scroll; prayed; then there was some sort of worship service. Maybe the thirteen guys on the platform were the worship band – The Moses 13… Or The First Five Faction… Or (maybe) The Pentateuch-tonix.

Neh 8:7  Also [13 more guys with hard-to-pronounce Hebrew names] Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place.

These thirteen guys may have been Ezra’s disciples. Together with the Levites, they mingled with the crowd, clarifying and answering questions. There must have been pauses during the reading. Think of these as ‘break-out groups’ that received more focused application.

Neh 8:8  So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

The “book,” meaning the first five books, was preeminent. An onlooker would conclude that these were people who understood that everything needed for life and godliness was to be found in its words. They were not interested in comparative religion, or any philosophy of men.

Read… “Give the sense” by explaining the text in context… “Help to understand” would include making application. It’s a simple method – but powerful. We should do no less.

Neh 8:9  And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law.

God’s covenant with Israel included unconditional and conditional promises. The Promised Land, for example, was granted to Israel unconditionally. It’s why you see them back today after centuries of being scattered.

The possession of, and the enjoyment of, the Promised Land, however, was conditional upon their obedience. Standing there, not that far removed from their 70 year captivity in Babylon, with Jerusalem largely uninhabited, and a lesser Temple, it was easy to mourn and weep.

Nehemiah straight-up told them to stop crying. Did your dad ever tell you to stop crying, then add, “Or I’ll give you something to cry about?”

Nehemiah doesn’t come across like that. This seems like a supernatural word of wisdom. The Holy Spirit was active in the lives of these guys, and He told them what to say. When they said it – thousand and thousands of Israelites stopped crying. Just like that. As the Newsboys say – It’s a Spirit thing.

It’s probably not appropriate for us, normally, to tell others to stop crying. We are told to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). You can always encourage mourners that Jesus wipes away their tears, and saves them in a bottle (Psalm 56:8).

Neh 8:10  Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The reading of the Law was not intended to produce sorrow, but to renew hope. Despite Israel’s failures, God was in their midst – keeping His promises to His special nation. It was a time for feasting; a time for rejoicing.

Since the Law prohibited eating “the fat,” this must be an idiom. “Eat the fat, drink the sweet,” or as we might say, “Let’s get this party started!”

Neh 8:11  So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”

The Levites enforced the “no weeping” rule. Circulating among the crowd, they’d hear sniffling, and rush to it with these words. “You there, crying; snap out of it!”

Neh 8:12  And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.

Quit crying; feast; share your feast; rejoice. That was the application of the first five books of Scripture on that day. That was the take-home.

Every Sunday, we reserve time as we are closing for you to contemplate the “take-home,” for you, from God. He brings you here to minister His grace to you. Make sure you leave knowing more about it and Him.

You should abide in Jesus and cultivate the fruit of joy. You should choose to rejoice always. AND you should often dwell on the truth that you are why Jesus “endured the cross.”

#2 – The Joy Of The Lord Is Your Strength (v13-18)

There are 1500 national days, national weeks, or national months. We’re celebrating Memorial Day tomorrow. Today, May 26, is National Cellophane Tape Day, and National Grape Popsicle Day.

In our text, the Jews in and around Jerusalem were in a holiday season. It was their seventh month.

They were supposed to observe the Feast of Trumpets on the first day, the Day of Atonement on the tenth day, and the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days – from the fifteenth day until the twenty-first day.

Neh 8:13  Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law.
Neh 8:14  And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month,

The Bible conference added a second day. That sometimes happens when there is revival; the meetings are extended.

Maybe they had heard about the feasts in the readings the day before, and realized they weren’t keeping them. They checked the calendar and understood that Tabernacles was coming up in a few days.

Neh 8:15  and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”

During Tabernacles, the Jews built makeshift shelters from branches and camped outdoors. It was to commemorate the Exodus of their ancestors when they were miraculously delivered from Egypt, and brought through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

Neh 8:16  Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim.
Neh 8:17  So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness.

A partial observance of the Feast had been kept by the first exiles who returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel (Ezra 3:4). Before that, it had been about a thousand years since the Jews last celebrated Tabernacles.

Neh 8:18  Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.

They’d just heard all five books read a few days before, but they couldn’t get enough.

Revival is marked by many things – and one of them is a return to the authority of God’s Word.

Revival has jokingly been referred to as ‘re-Bible.’ This was the ‘Re-Bible at Watergate.’

How is the joy of the LORD your strength?

Think of a few things that accompany our salvation:

Since we are saved, we are certain that He will complete the good work He has begun in us.

Since we are saved, we are confident that all things will work together for the good.

Since we are saved, we comprehend that we will awake in His likeness, having now been predestined to be conformed into Jesus’ image.

And since we are saved, we are convinced that our light affliction is but for a moment, and is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

I may at times identify with the future martyrs of the Great Tribulation, who cry out, “How long, O Lord?” But I know that no weapon against me can prosper, and that nothing and no one can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

It doesn’t do it justice to call it super-serum, but the joy of the LORD – that is real strength for living.

Doin’ That Sing You Do (Nehemiah 6:15-7:73)

I took a walk down ‘Memory Lane’ for businesses that no longer exist in Kings County. I asked my FaceBook friends to remember a few of them. Is your former favorite place on the list?

Orchard Supply Hardware… Papa Murphy’s (Lemoore)… Gottschalks… Iseman’s… Miller’s Jewelry… Food King… Sears… K-Mart (twice)… Unique Boutique… Robert’s Jewelers… and Mervyn’s.

There have been more than a few restaurant closures: The Purple Potato… Pedens… Poor Richard’s Pizza… Debs Main Street Deli… The Old Hanford Cantina… Rubalcava’s… and Maccagno’s. I’d put Wired Angels on the list.

The restaurant that a lot of you seem to miss the most is Del Taco.

The restaurant business is hard. A bunch of chains have announced closures coming in 2019:

Burgers didn’t help IHOP. They’re closing 30-40 stores.
Papa John’s – closing 85 stores.
Chipotle – closing 65 stores.
Cheesecake Factory – closing 10 stores.
Applebees – closing 189 stores.

