Outline: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.
[1:1-11]: A New Perspective [2:1-8]: Prayer and Planning [2:9-20]: Mission [3:1-32]: How to Get Things Done [4:1-23]: How to Deal With Opposition and Criticism [5:1-19]: Money and Missions [6:1-7:3]: Deception and Completion [7:4-73]: Leaving a Legacy [8:1-18]: Religion and Revival [9:1-38]: Prayer and Repentance [9:38-10:39]: Covenant [11:1-36]: Why God Loves our City [12:1-47]: Why We Worship [13:1-31]: Repentance and Reformation
1. [1:1-11]: A New Perspective [1:1-3] Introduction to the man, Nehemiah: The opening line of the book introduces us to Nehemiah. In fact, most of the book consists of Nehemiah’s personal journal (Chapters 1-7 and 13). Nehemiah is just an average guy, working a secular job in the king’s court. The book of Nehemiah is one of the finest examples of leadership available to us. Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to king Artaxerxes in the year 445 B.C. This gave him lots of insight what was going on in the world around him. He gets news from his brother Hanani, that the walls in Jerusalem are broken and in desperate need of repair. Without walls around the city, there was no safety or security and without that, worship of God would be impossible. Without proper things in place for the people of Israel, they would not be able to be the people that God wanted them to be. Nehemiah was a genuine leader, an excellent administrator, and a man of prayer. He exhibited many principles of sound administrative practice. Nehemiah’s singlemindedness of purpose, attention to detail, willingness to delegate authority, dedication to service, and dependence on God were combined in a man who can simply be labeled as a servant of God…Certainly Nehemiah’s work in establishing the Jerusalem community, defending it against its neighbors and against syncretism, has left its mark on history. Because this community.1 [1:4] The Brokenness of Nehemiah: At the hearing of the desolation in Jerusalem, Nehemiah breaks down with weeping and fasting. It is important to note that King Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed the walls over 141 years earlier, and various efforts at rebuilding the walls had been attempted. So why does Nehemiah get so emotionally upset now? J. I. Packer states: Why? Not only because of the human needs in Jerusalem, but also, and I think primarily, because God was being dishonored as long as Jerusalem lay waste. For Jerusalem was “the holy city”…the appointed place where the reality of his presence would be experienced in love and mercy by those who sought him…But none of this could be a reality while Jerusalem was in ruins and the temple services were, inevitably, disrupted. Nehemiah identifies with the quest for God’s glory and praise, and it is this that prompts his mourning, his fasting (a sign of grieving sympathy, and of seriousness in prayer), and his praying itself.2 1 Marvin Breneman. The New American Commentary: Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. 59. 2 J.I. Packer. A Passion for God’s Faithfulness: Wisdom from the Book of Nehemiah. 60.
I think that Nehemiah gets old news in a new way. Although the walls had been destroyed for a very long time, he finally understands the importance of what’s going on. Sometimes we need to see things in a new perspective, and understand that just because things in our life are the way they have always been doesn’t mean that they have to stay that way. [1:5-11] The Prayer of Nehemiah: Prayer is an important aspect to the book of Nehemiah. In fact, he fast and prays for 3-4 months (Nehemiah 2:1 is in March-April) before he gets the opportunity to speak to the King about his problems. His dedication in his prayer life is incredible. He serves as a great example for us in what it takes to be faithful and persistent in what we pray for! Because we are in an area not much less spiritually broken that Jerusalem we need to pray the way Nehemiah prayed. Nehemiah prays extensively throughout the book (1:4-11; 2:4; 4:4-5, 9, 5:19; 6:9, 14; 13:14, 22, 29-31), and this first prayer includes several things of note: • • • • •
Adoration of God (1:5) Confession (1:6-7) Remembrance (1:8-9) Thanksgiving (1:10) Supplication (1:11)
2. [2:1-20]: Prayer and Planning [2:1-2]: Sadness Sadness in the presence of the Babylonian king could mean death! So apparently after 4 months of praying and mourning over the condition of Jerusalem had taken a toll on Nehemiah, because finally the king takes notice. Since Nehemiah had been dealing with this for a while, he was ready when the time arose. I think that it is important that we understand that prayer and planning must go together! [2:3-8]: A Bold Request Granted Because of the months spent in prayer and planning, Nehemiah is able to make a bold request to the king. Because he is scared he takes the time to say a little prayer. The length of our prayers are not as important as the attitude of our heart. Nehemiah is about to declare his plan to the king of Babylon…but he understands that the God of the Universe is going to help! It is apparent that Nehemiah has spent the last few months well: he has studied, planned, and developed a great plan to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. I have found that carefully developed plans are easier to “sell” to others, and that is exactly what happens here. When Nehemiah is given an opportunity, he tactfully explains to the king what he wants to do, and the king gives him the okay to go back to Jerusalem. And the king granted my what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me (2:8) Although Nehemiah has prayerfully made his plans to rebuild the walls, and tactfully explained his plans to the king, it is God who is directing the entire situation. The good hand of God was upon Nehemiah, and he knew it. He expresses here that God is the one who is leading and directing Nehemiah. Plans always succeed when God is the one in control!
