Where You Gonna Wall, Gate Builders? (Nehemiah 3:1-32)

What city in the world matches your personality?

Yes, there’s an on-line quiz to tell you. Yes, I took it – even though the last quiz I took, What Piece of IKEA Furniture Are You?, said that I was “the trusty Lack side table.” It sells for $8.99.

I was pleasantly surprised this time: Capri, Italy, described as “a place of admiration and refuge since the time of the Emperors of Rome.”

Whether or not it matches your personality, you may have a favorite city. It may be your hometown; or a vacation or a retirement destination.

God has a favorite city. There is only one city in the world that is “called by His Name” (Daniel 9:19). The Bible includes nearly 800 references to Jerusalem – “the City of our God” (Psalm 48:1,8).

Psalm 132:13-14 For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: “This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”

Psalm 87:1-3 “His foundation is in the holy mountains. The LORD loves the gates of Zion More than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!”

The Bible sometimes says that you are like a city:

Proverbs 25:28  Whoever has no rule over his own spirit Is like a city broken down, without walls.

Jeremiah 1:18  For behold, I have made you this day A fortified city and an iron pillar, And bronze walls against the whole land…

The wall surrounding the city God loves was in ruin, exposing His people to danger. He sent Nehemiah to fortify the wall.

Without discounting the importance of fortifying the physical wall, because God sometimes likens His people to a city, we have a biblical freedom to make application of it to ourselves.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify Your Hope In The Lord, and #2 The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify The Household Of The Lord.

#1 – The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify Your Hope In The Lord

I thought we were talking about the wall, not its gates?

Chapter three describes the fortifying of the wall by going from gate-to-gate, for a total of ten gates. It names the gates and, for the most part, from their names it is easy to agree upon their meaning for the fortifying of our spiritual lives.

Nehemiah uses a Hebrew word, chazaq, translated in the NKJV, “made repairs.” The word is used thirty-five times in thirty-two verses. That should get our attention.

The word is variously translated in different versions of the Bible. If you look it up in Strong’s Concordance, you’ll find that there are literally dozens of ways to translate it.

I like the word “fortify.” It is as good as any, and I like it for two reasons:

First, it sounds more intense than “made repairs.” You can repair something without improving it, or making it stronger. “Fortify” conveys the idea that it would be stronger than before.

Second, “fortify” better communicates that the wall would need constant care, and unlike repairs, it couldn’t wait.

As I said, the fortifications are described going from gate-to-gate in a counter-clockwise direction. In this first point of our study, we will concentrate on the ten gates.

Neh 3:1  Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They built as far as the Tower of the Hundred, and consecrated it, then as far as the Tower of Hananel.
Neh 3:2  Next to Eliashib the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

You’ve seen signs on the gates of factories that say, “Deliveries Only,” or “Trucks Use Other Gate.” Certain gates are designated for certain purposes. Same was true of Jerusalem.

The Sheep Gate was the gate through which animals were brought into the city, notably the lambs for Temple sacrifices.

Nehemiah could have started with any of the ten gates; but he didn’t. Starting at the Sheep Gate reminds us that the only way to God is through sacrifice. This gate reminds us of Jesus Christ, Whom John the Baptist identified as, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). In the Revelation, Jesus is, “the Lamb Who was slain” (5:12). In all, He is referred to as the Lamb about thirty times in the Revelation.

This is the spiritual gate through which every sinner must enter. “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

We fortify our hope in the Lord, first of all, by getting saved. I’m using “hope” in the biblical sense of a certainty.

By His death on the Cross, Jesus is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.

Believers fortify their hope in the Lord at the Sheep Gate by reflecting upon their salvation by grace, through faith. If you did nothing to obtain salvation, you can do nothing to maintain it. It is the gift of God.

Not saved? Get saved. Saved? Be fortified in the hope of eternal life.

Neh 3:3  Also the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.
Neh 3:4  And next to them Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, made repairs. Next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs. Next to them Zadok the son of Baana made repairs.
Neh 3:5  Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.
No mystery as to the Fish Gate. Merchants used this gate when they brought fish from the Mediterranean Sea. There may have been a fish market near the gate.

At least seven of the original twelve disciples of Jesus were fishermen. Jesus famously said to them, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mathew 4:19).

We are saved to serve. All of us are to do the work of an evangelist. Each of us has gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit. We fortify our hope at the Fish Gate by serving Him.

Neh 3:6  Moreover Jehoiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors, with its bolts and bars.
Neh 3:7  And next to them Melatiah the Gibeonite, Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and Mizpah, repaired the residence of the governor of the region beyond the River.
Neh 3:8  Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs. Also next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs; and they fortified Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.
Neh 3:9  And next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, leader of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs.
Neh 3:10  Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs in front of his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabniah made repairs.
Neh 3:11  Malchijah the son of Harim and Hashub the son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section, as well as the Tower of the Ovens.
Neh 3:12  And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs.

Nehemiah is the only book in the Bible where it is called the Old Gate. Things that are old remind us of who and what came before us.

In the case of fortifying our hope in the Lord, it’s important to remember that He alone is the Ancient of Days. Jesus is the Creator of all things. Christianity isn’t a religion that was founded in the first century by Jesus or His followers. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to our first parents dating from the Garden of Eden.

Christianity isn’t one of many ways to salvation. Jesus Christ is the only way, truth, and life – from eternity to eternity.

Here is another approach: No other belief system can give anyone hope. That’s partly because they all demand you earn salvation; and that is something it is impossible to do. You can’t work your way to Heaven; you can’t get there by deeds. It is a gift – God’s indescribable gift.

Neh 3:13  Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall as far as the Refuse Gate.

The Valley Gate was where Nehemiah had set out on his night survey of the wall.

It’s almost impossible to not associate valleys with trials and suffering. We’re told we will “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). The hope you fortify at the Valley Gate is that the Lord can not and will not leave you or forsake you.

Neh 3:14  Malchijah the son of Rechab, leader of the district of Beth Haccerem, repaired the Refuse Gate; he built it and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.

Yes, this was the gate through which the city’s refuse was taken to be dumped. Not very glamorous. Sort of like Mediterranean Avenue and Baltic Avenue in Monopoly.

Our fortification at this gate is for Jesus to cleanse us and make us more like Him:

“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

In Second Corinthians 7:1 we read, “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

You are being transformed, changed from glory-to-glory. He will complete the work; you will awake in eternity in His likeness.

Neh 3:15  Shallun the son of Col-Hozeh, leader of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate; he built it, covered it, hung its doors with its bolts and bars, and repaired the wall of the Pool of Shelah by the King’s Garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the City of David.
Neh 3:16  After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, leader of half the district of Beth Zur, made repairs as far as the place in front of the tombs of David, to the man-made pool, and as far as the House of the Mighty.
Neh 3:17  After him the Levites, under Rehum the son of Bani, made repairs. Next to him Hashabiah, leader of half the district of Keilah, made repairs for his district.
Neh 3:18  After him their brethren, under Bavai the son of Henadad, leader of the other half of the district of Keilah, made repairs.
Neh 3:19  And next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, the leader of Mizpah, repaired another section in front of the Ascent to the Armory at the buttress.
Neh 3:20  After him Baruch the son of Zabbai carefully repaired the other section, from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.
Neh 3:21  After him Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz, repaired another section, from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib.
Neh 3:22  And after him the priests, the men of the plain, made repairs.
Neh 3:23  After him Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs by his house.
Neh 3:24  After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress, even as far as the corner.
Neh 3:25  Palal the son of Uzai made repairs opposite the buttress, and on the tower which projects from the king’s upper house that was by the court of the prison. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh made repairs.

The Fountain Gate is located near the pool of Siloam and was often used by the people for ceremonial cleaning before proceeding on to the Temple.

This speaks to us of the living waters of the Holy Spirit that empower us. Jesus said: ‘Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38).

The hope that the indwelling Holy Spirit brings is a topic that could occupy us for a long time. For example, we’re told in the New Testament He is the guarantee of our completion in Christ. Not a guarantee like limited power train warranties; but an absolute guarantee.

Hope is fortified at the Fountain Gate realizing that He dwells within us, our Comforter.

Neh 3:26  Moreover the Nethinim who dwelt in Ophel made repairs as far as the place in front of the Water Gate toward the east, and on the projecting tower.
Neh 3:27  After them the Tekoites repaired another section, next to the great projecting tower, and as far as the wall of Ophel.

No jokes about the Water Gate. This one led down to the Gihon Spring which was located adjacent to the Kidron Valley.

The Water Gate is intended to remind us of the Word of God. We already quoted from Ephesians how Jesus washes us by the Word (Ephesians 5:26).

It was at the Water Gate that Ezra and the priests conducted a great Bible conference and explained the Scriptures to the people.

Hope in the Lord is fortified as we encounter Him on the pages of Scripture.

Neh 3:28  Beyond the Horse Gate the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house.

The Horse Gate was close to the King’s stables and the men of Jerusalem would ride their horses out of this gate to war.

Spiritual warfare is inevitable. Good thing we have the whole armor of God to fortify our hope in Him (Ephesians 6:10-12).

2Ti 2:3  You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2Ti 2:4  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.

The warfare itself fortifies our hope in the Lord in the sense that, if I’m at the Horse Gate, it’s a proof I’ve been enlisted by my Lord.

Neh 3:29  After them Zadok the son of Immer made repairs in front of his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, made repairs.
Neh 3:30  After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah made repairs in front of his dwelling.
The East Gate led directly to the Temple and is probably what we know today as the Golden Gate. Tradition says that Jesus entered the Temple on Palm Sunday through this gate.

Jewish and Christian tradition both connect the Golden Gate with the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem.

For us, that means His prophesied Second Coming. Are you not fortified by the hope of His Second Coming?

Neh 3:31  After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the Nethinim and of the merchants, in front of the Miphkad Gate, and as far as the upper room at the corner.

The Hebrew word has a military connotation and refers to the mustering of the troops for numbering and inspection.

Since we just were thinking of the Lord’s coming, this gate certainly reminds us that at His Second Coming He will judge between believers and nonbelievers – the sheep and the goats – and establish the Millennial Kingdom on the earth.

O how our hope is fortified knowing the Prince of Peace is coming to right wrongs and to rule with righteousness.

Neh 3:32  And between the upper room at the corner, as far as the Sheep Gate, the goldsmiths and the merchants made repairs.

Back to where we started. Between these ten gates the wall itself was being fortified, connecting all around the city.

My grand-boys were over the other night playing LEGO Batman on Nintendo. In certain levels, all that Batman or Robin have to do is walk through a door or gate to receive power in the game.

The ten gates… Walk through each of them and you’ll be fortified in the Lord.

For example: Are you at a Valley Gate in your life? Don’t stand arguing at the Valley Gate, wishing instead to be walking through one of the others. Don’t let it halt you; go through it, with the certainty Jesus is with you every step of the way, and that all must work together for good.

#2 – The Ten Gates Remind You To Fortify The Household Of The Lord

We missed some important things by concentrating on the gates. Two things in particular should have struck you:

First – Did you catch the varied occupations of the construction crew? Nehemiah was a cupbearer. There were priests, goldsmiths, perfumers, merchants, and folks that worked for the government. Also mentioned were the Nethinim – a group of Temple servants. In one instance, a man’s daughters were mentioned.

Second – There was another highly repeated word. Sixteen times Nehemiah noted that the people worked “next” to one another.

I’ve pointed out before, talking mostly about Nehemiah, how incredible that such an immense project was entrusted to people with no skill to accomplish it. God supernaturally empowered perfumers and such to build His wall.

We should mention the nobles who thought themselves too good for such work.
What a bunch of losers. Rank and status outside the church mean nothing in the church. The greatest of all is servant of all.

While we are on the subject, Nehemiah is often put forth as a great leader. He was – but only because he was a submitted follower of Jehovah. Don’t think God scoured the earth looking for the most qualified leader. He picked Nehemiah – an unlikely candidate – and molded him.

Back to where I was going with these observations.

Here we’ve seen a group of God’s people, from all walks of life, working side-by-side right next to each other to build something on the earth for the Lord.

If your Bible wasn’t open to Nehemiah, you might think I just described the church on earth.

We often say that the church is not a building – meaning it is not the brick and mortar where we meet that matters, but the believers in the meeting.

But the church is a building in this sense: We are each compared to living stones.

1 Peter 2:5  you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said He would build His church. He does it, on earth, by taking the stones He has made alive and placing them next to one another as He wills in what we recognize as a local congregation of His people – the church.
It is this “next” to that so many who profess Jesus are actively disobeying by remaining independent, aloof from church.

It is not superior; it is insubordinate. I can’t tell a person how often to attend their church; or how involved to be. But I can tell believers who disdain the church that they are sinning. We are each called upon to fortify the household of faith by being next to one another, building up one another to go and fulfill the Great Commission.

The city that matches my personality isn’t Capri, Italy. It is a city I’ve only seen glimpses of on the pages of the Bible.

It’s the New Jerusalem, the city whose builder and maker is God. It’s going to be coming down from Heaven.

We read in the Revelation, “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2).

While we wait – It’s good to be next to you for this hour, and for these several decades, in this household of faith.

Gate Expectations (Nehemiah 2:9-20)

You might remember Florida senator Marco Rubio joking about the small size of Donald Trump’s hands at a campaign rally in Roanoke, Virginia. He later offered a public apology.

Trump’s on-line detractors use hashtags like #tinytrump or #tinyhands

There are claims that his camp digitally alters the length of his fingers in the media they release.
The tiny hands debate goes back to an article written more than thirty years ago. At last the issue can be resolved.

There is a website that allows you to print-out an actual-size outline of Donald Trump’s left hand. It was created based on a bronzed handprint hanging in the New York branch of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.

Are Trump’s hands really #tiny? Not exactly. At 7.25” long, they’re only slightly smaller than average.

Nehemiah twice in chapter two refers to the “hand” of God – in verses eight and eighteen. The hand of God was and would be upon him as he journeyed to Jerusalem, and as he rallied the Jews to rebuild its walls.

It’s a good backdrop for us to discuss the hand of God in our lives… And to recall with exceeding joy that we who are in Christ are God’s handiwork.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Shown By You, and #2 It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Upon You.

#1 – It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Shown By You (v9-10 & 19-20)

I am art-ignorant. By that I mean I do not recognize most paintings or sculptures. I can probably pick-out the Mona Lisa from a line-up, but that’s about it.

Artists have a certain style that makes them recognizable to the discerning eye. In the 1960’s, Andy Warhol pioneered Pop Art – showcasing a collection of paintings that focused on mass-produced commercial goods. When you see his art, you say, “That’s an Andy Warhol.”

The same is true in other media, e.g., film. The live action Dumbo was recently released. People say it is, “from the imagination of Tim Burton.”

Do you ever think of God as an Artist? In Psalm 19:1 we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.”

The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:10, said of believers, “we are God’s handiwork” (NIV). The word translated “handiwork” is the Greek word, poiēma, so we think poem. The word can mean most any kind of artistic, creative work.

Creation is the “handiwork” of God. So are you as His new creation in Jesus.

What is God making you? Or, better yet, who is God making you?

You are “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). It doesn’t mean that a person is predestined, before they are born, to either Heaven or Hell. It means that after you are born again, it is your destiny to become like Jesus.