Do you know who the largest fast-food chain in the world is? Not McArches; it’s Subway – and they will be closing 500 of their over 44,000 locations.

With church attendance in America at an historic low, church closures are high. Likely this number is inflated, but just about every search for church closures says between 6,000 and 10,000 annually. If true, it means over 100 churches are having their last gathering this morning.

Coming together… Gathering as believers for worship… Is something we can talk about from the seventh chapter of Nehemiah. With the wall now finished, Nehemiah appointed the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites to serve at the Temple (7:1). They would facilitate worship as the people gathered before the house of the Lord.

Since we are the house of the Lord on the earth – His Temple – we want to facilitate worship.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 When We Come Together, Nonbelievers Are To Wonder, and #2 When We Come Together, Believers Are To Worship.

#1 – When We Come Together, Nonbelievers Are To Wonder (6:15-19)

Can anyone really know the true number of churches closing? How many are being planted while those are closing?

The church has two expressions:

The larger, invisible church consisting of all born-again believers throughout the Church Age.
And the local, visible church – believers who gather together as a congregation to worship the Lord.

While visible churches may close, the invisible church cannot fail. As imperfect as we are, we are the Lord’s beloved and we will one day be presented by Jesus without spot or wrinkle, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27).

As we seek to draw application from this text, it is important that we not confuse Israel with the church.
First, our theology tells us to keep them separate. We are what is called Dispensationalists. Dispensationalism is an approach to biblical interpretation which recognizes that God uses different means of working with people during different periods of history.

Everyone is, to some extent, dispensational. Does a Christian in the Church Age bring a sheep to sacrifice? No; so there are at least two dispensations – Law and Grace.

Salvation is always the same in any dispensation – it is by grace, through faith, not of works. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness. Same for you.

As obvious as it is, we have something more that tells us not to confuse Israel and the church. The apostle Paul presents the church as a “mystery” in his letter to the Ephesians. A “mystery” in the New Testament is something that had at one time been hidden but is now revealed to God’s people.

If the church was hidden… a mystery revealed in the first century… Then it did not exist on earth before that time.

We can nevertheless look at the gathering of Israel as a congregation, at the Temple, and make certain comparisons to our gathering together as God’s Temple. One such comparison is to notice that the nonbelievers looked upon the Jews and wondered at their God.

Neh 6:15  So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.

Too bad this crew couldn’t work on the High speed Rail.

What many thought could not be accomplished was finished in astonishing time.

There are many things in life that folks think cannot be accomplished: Saving a marriage… Overcoming an addiction.

Many of you who got saved later in life could testify right now how, in an astonishing fashion, God saved your marriage… How He overcame your addiction.

You became a new creation in Christ. It caused folks to wonder.

Neh 6:16  And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.

Enemies and frenemies all around Jerusalem were greatly affected by what God had done. Not what Nehemiah had done; what God had.

One reason they may have been “disheartened” is that they understood that neither they nor their gods had any real power to do a work like that.

There needs to be in our lives the testimony that some things only God can do in us and through us. If I have no more victory in my life than my nonbelieving family and friends, where is the wonder of His power and grace?

Neh 6:17  Also in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and the letters of Tobiah came to them.
Neh 6:18  For many in Judah were pledged to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shechaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah.
Neh 6:19  Also they reported his good deeds before me, and reported my words to him. Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.

God had given Nehemiah a great victory; but his enemies were already previously plotting from a different, less obvious but more sinister, angle. Nehemiah’s enemy had married in to the nation of Israel.

No matter how great Jesus’ victory over them, our spiritual enemies will never relent. Not this side of Heaven. There is always a Plan B – all the way to Plan Z.

Nonbelievers can, and should, be struck with wonder at what Jesus does and can do.

They should wonder about each of us. They should also wonder at our meetings.

The Second Temple, with its Holy of Holies, represented the presence of God on the earth. Our meetings as the Temple on earth should represent the Person and work of Jesus.

They will if we keep in mind, every time we are gathered, that He is Wonderful.

#2 – When We Come Together, Believers Are To Worship (7:1-73)

When you try to discover what worship is, you are mostly told what it is not. Always on the list of things worship is not is “just singing.”

Eventually the author or speaker gets to his point – which is some variation of “worship is our lifestyle.”

While it is true that worship is more than “just singing,” those who make worship a lifestyle do an awful lot of singing.

Repetition doesn’t always mean something, but it can be interesting. In my NKJV, the word “singers” is used 38 times in the Old Testament. Almost half of them – 16 times – are found in Nehemiah; 4 times in this chapter alone. Nehemiah’s contemporary, Ezra, used the word another 6 times.

Israel sang. They sang together, as worshippers.

What about us? Listen to these words of the apostle Paul: “Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (5:19).

Paul’s words – a command, really – establish two important things:

One: We are to “sing.” And not just as a melody in our hearts. You can’t sing silently, in your heart, AND be “speaking to one another” in songs of various genres.

Two: We must gather together in order to obey this command. Singing in the shower is great; but we must sing together – as a congregation.

I suppose we could sing to each other all the time. Today someone probably asked you how you are doing, or some such thing:

If you’re abounding, you could break out into, I’ve got that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

Feeling abased? Yet will I praise Him, even in the night; even in the midst of the storm.

All the talk about worship being more than singing; about it being a lifestyle; can tend to lead us to conclude that gathering together as a congregation isn’t important. That’s just wrong.

Neh 7:1  Then it was, when the wall was built and I had hung the doors, when the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed,

(These were the Temple gatekeepers – not the ones at the wall).

Nehemiah’s first priority after securing the city was to have the Temple open and ready, staffed with the necessary personnel so that a worshipper could experience the presence of God.

The obvious application for us, as a congregation, is to do the same. We need to be staffed, and ready, to minister before the Lord in ways that lead His people into worship.

Yes, you can and you should worship Jesus anywhere. I suppose you can do it Sunday morning on the golf course. Listen, however, to what the Lord said in the Revelation. The apostle John turned to see Jesus:

Rev 1:12  … And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
Rev 1:13  and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man…
Rev 1:16  He had in His right hand seven stars…

Weird vision. What could it mean? As is common in the Revelation, we’re told what it means a few verses later:

Rev 1:20  The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.