3. [2:9-16]: Mission (2:9-10): The First Opposition: Because God is at work in the life of Nehemiah, he gets all the resources that he needs to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. On top of the resources he gets an armed escort (2:9). What a great way to make a road trip! But as soon as he gets started, he gets his first critics: Sanballat and Tobiah (2:10). Leaders must always deal with criticism, and Nehemiah will be no exception. One of the main themes in the book of Nehemiah is handling criticism. In church life, the will always be people who stand in opposition to what God is doing, and it is up to the leadership in the church to handle that opposition in a biblical way. As we will see, Nehemiah handles criticism and opposition in a godly way! (2:11-16): Wisdom in Patience: As soon as Nehemiah gets to Jerusalem he curiously takes 3 days off. He is wisely taking some time off before beginning the hard task of rebuilding the walls that have been broken for 141 years. He uses great wisdom in preparing himself for the work. The task would be long and exhausting, and he was wisely taking time to gather up his energy for the entire project. (2:17-20): The Challenge Issued: J.I. Packer states that “All real leaders are masters of motivation,” and Nehemiah is a master of motivation. Nehemiah makes A decisive impact with his first speech as a leader of his people. Nehemiah projected the prospect of ending Jerusalem’s disgrace and…Nehemiah’s testimony had an immediate effect; his confidence was infectious, the crowd caught the vision, and hope suddenly soared…The great restoration was off and running. Motivated and animated by what they had heard.3 Nehemiah inspires the people of Jerusalem to get to work, and assures them that “the God of heaven will make us prosper (2:20).” Nehemiah does 4 things with his initial speech: 1) He identifies with the people by using “I” and “we.” 2) Assures them that his goal is not personal, but rather, to strengthen the walls and instill national security. 3) He assures them of success because God’s hand is at work. 4) He gives the people confidence by speaking to them “eye to eye” and in a personal way. 3 P acker. Ibid. 85-86.
4. [3:1-32]: How to Get Things Done: Thus far in the book, Nehemiah has done everything mostly by himself. But now that the task is beginning, he must rely more on the people of the city to do the work. A good leader is adept at getting the people around involved, and Nehemiah is no exception. The list of names and projects includes thirty-eight named people along with many others whose names are not recorded, forty-two teams working to complete various assigned aspects of the work, working across seven neighborhoods in the city marked by their corresponding gates. A lot of people will look at this chapter as boring. In fact, many commentators skip over it. But if we believe “that all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) then we will understand that there is valuable information to be learned here:4 Insights for leaders: • Build teams. • Put other people into leadership and trust them. Insights for people: • God works through people. • All work should be done unto the Lord. • Some people refuse to work (3:5) • Some people do more work than others (3:11, 3:19, 3:21, 3:24, 3:27, 3:30). • Some people work from home (3:10, 3:23, 3:28-30). • Some people work harder than others (3:20). • Families often work together. • Some work is less desirable than others (example, the Dung Gate). • Recruiting people from the outside is necessary. • A diverse team is good (example, priests, skilled craftsman, city officials, women, bachelors, temple servants, security guards, business men). As we continue to seek God’s will for the life of our Church, it will be important for us to put people proper leaders into place. It is of the upmost importance for all of us to serve where we are most comfortable, but also to work on our church not just in it. Ephesians 2:10 states: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” If we are to be the Church that God wants us to be, we must get to work!