Since Christians are God’s handiwork, then even before we are completed, others ought to see God’s style through our lives. They should by looking at us, or by listening to us, be able to say, “I’m pretty sure that’s a Jesus.”

Nehemiah gets ridiculed by opponents of God’s work. He lets them know they are seeing the Master at work in and through him, and that God’s work will prosper.

Neh 2:9  Then I went to the governors in the region beyond the River, and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.

When Ezra journeyed, he refused an armed escort. He thought it would detract from the testimony of God’s ability to provide for, and to protect, the caravan.

Did Nehemiah therefore lack faith? I’d rather think that he was led differently.

Bible characters were led by God in all kinds of ways. Some seem logical; others seem odd, to say the least. All of them were designed by God for maximum spiritual effect.

Joseph provides a great example. Sold by his brothers into slavery… Wrongfully imprisoned, then forgotten there… He was suddenly raised to second only to Pharaoh. In the end, he saw God’s unusual leading, declaring, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

We are all being conformed to the image of Jesus… But our paths will be very different, because we each are unique.

The certainty of God’s handiwork in my life can assure me that I am on the path that will best accomplish His work in me. God either sets me on the path, or He permits me to walk it, and as with Joseph, He works everything together for the good.

Neh 2:10  When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard of it, they were deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.

These guys will dog Nehemiah the whole time. Their plots will be pretty sinister.

Are people plotting against you? Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. But seriously, sometimes it feels like certain individuals oppose you every opportunity they get.

Expect it rather than be shocked by it. Hopefully they oppose you for seeing a “Jesus,” which offends their conscience. Pray for them; minister to them. They need Who you have.

The most exciting line in verse ten is, “a man had come.” God sent a man through whom He might work, and thereby show others His handiwork.

God has chosen to work through men and women and children who have received Jesus. He has better, more powerful, more faithful servants in the angels. But it’s us He sends with the Gospel.

I like, but am simultaneously terrified, by something the apostle Paul said: “Follow me as I follow Christ” (First Corinthians 11:1). The gist of that is not that we be like Paul, but that we be like Jesus Whom Paul follows. We should show Him in our actions and in our reactions; in our words; in our walk.

If you want a slightly different art analogy, in another New Testament passage we read, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (Second Corinthians 3:2). We are literature; God’s poem; to be read by others.

Let’s drop down to verse nineteen and keep with Sanballat and Tobiah.

Neh 2:19  But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us, and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?”

They are joined by a third opponent, Geshem.

Ridicule. False accusations. If you haven’t experienced these, just wait; you will. Sticks and stones can break your bones. Words can break your spirit. The only words that matter, in the long run, are Jesus’ promises to you, found in Scripture. Let His Word overcome the words of men.

Feeling lonely? Unloved? Jesus said He’d never leave you, never forsake you; He loves you with a pure, everlasting love. Because you can’t physically touch Him, do you think it isn’t enough?

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but, really – Our relationship with Jesus ought to fill our hearts.

Neh 2:20  So I answered them, and said to them, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

Nehemiah had a godly confidence that the walls would be rebuilt. He spoke boldly about Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem’s true spiritual condition.

When we present the Gospel, it is only good news if folks hear the bad news, too. They are sinners, spiritually dead, condemned to Hell. At the Cross Jesus took their place. He exchanges His righteousness for their sin so that God can declare the believing sinner justified. He rose from the dead, offering them His empowering by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Jesus isn’t offering you a better life, or your best life. He is promising you eternal life in Heaven rather than in Hell.

Everyone would see God’s work in that the wall would be rebuilt; and it would be rebuilt in only 52 days. They would look upon the wall and acknowledge, “That’s a God.”

It must have been the Six Day War in 1967. After Israel’s decisive victory, my dad (not a believer) said, “Those are God’s people.”

You, individually, are the temple of God on the earth. We, collectively, are the temple of God on the earth. The age we live in, between the ascension of Jesus to Heaven and His return to resurrect the dead in Christ and rapture those alive at His coming – it’s the story of us, as we have been entrusted with the treasure of the Gospel in these earthen vessels.

Let’s put it in question form, for each of us to answer: When people look at me, or at us, do they see a Jesus?

#2 – It Is Because You Are His Handiwork That God’s Hand Is Shown By You (v11-18)

God’s handprints would be all over the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah was careful to keep the focus on the Lord.

Still, God wasn’t going to rebuild the walls Himself. He would do it through a man leading other men.

Whether it was Noah, or Abraham, or Moses or Joshua; or Peter or Paul or John; or Wesley or Whitfield or Graham or Smith; God works through men, women, and children whom He saves and empowers.

We need reminding that His greatest work isn’t what He does through us, using us. We are His greatest work.

Allow me to suggest a line of reasoning that substantiates what I just said. As glorious as creation is, we read in the Bible that, “the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (Second Peter 3:10). In place of the current creation will follow “a new heaven, and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

What survives the old creation to inhabit the re-creation is us – believers, God’s new creation. Paul exclaimed, “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). It’s all about Jesus completing His work in us.

Read these remaining verses not so much about the walls, but about God’s handiwork upon Nehemiah.

Neh 2:11  So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.

I’m not sure if this is meant to be read as a delay, or if it’s saying it only took him three days to recover from the 4month trip.

Some works for God require urgency; others, waiting. In your life you will experience both, and they are designed to reveal different things about where you are in your walk with Jesus.

Neh 2:12  Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me; I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem; nor was there any animal with me, except the one on which I rode.

Nehemiah led a secret-survey group under cover of darkness. In an effort to be stealthy, the only animal was the one he rode, while the “few men” proceeded on foot. Even more super-spylike, it seems no one, not even these few men, knew what he had returned for.

It was a practical strategy. Nehemiah knew what God wanted. He didn’t need to consult with the locals. This wasn’t going to be a discussion; they weren’t going to take a vote.

Why take anyone along, then? I don’t know – except that even though there would be no discussion, support would be needed, and Nehemiah seemed to be discipling these guys to that end.

Most of us pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

We can think of it in terms of a secret-survey accompanied by God the Holy Spirit.

These honest appraisals are one of the key ways God molds and shapes you as handiwork. Just remember to be honest.

Neh 2:13  And I went out by night through the Valley Gate to the Serpent Well and the Refuse Gate, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were burned with fire.

I wasn’t able to find much data on the original walls of Jerusalem, or after Nehemiah’s rebuild. I did run across a description of the walls when they were rebuilt in the 16th century by the Ottomans:

The length of the walls is 2.4966 miles, their average height is 39.37 feet, and the average thickness is 8.2 feet. The walls contain 34 watchtowers and seven main gates.

It seemed an insurmountable task, as evidenced by the fact no one was working on them.

You might be thinking, “Nobody looks at me and sees a Jesus.” Maybe; maybe not. You might feel like you’re that project in your garage under blankets with boxes piled on top that was started years ago only to be abandoned.

But He Who began the work of conforming you to His image has promised to complete it. Let that refresh you, and get back to cooperating with Jesus. If it seems Jesus is not doing anything, He is; you just don’t see it, and you are impatient. Great art takes time.

I mentioned the Mona Lisa. Leonardo da Vinci worked on it for about 15 years.

Neh 2:14  Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.

The ruin and rubble was extensive in some areas. It did not dissuade Nehemiah.

God’s handiwork is interrupted by apathy; by sin; by backsliding. The ruin can be extensive.

It will not dissuade Jesus, Who offers forgiveness upon your repentance, and restoration.

Neh 2:15  So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall; then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.

Nehemiah could only go so far before he was forced to turn back. He seems to be presenting the situation as way more difficult than he had thought. A couple of thoughts on that:

First, you might get to a point in your life where the things you committed to get a lot more difficult than you thought. Marriage is the easy example. Are you going to follow through on your vows, or head back to Babylon?

Second, the difficulty of the situation isn’t really the point if God is involved. In fact, the more difficult it seems, the more God can be glorified.

I shouldn’t have to tell you that it is in the furnace, in the press, in the storm, where God’s handiwork is refined.

Neh 2:16  And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, or the others who did the work.

Nehemiah’s arrival had been a pretty big event. Here was the servant of the Persian king, with letters from the king, escorted by an elite military force. Nehemiah let anticipation grow until he’d make a big reveal.

When is the last time you thought about God’s big reveal of us? In Second Thessalonians 1:10 we read, “When He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” At His Second Coming, we return with Jesus, and He is glorified through the lives of believers whom He has transformed by making us saints out of sinners. He reveals us in our completed state to those on the earth to show His ultimate handiwork.

Neh 2:17  Then I said to them, “You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”

Nehemiah may have said more than this. I rather think this was all he said. It was certainly all that he needed to say.

People need to be motivated by truth; by the Word of God. Submitted to God’s Word, you accept its explanations and judgments, and you apply its corrections and rebukes.

Neh 2:18  And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, “Let us rise up and build.” Then they set their hands to this good work.

The King of kings and the king were both in support – with greater emphasis on God.

The people “set their hands” to the work. But, again, it was in the context of “the hand of God” being upon Nehemiah, and, by extension, upon them.

In the work – you are the work, God’s handiwork.

The Master poet… The Master potter… The Master builder… The Master metalsmith… The Master goldsmith and silversmith… The Master gardener… Jesus is the true Master of the Arts.

You are His masterpiece.

I See A Sad Mood Rising (Nehemiah 2:1-8)

Starlord claimed to have a plan for defeating Ronin in order to obtain the infinity stone. When pressed, he admitted that he only had 12% of a plan. Groot kindly commented, “I am Groot,” translated, “It’s better than 11% of a plan.”

Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, leader of The A-Team, was fond of saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” The movie inspired by the TV show had the tag line, “There is no plan B.”

Nehemiah was definitely a man with Plan-A.

At the end of chapter one, we read, “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (v11).

Emphasis on “this day.” After months of praying, the day arrived on which Nehemiah planned to take action.

His asks in chapter two definitely reveal careful planning:

Verse 7 – “Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah…” Nehemiah had planned-out his travel.

Verse 8 – “And [give me] a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” He had planned ahead as to how he would rebuild the walls, and what materials it would require.

In chapter one, Nehemiah was introduced as a pray-er. In chapter two he is introduced as a planner.

We’ll look at Nehemiah’s planning with an eye towards God’s plan for each of us. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Plan Should Be To Discover God’s Plan, and #2 Your Plan Should Be To Implement God’s Plan.

#1 – Your Plan Should Be To Discover God’s Plan (v1-4)

I know; it sounds like double-talk. But it’s true. If you are in Christ, God has a plan for you. It involves His working in you, then through you.

The apostle Paul revealed this precious truth when he said, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

God is working in you: You are His “workmanship,” a beautiful new creation who is predestined to be conformed into the image of Jesus.

God is working through you: He has “good works” “prepared” for you to “walk” in. It’s subtle, but notice, Paul doesn’t say you have works to perform. He says you have works to discover, preplanned by God. Your part is to “walk” in them – meaning you are to walk by faith in the Spirit in every situation.

It’s not double-talk. It is keeping our dependence upon the Lord to finish what He has started in us by working through us; not by our works, but as we walk by faith in the works that He has prepared in advance for us to discover.

Nehemiah discovered God’s plan, and began to walk in it. Let’s start in the last verse of chapter one.

Neh 1:11  “O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.

Comparing the dates in chapter one with those in chapter two, we learn that Nehemiah had been praying and intermittently fasting about the sad conditions in Jerusalem for a period of four months. In those four months, he discovered God’s plan for him was to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild its broken down walls.

We don’t know a lot about Nehemiah before we meet him as the king’s cupbearer, but I think it’s safe to speculate that God’s plan was way beyond his training and talent.

To put it another way, if you were looking for someone to build an addition to your house, you wouldn’t search Angie’s List for wine tasters.

The work God has prepared in advance for you, by which He will be glorified, can seem foolish to you, and to others. One of the first things we need, then, is an openness to whatever God wants to do through us. The less our serving Him has to do with our abilities, the better.

Nehemiah mentioned other servants who were praying. This could refer to Jews in general, who might also be burdened for the welfare of Jerusalem. But it reads more like a prayer-group Nehemiah had gotten together.

You’re only going to discover God’s plan for you while in fellowship with other believers. For example: In the New Testament, we read a lot about the gifts of God the Holy Spirit. Except for the gift of tongues as a personal prayer language, aren’t all the other listed gifts for the purpose of serving others?

The Contemporay English Version (CEV) puts it this way: “The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others” (First Corinthians 12:7).

If you’re not in regular, personal fellowship in a local church, you’re not going to discover God’s plan.

Nehemiah wanted mercy from God in the sight of the king “this day.” It was time to act.

Neh 2:1  And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before.

How are we to understand his “sad” countenance? I think it was the plan to get the king to engage in conversation.

I submit two observations in support:

The first observation is that Nehemiah indicated he was going to act “this day.” The only action we read about is his sadness.

The second observation is that he specifically mentioned his need for “mercy in the sight” of the king.

You could say that the future of Jerusalem depended on one man’s ability to make a sad face. Not too sad; just sad enough.

I wonder how that plan was revealed. Did God suggest it to Nehemiah? Or to one of the other guys in his prayer cell? It’s just funny – admit it. And it worked.

Neh 2:2  Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid,

Lots to fear. King Artaxerxes wasn’t someone you wanted to mis-serve. These Persian kings might kill you for less.

Neh 2:3  and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?”

Pretty bold, I’d say. He was respectful, but brutally honest. Any plan of God’s is going to be without deceit. It won’t be manipulative or tricky. It’s not a sales pitch.

Neh 2:4  Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven.

Nehemiah prayed under his breath before answering. I do that all the time – not because I’m so spiritual, but because I’m not.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is what Mary Poppins wants you to say when you don’t know what to say. Doesn’t work in discipleship or counseling. Pray under you breath or silently.

I know we can’t be certain, but it doesn’t seem like Nehemiah the cupbearer’s first thought upon hearing about the walls of Jerusalem was, “I’m the man to go and rebuild them.” And if that was his first thought, he most certainly had little or no training or talent to accomplish the task.

He discovered it was God’s plan to send him. Through prayer and fasting, the details came to him.

You and I probably don’t need to be sent somewhere. We’re most likely right where God has brought us. His plan is to make us more like Jesus day-by-day.

We discover the particulars as we yield to the indwelling Holy Spirit, acting and reacting as a believer can and should.

Walk this way and you will discover God’s plan, and your works in particular, that contribute to making you like your Lord over your lifetime.

#2 – Your Plan Should Be To Implement God’s Plan (v5-8)

Before we get too much further, I want to clarify something about the phrase, “God’s plan.” I don’t want us to get the idea that there is always a three-point or five-point, step-by-step, blueprint-style plan to implement.

An example might be better than an explanation.

Abram, who would later have his name changed by God to Abraham, discovered and implemented God’s plan for his life. But listen to the plan:

Gen 12:1  Now the LORD had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you…
Gen 12:4  So Abram departed as the LORD had spoken to him…

“Abram, take off; I’ll show you where to later.” Could you call that a plan? It sounds like 12% of a plan to me. But it was enough for Abram to begin walking. He would discover more as he obeyed.

Some of God’s plans are Abram-like; some are Nehemiah-like. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to walking with Jesus.

Nehemiah had a three-point, bullet point, PowerPoint presentation. Point #1 – Send Me to Judah.

Neh 2:5  And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.”

