Reflections from NEHEMIAH 1-4: RESTORING WORSHIP IS COSTLY BUSINESS


old stone wall background

Our rebellion results in the desolation of our souls.  Only after contrition and repentance before Yahweh is complete are we His people ready to rebuild that which our sin decimated.

Nehemiah loved God’s people and Jerusalem, for biblically, worship and the land are always closely linked.  The land prospers when the worship of Yahweh obtains but desolation is assured when idolatrous wayward people have their own way.  Nonetheless, God’s promise of returning back to the land from Babylonian captivity after seventy years had come to fruition.

As the kings cupbearer, Nehemiah had favor with Artaxerxes such that he was granted royal support to return to Jerusalem in order to rebuild its walls:

And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel. (2:1-10)

And yet, Nehemiah had enemies that would linger whose sole purpose was to mock, threaten and discourage the work of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and infrastructure:

“Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?”Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” (4:1-5)

 Nehemiah, like a recon man, did not show his hand in the land until after he examined the damage that needed reparation (2:11-18).  Among those involved in repairing the broken down walls were priests, goldsmiths and perfumers yet the nobles did not support the work (chapter 3).

Opposition is often manifested through mockery fueled by anger.  These two go hand in glove by those who hate righteousness and laud wickedness (4:1-3).  The way to combat such spiritual warfare (and it is spiritual wrestling) is sometimes through imprecatory prayer directed to Almighty God.  This type of intercession is pivotal for combating the dangers we His people confront.  When our passion is the renown of God’s Name, He hears our cries evidenced in Nehemiah’s experience (4:7-14).

In order for the work to continue, the laborers needed protection and this through swords, spears and shields.  That is, after the intercession was offered, the people still needed to arm themselves:

“When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” 21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.”  (4:15-23)       

I have often felt that that the walls have been torn down in the American church because the culture, not the scriptures, are what dictates to many professing Christians what they believe.  Included in the range of issues are: the issue of origins (a-la Darwinism), the status of the unborn (Abortion), the meaning of marriage (a-la same-sex “marriage”), embracing a pluralistic view of salvation (a-la any religion can lead you to Jesus), etc.  It’s only because of His great mercy we’re not wiped off the face of this earth.

Personally, I’m often overwhelmed and burdened with the sin of unbelief that keeps me from pursuing God in the midst of my anxieties, fears and doubts.  Fortunately, God’s word here in Nehemiah reminds me that where God guides He will provide the necessary resources to accomplish the tasks put before us.  So LORD we look to you to be our strength, light, and courage as we your people endeavor to be salt and light in this land.  Help us be faithful stewards of the gifts given to each one of us for the common good of the Church and our Neighbors.  Give us a renewed vision of your Holiness!

(SDG)

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