4 These points were taken from a sermon given by Pastor Mark Driscoll, from Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington. For more information see www.marshillchurch.org.
5. [4:1-23]: How to Deal With Opposition and Criticism: Conflict is a part of leading. As Nehemiah begins the massive undertaking of rebuilding the walls around Jerusalem, critics arrive ridiculing him. He will have to deal with critics for the remainder of the book, and for any Christian who is seeking to do the will of God, it is important to see how Nehemiah dealt with it. (4:1-3) Ridicule: The first attack that is laid upon Nehemiah and the people of God is ridicule. The people verbally attack the builders and mock their plan. Leading this ridicule were two men, Sanballat and Tobiah. Sanballat was a governor of a nearby town and a powerful man. Not much is known about Tobiah. It is likely that he married into a Jewish family and, although he was religious, he was more concerned with his political power. (4:4-5) The Response: Prayer: Nehemiah responds to the ridicule of Sanballat and Tobiah with a prayer to God. He wisely chooses not to engage his critics which would have distracted him from his mission. Instead, he turns to God in prayer allowing him to vent his frustration. (4:6) The Result: Success: Nehemiah handled his criticism with prayer, but the people followed it with hard work and determination. Prayer is an important thing, but we must also put our faith into action! (4:7-9) Threats: When Sanballat and Tobiah see that their criticisms and mockery didn’t deter the people from starting to repair the walls, they got angry, and gathered supporters. Many times, critics gather likeminded people to “stir” up trouble in the church. But Nehemiah responds once again in prayer. (4:10-14) Nehemiah Reassures the People: Criticism continues, and after praying, Nehemiah puts security in place to respond to growing threats around them. Sometimes we need to see that threats are real, and because they are, we should response in wise ways. Nehemiah understands that in order to continue the work, he needed to make sure the people were safe: “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for our brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes (4:14).” (4:15-23) Defending the City: Nehemiah puts in place a security plan that enables everyone to work and protect that which they are working on. The people prepare for the worst, and work at the same time.
Nehemiah doesn’t allow their fears to keep them from the task at hand. Even though threats can sometimes be real, we must not allow them to keep us from what God has called us to do!
6. [5:1-19]: Money and Missions: Thus far in the book, all of the attacks against the rebuilding project have come from the outside. But we must recognize that, sometimes, the worst problems can come from inside from people who claim to love Jesus. Sometimes the worst pain that can ever afflict the Church is from the people inside it. Furthermore, a lot of the time, the root issue is money—or greed. In chapter 5, Nehemiah has to handle an economic problem that has arisen inside the city. Because the economy was not in stable, money was tight for a lot of the people. So in order to make ends meet, many people have had to mortgage their property to buy grain in order to feed their families. Four issues are present: 1) Some people were facing starvation due to the food shortage. 2) Some people were so desperate that they had leveraged almost all of their possessions. 3) Some of the people were not able to pay their taxes to the government, which put them in danger of punishment. 4) Some of the people were in such need that they had to sell their children into slavery in order to pay their debts. As a result of all these things, some of the people were helping to bankrupt and enslave their own people, all while endeavoring to rebuild the wall together. Nehemiah becomes very angry with this, and after an unspecified amount of time confronts those responsible. He institutes a policy of restitution where the people who were exacting interest would stop, and also give them back their land. Sometimes simply repenting of our sins is not enough. Nehemiah here asks the people to not only repent (by stopping these practices), but to also restore the wrongs done to the own people. We also need to make sure that if we have sinned against someone in our fellowship, that we do what we can to make it right. Another note is that Nehemiah was also involved in the practice of charging interest to the citizens (verse 10), and he repents publically. Nehemiah models repentance to the people he is leading. It takes a great leader to admit where he is wrong, and when he does it, apparently, makes it easier for the other people to stop. (5:14-19): Generosity: The concluding verses show the amount of time and money that Nehemiah was personally investing in the rebuilding of the walls. He didn’t take a salary, and personally fed 150 men every day. He shows great humility and leadership, by modeling generosity to the people. Also, he puts the mission of rebuilding the wall ahead of his personal finances and interests. Because Nehemiah is asking the people to sacrifice, he has no problem in expecting the same from himself.
