Rebuild: Nehemiah 7:1-73 – Roll the Credits: Doing Noble Work For God

Grace For The Journey

Eugene Petersen wrote these provocative words in his book entitled, Run With the Horses, “There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture. We have celebrities, but not saints. Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines. If, on the other hand, we look around for what it means to be a person of integrity, we don’t find much.  They aren’t easy to pick out. No journalist interviews them. No talk show features them.  They’re not admired. They’re not looked up to. They do not set trends. There is no cash value in them. No Oscars are given for integrity. At year’s end, no one compiles a list of the ten best lived lives.”

The world does not notice lives that ought to be noticed. The truth of the matter is, neither does the church, most of the time.  Frankly, part of our fallen nature, as people, is to take each other for granted and to ignore the accomplishments and service given to us.  They are all around us, but we rarely notice.  Take moms, for example. I recently read the following story, “A man came home from work to find total mayhem in his house.  His three children were outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the dirt, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.  The door to his wife’s minivan was open, as was the front door to the house.  Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess.  A lamp had been knocked over and the throw rug was wadded against one wall. In the front room, the TV was loudly blaring, and the family room was littered with toys and several items of clothing.  In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door. He quickly ran up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife, worried that she was ill or that something serious had happened.  He discovered her in the bedroom, still curled in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel.  There was a half-eaten bagel and a couple of coffee cups on the bedside stand.  She looked up and asked how his day went. He looked at her, bewildered, and asked, ‘What happened here today?’  She smiled and answered, ‘You know, every day, when you come home from work, you ask me what in the world did I do all day?  Well, today I didn’t do it!” 

The truth is, even those closest to you will never fully comprehend the scope of your labor and toil!   Unfortunately, most of us do not take the time to discover it.  Think about it – when was the last time you watched a movie and then stayed around to watch the credits as they rolled by?  That musical score that moved you so much and you thought was so beautiful – did you look to see who composed the music?  No!  The show is over . . . on to the next event, please.

I find it absolutely fascinating that at the end of Nehemiah, chapter 6, when the show is over so to speak, and the walls are built, that Nehemiah rolls the credits.  The list is long and most of the names are unpronounceable.  Yet, there are some gems tucked inside these credits that God considers profitable for every student of the Bible.  Before you are tempted to pack up your popcorn bucket and candy wrappers, let us take time to notice some of the men and women who made it happen.

As we go through this list of names and numbers, remember that it is a part of God’s divinely inspired Word – all representing many people who, behind the scenes, made Jerusalem thrive.

As we go through these verse we will unfold these powerful truths . . .

1. Enlisting – Singers, Levites, Gatekeepers, Guards, And Leaders.

The first group of people enlisted and mentioned in the credits by Nehemiah are found in verses 1 and 2, “Now it came about when the wall was rebuilt and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed, that I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem . . .”  In Nehemiah chapter 11, verses 22 and 23, Nehemiah explains further the significance of this list of names, “. . . the sons of Asaph, who were the singers for the service of the house of God.  For there was a commandment from the king concerning them and a firm regulation for the song leaders day by day.”  Remember, for years the people of Israel had been in captivity, and then, for a century beyond that, had been in a foreign land.  There was not much to sing about while in the Babylonian captivity. 

Psalm, chapter 137, tells us that they sat down and wept by the rivers of Babylon. They hung up their harps on the branches of the willow trees.  Yet, in the book of Nehemiah, they are tuning their instruments.  In the book of Nehemiah, there are eight references to giving thanks to God.  There is a need for musicians to sing of God’s faithfulness at the temple.  Music is not incidental to worship, it is essential to worship. 

On the occasion of Dallas Seminary’s fiftieth anniversary, the seminary published a special hymnal called, Hymns of Jubilee.  Dr. Edwin Deibler wrote, in the prologue of that hymnal.  His words, quoted in Nehemiah, God’s Builder, were, “From earliest times, the people of God have employed music to give expression of their adoration of the triune God.  Succeeding generations of Christians, to our present day, have adopted poetry set to music to express their adoration, praise, aspirations, and prayer.  Often, perhaps nearly always, such expressions have exceeded in intensity the actual life-styles of the congregations who employed them.  If Christian experience were, even for a period of one week, brought to the level of Christian hymns, a great revival would sweep over the world.”

I find it fascinating . . .

That before revival occurs

In Nehemiah, chapter 8,

The musicians and choirs

Are “re-formed” in chapter 7. 

While the singers

Provided the praise

For the city of Jerusalem,

The gatekeepers provided

Protection for the city.

They are mentioned in chapter 7 and in chapter 11.  Notice verse 19 of chapter 11, “Also the gatekeepers, Akkub, Talmon, and their brethren, who kept watch at the gates, were 172.”  Akkub and Talmon, opened and shut the gates and watched to make sure nobody gets in who shouldn’t.  I found it interesting to learn that the Great Wall of China was breached by invaders at least four different times.  Each time the Chinese guards were bribed.  Gates are only as good as the character of the guards.  By the way, every believer is a gatekeeper.  John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, also wrote a book called, The Holy War.  In that book, he talked about “Mansoul,” a city that had five gates.  The gates were:

• the Ear Gate,

• the Eye Gate,

• the Nose Gate,

• the Feel Gate,

• the Mouth Gate.

The enemy of Mansoul would, daily, attack at one of the gates.  He would speak through the Ear Gate or paint vivid and alluring pictures to the Eye Gate.  The interesting thing is that Mansoul, in Bunyan’s allegory, could never be toppled by outside attacks.  The only way the enemy could conquer the city was if someone on the inside opened one of the gates to the enemy.  

The Bible says Proverbs 4:23, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”  In other words, guard carefully what you allow through the gates of your life that will, ultimately, impact your heart and soul.  Nehemiah knew that he needed help leading the city of Jerusalem, so he chose two men. In Nehemiah 7,Verse 2 we read, “. . . I put Hanani my brother, and Hananiah the commander of the fortress, in charge of Jerusalem . . .”   At this point, the walls are up, the doors are hung, and now, Nehemiah needs someone to help him lead the city government and its people. Whom do you look for?  You would look for a person with experience.  That makes sense.  You would look for someone who has the stature and bearing that people

automatically follow.  If you are looking for someone to command, you need someone who knows how to be a commander, right?   Wrong.  Notice the two qualities Nehemiah was looking for, in verse 2b . . .

“. . . For he was a faithful man and feared God more than many.”

The Hebrew word, translated “feared,” comes from “yare,” which means “to reverence or to honor.”

What a great lesson for the church and any other missionary enterprise.  We tend to follow the world’s leading in looking for people to fill the positions, appointments, and ministries.  We look for people who tend to be experienced, who look good on the outside, who can communicate and articulate the party line, and who have a natural bearing about them that draws attention to their winsome personalities and natural abilities.

Notice that the two qualities Nehemiah mentioned had nothing to do with what you could see?  They were inner qualities of dependability and reverence for God.

Another truth seen in this list of names and numbers is . . .

2. Registering – Citizens And Priests.

The next part of chapter 7 finds Nehemiah registering the citizens.  They were identified by family, clan, or tribe, and they were counted.  Notice just a few of them in verses 8 through 12, “The sons of Parosh, 2,172; the sons of Shephatiah, 372; the sons of Arah, 652; the sons of Pahath-moab of the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818; the sons of Elam, 1,254.”   Why count them so carefully?  

They were counted by God,

Because they counted to God.

If there was ever anyone interested in the credits, anyone who read the credits – in fact, He is the original author of credits – it is God Himself.

In verse 39, the priests are accounted for and counted.  They had to prove their lineage to Aaron or they would not be allowed to serve in the temple.  In fact, look at verse 61 and then at verse 64, “And these were they who came up from Telmelah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer; but they could not show their fathers’ houses or their descendants, whether they were of Israel . . . These searched among their ancestral registration, but it could not be located; therefore they were considered unclean and excluded from the priesthood.” We also see that the people were excluded from living inside the city, if they could not trace their family heritage back to pre-dispersion Jewish people.  The priests were excluded from serving in the temple if they could not prove their ancestry.

God had a standard for owning land within the city of Jerusalem and for serving within the temple.  You had to have Jewish blood flowing through your veins – and you had to have written proof of your genealogy.  Without it, you could not live in Jerusalem and you could not serve the Lord in the temple.

When we think about that, what right do we have of ever living within the New Jerusalem?  The book of Revelation tells us that only those redeemed by Jesus Christ will be able to dwell in the Holy City of heaven.  Will you be able to trace your lineage back to the family of God?  Are you a part of the family of God?  You might ask, “How do I become a part of God’s family?”  First you have to understand that you are not.  Jesus Christ, as recorded in Matthew, chapter 7, verses 22 through 23, said, “Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you . . .”

The pressing question in Nehemiah, chapters 7 and 11, was, “Were they related to Israel?  Could they prove their blood relationship to the nation of Jews, the people of the God?”  The pressing question in the last day of human history, as we know it, will be, “What have you done with Jesus?  Have you accepted His gift of eternal life that He purchased for you on the cross?”  God is keeping a list of names.  It is called the Lamb’s Book of life.  In the book of Revelation, chapter 20, verse 15, it tells us, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  You might ask, “How can I get my name registered in the family of God?”  The book of John, chapter 1, verses 12 through 13, gives the answer, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become the children of God” . . . “who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  When you receive Him, then you are born again into the family of God.

A third truth seen in this list of names and numbers is . . .

3. Donating – Some Who Gave.

In verses 70-71, we find the people making donations, “And some from among the heads of fathers’ households gave to the work. . . . And some of the heads of fathers’ households gave into the treasury of the work . . .”   I think the saddest word in chapter 7 is the word “some.”  It appears two times – once in verse 70 and once in verse 71.  It ought to read “all.”  You may have noted the problem of chapter 7, verse 4, which says, “Now the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few and the houses were not built.”  There is this big city with finished walls, but hardly any people on the inside!  

The problem was solved in two ways . . . which are the fourth and fifth truths in this list of names and number . . .

4. Drafting – One Out Of Every Ten.

There was a draft. In chapter 11, verse 1, where we read, “Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.”   About a million people lived around Jerusalem.  About 100,000 of them were drafted to come and live within the city walls. 

Now I am sure, as with any draft, there were some draft dodgers hiding out in the hills. But, at least here, I would imagine that most of them moved their families and their belongings to Jerusalem.

5. Volunteering – Noble Ones.

There is a second group of people also.  Verse 2 tells us, “And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”  The Hebrew word for “volunteer” is an absolutely wonderful word.  It is the word “nadab,” and it means, “to be impelled by an inner urge to stand, to be compelled to be courageous.”  It can be translated to read, “to be noble.”  They stepped forward and said, “We will leave our countryside. We will uproot our families.  We will leave our homes and relatives.  We will move to the city of Jerusalem and see to it that the holy city thrives.”  What better word is there to describe them than the word noble?

The final truth in this list of names and numbers is . . .

6. Praying – Thanksgiving.

Among the noble ones was someone known for his praying.  There is a special mention of a man named Mattaniah in verse 17 of chapter 11, “And Mattaniah the son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, who was the leader in beginning the thanksgiving at prayer . . .”  I love this entry in the long line of credits.  Who was he?  We do not really know.  What did Mattaniah do?  He was just the one who started the prayer.  He was the Levite who stood up at the appropriate time and began the prayer of thanksgiving. The only time he is ever mentioned in the Bible, this noble man is praying.

Let us tie our thoughts together with two final principles of application . . .

1. Most Of The Noble Things You Do Will Never Be Recognized On Earth.

In fact, there may be those who notice but do not appreciate what they do see you doing.  One pastor, from Lubbock, Texas, told of a funny story that illustrates my point.

For twenty-five years he held services at a nursing home.  When he began holding these meetings, as a young pastor, he noticed that one of the regulars, who came, would bring her television remote with her.  Periodically, while he preached, she would scowl, aim that remote at him, and push the buttons.  This went on for several months or so, until he finally stopped one service, laughed good naturedly, and said to her, “Ma’am, you can’t turn me off with that.”  She just snapped back, without blinking an eye, “I’m not trying to turn you off.  I’m just trying to get a different channel.”  

Frankly, I happen to feel appreciated every Sunday.  So many say, “Hello,” and something kind or encouraging.  I wonder how many people will serve today and not get one “Hello” or an encouraging word?  How many nursery workers will hand a baby over the counter to their parents without ever hearing, “Thank you for volunteering”?  How many Bible Study teachers, musicians, greeters, ushers, etc. will come and do noble things and never be noticed?

The city of Jerusalem flourished because of the gatekeepers and guards, the maintenance workers and grounds keepers, the singers, priests, farmers, shepherds and other contributors to the city who pulled their weight.  The truth is, that ancient city and the church today have a lot in common – neither one came make it one day without noble people who make it happen.

I can tell you, from my own ministry, I am surrounded by a staff and volunteers of highly dedicated men and women who pull it all together.  Every church, missions organization, ministry, and Christian cause is moved forward, not by a few of us who are seen, but by an unseen labor force of staff members, prayer warriors, and volunteers throughout the congregation whose hearts have moved them to do noble things.  These are noble things that will probably never be fully calculated and rewarded on earth.

That leads me to my second point of application that is especially designed for everyone who serves someone else.

2.   None Of The Noble Things You Do On Earth Will Go Unrecognized By God In Heaven. 

The writer of Hebrews addressed this when he wrote, in chapter 6, verse 10, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work . . . in having ministered . . . to the saints.”  People forget; people do not say, “Thank you;” people overlook you, but God never will.  He always reads the credits.  Better yet, He is in the process, at this very moment, of writing them.

So, let us roll the credits and read of noble ones who . . .

  • Change the diapers and sweep those floors;
  • Answer the telephones and mow the grass and pull the weeds;
  • Arrange meetings and teach the Bible lessons;
  • Prepare the children’s games and “juice up” the sound board;
  • Clean the bathrooms and count the offering;
  • Practice the music and type the letters;
  • Pray through that list and visit those guests;
  • Cook the meals and teach the class;
  • Dust the furniture and greet those who come through the door;
  • translate the sermon and duplicate the tapes;
  • Park the cars and get the coffee made;
  • Disciple that teenager and lead a child to the water fountain;
  • Design the brochures and stuff the Communiqués with inserts;
  • Crawl on the floor with toddlers and set up chairs in the classroom;
  • Wash and dry the nursery linen and clean the table and dishes after a church activity;
  • Recruit even more volunteers or thank those who do;
  • Plan class activities and counsel at summer camp;
  • Listen to memory verses and stack the tables and chairs;
  • Unload all the equipment and then load it back up again, only to be unloaded and then loaded up again, and again, and again.

Know, as you do it all, that it is all noble work.  It is noble work for the people and ministry of Christ that may go unrecognized on earth, but, one day, will be rewarded in heaven.

The question is, “Who are you doing it for anyway?”  If it is for the attention of people, forget it, they will never sit still long enough to read the credits.  If it is for the glory and pleasure of God, take heart, He has not overlooked even one noble deed!  It was said of Jerusalem, in the days of Nehemiah, that some gave of themselves.  Let it be said of us, that we all gave of ourselves, that all of us were noble sons and daughters of God.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 6:14-19 – Principles And Practices That Will Help Us Finish Well

Grace For The Journey

  We continue our look into Nehemiah chapter 6.  In today’s verses, we will discover further principles that will help us as we move on in our faith walk to finish in a way that further God’s kingdom and bring honor and glory to Him.  It will be a rewarding and beneficial study.

Perhaps you were first attracted to the idea of becoming a disciple of Jesus because you thought that was the road to an easier life.  You were led to believe that if you just prayed a certain prayer to Jesus, that would keep me out of hell one day when I died.  That sounded like a pretty good idea to you at the time so you went ahead and prayed that prayer.  For others, perhaps you were enticed by the idea that becoming a Christian was your ticket to financial prosperity or to a blessed life.  There is certainly no shortage of people teaching that idea in our culture today.  Some of you were promised, perhaps by some well-meaning person who really did have your best interests at heart, that if you committed your life to Jesus, all your problems would go away.  But, if you have been a follower of Jesus for any time at all, I am pretty sure that you have learned that our life as a follower of Jesus is not always easy.  As a matter of fact, it is a battle from beginning to end.

That is certainly what Nehemiah discovered when he embarked on his endeavor to lead the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.  He prayed, he planned, and he handled opposition from without and conflict from within.  But more than anything, Nehemiah was successful because he finished well.  He persisted in spite of all these obstacles.  The further we get into the book of Nehemiah, the more I am convinced . . .

The reason he was able to do that

Is that he understood that the struggle

He faced was not just a physical struggle,

It was primarily a spiritual one.

The Bible warns us that we also face that same kind of spiritual battle.  It says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  These same invisible enemies that confront us daily in our walk with Jesus were also present in the book of Nehemiah nearly 2,500 years ago.  As we study the book of Nehemiah . . .

We are given a glimpse into the tactics

That these powerful forces employ

In their effort to keep us from finishing

The work that God has given us to do.

Even more importantly . . .

We see how we can respond effectively

To those attacks so that,

Like Nehemiah,

We might finish well.

We will also see that Satan uses two main tactics in that battle. The purpose of both of these tactics is to . . .

Distract us from doing what we need to do

In order to persevere in our journey to

Become mature disciples of Jesus:

Those two tactics are . . .

• Fear.  

Fear is the opposite of faith.  Satan knows that if he can get us to take our eyes off of God, he can cause us to be hindered in our spiritual walk by our fear.  That is why Peter compared Satan to a roaring lion who is seeking to devour us in 1 Peter 5:8, “Our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

• Deception.

If Satan cannot get us to fear him, then he will try to deceive us.  And no wonder, for the Bible tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  Today we will see Nehemiah’s enemies, who are unknowingly being used by Satan to attempt to thwart the work of God, use both of these tactics as they attempt to keep Nehemiah and his fellow Jews from finishing the work that is almost complete.

In chapter 5, Nehemiah had just handled some internal conflict within the Jewish community that threatened to keep the people from completing the task God had given to them.  Once Nehemiah led the people to repent and make restitution, the work continued.  Now in chapter 6, we find that work is almost complete.  Because Nehemiah’s enemies sense they have one last chance to keep the people from finishing that work, they use fear and deception to make one final attempt to stop the rebuilding project. 

Today, after we review verses 1-13, we will discover in verses 14-19 how Nehemiah deals with fear and deceit in order to finish well.  Then we will apply what we learn to our own walk with Jesus.  