Twice he mentioned his “father’s tombs” to the king. As cupbearer, Nehemiah did more than serve wine. The position gave him close, even intimate, contact with both the king and his queen. They would confide in him. He would converse with them, probably counsel them. So perhaps Nehemiah knew something about the king and queen we don’t – that they would be moved by his connection to his fathers.

He had a clear starting point. And it wasn’t just “Let me go to Judah”; it was “Send me to Judah.” He wanted support, not just permission. For this task, in that political climate, implementing God’s plan would require support.

Here is how I’d apply that to us. A believer may think they’ve discovered God’s plan, and want to implement it. But you should seek the spiritual support of the fellowship of believers. Not everything I think is a plan from God is something from Heaven. It may be my will, not God’s; so confirmation is a good thing.

Neh 2:6  Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.

There’s no reason to think this “queen” was Esther. It would be fun; but it wasn’t her.

It reads like they were having a quiet dinner, with Nehemiah pouring the beverages as usual.

It doesn’t say, but it is strongly implied, that Nehemiah answered the king’s questions. He’d thus given a great deal of thought to implementing this plan – enough that he could give a reasonable guesstimate as to how much leave from his position he would need. He could break it down to round-trip travel, as well as time in Jerusalem rebuilding. Maybe he had charts??

Sometimes meticulous planning is called for. For example: I’m aware of several fellowships that purchased land expecting that, as soon as they did, their numbers and their income would swell. Didn’t happen, and now they are strapped. Unless God specifically told them to do so, that’s not a good plan.

Here’s another example: The organization Youth With a Mission (YWAM) has (or had) a training facility in Hawaii. If you applied to go to school there, they would not accept you unless you had all the funds necessary to get there and back.
We came into contact with a pastor from Burma on his way to YWAM. He had enough money to get from Burma to Hanford. When I contacted YWAM, they told me he was now our problem.

Point #2 – Authority.

Neh 2:7  Furthermore I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given to me for the governors of the region beyond the River, that they must permit me to pass through till I come to Judah,

There had been significant opposition to the resettlement of Jews to Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of the walls especially. Nehemiah wanted the authority of the king to travel and to build.

How does this speak to implementing God’s plan or plans?
Well, it is important to remember and to respect that we who are in Christ have been granted great authority – great spiritual authority.

For example: You have the authority on earth to tell a sinner that, at the Cross, their sins can be forgiven, along with the guilt and shame associated with them. You can confidently promise them they will be new creations in Jesus – born again recipients of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And you guarantee them eternal life in Heaven in a sinless glorified body.

Just to compare… Buddhism says that when we die the mind that has been developed and conditioned for this life re-establishes itself in a new being. The new individual will then grow a new personality that is conditioned by those life circumstances. This process of dying and re-establishing itself continue until one reaches Nirvana – a state of enlightenment that does not desire or crave but simply lives in peace and with love.
In other words, after you die, you’ll be reincarnated. According to Buddhism, there are several different realms one can be transported to. Some may be reborn as animals, while others humans. Rebirth occurs over and over again. Lame.

Back to our thoughts about implementing God’s plan with authority. BE CAREFUL. Try to not mis-speak. Don’t, for example, put burdens on people that are unbiblical and legalistic. Don’t misrepresent God’s grace.

On the other side of that, know something about the author whose book you are about to read; or the doctrine of the Bible teachers you listen to; or the perspectives of the biblical counselors you seek out. They might do more damage than good – depending on their core beliefs.

Implement God’s plan with His authority, being careful to apply grace with compassion.

Point #3 – Materials List.

Neh 2:8  and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, for the city wall, and for the house that I will occupy.” And the king granted them to me according to the good hand of my God upon me.

This guy was thorough. He had thought it through right down to his own need for housing while on site. He knew how he wanted to build, and with what materials – taking into account what was readily available to him.

We would say that he counted the cost. Always a good idea. While we must take ventures of faith when called upon, we should not presume upon the Lord in foolishly tempting Him.

We could also talk about the materials with which we are to build for God. The apostle Paul illustrated it by saying, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw…” (First Corinthians 3:12).

These all were possible building materials that were used in temples being constructed in the first century. Think of the projects around your house. There are always choices in materials. Some will do the job but wonʼt last as long. You might choose them when youʼre putting your house on the market! Other materials have a much higher quality. You choose them if you plan on living in your house for a long time.

You can choose either costly or common materials which are either more or less permanent. In practical terms, it boils down to how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to implement God’s plan through the works you discover He has for you.

I’ve told you about the couch that was donated to our old office on 11th Avenue. One of the cushions was eaten out by a German Shepherd. You could hide that by flipping the cushion over… But if you sat on that side, there was no support, and you’d sink.

The time and the talent and the treasure you are applying in your walk – Is it like that couch?

God is a planner. He has big plans for you. One day, you will awake in the likeness of your Savior, Jesus. Mean time… Walk by faith in every situation, yielded to the Holy Spirit, and you will discover and implement His pre-planned works for you.

A.W. Tozer reminds us, “God wants worshipers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned [to] worship.”

The Gate Awakening (Nehemiah 1:1-11)

Super heroes:

Marvel calls them “enhanced.”

DC labels them “meta-humans.”

They have amazing abilities and, as earth’s mightiest heroes, they “fight the battles that we never could.”

Christians can fall into a super hero mindset.

We assume that someone else, another believer, someone with greater spiritual abilities, will step up and serve the Lord.

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “God isn’t looking for our ability, just our availability.”

I understand the point it’s making, but I think I’d change it to this: “God doesn’t require our ability, but our availability in our inability.”

Bible hero after Bible hero claimed inability but God called them anyway.

Moses provides the textbook example. While he was at work one day, God tapped him to be Israel’s deliverer. Moses argued that his inability to speak well should disqualify him. He ultimately impolitely asked God to find someone else.

Nehemiah was a normal guy, going about his daily life in Persia, working for the government. One day almost out of nowhere he was called upon to become both a warrior and a building contractor – things he had no ability to perform.

That kind of thing can… It should… Happen to us. As we go about our daily routine, despite our inabilities, God taps us to be used by Him.

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Your Eyes Can Be Suddenly Opened To See The Need, and #2 Your Heart Can Be Seriously Burdened To Meet The Need.

#1 – Your Eyes Can Be Suddenly Opened To See The Need (v1-4)

In the church, are there “enhanced” elect? Are there “meta-human” ministers?

We’re not “supers,” as Mr. Incredible calls them.

At the same time, if you are in Christ, you are enhanced, are you not, by the presence of God the Holy Spirit living in you?

You are meta-human in that you are empowered to do all things through Christ Who strengthens you.

You can’t see it, but you are clothed with the robe of righteousness, and you walk in the power of the resurrection of Jesus.

You are, therefore, always available for any need God brings to your attention. If you are in Christ, Jesus assumes your availability, and ignores your inability.

Neh 1:1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel,

We’ve read ahead, so we know that Nehemiah held an important position in the service of the king of Persia.

It’s too bad, really, because Nehemiah went out of his way to keep his position a secret until the very last words of chapter one.

He presented himself as an average, everyday believer. He was a regular Jew who happened to be in the service of King Artaxerxes.

God has His ways of positioning you; of stationing you. In the New Testament, Philip was told to go hang-out along the side of the road. Along came an Ethiopian government official. Philip shared the Lord with him, baptized him, and the man brought the Gospel to Africa.

The particular task God had for Nehemiah required his close contact with Artaxerxes.

The particular task God has for you requires you to be right where you are.

Unless you are actively running from God, trust that He has brought you where He wants you. You should have the anticipation that, at any moment, God can use you.

Neh 1:2  that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.

Hanani may have been a brother, or a close relative, or (as they say in Riverdale) a brother-from-another-mother in the sense of his being Jewish.

Having just returned from a visit to Jerusalem, Nehemiah would, naturally, ask him how things were going there.

It’s interesting Nehemiah referred to the Jews who had returned with Zerubbabel and, later, Ezra, as “escaped” and having “survived the captivity.” It sounds romanticized – as if life in Jerusalem was all rainbows and unicorns after the captivity.


Neh 1:3  And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.”

Some 75 years earlier Zerubbabel had taken the first group of 50,000 released captives back and amid much opposition rebuilt the temple. Some years later, just a few years before Nehemiah’s time, Ezra had taken a second group of 5,000 back to restore the worship.

There was nothing to romanticize. Things were bad; terrible, even:

Hanani and his companions refer to the returnees as “survivors,” a much bleaker description than Nehemiah’s.
They were in “distress,” the subjects of “reproach.”

We don’t know what Nehemiah knew or didn’t know prior to this report. He may not have known of the conditions in Judah and Jerusalem. Or he may have known, but they had not really come into spiritual focus.

One of the things we learn from Nehemiah is that there is always timing to God’s plans. I mentioned Moses earlier as God’s deliverer of Israel from Egypt. When God heard the cries of His people suffering, He raised-up Moses… But that was after 400 years.

Then there followed more waiting:

Moses went to work in Egypt one day – just as he had each day for the previous forty-years. One day God opened his eyes to the plight of the Jews. But Moses killed an Egyptian and was forced to flee.

He spent the next forty-years tending sheep before God revealed Himself in the burning bush.

Moses then embarked on the exodus that would occupy the last forty years of his life.

Nehemiah met with family and friends one day; nothing out of the ordinary. Except that was the day God opened his eyes to the need that he was going to meet.

You’ve probably gone to work one day; or to meet with someone; or something else; only to find yourself being used by God. It was exciting, right?

I wonder, too, if I’ve missed more than one of those appointments with God. Not maliciously; just out of dullness or busyness.

No matter how many days or weeks or months might go by where things are mostly normal, be ready to be used by God.

Neh 1:4  So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.

He “wept,” “mourned,” fasted and prayed. As we will see, it wasn’t just an emotional response that then faded away. It was a deep, spiritual response that set him on a path.

I don’t want to give the impression that we are to sit around waiting for some spiritual lightning bolt to strike. As disciples in Christ, we should be pursuing Him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. We should be looking for things to do, and people to share with. Prayer, even fasting, should be normal for us.

But there are also going to be special moments when your eyes are opened to see a need, and when you are being called meet it as a servant.

It may be something that lasts a short time or for a season.
Or it may be something that puts you on a path for the rest of your life.

You should ignore your thoughts of inability; or you should rejoice in your inability; knowing that you are just the kind of regular believer God can, and does, use.

#2 – Your Heart Can Be Seriously Burdened To Meet The Need (v5-11)

We’re going to read Nehemiah’s prayer. Before we do, there’s something we need to know. If we compare the dates in this chapter with those in chapter two, we realize that Nehemiah prayed for about four months.

He didn’t pray this same prayer over-and-over. It represents the way he prayed for over 100 days straight, while intermittently fasting.

Neh 1:5  And I said: “I pray, LORD God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love You and observe Your commandments,

I find analyzing prayers a little like dissecting a flower. When you’re done, you can see all its parts, but the continuity and the beauty is forever destroyed. I want less to dissect it and more to discover it.

Nehemiah lifted his thoughts to Heaven. Prayer must elevate our mind and affections upward, to the throne room of God. The things of earth must grow strangely dim in the light of God’s glory and grace.

Nehemiah was thankful God is the promise keeper. He keeps His “covenant” at all times, encouraging “love” and obedience on our part. When we fail, we can count on His “mercy.”

Neh 1:6  please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.

There’s never a time when God is deaf or blind. The words Nehemiah used are a way of expressing urgency, calling upon God to act immediately.

“Night and day” Nehemiah prayed. He had some definite, set prayer times. He probably prayed the way Daniel did – three times a day, towards Jerusalem, coinciding with the times of the scheduled daily sacrifices.

Nehemiah also fasted. That meant he spent the time he would normally be preparing food or eating praying.

But beyond this, mentioning his praying and fasting was a way of saying that his heart was burdened by the situation. He thought about it all the time. Jerusalem, its condition, became his passion.

I’m not sure what Nehemiah liked to do on his off time. We all have hobbies and pursuits. I like coffee. More specifically, I like different methods of brewing coffee.

Maybe Nehemiah was a coffee guy… He for sure knew his wine. Or maybe he raced camels… Or maybe he had a man-cave he hung out in.

Persia was big on perfume; maybe he dabbled in apothecary. Music was huge; maybe he was in a garage band, playing cymbals or tympani.

At this point in his life, Jerusalem occupied his heart so much that prayer and fasting took priority over everything else.

Christians describe that as being burdened. We do so remembering that Jesus said His “burden was light,” since He carries it with us. Being burdened isn’t a drag; it isn’t a heavy, crushing weight. It’s more like your heart being so full that it can’t fit other, less significant, pursuits.

One thing that always accompanies burdens is a new awareness of the ugliness of sin – both yours and that of others. Thus Nehemiah’s confessions.

Neh 1:7  We have acted very corruptly against You, and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.

With these words Nehemiah was recalling the reason Israel had been taken captive and exiled to Babylon. God’s covenant with Israel was both unconditional and conditional:

Things like His promise that He would make of them a great nation from whom the Savior of the world would be born, were unconditional.
Whether or not the Jews would be physically blessed in their land was conditional on their obedience.

Neh 1:8  Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations;
Neh 1:9  but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there, and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name.’

Nehemiah understood the times in which he was living. God was keeping His promises to regather His special people to their land. The Temple had been rebuilt, but there was still work to be done, and the remnant needed God’s help.

I wonder when, in the over 100 days that he prayed, Nehemiah understood that he would be the answer to his own prayers?

Often a believer will be burdened for some mission or missionary, and will marvel that others are not so burdened. It probably means God is tapping you do do something.

Neh 1:10  Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.

I can’t help but think of modern Israel. Scattered all over the world since Jerusalem and its Temple were destroyed in the first century, God has once again by His great power and by His strong hand brought His nation back to their land.

The existence of Israel is the fulfillment of many prophecies, and it is nothing if not miraculous.

Israel and the church are two separate entities. We, too, are beloved of God; but our destiny is different:

Jesus is coming in the clouds to resurrect the dead in Christ of the Church Age, and to rapture believers who are alive at His coming.

At some point after the rapture, the Jews in Israel will sign a seven year peace accord with the man who will turn out to be the antichrist. In the last half of the Great Tribulation, Israel will be persecuted, but preserved. They will receive their Messiah at His return with His Church from Heaven to establish a one thousand year kingdom, to be ruled from (where else?) Jerusalem.

Neh 1:11  O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name…”

Nehemiah wanted God to burden others in the same way He had burdened him.

He left it to the Lord. He didn’t embark on his own plan or path. The need was indeed great; but meeting it must wait for the Lord.

This is one reason why we don’t put burdens on you; why we don’t guilt you into giving, or into serving. We’ve never had a Sunday where we tell you we have a special message from Jesus, just for you, about… Tithing. We want God to speak to you, through His Word and by His Spirit.

Nehemiah would have a four month wait. Some Bible characters have little or no wait; others wait for decades. God knows how much preparation you need. Don McClure calls it “Wait Training.”

Wait on the Lord – realizing your wait could be only minutes long, or years ahead.

Neh 1:11  … and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.
Nehemiah realized he was in a unique position to meet the spiritual need. He was “the king’s cupbearer.”

According to one source,

Originally, the function of a cupbearer was to taste (either for quality or for poison or for both), carry, and serve wine to his master. In a case like that of Nehemiah, a cupbearer for royalty was not just a personal servant but also a trusted confidant and advisor. Thus, it was an office of great responsibility, power, and honor in the Persian Empire.