7. [6:1-7:3]: Deception and Completion: (6:1-9) A Plot Thwarted: Once again Nehemiah’s opponents are united. But this time, it seems that they want to offer peace. At first glance this seems like a good thing, but Nehemiah is wise to see that they have something else on their agenda. It is apparent that they were not offering peace, but plotting his murder. Nehemiah handles this with great wisdom: 1) He understands that at the root of this, is that they want him to divert away from his mission. 2) He understood that taking a few days for diplomacy would come at the expense of finishing the wall. 3) He repeatedly declined their offer, learning the art of saying to “no” to pushy people. When they cannot get Nehemiah to meet them on their turf, they take their plan to another level, by publicly slandering his name (6:5-9). It’s interesting that the only thing left is to assault Nehemiah’s character. They create a lie in order to get Nehemiah in trouble. They say that Nehemiah is doing all this work in order to set himself up as king. If this was true he would likely be sent back to Babylon and thrown into prison as a traitor. What made this matter worse is the fact that they sent this lie via an open letter. An open letter would have been read by everyone. It’s not unlike what Facebook, email, and blogs can do today. Again Nehemiah handles the situation incredibly wisely: 1) He refuted the charges as lies. 2) He challenges his critics motives as politically motivated scare tactics. 3) He prayed to God for continued strength. (6:10-14): A False Prophet: Nehemiah was summoned to the house of a professed prophet named Shemaiah, who presented to him as revelation from God an oracle that said, “men are coming to kill you—by night [tonight] they are coming to kill you.” Shemaiah urged that they should both hide in the temple, where laymen like Nehemiah were not permitted to go…Had Nehemiah been stampeded into taking this lawless and pointless action he would certainly have been discredited, but his sense of vocation as Israel’s governor, guide, and mentor, plus, no doubt, his sense of being under God’s protection already while he labored at God’s work, kept him from panicking and prompted a forthright refusal of Shemaiah’s suggestion.5 It was a temptation for Nehemiah to do two wrong things: (1) to put his own safety ahead of the work and (2) to break God’s law in order to save his life.6 5 J.I. Packer. Ibid. 132. 6 James Montgomery Boice. Nehemiah. 73.
James Montgomery Boice gives some secrets of Nehemiah’s success:7 1) 2) 3) 4)
Nehemiah’s closeness to God and his prayerfulness. Nehemiah’s sense of calling to a task. Nehemiah’s extraordinary discernment. Nehemiah’s great courage.
(6:15-7:3): The Wall is Finished: “So the wall was finished…in fifty-two days…this work had been accomplished with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).” Estimates have this wall as being around one to two and a half miles in circumference, three to four feet thick, and fifteen to twenty feet high; combine that with the fact that it had been destroyed for 141 years, and you start to see that finishing this work in fifty-two days was, in fact, an act of God! It was an engineering miracle! And although the wall is finished, the critics continue. Tobiah will emerge as Nehemiah’s foremost opponent almost to the end of the book. Although Nehemiah is successful in rebuilding the wall, his job is not done. He will now have to shift from rebuilding the wall, to caring for the people. A good leader understands that his mission changes with the needs of the people.