First, let’s review the verse we looked at on Monday. 

The wall itself is now complete and the only remaining task is to set the doors in the gates.  Sensing they have only a small window of opportunity left to stop Nehemiah and his fellow Jews, Sanballat and Geshem change their tactics.  You will notice that they have now focused on Nehemiah personally rather than the Jewish people as a whole. That is exactly the same method that Satan uses today. If he can’t defeat the entire body, he goes after their leaders.

These enemies invite Nehemiah to meet them in Ono, which was located on the coast, about 25 miles from Jerusalem.  On the surface, it seemed like these adversaries were willing to bury the hatchet.  They wanted to make it appear that they just wanted to get together with Nehemiah for a religious conference to discuss what they had in common. They were trying to use deception to distract Nehemiah from the task God had given him to complete.

But Nehemiah countered that deception with discernment, sensing that Sanballat and Geshem’s motives were to do him harm, not to make peace.  Since Nehemiah did not want to be distracted from the task God had given him, he just said “no” to “Ono.”  But Sanballat and Geshem did not give up easily, so they made the same invitation four times, but Nehemiah refused to give in to their attempts to keep him from completing the task he had started.  So Sanballat and Geshem change tactics once again in their efforts to distract Nehemiah:

Verses 5 through 9 tell us that Sanballat sends an open letter to Nehemiah.  While some commentators suggest that sending an unsealed letter to an official like the governor was an act of public disrespect, the main reason the letter was open was so that its contents would be known to the general public.  In that letter, Sanballat attempts to slander Nehemiah by making a bunch of false claims about Nehemiah’s intentions. This is an attempt to use fear to stop Nehemiah.

That slander begins the way it often does – by reporting what someone else supposedly said.  Sanballat begins by saying “it is reported among the nations …”  That is the same kind of vague accusation that we often face when people will say something like “everyone is saying …” or “a number of people are talking about this …”  Then Sanballat tries to bolster his attacks by claiming that Geshem is also saying the same thing – as if he were a reliable witness.

I love how Nehemiah responds to Sanballat here. He does not waste his time by going into some long defense or by trying to disprove Sanballat’s claims point by point.  He merely denied the accusations in no uncertain terms and then moved on.  He understood that . . .

Dwelling on these false accusations

Would just give them more credibility

And waste his time in the process.

Knowing that these claims might put fear into the people and might even distract him from his God-given task, Nehemiah does exactly what we expect by now – he prays.  He asks God to strengthen his hands so that he will be able to finish well.  But just like Satan is persistent in our lives, these enemies of Nehemiah are not ready to give up yet. They have one last trick up their sleeves.

Verses 10-14 tells us that Tobiah and Sanballat employ Shemaiah in their attempts to stop Nehemiah.  There is some evidence that Shemaiah was a priest or at least a member of a priestly family.  We learn that he was confined to his home, probably a chamber adjoining the Temple.  There are a couple of possible reasons he was confined there.  Perhaps he was secluding himself in an attempt to appear religious, as is frequently the case with those who claim to have some special revelation from God. Or possibly he was attempting to give the impression he feared for his own life in order to give more credibility to what he was going to tell Nehemiah.

What Shemaiah said made a lot of sense logically.  It was not a stretch to believe that there were those who were trying to kill Nehemiah.  He certainly would be safe if he hid in the Temple.  But once again, we see Nehemiah’s enemies are using deception to try and distract him from his task.  And once again, Nehemiah uses discernment to overcome that deception.  He knew that, according to God’s Word, only the priests were allowed in the part of the temple where Shemaiah wanted him to hide.  I am sure he was aware that earlier when Uzziah tried to take the place of the priests and entered the Temple to burn incense to the Lord, God struck him with leprosy.  He knew right away that Shemaiah could not possibly be a prophet of God since he was telling Nehemiah to do something which violated God’s commands. Nehemiah saw right through this scheme and knew that the whole thing was a plot by Sanballat and Tobiah.  He refused once again to be distracted from his God-given task of rebuilding the wall.  And once again, just as we would expect, Nehemiah responds to the entire situation with prayer – Asking God to deal with his enemies rather than trying to take things into his own hands.   

Now let’s look at the rest of these verses in chapter 6. 

Because Nehemiah had confronted the fear and deception with such skill, verses 15-16 tells us He and his fellow Jews were able to finish well.

To be able to complete

The rebuilding of the walls

In just 52 days

Was an amazing feat.

When the people from the surrounding nations saw what had been accomplished in such a short time, they knew that such an achievement could only have been done with God’s help.  Because of that the other nations were in awe and fear of God.

Now that work was done, we would expect Nehemiah’s enemies to finally leave him alone.  But that is not the case.  Verses 17 to 19 tells us, “Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.”

Apparently over the years Tobiah had developed business relationships with some of the Jewish nobles in Jerusalem, relationships that had been facilitated by intermarrying with members of those families.  Tobiah was trying, without success, to use those relationships to use the tactic of fear once again.  So essentially some of these nobles were saying to Nehemiah, “Hey this Tobiah guy is really not a bad guy at all.  He has been good to us and our families.  Why don’t you cut him some slack?”

This may very well be

The most practical and

Important chapter

In the entire Book

Because it is so

Relevant for all of us.

As I mentioned earlier, we are all in a spiritual battle in which we constantly face fear and deception that threaten to keep us from persevering and finishing well.  Nehemiah shows us how we can deal with those tactics of the evil one in an effective manner. Here in this chapter . . .

We find both the overall principles

That ought to guide us in this battle

As well as some very practical practices

In which we can engage in order

To live according to those principles.

Let’s begin with . . .

1) The Principles That Ought To Guide Us In This Battle.

Nehemiah understood how to overcome the two tactics we identified earlier that are the primary ways that Satan tries to keep us from finishing well – fear and deception.

a. I Overcome Fear With Biblical Faith.

Throughout his journey, Nehemiah was constantly confronted by enemies who attempted to instill fear in his life and in the life of his fellow Jews.  But Nehemiah consistently combatted the tendency to be distracted by fear, by responding in faith.  He knew God well enough to trust that since God was calling him to the task of rebuilding the walls that God was going to protect him and provide for him and his people during that project.

b. I Overcome Deception With Biblical Discernment.

Nehemiah’s enemies constantly attempted to stop the work by deceiving Nehemiah and his fellow Jews.  But Nehemiah consistently exercised great discernment that allowed him to see beneath the surface and detect the underlying motives of his enemies.

If faith and discernment are the primary tools we need to develop in order to stand firm against the schemes of the evil one, exactly how do we do that?  We can answer that question by looking at several consistent practices that were a part of Nehemiah’s life and should be a part of ours as well.

2) The Practices That Help Us Develop Both Faith And Discernment In Our Lives.

a. Practice Perspective.

Nehemiah was able to withstand the attacks from his enemies because he had the proper perspective on the work he was doing.  He knew he was leading more than just a building project.  This was a God-given task that God was using to rebuild His people even more than He was using it to rebuild the walls.  Because he understood that he was doing God’s work and not just his own work, he was able to ignore the distractions which threatened to keep him from finishing this project.

We need to remember that God has also called every one of us to a great task.  That is true whether you are a new believer or whether you have been a follower of Jesus for many years.  God has called us to live our lives to the very end in a way that will cause people to look at our lives and see that God is at work and cause them to esteem, praise, and properly fear God.

We have been called to live a life

That is different from the world around us,

Not only because that is what

Is best for us personally

But because through us

God wants to show

The people around us

That there is hope

In the midst of a world

Where there often

Seems to be no hope.

Like Nehemiah we need to remember that this life we live is more than just about us.  It is about furthering God’s kingdom right here and now and for eternity.

Like Nehemiah we also need to remember that there is no distinction between the “secular” and the “spiritual” in our lives.  What Nehemiah did while building the walls was just as much worship as we will see in Nehemiah 8 when the people come together for a corporate gathering of worshippers.  

Everything we do in our lives

Is part of this great task to which

God has called all of us.

b. Practice Responding With Biblical Principles.

We see evidence time after time that Nehemiah was intimately familiar with God’s Word.  In chapter 1, he recalled God’s promises to Moses.  In chapter 5 we saw that he was familiar with the God’s laws regarding lending and charging interest.  In chapter 6, we see he was familiar with God’s commands concerning the Temple.  Throughout the book, Nehemiah consistently demonstrates his knowledge of God and His character.

God’s Word is absolutely indispensable

To developing both faith.

A fact that is confirmed by the Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance (The solid, unshakable response to truth) of things hoped for, the evidence (realization, proof, conviction)  of things no seen.”  How do we develop that assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen?  

By getting to know

God in His Word.

As we read the Bible and see how God is faithful to do what He has promised over and over throughout history, our faith is strengthened.  We also see in the Bible the accounts of those who had faith in God and how God enabled them to overcome the obstacles in their lives because of that faith.  Hebrews 11 is a great summary of the faith of many of those people.  Our faith is strengthened as we read and consider how God worked in their lives.

God’s Word is also

The most important thing

We can do

To develop discernment:

The Bible says in Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Notice here that discernment is developed as we move from milk – a very basic understanding of the Bible – to solid food – a more mature understanding of God’s Word that only comes from constantly partaking of that word and applying it in our lives on a consistent basis.

c. Practice Prayer.

I probably do not need to say a lot here other than to remind us that Nehemiah consistently engaged in prayer.  As we saw back in chapter 1, when he prays . . .

It is not to get something from God,

But rather to seek God’s heart.

That kind of prayer is essential in developing both our faith and our discernment. 

It is also important to note here that Nehemiah does not spend a whole lot of time defending himself or trying to rebut his enemies.  Instead, he entrusts their judgment to God through his prayers.  I cannot help but think about how much time we waste and how distracted we get from our God-given tasks trying to defend ourselves against those who slander us and make false accusations against us.  Although there are obviously times when we must directly refute false allegations, I think in many cases we would be wise to follow Nehemiah’s example and just move on and let God deal with those people.

d. Practice Participation.

We do not need to spend a lot of time here either since we have covered this pretty well in the past few weeks.  Nehemiah’s faith and discernment were not developed in isolation.  As he participated in the life of the faith community there in Jerusalem, his interaction with others in that community were an indispensable element in his spiritual development.

e. Practice Persistence.

Like Nehemiah, we face an enemy who will not give up easily.  When one form of attack failed to deter Nehemiah, Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem just changed tactics over and over, seeking to find an area where Nehemiah might be vulnerable.  But Nehemiah was even more persistent than his enemies.  

And over time as he saw how God

Was at work in his life protecting him

From those enemies, Nehemiah’s faith

Was strengthened even more.  

As the attacks of the enemies

Got more and more deceptive,

Nehemiah’s ability to discern

Their motives got even sharper.

If we are going to combat the tactics of fear and deceit with faith and discernment, then we, too, must persevere and not give up.  Every time we do that, our faith and our discernment are developed in a way that they become even more effective tools for us as we take our stand against the evil one.

Becoming a mature disciple of Jesus is not easy because we are in a spiritual battle in which our powerful enemy attempts to keep us from finishing well.  The good news is that if you have committed your life to Jesus, then the One who has already defeated our enemy lives within you.  The Bible says in 1 John 4:4, “You are of God, littler children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”  And as we develop our faith and our discernment through practicing perspective, partaking, prayer, participation, and persistence, we get to experience the victory that is already ours in Jesus!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuilding: Nehemiah 6:1-14 – Not Fearful, But Faithful

Grace For The Journey

In our study of the book of Nehemiah, we have observed the Devil, the Adversary, the roaring Lion, the Liar, and the Father of Lies attempt to stop Nehemiah from rebuilding the city of God. The attacks have come from the outside in the form of ridicule, fear, and discouragement. The problems have come from the inside with division, anger, and betrayal.  Now, in chapter 6, Satan pulls out all the stops and launches one attack after another. They are painful, heart wrenching, and discouraging to Nehemiah. The attacks will come from both outsiders and insiders.  It will be the loneliest and most fearful moments that Nehemiah will encounter.

There is one piece of armor that seems to get less attention than the others and yet, it is this piece, above all others, that protects Nehemiah, and every follower of God, against the assault of the enemy.  

It is that piece of armor,

For the New Testament believer,

Called the helmet of salvation.

The helmet protects

The mind of the believer.

Someone has pointed out that there are three areas in the believer’s life that Satan attacks regularly and that each of the three areas relate directly to our relationship to the three Persons of the Godhead . . .  

  • Our relationship with God the Father gives us a sense of belonging. We are sons and daughters of His family and we are secure in our Father-child relationship.
  • Our union with Christ, the Son of God, gives us our true sense of worth. In other words, God loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins. With our redemption accomplished, we actually become joint heirs with Jesus Christ. This shows us our incredible worth and value to God.
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling empowers us to live for Jesus Christ. We are made equal to every task.  This gives us our competence to fulfill whatever God designs for us to do. 

Our belonging, our worth, and our competency are directly related to our union with God.  Satan loves nothing more than to attack us on those three fronts . . .  

  • He attacks our sense of security or belonging.
  • He attacks our sense of worth, or value, to God and the church.
  • He attacks our sense of competency, so that we are paralyzed by doubt and fear.

The piece of armor that

Combats and protects

Is the helmet of salvation.

Reflecting, remembering, and acknowledging the biblical truth of our redemption and our relationship with each Person of the Godhead protects our minds against these lures of Satan.

Nehemiah will face his most difficult battles because . . .

They are primarily battles that

Will require biblical thinking.  

It will require that emotions and will

Be saturated by what he already

Knows is true about who

God is and who he is.

It will be his toughest battle yet.

As we move through our study in Nehemiah chapter 6 today we will see Satan’s final to derail God’s work among the people.  Let’s notice what Satan attempts to do . . .

1. Satan’s First Attempt Was To Trick Nehemiah.

Verses 1 through 4 say, “Now it came about when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall, and that no breach remained in it although at that time I had not set up the doors in the gates, that Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.’ But they were planning to harm me.  So I sent messengers to them, saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.  Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?’  They sent messages to me four times in this manner, and I answered them in the same way.”  It is important to notice the timing of this request.  Verse 1 tells us that the walls are finished, but the gates have not been hung.  It is the last possible moment for the enemy to stop the work from being completed.  It is also the best time for Nehemiah to feel somewhat confident that the project is going to actually be completed.  The request from his enemies comes in the form of a polite invitation to begin dialoguing together

Ono happened to be an oasis – a retreat location for the wealthy.  It had fertile land with trees and water.  Four times they asked if he wanted an all-expense paid vacation at the Ono Resort and Conference Center.  Four times Nehemiah said the same thing, “No. No, to Ono.”  Nehemiah ran the risk of looking cold and heartless.  While he discerned that they were trying to trick him, no one else realized that.  It was an attempt to create confusion.  On the surface, it looked like they wanted to make amends, talk it over, and reach an agreement.  They have been doing that in the Middle East for centuries now. But underneath, as Nehemiah writes in his diary, in verse 2b, “. . . But they were planning to harm me.”

The truth was, it was a pseudo-peaceful sounding invitation, but the bottom line was deceit.  For reasons known only to God, Nehemiah was able to discern that this was a trap.   His answer, four times, was, “No. No. No. No.”  That is a wonderful word to learn how to say.  You should say, “No,” more often to your children. You need to say, “No,” to television commercials. You need to say, “No,” to temptation.? 

Satan’s second attempt was an attempt . . .

2. Create A Scandal.

Verses 5 through 7 state, “Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same manner a fifth time with an open letter in his hand.  In it was written, ‘It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel; therefore you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let us take counsel together.’”  If they cannot trick Nehemiah, they will seek to discredit him.  They started a rumor, and sent it in a letter, telling everyone that Nehemiah wanted to rebuild Jerusalem just so he can sit on the throne and be the king.  This was a bombshell of a letter.  This rumor that could destroy the credibility of Nehemiah.  And that was the point, that was their hope.

Can you imagine how this news spread through the camp?  Frankly, the more interesting the gossip, the more likely it is to be untrue; and yet, the faster it will travel.  There is something about all of us that causes us to believe things that are whispered to us.  Any sentence that begins with the words, “Hey, have you heard?” is a sure way of getting the full attention of the other person.  And, once it is out, it is out.  Many times, the damage is irretrievable. Trying to squash a rumor is like trying to un-ring a bell.  It is no wonder that of the seven things we are told in the book of Proverbs that God hates, three of them have to do with the tongue.

My friend, if you have ever been gossiped about or rumored about, you can learn a lot from Nehemiah’s response.  We are given that, starting with verse 8, “Then I sent a message to him saying, ‘Such things are you are saying have not been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.’”  That is it. There was no self-defense, no long letter in return, no self-vindication.  There was just simply, “It’s not true. You’ve made it up.”

Notice how Nehemiah stays focused on the real issue?  Verse 9 continues his response, “For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.’”  Unfortunately, the gossip spread, and many in Jerusalem become suspicious of Nehemiah.  In fact, later in this chapter, you discover that the leaders of the tribe of Judah believed the rumor and added to the discrediting of Nehemiah.

There is no insurance policy for word of mouth.  This so hurt Nehemiah that he did not pray about the invitation to come to the resort town of Ono.  He did not pray when they threatened, in the previous chapter, to fight him with swords and spears.  But, after being accused of having deceitful motives and proud ambitions, he prays in verse 9b, “. . . But now, O God, strengthen my hands. “O God, strengthen my hands!”

Nehemiah, with his tough exterior and “nothing is too big to tackle” attitude, is deeply hurt.  He writes here in his journal, “O God, strengthen my hands.”  Someone wrote about the devastation and destruction gossip can bring into a person’s life, “I have no respect for justice.  I maim without killing, I break hearts and ruin lives. I am cunning and malicious and gather strength the older I am alive.  The more I am quoted, the more I am believed.  My victims are helpless. They cannot protect themselves against me, because I have no name and no face.  To track me down is impossible.  The harder you try, the more elusive I become. I topple governments and wreck friendships.  I ruin careers and cause sleepless nights and heartaches.  I make innocent people cry in their pillows.  Even my name hisses.  I am called Gossip.  I make headlines and headaches.  I am nobody’s friend.”

How do we protect our church, our families, and our work ethic from the erosion brought about by the tongue?  Alan Redpath, who once pastored the large Moody Church in Chicago, wrote how he encouraged the members of his church, during a particularly stressful time in their church history.  He counseled them to subscribe to a simple formula before speaking.  He wanted them to think before speaking, so he gave them an acrostic – T.H.I.N.K.

T – Is it true?

H – Is it helpful?

