Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Daily reading assignment – Nehemiah 1-4
Our “Read-Thru the Bible In a Year” schedule brings us today to the Book of Nehemiah, chapters 1-4. Permit me an opportunity to give you some background on this book.
While the Book of Ezra recorded the decree of Cyrus king of Persia setting the Jews at liberty to return to their land and rebuild the Temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar 70 years earlier (Ezra 1); the Book of Nehemiah gives Nehemiah’s record of how the walls of Jerusalem were restored. Thus, the prophet and priest Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries; the elder Ezra being the first to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple.
Who was Nehemiah? He was “the king’s cupbearer” (Nehemiah 1:11). Dwelling in the king’s palace, Nehemiah’s life was one of privilege. He was more than his title implies; the role of the cupbearer was that of a king’s closest aide; his confidant and counselor. The king entrusted his very life to his cupbearer who protected the king from assassination by first tasting the king’s food and sipping his wine.
In spite of the comforts and privileges he enjoyed as a cupbearer, Nehemiah’s heart was burdened for the remnant of Jews who returned to Jerusalem. Visited by “men of Judah” (1:2), Nehemiah inquired concerning the welfare of his brethren and the state of things in Jerusalem. The men of Judah reported the walls of the city laid in ruins and how the people suffered (1:3). Hearing how his people suffered, Nehemiah wept, prayed, and sought opportunity to intervene (1:4-11).
Unable to mask his sorrow, Artaxerxes the king observed Nehemiah’s countenance and questioned the cause for his cupbearer’s sadness (2:1-2a). Remembering the authority of ancient oriental kings was absolute and they held in their lands the power of life and death, Nehemiah confessed, “I was very sore afraid” (2:2b).
One great spiritual qualities found in Nehemiah’s life is he was a man of prayer. When he heard how the Jews suffered in Jerusalem, he wept and prayed (1:4-11). When the king enquired why he was sad, Nehemiah prayed to God for wisdom (2:4) and requested the king send him to Jerusalem with letters granting him authority to acquire materials and permission to rebuild the walls of the city (2:5-8).
Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was immediately met by opposition when he arrived in Jerusalem (2:10, 19-20). On the third day after his arrival in the city, Nehemiah surveyed the state of the city at night and found the walls and gates of the city in ruin (2:11-15). Exercising discretion, Nehemiah refrained from disclosing his business to the elders of the city (2:12,16).
Why such secrecy regarding the great vision he had for Jerusalem? There are many reasons I might offer, but surely the foremost is he needed time to contemplate the task before him, seek the LORD’s direction, and set forward a plan of attack and the organization required for so great an undertaking.
Having assessed the task to rebuild the walls of the city, Nehemiah challenged the elders among the Jews that it was time to rebuild the walls and secure its inhabitants (2:17-18). He encouraged the people with the courage of his own faith in God saying, “The God of heaven, He will prosper us” (2:20).
Nehemiah 3 gives the organization of the laborers and their assigned tasks on the walls and gates. Noblemen, priests, and households of common men labored side by side on the walls and gates of the city. As the work to restore the walls began, enemies of God’s people were provoked to anger and began mocking the workers and ridiculing their labor on the walls (4:1-6).
Seeing the walls and gates being restored, the enemies of the Jews “conspired all of them together” (4:4-8). When the people were tempted to be discouraged (4:7-11), Nehemiah writes, “we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch against them day and night” (4:9).
I observe two responses to opposition in this passage you and I are wise to emulate in our walk with the LORD.
The first response, Nehemiah encouraged the people to pray (4:4-5, 9). The second, Nehemiah urged the people to arm themselves against their enemies and continue to work.
Neh. 4:17-18 – “They which builded on the wall, and they that bare burdens, with those that laded, every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon. 18 For the builders, every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded. And he that sounded the trumpet was by me.”
Friend, serving Christ is not predicated upon convenience, but upon conviction. If you are going to serve the LORD, be prepared for opposition from without and within. Ridicule, mocking, scorn are all tools the enemy uses to discourage us, cause us to doubt, and eventually quit.
For Nehemiah, quitting was not an option! When he faced opposition, he prayed. When he faced tasks that exhausted him and the people, he prayed…and continue to work! Nehemiah gives us this testimony:
Nehemiah 4:23 – “So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servants, nor the men of the guard which followed me, none of us put off our clothes, saving that every one put them off for washing.”
Copyright 2017 – Travis D. Smith