Vs. 6-7a, “But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem…” While Nehemiah had gone back to King Artaxerxes, the people began to slide downwards spiritually. It was shocking for Nehemiah to return only to find the priest Eliashib had been allowing Tobiah the Ammonite to live in one of the storehouses of the temple (vs. 4-9). Question: What’s the big deal? Tobiah had been one of the instigating enemies to Nehemiah’s rebuilding efforts. Tobiah had close relations with the Jews for he had aligned himself to them through marriages. The Ammonites along with the Moabites (descendants of Lot) had conspired to not allow Moses and the Israelites passage through their lands when they made their pilgrimage through the wilderness (vs. 1-3). When Nehemiah returned, he ensured they would stop these alliances and obey the law (Deuteronomy 23:3-5). Nehemiah also found out that the people were not tithing and bringing offerings to the LORD (vs. 10-14), sadly they broke their oath. This sin resulted in Tobiah’s occupancy in the storehouse and the Levites having to work in the fields. Many had also disobeyed the law by working on the Sabbath (vs. 15-22). They realized they were losing out on money by not doing business with the Gentiles. And the last section of our chapter and book focuses on those who had intermarried (vs. 23-31). Such alliances would have devastating spiritual ramifications and Nehemiah would courageously stand up against such action. It’s interesting to note that on a chronological perspective, this is the last recorded events in the Old Testament. A sobering reality, but one that would help us understand why Jesus would come.
Regarding application…Remember Us Lord. Vs. 31b, “…Remember me with favor, my God.” Three times Nehemiah would cry out to the Lord to ask that He would remember. It seems a bit anticlimactic to have the vast narrative of the Old Testament end on such a sour note. Yet, the Living Word of God does not present a fake glossy representation of life. Nehemiah’s cry out to the Lord is one of humility and reverence. There were peaks and valley’s that Nehemiah experienced, yet he would be faithful to the LORD. We too live in such times of spiritual decline. Yet, we must not waver, but be resolute and courageous! Remember us Oh Lord as we strive to bring glory to You in the 21st Century. As Nehemiah awaited the promised Savior, we too await the second coming of our Savior Jesus. Until that time, let’s rise up to the occasion and be a part of the faithful remnant of believers who do not shy away when the going gets tough.
Vs. 27, “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” The first section of our chapter (vs. 1-26) gives us the details of the spiritual leaders of Israel; the priests and Levites. It was important to show the validity of the key priests and Levites over the past three generations. The next even in our chapter (vs. 27-43) is the celebration of the dedication of the wall. The leaders and singers divided themselves in two groups with Ezra leading one while Nehemiah led the other. They separated so they could disperse themselves and be on the walls that they had helped build. But the most important part of this was their worship and sacrifice to the Lord for how He helped them. The latter section (vs. 44-47) is an encouraging display of all the people giving back to the Lord in their tithes and offerings.
Regarding application…Unified Worship. Vs. 43, “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” This is such a beautiful picture of worship! I love how the women and children joined in and the sound of rejoicing filled the land. Question: How did this happen? All of Israel that had returned joined together and prepared themselves for this dedication celebration. Question: Do you see it? This powerful unified worship transpired because people prepared themselves. In our churches today, the Pastor and worship team prepare during the week to lead the church in worship. However, when everyone comes prepared to worship and give the difference is like night and day. We all have the onus to prepare ourselves and give our best in worship!
Vs. 1, “Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns.” Now that Jerusalem’s walls had been rebuilt, it was time for people to move in. They casted lots to move in and there were also others who volunteered (vs. 1-2). The children of Judah, the sons of Benjamin, the Levites and priests all get some love and attention for helping populate Jerusalem (vs. 3-19). The latter half of the chapter (vs. 20-36) gives us the details of those who lived outside of the city.
Regarding application…Willing Hearts. Vs. 2, “The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.” The vast majority did not go to Jerusalem when they had not been chosen by lots. It was important that everyone understood their roles to work the land and their particular trades. Yet, there is something very special when people out of the goodness of their hearts willingly volunteer. Back in 2008, when I moved to southern California, my wife and I had the privilege to be a part of a new church plant. What impressed me so powerfully was the fact that there were families that willingly uprooted their lives to help the Pastor. Not everyone from their mother church could realistically go and help. It was so encouraging to know that these people were very passionate about what God needed for building His church. Question: Do you have a willing heart? While we may not be asked to move, there are many ways you can volunteer at your local church!