He knew that he was in the right place; he waited for the right time – trusting in God’s timing.

If you are in Christ, you are in the right place. In many cases, it is already the right time to serve.
We ought to see the needs, and meet the needs, in our homes and churches and communities.

In other cases, special cases, God will seriously burden you. He ignores your complaints of inability. He picks you because of it, so that in your weakness He is glorified.

Remember – if you are in Christ, Jesus assumes your availability.

The next super hero film will be in theaters soon. A young boy, Billy Batson, transforms into a full grown super hero by saying, Shazam.

You are being transformed daily into the image of your Savior, Jesus.

Be Ready to say, “Here am I, Lord; send me.”

The Worst Wives Club (Ezra 10:1-44)

If he were ministering today, I think the apostle Paul would have been comfortable quoting from movies and television.

He often quoted from popular literature. When preaching the Gospel to the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill, Paul said, “for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children’” (Acts 17:28).

The first part of that comes from Cretica by Epimenides, and the second part from Hymn to Zeus, written by the Sicilian poet Aratus. They were directed at Zeus in Greek literature, but Paul applied them to the Creator.

Paul uses at least six such secular quotes on Mars Hill.

There are at least twenty-one secular quotes scattered in Paul’s epistles. My favorite: Again quoting Epimenides, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12). (Note in passing that Epimenides was a Cretan).

Not too many people are reading Epimenides, but they are going to see Captain Marvel.

Some memorable quotes come from The Untouchables. One in particular is useful for our reading of Ezra chapter ten. Jim Malone is a tough Irish beat cop played by the very Scottish-sounding Sean Connery.

(It’s not as weird as his Scottish accent in The Hunt for Red October, in which Connery played a Russian sub commander).

Malone asked Elliot Ness, “What are you prepared to do?” Then he laid it out for him:

You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone! Now, do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?

Ness and his squad would need to make a total commitment to their task. Each of the men involved would need to ask themselves, “Am I ready to do that?”

The Israelites had an “Am I ready to do that?” moment in our text. Those who sinned by marrying foreigners were told that they must divorce their Gentile spouses. Total commitment to God demanded it.

When we encounter God’s living Word, it asks us for a total commitment to whatever task is being addressed. We should ask, rhetorically, “Am I ready to do that?”

I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Be Ready To Renew Your Commitment To Jesus, and #2 Be Ready To Resume Your Commitment To Jesus.

#1 – Be Ready To Renew Your Commitment To Jesus (v1-6)

Let me say this to avoid confusion: This chapter does not address the subject of divorce and remarriage. The divorcing of these Gentile wives was a unique situation. No precedent is set here – even for Israel.

A little later on in the Second Temple story, Nehemiah will encounter this same problem. He does not apply Ezra’s dissolution solution; Nehemiah acts only to stop any future intermarriages from occurring.

In the Church Age in which we live, believers can find themselves married to nonbelievers. In Corinth, the believers, some at least, thought they should divorce their spouses.

Paul addressed this for them and for all subsequent believers in First Corinthians chapter seven. He said, “If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him… If the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases” (v12-13&15).

That’s the law of love we are to obey. Ezra ten is not a marriage study, and should not be referenced in marriage studies.

Ezr 10:1  Now while Ezra was praying, and while he was confessing, weeping, and bowing down before the house of God, a very large assembly of men, women, and children gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept very bitterly.

Ezra had been informed that there were those in Israel who had intermarried with foreign women.

Besides being prohibited by the Law of Moses, it would lead Israel into idolatry as they mixed the worship of foreign gods with the worship of Jehovah.

Ezra tore his clothes, pulled out his hair, and prayed for the nation. A large group assembled with him, showing their support with tears.

In the Book of Romans, we are told to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep (12:15). When someone is grieving, tears are better than talk. Be present in grief and only suggest answers if asked; even then, tread lightly.

Ezr 10:2  And Shechaniah the son of Jehiel, one of the sons of Elam, spoke up and said to Ezra, “We have trespassed against our God, and have taken pagan wives from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope in Israel in spite of this.

One man spoke up. He seems to have a supernatural word of wisdom.

Even though the Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell Old Testament believers, He was active in bestowing gifts upon them, and this was wisdom from Him on how to address the situation.

The “hope” Shechaniah trusted in was a recognition of God’s grace and mercy. He had not yet acted in discipline against His disobedient people. His longsuffering waited for them to repent and thereby renew their commitment to Him.

Ezr 10:3  Now therefore, let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and those who have been born to them, according to the advice of my master and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law.

“Put away” is the word for divorce.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, it is used of divorcing your wife and giving her a Certificate of Divorce that indicated she had not been unfaithful, and had done nothing wrong.

These “wives” and children would not have any stigma attached to them. Still, this was radical, and divorce is always devastating on families. How could this be right, since God hates divorce?

This isn’t necessarily the reason why, but let me point out something. Intermarriage to foreigners put the nation in jeopardy of extinction. Think of what that might mean: No line through which the Messiah could be born to be the Savior of the world. The stakes were high indeed.

Ezr 10:4  Arise, for this matter is your responsibility. We also are with you. Be of good courage, and do it.”

It fell to Ezra to make things right.

It helped tremendously that Israel was with him, but it was his responsibility to put things in motion, and to see them through.

I’ll develop this point in a minute, but note that, if you are in Christ, you, too, have certain responsibilities to minister to folks, depending upon your relationships.

Ezr 10:5  Then Ezra arose, and made the leaders of the priests, the Levites, and all Israel swear an oath that they would do according to this word. So they swore an oath.

It’s OK to swear on the Bible in court. It’s OK to exchange wedding vows. We’re not oath-free. Jesus warned about swearing foolish oaths.

Ezr 10:6  Then Ezra rose up from before the house of God, and went into the chamber of Jehohanan the son of Eliashib; and when he came there, he ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity.

Did Ezra go on a total fast? It might be better to say that he had no appetite on account of his grief.

Ezra is shaping-up to be one of the great grievers in the Bible. In chapter nine, he tore out his own hair – unique among Bible grievers. His withdrawal and loss of appetite are consistent.

If you watch any true-crime shows, like 48 Hours, there’s always the detective who comments, “The husband wasn’t grieving like you’d expect,” thus making him the prime suspect.

What is normal when it comes to grief? If Ezra is our standard – we’re all guilty of failing in our passion for God.

Renew the commitment. That’s what Sheconiah suggested.

Renew… Rededicate… Return… Call it what you will. It is the realization that you are not walking in obedience to God.

You may not be walking in sin. It could be that you have drifted, or become a little dull of hearing.

Get with God – just you and He. Talk to Him about your relationship with Him, and its passion, or lack thereof.

#2 – Be Ready To Resume Your Commitment To Jesus (v7-44)

A few years ago there was a teaching going around that said of Jesus, “If He’s not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all.”

Hey – Even the guys teaching that cannot claim 100% lordship of Jesus in their lives without lying.

We tend to think of total commitment in terms of Jesus’ comments to the rich young ruler. Jesus told that young seeker, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven; and come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22).

It doesn’t help that the Christian books on this subject play on this fear that we are falling short. To recover we are told to follow the author’s program – especially by buying videos and merchandise that relates to his book.

Let’s look at another New Testament story about total commitment. Jesus encountered the man possessed by a legion of demons. The Lord cast them out, restoring the demoniac. The man “begged [Jesus] that he might be with Him” (Luke 8:38).

The Lord said, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” And he went his way and proclaimed throughout the whole city what great things Jesus had done for him” (8:39).

Jesus sent him home to work-out his commitment.

While American Christianity can easily be criticized for its shallowness and love of comfort, I think most of the time Jesus sends you back home – or back to work, or back to school, or back into your community.

So let’s read on excitedly rather than defeated-ly.

Ezr 10:7  And they issued a proclamation throughout Judah and Jerusalem to all the descendants of the captivity, that they must gather at Jerusalem,
Ezr 10:8  and that whoever would not come within three days, according to the instructions of the leaders and elders, all his property would be confiscated, and he himself would be separated from the assembly of those from the captivity.

Israel was meant to be a theocracy. The term was initially coined by The historian Josephus in the first century AD to describe the government of the Jews. Josephus argued that while mankind had developed many forms of rule, most fell under the following three types: monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy. The government of the Jews, however, was unique. Josephus offered the term “theocracy” to describe this rule, ordained by Moses, in which God is sovereign and His word is law.

Ezr 10:9  So all the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered at Jerusalem within three days. It was the ninth month, on the twentieth of the month; and all the people sat in the open square of the house of God, trembling because of this matter and because of heavy rain.
Ezr 10:10  Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, “You have transgressed and have taken pagan wives, adding to the guilt of Israel.
Ezr 10:11  Now therefore, make confession to the LORD God of your fathers, and do His will; separate yourselves from the peoples of the land, and from the pagan wives.”

Fifteen seconds. That’s how long it took me to read aloud Ezra’s message in verses ten and eleven. Talk about a short sermon. Most of the time you can say more by saying less.

Ezr 10:12  Then all the assembly answered and said with a loud voice, “Yes! As you have said, so we must do.
Ezr 10:13  But there are many people; it is the season for heavy rain, and we are not able to stand outside. Nor is this the work of one or two days, for there are many of us who have transgressed in this matter.
Ezr 10:14  Please, let the leaders of our entire assembly stand; and let all those in our cities who have taken pagan wives come at appointed times, together with the elders and judges of their cities, until the fierce wrath of our God is turned away from us in this matter.”

It seems that Ezra wanted to deal with the transgressors right then. It was impractical.

Ministry need not be purposely impractical. We shouldn’t create unnecessary obstacles for people.

Ezr 10:15  Only Jonathan the son of Asahel and Jahaziah the son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite gave them support.

These guys might have opposed the divorce solution. At least one of them, Meshullam, is listed later as being a transgressor. More likely they opposed the waiting, and like folks in Riverdale, wanted to git ‘er done.

Ezr 10:16  Then the descendants of the captivity did so. And Ezra the priest, with certain heads of the fathers’ households, were set apart by the fathers’ households, each of them by name; and they sat down on the first day of the tenth month to examine the matter.
Ezr 10:17  By the first day of the first month they finished questioning all the men who had taken pagan wives.
I love it when a plan comes together. It began eleven days after this assembly, and took three months to complete. Good thing they didn’t try to do it in one day, during a cold rainstorm.

Even though it would be obvious you were guilty, each case was heard individually so there would be no prejudice.

Nothing is said about what happened to the divorced wives, but as I suggested earlier, the language can indicate they were given Certificates of Divorce that eliminated any stigma. They had done nothing wrong.

It is also interesting to note that nothing is said about any conversions to Judaism. Were there some, that might have saved the family? If not, it shows just how pagan these individuals were.

There are a ton of potential baby (or pet) names for you to consider from here through verse forty-three. I’m not going to even try.

I do want to point out that the number of those guilty of intermarriage turned out to be relatively few – 113, I think.

All that fuss over about a hundred people? Yeah – because a little leaven leavens the whole lump. Especially since many of those involved were leaders.

In Christ we ought to be intolerant of sin in our midst. Certainly we ought to decry sin in general, and preach righteousness to society. But judgment should begin in the house of God.

Example: For decades, the church has rightfully decried homosexuality. Sadly, sexual sins among heterosexuals, like fornication adultery, are almost commonplace. Sin is sin.

Skip to verse forty-four…

Ezr 10:18  And among the sons of the priests who had taken pagan wives the following were found of the sons of Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brothers: Maaseiah, Eliezer, Jarib, and Gedaliah.
Ezr 10:19  And they gave their promise that they would put away their wives; and being guilty, they presented a ram of the flock as their trespass offering.
Ezr 10:20  Also of the sons of Immer: Hanani and Zebadiah;
Ezr 10:21  of the sons of Harim: Maaseiah, Elijah, Shemaiah, Jehiel, and Uzziah;
Ezr 10:22  of the sons of Pashhur: Elioenai, Maaseiah, Ishmael, Nethanel, Jozabad, and Elasah.
Ezr 10:23  Also of the Levites: Jozabad, Shimei, Kelaiah (the same is Kelita), Pethahiah, Judah, and Eliezer.
Ezr 10:24  Also of the singers: Eliashib; and of the gatekeepers: Shallum, Telem, and Uri.
Ezr 10:25  And others of Israel: of the sons of Parosh: Ramiah, Jeziah, Malchiah, Mijamin, Eleazar, Malchijah, and Benaiah;
Ezr 10:26  of the sons of Elam: Mattaniah, Zechariah, Jehiel, Abdi, Jeremoth, and Eliah;
Ezr 10:27  of the sons of Zattu: Elioenai, Eliashib, Mattaniah, Jeremoth, Zabad, and Aziza;
Ezr 10:28  of the sons of Bebai: Jehohanan, Hananiah, Zabbai, and Athlai;
Ezr 10:29  of the sons of Bani: Meshullam, Malluch, Adaiah, Jashub, Sheal, and Ramoth;
Ezr 10:30  of the sons of Pahath-Moab: Adna, Chelal, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattaniah, Bezalel, Binnui, and Manasseh;
Ezr 10:31  of the sons of Harim: Eliezer, Ishijah, Malchijah, Shemaiah, Shimeon,
Ezr 10:32  Benjamin, Malluch, and Shemariah;
Ezr 10:33  of the sons of Hashum: Mattenai, Mattattah, Zabad, Eliphelet, Jeremai, Manasseh, and Shimei;
Ezr 10:34  of the sons of Bani: Maadai, Amram, Uel,
Ezr 10:35  Benaiah, Bedeiah, Cheluh,
Ezr 10:36  Vaniah, Meremoth, Eliashib,
Ezr 10:37  Mattaniah, Mattenai, Jaasai,
Ezr 10:38  Bani, Binnui, Shimei,
Ezr 10:39  Shelemiah, Nathan, Adaiah,
Ezr 10:40  Machnadebai, Shashai, Sharai,
Ezr 10:41  Azarel, Shelemiah, Shemariah,
Ezr 10:42  Shallum, Amariah, and Joseph;
Ezr 10:43  of the sons of Nebo: Jeiel, Mattithiah, Zabad, Zebina, Jaddai, Joel, and Benaiah.
Ezr 10:44  All these had taken pagan wives, and some of them had wives by whom they had children.

Totally abrupt ending. It punctuates their commitment.

Earlier we contrasted the rich young ruler and the demoniac of the Gadarenes.

One day, you might have a rich young ruler experience. Jesus may call upon you to go way beyond your normal living sacrifice. He may call upon you to be truly radical. “Are you ready to do that?”

Everyday Jesus is calling upon you to be a living sacrifice. In all your walks of life, you are to walk as Jesus walked and be His disciple. “Are you ready to do that?”

Here is a scenario to consider as an example:

1Co 7:32  … He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord.
1Co 7:33  But he who is married cares about the things of the world – how he may please his wife.

Paul didn’t mean it was wrong, or sinful, to get married. After all, some of the finest biblical teaching on marriage came through him.

Paul encouraged remaining single because if you choose marriage, it has certain biblical responsibilities.

Jesus may not – in fact, He’s probably not – called you to remain single, sell everything, and go full-missionary.

He has called you to go home and love your wife as Jesus loves you; to submit to your husband as unto the Lord; to obey your parents; Etc., etc.