I – Is it inspirational?

N – Is it necessary?

K – Is it kind?

If it does not pass the T.H.I.N.K. test, it is not to be spoken to another person. That is good advice for the church, but it is good advice for life.  If you are running down your coworkers or your boss, you are wrong.  As a believer, you have no business working with that attitude. The T.H.I.N.K. test will revolutionize your work environment, and it just may revolutionize your home and your church environment as well.  

The third attempt was an attempt . . .

3. To Create Compromise.

Since Satan cannot trick him or discredit him, he now tries to tempt him to sin.  Verse 10 says, “And when I entered the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined at home, he said, ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you, and they are coming to kill you at night.’”  It sounded good – coming from a priest.  In fact, he was a prophet and a priest.  The English translation obscures the fact that this is in the form of a prophecy, as if it came from God.  Imagine somebody telling you, “Listen, I got word that some of your enemies are coming over some night and they are going to kill you.  You’d better hide.”  Imagine trying to sleep after hearing that.  You would hear every noise, every dog bark, and every rustle of the bushes.   This priest says to Nehemiah, “Come over to the temple and let’s hide out together in the Holy Place.”

But Nehemiah saw through this phony prophecy, as we are told in verses 11 through 13, “But I said, ‘Should a man like me flee?  And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life?  I will not go in.’  Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.  He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me.” 

  • Was it sin for Nehemiah to be afraid?  No.  
  • Was it sin for Nehemiah to hide during the night?  No!

If you look closely, you will notice that Shemaiah proposed that they hide in the Holy Place – where only priests could enter.  To go in there, even though it would mean being rescued from assassins, would violate the Law of God.  We see the great consecration and courage of Nehemiah here.  He would rather lose his life than sin.  How much sin will you allow in your life before you become even a little bit bothered? Here is a man who would rather risk his life than risk losing the pleasure of God on his life.

These verses provide great insight as to how to determine good counsel from bad.  They give us three things to ask ourselves:

• Does the counsel violate your character?

• Does the counsel contradict Scripture?

• Does the counsel hinder your commitment?

Satan’s fourth attempt was an attempt . . .

To Create Division.

If he cannot trick him, or discredit him, or tempt him, he will seek to frighten him into quitting.  Verses 17 through 19 state, “Also in those days many letters went from the nobles of Judah to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah. Moreover, they were speaking about his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. Then Tobiah sent letters to frighten me.”  I personally could not take a week of this, could you?  But Nehemiah endured it for months and even years!  Tobiah was the enemy of God’s work, but here you have prophets, a prophetess, and leaders in Judah who were constantly telling Nehemiah what a great man Tobiah was, as we are told in verse 19.  In other words, the people were saying that Nehemiah needed to get over his problem with Tobiah.  They believe he was really doing them all a favor.  They thought they needed him around!

Yet, all the while, according to the last part of verse 19, Tobiah is sending letters to Nehemiah trying to scare him away.  You could circle a word that appears throughout chapter 6 – the word “frighten.”  They constantly tried to frighten Nehemiah into quitting. But he just would not quit.

Verses 15 and 16 say, “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.”  Can you imagine any sweeter words than these?  The wall is finished: Put away your tools, take down the scaffolding, swing the massive gates shut, and bolt them tight – We are finished!


When believers resist the attempts of Satan and keep on building, two things eventually happen . . .

1. God’s Work Reaches Completion.

Think about it – for ninety years they had not been able to do it.  But this time, the people had their hearts in the work and had a leader who would not quit.  I can only imagine the celebration as the nations around them realized that all their plotting, planning, intimidating, and rumor mongering had ultimately failed.

2. God’s Name Receives The Glory.

Look back at verse 16 again, “And it happened, when all our enemies heart of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, they were very disheartened in their own eyes” Why?  “For they perceived that this work was done by our God.”

Was it because of Nehemiah’s leadership?  Was it because the people were skilled at building?  Was it because conditions were favorable and the king of Persia had provided lumber for the gates?  NO! 

It was because of God!

Nehemiah trusted God to do the work.  Nehemiah leans on the providence of God, the God who had turned the heart of King Artaxerxes such that he would be favorable to Nehemiah’s plan.  Nehemiah trusts God to work in such a way as to turn the enemies’ plans upon themselves! 

These unbelievers knew that someone supernatural had to have been involved in order for the walls to have been rebuilt in just fifty-two days.  What a way to live.  It should be an encouragement to us to stay at the hard labor of building families, marriages, homes, and a church, so that those around us can only explain us in terms of God’s involvement.  That is vindication enough!   God is glorified and His cause advanced.  

Is it any wonder then, that Satan battles whatever God builds?  Is it any surprise then, that there are no opportunities for the kingdom of heaven without opposition from the kingdom of hell?  Expect it.  Be alert to it.  As the Bible says in Ephesians, chapter 6, verse 12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual host of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

So, keep building the walls of your character, your marriage, your personal walk with Christ, your friendships, your relationships, and your testimony to unbelievers and know, all the while, that the Satan will continually drop the lures into the waters of your life.

Dudley Tyng was a well-known speaker in the 1800s.  He was a young man who lived on a farm. In 1858, he had just finished speaking to five thousand young men at the Young Men’s Christian Association, or the YMCA, as we know it today.  After he preached, one thousand of the young men accepted the free gift of salvation.  That day, he returned to his farm and decided to go to the barn to watch the men shelling corn.  He got a little too close to the machine and his jacket was caught.  His arm was pulled into the grinding gears of that machine and was lacerated beyond repair.  In a few hours, he would die.  Medicine was so primitive at that time, and the loss of blood was too great.  His father was there and reminded Dudley that thousands of people were gathering to hear him preach again that evening.  What did he want said to them? Dudley Tyng strained to get the words out of his failing lips, and said, “Tell the people to stand up for Jesus.”   That night, the assembly hall was packed with people expecting to hear Dudley preach.  But, instead of hearing him preach, they learned of his accident and death.  Then, they were given the words of his final message.  George Duffield heard those last words and sat down and composed a poem.  The poem was put to music and we know the hymn as . . .

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;

Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss;

From victory unto victory His army shall he lead,

Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;

The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own;

Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;

Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long;

This day the noise of battle, the next, the victor’s song;

To him that overcometh, a crown of life shall be;

He with the King of glory shall reign eternally.

In other words, just keep building and battling.  Let the finished walls answer the Devil. Build to the glory and honor of God, our faithful Father and our sovereign Lord!

1) Who Are The “Sanballats” Trying To Hinder You?  

There are some who delight in construction

And there are some who delight in destruction.

Always remember that our enemy, the devil, will do all he can to hinder you.  He will do all he can to get you to “come down from the wall” of your work for the Lord.  He will try to instill fear in your life.  Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.  I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”

Beware of the Sanballats who try to hinder your work of sharing the Gospel this week, inviting a neighbor to join you for worship, walking in holiness, and living for Jesus in purity and obedience.

2) How Does Your Knowledge Of The Bible Prepare You For Deception?

Nehemiah knew that Shemaiah was not sent from God because Nehemiah knew his Bible.  He knew the Scriptures warned against going into the temple when you are not a priest.  He knew the Scriptures warned against false prophets so he was not deceived by the enemy to compromise his faith.  

Jesus, Paul, and John all promised that false prophets would come (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20:29-31; 1 John 4:1).  There are false prophets in every age.  We need to know the Word to counter the false teachings that may hinder us and deceive us.

Someone gives you advice that goes against the Bible, do not listen to it!  That person is of Satan and does not speak for God.  The only way you can know whether someone is giving counsel that goes against the Bible is to know the Bible!

God will guide you if you read His Word.  Want to know God’s will for your life?  75% of God’s will for your life is already revealed to you in the Bible.  Read it daily.  

3) What Distractions Are Keeping You From God’s Work And A Growing Relationship With Jesus Christ?  How Will You Respond To These Distractions? 

Nehemiah was “doing a great work.” It was not great in the eyes of the world.  The world would have valued Nehemiah’s role as the Persian King’s cupbearer as far more significant, a far greater work.  Nehemiah’s work was greater because it involved more than merely moving stone and mortar.  He was not just building a wall, he was building for the name of the Lord, using his gifts and talents in service to the Lord, building the kingdom of God.  He was doing a great work in your living for the Lord.  Nehemiah’s work would live on long after he was gone.    

What about you?  The work you do this week, the work for the Lord is a great work: sharing the Gospel, encouraging a brother or sister in Christ, praying with a hurting friend, giving financially through your tithe to the church, or giving a special gift to the homeless and downtrodden you meet.  That is a great work.  It is always about God’s name.  God’s name is at stake each week in our lives.  We bear the name of Christ.  We want to live in such a way as we adorn the Gospel, that people are attracted to Christ because of our love for them.  

Beware the enemy of distraction!  Beware the multitude of Sanballats, Tobiahs, and Geshems that would distract you from the work in order somehow to bring shame upon the name of Christ.  Distractions are everywhere.  

  • Someone tempts you to follow them into sin you respond, “I’m doing a great work and cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3).
  • Someone tries to gossip with you about another Christian or tries to pull you into their hatred for another church member.  You say, “I am doing a great work and cannot come down.”

When past failures distract you from your serving the Lord today, do not quit.  Some of you may say, “Well, I goofed up.”  Nehemiah said, “O No,” but I said, “O Yes.”  I went down “to the plain of Ono” and made a mess of my life.  Well, be encouraged!  You arere not alone!  We have all sinned and have gone down to Ono a time or two.  It is never too late for a new beginning.  Turn to the Lord.  Trust in Him.

When the devil whispers in your ear that you will never make it, that you are all washed up, that forgiveness applies to everyone else except you, you go to Jesus and you stand on the solid rock of Christ!  You tell the devil, “My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness!”  Go forward not fearful, but faithful!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuilding: Nehemiah 5:14-19 – A God-First Life

Grace For The Journey

  As we have moved through the opening chapters of Nehemiah we have seen the people face derision, discouragement, danger, and division.  Wednesday we read about that division.  The haves and the have nots.  The unrighteous rich oppressing the righteous poor.  Unrighteous rich nobles and rulers among the people exploiting and oppressing the poor.  Chapter 5 reads like a modern-day account of corporate greed – dirty money, burdensome mortgages, exploitation, high interest rates, taxes, financial bondage, and insufferable debt.

We left off at verse 13 and we note a contrast: Verse 14 to the end of the chapter, the generosity of Nehemiah with the oppression of verses 1-13. 

Nehemiah is an example

Of the righteous rich

Who use their wealth wisely.

This is a reflection of Nehemiah.  He has written in his journal or memoirs.  These verses recall the 12 years Nehemiah served as governor of the people.  We are not sure exactly how Nehemiah became governor, but he was likely appointed governor by King Artaxerxes in Susa and, unlike previous governors who oppressed the poor, Nehemiah is a good governor who is generous to the poor. 

We will not two basic truths that will help lead us to live a God-first life . . .

1) Nehemiah Was An Example Before The People!

Nehemiah lived His faith.  As he did, two things became very clear . . .

a. He Lived In An Unselfish Way Before The People.

The rest of the chapter gives us Nehemiah’s personal example of unselfish service before the people.  Verses 14 through 16 state, “Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, for twelve years, neither I nor my kinsmen have eaten the governor’s food allowance.  But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on the people and took from them bread and wine besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants domineered the people. But I did not do so because of the fear of God.  And I also applied myself to the work on this wall; we did not buy any land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work.”

Do you get the picture here?  Nehemiah was no ordinary ruler who lived off the labor of his subjects or took advantage of his position.  He had every right to kick back in some ivory palace.

That is the way our culture is –

Success is revealed by

How many people serve you.

So, take advantage of the perks, if you have them coming.  Remember, life revolves around the theme, “Me, myself, and I”. 

Verse 16 makes it clear that Nehemiah is mixing mortar and hauling rock, right along with the rest of them. That was rare.  Before the people, Nehemiah unselfishly served.  Unselfish people are like lighthouses – they do not blow any horns, they just shine.

The second thing that becomes clear is that Nehemiah

b. Lived His Faith Before the Lord In An Unwavering Way.

This is more important than what he did before the people, because . . .

His living before the Lord

In an unwavering way

Was the only possible way

He could be unselfish.

Verse 19, “Remember me, O my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”   

Worship seeks the pleasure of God over all else.

Selfish people want to be noticed by people.  Nehemiah wanted to be noticed only by God.  Notice that Nehemiah did not say, “Oh God, make those people around me appreciate my work.” Or, “Lord, make my family respect my decision to live for you.” Or, “God, make my friends and coworkers admire the decision I have made to walk a holy life for Your glory.”  No. He said, “Oh my God, if you remember what I am doing in obedience to You, that is enough for me.”

Dr. Campbell, former president of Dallas Seminary, told the story of a young man who once studied violin under a world-renowned master.  Eventually, the time came for his debut.  The concert hall was filled with expectant observers and the media.  The performing arts center was packed.  Following each selection, despite the cheers of the crowd, the young man seemed dissatisfied.  Even after the last number, when the shouts of bravo were the loudest, the talented violinist stood looking toward the balcony. Finally, his teacher smiled and nodded in approval.  Immediately, the young man relaxed and beamed with happiness.  

The applause of the crowd

Had meant nothing to him

Compared to the approval

Of his master teacher.

Oh, if we would learn to live like Nehemiah – to yearn for the Lord’s approval above anything else, then, the selfish desires of earth would fade and lose their appeal.  And, Satan would be defeated once again.

Some years ago, I had a lightweight jacket with a zipper that always came undone.  I would zip that thing up only to discover later that the zipper was slowly coming undone from the bottom up.  That happened a lot because it was easy to throw it on quickly, zip it up, and rush out of the house without it actually being zipped up correctly.  In fact, I would not have ever known there was even a problem until later when looked at it carefully.  I saw that the zipper’s first and second teeth were not correctly in place the whole thing would eventually come apart.  Only when I took that jacket and carefully ensured that the first and second teeth were carefully in place could I be sure that all the remaining teeth of the jacket would stay together.

A Pharisee once approached Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”  Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:35-40).  Jesus taught that if a person loves vertically and horizontally he or she would, in essence, live according to God’s will and way.  Like the first two teeth of a zipper, get those to right and everything else will follow, everything else will be secure and hold together.

Nehemiah lived that way, he lived a God-first life, he loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind – God first – and his neighbor as himself.  Nehemiah lived a “God-First Life.”   As we study these verse today, we will see the distinguishing marks of a God-First life.  I have grouped the verses under three headings . . . 

1. Integrity – Verses 14-16.

It is often said that . . .

Integrity is who you are

When no one is looking.

It is easy to have integrity when we are aware of the presence of others.  We are model Christians when others are watching.  But who are you when you are all alone?  Integrity is who you are when no one’s looking: Holiness . . . Purity . . . Honesty.

Verse 14 says, “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year(that is 445-433 BC)of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions.”  Nehemiah was governor and led God’s people there in Judah for 12 years and he says “Neither I nor my brothers – his close officials – ate the governor’s provisions.”  The governor’s provisions refer to a generous food allowance available to them that was raised by taxing the people of the land.  We have members in Congress who seem to think that we can just give away things as though there is an endless supply.  Free this, free that.  They govern with no thought of where that revenue must come from.  There is a cost, an expense, behind those things that the people of the country must pay.   Nehemiah knows that if he took “the governor’s provisions” it would hurt the local people financially.  There was a cost involved and they would be hurt.  As a matter of integrity, he denies himself of this right – unlike previous governors as the verse indicates, “But the former governors who were before me laid burdens on(taxed!)the people, and took from them bread and wine, besides forty shekels of silver(as a daily ration). Yes, even their servants bore rule over (tyrannized!) the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God.”

Unlike “the former governors who were before” him, Nehemiah chose not to tax, take from, or tyrannize the people.  He regarded them as equal brothers and sisters and worked right alongside them.

President Harry Truman once joked that . . .

Leaders are people

Who can get others to do

What they do not want to do –

And make them like doing it!

Nehemiah was a God-first leader.  He loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind, and his neighbor as himself.   This caused him to be a servant-leader above all else.

Verse 16 states, “Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land.  All my servants were gathered there for the work.”  Nehemiah did not think of himself more highly than he ought (Romans 12:3) but served right alongside others.   Though he could have profited by buying up land during the rebuilding of the wall and city he chose not to use his position for gain. 

This leads to the next mark of a God-First life . . .

2. Generosity – Verses 17-18.

Nehemiah was a very generous person.  Not only did he refuse to selfishly amass wealth for himself at the cost of others, but he used the wealth he already had to bless others.  The next couple verses indicate that God had prospered Nehemiah through his position as cupbearer to the king.   Verse 17 says, “And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us.”  Nehemiah is telling us that each day he served as governor it fell to him to meet, greet, and entertain a number of leaders and visitors.  The phrase “at my table” refers to his eating with them and sharing with them.  The phrase “one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers,” refers to an entourage of civil servants apparently serving under Nehemiah.  The phrase “those who came from the nations around us” identifies a host of traveling foreign dignitaries.  As governor, it fell upon Nehemiah to show hospitality to these travelers on their way perhaps to the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

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

Now get a sense of the situation . . .

Nehemiah has already told us that he did not eat “the governor’s provisions” the food allowance that was rightly his by Persian law.  He repeats that here in the last part of verse 18.  He does not appropriate the food allowance in order to feed all these people who are around him every day.  Yet they had to eat!  And if you do the math here it really is astronomical.  Verse 18 tell us that what was prepared daily was one ox, six sheep, and fowl or poultry.  This is daily provisions over a period of 12 years.  The math works out to over 4,000 oxen and over 26,000 sheep.  That is a lot of food!  Either Nehemiah had a herd that large that came with him from Susa or he had the financial means to acquire that many animals. 

The point is he had it

And he used his own money

And material things

To bless others.

He could have lived very comfortably by using the “the governor’s provisions,” that tax upon the people, but he does not.  He gives out of his own pocket. 

Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish historian and writer said, “Adversity is hard on a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.”  Carlyle was being ironic.  He was saying . . .

That in many ways

It is easier to face

Adversity than prosperity.

Many people maintain their faith through times of adversity, but few people successfully maintain their faith in times of prosperity.  They collapse under so much wealth and gain.  They give in to temptation and bring financial ruin upon themselves.  Or they hoard and become self-focused and reclusive.  But . . .

Nehemiah lives a God-First Life. 

He is a man who loves God

With all his heart, soul, mind,

And his neighbor as himself. 

He believed that God has given

Him favor in order to bless others

And advance God’s kingdom,

Not to rule over them, and

Become rich off of them, and

Build their own little kingdom.

The third mark of a God-First Life is . . .

3. Reverence For God – Verse 19.

Verse 19 shows us what Nehemiah’s prayer was, “Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people.”  Nehemiah is a man of prayer.  He has a love for God that motivates his godly character.  Put another way . . .

His integrity and generosity are

Fueled by his reverence for God.

What makes Nehemiah a man of integrity and generosity is his love for the One True and Living God.  Recall in last part of verse 15 Nehemiah said that he did not want to place a burden on the people because, “of the fear of God.”  Nehemiah has a relationship with God.  He is a God-Fearer.  God was always before Nehemiah’s eyes.  He lived in the awareness of God’s presence. 

He prays in verse 19, “Remember me, my God.”  Note that the phrase “my God.”  Nehemiah is not giving in order to gain favor with God, to earn his salvation – Giving all of this stuff as though he could earn a spot in heaven.  No.  He is already God’s child by grace through faith.  He addresses God in a personal, covenantal way.  He is simply praying . . .

“Lord, remember what I have done,

Take note of my actions;

All that I have done for this people

Has grown out of my relationship with You.”

It is a bit like David’s prayer at the end of Psalm 139, verses 23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there is any wicked way in me …”  That is the idea: “See what I have done, Lord, and remember me.  Take note of it.  I have got my eyes on the kingdom.  I am living with a view to the future.  Take note, Lord, because I love You and I want to do right, and I know You reward those whose heart is set on You.”  I wonder if you would be comfortable praying a prayer like that?  “Remember me, my God” … “Take note of how I am living” … “Reward me according to the way I treat others …”

Nehemiah is a man of great piety.  He is faithful to God . . . He walks with God . . . He lives with an eye toward eternity . . . knowing it is far better to live by faith in what he cannot see . . . knowing it is far more rewarding than what he can see in this world. 

This is precisely what motivated

Nehemiah’s integrity and generosity.

What causes a guy to forego the privileges due him according to his position?  Why give up so much food, comfort, and pleasure?  Like our Lord Jesus in John 4 – When the disciples went into town to get food while Jesus talked with the woman at Samaria, the woman at the well?  Jesus led her to faith in Himself.  She comes to know Him as Messiah.  The disciples had gone into town to get food and Jesus is there with that woman, leading her to faith.  The disciples return and they see Jesus talking to this woman.  And they are standing there with their bags of sandwiches from Subway.  And they are like, “Master, eat!”  And Jesus says, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  They’re like, “What?!  Did someone bring him something to eat?”  And Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me.”  And that kind of food will fill you up, like a bread that satisfies your eternal hunger and water that flows from an ever-flowing well.  

That is what Nehemiah had.  That is what he enjoyed.  Nehemiah lived in the awareness of the greatness and glory of God.  He was like the writer of Hebrews, who wrote in Hebrews 13:14, “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek one which is to come.”

Let conclude our study today by pointing to two timeless truths that come out of these verses . . .

1. Fear Of God Trumps Fear Of Man.

Nehemiah has a robust fear of God.  He loves the Lord with all his heart, mind soul, and strength.  He lives in the awareness of the greatness and glory of God.  Because Nehemiah fears God, he does not fear man.  This is especially significant when Nehemiah faces opposition.  This phrase sets us up for the narrative that follows in chapter 6 where we will be reading about a conspiracy to instill fear in the heart of Nehemiah.  Fear of God trumps fear of man.  

I have got a couple questions I want to invite you to ask yourself:

  • “Do I live in the awareness of the greatness and glory of God?”

Like Nehemiah, are your actions motivated by a healthy fear of God.  You actually believe that God is the author of live and truth, that truth should govern your thinking, your words, and your actions.  You endeavor to live a God-First life.  Because of a fear of God, do you seek God first thing every day?  Do you seek to think, speak, and act in a ;way that pleases Him and honors Him each moment of your day? 

Here is another question . . .

  • “What privileges am I willing to deny in order to build His kingdom?”

Nehemiah denied himself of “the governor’s provisions” so that his witness and testimony would remain strong before the people.  All of our actions have the result of either drawing people closer to Jesus or pushing them further away.  Nehemiah lives in such a way as to draw people closer to the Lord.  He denies himself of something that was rightly his, he could have taken the provisions, he could have exercised his rights, but he denied himself these privileges in order to advance the kingdom.

What about you and me?  What privileges are we willing to deny in order to advance God’s kingdom?  Putting mission before personal interest.  As we endeavor to edify and multiply in the church how can we together deny ourselves of privileges in order to reach more people for Jesus?  How can our Bible Study classes put others first by focusing not just on those who are in our class, but focusing on those who are not here? 

Living in the fear of God, aware of the greatness and glory of God.  Fear of God trumps fear of Man. 

Second timeless truth . . .

2. Joy In The Lord Trumps Joy In The World.

Nehemiah lived with an eye toward eternity.  Because of that his whole life was shaped by eternal purposes.  He found his joy in the Lord and for that reason he did not feel the pull of the world – giving-in to greed and self.  His joy in the Lord motivated his integrity and generosity.  Some questions to ask yourself:

  • “What would my friends, family, and co-workers say about where I find joy?”

Someone asks them about you.  What would they say?  Would they say, “Boy, you can tell she/he has a joy in the Lord!  She/He is living for eternity!  Her/His love for the Lord and others is evident!”   Would they say that – or would they say something else?  What may need to change in your life? 

Second question . . .

  • “How does my money or stuff reflect where I find joy?”

Nehemiah was a generous man, giving out of what the Lord had given him.  Financial giving is simply our response to the One who gives to us.  Tithing – the word means “the tenth,” returning the tenth, or 10% to the Lord – tithing is not so much a sacrifice as it is simply returning to the Lord that which is His.  Deuteronomy 8:18 says it is God who gives us the ability to acquire wealth.  Giving back to Him is not only a matter of obedience, but it reflects that we do not find joy in our money or stuff.  We are cheerful givers (2 Corinthians 9).

Joy in the Lord


Joy in the world.

Someone has asked . . .

“Do your children or those around you sense

That you are pursuing God or pursuing gold?”


“What might make them think that

Money is too important in your life?”

Joy in the Lord trumps joy in the world. 

Final question . . .

  • “What sin in my life reveals what I am substituting for joy in the Lord?”

We have talked about finding joy in stuff,

But what about finding joy in sin?

Is there some behavior you are in, some habit, or some activity that reveals that you are trading a greater joy in the Lord for a temporary pleasure that ends in guilt, shame, bondage, and death.  What do you need to repent of right now?

Nehemiah’s actions point to the more perfect actions of the Lord Jesus Christ.  As God, the Lord Jesus embodies perfect integrity and perfect generosity.  Jesus denied Himself the privileges of the glory of remaining at the right hand of the Father and chose to humble Himself and enter into this fallen world for our sakes.  He delighted in doing the Father’s will.  Though He was rich, He became poor for our sakes that we through His poverty may become rich – may receive eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Look over those questions for a moment.  Look them over silently . . . Think on them a moment.  May God, through Jesus Christ, give us grace to live in the awareness of His greatness and glory.  May he help us to fear Min more than we fear man. May He grant that we would make time to be with Him in daily quiet and that we would be ever conscious of His presence every moment of the day.  Like Nehemiah, may the Lord help us think beyond ourselves, beyond our personal rights or privileges, that we may reach more people for Jesus.  May He grant that we would always remember that true joy is found in Him and not in the world.  May He help us take hold of Jesus and find life in Him.  May we turn from sin in repentance and take hold of Christ.  May the truth that God accept us not on the basis of our performance, but on the basis of our relationship with Him through Christ – May that acceptance motivate our living and prompt us to greater generosity.  When we struggle in the dark, struggling with sinful habits, sinful behaviors, may God awaken us to eternal truths, reminding us that true life, true joy, is found in Him – and not in the world!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 5:1-13 – Are You Living By God’s Strategy Or Satan’s Strategy?


Grace For The Journey

We are studying through Nehemiah, a history that takes place in 444 BC.  God’s people in the Old Testament had sinned and been unfaithful to God.  He had warned them that if they were not faithful He would discipline them as a Good Father, sending them into captivity.  And that is exactly what happened.  First the Assyrians in 722 BC.  Then the Babylonians in 587 BC.  The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.  The palaces burned and the walls broken down.  After the Babylonian Empire, the Persians came along.  And that is where we are now.  Persian Empire, 444 BC, led by King Artaxerxes.  Nehemiah served as a cupbearer for the king in Susa, the winter palace of the king.  1000 miles away from Jerusalem.  Nehemiah learns from fellow Jews that things were really bad in Jerusalem, walls still broken down.  He gets permission from King Artaxerxes to go back and rebuild the wall.  And they have been going at it like gangbusters.  They have gotten half of the wall completed by the end of chapter 4.  

We have noted that God’s people faced opposition as they rebuilt the wall.  God’s will often includes opposition.  In fact, you can trace it out this way . . .

  • Derision, as the critics Sanballat and Tobiah and others mocked them. 
  • Then Discouragement – the task was not easy or safe.
  • Then Danger – God’s people have to take up weapons to defend themselves; last
  • Now Division – Division among the people of God.

This is recorded in the first thirteen verses of Chapter 5.   We will see how the people were divided between the “haves” and the “have nots.”  This division came on account of oppression – the rich oppressing the poor.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Inside Job.”  It is a term used especially in criminal investigation.  It means, of course, that the perpetrators of a particular crime are those who had easy access to the goods because they either worked for the company or institution where the goods were stolen, or they were close to someone who had all the inside information.  Thus, the criminals were able to breach security and use their passwords and embezzle from the organization.  It was not a stranger from the outside breaking in; it was someone on the inside.  

When Jesus was betrayed into the hands of the chief priests, scribes, and elders, that betrayal was an inside job.  A man on the inside, namely Judas Iscariot, had easy access to the Lord and arranged for the outsiders to “break in” under the cover of darkness and arrest Jesus.  It was an inside job.

When we compare Nehemiah Chapter 4 with Nehemiah Chapter 5, we have in chapter 4 opposition without – opposition from the outsiders Sanballat, Tobiah, and others; what we would consider an “outside job” if you like.  In Chapter 5, we have oppression within, oppression from the inside, among the very people of God themselves; oppression that is an “inside job.”

What is this oppression?  It is a financial oppression.  The rich among God’s people are oppressing the poor of God’s people.  They are charging them interest on loans, taking their lands and vineyards as collateral, making themselves wealthy at the cost of making others poor.  It is a sin within the family of God.  

These verses describe matters of money, mortgages, exploitation, greed, buying & selling, high interest rates, taxes, financial bondage, and insufferable debt.  You would think we were reading this morning’s edition of the Wall Street Journal.  The Bible is that way, always relevant to our situation.

The Bible has a lot to say about money.  There are some 800 verses throughout the Old and New Testaments dealing with the subject of money.  It is estimated that as much as 25% of Jesus’ teaching had to do with money and He said that the way we use our money says something about where our heart really is.

In Matthew 6:19-21, He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

The way we use our money – giving, not giving; tithing, not tithing; lending, hoarding . . .

All of these things are indicators of where our heart is.

We often say, “Money is not the problem.”  Money is never the problem.  It is how we use the money. 

Possessions are not the problem. 

It is whether those material things possess us.

What we are studying about here in Nehemiah 5 are the unrighteous rich and the righteous poor.  The rich Jewish brothers who were oppressing the poor Jewish brethren.  Let’s look at the text again.  

Verse 1 says, “And there was a great outcry of the people and their wives against their Jewish brethren.”  This is similar to the outcry of God’s people in the Book of Exodus, the cry of the children of Israel rising up to God who had seen the oppression of His people at the hands of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:9).  And the outcry is described in the verses to follow.  The phrase, “The people and their wives” indicates division within the families.  Financial problems are one of the key areas the devil uses to try to split families.  Husbands and wives often fight over finances.  Especially as newlywed couples begin to grow and really get to know one another, they discover that they may have different ideas about how money is to be used.  Maybe you have heard the verse:

Theirs was a perfect marriage, 

but for one particular flaw: 

While he was quick to make deposits, 

She was quicker to withdraw 

The problem in Nehemiah 5 is not so much different ideas about money within a marriage as it is about the rich oppressing the poor.  Most of the husbands were away from their fields doing the work of rebuilding the wall.  Because they were away, they were unable to work their fields which would have provided grain for them to eat.  

Verse 2 says, “For there were those who said, ‘We, our sons, and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain, that we may eat and live.’”  The people are many, many families, many husbands and wives and sons and daughters.  There was not enough grain because the fields are unworked.  The people had been working nonstop on the wall, no time to work their fields to grow their own grain for food.

Verse 3 states, “There were also some who said, ‘We have mortgaged our lands and vineyards and houses, that we might buy grain because of the famine.’”  While building the wall, their fields were not being worked, so they loaned the land out to others who were growing grain on them.  They loaned the land out in exchange for grain.  We also learn in verse 3 that there is a famine.  The famine adds insult to injury.  It is a bad time, people are hungry.  But that is not all. 

Verse 4 says, “There were also those who said, ‘We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our lands and vineyards.’” 

  • Not only are the fields unharvested by the rightful owners because of the men’s dedication to the rebuilding of the wall.
  • Not only did those same rightful owners have to borrow against their fields by mortgaging them to others.
  • Not only was there a famine in the land.

Now we read of their having to pay taxes to the king on all of their lands and vineyards.

Apparently King Artaxerxes was fond of taxing.  History tells us that when Alexander the Great conquered Susa (about a hundred years after Nehemiah) he discovered 270 tons of gold bullion and 1,200 tons of silver bullion.  The Persians raised a lot of money for themselves through taxes.  We know something of this, don’t we?  Some of us can relate to the guy who said he wanted to visit Washington DC so he could be near his money!  The poor folks in Jerusalem could not pay their taxes, so they borrowed money in order to pay the king’s tax.  They borrowed against their mortgaged land to pay taxes, “robbing from Peter to pay Paul,” as we say.  I have not heard that statement much lately.  From my research I found that the expression goes back to the Protestant Reformation.  Taxes were paid to the Roman Catholic Church to pay for St. Paul’s church in London and also to pay for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  You had to pay both.  There were times when the people neglected paying the tax to St. Peter’s church in order to pay the St. Paul tax – robbing Peter to pay Paul.  In any case, this is what is happening to the righteous poor living in Jerusalem.  They ca not afford anything.  They are borrowing from one thing to pay for another thing – going deeper and deeper into debt just to stay alive.  

There are many people who go deeper and deeper into debt not to just stay alive, but to live beyond their means.  They want to have things, so they borrow.  They are discovering the true saying:

“Money is a wonderful servant,

But it’s a poor master.”

The righteous poor in Nehemiah have no recourse.  They are being taking advantage of by their own Jewish brothers! 

Verse 5 says, “Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren(in other words, “we are no different than they; they are not anymore loved by God than we), our children as their children(our children are no different than their kids!  They run around together!   They play with each other just the same!); and indeed we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery. It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.”

This is a really tragic situation.  It appears that the righteous poor have been forced into literal bondage.  They have been forced by the unrighteous poor to give up a son or daughter.  Now it may be even worse than that.  The last phrase of verse 5 says, “… and some of our daughters have been brought into slavery.  It is not in our power to redeem them, for other men have our lands and vineyards.”  This may be a reference to daughters being sent to the local Persian government officials as sex slaves to prevent foreclosure on their lands.  That may be, we do not know for sure.  But you get the idea – It is a very bad thing.  And Nehemiah is outraged.

Notice what verse 6 says, “And I became very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.”  He is angry – It is a righteous anger.  He does not let his anger get away from him.  The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and sin not.”  It is okay to be angry. 

It is not how you feel

That is a problem,

It is how you deal

With how you feel.

The first part of verse 7 says, “After serious thought…”  The idea is, “I took counsel with myself.”  In other words, Nehemiah did not let his anger get away from him.  He paused and thought it over first.  Some of us need that reminder.  Remember . . .

If you your lips would keep from slips

Five things observe with care:

Of whom you speak

To whom you speak

And how, and when, and where.

Verse 7 goes on to say, “… I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to them, ‘Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.;” So I called a great assembly against them.”  The Old Testament Law is clear on the matter of usury or interest on a loan.  Nehemiah is saying, “What you are doing is wrong.”  He is basing his response from at least one passage in Deuteronomy 23:19-20, “You shall not charge interest to your brother – interest on money or food or anything that is lent out at interest.  To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest, that the Lord your God may bless you in all to which you set your hand in the land which you are entering to possess.”

Nehemiah gathers the people together in “a great assembly.”  The guilty offenders are these unrighteous rich – the “nobles and rulers” mentioned in verse 7. 

Verse 8 tells us, “And I said to them, ‘According to our ability we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren?  Or should they be sold to us?’ Then they were silenced and found nothing to say.”  This is a sign of conviction!  They were silenced and found nothing to say.  They knew they were wrong.

Nehemiah notes the irony of the situation.  Here God’s people had been brought out of bondage to the Babylonians – the outsiders – and yet the very people on the inside, Jew against Jew, the unrighteous rich were placing the righteous poor into bondage.   Redeemed from exile only to be sold into slavery by their own people.

Nehemiah then says in verse 9, “What you are doing is not good.  Should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?

Verse 9 is a great verse.  Nehemiah does not need to cite Scripture here.  The people already know it.  They knew the truth of Deuteronomy 23.  They had suppressed the truth.  Nehemiah focuses upon the effect that their actions have upon outsiders.  He appeals to the greater effect here.  The unrighteous rich have brought shame upon the name of God.  They have lost something of their spiritual influence.  

Sanballat and Tobiah and all the other outsiders were watching them bicker among themselves over money and debt.  And they are looking inside and thinking, “Well they are really no different than us!  Just the same!  So much for their God!”  Let that sink in for a moment. 

Then note that Nehemiah places himself among the people as one who also lent money and grain – but not usury or interest.  Verse 10 says, “I also, with my brethren and my servants, am lending them money and grain.  Please, let us stop this usury!”  In verse 11, Nehemiah issues this correction, this truth, that is based upon the Word of God, “Restore now to them, even this day, their lands, their vineyards, their olive groves, and their houses, also a hundredth of the money and the grain, the new wine and the oil, that you have charged them.”  In other words, “Repent!”  Turn from going your way and go God’s way.  Give it back! 