Vs. 29, “All these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.” The ending of our chapter yesterday gave us the context of our passage today. After great revival, the people of the Lord took their faith and lived it out by signing a new oath unto the Lord. Eighty-four people (priests, Levites, other leaders) along with Nehemiah put their seal on this new covenant (vs. 1-29) and all the others agreed to it. Question: What would cause this newfound devotion? The reading and teaching of God’s word! It was very important to understand they were a holy people set apart by God (vs. 30-31). It is awesome to see the response of their hearts by committing to support the temple and its ministry (vs. 32-39). “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill.
Regarding application…Committing to the Lord. It is one thing to have a special revival and respond with fervor, but what really stands out is they all did something about their faith. Another factor we must consider is that this was not done privately, but it was a public commitment. When we as believers make a stand for our faith today, we participate in baptism. Sometimes we throw around “personal relationship” with the Lord way too liberally. Walking with Lord should be in community with each other. We are all in the same boat together as believers! Stay connected to your local church and find ways to commit!
Vs. 1, “On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.” The Feasts of Tabernacles had ended, but the people stayed to fast and repent (vs. 1-5). The LORD’s goodness compelled them to take time to come in repentance. For three hours they stood while the Law was read and for another three hours they confessed and worshipped! The Levites prayer (vs. 5-37) was on behalf of all the people. The prayer acknowledges God’s plan of redemption and love for His creation. He called Abraham to obedience and to be a holy people and a blessing for all nations. He delivered them from Egyptian bondage and brought them back to the land of Canaan. The LORD was patient with their sinful and stubborn ways when they took possession. In His great mercy, they were all living testaments to His enduring love.
Regarding application…Merciful God. Vs. 31, “But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” Question: Why would God extend mercy to a people who constantly turned away from Him? Throughout history, there has always been a remnant of people who have kept their hearts turned to God. Despite all the sin and chaos in the world, God’s mercy through forgiveness existed because of the hope He saw in those who turned to Him. We are recipients of His mercy. Because God has been merciful to us, we are compelled to give mercy to others. Mercy is one of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:7) and also the central point of the Parable of the Unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Question: Are you a merciful person? Mercy is not easy and often comes with challenge. “The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our heart upon the black horse of affliction.” Charles Spurgeon.
Vs. 1, “All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.” Upon completion of the wall, the timing of Ezra’s message was perfect! Now that they had rebuilt the physical walls, it was time to rebuild their spiritual foundation. It was the first day of the seventh month (late September) in the Jewish calendar which would begin the Feasts of Trumpets. This month was special for it would also soon bring the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles. Ezra stood and read God’s word from dawn till noon while all those who could understand stood with him (vs. 1-8). It’s hard to imagine a pastor asking a congregation today to stand while the word of God was read for six hours! There was a sense of awe and appreciation for what God had done for them. It’s important to remember that the word of God wasn’t readily available in print like it is today. We must make every effort to not take such a gift for granted. There was great repentance and celebration during this time as revival spread among all (vs. 9-12). In the latter half of our chapter (vs. 13-18), the people continued their revival and celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles as they remembered God’s faithfulness in helping their ancestors travel through the wilderness.
Regarding application…Pay Attention. Vs. 2, “So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.” Repetition in God’s word serves as a tool to highlight the importance of the particular topic. In our chapter today, the word understand/understood is repeated four times (vs. 2, 3, 8, 12). What impresses me about this congregation that assembled is the fact that even children who could understand were permitted. In addition, the biggest idea for this application is the importance of digesting and understanding God’s word. It’s not enough to hear it, but we must take measures to grasp and know it! I must admit fault that I have not always paid attention to messages that were preached when I was younger. The challenge for the teacher and the student is to pay attention to God’s word and make every effort to apply it to our lives biblically.
Vs. 1, “After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed.” It is finished! It would only take fifty-two days for Nehemiah to spur all God’s people to do something that seemed impossible! But the completion of the wall didn’t end the chapter of their life. There was still work to be done. Nehemiah wisely delegated trusted leaders in his brother Hanani (his brother) and Hananiah who would assist in taking the burden of leadership. They would help ensure that people would help guard the gates and walls (vs. 1-3). The rest of our chapter (vs. 4-73) rehashes the genealogy recorded earlier (Ezra 2) so that Nehemiah could confirm repopulating the city correctly.
Regarding application…Having a Role. The sense of community for the returned exiles was founded in the roles they had. Whether you were one of the leaders or just one of many returnees, each person had a role. God could have miraculously rebuilt the wall without anyone’s help, but He chose to have us a part of it. There is a sense of ownership and accountability when we get to have a responsibility. Their roles were not easy, for there was always the enemy at their gates. But there is safety in numbers. Question: What is your role? Each of us in the church have important roles. Pray and seek opportunities for you to be a part of that!