You DON’T have to go to the ends of the earth.

You DO need to be a disciple where you are scattered.

You can do all things through Christ. “Are you ready to do that?”

Then, “return to your own house [or church or job or school] and tell what great things God has done for you.”

The Trouble With Trembles (Ezra 9:1-15)

Daredevil was one of my favorite comic heroes… Until the Ben Affleck movie. It was seriously lame.

(No, I haven’t watched the Netflix series).

If you are not familiar with Daredevil, he’s Matt Murdock. As a boy he was blinded when a radioactive substance fell from a truck after he pushed a man out of the path of the oncoming vehicle.

His exposure to the radioactive material heightened his remaining senses beyond normal human abilities.

You’ve probably heard that, without the help of radioactivity, if a person loses one of their senses, the others become heightened. Scientific American posted an article titled, Super Powers for the Blind and Deaf, in which they noted research proving that, “the brain rewires itself to boost the remaining senses.”

They even have a name for these folks: Supersensors.

In the Bible, we read a lot about the sense of hearing; and by that I mean spiritual hearing:

In Romans 10:17 we are told, “… faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The Word has the power to save when it is heard with more than just our ears.

In John 10:27 we read, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” It’s obviously spiritual hearing, since our Great Shepherd is in Heaven, and we are on the earth.

Each of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in the Revelation reference spiritual hearing as He says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Spiritual hearing is highlighted in the last two chapters of Ezra:

The Israelites are described in chapter nine as those “who trembled at the words of the God of Israel“ (v4).

In chapter ten they’re described as “those who tremble at the commandment of our God” (v3).

Trembling indicates they were supersensors, having a heightened spiritual sense of hearing.

Wouldn’t you want to be a supersensor, too?

I’ll organize my comments around these two points: #1 Come To God’s Word With The Hearing Of A Trembler, and #2 Go From God’s Word With The Heart Of A Trembler.

#1 – Come To God’s Word With The Hearing Of A Trembler (v1-4)

What is the trouble with trembling? It’s that we can leave it or lose it. Our text bears this out.

Some among the leaders of the Israelites had disobeyed God’s command to not marry foreigners. They had left or lost any supersense of spiritual hearing. They certainly did not tremble at God’s Word.

Ezr 9:1  When these things were done…

At least four months transpired since Ezra’s arrival with the second wave of returnees. It is important to know that in those four months, he had been doing what he came to do – teach God’s Word to all Israel. It was his teaching that gave rise to the events of chapters nine and ten.

Ezr 9:1  When these things were done, the leaders came to me, saying, “The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands, with respect to the abominations of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.

I’m going to guess that the guys who were teaching God’s Word before Ezra’s arrival were skipping over the parts that described their own disobedience. I mean, if your wife is an Ammonite, you can’t really take as your text, Deuteronomy 7:3, “Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.“

In the Book of Nehemiah, we’re told that Ezra’s style was to “read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and [give] the sense, and [help] them to understand the reading” (8:8).

He taught verse-by-verse. One good thing (there are many) about teaching through the Bible verse-by-verse is that you encounter things you might not otherwise.
Things that are good for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (Second Timothy 3:16).

Separation from all the -ites in the Promised Land was pretty easy to spot, since it involved mostly obvious, outward things, e.g., diet, religion, and marriage.

In Christ we are called to remain separate from the world – to be in the world, but not of the world. I think we have it tougher in some ways since it isn’t always so obvious; and since God gives us so much latitude. A separation safety check should be performed often.

Ezr 9:2  For they have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, so that the holy seed is mixed with the peoples of those lands. Indeed, the hand of the leaders and rulers has been foremost in this trespass.”

There are a lot of things in the Law of Moses that can be confusing, sparking endless commentary by the scribes and rabbis as they try to clarify. But prohibiting intermarriage with non-Jews is as clear as clear can be. It was sin, and it would bring devastating consequences.

Christian, I implore you: Do not date a nonbeliever. Do not let yourself fall in love with a nonbeliever. Don’t marry a nonbeliever.

Beyond that: Be sure the believer you date is solid. Call their pastor. Send him an evaluation form. I’m serious.

Ezr 9:3  So when I heard this thing, I tore my garment and my robe, and plucked out some of the hair of my head and beard, and sat down astonished.

In the four months since Ezra had arrived, no one had so much as hinted about this situation. It signified a spiritual deafness that had not taken all that long to set in.

I’ve witnessed a lot of grief as a pastor and as a Chaplain. I’ve never seen anyone tear out hair. This was a whole new level of expressing grief. Tearing clothing – hey, that was commonplace to show grief. But Ezra was unique in the Bible in pulling out his hair. He meant business.

Ezr 9:4  Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice.

Intermarriage with the pagans always led Israelites to idolatry. They were one small step away from worshipping the gods of their foreign wives. This was part of the reason they had “been carried away captive” to Babylon in the first place.

Be aware that at some point in your walk with the Lord you will be tempted to revisit your former sins.
After years of victories over them, we can feel as if we can dabble and not get drawn in. Let’s finish well.

Trembling can have various connotations. Nonbelieving sinners should tremble in fear at the wrath of God. They ought to receive Jesus and let Him take God’s wrath against them upon Himself.

I’m thinking of trembling in another of its biblical connotations, as excitement and anticipation and expectation. The trembling these guys were doing was excitement and anticipation and expectation at hearing God’s Word.

I’m suggesting that these Jews were already tremblers and when they heard Ezra teach, it inspired them to act upon it.

I’m fully speculating, but Ezra must have gotten to portions of the Law of Moses that talked about mixed marriages.

They heard – spiritually heard – the prohibitions, and – being supersensors – they immediately went to Ezra to report the situation, and to seek the Lord with him for the solve.

I’m sure there are three, or five, or ten things we could list as steps to recapture and return to trembling. More-and-more, that kind of suggestion strikes me as mechanical, especially when we are talking about something more emotive; or what I like to refer to as romantic.

When Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus, and told them to return to their first love for Him, He didn’t give them a list of steps. He told them one thing was necessary: Repentance. They needed to have a massive change of heart, and nothing formulaic or mechanical was going to accomplish it.

It’s a little (or maybe a lot) like marriage. You’re not going to return to being in love by scheduling a florist to send your wife flowers every week. It’s mechanical.
You need to go out of your way to show that you are listening and really in love. You need romance, not robotics.

If I no longer tremble in excitement and anticipation and expectation at God’s Word – I may need to repent.

We may simply need to be reminded of a time we were a lot more excited to hear from the Lord. It’s easy to drift.

This is the living Word of God, through which the Creator of all things, your Savior, is talking to you. Trembling seems the only proper response.

#2 – Go From God’s Word With The Heart Of A Trembler (v5-15)

One of the first books I read as a new believer in Christ was Know What You Believe, by Paul Little. Think about that title.

You believe on Jesus, and get saved. But you really don’t know what else you believe until you read and study God’s Word.

One thing, however, is true, and that is this: Whatever is in God’s Word is what you believe – you just don’t know it yet.

A Christian should always come to the Word pre-submitted to what God is going to say to them through it.

Ezra was pre-submitted to God’s Word. Upon hearing it was being disobeyed, he went from it in humility and obedience, and acted upon it.

Ezr 9:5  At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the LORD my God.

Ezra led those who had gathered in a spontaneous service of public prayer. While it’s not one of those sermon-prayers some people like to pray, it is more than a personal prayer. Ezra was praying for the nation – making this everyone’s prayer.

Ezr 9:6  And I said: “O my God, I am too ashamed and humiliated to lift up my face to You, my God; for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has grown up to the heavens.

Ezra went from God’s Word humbled and concerned for the sinners enough to not try to distance himself from them. Instead he had compassion on them. Compassion is characteristic of a trembler.

Ezr 9:7  Since the days of our fathers to this day we have been very guilty, and for our iniquities we, our kings, and our priests have been delivered into the hand of the kings of the lands, to the sword, to captivity, to plunder, and to humiliation, as it is this day.

The history of Israel is not pretty. Guess what? The history of the church isn’t pretty, either.

My Christian history, and yours, hasn’t always been pretty. That’s not to dis the church – we are, after all, Jesus’ bride, and will be presented spotless and without blemish to the Father in Heaven. It is only to remind us to remain humble when we hear about others sinning.

Ezr 9:8  And now for a little while grace has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us a remnant to escape, and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and give us a measure of revival in our bondage.

Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. God had not forsaken His special people, but a “remnant” had returned, and had restored things to the point it could be seen as “a measure of revival.”

Ezr 9:9  For we were slaves. Yet our God did not forsake us in our bondage; but He extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Even though the first wave of returnees had sputtered in their task, God interceded, and they had accomplished much.

Ezr 9:10  And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken Your commandments,

The leaders – some of them – had outright “forsaken” obedience to God’s Word. Why?

I’m sure we could list many reasons. Here’s one. The Tabernacle and, later the Temple, service involved a great deal of ritual. It seems to be in our nature to think that if we perform the right rituals, we will be right with God – regardless the condition of our hearts.

Buy into that and the next thing you know, you’re actively disobeying God.

You reduced what ought to be a romance to a religion.

As a Catholic boy who was certainly not saved, I deduced that I could sin as much as I wanted to, so long as I went to ritual confession and prayed ritual prayers. After all, I’d been ritually baptized as an infant; taken ritual First Holy Communion; and gone through ritual Confirmation. On top of all that – I’m full Italian. Hey, the Vatican isn’t in the US.

Ezr 9:11  which You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity.

The inhabitants of Canaan were wicked beyond the norm for pagans. I read you a lengthy quote a few weeks ago by an archaeologist that concluded infant sacrifice to their gods was something almost unique to the Canaanites. That alone ought to cause an Israelite to avoid relationships, let alone intermarriage.

Ezr 9:12  Now therefore, do not give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever.’

Is that clear enough? It’s a quick summary of what the Law of Moses taught.

Don’t forget, however, that a Canaanite wasn’t predestined for destruction. Anyone could come to the God of Israel, convert, and be saved.

Ezr 9:13  And after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, since You our God have punished us less than our iniquities deserve, and have given us such deliverance as this,

Three sieges by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon… The pilfering and the destruction of the Temple… The destruction of the walls of Jerusalem… Captivity for seven decades as exiles in Babylon… It was less discipline than they deserved.

A trembler acknowledges that God doesn’t give us what we deserve. He is merciful. Even when things are at their worst, we can say as Job did, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21).

Ezr 9:14  should we again break Your commandments, and join in marriage with the people committing these abominations? Would You not be angry with us until You had consumed us, so that there would be no remnant or survivor?

Ezra knew that God could not renege on His forever promises to Israel. But he recognized that they deserved to die out as a nation.

If I read this and think, “I’m not really that bad,” then I guess I disagree with the great apostle Paul:

In one place he gave himself the title, “Chief of Sinners” (First Timothy 1:15).

In Romans seven Paul lamented that the things he wanted to do, he did not do; and the things he did not want to do, he did – calling himself wretched.

This isn’t a false humility; it’s magnifying God’s grace. Ezra could identify with the sinners because he believed that but for God’s grace, he could be doing what they were doing.

Ezr 9:15  O LORD God of Israel, You are righteous, for we are left as a remnant, as it is this day. Here we are before You, in our guilt, though no one can stand before You because of this!”

If “no one” could “stand before” God on account of this sin, how were they standing before God?

Grace and mercy were being made available while God was longsuffering – not willing to punish His beloved people if He didn’t have to.

His longsuffering had waited some 490 years before He brought Babylon against them.

We normally think of God’s longsuffering in terms of His not wanting nonbelievers to perish eternally. But His longsuffering waits for believers, too – giving us opportunities to repent and return to Him from our missteps and falls.

Ezra went forth from God’s Word and he acted upon it. He fasted and prayed. He’ll do a whole lot more in chapter ten.

You’ve undoubtedly heard some Bible teacher refer to the Bible as God’s love-letter to you.

The only thing I’d add is that, while most love-letters are about the object of your love, the Bible isn’t about us; it’s about God. Through it He reveals Himself to us as the One Who so loved the world that He sent Jesus.

Having said that… If you’ve ever been in love, and received a love-letter, you probably trembled with excitement, anticipation, and expectation at its contents; and you did so even after reading it multiple times.

All I’m saying today is that we still ought to tremble at God’s Word.

Living In a Camp, Down by the River (Ezra 8:1-36)

Tony Bennett “left” his “heart in San Francisco”; but if you’re going there, “be sure to wear flowers in your hair.”

“Chicago, Chicago” was Frank Sinatra’s “kind of town.”

Billy Joel is always in a New York State Of Mind

You can stand “on the corner in Winslow, Arizona…”

We all do know “the way to San Jose.”

So, Vive Las Vegas.

China Grove… El Paso… Jackson… Woodstock… Lodi… Muskogee… Youngstown… Monterey… Albuquerque… and Kansas City all have songs. So do lots of other cities, both here in the US and abroad.

There are a few songs about Jerusalem. The one that comes to my mind is Darrell Mansfield’s ballad:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Why won’t you believe in Him.
Don’t you know; can’t you see;
Your King is this man from Galilee

In the Book of Psalms, there are fifteen Songs of Ascent. They are Psalm 120 through 134. Since Jerusalem is elevated, you ascend as you approach it. These psalms were sung by Jews as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to annually attend the three pilgrim festivals.

In our chapter, Ezra and a group of Israelites are returning to Jerusalem after decades of exile in Babylon. Do we doubt that they sang the Songs of Ascent?

One of them in particular, Psalm 121, reads in part like this: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth” (v1-2).

That pairs up nicely with Ezra 8:22,

Ezra 8:22  … I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.”

Whether he was directly thinking about it or not, Ezra’s words capture the spirit of Psalm 121:1-2, “My help comes from the Lord.”

Where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord; but, if I’m honest, I sometimes – maybe even often – look to other sources and resources for my help.

The Lord as our help will be our theme as we read through chapter eight. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Since It Comes From The Lord, You Can Seek His Help, and #2 Since It Comes From The Lord, You Will See His Help.

#1 – Since It Comes From The Lord, You Can Seek His Help (v21-23)

When I was doing international travel for missions, I was paranoid about having my passport or money stolen. I tried every secret belt and wallet and undergarment on the market. Occasionally I’d forget to put daily spending money in my pocket, so when I had to pay for something, I’d have to practically undress in order to get to my pesos.

Ezra was leading a second wave of returnees to Jerusalem. They were transporting silver and gold, and precious articles. It’s hard to get an exact value on their cargo, but commentators put it at a million dollars, if not several million.

Their journey was four months long, traversing 900 miles, through bandit territory. If I was in charge, and the king of Persia offered an armed military escort – I’d say “Yes!” in a heartbeat.

But in this case, I’d be wrong.

We’re starting chronologically, in verses twenty-one through twenty three.

Ezr 8:21  Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions.

We’ll see in verse fifteen that they were there three days. It was devoted to spiritual preparation for their journey – especially to fasting and prayer.

Attitudes regarding fasting are all over the place:

Some folks talk about fasting as almost mystical – tapping into hidden spiritual power.

Others tout the health benefits of regular fasting, caring little about its potential spiritual impact.

Fasting is almost always, in the Bible, coupled with prayer. I got to thinking about that. Bear with me while I try to develop a thought.