7 Boice. Ibid. 74-75.
8. [7:4-73]: Leaving a Legacy: After 52 days work, the walls are rebuilt, and now the people get the opportunity to move back into the city. This inspired section of scripture is important to us; even it seems just to be a list of names. While many commentators skip looking at this section, it shows us that much of ministry revolves around people. The reason the people rebuilt the wall so that they would be able to live and worship in their city, so these names represent the first people who were able to do that! The List: 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9)
Senior Leaders (7:6-7). Jews who were laymen (7:8-38). Priests (7:39-42). Levites (7:43). Singers (7:44). Gatekeepers (7:45). Temple servants (7:46-56). Descendants of the servants of Solomon (7:57-60). Others (7:61-65).
So what can we learn from this passage of Scripture. This chapter is more than just names. It is a list of people who worked hard to restore their city. It is a record of people who were willing to do what it took to ensure that their families would have a place to live and worship the God of the Bible. Because these people paid the price, their names are recorded in the Bible for all to remember. These people left a legacy! Also, it is not unlike the list of names that Jesus keeps: “…rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).” Because of our faith in Jesus, our names and legacy ensure that we also, get to go into the City of God (Heaven).
9. [8:1-18]: Religion and Revival: (8:1-12): Steps to Revival: For the first time in a long time, the people can gather for corporate worship. What results from this is a country-wide revival. The people gather and the prophet Ezra reads from the Scripture, and other teachers move among the crowd explaining it. If a church wants to experience a true revival, we can look to this chapter for insights as to how they experienced it. 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9)
People assembled together (8:1). Reading of the Bible (8:3).8 The people were attentive to the reading of the Bible (8:3). People respond to the Word by giving it honor by standing as it is read (8:4). Prayer (8:6). Worship: “lifting their hands” (8:6) Explanation of the Bible (8:7-8). Sorrow over sin (8:9) Obedience to God’s Word (8:13-18).
Notice the emotionalness of the experience. The people wept. They were experience the God of the Bible in a way that they might not have ever had. They had put in a lot of work in rebuilding the wall, and now they were letting go of a lot of pent-up frustration. J.I. Packer put it this way: The people were weeping out of grief and gladness together: grief that they had gone on so long without getting clear on what pleased and displeased their God, so that in fact they had failed to serve him properly, and gladness that instead of casting them off for this he had mercifully sent agents to restore their city and to teach them his Word, so that they might know how to love and serve him for the future. While the grief looked back, the gladness looked ahead…And while there needs to be a time for grief as well as a time for joy, expressing our joy from the Lord can reinforce our spiritual realizations every bit as effectively as expressions of grief can do. Not all service of God need be somber.9 All revivals are an act of God moving among his people. If we are to truly have revival we must rely on the Holy Spirit to move among us. We must allow Him to be the prominent source of all that we experience!
8 This reading would have taken 5-6 hours (“from morning until midday (8:3)”). 9 J.I. Packer, Ibid. 157-159.
10. [9:1-38]: Prayer and Repentance: [9:1-5]: The People Pray: This is about three and half weeks after the Revival in chapter 8. It seems that it is almost a National Day of Prayer that the people participate in. This prayer given by the Levites is the longest one recorded in the Bible,10 and contains several topics that should be remembered when we pray. [9:6]: The Greatness of God: A.W. Tozer said, “The God we must learn to know is the Majesty in the heavens, God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, the only wise God our Saviour.”11 No prayer should be complete without the understanding of who we are praying to: the God of Creation…the God of Heaven…the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign God of the universe. We should take that into account when we come to the Lord in prayer! [9:7-30]: The Goodness of God: Each of the two parties, God and man, stands with special clarity against the background of the other. Sin abounds, grace superabounds. Israel opts for turning back to Egypt and for a new god; the Lord stands by His people, keeps His promises and meets their deepest and most elementary needs.12 [9:30-38]: The Grace of God: The prayer now focuses again on confession, the people freely admitting that it is because of their sin that they are facing hardship. And in an impassioned plea, they ask the Lord to once again show them grace by intervening in their lives. Of course, God is a good God; a gracious God; a God who is slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6,7), and he will always come to our aid. Principles of Prayer: 1) 2) 3) 4)
Prayer must be biblical. Prayer must be God-centered. Prayer must be honest about our own sin. Prayer must include repentance.