Vs. 2, “Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me.” The rebuilding project was nearly completed, but the enemy had not given up. Their suggested location to meet was foreboding (plain of Ono), for that was twenty-five miles away and Nehemiah could have put himself in grave danger (vs. 1-4). When that strategy did not work, they sent a messenger with a slanderous open letter with false accusations (vs. 5-9). Notice the letter was unsealed, which meant the messenger must have been sharing it openly to whomever he crossed paths with. Their hope was that people would rebel against Nehemiah and the accusations would reach the Persian king. Nehemiah would not allow such tactics to affect him. But the enemy was quite persistent. They sent a false prophet Shemaiah to try to coax Nehemiah to fear for his life and flee to the temple. Question: How did Nehemiah know he was false? He knew God’s law and it was not permitted for a layperson to enter the temple in such a way (Numbers 18:7). Though they had completed the wall (vs. 15-16), the enemy Tobiah was a man who had married into a Jewish family. He had used his marriage ties to bring influence among the nobles and spread more lies (vs. 17-19).
Regarding application…Wisdom in Relationships. Everyone deserves a second chance and the benefit of doubt. If Nehemiah lived by this thought, he surely would have met a bad ending. Working together with people and being willing to compromise are wonderful parts of having healthy relationships. But, Nehemiah had wisdom to know that such compromise in this instance was dangerous. Brothers and sisters, we must have godly wisdom to navigate the relationships we have. Don’t be naïve, we will have ungodly people who seek to align themselves with you even in the church. Pray for a discernment and wisdom. The more you know God’s word, the more you will be able to see ulterior motives.
Vs. 1, “Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews.” Question: What was their outcry? Due to the rebuilding and focus on protection, this would cause a great economic crisis. If the enemy could not win against the wall, then he will try to infiltrate within. The rich used this opportunity to exploit the poor (vs. 1-5). It was not against the law to lend out money to your fellow Jew, but they had unlawfully charged interest (Deuteronomy 23:19-20). In the busyness of building, Nehemiah would not have been privy of such a thing. However, once Nehemiah found out, he would wisely ponder and pray before he would respond to everyone (vs. 6-13). Though he was angry at first, he would appeal to the perpetrators with love and reminding them of the law. God did not call them to be like other nations. The latter section of our chapter (vs. 14-19) gives us a deeper understanding why Nehemiah was able to effectively call out those who had been dishonest. Nehemiah was a man who he used his privileges as governor to help others rather than take advantage of them.
Regarding application…Courage to Speak Out. Vs. 9, “So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?” Much respect for Nehemiah who would not shy away from calling out the rich and corrupt. We live in a time where it’s unpopular to ruffle the feathers. The 21st century is a time where people should tolerate and be open-minded. However, we as God’s church are called to be different. Like the Jews living amongst pagan nations, we are not to conform to the patterns of this world. The church is not going to be immune to the rich and corrupt. Pray for your church leaders that they would be godly examples of standing up for God’s word. And make sure you do not fall into such a worldly way of thinking. Let’s all have the courage to speak out with wisdom when there is injustices going on in our churches.
Vs. 8, “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.” Though Nehemiah had encouraged the people to rally together and begin the building process, things would not be so smooth. Sanballat and his comrades came together to harshly ridicule the builders (vs. 1-6). Ridicule is a common weapon the enemy has used throughout the bible; Goliath and the Philistines, Elisha and the young men, soldier’s and Jesus’ crucifixion. Question: How did Nehemiah respond? He prayed (vs. 4-5). When ridicule failed, the nations surrounding Jerusalem plotted together to stop Nehemiah’s effort to finish the wall (vs. 7-8). The people began to lose hope (vs. 9-12). Rather than cringe in fear, Nehemiah gives a stirring speech to wake everyone of out of their fear and reverie (vs. 13-15). To ensure the enemy would be kept at bay, Nehemiah employed a brilliant strategy (vs. 16-23). While half the workers worked, the other half would stand guard. Everyone would bear arms to help protect the city. And they would ensure the sound of trumpet as the emergency broadcast system.
Regarding application…Be Prepared. Vs. 18, “and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked…” Whether you were the half guarding or you were the half working, everyone bore arms! When there is the threat of an enemy, we would be foolish not to be ready. Likewise, we are spiritually building the church on the foundation of Christ. Our offensive weapon is the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Because we fight a spiritual war, there can be a tendency to grow complacent. But the enemy attacks in subtle schemes and delights when we fall into temptation that leads to sin. Brothers and sisters, let us not be deceived. As any good boy scout learned in their early years, always be prepared. As we build our lives (working, studying at school, church, etc.), let’s make sure we always have our spiritual sword (God’s Word) at our side!