I do a lot of cooking now, and I can honestly tell you, I am the slowest cook on the planet. I get all my ingredients out, and measured. I set out all the pots and pans and utensils. They need to be arranged in order of use. My spices are prearranged alphabetically.

I clean up as I’m cooking, which further slows me down. And if you’re watching me… Fuggedaboutit.

In Bible times, it took a long, long, long time to prepare a meal.

Have you ever had Zarb? It’s an authentic Bedouin BBQ meal. It takes 5-6 hours to prepare; and that doesn’t include butchering the chicken, pig, or cow.

In Bible times, when you fasted, it literally freed up hours upon hours that would normally be spent cooking and eating. You fasted in order to pray – not as a discipline in and of itself.

There are cases of fasting without prayer, and praying without fasting. But freeing up time to pray by fasting is something to consider.

Ezr 8:22  For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, “The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.”

If they really believed that their help was from the Lord, an armed escort would be, at best, a poor testimony. At worst, it would give some credit for their exodus to the power of Persia.

Later in this Second Temple story, Nehemiah will lead a third return, and he will have an escort. But for Ezra – it would have been sin.

Ezr 8:23  So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.

They “fasted” to “entreat” God in “prayer.” We’ll see in the verses surrounding these how God “answered.”

These verses, and Psalm 121, are for and about God’s chosen people, Israel. We are not Israel; but they are for and about us, too, in that they reveal God’s providence for all those He loves in any dispensation.

God is your help – always. Trouble is, His idea of help isn’t always what we think it should be.

We’re the church, and we live in the Church Age between the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost until the resurrection and rapture of the church. A main characteristic of the Church Age, for believers, is suffering:

Jesus promised His Church Age followers, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).

The apostle Paul wrote, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…” (Colossians 1:24).

Second Timothy 3:12  “… All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

Because we who are in Christ are His “body” on the earth, in one sense it is as if Jesus never left. We can therefore expect to suffer many hardships just for being in Christ.

As well, we will suffer from the normal consequences of living in a world ruled by the god of this age, Satan.

I – we – are called upon to endure sufferings, to go through them, with God’s hand upon us. His “help” in this age is His abundant grace.

Wait on the Lord in your suffering. Don’t concoct your own plan to alleviate or avoid it. Trust in the Word… In prayer… In the fellowship of the saints.

You have the Comforter – God the Holy Spirit – living within you.

It may be God will provide an escort, an army – like He did for Nehemiah.

It’s more likely He wants you to be like Ezra and give testimony to His strength in your weakness.

#2 – Since It Comes From The Lord, You Will See His Help (v1-20 & 24-36)

When you need somebody’s Help!
It’s not just anybody’s Help!

So you seek the Lord, and I’m saying, based on His promises, you will see His help. Ezra did.

Ezr 8:1  These are the heads of their fathers’ houses, and this is the genealogy of those who went up with me from Babylon, in the reign of King Artaxerxes:

Israel was a tribal society. Many of the laws and customs that are strange to us are necessary to maintain tribal inheritances. In the church, if your brother dies childless, you don’t go to his widow – to your sister-in-law – and have a child with his name. But in Israel, you did; it was necessary.

We’re going to skip reading the names in verses two through fourteen. By most calculations, based on the numbers given in those verses for the men who returned, estimating the women and little ones, the entire group numbered five thousand.

Ezr 8:2  of the sons of Phinehas, Gershom; of the sons of Ithamar, Daniel; of the sons of David, Hattush;
Ezr 8:3  of the sons of Shecaniah, of the sons of Parosh, Zechariah; and registered with him were one hundred and fifty males;
Ezr 8:4  of the sons of Pahath-Moab, Eliehoenai the son of Zerahiah, and with him two hundred males;
Ezr 8:5  of the sons of Shechaniah, Ben-Jahaziel, and with him three hundred males;
Ezr 8:6  of the sons of Adin, Ebed the son of Jonathan, and with him fifty males;
Ezr 8:7  of the sons of Elam, Jeshaiah the son of Athaliah, and with him seventy males;
Ezr 8:8  of the sons of Shephatiah, Zebadiah the son of Michael, and with him eighty males;
Ezr 8:9  of the sons of Joab, Obadiah the son of Jehiel, and with him two hundred and eighteen males;
Ezr 8:10  of the sons of Shelomith, Ben-Josiphiah, and with him one hundred and sixty males;
Ezr 8:11  of the sons of Bebai, Zechariah the son of Bebai, and with him twenty-eight males;
Ezr 8:12  of the sons of Azgad, Johanan the son of Hakkatan, and with him one hundred and ten males;
Ezr 8:13  of the last sons of Adonikam, whose names are these – Eliphelet, Jeiel, and Shemaiah – and with them sixty males;
Ezr 8:14  also of the sons of Bigvai, Uthai and Zabbud, and with them seventy males.
Ezr 8:15  Now I gathered them by the river that flows to Ahava, and we camped there three days. And I looked among the people and the priests, and found none of the sons of Levi there.

Implied is that this return was voluntary. No one from the tribe of Levi volunteered. We shouldn’t speculate on why.

Since Ezra was going to the Second Temple to initiate reforms, he’d need Levites who could perform services in the Temple.

Ezr 8:16  Then I sent for Eliezer, Ariel, Shemaiah, Elnathan, Jarib, Elnathan, Nathan, Zechariah, and Meshullam, leaders; also for Joiarib and Elnathan, men of understanding.
Ezr 8:17  And I gave them a command for Iddo the chief man at the place Casiphia, and I told them what they should say to Iddo and his brethren the Nethinim at the place Casiphia – that they should bring us servants for the house of our God.
Ezr 8:18  Then, by the good hand of our God upon us, they brought us a man of understanding, of the sons of Mahli the son of Levi, the son of Israel, namely Sherebiah, with his sons and brothers, eighteen men;
Ezr 8:19  and Hashabiah, and with him Jeshaiah of the sons of Merari, his brothers and their sons, twenty men;
Ezr 8:20  also of the Nethinim, whom David and the leaders had appointed for the service of the Levites, two hundred and twenty Nethinim. All of them were designated by name.

In some cases, if there are no volunteers, then the work doesn’t get done. In the case of the Ezra exodus – that was not an option. Ezra therefore organized the leadership, and chose two guys to represent the situation. Without coercion, their pre-mission mission yielded a capable leader, thirty-eight Levites, and two hundred twenty Nethinim – servants for the Levites.

It’s usually better to volunteer on your own; but you sometimes need to mention the need, so that a servant will come forward.

Ezr 8:24  And I separated twelve of the leaders of the priests – Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their brethren with them –
Ezr 8:25  and weighed out to them the silver, the gold, and the articles, the offering for the house of our God which the king and his counselors and his princes, and all Israel who were present, had offered.
Ezr 8:26  I weighed into their hand six hundred and fifty talents of silver, silver articles weighing one hundred talents, one hundred talents of gold,
Ezr 8:27  twenty gold basins worth a thousand drachmas, and two vessels of fine polished bronze, precious as gold.

A million dollars? Millions? That would make me nervous on a walk through treacherous territory. These guys stepped-up, trusting (like Ezra) that their help would come from the Lord.

Ezr 8:28  And I said to them, “You are holy to the LORD; the articles are holy also; and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD God of your fathers.
Ezr 8:29  Watch and keep them until you weigh them before the leaders of the priests and the Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel in Jerusalem, in the chambers of the house of the LORD.”
Ezr 8:30  So the priests and the Levites received the silver and the gold and the articles by weight, to bring them to Jerusalem to the house of our God.

“Holy” doesn’t mean sinless. It means set apart. His people were considered precious to God – like we think silver and gold is precious. You, too, are God’s precious possession.

Ezr 8:31  Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.

If you are looking for a travelogue, all you get is verse thirty-one.

Four months of camping and moving are totally skipped-over, serving to emphasize that God made sure nothing happened along the way.

Ezr 8:32  So we came to Jerusalem, and stayed there three days.

After the long, arduous trip, they had jet lag. Or, I guess, jog-lag.

Ezr 8:33  Now on the fourth day the silver and the gold and the articles were weighed in the house of our God by the hand of Meremoth the son of Uriah the priest, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas; with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui,
Ezr 8:34  with the number and weight of everything. All the weight was written down at that time.

Ezra was a guy for accurate numbers, and for inventories. It’s an encouragement to not be sloppy in our serving the Lord. (So don’t look in my office).

Ezr 8:35  The children of those who had been carried away captive, who had come from the captivity, offered burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven lambs, and twelve male goats as a sin offering. All this was a burnt offering to the LORD.

They did what was prescribed by the Law of Moses. While they were glad to do it – to offer sacrifices – I’m glad that, thanks to Jesus, the only thing we offer is ourselves as living sacrifices.

Ezr 8:36  And they delivered the king’s orders to the king’s satraps and the governors in the region beyond the River. So they gave support to the people and the house of God.

This was the final item on this particular list. To quote President Bush: “Mission accomplished.”

In the case of the returnees:

You see them responding obediently to Ezra’s call to fast and pray.

You see them helped at the camp as God provides hundreds of Levites and Nethinim.

You see individuals step-up to carry the precious metals and objects.

You see them arriving safe and sound at their destination.

You see that they have favor among the Gentiles.

For us, I think the most important lesson – the thing to “see” (by faith) – is the brevity of verse thirty-one. Let’s read it again.

Ezr 8:31  Then we departed from the river of Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. And the hand of our God was upon us, and He delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambush along the road.

They left for Jerusalem. They arrived at Jerusalem. God defeated any schemes of the enemy along their road.

You who are in Christ are on a journey to the New Jerusalem – the city that will come down out of Heaven, Whose builder and maker is God. When you die, or are raptured, you will arrive in the New Jerusalem.

The trials, the afflictions, the sufferings we think so much about now on the journey, won’t be worth a mention.

Satan, sin, death – Even though defeated by Jesus at the Cross and by His resurrection, they can ambush you in the Church Age.

But as you set your affections on things above, and remain heavenly minded, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”

We will meet in the Golden City
in the New Jerusalem
All our pain and all our tears will be no more

We will stand with the hosts of Heaven
and cry “Holy is the Lamb”
We will worship and adore You evermore

He Wanna Hold Your Hand (Ezra 7:1-28)

Name the celebrity associated with his catchphrase:

“I pity the fool…”
“And that’s the way it is”
“You might be a redneck…”
“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
“I get no respect”
“Thank you; thank you very much”
“I didn’t inhale”
“Is that your final answer?”
“The balcony is closed”
“Welcome to Flavortown”
“Mmm… donuts”
“The tribe has spoken”
“There’s a sucker born every minute”
“Just the facts, ma’am”
“Ready or not, Jesus is coming!”

If Ezra had a catchphrase, it would be some variation of, “By the good hand of our God upon us.” He says something like that six times in the next two chapters.

Ezra hints in the last verse of chapter seven that the “good hand of God” is related to God’s “mercy,” which can also be translated “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.”

The mercy… the lovingkindness… the steadfast love of God will be our theme as I organize my comments around two questions: #1 Do You Fear The Hand Of The Lord Upon You, and #2 Do You Feel The Hand Of The Lord Upon You?

#1 – Do You Fear The Hand Of The Lord Upon You? (v1-10)

If the writer of the Proverbs had one catchphrase, it might be, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). After all, the Book of Proverbs is called “wisdom literature,” so it makes sense that “the fear of the Lord” would be foundational.

One commentator defined “the fear of the Lord” by saying it is “the continual awareness that our loving heavenly Father is watching and evaluating everything we think, say, and do.”

While that is true of our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God, it can sound harsh – as if God is following me with His clipboard, writing down cryptic criticisms as I constantly fail.

OR – It can be understood the way Ezra understood it: As God’s mercy, lovingkindness and steadfast love comforting me and guiding me, as if His hand was literally upon me.

Let’s go with that; and when we get to verse twenty-eight, I’ll share something along those lines that’s really precious.

Ezr 7:1  Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah,
Ezr 7:2  the son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub,
Ezr 7:3  the son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth,
Ezr 7:4  the son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki,
Ezr 7:5  the son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest –

It’s a turn of the page for us, but chapter seven starts about 60 years after the events of chapter six. The Book of Esther takes place during that time.

It reads as if Ezra spent a lot of time on ancestry.com going into his genealogy.

It’s super-popular today to search your genealogy. You’re hoping to find hidden treasure. But you just might open door number two, and get zonked. There are a lot of articles like the one titled, My Ancestry Test Revealed a Genetic Bombshell, reporting how a woman found out her father wasn’t her biological dad.

You may think it’s better to know the truth. I like what Yondu told Starlord about Ego: “He may have been your father, boy, but he wasn’t your daddy.”

In Ezra’s case, he could trace his ancestry directly to Aaron, the older brother of Moses, and Israel’s first high priest. It was an impressive credential for someone coming to teach the Law of Moses to a group that had strayed from it. Jews still revere Ezra as a second Moses.

Ezr 7:6  this Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given. The king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him.

We’ve been pointing out God’s providence. He is directly involved in human history, superintending it so that it will arrive at the prophesied end. God’s involvement, however, does not violate our free will, or negate our responsibility:

Ezra was God’s guy, raised-up at just the right time. But he had to be ready to be used – prepared as “a skilled scribe” prior to this in order to be used.

Artaxerxes was king; God influenced him to be a help to Ezra without force or coercion.

One thing we might say, then, about God’s hand being upon us is that it means He guides us.

Your GPS will guide you, but you have to follow its prompts. Otherwise, it resets from your errors.
The plan is to get you where you need to go. Follow God’s prompts; be thankful for His resets.

Ezr 7:7  Some of the children of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the Nethinim came up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes.

“Nethinim” were Temple assistants that had been established by King David. One writer describes them, saying,

Some very disagreeable drudgery was always necessary. The chopping of wood, lighting of fires, sharpening of knives, drawing of water, the cleansing not only of the altar and its surroundings and utensils, but of the whole of the Temple precincts, and the performance of many menial offices for the priests, required a large staff of servants.

Are you OK with menial tasks? With drudgery? A lot of what constitutes ministry could be labeled, “Here comes the drudge.” Do it as unto the Lord.

Ezr 7:8  And Ezra came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.
Ezr 7:9  On the first day of the first month he began his journey from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him.

Chapter seven is giving us an introduction of Ezra and his ministry. For now, it’s enough to note that it was a four-month, 900 mile walk from Babylon to Jerusalem. Obviously, that kind of travel in those days was brutal. But not with the good hand of God upon you.

Ezr 7:10  For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

“Prepared” is alternately translated as “always giving his time and attention to.” In his case, as a scribe, concentrating on God’s Word was a full-time pursuit. In most of your cases, it is not; you have careers and jobs; or homes to run. You can’t devote your full energy to studying.

But you can give as much time and attention to God’s Word as you can. When I first got saved, I purchased a copy of Tim LaHaye’s book, How to Study the Bible for Yourself. One thing he recommended was getting a basic library of books. For my first birthday after I got saved, all I asked for were those books. Unger’s Bible Dictionary; The Whole Bible Commentary Critical and Explanatory by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown; Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell; Vines Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words; Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.

I had no plans to become a scribe; I simply wanted to have the tools I needed to give as much time and attention to God’s Word as I could.

Ezra sets a good example in that he learned the Word, then lived it, and only then, taught others. It doesn’t mean you need to be perfect; you never will be. It does mean we ought not be hypocrites – putting burdens on others in teaching and talking that we ourselves do not bear.