10 G. Coleman Luck, Ezra and Nehemiah. 115. 11 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. 114. 12 Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction & Commentary. 112.
11. [9:38-10:39]: Covenant: Chapter eight and nine detail a country-wide revival that results in two things. One, is that the people recognize that God’s Word is the central part of knowing God’s will. Two, is the reading of God’s Word resulted in mass repentance from the people of Israel. In 9:3810:39, we see a third result: the reading of God’s Word and the repentance of sin results in a signed covenant between the people and God stating that they will continue to live in a totally repentant way, according to God’s Word. The first one of the list is Nehemiah, who constantly sets the tone for the people. It is followed by the priests (which would be our modern-day pastors), and the Levites (out modern-day version of deacons), and then followed by everyone who served in ministry in the community. Essentially the entire country signed a covenant which included the following obligations: Covenant Obligations: 1) 2) 3) 4)
We will obey Scripture. We will lead our families. We will worship the God of the Bible. We will give in a generous way.
J.I. Packer summarizes this covenant well: Israel’s overall commitment was thus something very much to admire. It was an expression of radical repentance, which meant a change of mind, heart, and life; a gesture of full consecration, which meant being separated from other peoples to be the people of God; and a gateway into the life of faith, in which God would be relied upon for everything. It models the commitment that should mark the Christian church today—Christians marrying Christains and setting up Christian homes; Christians viewing their time, life, health, wealth, abilities, and influence as gifts from God of which they are stewards and on which God himself always has first claim; Christians being generous in the face of human need and responsible in giving (tithing? at least—and when one can, doing more) to maintain the church’s ministries and personnel.13
13 J.I. Packer, Ibid, 162-163.
12. [11:1-36]: Why God Loves Our City: The walls in Jerusalem had been broken for 141 years, but God allows them to be rebuilt in 52 days. Then roughly 50,000 people come back into the city, have church, read the Bible, repent of their sins, and have revival! Following the revival, the people dedicate their lives to living for the God of the Bible in transformational lives. But now, only the leaders are actually living in the city. Chapter 11 details a great plan to bring 10% of the people to relocate and move into the city of Jerusalem so that they could repopulate it. People live in cities. Creation starts in a beautiful garden with a command to build and start cities. Jesus said a “City on a hill cannot be hidden.” Cities are important. For the first time in history, more people live in cities than in rural areas. Two hundred years ago only around 2.5% of the worlds population lived in cities, and estimates have that by 2030 over 60% of the worlds population will live in the cities. Why is this important for us? While most of us live in a rural area (which most of the time I find incredibly satisfying), we must not miss out on the strategic importance of us ministering in the cities. James Montgomery Boice summarized it this way: For far too long we have been guilty of what has been called “white flight” from the cities. We have moved away from the action, where we have been needed, to where it is nice! And because of our suburban, rural orientation, we have carried the same pattern over into our approach to world missions. We have focused on the remotest areas, while the people in those areas have been leaving them and streaming into metropolitan environments. The greatest challenge to Christian witness today is to establish an evangelical presence in the world’s cities.14 Did you know that there are over 20,000 people in a 15-mile radius of our church! That’s right: 20,000! That means that we as a church have been put into a place that is growing and changing. So we need to understand that we are missionaries in our city! Charles Spurgeon said that “we are either missionaries or we are imposters.” And that is the way that we should live! God loves our city, and wants us to live in it and love it with the kind of love that he has shown us. We need to be a “city with-in the city” that makes a difference by showing Christ!
14 Boice. Ibid. 117.
13. [12:1-47]: Why We Worship: Chapter 12 records an incredible worship service held in honor of what God has done. The people realize that the rebuilding of the wall, and the ability to move back into the city is a reason to worship the God of Israel. But what is worship? Is it music? Singing? Preaching? What exactly is it? The term worship is sometimes applied to all of a Christian’s life, and it is rightly said that everything in our life should be an act of worship, and everything that the church does should be considered worship, for everything that we do should glorify God.15 So in a very basic sense, worship is giving glory to God. Romans 11:36-12:1 says, “To him be glory forever. Amen. Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” So a few things regarding worship according to this section: 1) We hold a person or thing in a place of glory. 2) We then worship the person or thing that has a place of glory. 3) Our worship of the person or thing brings us to make sacrifices for it. Whatever or whoever has the place of glory in our life, is functionally, our savior. The things we put in high positions in our life we worship by making sacrifices. We can worship food, money, power, jobs, sex, spouses, children, church, anything. But, true worship belongs to Jesus Christ. The opposite of true worship is idolatry. Idolatry would be putting anything other than Christ in a position of worship. We were made to worship. We were made to worship Christ. When we don’t worship Christ, we just make a cheap substitution. This substitution is the root of all sin. We are idolaters when we imperfectly worship anything other than Christ. We end up taking good things and turn them into God-things, which is always a bad thing. When we fail to worship God who is the only thing truly worth true worship. A.W. Tozer said, Worship must be all…If there is anything in me that does not worship God, then there is nothing in me that worships God perfectly…Instead of consoling men who believe they are worshipping God when they are not, we ought to disillusion them and show them they are not worshipping God acceptably.16
15 W ayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. 1003. 16 A.W. Tozer, Tozer on Worship and Entertainment. 4-7.
Dedication and Delight: The people worship by dedicating the walls to God, and by delighting in the God who loves them. By dedicating the wall to God, they were showing that worship was a daily lifestyle with practical implications for them. Tozer again helps with the explanation: If you do not worship God seven days a week, you do not worship Him on one day a week…Too many of us discharge our obligations to God Almighty in one day, usually by a trip to church…true worship of God must be a constant and consistent attitude or state of mind within the believer.17 There is also delight in God that shows itself in corporate worship. Christianity is one of the few religions that actually celebrates our loving God in collective worship. The people of Israel have two mass choirs that go all over the city singing praises to God. Can you imagine the scene? They were celebrating all that God had done for them. This is an example for all of us today. We must celebrate God for all that he has done, continues to do, and will do in the future. In summary we worship God by dedicating who we are to him. We worship by delighting in who he is. We worship by giving all of who we are to him. We must give God our all…our best…we must give him the glory that he deserves and expects.
17 Tozer, Ibid. 9,17.
14. [13:1-31]: Repentance and Reformation: After 12 years as governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah took “some time (verse 6)” off and went back to work with king Artaxerxes. We are not sure how long he was there, but he comes back to Jerusalem for one last stint as governor. We can assume that Nehemiah is probably around 60 years of age by now; assuming that he was around 40 the first time he was governor. When he left, everything in the city was in order. But what does he come back to? Chaos, and sin. A leader’s job is never done! The people had fallen back into their old sins: 1) Failure to maintain purity in regards to the temple (13:4-14). 2) Failure to honor the Sabbath (13:15-22). 3) Inter-marriage with foreign women (13:23). Tobiah is now living in the temple, in a place that was reserved for the Levites, and other ministers of the Temple. Apparently, the tithes had quit coming in, and the Temple workers had to resort to farming in order to make a living. With no one working in the Temple, Tobiah was able to move into the Temple, thereby defiling it. What was worse, the high priest, Eliashib, was the one who put Tobiah there. Nehemiah comes back and his response is anger! Nehemiah does some spring-cleaning and throws all of Tobiah’s furniture out of the temple, and cleanses the room. It is very reminiscent of when Jesus cleaned out the temple.18 The scene is an emotional one. Nehemiah in his anger goes on a rampage throwing everyone out of the temple that shouldn’t be there, just like Jesus did. We must understand that anger is not a sin, as long as we are angry over things that God is angry about. God is a God of justice, and is angry at injustice. Nehemiah is angry at sin: Sins, unhallowed relationships, the self-serving pursuit of pleasure, profit, power, or position, unconcern about pleasing and glorifying God, and any pattern of action that in any way undermines obedience to God’s written Word and fidelity to the Christ of the Scriptures has a defiling effect in God’s sight, of which healthy consciences will be aware. As it was necessary to throw Tobiah out of the temple at Jerusalem long ago, so sinful acts and ways must be repented of, renounced, and given up today.19 We too, must be angry at sin, and respond in a way that shows the seriousness of it. Nehemiah is angry, but his anger helps to remind the people that they have forgotten the Covenant that they had signed just years earlier. Do we not act the same way? We easily forget the goodness and grace of God that has been shown to us when we needed it, and when things are going well, we simply forget to honor him! We must feel anger at sin, just as Nehemiah does here. 18 John 2:13-22; Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 11:15-19; Luke 19:45-48. 19 J.I. Packer, Ibid. 188.