Jesus walks in the midst of the churches. And I know He meant the gatherings of each local church because He goes on to dictate letters to seven specific, geographical local churches.

Jesus did not say He walks in the midst of the 18 tees of the golf course.
The omnipresent God we worship really does manifest Himself in a unique way when we gather.

It’s up to each of us to determine our church membership, and our level of attendance.

(BTW: You might be thinking of the famous verse, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]. True – but the context of those words is church discipline – not a worship service, or a prayer meeting).

Neh 7:2  that I gave the charge of Jerusalem to my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the leader of the citadel, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many.

Faithful… Fearful… Two great qualities that any of us can cultivate with the empowering of the indwelling Spirit of God. Both are choices.

Neh 7:3  And I said to them, “Do not let the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot; and while they stand guard, let them shut and bar the doors; and appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, one at his watch station and another in front of his own house.”

With enemies at the gates, Nehemiah restricted the hours they were opened.

Who, or what, is attacking you? Develop a strategy – a spiritual strategy. It might mean restricting something in your life; or avoiding it entirely.

Neh 7:4  Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few, and the houses were not rebuilt.

On the very heels of the wall being completed, Nehemiah turned his attention to his next project – a housing development to repopulate Jerusalem. His work was not done.

Our work is not done until the last believer of the church age is saved and the church is resurrected and raptured. It’s wrong for the righteous to rest or retire from reaching wretches who require redeeming.

Neh 7:5  Then my God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the rulers, and the people, that they might be registered by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of those who had come up in the first return, and found written in it:

The particular plan for getting people to move inside the city walls was something God “put” in Nehemiah’s heart.

In the New Testament, in the Book of Acts, while some men in the church at Antioch were praying, “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ ” (13:1).

Yes, they confirmed it by waiting in prayer and fasting. But you cannot escape the truth that God still “speaks” to us; He still puts things in our hearts. It will never contradict His written Word… But He speaks, so learn to listen.

Neh 7:6  These are the people of the province who came back from the captivity, of those who had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his city.

I was feeling bad because I decided to skip reading the list of names in verses 7-65. Then I read in verse sixty-six and sixty-seven,

Neh 7:66  Altogether the whole assembly was forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty,
Neh 7:67  besides their male and female servants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred and thirty-seven; and they had two hundred and forty-five men and women singers.

There were a total of 42,360 people. There are not 42,360 names recorded in these verses. Even Nehemiah decided not to read most of the names.

Neh 7:68  Their horses were seven hundred and thirty-six, their mules two hundred and forty-five,
Neh 7:69  their camels four hundred and thirty-five, and donkeys six thousand seven hundred and twenty.

Earlier, on the night he first inspected the ruins, Nehemiah rode an animal – probably a donkey. He was a rider. Maybe that’s why he mentioned these animals, but not sheep and oxen and goats.

We each have our own perspective on things – things we notice more than others. Meeting together gives us the bigger spiritual picture.

Neh 7:70  And some of the heads of the fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury one thousand gold drachmas, fifty basins, and five hundred and thirty priestly garments.
Neh 7:71  Some of the heads of the fathers’ houses gave to the treasury of the work twenty thousand gold drachmas, and two thousand two hundred silver minas.
Neh 7:72  And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand gold drachmas, two thousand silver minas, and sixty-seven priestly garments.

The ministry of the Temple was supported by generous free-will offerings. The “heads” gave; but so did “the rest of the people.” Some gave more; all gave some.

I won’t go into a teaching on your giving to the ministry of the local church, except to say, it is obvious that all of us should give to the work. The generous amount is between you and the Lord to determine. Have the tithe-talk with Him.

Neh 7:73  So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the Nethinim, and all Israel dwelt in their cities. When the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities.

In its original manuscripts, the Bible did not have chapters and verses. Verse seventy-three makes more sense to most scholars as beginning chapter eight.

Chapter seven describes getting ready to gather for worship services; chapter eight records a gathering. It goes on to record the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. If you research it, you’ll find that there was a lot of singing.

There is a lot of singing in Heaven. Have you been reading the Revelation as we suggested on Easter? One researcher counts at least twenty-seven songs in the last book of the Bible.

No pressure on you to sing; I’m just telling you what the Word teaches.

I’ll end with this. Someone else sings a lot when we gather:

Zephaniah 3:17  The LORD your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Yes, that was written to Israel; and the church is not Israel. But if God sang over His people under the dispensation of Law, how much more can we expect Him to sing over us in this Church Age of grace?

If you’re not a believer, you should be hearing the Holy Spirit as He witnessed to your heart that your sins can be forgiven on account of Jesus dying on the Cross in your stead, and rising from the dead.

No Go Ono (Nehemiah 6:1-14)

If I asked you, I’m pretty sure you could name several walls that have been prominent in history:

The Great Wall of China.
Hadrians Wall in England.
The Berlin Wall.
The Walls of Troy.
The Walls of Babylon.

In the US, we have the Market Theater Gumwall in Seattle. This is from Wikipedia:

The wall is by the box office for the Market Theater. The tradition began around 1993 when patrons of Unexpected Productions’ Seattle Theatresports stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs. Theater workers scraped the gum away twice, but eventually gave up after officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction around 1999. Some people create small works of art out of gum.

I haven’t been there, but I have visited the gumwall in San Luis Obispo. The one in Seattle was named one of the top 5 germiest tourist attractions in 2009.

What do you think is the germiest? I’ll give you a hint: You kiss it. It’s the Blarney Stone.

Getting back to the more significant walls, the Western Wall, a.k.a, the Wailing Wall, in Israel, is a must include on any list. In 2017, 3.6million visitors were counted at that site.

In our verses, Nehemiah was almost finished rebuilding the ruined wall surrounding Jerusalem.
He said, “there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates).”

A wall without doors in the gates leaves a city vulnerable to attack. The Jewish historian Josephus recorded that many Israelites were killed by their enemies during construction.

In order to draw current application from these historical accounts, it’s good to reduce the story to a simple representation:

Nehemiah was the man of God in the city of God on the earth and was vulnerable to attack from his enemies while the building proceeded.

We are the people of God in the church of God on the earth and are vulnerable to attack from our enemies as building proceeds.

One thing Nehemiah and those of us in Christ have in common is that we can be described as “[waiting] for the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). That city isn’t Jerusalem.
It is the New Jerusalem described in the Revelation as “coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (21:2).

Nehemiah’s physical situation in chapter six is representative of the spiritual situation all believers find themselves in on our pilgrimage to New Jerusalem. We are not yet in our walled and gated Golden City; we are vulnerable.

Seeing how Nehemiah handled the particular attacks against him will help us meet our enemy at the gates in the strength of the Lord.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Defense Is To Live Your Life In The Lord’s Strength, and #2 Your Defense Is To Lose Your Life In The Lord’s Service.

#1 – Your Defense Is To Live Your Life In The Lord’s Strength (v1-9)

I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t Jesus say that the gates of Hades would not prevail against His church on the earth (Matthew 16:18)?

He did; they won’t; they can’t. But on the heels of making that very promise, Jesus talked about discipleship. He said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (v24-25).

The gates of Hades cannot “prevail” is promised in the context of us living for the Lord, and losing our lives for Him. It is in a context of sacrifice and suffering. Keep that in mind as we learn from Nehemiah.

Neh 6:1  Now it happened when Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates),

Why did these guys hate Nehemiah? Simply put, they were unredeemed, fleshly men. Whether it was bigotry, or prejudice, or envy, or jealousy, or covetousness… They were dominated by their flesh – by their unredeemed humanity.

When you are struggling with people who are against you, realize it is their nature. The solution is their salvation.

Nehemiah was constantly working on the wall. When he wasn’t working on it, he was thinking about it.

Jesus is constantly working on you. It behooves you to cooperate with Him, to build with Him, as He changes you from glory-to-glory into His image.

Neh 6:2  that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.

Don Corleone told his son, Michael, “So, Barzini will move against you first. He’ll set up a meeting with someone that you absolutely trust, guaranteeing your safety. And at that meeting, you’ll be assassinated.”

That is what Sanballat and Geshem had in mind for Nehemiah.

Neh 6:3  So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

I find it interesting that Nehemiah pointed to the work. I mean, why didn’t he say, “Guys, I know you’re plotting to do me harm, so ‘Thanks, but No Thanks.’ ”

It could have been diplomacy, but I think something else is to be gleaned from his response. It really was “the work” that took priority. I think Nehemiah would have answered a friend who meant him good this same way.
It’s really easy to get distracted away from growing in the Lord. Not always by sinful things, although that is a constant threat. By good things, fun things, that begin to take too much of your time and attention. Things that are permissible for you may not be spiritually beneficial to you (First Corinthians 10:23).

Neh 6:4  But they sent me this message four times, and I answered them in the same manner.

There was nothing more to say.

People will try to wear you down when it comes to Jesus and the Gospel. You have the answer, there’s nothing more to say; but they want something else.

See what you think of this discussion, titled, How Do I Counsel Unbelievers?, taken from a Christian Counseling site:

You cannot counsel unbelievers. Don’t even try. When you work with believers, your resources are vast; the Spirit and the Word operate to bring about change. Unbelievers have neither power at work in them. Moreover, the Christian counselee possesses a regenerate nature capable of understanding and appropriating biblical truth. Again, that is something the unbeliever does not have… Then, what should you do to help unbelievers? The Bible tells you to… evangelize them. [They call it pre-counseling].

Neh 6:5  Then Sanballat sent his servant to me as before, the fifth time, with an open letter in his hand.
Neh 6:6  In it was written: It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says, that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king.
Neh 6:7  And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, “There is a king in Judah!” Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together.

None of these things were true; but you could see how they might be true. It was sinister.

It was a Friday night in October of 1995. A Letter to the Editor was published in the Hanford Sentinel. Here are a few excerpts from it:

Spiritual abuse is when a person submits himself spiritually to the authority of a pastor and the pastor takes advantage… Many times the leader is subtle, or so charismatically charming that it takes a while to figure out he has fallen out of alignment with God’s character. A Hanford church was convenient for me, so I attended there… But after a time, I began to see the pastor as a one-man show, full of arrogance with boastful pseudo-intellectualism, even though he taught correct doctrine. I noticed people who approached him after the service [were] shown little love or compassion… There is much more to being a pastor than just good teaching. That church is cold because the ice is on the top and is working its way down.

In case you haven’t realized it yet, the letter was about me. And I have to say, it’s true: I am “charismatically charming.”

The open letter in the newspaper was part of a longer campaign of attacks. It followed a private letter that had been mailed to everyone in our church directory describing the characteristics of spiritual abuse. The private letter was typed on forged Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa stationary, purporting to be from Pastor Chuck Smith, asking everyone to write him with their complaints. To quote Archie and Edith Bunker, “Those were the days.”

Neh 6:8  Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”

“I sent to him.” Nehemiah answered privately. He didn’t answer in kind, publicly, fighting for public opinion.

Bear in mind that this was God’s strategy for Nehemiah in his particular circumstances. When reading the Bible, we like to come to definite conclusions on what to do in every situation. But since every situation is different, we should be looking more at our heart than the happening. Nehemiah remained focused on the Lord, and acted with the strength of meekness.

If I get treated like Nehemiah, I want to counter, and go on a campaign. It might be necessary to respond; but I think too often we are reacting in our flesh, when it is just as likely God wants us to say nothing.

Neh 6:9  For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.

Fear is a weapon formed against you. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of what people think, fear of rejection, fear of the boss, fear of the medical test results – all interfere with the work Jesus is performing in you, and through you.

Lift out of that list “fear of the medical test results.” It might be normal; it might be abnormal. Which it is will define the path you are on; maybe for the rest of your life.

But you’re still on the path walking with the Lord – learning that His grace is sufficient for you.

Whether abounding, or being abased, the Lord is your strength.

#2 – Your Defense Is To Lose Your Life In The Lord’s Service (v10-14)

Losing your life for the Lord as His disciple; we think mostly of daily sacrifices at home or at work or in school.

For multitudes of believers, it means something more.

In January of 2018, Newsweek claimed that “Christian persecution and genocide is worse right now than any time in history.” The report they cited said, “Saudi Arabia was the only country where the situation for Christians did not get worse, and that was only because the situation couldn’t get any worse than it already was.”

In September of 2017, Foreign Policy Magazine published an article titled, We Are Witnessing the Elimination of Christian Communities in Iraq and Syria.

If you are ever called upon to be martyred, you can trust the Lord for His sufficient grace to strengthen you. The point is that the gates of Hades cannot prevail against you – especially in death. Jesus has conquered death. You die victoriously.

Neh 6:10  Afterward I came to the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was a secret informer; and he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you; indeed, at night they will come to kill you.”

It helps to remember that no one but the priest was allowed in the Holy of Holies. It would be an egregious sin for Nehemiah to flee there. It would at the very least disqualify him for leadership.

Neh 6:11  And I said, “Should such a man as I flee? And who is there such as I who would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!”

Certainly Nehemiah wasn’t boasting about being a great man. What he seems to be getting at is that God would not give such counsel to His servant.

God rebukes; He exhorts; He corrects. But His words are seasoned with grace. There are things He would not say; and ways He would not say them.

It’s common in some Pentecostal circles for believers to claim they have “personal prophecies” for you from God. I’ve had a few personal prophecy projectiles pronounced on me. They are always harsh and judgmental; and they don’t come true. Test the words by Scripture, and also by the nature of God.

Neh 6:12  Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.
Neh 6:13  For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me.

It isn’t always a word of prophecy that people use to undermine you.

Sometimes it’s Bible doctrine; by which I mean a systematic theology that claims it is the one, true way of interpreting Bible doctrine. Instead of evangelizing the lost, these guys go after believers, to convert them to their system. They play on fear.

Neh 6:14  My God, remember Tobiah and Sanballat, according to these their works, and the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who would have made me afraid.

Shemaiah wasn’t the only hireling. But no matter how many people say something that is false, it doesn’t become true.

Nehemiah wouldn’t flee to save himself; not to the Holy of Holies, and not anywhere. He was quite willing to perish if that should be the Lord’s will.

The apostle Paul said, “according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:20-23).

If that’s your honest attitude, you’ll have no problem losing your life daily while serving the Lord at home, at work, and in school.

We mentioned the Western Wall in Jerusalem. You might recall that Jesus famously predicted of the Temple, “not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). How, then, is the Western Wall still standing?

The Western Wall is a retaining wall built by Herod the Great to increase the size of the Temple complex.
The disciples pointed to the “buildings” of the Temple – not to the foundation (Matthew 24:1). The prophecy was fulfilled to the letter in 70AD.

The greatest wall, and its gates, is coming. It’s our home, New Jerusalem.

Rev 21:10. And he… showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,
Rev 21:11  having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.
Rev 21:12  Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel:
Rev 21:13  three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.
Rev 21:14  Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Rev 21:15  And he who talked with me had a gold reed to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.
Rev 21:16  The city is laid out as a square; its length is as great as its breadth. And he measured the city with the reed: twelve thousand furlongs. Its length, breadth, and height are equal.
Rev 21:17  Then he measured its wall: one hundred and forty-four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel.
Rev 21:18  The construction of its wall was of jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.
Rev 21:19  The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all kinds of precious stones: the first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald,
Rev 21:20  the fifth sardonyx, the sixth sardius, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst.
Rev 21:21  The twelve gates were twelve pearls: each individual gate was of one pearl. And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.
Rev 21:22  But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.
Rev 21:23  The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

You have an address there – if you are in Christ.

If you’re not a believer; if you’ve never been born again; the Holy Spirit is here to free your will to receive Jesus Christ.

Accusers Assemble (Nehemiah 5:1-19)

It’s not business as usual for some of the top companies in the nation:

Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby are closed on Sundays.

In-N-Out puts Bible verses on its packaging.

At Interstate Batteries their mission statement is “to glorify God.”

Purchase clothing from Forever 21 and you may notice John 3:16 printed on your shopping bag.

Tyson Farms “strive(s) to honor God” and “be a faith-friendly company.”

Some of those companies go beyond proclaiming the Gospel. Since the year 2000, Tyson Farms has employed approximately 120 office Chaplains who are there to provide “compassionate pastoral care” to employees.

You might say it is business unusual for these companies.

We are in the fifth chapter of Nehemiah. On account of their commitment to rebuild Jerusalem’s ruined wall, the workers had no time to farm. Their crops failed, leading to scarcity. They couldn’t pay the heavy taxes levied by Persia. They were reduced to borrowing money.

The more well-to-do Jews, shrewd businessmen, saw an opportunity to profit.

They offered loans, but were charging illegal interest, then foreclosing on properties when the borrowers fell behind. In some cases, the borrowers chose to sell their children into indentured service to keep up with payments.

The wealthy were conducting business as usual at a time that called for the unusual.

Maybe you own a company; most of us don’t. But we all do business in the world. And though we will talk about money, by ‘business’ we mean all of our activities in the world as we await the Lord.

We are God’s on-going building project; and by ‘we’ I mean each of us individually, and all of us corporately. Our business should be unusual as we await the return of the King.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 If It’s Business As Usual, The Earth Is What You Treasure, but #2 If It’s Business Unusual, Heaven Is What You Treasure.

#1 – If It’s Business As Usual, The Earth Is What You Treasure (v1-8)

The Book of Nehemiah is an accurate history; but it, and the entire Old Testament, is so much more than that. The apostle Paul reminded us that, “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

The episode we are about to encounter seems to be a great example and illustration of something Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew:

Mat 6:19  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;
Mat 6:20  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
Mat 6:21  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The workers on the wall: Would you say they treasured Heaven, or earth?
The wealthy, as I’ve described them: Would you say they treasured Heaven, or earth?

It is a simple but memorable illustration of Jesus’ words. One group was building for God, while the other was building bigger barns for themselves.

Neh 5:1  And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren.

I get the impression that this situation was unknown to Nehemiah until something happened that triggered “a great outcry.” It never crossed his mind that Jews would take advantage of their brethren – especially while they were working for God. Good for him for believing the best.

Why mention the “wives?” The women normally refrained from open complaining, in proper submission to their husbands. But things were so bad, even godly wives gave voice to it.

Problems in the church, between believers, always shock us. They should; we are charged to maintain unity in peace. At the same time, take a look at the first century church and you’ll see that it was rife with strife.

Neh 5:2  For there were those who said, “We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live.”

We saw in the last chapter that the people worked from daybreak until the stars appeared. Because of the threat of attack from enemies, the workers whose homes and lands were outside of Jerusalem stayed in town rather than going home.

No one called Craft Services for catering. Basic needs of food were not being made available. Any food had to be purchased, adding to their impoverishment.

There’s a scene in the baseball film, Moneyball, in which players discover the Oakland A’s are so pathetic a franchise, you have to buy your own beverages from a vending machine.

Neh 5:3  There were also some who said, “We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.”

Faithful to the work, the workers did not quit. They mortgaged property for the money they needed.

When we were in our building project at CCSan Bernardino, we went to Pastor Don McClure to ask if he would approach Pastor Chuck Smith about lending us money. Don wanted to know if any of us had second-mortgaged our houses.

It was a short meeting.

Later, a couple of guys in the fellowship, contractors, on their own, and with no knowledge of our meeting with Don, second-mortgaged a rental property they owned, and gave the money towards the building project.

I’m not saying it is always necessary to do something like that. What I am saying is this: If you think you’d never do something like that because it doesn’t make good business sense, then you’re stuck in the business as usual group. You identify with the wealthy Jews; and that’s where you want to be.

Neh 5:4  There were also those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our lands and vineyards.

Taxes were due regardless their crop losses. There were no subsidies, no help for farmers.

Neh 5:5  Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children; and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.”

This was the big reveal that it was their own “flesh,” meaning their own “brethren” – fellow Jews – who were treating them this way.

Bottom line: It was a great opportunity to grow your portfolio.

I was surprised to learn that the commonly used phrase, ‘bottom line,’ is relatively recent in origin. It is an American phrase originally coined in the mid-1960’s by corporate America to describe the last line of a profit and loss statement where the final numerical figure is placed, showing whether a company made a profit or took a loss.

If you are always looking to the bottom line, then you’re not looking up; you’re not looking Heavenward.

Do you think that Hobby Lobby or Chik-fil-A was looking to the bottom line when deciding to close on Sunday? From a business standpoint, it is foolish. If it were more profitable to be closed on Sunday, then more businesses would follow suit.

I didn’t see Mary Poppins Returns, but I’ve seen the original enough times to know that George Banks getting fired by the bottom line bankers was the best thing that could have happened to him. It set him free to understand a greater purpose for his life.

Bottom line is an anchor that hinders spiritual building in and through your life. You’ve got the tuppence in your hand, but it is holding you prisoner to material things.

Neh 5:6  And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.
Anger was a proper response. Not anger that lashes out, or loses control; that’s sin, and can’t be excused by saying you were righteously angry.

Neh 5:7  After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, “Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.” So I called a great assembly against them.

I should point out that scholars debate the meaning of “usury” in this passage. Most agree that it means charging interest on the loans. If so, in Deuteronomy we read, “Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest“ (23:19).

Other scholars point out that the word translated “usury” isn’t the normal word for interest. They say the lenders were acting more like pawnbrokers, holding property without interest, but with the intent of foreclosing on it.

Either way, these wealthy Jews were spiritually blind to the work of God.

Neh 5:8  And I said to them, “According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?” Then they were silenced and found nothing to say.

Apparently Nehemiah and some others had purchased Jews out of servitude, while the wealthy were setting-up others to be sold into it. It’s a mini-illustration within this passage to compare those who treasured earth versus those who treasured Heaven. One group set people free; the other sent them away bound.

Christian finances. There are several different resources that teach solid biblical principles. There are books and seminars. I’m not dissing any of them; in fact, most Christians will benefit by going through one of them.

I am saying that there are times when the Lord isn’t interested in your shrewd handling of finances as much as He is in your personal sacrifice to further the work of the Gospel.

The things you have – they are yours, to do with as you please. But as you look at what pleases you, a picture emerges. Either you are treasuring Heaven, or you are treasuring earthly things.

Take a look: Where is your heart?

#2 – If It’s Business Unusual, Heaven Is What You Treasure (v9-19)

In the early 1980’s Pam and I were paring-down our lives in order to go into full-time ministry. We we sold our 2000 square foot home and were buying a 900 square foot home.

Even though we were going backwards, the numbers weren’t working out. We were $10,000.00 short in escrow to complete the deal.

Or were we? A couple unexpectedly deposited $10,000.00 in our account, and the deal closed.

This ministry stuff seemed pretty good to me.

A few years later, we were Hanford-bound. Our house wasn’t selling, so we rented it to a couple from CCSan Bernardino. After a few months, I approached them about buying it. When the appraisal came in, can you guess how much it was below the sales price? Yep – God got His $10,000.00 back from us, in order to bless them.

Was it bad business? No, it was business unusual.

Neh 5:9  Then I said, “What you are doing is not good. Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?

There were bigger spiritual issues than bottom line profit. The wealthy were acting against the Jews just like the surrounding nations. Worse, really, because they were price-gouging their own neighbors.

A church should follow sound business practices. In fact, it must. We do. We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about supernatural leading to do the unusual when God confirms it.

Neh 5:10  I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain. Please, let us stop this usury!

Nehemiah and his guys were lending – but according to the Law, they were not charging interest, or profiting in any way.

Neh 5:11  Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them.”

Either were charging 12% per annum on the loans and were told to return it; or this was a penalty assessed against the wealthy. They were told to pay it, and to restore their property.

Neh 5:12  So they said, “We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.” Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.

They gave their word, but Nehemiah had it notarized, as it were. Unlike Charlie Brown, he didn’t trust them to hold the football without a witness.

Neh 5:13  Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise. Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” and praised the LORD. Then the people did according to this promise.

The assembly was like a biblical finance seminar – but one that was based on the unusual. I will say this about the Christian financial resources: If they don’t take the unusual into account, they will trap you in legalism. It’s all too easy to think that if you keep all the rules, you are pleasing God. God’s principles, His precepts, always allow for you to keep the greatest commandment – “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND,” and, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

All of this happened on Nehemiah’s watch. Was he slacking off? No; he simply didn’t know. He was counting on all the Jews to be like him. The chapter ends with a look at his own business unusual practices.

Neh 5:14  Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions.

What three U.S. presidents refused their salary? Hoover, Kennedy, and Trump. You might remember that Arnold refused his salary as governor of California.

Nehemiah held a government position, and it had perks. He refused to benefit from them.

Is this a must in ministry? No; but it might be necessary, or prudent, in certain circumstances.

Neh 5:15  But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.

In the world, position over people can lead to oppressing them. In the kingdom of God, ideas about position are inverted. You are not to lord over others. You are to consider yourself the servant of all.

Neh 5:16  Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work.

Nehemiah didn’t simply visit the wall for photo ops. He worked on it. Instead of serving him, his own servants worked on the wall. Nehemiah was all-in.

Neh 5:17  And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us.

This doesn’t mean that every night Nehemiah set a table for 150 guests. “At my table” is a euphemism for “at my expense.”
Undoubtedly some ate with him, but not all every night.

Neh 5:18  Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people.

The governor’s provisions were charged to the people. Nehemiah couldn’t refuse it; but he could share it.

Are there things you feel you can’t refuse because of your position? Maybe you can. But, if you can’t, can you use them to bless others? Be creative.

Neh 5:19  Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.

He wasn’t looking for reward. He was acknowledging his motives – for which he could trust God to reward him.

The term “fuzzy math” was first heard during the debates prior to the 2000 U.S. presidential election. It was used by George W. Bush, who dismissed the figures used by his opponent, Al Gore.

God uses fuzzy math. Jesus once said that a poor woman who gave two mites gave more than all the others (Luke 21:1-4). She didn’t… But she did.

Then there is the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price.

Matthew 13:45  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls,
Matthew 13:46  who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The merchant is the Lord Jesus. The pearl of great price is the church. At Calvary He sold all that He had to buy this pearl.

Jesus valued you more than the whole world; more than the entire universe. It doesn’t make sense… and it does make sense.

We all have business with God. For some, it may be to receive Him as Savior.

Helpers & The Nehemiah Brass (Nehemiah 4:1-23)

It makes it worse that they don’t know they are surrounded.

Butch and Sundance get in a gunfight with the local Bolivian police. Wounded, they take cover in a building. As they banter about next going to Australia, and learning to swim, the army arrives, and hundreds of soldiers surround the area.

Thinking that they can make a run to their horses, Butch and Sundance charge out of the building six-guns blazing. The image mercifully freezes to the sound of rifles firing repeatedly.

I got to thinking about being surrounded by your enemies because that is the situation Nehemiah found himself in. The enemies are listed in verse seven: Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites.

Bible commentators who know the geography of Jerusalem agree that they were surrounded on all sides.

If you are in Christ, you are surrounded on all sides by supernatural enemies:

Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31). Paul calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), and “the god of this world” (Second Corinthians 4:4). John says, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one” (First John 5:19).

In Ephesians we are told Satan has a hierarchy of supernatural colleagues, called “principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, the spiritual hosts of wickedness…” (6:12).

One resource described Satan’s rule over the world with these words:

Satan is the major influence on the ideals, opinions, goals, hopes and views of the majority of people. His influence also encompasses the world’s philosophies, education, and commerce. The thoughts, ideas, speculations and false religions of the world are under his control and have sprung from his lies and deceptions.

Your Christian young adult goes off to college. He or she is mocked and ridiculed for being an evangelical. Their faith is undermined by godless philosophies. They are surrounded.

We are quite literally surrounded by the physical world that is “in the power of the wicked one.”
Ah, but you’ve already thought about what I’m going to say next. We are also surrounded by the Lord and His heavenly host.

In the Old Testament book of Second Kings, Elisha’s servant was afraid on account of the advances of the Syrian army against them. Elisha said to him, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, and said, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (6:16-17).

Surrounded by both God and the god of this world, we have a choice to make as to who we focus upon.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 You Can Choose To Live Surrounded By Him, and #2 You Can Refuse To Live Surrounded By Them.

#1 – You Can Choose To Live Surrounded By Him (v1-6)

I don’t think Elisha saw angels surrounding him all the time. It’s more likely that he understood by faith that he must be surrounded by a heavenly host. He asked the Lord to open his servants eyes to see by sight what he ‘saw’ by faith.

We don’t need to see supernatural beings surrounding us. We believe they are there on account of the Word of God. We can choose what Nehemiah chose to see – God surrounding him and not the enemy.

Neh 4:1  But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.

Sanballat was a continual irritant to Nehemiah and to the work of rebuilding.

Before you start thinking about people who irritate you, ask yourself, “Am I an irritant to others? Or am I a salve, soothing and comforting, supportive?” Ask yourself and try to be honest.

Something spiritual was going on, behind the scenes, that stirred-up Sanballat against the Jews. Something spiritual, behind the scenes, is always going on. After all, the world is all around us.

Sanballat’s weapon of choice was mocking, and we see him wielding it skillfully in the next verse.

Neh 4:2  And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish – stones that are burned?”

I submit to you that mocking is spiritual recognition.
Someone has definitely noticed what you are doing, what you are trying to accomplish, and it’s bothering them.

Neh 4:3  Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.”

Tobiah basically says, “Well, if they do complete it, it won’t be very sturdy.” It revealed a worry, an anxiety, that the Jews just might be successful, despite Sanballat’s mocking.

Again, when it comes to serving the Lord, opposition can be a great encouragement, if we so choose. Let’s see how Nehemiah responded.

Neh 4:4  Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!
Neh 4:5  Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.

Before you give Nehemiah a fist pump, let’s talk about his approach. This kind of praying, found throughout the Old Testament, is called “imprecatory.” It invokes judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies, or upon those perceived as the enemies of God.

It’s not OK to pray imprecatory prayers in the Church Age. Nehemiah lived under the Old Covenant, in which God promised to bless Israel for obedience, but to bring calamity upon them for disobedience. It was perfectly understandable that the Jews would pray imprecatory prayers towards their enemies.

Our model for prayer is what? Right – the Lord’s Prayer. There is no way you can fit imprecatory statements into a prayer follows the template Jesus gave us.
Jesus exhorted us to pray for our enemies, but praying for their death or for bad things to happen to them isn’t what He meant. Instead, we are to pray for their salvation first and foremost, and then for God’s will to be done.

Neh 4:6  So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

Nehemiah met opposition with the spiritual discipline of prayer. Even though his prayer was imprecatory, he left taking any action against his opponents to God.

Mocking and ridicule were no threat to the Jews; no physical threat. They didn’t need to respond at all, let alone respond in kind.

Can you do that? Refuse to respond? It’s hard to not defend yourself. Look, I know we all crave recognition, and we all cave at mocking and ridicule. We need to rise above it.

A little tougher skin under the armor of God suits a believer surrounded by supernatural and natural opponents seeking to stumble us, to see us fail and fall.

Michael W. Smith released an album in early 2018 titled, Surrounded. The lyric of the title song captures what we are saying about choice:

It may look like I’m surrounded
But I’m surrounded by You

I could see Nehemiah humming something like that. It needs to be our tune, too, as we choose to live surrounded by Him – by our Lord, Jesus

#2 – You Can Refuse To Live Surrounded By Them (v7-23)

If you don’t think you can refuse to live surrounded by your opponents, then you are not familiar with Marine Corps Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller.

Recognized by five Navy Crosses and numerous other valor awards, Puller was equally well-known for his sayings. Two of them reveal his approach to being surrounded:

“They’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us… They can’t get away this time.”

“We’re surrounded. That simplifies the problem.” 

Nehemiah took a page out of Puller’s ‘surrounded’ philosophy.

Neh 4:7  Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry,

Opposition broadened, and it accelerated. It will in your life as well. The world, the flesh, and the devil are relentless, life-long enemies.

As you get stronger in the Lord, they never weaken. Not until the Lord deals with Satan, sin and death at His Second Coming, and at the creation of new heavens and a new earth.

Neh 4:8  and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.

Nehemiah possessed papers from the powerful potentate of Persia permitting the project to proceed peacefully.

The enemies could not attack directly without defying the king. They were therefore going to resort to terrorism – quick, sneak attacks that “create confusion.”

Satan and his minions are terrorists. They rarely come at you directly. If they do, it’s a diversion. They have lots of time to plan years ahead. Their plans are devious, sinister, vicious, evil. You don’t see them coming. They explode in your face.

Neh 4:9  Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.

Until now, Nehemiah had relied solely on prayer. Here he “set a watch.” Throughout the rest of this episode we will see two complimentary strategies:

One is Godward: A total faith in God to oversee the Israelites.

The other is man-ward: A total commitment to persevere in the work despite opposition.

Neh 4:10  Then Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.”
Neh 4:11  And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.”
Neh 4:12  So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, “From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.”

As it always does, fear crippled faith. The Jews started to say to themselves that the work was too hard, too demanding, impossible.

Of course it is. The things God commands you to do – you can’t do them. You need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He must do the works through you.

Then nothing is impossible with God, and you can do all things through Jesus strengthening you.

Neh 4:13  Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.

Nehemiah issued everyone a CCW permit. (Not quite, I guess, since these weren’t really concealed weapons).

We have been issued armor – called the whole armor of God in Ephesians. I won’t go through all of it. It’s enough to know that we have it, and that it is more than adequate for us to resist and overcome the devil.

Neh 4:14  And I looked, and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.

The Lord would fight for them AND they were to fight. Sounds contrary:

Some people say, “God helps those who help themselves.”

Others – “Let go, and let God.”

Both are wrong. God works; you work. It makes sense if you’re a believer. There’s another saying, attributed to Augustine, that though not perfect, comes close to capturing this thought: “Pray as though everything depended on God; Work as though everything depended on you.”

Neh 4:15  And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.

Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites saw the hand of God in the faith of the Israelites. They didn’t fear the Jews because they had armed themselves; they knew “God had brought their plot to nothing.”

Don’t leave your work for the Lord, but if you have – return to it.

Neh 4:16  So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.
Neh 4:17  Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.

“The sword and the trowel,” one in each hand, has become an endearing image for believers. As an image, it perfectly conveys the sense of these verses – faith and works in harmony.

It’s a good image, a great image… But have you ever tried masonry with one hand? It just isn’t feasible. We see so in the next verse.

Neh 4:18  Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
Neh 4:19  Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.
Neh 4:20  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

It makes you wonder what the trumpeter played – what tune:

Probably not All You Need is Love, by the Beatles.

How about Feels So Good, by Chuck Mangione?

I know: When the Saints Go Marching In, by Louis Armstrong.

Neh 4:21  So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared.
Neh 4:22  At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.”

They worked harder, longer, than ever before.

Often – too often – a family will realize it is in trouble and decide that they need to spend more time together. But where do they find the extra time? Usually by spending less time and effort serving the Lord. Church attendance is sacrificed for “quality family time.”

BTW: Church attendance in America is at an historic low with only 50% saying they are members of a church – down from 70% in 1999.

Neh 4:23  So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.

They slept with their clothes on. Some of the workers, you might recall, were perfumers by trade. I’ll bet they made a killing selling deodorant on the side.

We’ve been given armor from God, to keep on.
We are also described as being clothed in the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness. There is no taking it off to indulge in the world.

Satan hasn’t taken a vacation for at least 7,000 years, since he was in the Garden of Eden tempting our parents. He has confirmed reservations after the Great Tribulation for the Abyss, and after the Millennial Kingdom, the Lake of Fire. For now, he and his are on the prowl – working ceaselessly to ruin you.

Like Nehemiah, you can choose who you ‘see’ surrounding you. Set your mind by these two principles:

“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (Second Kings 6:16).

“He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (First John 4:4).

Around you… In you… as Lt. General Puller said, “That simplifies the problem.”