For example: If you’ve never suffered very much, then you have less to say to encourage those who are suffering. BTW, that’s biblical. The apostle Paul wrote, “He comforts us when we are in trouble, so that we can share that same comfort with others in trouble. We share in the terrible sufferings of Christ, but also in the wonderful comfort he gives” (Second Corinthians 1:4-5 CEV).

You must first be comforted by God in your own “terrible sufferings” to be able to comfort others.

This doesn’t mean you can’t minister Jesus to those who are suffering. But be cautious you don’t put greater burden upon them by overstepping your experience.

Do you fear the hand of the Lord upon you? I think we would agree that Ezra did – even though it is not directly stated. To him, fearing the Lord meant preparing his heart to serve; and stepping-up when called to serve – whether in exile, or by taking a long dangerous journey, or by being the guy who would speak truth in love to God’s people.

It wasn’t the fear of disobeying and therefore being punished. It was the fear of pleasing God on account of God’s mercy, longsuffering, and steadfast love.

True, God’s hand must sometimes dispense necessary discipline. Even then, it is only those whom He loves that He disciplines.

#2 – Do You Feel The Hand Of The Lord Upon You? (v11-28)

We’ve been taught to walk by faith, not by feeling. While in one sense that is good, I think we might be overdoing it by ignoring feelings.

Again, let’s ground this in God’s Word. In the New Testament we are told to to have God-honoring feelings. We are commanded to feel joy (Philippians 4:4), hope (Psalm 42:5), fear (Luke 12:5), peace (Colossians 3:15), zeal (Romans 12:11), grief (Romans 12:15), desire (First Peter 2:2), tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32), brokenness and contrition (James 4:9).

The references Ezra makes to the hand of God are obviously an attempt to personalize our relationship and to elicit emotion. Ezra understood God as reaching out, in love and with affection; leading, correcting, holding his hand, and reaching out to lift up his head.

Keep that in mind as we work rather quickly through these remaining verses.

Ezr 7:11  This is a copy of the letter that King Artaxerxes gave Ezra the priest, the scribe, expert in the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of His statutes to Israel:

Ezra wrote this, but he wasn’t boasting. This is the job description of the “priest, the scribe.”

Your job description is to become ‘expert’ in what the Word says about being a husband, a wife, a child; an employer or an employee; a citizen. The information is easily accessible in the Bible. Learn it; live it; teach it.

Ezr 7:12  Artaxerxes, king of kings, To Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven: Perfect peace, and so forth.
Ezr 7:13  I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you.
Ezr 7:14  And whereas you are being sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand;
Ezr 7:15  and whereas you are to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem;
Ezr 7:16  and whereas all the silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem –
Ezr 7:17  now therefore, be careful to buy with this money bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem.
Ezr 7:18  And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God.

God determined to fund the project using Persian, or we would say government, money. In the church age in which we live, God’s work depends upon the free-will giving of His saints.

Ezr 7:19  Also the articles that are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem.
Ezr 7:20  And whatever more may be needed for the house of your God, which you may have occasion to provide, pay for it from the king’s treasury.
Ezr 7:21  And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the region beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, may require of you, let it be done diligently,
Ezr 7:22  up to one hundred talents of silver, one hundred kors of wheat, one hundred baths of wine, one hundred baths of oil, and salt without prescribed limit.
Ezr 7:23  Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done for the house of the God of heaven. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?

Artaxerxes motive was to live in harmony with the God of Israel in order to not be overthrown. While Israel’s recent history had been one of captivity, Artaxerxes may have understood it was a discipline from their God. And he may have known their earlier history – when no Gentile nation could stand against them.
Ezr 7:24  Also we inform you that it shall not be lawful to impose tax, tribute, or custom on any of the priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, Nethinim, or servants of this house of God.

No tax for ministers. I’m going to file Form 1040-EZRA.

Ezr 7:25  And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people who are in the region beyond the River, all such as know the laws of your God; and teach those who do not know them.
Ezr 7:26  Whoever will not observe the law of your God and the law of the king, let judgment be executed speedily on him, whether it be death, or banishment, or confiscation of goods, or imprisonment.

By “all the people” was meant Jews. Artaxerxes was giving Ezra permission to live by the Law of Moses in their own land.

Muslim immigrants want to apply Sharia law where they settle. I bring it up to illustrate. The Israelites were restricted to within their own sovereign borders – not wherever they lived in Persia.

Ezr 7:27  Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem,
Ezr 7:28  and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me.

Sounds emotional to me; full of feeling. Ezra was “encouraged,” which is accompanied by feelings. He “blessed” the Lord – motivated by the joy and hope and peace that he felt.

If we allow for those emotions, we must allow for ones that are darker, negative.

The apostle Paul despaired; he was anxious about the spiritual state of believers. The psalmists describe many difficult emotions. It is part of our sanctification to work through our emotions, and break through to joy and such.

Let me point out something that, as I teased earlier, is precious. In verse twenty-eight, the Hebrew word for “mercy” is, by all scholarly accounts, extremely difficult to translate into English. “Mercy,” “longsuffering,” and “steadfast love” are all acceptable. But they fall short.

Several authors point out that the root word here is also the root word for “stork.” I know; that sounds off-topic, and even a little funny.

What do you associate with storks? They are trusted to deliver babies.

There is a long history of cultures using the stork in this manner. Here’s why, according to one researcher:
Storks are excellent parents… they care for their young faithfully and with great loyalty and devotion.  They return to the same nesting sights year after year, and practice serial monogamy.

Here is another quote:

The Hebrew word for stork was equivalent to kind mother, and the care of storks for their young, in their highly visible nests, made the stork a widespread emblem of parental care. It was widely noted in ancient natural history that a stork pair will be consumed with the nest in a fire, rather than fly and abandon it.

There is a meme circulating the web that says, “I saw your picture in the dictionary today, right next to (fill in the blank).” It’s a modern version of saying, “If you look-up (fill in the blank) in the dictionary, you’ll see so-and-so’s picture.”

It’s a “picture is worth a thousand words” sort of thing.

Sometimes an example is richer than a definition. God’s mercy… longsuffering… steadfast love… is like that of a stork caring for its young. Or, as Jesus said in the New Testament, it’s like a mother hen gathering her young under her wings.

Except that, unlike birds, God is omnipotent and omniscient and omnipresent. His tenderness is powerful.

I can only trust that as you reflect on this, you’ll recover joy, hope, peace, and all the good feelings of a walk with God – even if you’re in the fire.

One final question: What do you want as your catchphrase?

The Stone Temple Prophets (Ezra 6:13-22)

If I never hear the phrase, “Eye of the tiger,” again, it will be too soon. Or the song.

I concede that it is iconic. And, like every true Italian-American, I love the Rocky franchise.

I try to avoid using those kind of popular expressions. Just sayin’.

Did you know that both Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney used the song on the campaign trail?

Just for fun, I Googled “Eye of the Tiger sermons.” To my dismay, there are a ton of them. And not just from the 1980’s. One I found was preached in 2014. It began, “God is looking for men with one trait…The Eye Of The Tiger!!!”

I know what you’re thinking: “Gene, Keep calm and give the Bible study.”

“Eye of the tiger” worked when it was first used in Rocky 3. Enamored by the world, Rocky lost his way, so Apollo Creed returned him to his humble roots, where he recaptured what he had lost.

In our verses, the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem had come back in humility to their roots. They recaptured what they had lost:

They completed building the Temple, and dedicated it with a joyous celebration.

They kept the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, as prescribed by Moses in the Law of God.

Not tigers, but lambs were predominate:

400 lambs were among the 712 animals sacrificed at the Temple’s dedication.

One lamb was slain for each household for Passover.

After seventy years captive in Babylon; and twenty-one years constructing the Temple; they were back to where they belonged.

If you are in Christ, there are going to be times you get off course. It may be a full-on backslide into sin; or it may be a slight, but nonetheless significant, detour off the path.

It may even involve works of diligent service to the Lord, but ones that are fleshly rather than Spirit-empowered.

You’ll want to get back.

That will be our theme as I organize my comments around two points: #1 Get Back To Celebrating The Joy Of Your Salvation, and #2 Get Back To Celebrating The Joy Of Your Savior.

#1 – Get Back To Celebrating The Joy Of Your Salvation (v13-18)

Getting “off-track” is an expression I can live with. Apparently getting off-track was a common problem among the first generation of Christians:

The apostle Paul said to the Galatians, “You were doing so well. Who caused you to stop following the truth?” (5:7 ERV).

The church in Ephesus started well, but Jesus wrote to them, saying, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (Revelation 2:5).

There are multiple exhortations in the New Testament to awake from spiritual slumber; to remain sober, alert, and watchful. Others tell you to complete the race you’ve begun.

We’re told of the returned exiles, in verses sixteen and twenty-two, that they returned to joy. We will know we have returned if we have joy.

Ezr 6:13  Then Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, Shethar-Boznai, and their companions diligently did according to what King Darius had sent.

The local Persian authorities wanted proof that the Jews had permission from the government to rebuild their Temple. A letter of inquiry was sent to King Darius. A search of the archives yielded the previous decree of King Cyrus giving the Jews permission, and funding, to return, and to build.

Ezr 6:14  So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.

“They prospered through the prophesying.” I imagine Haggai and Zechariah going around and encouraging the workers with the Word of God. It created a soundtrack, a playlist, that encouraged their joy.

Hobby Lobby – not my favorite store; it’s a guy thing. But I love their music soundtrack. It’s mostly old Maranatha Music! songs that remind me of when I first got saved. It’s hard not to sing along.

I’m not saying you can’t listen to secular music, or to talk radio. But I will challenge you to get back to listening to more praise music; and to solid preaching.

Ezra mentioned both God and the Persian kings. It reminds us God superintendents history to ensure the outcome He has promised in His Word will surely come to pass; but that He does it without violating our free will.

Artaxerxes belongs to the next century – to the next phase. Ezra mentions him here thematically, not chronologically.

God turned the hearts of all these kings to keep his plan on track. You go, God!

Ezr 6:15  Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.

The Temple was completed twenty-one years after it was begun. Just in case you thought your contractor was slow.

Here is an interesting tidbit for you scholars. It’s likely that the completion of the Temple is the event that marks the end of the seventy-years prophecy given by Jeremiah, and discovered by Daniel. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 586BC. The Second Temple was completed “in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius,’ which was seventy-years later, in 516BC.

Ezr 6:16  Then the children of Israel, the priests and the Levites and the rest of the descendants of the captivity, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy.

Reporting on the dedication, the writer could have chosen any number of descriptions, but Ezra settled on the one word most appropriate: Joy. All of their hopes and dreams; all of their many emotions; everything they felt; could be summarized as joy.

It’s hard to describe or to define our joy in Christ. One author put it this way: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as He causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world.”

Ezr 6:17  And they offered sacrifices at the dedication of this house of God, one hundred bulls, two hundred rams, four hundred lambs, and as a sin offering for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel.

The commentators make a big deal out of how much grander the dedication of the First Temple was. There were something like a hundred times more animals sacrificed.

On a practical level, there were fewer Israelites to offer sacrifice in the Second Temple. They didn’t kill animals for no reason.

Spiritually, grandeur doesn’t matter. You can’t build a house for God; not really. The thing that matters is His presence.

Today, we are His Temple – both our individual bodies that are in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit, and our gathered ‘body’ of believers. The building is of no real consequence – unless it takes away from His glory. All of our decisions ought to take into account what will point us to God, and what He’s done for us, and not what we’ve done for Him.

Ezr 6:18  They assigned the priests to their divisions and the Levites to their divisions, over the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the Book of Moses.

After the dedication, the daily sacrifices and offerings kicked-in.
It may have been a let-down after such a big celebration. The mundane can get monotonous.

It shouldn’t. How can it seem monotonous to be in a relationship with the Living God? How can we grow bored serving Him?

Here are a few ways. First (and perhaps foremost): Sin. Nothing like sin to rob you of your joy. For one thing, sin grieves the Holy Spirit, so He can’t produce the fruit of joy.

Second: Suffering; and trials in general. We initially think our troubles to be strange and out of character for God. Without a solid theology of suffering, joy immediately goes out the window.

What do I mean by a theology of suffering? This will summarize it. The same night Jesus told His disciples, “I have told you these things so that My joy will be in you and your joy may be complete,” He said, “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 15:11 & 16:33).

Joy doesn’t depend on circumstances. It transcends them as the Holy Spirit shows us the beauty of Jesus in the Word, and in the world.

Over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that neither sin nor suffering is the major joy-killer. Self-righteousness and self-effort are often overlooked.

I quoted the apostle Paul writing to the Galatians. They had been born-again, by grace through faith. Certain legalistic teachers, called Judaizers, came and convinced them they must also keep the Law of Moses. It was an appeal to their self-righteousness as opposed to the righteousness of Jesus. So Paul said, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (3:3).

What is self-effort? You see it in the church in Ephesus. I quoted Jesus, telling them that they had fallen. He first talked about their many good works. He described them in a way any church would love to be described.
They weren’t returning to the Law of Moses. But they had left their first love for Jesus. Their motives were wrong. You might say they were building with wood, hay, and stubble rather than things that were precious.

Whether your joy was lost to something obvious, or subtle, you need to get back to the joy of your salvation.

When the Jews dedicated the Second Temple, with all of the animal sacrifices, it was a reminder of what God did to provide salvation. He promised in the Garden of Eden to come as a man and die for the sins of the whole world; to be the Savior of the whole world – especially those who believe. Each sacrificed lamb pointed to the coming of Jesus as the final Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

The joy of your salvation involves the assurance you are saved. You’ve been born-again, with your name written in the Book of Life never to be blotted out.

You could be raptured at any moment; but since that is unpredictable, and you might die, it is knowing that to be absent from your body in death is to be immediately present with Jesus.

It is knowing that everything in your life is being worked together for your ultimate good, because Jesus promised He would complete the work He started in you – which is nothing short of you being made into His image.

It is trusting that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you, where you will be reunited with your believing loved ones, and enjoy an eternity of love and bliss.

Whether you’re in sin, or suffering, or being self-righteous, or relying on self-effort – recognize it and repent and return to joy – a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

#2 – Get Back To Celebrating The Joy Of Your Savior (v19-22)

You should know this about the seven calendar feasts of Israel. The feasts are in a perfect prophetic order that itself is a picture of God’s plan for the redemption of human beings and the restoration of creation:

There are four spring feasts and they were fulfilled by Jesus – to the very day – in His first coming.
The final three fall feasts will likewise be fulfilled by Him in His Second Coming.

What do I mean by fulfilled? Jesus died just as the Jews were sacrificing the Passover lambs; He was in the tomb but suffered no corruption, as pictured by the Feast of Unleavened Bread; He rose from the dead on First-fruits as the first-fruits of the future resurrection; and He sent the Holy Spirit upon the church on Pentecost following His ascension.


Ezr 6:19  And the descendants of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.

Centuries earlier, the Jews were slaves in Egypt. After sending nine plagues upon the Egyptians, the tenth and final plague was the death of the firstborn. You’d be saved if you killed a lamb, and put its blood on your doorposts. The Angel of the Lord would see the blood of your substitute, and ‘pass over’ your house.

I’ve already mentioned that Jesus is the final Lamb, whose death on the cross saves all who trust in Him. The apostle Paul even says Christ is our Passover (First Corinthians 5:7).