Nehemiah also finds out that the Temple ministers have not been getting paid and because of that have neglected working in the Temple. He goes to the town officials and reminds them of their obligations to tithe to the Temple, and reminds them that the Priests are to paid out of the tithes. Then he puts trust-worthy men in charge of the money to make sure that the tithes get to where they are supposed to go. Nehemiah also reminds the people to honor the Sabbath day by worshipping, and by not doing business on it. And lastly, he reminds them that their intermarrying is causing them to raise children that don’t know the language of the Bible. Because they are marrying women from Moab, their children are learning their language and customs, keeping them from knowing the God of the Bible. Nehemiah takes this sin most seriously, even pulling out some of the men’s hair! Nehemiah is a man of passionate zeal for God! Nehemiah stands out even more as one of God’s personal friends, who blesses me most by letting me, so to speak, hear his heart of faith beating as he tells me of the tasks he tackled and the obstacles he surmounted, and the way he refused to be discouraged when he had, in effect, to go back to the beginning and start again.20 Summary: Nehemiah’s last words are “Remember me, O my God, for good.” The book of Nehemiah begins and ends in prayer. His personal journal entry recounts his efforts to bless the people of Jerusalem, and he humbly wishes that God would simply remember him for the good that he has done. Sometimes, that is all that we can hope for. Nehemiah is a great example for us to seek to leave a legacy for our future generations. Nehemiah changed the city, for good. He made a lasting impact. He was a man that we should try to be like. Nehemiah was a leader: We see in him the zeal for God and the love for people, plus the readiness to challenge his challengers and to oppose personal opposition, that every leader needs. We see in him also the true essence of leadership, as an enabling of others to achieve; the real loneliness of leadership, as the leader holds fast the vision of the goal of which his followers are losing sight; and the burning zeal for God that the leader must ever show forth as a model for those he leads…a further requirement of leadership can be seen—namely a willingness to work extremely hard under pressure, with a concurrent concern to move others to do the same…21
20 P acker, Ibid. 195. 21 P acker, Ibid. 72.
The Book of Nehemiah provides a great illustration of how prayer and hard work can accomplish seemingly impossible things when a person determines to trust and obey God. As a leader Nehemiah was a man of responsibility, vision, prayer, action, cooperation, and compassion who triumphed over opposition with proper motivation…It must be said, in conclusion, that no portion of the Old Testament provides us with a greater incentive to dedicated, discerning zeal for the work of God than the Book of Nehemiah. The example of Nehemiah's passion for the truth of God's Word, whatever the cost or consequences, is an example sorely needed in the present hour.22 Nehemiah is a great example for me personally. He shows how a leader must be willing to set the pace by leading by example. He takes time to pray, and use his prayers to formulate solid, practical plans. He works hard. He is actively involved in the project. He deals with criticism in a strait-forward way, but doesn’t get sidetracked on his mission. He sees the project through until the end. He even comes back after everything is done, and makes the necessary changes that need to be made to ensure that the people would do what they needed to. Nehemiah is the definition of leadership. Nehemiah is a man that we can learn so much from. Let us do our best to be like Nehemiah. Let us love our city. Let us be people of prayer. Let us be people of action. Let us do what we can to leave a legacy. Let us seek to be people that seek to do things that only God can do through us. Let us seek to be different, and at the end of our life be able to say: “Remember me, O Lord, for Good!”
22 Thomas Constable, Notes on Nehemiah, 30.
Published on May 27, 2010