Verse 12 shows us the response of the people, “So they said, ‘We will restore it, and will require nothing from them; we will do as you say.’ (But Nehemiah’s not so sure!)  Then I called the priests, and required an oath from them that they would do according to this promise.”  Nehemiah wants to be sure they mean it.

Verse 13 states, “Then I shook out the fold of my garment and said, ‘So may God shake out each man from his house, and from his property, who does not perform this promise.  Even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’  And all the assembly said, ‘Amen!’ and praised the Lord.  Then the people did according to this promise.”  Like an Old Testament prophet Nehemiah gives them a word picture.  He gathers together his garment.  There were lots of folds in the garment, especially around the belt where it was tied in the center.  He shakes out the folds.  It was a symbolic action that matched the words of the curse that would come upon anyone who did not repent and give the stuff back.  He action is saying if the people do not make it right, may God shake them out!  Shaking out every man from his house and possessions like dirt being shaken out of a garment!  The people agree and praised the Lord.  Then the people did according to this promise.  They took action and did the right thing.  

I invite you to take action by noting these takeaways . . .

In our study of the book of Nehemiah, we have seen Satan engineer several different attempts to cause the rebuilding work on the walls of Jerusalem to stop.  The enemies of God, spell-bound by the whispering motivation of the Dragon, have come against the children of Israel.  The people of Jerusalem have had to contend with cruel mockery by the enemy.  The people have had to push back discouragement that nearly brought their work to a halt.   But . . .

Neither ridicule nor discouragement

Have succeeded in stopping

The work on the wall.

I want to present some practical application to our study today that will help us today and beyond . . .

1. Notice Satan’s Strategy – Conflict.

Satan’s strategy against the work and the workers of God is primarily three-fold:

  • He will attempt to discourage the believer.

This could come in the form of persecution.  It could be, . . . “a thorn in the flesh” such as the troubling thing that Paul endured (2 Corinthians 12:7).

  • He will attempt to deceive the believer.

This could come from false teachers.  It could also be the deception that causes you to think about your life only; to believe that God’s work does not have a place for your gifts; that you are not important to the cause of Christ.  If he cannot discourage the believers to get out of the race, if he cannot deceive the believers into believing something that is not true and biblical.

  • He will attempt to divide the believers.

Warren Wiersbe, writing on Nehemiah, chapter 5, wrote, “When the enemy fails in his attacks from the outside, he then begins to attack from within, and one of his favorite weapons is selfishness.”  He used this in the first family, where one brother killed the other, because he was envious and self-centered in his hatred.  Satan used it in the very first church, where an outcry came from the Grecian believers because their widows were not being cared for as the Hebrew widows were.  The Bible tells us about a dangerous situation in the Galatian church in Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another.”  Is it any wonder then that, when conflict occurs among believers, the Devil becomes neutral and simply supplies ammunition to both sides?

I believe that frequently the worst enemy of the church is the church.  The thing that often keeps the church from moving forward is the church.  The thing that keeps the church from reaching the world is the world inside the church.  The thing that keeps believers from growing in Christ is other believers who have not matured spiritually.  

The title of the theme song of many in the church is, “Me, myself, and I!”  Before we see how Nehemiah handled the selfishness of the Israelites, I think it is important that we define this strategy that Satan uses as clearly as possible and ask God to challenge our own lives and hearts wherever necessary.

I came across a good definition of selfishness, “Having the attitude that people exist merely to meet my agenda, my wishes and my needs; thus, the value of anything (people, church, God, etc.), is determined only in light of what they do for me.  This attitude is revealed not only in outward behavior, but in secret thought; and, left unchecked, is ultimately destructive.”

Selfishness destroys relationships; it destroys marriages; it destroys ministries; it destroys churches; it destroys mission fields.  I saw a picture of a bumper sticker on a car that had the name of a college with their motto underneath.  It simply read, “Fighting Christians.”  Obviously, it was not intended to convey the message that this college fought against Christians, but it struck me that it could be interpreted to refer to Christians who are fighting one another – fighting Christians.  

From the very first church in Jerusalem to the church in Corinth and to the church today, our greatest threat may be ourselves.   The Ephesian church struggled with this problem, so God led Paul to dedicat nearly an entire chapter to exhort them to simply get along and love one another.  He wrote in Ephesians 4:25 through 27, “Therefore, laying, ‘let each on of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.  Be angry, and do not sin:” do not let the sun go down on your wrath,” notice verse 27, “and do not give place to the devil an opportunity.”  In other words, the Devil, loves this kind of selfish activity.  To him it is a wonderful opportunity.  He baits his hook with selfish advice – Don’t think about others, think only of yourself – your desires, your life, your money, your plans, your career, your retirement.  Paul goes on and write in verses 29 through 31, “Let no corrupt word proceed from your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were seal for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”  The implication was that Ephesian believers were involved in bitter disputes that led to outbursts of anger and slander, but instead of acting like that they were to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ had forgiven them.  

These verses do not even leave room for secret thoughts of selfishness, much less outward deeds of selfishness.  Do you know who has a big problem living out these verses?  I do.  The truth is, I would rather think about me, myself, and I, too often.  The very first sin in the garden of Eden came on the heels of the serpent telling Eve, in effect, “Think about yourself, Eve. This is something you want.  If God really wanted to meet your needs, He would let you have your way.”

There is a problem in Ephesus.  There is a problem in Galatia.  There is a problem in Jerusalem.  There is a problem in my town and your town.  No believer is exempt from it.  We are all terminally infected with selfishness, and it lies at the core of every one of our sinful natures.  That is why it is such a productive and powerful lure of Satan.  He will use it against our God whenever he can.  It must be dealt with, it must be battled against, or it will destroy us all.

We have seen what happened in Jerusalem when being self-centered momentarily brought the building project to a standstill.  In verses 1 through 5 Nehemiah points out three problems were catalysts in this eruption of controversy. They are:

• Hunger.

• Debt.

• High taxes.

You would think you were reading a copy of today’s newspaper.  Four groups of people were involved in the crisis:

1. In verse 2, were the people who were going hungry because they did not own any land to farm.

2. In verse 3, were the people who owned land but had mortgaged their property in order to buy food.

3. In verse 4, were the people who owned land, but were so financially strapped, they were forced to borrow money in order to pay taxes.

4. In verse 5, were the wealthy Jewish leaders who loaned their kinsmen money to take care of the problem; but, for collateral, took their land and their children as slaves.

The Jewish people were having to choose between starvation or the slavery of their children to wealthy Jews.  The leaders and wealthy Jewish people were selfishly exploiting the poorer Jewish people in order to make themselves even richer.  It an epidemic of selfishness and greed.

2. Notice Nehemiah’s Strategy – Consultation And Confrontation!

Verses 6 through 11 tell us Nehemiah did three things . . .

  • Nehemiah Consulted . . .

Verse 7 tells us that Nehemiah, “… consulted with myself . . .”  This literally means, “I took counsel within my own heart.”  Since the leaders of Israel and the wealthy, powerful citizens were the problem, Nehemiah could not really talk to any of them about this internal conflict.  No one carried this burden but Nehemiah.

  • Nehemiah confronted . . .

The second thing Nehemiah did was to confront the selfish citizens of Jerusalem.  From a human standpoint, this was an incredible risk.  At the very time the enemies have surrounded Jerusalem; at the very time all of the workers are building and, at the same time, prepared for battle – Nehemiah is confronting the very men who could cripple him, if they became offended and angry with his confrontation of their sin.  If these nobles and wealthy citizens packed their bags and left, the loss of morale would only add to Nehemiah’s problems.  Nehemiah had every reason to tell the people to go back to work, and he would figure something out about food!”   But, not Nehemiah – he was willing to confront them.

  • Nehemiah challenged . . .

Nehemiah challenges them on several fronts.

a. Their Selfish Disobedience Of Scripture . . .

Verse 7b says, “. . . I rebuked the nobles and rulers, and said to the, ‘Each of you is exacting usury form his brother.’  So I called a great assembly against them.”  

The Old Testament made it very clear that Jewish people could loan money and goods to other Jewish people.  But they were not allowed to charge interest.  In fact, every fifty years they were supposed to wipe any and every debt off the books that they had against any other Jew.  It was called the “Year of Jubilee,” and it kept the Jewish people from taking advantage of each other and becoming indebted to each other. 

But these nobles and leading citizens have been charging interest.  Later in the passage, we are told that it was twelve percent per year.  Nehemiah is pointing out that they were breaking God’s Law and were doing it at the expense of their own brethren.

In other words . . .

They should not be treating family like this.

b. Their Selfish Violation Of God’s Purpose For Israel.

Verse 8a says, And I said to them, ‘According to our ability have redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations.  Now indeed will you even sell your brethren?  Or should they be sold to us?”  Nehemiah is reminding them that God redeemed them from slavery as a people and He has brought them back to Jerusalem.  Now, he asks them, how can you turn God’s redemption upside down and enslave Jewish people again?!”  Notice their response in verse 8b, “Then they were silenced and found nothing to say.”

These men know they have been greedy and selfish; and, in front of the assembly, they are stumped!   Nehemiah is not finished however.  He then points out . . .

c. Their Selfish Failure To Represent God Before Unbelievers.

Is this not the heart of what is lost by believers who act selfishly, vindictively, and without love toward one another?  In verses 9 through 11, Nehemiah finishes his speech, and probably held his breath.  I am sure he is wondering how the people would respond:

  • Would their hearts be turned and softened?
  • Would they put their loyalty to one another above the tremendous wealth they were gleaning from their own people?  

It is one thing to say, “I’m sorry, I won’t be selfish any longer.”  It is another thing to say, “I’m sorry, I won’t be selfish any longer; and here’s the money back that I took from you.”  It is hard to imagine the kind of character that returns a fortune because it is the right thing to do.

This is a wonderful display of . . .

True Repentance!

Verse 12 tells us what the nobles and rulers did.

• They made a promise to Nehemiah.

• They made a vow before the priests.

• There was submission to God’s authority.

Verse 13 shows us what repentance led to, “I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’ And all the assembly said, ‘Amen!’”  The word “amen” basically means, “So be it!”  This is what genuine repentance leads to – Agreeing with God and yielding to His Word and Way.  Verse 13 concludes, “And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise.”  Repentance and unselfishness prompted a celebration.  They had a party right then and there. It usually works the

same way, even today – just not in such obvious ways.  People who live unselfish lives encourage those around them to praise the Lord.  They are the kind of people who tend to leave a trail of confetti behind them. Their generosity produces gratitude toward God.

Let’s look at one final truth . . .

3. Notice How God’s People Should Respond Correctly to Truth.

When Nehemiah called out the people on their behavior, he issued a correction that was based on the truth of God’s Word – and the people responded correctly.  They said “Amen” and did what they were told to do.

How about you?  How do you respond to the correction of God’s Word?  When you read in the Bible about sin, do you respond like God’s people in Nehemiah 5 and say, “Amen” – and do according to what the Bible teaches – and loving other people enough to tell them the truth, even if it’s hard truth?  Do you respond correctly yourself when the Bible confronts you with your sin – lust, pornography, adultery in thought or deed, gossip, bitterness, unforgiving spirit, greed, or failure to make amends?

What we read about in this chapter is a powerful move of the Spirit of God among the people of God.   God moved and they responded in full surrender.

I want to give you a chance to apply these truths in a personal way right now . . . 

First, ask yourself, “What has the Holy Spirit pointed out that is not right or pleasing to God in my life?”  Something I am doing or not doing – sin. 

Second, ask yourself, “Am I willing to confess that sin to Jesus in prayer?”  Jesus took our sin upon Himself.  He went to the cross for us.  He died that we may live.  We can be forgiven of our sin, but we have to confess it.  Jesus will give us the power to live the life He has called us to live if we will turn to Him for forgiveness.  Confession, then repentance. 

Third, ask yourself, “Am I willing now to break from that sin and obey God?  I’m going to stop that sin and start obeying the truth of God in the Bible, responding correctly to truth.”  It may be that there are some things you are going to need to do this week to make it right: people you need to call, apologize to someone, give something back, have a heart-heart with someone about something you have been doing; a family member, neighbor, a co-worker, or friend who needs the Gospel and you will go this week, talk with them about it, and invite them to church.  Admitting, confessing, repenting.

If you are not a Christian, I am calling on you to confess your sin to God, turn to Jesus and ask Him to forgive your sin and be your Lord and Savior.  Only as you do that will you experience and enjoy life and eternity.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 4:15-23 – When There’s Trouble in the Rubble . . . Remember That The Lord Is Great And Mighty

Grace For The Journey

Chapter 4 is about opposition and it is a study of prayer and perseverance when facing opposition.  We noted in our Friday study that when we are criticized or discouraged that we need to do three things: (1) Take it to the Lord; (2) Keep Your Eye on the Goal; and, (3) Find Your Security in the Lord.  Nehemiah rallied the people in verse 14—where we left off by saying, “Remember the Lord, great and awesome…”  Today we pick up in the next verse as we continue.  

In South America in the country of Paraguay, in the outskirts of the city of Asunción, there is a place of extreme poverty in Cateura.  In Cateura there is a slum built on a landfill where a number of people live.  They make their home there at the landfill and spend their days hunting through the rubbish looking for food and daily necessities.  This is one of those unfortunate realities of worldwide poverty.

Some years ago, a man in Cateura was especially concerned for the younger people of Cateura who had not hope, it seemed, for the future.  He wondered what he could do about it.  He began to envision a way to turn some of that trash into treasure – specifically, turning garbage that had been thrown away into musical instruments that could be used to teach the young people of Cateura how to play beautiful music.  Over the ensuing months, this man and others began to search through the trash, finding old pipes and transforming them into saxophones; finding forks, knives, and spoons and turning them into musical keys for flutes and clarinets.  

In time, enough junk was recycled into musical instruments to form an orchestra – an orchestra that would perform all over world – called, “The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura.”  And they are good!  You can Google, “The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura.  There is a video you can watch on YouTube about them.  A short film entitled, “Landfill Harmonic.” 

What is the point?  One man had a vision for how the rubble of the past could be reshaped and rebuilt into something beautiful in the present.  That is exactly what God does in our lives through the gospel.  God takes the rubble of our past and works through it to rebuild us in the present – redeeming, reshaping, rebuilding us into a masterpiece of mercy. 

Through Jesus Christ

The trash of our yesterdays

Is built into treasure for today,

Through the REBUILD

God does in our lives.

That is one of the greatest takeaways from the Book of Nehemiah. 

No piece of rubble from the past is wasted. 

God redeems, reshapes, rebuilds us

For our good and His glory.

Notice what happens when God’s people continued in prayer and perseverance.  Sanballat and Tobiah and the bad guys are threatening to kill God’s people and stop the work.  But Nehemiah rallies the people in verse 14 to “Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight…!” 

Verse 15 states, “And it happened, when our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work.”  God brought their efforts to nothing.  God’s people prevailed.  The Bible says in Galatians 6:9, “Do not grow weary in well-doing for in due season we will reap, if we faint not.”  Stay with God and His presence, promises, and power.  God’s people needed to keep building, keep working, and keep serving.  They were not defeated by discouragement and criticism. 

The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”  The threat is forestalled, but the bad guys are still around.  It is important for us to remember that Nehemiah “set a watch” against the enemy day and night.  We saw that back in verse 9, “Nevertheless we made our prayer to God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.”  

Verse 16 says, “So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah.”  “My servants” may refer to specially trained men who worked under Nehemiah.  In any case, half their attention is given to building the wall and half to defending themselves.

Verse 17 states,“Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon.”  They are building with one hand and defending with the other.  Have you heard the phrase, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition?”  It was a sentence in a song written by American Big Band Leader Kay Kyser in the 1940s in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor, marking the US involvement in World War II.  It reached number one in the charts in 1943.  It harkens back to an earlier battle cry attributed to Oliver Cromwell who, addressing his troops during the invasion of Ireland said, “Trust God and keep your powder dry.”  That is what Nehemiah and the people are doing.  They are building, trusting God, and also stand ready to defend against the enemy.  They have a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.  A trowel is a small handheld tool used to apply mortar.  Some of you will know that Charles Spurgeon had a famous magazine by that name, The Sword & Trowel.  It was a magazine, still being published today.  It was a magazine dedicated to both teaching the truth and defending the truth from error.  

Verses 18 to 20 say, “Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.  Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, ‘The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.’”  Nehemiah knew the truth of Psalm 127 verse 1, “Unless the Lord builds the house they labor in vain who build it.”

The trumpet was sounded to call the people to arms.  In other words, Nehemiah does not run from the problem.  He is a good leader.  He positions himself front and center, right there in the midst of the battle and instructs the people to “rally to us there.”  But he also proclaims the wonderful truth at the end of verse 20: “Our God will fight for us!”  

  • This is Moses in Exodus 14, verses 13-14, with the Israelites gathered there at the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s Army fast approaching.  Moses declared, “Fear not, stand firm” … “the Lord will fight for you…” 
  • It is David as the young shepherd boy who stood before the Philistine Giant Goliath with nothing more than a sling and stones and said, “For the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands” (1 Samuel 17:47).

Verses 21-22 tell us, “So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared.  At the same time I also said to the people, ‘Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.’”  Nehemiah may have feared some of the people being swept away in the darkness so he had everyone stay inside the city as they worked.  There is strength in numbers.

Verse 23 states, “So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing.”  An exact translation is difficult because the Hebrew is literally, “each his weapon the water.”  The point is, the workers stuck together, the people stuck with one another, continually.

God is doing a work of rebuilding in your life; using the rubble of your past to shape you into something wonderful in the present, and continuing that rebuild into the future; through it all you must trust God to do the work.  Every day is a day of God’s working in your life, building and rebuilding through the grace of the Gospel.  So . . .

What do you do when it seems

The rebuilding is taking a long time

And all you see is

The rubbish and the rubble

And it seems that the Master Builder

Has left you to the enemies of

Doubt, discouragement, and defeat?

What do you do when there’s “trouble” in the “rubble?” 

These verses teach us to . . .

1) Know the True Enemy.

The Bible says in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Just before verse 12, in verse 11, Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”  The Bible also says in John 10:10, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” 

God’s children were mocked as they built the wall.  God’s children are mocked today as they build the kingdom.  The Bible says in John 15:18-19, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” 

To fight intelligently, effectively, and successfully it is necessary that we know the true enemy.

These verses also teach us to . . .

2) Expect Daily Battles.

The Bible says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be [d]vigilant; [e]because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  Verse 9 tells us that Nehemiah “set a watch” against the enemy.  You and I need to set a watch as well; expecting daily battles.  Always building, always defending, sword in one hand, trowel in the other.  Expecting the enemy and ready to defend.  How?

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 6:13-18, “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit . . .”

Expect daily battles . . .

  • Battling doubts and discouragements by remembering the Gospel.
  • Battling the enemy’s lies by prayer, rebuking the devil in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • Battling temptation by quoting the word, studying it, memorizing it.
  • Battling bitterness in your marriage, in your family, by praying and applying God’s word.

These verses also teach us . . .

3) Never Leave Your “Battle Buddies.”

I learned this one from my younger son a church member friend who is in the US Army National Guard.  He taught me about the Army’s teaching of battle buddies.  You never go anywhere alone and you never leave a battle buddy alone.  There is strength in numbers.  Just like Nehemiah positioning people all around the wall and in the gaps of the wall, people gathered together to defend together.  

This is the importance of the community of faith – the church.  The church is a belief family of battle buddies working together to fight the enemy.  You cannot battle alone!  Do not fight alone!  We need one another.  The Bible says in Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” 

People who talk about worshiping God

Alone miss the point of the church. 

Of course we can worship alone. 

But we must also come together.

Two are better than one at fighting off the enemy.  

We gather together to learn

The enemy’s secret battle plan

And then we battle together.

We gather together with our spiritual battle buddies and get help and give help.  The church is about battling together.  The Bible teaches that Christianity is a “one another’ faith and you cannot do “one another” alone.  

When you mess up royally that is when you need the church!  Do not leave!  Too many people are like, “Oh I’ve ruined it!  I’m so ashamed, so embarrassed, I can’t go back to the church!”  That is what the church is for!!  We are a hospital for those who know they are sick.  We battle together!!  We need one another.  Serving together, encouraging together, rallying and fighting together, gathering together for edification and strengthening of our faith.  It is also multiplying.  Focusing on others.  Our Bible Study classes should never be like, “Us four and no more!”  Who isn’t in your class that needs to be?  Who will visit them this week?

These verses teach us . . .

4) Trust God to Bring the Victory.

Verse 14 says, “Remember the Lord!”  Verse 20 says, “Our God will fight for us.”  The Bible also says in Isaiah 40:31, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength,” in 1 John 4:4, “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” and in Romans 8:31, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  We constantly need to be reminded that

The Lord is great and awesome,


He is working for us and in us!

There’s power in the name of Jesus.  Stand upon and fight in the name of Jesus.  A stanza in one of the songs we often sing says, “The enemy has to leave at the sound of Your great name!”  There’s power in His name! 

Listen to this from the Gospel Transformation Bible: “Our God has fought for us, in Christ, and has won the victory.  As we battle on as His people to the end, often despised and rejected, we must always remember our great and awesome Lord and make every effort to guard and strengthen the household of God.”  Amen!

Remember the Lord who fights for you and through you!  Remember the Lord, great and awesome!  When there’s trouble in the rubble, never forget that God is working in your life, taking the rubble from your past to reshape you in the present for something wonderful for the future.  

This truth applies to every single Christian . . .

God makes music

Out of our messes,

Trophies out of our trash.

He takes the rubble

From yesterday and shapes it

Into beauty for today,

And bright hope for tomorrow. 

There is strength and victory

At the sound of His great name!

Confess you sin, turn from our sin, and turn to the gracious and great God.  He will give you grace to build this week.  Live as though holding a trowel in one hand and a spear in the other, building and defending, moving forward and ever vigilant in the daily battles with the enemy.  Remember that we fight together with the household of God – the church – our battle buddies, calling one another up, praying for one another; never leaving a buddy alone.  Call regularly upon Your great name . . . Knowing . . .

Every fear, has no place, at the sound of Your great name

The enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your great name

And all God’s people said, “Hallelujah” and “Amen!”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 4:1-14 – Remember the Lord, Great and Awesome

Grace For The Journey

  We are studying the Book of Nehemiah in a series called REBUILD.  We are learning about God’s rebuilding the walls and learning how God rebuilds our lives.  God’s man is Nehemiah and he is leading the massive rebuilding project – leading the people to rebuild the broken down wall that encircles Jerusalem.  That is where we left the people on Wednesday – all gathered in groups around various sections of the gates, rebuilding the walls in chapter 3.  One of the recurring points we have noted is that God’s will often includes opposition.  That opposition comes in the likeness of two characters, two bad guys named Sanballat and Tobiah.  We have been introduced to them twice already and now in chapter 4 we get to know them a little better.  

Some of you will remember a popular book some years ago entitled, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?  It was written by Rabbi Kushner.  It was not the best book because it suggested there were some things over which God had no control.  God has control over everything though His ways are often shrouded in mystery.  I like what RC Sproul said when someone asked him about it.  RC Sproul passed away a little over a year ago.  Someone said, “RC, why do bad things happen to good people?”  He said, “I don’t know, I haven’t met any good people yet.”  One thing is certain:

When bad things do happen,

God is not absent.

He is there in the mystery of the chaos, the hurt, and the pain.  The Bible teaches that sometimes God allows tribulation to come our way in order to shape us into Christlikeness.  Tribulation is expected.  Tribulation comes to Nehemiah and the people in this passage in the form of opposition, criticism, and discouragement.  I want to share with you two main headings that really surface from the text.  We will go through this passage one verse at a time, and gather our thoughts under these two imperatives.   First, we learn from this passage . . .

1) The Importance Of Prayer – Verses 1-9.

The hymn-writer asks, “Have we trials and temptations?  Is there trouble anywhere?  We should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.”  This is precisely what Nehemiah does when facing opposition.  Let’s read about these two bad guys again, the notorious miscreants Sanballat and Tobiah.  

Verse 1 says, “But it so happened, when Sanballat (everyone say, “Boo!”) heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.”  Sanballat is seething.  His power is threatened.  He is furious and indignant.  He does not want these Jews to succeed in rebuilding the wall because that robs him of his own glory and prestige as a pagan leader in the land.  So, he mocked the Jews.  Teased them, made fun of them. 

Verse 2 states, “And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices(literally “offer” means “pray up” the wall up)?  Will they complete it in a day?  Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish – stones that are burned?’”  The answer is, “Yes, they will!”  Sanballat is mocking, ridiculing, and criticizing all in the hopes of discouraging the workers.  Then Sanballat’s sidekick appears. 

Verse 3 says, “Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, ‘Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.’”  What a snide comment!  Tobiah snarls and scoffs: Tobiah is being facetious or, in today’s vernacular he was, “talking smack.” 

There is an old proverb that says: “Birds of a feather flock together.”  Critics run with other critics.  Critics run in pairs and often in packs.  Critics huddle together and point out what is wrong with all the folks who are not in their huddle.  This can happen in churches.  Critics are often the ones who start their own little group, leaving the others and starting their own special gathering.  

Notice how Nehemiah responds to the mocking.  In verse 4 he prays, “Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity!”  His prayer is not so much that God wipe out these guys as it is to turn them over to others.  It is a prayer for justice.  He goes on in verse 5 and says, “Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders.”  The gist of this verse is that Sanballat and Tobiah have dared to dishonor God by discouraging the builders.  God’s name is at stake, so Nehemiah prays that God deal with their iniquity.  The sense is, “Do not let them get away with this!  They have brought shame to Your name!  Defend Your honor, God!”

Nehemiah says in verse 6, “So we built the wall(we just kept at it!), and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.”  They have gotten the entire circle of the wall built up half-way!  It is joined together up to half its height.  Nehemiah says the reason is, “for the people had a mind to work.”  Put another way, “They were committed.  They gave it their all.  They put their heart and soul into it.” 

But the critics are still lingering.  Verse 7 says, “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry.”  Critics run with other critics.  There is a whole pack of them now.  The people called the Ashdodites come from the west, joining up Sanballat from the north (Samaria), Tobiah from the east (the Ammonites), and the Arabs from the south.  They are doing their best to close in on them.

Verse 8 says, “And all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.”  So again, God’s people turn to prayer.  Verse 9 states, “Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.”  We will read more about that “watch” that they set against them in a minute.  For now, note again that the people pray.  We must pray.  God’s will often includes opposition.  So pray.  We must pray. 

Secondly . . .

2. We Must Persevere – Verses 10-14.

Things get worse for Nehemiah and the builders.  Verse 10 says, “Then Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.’”  The tribe of Judah is starting to get discouraged.  They are like feeling that they are losing it and their strength is failing them.  There is so much rubbish lying around!  They just cannot do it!   

Ever feel like you just cannot do it?!  There is so much rubbish lying around.  Your strength fails you.  I cannot help but hear the Apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9, “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we will reap, if we faint not.”  Stick with the work!  Do not stop.  Do not grow weary in well-doing. 

You might be waiting for things to get better.  But verse 11 speaks about more discouragement that the people faced, “And our adversaries said, ‘They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.’”  The Hebrew here is kind of tricky to translate.  The sense of verse 11 is the enemies saying, “Before they know it, we will be right there in their midst, we will catch them off guard.  We will kill them and cause the work to stop!”

Verse 12 continues, “So it was, when the Jews who dwelt near them came, that they told us ten times, ‘From whatever place you turn, they will be upon us.’”  The people are even more discouraged.  They are ready to give up!  They see that no matter what they do, Sanballat, Tobiah, and all of their villainous horde will ruin then!

Notice what Nehemiah does in verse 13, “Therefore I positioned men behind the lower parts of the wall, at the openings; and I set the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows.”  We will read more about this next time, but Nehemiah comes up with a plan . . .

They will look up in pray and

Look to God’s protection;

And they will build

And defend themselves. 

They will have tools of rebuilding

In one hand and tools of

Defending in the other hand!

I love what it says in verse 14, “And I looked(and the sense is, “I looked at the discouragement in the faces of the people”), and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”  This has all the markings of an epic battle speech with all of the heroic valor and glory!  If you have even an ounce of chivalry within you, you cannot help but feel Nehemiah’s speech in a deeply, visceral way!  Here is Nehemiah rallying the people to stand firm and fight for the cause.

Nehemiah is rallying the troops.  He is calling them not to quit and remember the Lord, Who is Great and Awesome!  He is calling them to fight for their brethren, their sons, their daughters, their wives, and their houses.  He is calling them to fight, remembering the Lord, the One who fights the fight through you.  Nehemiah will say later in verse 20, “Our God will fight for us.”

Here is what we can take away from our study this morning.  When I am criticized or discouraged . . .

1. Take it to the Lord.

Simply put – we are to pray.  Twice in this passage we find Nehemiah talking about prayer.  When folks criticize you – and they will – remember: God’s will often includes opposition – when folks criticize you or seek to discourage you like Sanballat and Tobiah take it to the Lord.

Jesus did the same.  When he was threatened, when he was mocked, the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:23 that Jesus did return evil for evil but, “but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”  He took it to God.  Turned it over to God.

Do not take the matter

In your own hands,

Take it to the Lord!

When criticized or discouraged take it to the Lord.  Remember that God’s people are often despised and hated just as God’s Son was despised and hated.  Just take it to the Lord.  Commit yourself to Him who judges righteously.  Trust God to do the right thing even as you pray for your critics, praying for your enemies (Matthew 5:44).  Take it to the Lord. 

Second action, when criticized or discouraged: 

2. Keep Your Eye on the Goal.

The wall was halfway built when discouragement set in.  Halfway!  Their strength was failing.  Nehemiah could have become discouraged himself.  He could have been like, “Well, maybe the wall can wait.”  No!  He stirs the people up.  Remember from last time?  Leaders see what others do not?  Nehemiah sees the finished wall.  He helps the people see it, too.  Nehemiah says, “Fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.”  He is giving vision to see the future, helping them see the goal, the finished product.

When you are discouraged by your sin you say, “Ah, there’s so much rubble!”  And you want to give up.  You have failed God time and time again.  But listen . . .

God is doing a work

In you and through you.

The Bible teaches in Philippians 1:6 that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in Christ Jesus.  God is working through your rubble to rebuild you in the image of Christ!  That is the goal!  Remember it.  Keep your eye on the goal.  Do not be discouraged, keep your eye on the goal.

M. R. DeHaan, in his book, Broken Things give this illustration: A bar of steel is worth $5; when made into ordinary horseshoes, is then worth $10.  If this same $5 bar is manufactured into needles, the value rises to $350.  Yet if it is made into delicate springs for expensive watches, it is worth more than $250,000.  The same bar of steel is made more valuable by being cut . . . passed through one furnace blast after another, again, and again, hammered and manipulated, beaten and pounded, finished and polished until it is ready for those delicate tasks. 

I hear a young single mother in the monotony of day-to-day living cry, “But there’s so much rubble!  Look at all these dishes!  There is too many diapers!  Rubble everywhere!  Toys strewn across the living room floor!”  Keep your eye on the goal!   Have the vision to see that little boy, that little girl, grown up into a godly man, or a godly woman.  Do not be discouraged, keep your eye on the goal.

Take it to the Lord. 

Keep your eye on the goal.

Number three, when criticized or discouraged . . .

3. Find Your Security in the Lord.

Nehemiah said, “Do not be afraid…remember the Lord, great and awesome …!” 

Rest in the security of

The great name of God.

Trust God to overcome the enemy.  Trust God to overcome the enemies of discouragement you face this week – doubts, setbacks, sin, and failure – God has overcome all enemies through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Find your security in the Lord.

  • Knowing your security is in the Lord and not your job will get you through the job loss.
  • Knowing your security is in the Lord and not your house and stuff and friends, will get you through the sudden relocation to a strange new home in a strange new land.

I pray this chorus of “Amazing Grace” is always on your heart . . .

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow

The sun forbear to shine

But God, who called me here below

Will be forever mine

Finding your security in the Lord, and not your husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, will get you through the hard times when the hard times hit.  

Find your security in the Lord. 

You have got to be “in” the Lord

To have security in the Lord.

You have got to turn from sin and turn to Him.  Repent.  Let go of other gods you have been turning to for false security.  Turn away from those things.  You know what they are.  Break free from them and turn to Christ.  Find your security in Him.

Find your security in the Lord, not your performance.  God accepts us, we have security in Him; He accepts us and secures us not on the basis of our religious performance yesterday, or tomorrow, or today.  God accepts us and we are secure in Him on the basis of Christ’s performance for us – His perfect performance, His perfect record of righteousness credited freely to us through faith.  Find your security in the Lord.

Bottom line . . .

Remember the Lord

Great and awesome!

And you can sing . . .

Lost are saved, find their way, at the sound of Your great name

All condemned, feel no shame, at the sound of Your great name

Every fear, has no place, at the sound of Your great name

The enemy, he has to leave, at the sound of Your great name

Pray: “Jesus, worthy are You, the Lamb that was slain for us, son of God and man.  You are high and lifted up, that all the world will praise Your great name”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 3:1-32 – Trusting God To Work Through Us

Grace For The Journey


 We are studying our way through the Book of Nehemiah, a book about rebuilding – rebuilding walls . . . rebuilding lives … rebuilding physical things … rebuilding spiritual things.  The year is 444 BC.  That is just over two and a half thousand years ago.   Nehemiah has made his way to Jerusalem to lead one of the greatest rebuilding projects in the history of civil engineering.  Nehemiah 2:20 says, “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.’”  He said that to his critics, Sanballat and Tobiah and another critic named Geshem.  Chapter two is about, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.”  Chapter 4 is about, “The God Who Fights for Us” (Nehemiah 4:20).  In-between is Chapter 3, which is about, “The God Who Works Through Us.”  The Bible says in Philippians 2:13, it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.   We may be tempted to skip over chapter 3.  But these verses are very profitable to any child of God who seeks to learn about God’s way for their life.

Let me call attention to a few interesting things as we begin.  There are a number of names in these verses.  There is also something of a pattern that emerges.  We read of the primary leader, the team, and what they were working on.  Verse 1 begin by saying, “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.”  Then you read about nine gates around the city wall, these 9 gates are mentioned.  The Sheep gate is the first one mentioned in verse 1.  Then you have Old gate, Valley gate, Refuse gate, Fountain gate, Water gate, Horse gate, Inspection gate, then back to sheep gate.  These gates are mentioned in a counter-clockwise direction and formed a circular pattern.  Determining the exact location of these gates is difficult because Jerusalem has been besieged, captured, or destroyed in whole or in part more than forty times.   

There are two main themes that run throughout chapter 3 . . . 


This is brought out by the recurring phrase, “next to him” and “after him” and so on.  The focus is on solidarity … the need for one another in the Lord’s work.


This is brought by the names of individual persons with individual jobs to do.

I want to share from chapter 3 some principles that surface from our study.  I am calling “Rebuild Principles.”  

Each of these principles finds

 Ultimate expression in the Gospel.   

Each principle finds

Ultimate meaning in the One

Who comes to bring the greatest

Demonstration of unity among

The individuality of those

Who trust in Him. 

Jesus Christ comes in humility

And brings together a people

Of great individuality,

The individual members

Of the church.

Let’s remember that as we explore these three principles . . .

1. Everyone Has a Part.

Everyone has a part in the rebuilding of the wall.  God’s people can do more together than they can do alone.  Chapter 3 catalogues a number of individuals among the people of God used to do the work of rebuilding for God’s glory.  This is teamwork!  I love one of the little “truth nuggets” here in chapter 3 is found in verse 12, “And next to him was Shallum the son of Hallohesh, leader of half the district of Jerusalem; he and his daughters made repairs.”  It was a family project, everyone serving together!  One name after another after another.  A special truth is presented in verse 16, “After him Nehemiah (not THE Nehemiah) the son of Azbuk.”  This is a different Nehemiah.  He worked too, he was faithful, not a prominent person like THE Nehemiah, but faithful nonetheless.

They all had their assignments at various sections of the wall and various gates.  You have got people working together, literally standing together, the upper class and lower class.  You have got goldsmiths working alongside perfumers.  Big burly people next to soft around the middle people.  What is this a picture of?  This is a picture of the church.  You look at 1 Corinthians 12 and you find the Apostle Paul describing a similar group of God’s people, a people of “diversities of gifts, but the same God working in and through them,” a people untied together in Christ as various members of one Body, each having his or her part.  And each “member,” each person has a part in the church.  Working together in unity.  United together as one and working together.

O. S. Hawkins reminds us in his book, The Nehemiah Code, of a classic episode from one of the pioneer sitcoms from decades past, The Honeymooners starring Jackie Gleason: Gleason played the part of Ralph Kramden, an overweight bus driver who lived in an apartment with his wife, Alice.  His friend and sidekick was his neighbor Ed Norton, who worked in the sewer department of the local municipality.  Ralph is trying to get a big piece of furniture through the apartment door.  He is sweating profusely and unable to get the heavy object to move.  Ed walks by, lunch box in hand, on his way home for work.  He says, “Hey Ralph, can I give you a hand?”  Ralph says, “Yes!”  So Ed, clad in his trademark white T-Shirt, vest, and rumpled hat, takes hold of the piece of furniture outside the door while Ralph climbs into the apartment through the window and positions himself inside the door.  They pull and push.  But the furniture does not budge an inch.  It is still stuck in the middle of the doorway.  This goes on for several minutes.  Finally, Ralph stops, wipes his brow with his handkerchief and calls out to Ed through the window.  He says, “I don’t think we are ever going to get this piece of furniture into this apartment!”  Norton replies, “Get it in the apartment?  I thought we were trying to get it out of the apartment!”  Every one of us has a part and we must work together in unity for the glory of God.  Everyone has a part.  Are you doing your part serving and working in the church to build up, or to edify, others?  Are you using your gifts in the church? 

Acts 9 and verse 31, captures the essence of the early church as it was growing, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”  Two words in this verse capture the work we are to be about – Edification and Multiplication.  We are to “edify,” that means to “build up; bring to completion; strengthen in power, purpose, and production,” and “multiply,” that is the ultimate goal of building up – reaching out to others, sharing the Gospel, bringing them into faith with Christ, and connection to the church.  Edifying and multiplying.  

Our church family does a pretty good job of edifying.  We seek to grow our church family in their faith and lives through sound biblical teaching from the preschool through to senior adults.  We have a high view of Scripture and we teach as God’s Word to every person in our church.  We are good at ministering to one another.   But we are not mean to just minister to one another.  We are not meant merely to enjoy preaching every week and Bible Study teaching and inward ministry.  It is important, but it is not an end of itself.  It must lead to multiplication.  

We are not just coming together, preaching, and teaching, listening, and applying to sermons and lessons and enjoying fellowship and ministry among one another.  That is important and has its place, but it must lead to multiplication – Sharing the Gospel with others.  Bringing new folks into our Bible Study classes.  Equipping others in our classes to live for God now and bring others into our church family to know Christ and grow in their faith and walk with God.  Edifying and multiplying are what we are to be about.  The big question we all must ask is, “When was the last time I was used by God to share the Gospel and partnered with the Holy Spirit in leading someone to faith in Christ and discipled them in their faith?

The second principle is . . .

2. No One is Too Big for Any One Task.

There is a surprising statement in Chapter 3 from which this point derives.  You have got all these great listings of people who are doing the work, and everyone has a part, and it seems everyone is doing his or her part and then this in verse 5, right after the workers of verse 4 Nehemiah says in verse 5, “Next to them the Tekoites made repairs; but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”  When I read that the first time and I was like, “Wait” … “What?!”  So, I read it again and it said the same thing, “their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.”

The word “shoulders” there is literally, “necks.”  The picture is a frequent one used in Old Testament Hebrew to indicate a proud people with outstretched necks, too high and mighty to do what others do, thinking that it was too beneath them.  The nobles would  refused to do the work.  It was beneath them.

There will always be people who refused to “get on board” with the rest of the crew. There will always be folks like that.  God’s will often include opposition – remember Sanballat and Tobiah?  They were critics on the outside.  These leaders mentioned in verse 5 are critics on the inside.  That is discouraging – that this should come among your own people.  Do not be one of these people!  They considered themselves too big for the job.  No one is too big for any one task.  God works through humble people.  He exalts the humble and humbles the proud. 

It is a testimony to the ineptitude of these nobles, whoever they were, that there is no specific name listed among them.  Throughout history they forever are recalled as the ones who were too proud to stoop down and help.  It is pretty cool that their refusal to work did not hamper the spirit of the Tekoites – They actually took on more work.  They rebuilt two sections of the wall.  We see that in verse 27: “After them the Tekoites repaired another section, next to the great projecting tower, and as far as the wall of Ophel.”  They were not going to get bitter; they were going to keep on serving the Lord, trusting God to do the work through them.

The Bible says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Everyone has a part.  And no one is too big for any one task.

 One of the more interesting facts I learned in this study learning how much of the rubble from the past was used to rebuild the wall.  There was an awful lot of broken-down stones lying around.  Much of this rubble from previous ages was incorporated into the rebuilt wall.  You will remember from last time when Nehemiah was doing his nighttime reconnaissance on his mule, checking everything out, there was the time he had to dismount his mule and walk by foot because of the rubble. 

Here is the third rebuild principle as we trust God to work through us . . .  Remember this:

3. Yesterday’s “Rubble” Helps us Rebuild Today.

Just as God worked through His people then

So He works through His people now.

Just as God used past “rubble” to rebuild the wall, so God uses rubble from our past to help us rebuild in the present.  Rubble is stuff that is broken down in our lives.  Brokenness from the past, mistakes, sins, failures, embarrassments, or the death of a dream.  I do not know what your “rubble” is.  It may be a failed marriage, a wayward son or daughter, a job loss, a sickness, a bad experience, trials of affliction, suffering, or persecution.  The key truth to understand is . . .

God is working in your life. 

He is a sovereign good God. 

He takes the rubble of our past

And uses it to rebuild our present.

The words of a chorus speak to our hearts about this . . .

I come broken to be mended

I come wounded to be healed

That is exactly what God intends to do in your life: to mend you, to heal you, using the rubble of your past to rebuild your present. 

The Bible says in James 1:2-3, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, or perseverance” and in Romans 8:28-29, “And we know that all things (all rubble!) work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son …”

God uses the rubble from your past experiences to help you rebuild in the present.  God will use the trials or afflictions in our lives.  God intends to use them if you will but let Him.   

He intends to work in you

By working through that

Past experience to shape you

Into who you are today

And where you’re headed tomorrow.

Yesterday’s rubble helps us rebuild today.

There is an unusual evergreen tree called the “lodgepole pine.”  It is a tree that is seen throughout Yellowstone Park.  The pinecones of the lodgepole pine may hang on the tree for years and years, and even when they fall off the tree, they do not open.  These cones will open only when they come in contact with intense heat.  God has a reason for creating them this way.  When a forest fire rages throughout parks and forests all the trees are destroyed.  The heat of the fire opens the cones of the lodgepole pine, and these pines are often the first tree to grow in an area that has been burned by fire.

Some of you have been through difficult days and challenging situations.  Like Jerusalem under siege, the walls are broken down and the gates have been burned, and there is rubble lying everywhere.  But God desires to work through all of this.  God delights in working through all the rubble and destruction of our lives.  The heat from the fires of affliction in our life opens up in us a new opportunity to live.  God uses the rubble from your past to rebuild your present.  Trust Him.  Allow Him to begin a new work in your life.  It is never too late for a new beginning.  

All these wonderful principles . . .

  • Everyone has a part,
  • No one is too big for any one task, and
  • Yesterday’s rubble helps us rebuild today

Each principle finds its ultimate meaning and expression in the promised One who came from all of these workers building the wall in Nehemiah 3.  Each principle finds expression in the One who comes to bring a more lasting unity among His people – a people of every tongue, tribe, and nation, an inheritance of nations.  The One who comes and humbles Himself as the Greatest Servant of all; our Lord Jesus Christ.   Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone in Whom the whole building of His people – the Church – grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:20-21).

So church, arise and put your armor on!  Hear the call of Christ our captain.  For now the weak can say that they are strong, in the strength that God has given.

“Lord, we confess that without You we are lost and undone, broken down rubble in need of restoration.  We repent of our sin.  We turn from our sin and turn to You.  Jesus, thank You for living and dying for us on the cross.  Thank You for resurrection life through the power of the gospel.  Give us grace to live this week for Your glory doing our part, humbling ourselves for any task, trusting in Your sovereignty to shape us from past failures as You rebuild our lives through Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, amen.”

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 23:11-20 – The God Who Works In Our Lives For Our God And His Glory

Grace For The Journey

Because – as the Bible teaches in Proverbs 21:1 – the king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, the Lord squeezes the heart of Artaxerxes, causing him to willingly choose to allow Nehemiah to return to his homeland to lead the massive rebuilding project.  Nehemiah travels the thousand-mile distance, taking anywhere from three to six months and he finally arrives.

It could never be said about Nehemiah

That he was a cautious man

He was a man who risked, who prayed,

Who threw caution to the wind, living –

Really living – for the glory of God!

I suspect most of us want to live a life like that.  Deep down.  How is that possible? 

I think it is found largely in Nehemiah’s faith, h

His trust in the One True and Living God,

Much of his faith captured in the last

Verse of chapter 2 where he said,

“The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.” 

True prosperity . . . A rich life lived for the Lord. 

God has given us riches of life,

True prosperity – we must not settle

For just the world’s riches.

We will learn from Nehemiah this morning about our God who works in our lives for our good and His glory.   

Our passage begins in verse 11 which says, “So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days.”  This is one of those verses that is easy to read right past.  Nehemiah wants to get right to it.  He is a big-time leader – No rest for the weary and all that.  Yet here we are told he took three days before he started his work.  Good leaders, godly leaders, know the value of rest.  Nehemiah had made a thousand-mile journey with a caravan of “captains of the army and horsemen” and traveled through valleys, bumps, and difficult traveling.  The group travelled as long as six months from Susa to Jerusalem. 

Too many people try to justify their positions in life by running around all the time, giving the impression they are “so busy.”  Trying to justify their existence.  Good leaders know the value of rest.  Rest is important.  Avoid making decisions when you are fatigued and stressed.  Get that rest.  Never apologize for it!

Verse 12 tells us, “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 (probably a mule or a donkey to best maneuver through the ruins).”  Warren Wiersbe has said, “Leaders are often awake when others are asleep, and working while others are resting.”

Nehemiah goes on a secret reconnaissance mission at night in the city of Jerusalem.  He is checking out the state of walls – just how bad was it?  He had heard and now he wished to see with his own eyes.

This verse raises two questions: “Why at night?”  And, “Why does he tell no one?”  He says, “I told no one what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.”  Not yet.  But why?  I think mainly it had something to do with the opposition he would face.  Remember on Wednesday we were introduced to these two crafty and anti-God’s work characters back up in verse 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.”  It was the last point of application from last time: “God’s will often includes opposition.”

Nehemiah “arose in the night” to reduce the chances of running into those guys and to have time to look everything over and establish his plans for rebuilding.  Remember . . .

The presence of faith

Does not mean

The absence of planning.

Remember the cry of the American Revolutionary War: “Trust in God, but keep your gunpowder dry.”  Few great men have done great things without a plan. 

Verse 13 states, “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.”  Nehemiah is surveying the situation, riding quietly on his mule in the darkness, carefully inspecting all that he saw.  The location of these particular places he mentions in verse 13 and following cannot be known with absolute certainty as the city has been built over several times. 

Commentators note that the word “viewed” there is a medical term, used to describe what a surgeon does as he or she carefully examines a wound, probing, exploring, determining what is wrong and how best to correct it.  This is what Nehemiah is doing.  Probing . . . Exploring . . . Determining what is wrong and how best to correct it.

Verse 14 says, “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.”  This area is at the Southernmost point of the city at that time.  The “King’s Pool” a reference to the “Pool of Siloam,” the place where Jesus would heal a blind man telling him to wash in that pool.  The King’s Pool was where the water from the Gihon Spring emptied.  You will remember King Hezekiah a few centuries before Nehemiah had built a tunnel from the spring to the pool, a tunnel underneath that eastern edge of the City of David.  You can go today and walk through a portion of Hezekiah’s Tunnel on a visit to the Holy Land.

The phrase we want to consider in verse 14 is this phrase, “but there was no room for the animal under me to pass.”  The picture is of Nehemiah’s inability to move in some places because of the ruin and rubble that was everywhere around him.  Stones upon stones.  Burned wooden gates.  The rubble from the destruction made passage impossible.  It was a mess.

Verses 15 and states, “So I went up in the night by the valley, and viewed the wall(picture him there, sitting on his mule, viewing the wall, and after some time …); then I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned.  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 is on a secret mission until he is ready to reveal the plan, to reveal, as he says earlier in verse 12: “what God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem.”  After some time of viewing and more planning, we come to the events of verse 17, where he is now standing before the people of the city and he says, “… 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.” 

Not the first words of his statement, “You see the distress we are in.”  Truth is, many did not “see the distress” they were in.  They had become blind to it. 

Good leaders see

What others do not.

When I was in seminary in Ft. Worth, I had a part-time job inspecting the hand-held fire extinguishers and water sprinkling system in each building that the seminary own on and off campus.  As I made my rounds I walked by a set of apartments for non-students.  One Halloween one of the residents proudly displayed a carved pumpkin there on the stoop.  It looked like most Jack o’lanterns at Halloween.  But as Halloween passed, the pumpkin remained.  It was there the week after Halloween, and the following week, and the week after that.  I do not have to tell you what a carved pumpkin looks like after several days!  And what is smells like!  That rotten pumpkin folded in on itself and collapsed into an orange-black blob.  The remarkable thing is, that the family living in the apartment had to walk past it at least twice a day – once in the morning and once in the evening, right past the rotten pumpkin.  Finally, as I passed on my rounds, I thought I would just go over and take care of it myself.  I did not want to embarrass or insult them, so I sneaked over and grabbed the grotesque glob of grossness and took it to its final resting place in a seminary dumpster nearby!

The point is . . .

You can grow so accustomed to things

That you just walk right by them day after

Day without even seeing them. 

Things that need changing in your

Life, your work, your marriage,

Things that need changing

In the church.

Good leaders see

What others don’t.

Verse 17 says, “Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we (he includes himself) 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.’”  Do you see that was Nehemiah’s real concern regarding the ruins?  It is in the last part of verse 17, “… that we may no longer be a reproach.”  Remember: the wall was broken down because of their own sin.  God’s people rebelled against Him in unfaithfulness to Him and God sent Nebucadnezzar of Babylon to lay siege to Jerusalem, breaking down the walls, burning the gates, burning the temple, and carrying the people away into captivity.  The discipline of God.  In Jeremiah 24:9 God had declared, “I will deliver them to trouble into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their harm, to be a reproach and a byword, a taunt and a curse, in all places where I shall drive them.”

So Nehemiah says to the people, “It’s time now to change all that.  We have sinned, we have confessed, and we have repented.  Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach.”

God’s name was at stake! 

It was more about

The name of God

Than his own name. 

It is not about him,

It is about his God.

He does not say, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that I may build a name for myself!”  It is, “Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that God’s name may no longer be a reproach.”

Verse 18 states, “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.”  Nehemiah shared how God worked in the heart of the king, causing him willingly to choose to allow him to travel from Susa to Jerusalem to rebuild.  In essence he is saying, “God is in this!”  The people are inspired and say, “Let us rise up and build.”  And “they set their hands to this good work.”

I am glad they responded that way.  I am glad the people did not point out to Nehemiah that what he was asking them to do had been tried before to no avail (see Ezra 4).  I am glad there was no one around to say, “We have tried that before and it did not work!”  Or, “We’ve never done it that way before!”  By the way, those are the seven last words of a dying church.

It’s not always easy to motivate complacent, religious people.  Like the boy who misquoted Matthew 22:14 where Jesus says, “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  A modern translation of that has been offered, “Many are cold and a few are frozen.”  No, as Nehemiah will say later in Chapter 4, verse 6, “The people had a mind to work.” 

The people had a mind to work

Because they could see God in it! 

They could see the

Hand of God at work. 

They could see that

Their ruinous situation

Was not irreversible!

And your ruinous situation is likewise not irreversible!  The same God can change things.  Do you believe it?  Remember again that God’s will often includes opposition.

Verse 19 shows us that, “But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab (they picked up a follower!  A new recruit!  When they …) 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?”  Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem: the unholy trinity.  Anyone who has ever dared to do anything great has faced opposition.  Anyone who has ever dared to succeed has been ridiculed by those who hoped he would fail.  Adrian Rogers said, “The door to the room of opportunity swings on the hinges of opposition.”

Nehemiah says, “They laughed at us and despised us,” and they said, “What is this thing that you are doing?  Will you rebel against the king?’”  That was a serious charge.  Never mind that Nehemiah had a letter that carried the king’s endorsement.  His enemies assumed he had deceived the king who surely would not be for this rebuilding project if the king knew what kind of people these Israelites really were!  They are accusing Nehemiah and the people of rebelling against the king?  Rebelling against the governing authorities. 

Perhaps we hear something of that today in some sense: “What is this you are doing, Christian?  Rebelling against the people?  Rebelling against the governing authorities, rebelling against popular culture, secular laws, and commonly accepted beliefs and decisions regarding gender, marriage, or abortion.  Rebelling against the sinful sway of our postmodern culture; going in the opposite way of the mass of humanity.”  

It is important that we recall the Bible’s warning in Proverbs 14:12, “There’s a way that seems right unto a man, but the ways thereof are the ways of death.”  Following Christ will raise the ire of those who go the broad way to destruction while Christians travel the strait and narrow way that leads to life.  Do not be ashamed of the Gospel and the Bible when you face opposition.  For the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and God’s Word is the truth about God’s way of loving and living.  Fear not the one who has authority only over your physical life and has no authority over your spiritual life.  Do not fear the president, elected officials, judges, or the electorate.  We serve a greater authority, a Great God.

Verse 20 tells us of Nehemiah’s response, “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.”  That last phrase of this verse is a way of saying, “You guys do not follow the one true God.  You stand in opposition to Him.”  Nehemiah could say that because he was convinced they would oppose the Lord’s work at every turn.  And they do as we will see in coming studies.  Nehemiah trusts in “the God of heaven!”  He says, “The God of heaven Himself will prosper us.”   He was not worried! 

These verses that we have looke at today raise two probing questions . . .

1) What “Persian Palace” has Become too Comfortable to You?  

We must never forget that Nehemiah was once living in a nice palace with comfortable surroundings.  When he heard about the reproach of God’s people because of a wall that remained in ruins . . .

He was willing to leave the comforts

Of the Persian Palace for the

Risky work of doing something

Great for his great God.

What do you do when you hear about people in need, unfinished work for the kingdom, or unreached people groups across the globe?  Are you willing to leave the comfortable to do the uncomfortable?  You have got a nice situation, a comfortable situation, and a routine.  You are used to it.  What is God calling you to do?

The life of salvation is not a call to indolence and sloth.  We are not simply to sit around and bask in the glory of forgiveness, justification, and the reality of the abundant and everlasting life that comes through Jesus.  The live of salvation is to lead to working, to doing, to growing and serving, and to living out our faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The only man who has a right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.” 

Don’t be the cautious man who never really lived.  Dare to discover what God’s will is and then to do t.  Going on that mission trip . . . Sharing the Gospel with someone today . . . Teaching that class . . . Giving to God’s kingdom work . . . Tithing to support God’s local work . . . Starting a Bible study at work . . . Talking to a family member or neighbor about Christ and His church.  What “Persian Palace” has become too comfortable?  Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring experience or nothing at all.”

That leads us to the second probing question . . .

2) Why Do You Do What You Do?  

I love the statement by Nehemiah in verse 12 were he said he had not yet told anyone “what God had put in my heart to do.” That should lead all of us to ask, “What has God put in my heart to do?”  Why do you do what you do? 

Nehemiah does not promise the people any

Material good or gain, no money, or no trophies;

Just working for the name of God and His glory.

Why do you do what you do – church attendance, small group Sunday Bible Study participation and teaching, giving?  Why do you work your job 9-5?  Why that  job? Surely not just for financial reward.  Do you see your job a mission?  Do you see every aspect of your life as God’s work and mission?

I pray you see your life as more than just a way to make a name for yourself or to gain some things out of life.  You will die one day and very likely be forgotten pretty quickly, except by your family as close friends.  Sorry!  It is just the truth. 

We have got to live for a

Name greater than your own.

You have got to do something greater than a checklist for your job, home, and family.  You have got to live for something more than vacation getaways and material things.  That is empty stuff that will die with you.  

True prosperity is enjoyed when we live for God, when we fight for the cause of God.  David was just a scruffy little shepherd boy when all Israel was scared to death of the giant Goliath.  David asks, “Is there not a cause?  Why should this Philistine defy the armies of the Living God?!”

Could it be that you struggle with that recurring private sin, because you are not really living for God, the God who longs to prosper you with real life?  Why do you do what you do?  What has God put in your heart to do?

Today, it is not that God’s name is at stake in the city of Jerusalem.  For us today it is that God’s name is at stake in the Body of Christ.  His name is at stake in the lives of His children.   What needs changing in your life but you do not see it because, like ruined walls that need attention, you have just been walking right by it day after day, like a rotting heap of ruin.  What gates in your life need attention?  Are you allowing things to come through a gate that is bringing destruction and taking you captive?  The gate of your mind – allowing thoughts to enter in, thoughts that are unhealthy?  Then as the Bible says in in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “… bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

The gate of your eyes – are you allowing yourself to watch things that are ungodly, or looking at things that are immoral?  Then “pluck it out” as Jesus said, put it to death and then rebuild.  Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ (Romans 6:11).  

Some of you would say, “My life is in ruins.  I need help.  I need God.”  There is a Greater Leader than Nehemiah.  There is a Greater One who did a work on our behalf to repair, restore, and to rebuild our ruinous lives.  When we recognize that we ourselves are powerless to rebuild the walls of our lives and helpless to put out the flames that have charred the gates of our morality and threaten to burn us entirely, then we are in a position to turn to this Great God who does the great work for us through our Great Lord, Jesus Christ.  

It was Christ Jesus who lived and died

On our behalf “that we may no longer be a reproach.” 

Jesus on the cross absorbing the wrath of God

That would otherwise consume us for our sin. 

Jesus Christ in our place.

Trust our great God.  Trust in Christ and be saved from the wrath to come.  Trust Christ and be saved from the ruin of sin, the ruin of death, and the ruin of the judgment to come.  Turn to Him this morning by faith.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 2:1-10 – Principles for Living by Faith

Grace For The Journey

  We are studying the Book of Nehemiah in a series called REBUILD.  The definition of “rebuild” is “to build again something that has been damaged or destroyed.”  Nehemiah is rebuilding the damaged and destroyed walls of the city of Jerusalem.  

The Book of Nehemiah is not just about

Rebuilding walls, but about rebuilding souls.

Many of us are rebuilding our lives, rebuilding our marriages, or rebuilding our walk with the Lord.  Like us, Nehemiah is a follower of One True and Living God.  Nehemiah, along with all of the exiles, had been living for years in exile in Babylon.  Because of their own sin, the sin of unfaithfulness to the One True and Living God, God raised up a foreign king named Nebuchadnezzar to discipline His children.  God used Nebuchadnezzar to carry away His God’s people into Babylonian captivity.  God loves His children, so He disciplines His children.

After 70 years of discipline, God works through the hearts of various human leaders to change the events and the people begin to gather back in the land, little by little.   Eventually the Jewish temple was rebuilt in the year 516 BC.  While the rebuilding of the temple was complete, in the decades that followed the walls remained  unfinished.   There were stones scattered all around the city and the gates of the city were still broken down having been burned and destroyed.

When Nehemiah gets word of this, he is heartbroken.  He hears about it in the year 445 BC.  He is 1000 miles away in the Persian capital city of Susa, the Washington DC of the Persian Empire.  He has a job as cupbearer to the now reigning king, the Persian King Artaxerxes.  As the king’s cupbearer, Nehemiah was entrusted with tasting the king’s wine to ensure it wasn’t poisonous.  It was a position that required the highest degree of integrity and trust.  God is going to use Nehemiah and Nehemiah is going to trust God to use him, trusting God to do the work of getting Nehemiah back to Jerusalem to lead a massive rebuilding project for the glory of God.

In Chapter 1 we learned that Nehemiah heard about the condition of the walls in Jerusalem and verse 4 says he “sat down and wept, and mourned for many days” … “fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”  Then we read about Nehemiah’s prayer.  It contains . . .

Adoration of the Savior,

Confession of sin,

Recitation of Scripture.

We talked about our own prayers following this model of adoration, confession, and the recitation of Scripture.  I trust we all are seeking to memorize Scripture that we can use as we call upon the Lord in prayer, speaking God’s words back to Him.  

In essence, Nehemiah prays, “God, remember Your Word, the Word You spoke through Your servant Moses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  You said that if Your people living in exile, scattered all across the land, return to You, confessing their sins of unfaithfulness, You would return them to their land!  Remember Your Word, Lord!  Here we are, Your people!  Here we are confessing, repenting, and asking that You restore us to the land!”

And Nehemiah has been praying like that for quite some time.  His heart is heavy and the burden is great.  Chapter 2 shows us what happens next.

After serving the Lord for 15 years in Pakistan, missionary Warren Webster was invited to speak at the famous Urbana Missionary Conference held annually now in St Louis, Missouri.  Part of Webster’s message included these words, he said: “If I had my life to live over again, I would live it to change the lives of people, because you have not changed anything until you’ve changed the lives of people.”  Nehemiah is a man whom God uses to change the lives of people.  And God can do the same in your life, too. 

Nehemiah is a man

Wholly committed to

The Lord’s service,

Seeking to walk by faith,

To use his life to advance

The Gospel and the kingdom of God.

His life is a life lived by faith.  He shows us how we too can live by faith this week and in the weeks to come.

We are going to be learning from Nehemiah this morning.  He will be teaching us as we read his story.  We are going to be learning Principles for Living by Faith.  Really simple points that surface from the verses, rising up from the text and into our ears and hearts.

Before we look at the first principle, let us remember the year is 445 BC.  We know that because Nehemiah tells us chapter 2, verse 1 that it is the twentieth year of the reign of King Artaxerxes.  This happens in the month of Chislev, toward the end of the Persian calendar, roughly mid-November.  Nehemiah learns about the walls being broken down a thousand miles away and he weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays “for many days.”  Time has moved along.  Nisan is the beginning of the Persian and Jewish year, new year, and is roughly equivalent to our month of April.  Chapter 1 opens in November 445 BC and Chapter 2 opens in April 444 BC.  Four months has gone by.  Four months of weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying.  Here is the first principle . . .   

1) Sometimes We Just Have to Wait. 

We said before that the Book of Nehemiah is like Nehemiah’s own personal diary.  Reading the Book of Nehemiah is like reading Nehemiah’s journal or memoirs.  Nehemiah’s diary has no entry for four months.  There is nothing to write down because nothing happened.  Perhaps he hoped to hear from fellow Israelites that things have changed down in Jerusalem and the walls are being rebuilt!  But nothing. 

Sometimes we just have to wait.  Nehemiah has been weeping and mourning for four months.  He has been sad.  He says in verse 1 he says, “Now I had never been sad in the presence (of the king).  I had never been sad in his presence before.”  In other words, Nehemiah was concealing his sadness whenever he was around the king.  Why is that?  Because, in those days, you were expected to always have a cheerful countenance in the presence of the king.  You were always to be “up” and you were always “on.”  The powerful king has a lot going on and if you ever appeared before him in any way other than cheerful, positive, and optimistic, you could literally be killed. 

Nehemiah has been concealing his hurt, his heaviness, and his burden.  He has been going in every day and putting on his “game face;” smiling through the hurt, grinning and bearing it, keeping it together.  Some of you know what that is like.  Something has happened and you have been hurt but you have got to keep going.  You do not want to, but you have got to.  Everyone is counting on you.  You are pushing through, smiling through the hurt and pain, waiting for things to change.  You cannot stop.  You have got to keep going.  Sometimes you just have to wait.  In the meantime, you keep going forward, keep trusting, keep believing, and living by faith in the God who is in control and always does what is right.  Your faith keeps you moving forward when your heart is broken.  

We are going to see that Nehemiah has a plan.  He has been praying for four months. He has been thinking this through.  He has been anticipating this very moment.  In fact, when you go back to the last verse of chapter 1, verse 11, you see there that all of his praying over the months culminates in this statement where he says, “… Let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man,” this man being King Artaxerxes.  He adds for our understanding: “For I was the king’s cupbearer.”

Nehemiah has a plan – He is planning on asking the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem to lead the rebuilding project of the walls.  He has been praying for four months now and He is trusting God to do the work of turning the king’s heart.  Nehemiah will not know until he asks, so here we go, the day has come! 

Verse 2 says, “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.”  We know why he became “dreadfully afraid!”  He could die for this, being sad in the presence of the king.  The king knows Nehemiah is not sick.  He says that.  He wonders what is going on with Nehemiah.  The king could have even suspected an evil plot on the part of Nehemiah.  Kings in those days killed people if ever their throne was threatened.  So, he asks Nehemiah, why he is not looking like he usually does.  He wonders if there some evil intent in your heart.  Nehemiah says, “So I became dreadfully afraid.”  By the way, I like honest leaders, don’t you?  He is writing his own memoirs.  He could have edited it to make himself look good.  He’s honest,

Verse3 says, “And said to the king, ‘May the king live forever!(that is something people always said to the kings, a word of favor, even today, ‘long live the king, or long live the queen’) 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?’”  Then, Nehemiah waits.  What will the king say in reply?  Will he call for the guards to come carry him away?  God gives Nehemiah favor before the king. 

Verse 4 states, “Then the king said to me, ‘What do you request?’  So I prayed to the God of heaven.  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.’”  Now we are going to see that things get better for Nehemiah.  But not before waiting four months and be engaged with weeping, mourning, fasting, and praying.  Four months. 

Sometimes we just have to wait.  

How many times did the psalmist

Say, “I waited up on the Lord?” 

You keep waiting. 

Living by faith often means

That sometimes you just have to wait. 

Trust that God is working on

A timetable that may not be yours,

But it is His and He

Always does what is right.

So . . . In the words of the gospel song, “Hold on my child, joy comes in the morning!” We can rest assured that God is faithful even if it is after much mourning.

When the king says in verse 4, “What do you request?”  Nehemiah says, “So I prayed to the God of heaven.”  Verse 5 says, “And I said to the king, ‘if it pleases the king” … “let me return to rebuild.”  Do not miss that quick prayer there in verse 4.  Normally, when we read something like this in the Bible, we want to quickly move on to read what that prayer is.  But notice what happens here – There is no prayer.  Why?  Because this is one of those quick prayers – Bullet prayer or arrow prayer.  Shooting up a quick prayer like an arrow to the Lord.  This is the kind of prayer you pray when someone pulls out in front of you on a crowded highway!  I imagine Nehemiah’s prayer was something like, “God, guide my words.”  An arrow prayer. 

Notice the second principle for living by faith . . . 

2) Arrow Prayers Flow From Kneeling Prayers. 

Nehemiah was a “praying man.”  He spent a lot of time on his knees in prayer. 

The depth of consistent prayers,

Give rise to arrow prayers.

If all we pray are arrow prayers – “God, help me!  Get me out of this!  Help me pass this test!” – if that is all we pray, then our prayers are pretty flimsy arrows, launched from a shaky hand and bow. 

The time you spend on your knees

In meaningful prayer will result in

A daily walk where arrow prayers

Become much more meaningful –

They are launched from

A steady hand and bow

That have spent much time

In the stability of careful

Study and reflection.

That is just a important principle to remember this week as you live by faith:

Arrow prayers flow from kneeling prayers.

Nehemiah has prayed and he makes his request.  He says in verse 5, “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.”  And he waits for the response from the king.  The first time you ever read this, you are waiting, too!  What is going to happen next?! 

Verse 6 tells us, “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.”  God gives Nehemiah favor before the king.  It goes well for Nehemiah. 

That leads us to the third principle for living by faith . . .

3) God Can Work Through A Pagan’s Heart.

Who holds the king’s heart in His hand?  The Bible tells us in Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.  Like courses of water, He directs it wherever He wishes.”  God can work through a pagan’s heart.  I have to smile when I read that parenthetical statement there in verse 6. “Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him) …”  When you read that, I am sure you wondered, “Why is that there?!”  To show us that God works through the king and the queen.  Sometimes God works through the queen to get to the king.  I see King Artaxerxes like most men.  He is calling the shots, but the queen is there next to him and, perhaps he is peripherally seeking affirmation, the way we men do sometimes.  Our wives often bring out the best in us, don’t they?  Every husband says, “Amen!.” 

Nehemiah knows that God is in control.  Nehemiah is trusting God to do the work even through an unbelieving employer.  Do not say God cannot work through your unbelieving boss.  He can.  God holds the human heart in his hand and directs it like rivers of water wherever He wishes.  God is ultimately in control of every single circumstance.   By the way, if you really believe Proverbs 21:1, you will never worry about your political leaders.   Pray for them, but do not think God is absent.  The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord.

Nehemiah must have been a good worker to the king.  He says, “How long will your journey be?  And when will you return?”  I think it does not do injustice to the text to think that the king is saying to Nehemiah, “I need you!  You add value to the organization here!”  Because of the lack of diligence and dedication of some today, if they asked off work for an extended time, because we are not the best workers their boss might be inclined to say, “Go!  Take all the time you need!  In fact, don’t come back!”  Learn from Nehemiah.  Nehemiah was a good worker.  A man of integrity, honesty, and propriety.  

Nehemiah told him how long he would be away.  But then – Nehemiah’s been thinking about this for four months! – So he does on to make further requests.

Verse 7 says, “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 knows that the only way he will have success on the journey is to have the king’s total backing.  To show the king backs Nehemiah, he will need hard copies of that backing.  He wanted letters that  he can show people on the way, a letter from the king that I can show governors (or leaders) of the region across the Euphrates river, that they must permit me to pass.  When Nehemiah is on his way and somebody stops him he can show them the letter and who it was from.

 Verse 8 tells us he requested another letter, “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.”

There it is . . .

An acknowledgment that God

Is the one making all this

Happen through Nehemiah!

Verse 9 states, “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.”  Not only does the king give Nehemiah a bunch of letters he can pull out and show folks along the way, but Nehemiah adds the king also “sent captains of the army and horseman with me.”  He gives Nehemiah a powerful entourage of many men and horses for the journey.  This would have been quite an impressive sight!  God can work through a pagan’s heart!

Notice the fourth principle for living by faith . . .

4) Confident Faith Leads to Confident Prayer.

When the king asks Nehemiah, “How long will your journey be?”  Nehemiah replies by setting a time, and then asking for additional letters, letters regarding his travel, and the materials he will need.  Very specific by the way in verses 7 and 8.  This leads us to conclude that Nehemiah had really thought this thing through.

Nehemiah had been visualizing all of this in his prayers for four months . . .

  • Everything involved before even starting the rebuilding project.
  • All the rebuilding materials that would be needed.
  • Believing the time would come when he would make his request. 

He had confident faith that God would work through Him in answer to his prayer.   He saw it all first before it happened.  That is praying in faith. 

The presence of faith

Does not mean

The absence of planning. 

Nehemiah was thinking

All this through as

He prayed to the Lord.

When you pray, do you think it all through?  Do you have confident faith that leads to confident prayer?  As you are praying are you thinking, “And what if the Lord gives me favor here?  What will it all look like?”  Do you pray looking to God to answer your prayer?  Nehemiah did. 

Confident faith leads to confident prayer.  Everything is going so well.  Nehemiah is clearly in God’s will.  God is answering his prayers.  He is on his way to REBUILD, rebuilding the walls.  Everything is great. 

Then we see the final principle for living by faith . . .

5) God’s Will Often Includes Opposition.

Verse 10 says, “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 two guys always appear when everything is going well.  They come and cast a long dark shadow upon Nehemiah and the work.  Every time they enter, you can almost always expect something is amiss.  We will read more about them later.  Just know for now that God’s will often includes opposition.  Do not assume that criticism and negativity mean you are outside of God’s will.  God’s will often includes opposition.

We will see later that Nehemiah responds biblically to the opposition.  He will say in verse 20 of chapter 2, “So I answered them, and said to them, ‘The God of heaven Himself will prosper us …”  Nehemiah is not worried about the opposition.  He knows the One True and Living God, the God of heaven Himself, will be with him, will protect him, and see that the work is completed. 

When you face opposition this week, just turn it over to the God of heaven.  That is what Jesus did.  The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 2:23, “When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

The good hand of God upon Nehemiah is . . .

  • The good hand that guides Nehemiah to the good work: the rebuilding of the walls around the city of Jerusalem. 
  • It is the same good hand that guided Ezra to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. 
  • It is the same good hand that guided the people of God to worship Him in that temple through so many sacrifices that prepared them for the ultimate sacrifice to come: the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

The gracious, good hand of God gives to us Jesus Christ to take away our sin, to live for Him, to “rise up and build” for Him this week as we live by faith.  He gives us grace, grace greater than all our sin!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”