Ezr 6:20  For the priests and the Levites had purified themselves; all of them were ritually clean. And they slaughtered the Passover lambs for all the descendants of the captivity, for their brethren the priests, and for themselves.

They celebrated their first Passover in the new Temple. How cool was that? To be among that crowd was something special.

We do not celebrate the feasts of Israel. They are not for us. Observing them is a step backward into Judaism, with its self-righteousness. We can learn about Jesus by studying the feasts without observing them.

Ezr 6:21  Then the children of Israel who had returned from the captivity ate together with all who had separated themselves from the filth of the nations of the land in order to seek the LORD God of Israel.

“The filth of the nations of the [promised] land.” Like what? Like infant sacrifice. Here is a quote from an archeological website:

Put together the Biblical evidence, the evidence of multiple highly regarded ancient historians, the archeological evidence and the conclusion becomes overwhelming and inescapable. The Canaanites really did practice child sacrifice. Human sacrifice was widespread amongst many cultures in ancient times but infant sacrifice was relatively unknown outside of Canaanite civilization.  The deliberate murder of infant children was a pronounced feature of Canaanite religion.  The Bible does not exaggerate the crimes of the Canaanites.

Some of the recent, more liberal, proposed abortion legislation puts our generation in a position worse than the Canaanites. USA Today, reporting on proposed legislation in Virginia, said, “Democrats in Virginia calmly describe their ghoulish plans to murder babies as they were being delivered, and after.”

BioEdge, which reports on medical ethics, posted a story titled, After-birth Abortion Already Exists in the Netherlands.

They celebrated “Together with all who had separated themselves…” Anyone, from any tongue or tribe or nation, could be saved.

God has never been willing that any should perish. He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but instead seeks to bring them into salvation by His Creation speaking to them, and by the testimony of His people.

Ezr 6:22  And they kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy; for the LORD made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king of Assyria toward them, to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.

The Medo-Persian empire included Assyria. Why Ezra refers to it here, I can’t say. But it again reminds us of God’s providence. He didn’t start being involved in history with Babylon; no, the former Assyrian Empire was used by Him to discipline His people before the Babylonians and the Persians. God’s got this.

When we here the phrase, “the joy of your Savior,” we rightfully think of the joy He desires for us, and that abiding in Him produces in us.

It can also be the joy we bring to Him. In Zephaniah 3:17 we read,

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.”

True – Zephaniah was writing about Jews in the future Kingdom of Heaven on earth. But it establishes that God’s people can bring Him joy.

Jesus is going to one day present us to His Father, like a Bridegroom introducing His bride:

Ephesians 5:27  that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.

I’d say that it will bring Him joy to do so.

We need to think outside the box and realize that we can bring joy to our Savior’s heart.

Who wouldn’t want to bring Him joy, considering all He has done?

If you are not in Christ – it would bring Jesus and all Heaven joy for you to get saved.

For us in Christ… ask Him where you can bring Him joy.

Persian Pen Letter (Ezra 5:6-6:12)

Our family loves to communicate using film and television quotes. For instance, if something isn’t going as planned, one of us invariably says, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

There is some research to suggest that quoting from movies, or from music or literature, can help you to connect with others more quickly. If you say to me, “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line,” then I know we are on the same wavelength.

Some quotes are ones that most everyone would recognize, e.g., “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Others are obscure. One Pam and I use when someone is long-winded is, “I love how you talk, using 40 words where four will do.”

Giving long answers was something highlighted in the movie, Lincoln, for which actor Daniel Day Lewis received an Oscar. Several times Lincoln gives a long, homespun story as his indirect but poignant answer.

In our verses, the returnees to Jerusalem are challenged by their enemies with a simple question: “Who commanded you to build this Temple and to finish these walls?” (5:9).

One word – a name – could have sufficed. They answered by telling a long story, lasting from verse eleven through verse seventeen of chapter five.

Their answer was filled with history and theology, as well as personal testimony.

And that is why their response reminded me of a commonly quoted phrase from a verse in First Peter in the KJV version of the New Testament. The apostle said, “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…” (3:15).

Being ready to give an answer of our hope in Christ is going to be our theme as we work through these verses. I’ll organize my comments around two points: #1 Live In A Manner That Moves Others To Ask About Your Hope In Christ, and #2 Live In A Manner That Matches Your Answer About Your Hope In Christ.

#1 – Live In A Manner That Moves Others To Ask About Your Hope In Christ (5:6-17)

“Houston, we have a problem.” Tom Hanks made that line famous in 1995’s Apollo 13. It’s a misquote; the words actually spoken, by Jack Swigert, were “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.”

The enemies of Israel drafted a letter to the Persian king to clear up confusion regarding the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. It could have started, “Darius, we have a problem.”

Ezra 5:6  This is a copy of the letter that Tattenai sent: The governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and his companions, the Persians who were in the region beyond the River, to Darius the king.

We studied the first five verses of chapter five last Sunday, as they were a fitting conclusion to the action of chapter four. In them, Tattenai and other non-Jews tried to ascertain if the Jews really had permission to be rebuilding their Temple.

The result of their conversation with Zerubbabel, the leader of the Jews, was to write a letter to King Darius.

Ezra 5:7  (They sent a letter to him, in which was written thus) To Darius the king: All peace.
Ezra 5:8  Let it be known to the king that we went into the province of Judea, to the temple of the great God, which is being built with heavy stones, and timber is being laid in the walls; and this work goes on diligently and prospers in their hands.
Ezra 5:9  Then we asked those elders, and spoke thus to them: “Who commanded you to build this temple and to finish these walls?”
Ezra 5:10  We also asked them their names to inform you, that we might write the names of the men who were chief among them.

Something I really hadn’t seen before in these verses. Throughout the letter, they made no false accusations; nor did they exaggerate. Tattenai & Company didn’t put any spin on what was said. Their reporting was fair and balanced.

You are going to have enough trouble and opposition as a believer in Christ that you don’t have to exaggerate. If someone disagrees with you, or even opposes you, it is their prerogative to do so. Not everything is a conspiracy theory.

Ezra 5:11  And thus they returned us an answer, saying, “We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the Temple that was built many years ago, which a great king of Israel built and completed.

I’m surprised that the Jews didn’t start farther back, with Moses and the Tabernacle in the wilderness. The Tabernacle, and later the Temple, were their center. It was where God dwelt among them; where they met with Him. As the Temple of “the God of Heaven and earth,” it was far more significant than any other religious building on the earth. Ever.

Ezra 5:12  But because our fathers provoked the God of heaven to wrath, He gave them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the Chaldean, who destroyed this Temple and carried the people away to Babylon.

This isn’t mere history; it is a theology of history. It is an example of the historic fact that God “removes and raises-up kings” (Daniel 2:21), and that “the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:1). It highlights the doctrine of God’s providence.

Regardless that nonbelievers accuse God of inaction, mostly because there is evil and it’s resultant suffering in the world, He is working out His plan of redeeming humanity and His creation by His providential involvement in history. Israel was, and remains, central to that plan.

Ezra 5:13  However, in the first year of Cyrus king of Babylon, King Cyrus issued a decree to build this house of God.

Whenever we read about, or think about, Cyrus, we ought to marvel that his name, and his reign, and his decree, were all prophesied by Isaiah around 150 years before Cyrus was born.

The argument against Isaiah’s accuracy is that nonbelievers don’t think anyone can truly predict the future.

Well, that’s not entirely true. They think that an obscure reference by Nostradamus to “Hister” means that he predicted “Hitler.” But when Isaiah writes about Cyrus – they can’t handle the truth.

I find it odd, and disturbing, that many who are in Christ have a contempt for prophecy. The author of the best-selling Christian book of all time characterized prophecy as a “distraction” and says that anyone who lets himself get involved in distractions like studying prophecy, “is not fit for the kingdom of God.”

Ezra 5:14  Also, the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple that was in Jerusalem and carried into the temple of Babylon – those King Cyrus took from the temple of Babylon, and they were given to one named Sheshbazzar, whom he had made governor.

Sheshbazzar is either another name for Zerubbabel; or he died early-on, leaving Zerubbabel in charge.

Ezra 5:15  And he said to him, ‘Take these articles; go, carry them to the Temple site that is in Jerusalem, and let the house of God be rebuilt on its former site.’

I think I mentioned in a previous study that when an army conquered a city or a region, they went into its temple and removed its idols. It was their way of saying to their enemies, “Puny god.”

There were no idols – no representations of Jehovah – in the Temple at Jerusalem, so all the Babylonians could remove were plates and cups and platters.

Ezra 5:16  Then the same Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem; but from that time even until now it has been under construction, and it is not finished.”

Work had stopped for a period of about fifteen years. Still, it is accurate to say it remained “under construction.”

Ezra 5:17  Now therefore, if it seems good to the king, let a search be made in the king’s treasure house, which is there in Babylon, whether it is so that a decree was issued by King Cyrus to build this house of God at Jerusalem, and let the king send us his pleasure concerning this matter.

The truth was out there – and Tattenai was committed to finding it.

The answer that the Jews gave was fueled by their hopes to rebuild the Temple.
To paraphrase Peter, “they gave an answer of the hope that was in them, with meekness and fear.”

That phrase from First Peter is immediately associated with what scholars call apologetics. Apologetics is the defense of biblical truth against opposition and attack.

We love that; we love apologetics. It equips you to defend your faith out in a hostile world whose ruler is the devil.

I’m not positive, however, that is how Peter used the word. He said we were to give an answer for our “hope” – not for our foundational doctrines. The context, also, is something a little more personal. He ties the answer you give to your conduct, not to your confession.

What is our “hope?” Lot’s of things are on that list:

Galatians 5:5 For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.”

First Peter 1:3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Titus 1:2  [we have] hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,

First Thessalonians 5:8  But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.

One of our favorite verses about our hope is Titus 2:13, “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Our hope in Christ, then, is everything He has done for us, and has promised to complete in us. It is our initial salvation, and our daily sanctification, and our future glorification.
It is the restoration of creation. It is eternal life.

You don’t need to be a scholar to give an answer of your hope in Christ.

The people you are around – they’re not typically looking for an intellectual defense of the Bible; not really. They want to know if what you have ‘works.’

They’re searching for answers to their hurt, to their grief, to their loss; to their emptiness. God has placed eternity in their hearts, but they don’t know how to fill it.

Their marriages are failing, and they don’t know where to turn for help.

And we who are in Christ – we have the answer; it’s Jesus.

Others can, and will, be moved by your hope in Jesus – if, indeed, your hope is in Him.

#2 – Live In A Manner That Matches Your Answer About Your Hope In Christ (6:1-12)

Dr. J. Vernon McGee frequently talks about the rubber meeting the road. He means your talk, and your walk, ought to match. If hope in Christ is transforming – you’ll be transformed.

While waiting for Darius to respond, Zerubbabel kept the project on schedule. Their hope in the Temple was matched by their work on it.

Ezra 6:1  Then King Darius issued a decree, and a search was made in the archives, where the treasures were stored in Babylon.
Ezra 6:2  And at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of Media, a scroll was found, and in it a record was written thus:
Nothing was found in the archives in Babylon. The degree was found at Achmetha, which was a kind of Camp David for the Persian king. This tells us that the government of Persia was diligent; and that they were not out to get the Jews.

The government isn’t always against you. We should work within it, obeying its laws, unless and until they conflict with the Gospel.

Ezra 6:3  In the first year of King Cyrus, King Cyrus issued a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem: “Let the house be rebuilt, the place where they offered sacrifices; and let the foundations of it be firmly laid, its height sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits,

This is essentially material we encountered in chapter one, only with some additional detail.

As to the dimensions of the Temple – they were the maximum dimensions Cyrus would allow. It was a building code. They could build smaller (which they did), but no larger.
Ezra 6:4  with three rows of heavy stones and one row of new timber. Let the expenses be paid from the king’s treasury.

This project was not only green lighted by Cyrus – he would have Persia fully fund it from their national treasure.

We don’t want government money. Neither do we solicit nonbelievers for funds. There may be exceptions, but that’s the rule. To God be the glory.

In passing, notice that building was hard work. Timbers and heavy stones were the basic materials. As we build together a Temple on earth – the church – it will involve hard work, spiritually and physically.

Being filled by, and led by, the indwelling Holy Spirit doesn’t mean we can coast; or that we won’t encounter trouble. We do, and we will.

One of my favorite descriptions in the Bible is that of a companion of the apostle Paul, Epaphroditus, who was “sick almost unto death” (Philippians 2:27), but nevertheless fulfilled his ministry to the saints.

Ezra 6:5  Also let the gold and silver articles of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple which is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and taken back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; and deposit them in the house of God” –

Persia had a tolerant position with regard to religion. You could worship any deity so long as you were not seeking to revolt.

Ezra 6:6  Now therefore, Tattenai, governor of the region beyond the River, and Shethar-Boznai, and your companions the Persians who are beyond the River, keep yourselves far from there.
Ezra 6:7  Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God on its site.

Darius wanted to be clear, so that they would not have a failure to communicate. They were to snap out of it, and help, rather than in any way hinder, the rebuilding.

Ezra 6:8  Moreover I issue a decree as to what you shall do for the elders of these Jews, for the building of this house of God: Let the cost be paid at the king’s expense from taxes on the region beyond the River; this is to be given immediately to these men, so that they are not hindered.

While we’re here, talking about funding, let me share something. It’s about our building, and our mortgage. Don’t worry; I’m not going to ask you to “Show me the money,” and we’re not starting a capital campaign.

We purchased this property in 2003 for $850,000.00. We’ve paid down the mortgage by $500,000.00, leaving us with right at $300,000.00 owed ($300,253.19). The last appraisal on the property was $1.3million.

Our current loan is with a Christian credit union, and it’s a good one in that it is fixed in both duration and interest rate – something unusual for churches.

I want us to start praying that God would pay-off the mortgage. I don’t know how; and, as I said, we’re not soliciting or initiating any program. Just pray.

Ezra 6:9  And whatever they need – young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem – let it be given them day by day without fail,
Ezra 6:10  that they may offer sacrifices of sweet aroma to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons.

Darius was a pagan idolator, for sure; but he wanted the Jews to pray for him and his sons.

Have nonbelievers ever asked you to intercede with God on their behalf?

It’s an encouragement to you that your life matches your hope. They see in you something genuine.

Ezra 6:11  Also I issue a decree that whoever alters this edict, let a timber be pulled from his house and erected, and let him be hanged on it; and let his house be made a refuse heap because of this.
Ezra 6:12  And may the God who causes His name to dwell there destroy any king or people who put their hand to alter it, or to destroy this house of God which is in Jerusalem. I Darius issue a decree; let it be done diligently.

Would you drive the suggested speed limit if there was no fine for exceeding it? Nope. It’d be Mad Max out there – worse than it already is. I’ve driven with some of you who have the need… the need for speed.

The ‘fines’ in the ancient world – let’s just say they were brutal. You mess with God’s house, and you’d be messed-up on a beam from your own house.

Your life and lifestyle choices communicate what is at your core. Do they match your confession of hope in Jesus?

I’ll end with some encouragement to match our belief with our behavior from Second Peter.

2Peter 3:10  But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.
2Peter 3:11  Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
2Peter 3:12  looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
2Peter 3:13  Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
2Peter 3:14  Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless;
2Peter 3:15  and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation…