Archive for the ‘Nehemiah’ Category

Nehemiah 3

Nehemiah 3 has a long list of the people and families that answered Nehemiah’s call to help fix the wall.  There was plenty of work to do, and it was going to require the entire remnant to accomplish the task at hand.  Nehemiah 3 is all about work – how individuals pitched in and did the work together, coordinated and led by Nehemiah.  He moves from strategic planner to workforce leader.  Eliashib the high priest is the first one mentioned.  He acted as a godly leader should; he was out in front of the work, leading by example. He did not act as if he was too “spiritual” for the hard work of rebuilding the walls.

The people of the city of Tekoa were more than willing to work – but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord.  “Their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord”.  For the most part, people joined in – but not everybody. These nobles from the city of Tekoa thought they were above the hard work, so they didn’t join in.  Maybe they thought they had a better plan, maybe they didn’t like how Nehemiah was doing it. Whatever their reason, you can be sure they later regretted it, because they stand in history as the only people mentioned in this chapter who did not join in the work.  They are called out as failing to submit to the Lord and Nehemiah’s leadership.

These were men of different professions, not professional builders. They were not trained for this kind of work. It would have seemed they had an easy excuse to not do anything, but they jumped in and did the work. They fortified Jerusalem, even though many would not think them qualified or able.  Nehemiah had them work where they were most interested – “opposite his house”.  The key to Nehemiah’s successful leadership was creating a plan where everyone had a vested interest in getting their part of the work done.

So does this work stuff really matter?  The most important ability in the work of the LORD is availability. The one with few gifts and little talent, who has a passion and a drive to see God’s work done, will accomplish far more than a gifted and talented person who doesn’t have they passion and drive to do the LORD’s work.  Leadership happens when people show up.  Nehemiah did, and he convinced a whole city to show up too.  That is how God works – through people that show up and will walk in obedience with Him.

Nehemiah 2

Nehemiah 2 has the prophet doing his job as cupbearer, which normally he did with a smile on his face.  Scripture tells us “I had not been sad in his presence” referring to the way the Nehemiah served the king.  But that wasn’t the case now. Nehemiah was saddened by the news about Jerusalem and it showed. The king asked “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick”?  That wasn’t really an acceptable thing to do in front of the king.  The staff was to keep their emotions to themselves and serve him with joy.

But Nehemiah can’t contain his sorrow.  “Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire”?  He lets the cat out of the proverbial bag and tells the king what is on his mind.  The king doesn’t rebuke him, but asks “What are you requesting”?  They obviously had a close relationship.  So Nehemiah has opened the door for a conversation, but now what?  He isn’t sure so “I prayed to the God of heaven”.  When in doubt, ask God.  And that is exactly what he did.  God answered and he asked for a few specifics since the door was open.

Nehemiah asks the king to “send me to Judah….let letters be given….give me timber….the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me”.  But the king went even further sending officers and horsemen from his army to accompany Nehemiah on his trip.  He heads off to Jerusalem to see what could be done.  He arrives and decides to inspect things.  “I arose in the night….I told no one what my God had put into my heart….I inspected the walls”.  Nehemiah didn’t want to get everyone’s hopes up until he knew what he was facing.  He wanted to inspect and prepare.

But the next step was to energize the people.  They didn’t really seem to understand the gravity of the situation.  “You see the trouble we are in….Let us rise up and build”.  Nehemiah rallies the troops to get up and get with the program of rebuilding the city.  Not everyone was on board.  In fact three guys, “Sanballat….Tobiah….Geshem….jeered at us and despised us”.  They did not want the city to be rebuilt and become strong again.  But Nehemiah was not intimidated.  “The God of heaven will make us prosper”.  He knows where his strength comes from.

Nehemiah 1

Nehemiah 1 begins one of my favorite books in the entire Bible as we see the leadership of Nehemiah impact a nation that has been wandering aimlessly for decades without direction and leadership.  We learn from the last sentence in the chapter that Nehemiah “was cupbearer to the king”.  He was the guy trusted to keep the king alive, making sure no one poisoned the food or drink.  Nehemiah wasn’t just some guy on the street, he had power and position in the kingdom.  But then one day, one of the folks from Judah came to visit.

Nehemiah is serving a long way from Jerusalem.  But when the Judeans came, he wanted to know what was happening back in his hometown.  “I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem”.  Nehemiah cared about the foundation of his faith.  They gave him an answer he truly didn’t want to hear.  “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire”.  Things were bad.  The walls are broken down. The people are without protection and direction.  It is embarrassing as people of God.

So what was Nehemiah’s response?  Just say ‘that is too bad’ and move on?  Not exactly.  “As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven”.  There was an immediate respond.  Nehemiah took the issue as his own and immediately goes to God.  He doesn’t accuse God of allowing the problem.  He takes ownership of it on behalf of his people.  “O Lord God of heaven….let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant….confessing the sins of the people of Israel….we have acted very corruptly….have not kept the commandments”.  Nehemiah confesses their sin.

He knows the situation is what it is because of the unfaithfulness of his people.  God is just.  He had told them generations earlier what would happen.  “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your dispersed be under the farthest skies, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there”.  The bad news was that disobedience would lead to exactly what has happened.  The good news was that God had provided a way to get back to Him.  A promise of restoration if the people would only seek Him in obedience.

Nehemiah saw that and clinged to it.  He prays on behalf of his people, confessing their sin.  But he also prays about his participation in restoring the city of Jerusalem.  He wasn’t just content to pray from afar and wash his hands of the problem.  Nehemiah prays “give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man”.  He knows he has to go to the king and get permission to return home and help lead the people to success.  But before rushing off to try and make a difference, he prays and seeks God’s blessing and help.  That is what servant leadership looks like.  It wasn’t about Nehemiah and what he could do.  It was about a servant seeking what God could do through him.  That is the key to great leadership.  God at work in us and through us!

Nehemiah 13

Nehemiah 13 has this faithful servant and leader cleaning up the mess that has returned to the people in the city of Jerusalem.  They’ve worked hard together to rebuild the city, but now sin has crept back in along with their old ways, and Nehemiah has to deal with it.  The people still “read from the Book” and were hearing truth, which is so important to staying the course.  And God was still convicting them of sin because “as soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent”.  They had reverted back to their old sinful ways, and now it was time to clean their lives up.

Nehemaih had returned to king Artaxerxes for a bit, but has now come back and discovered that “Eliashib the priest….prepared for Tobiah a large chamber”.  You’ll remember that Tobiah was one of the enemies of God’s people who spent much time trying to derail the rebuilding of the wall.  And now they have made a place for Him and his things in the very temple he tried to prevent.  Nehemiah “was very angry, and threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God”.  How short our memories are.  Not that long ago this man was an enemy, and already they have allowed the fox into the henhouse.  Nehemiah changes that.

He has to confront the leaders on another level as “the portions of the Levites had not been given to them….so I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?”   The leaders weren’t taking care of those who were serving so Nehemiah “gathered them together and set them in their stations….appointed as treasurers over the storehouses….for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers”.  He had to put a layer of accountability over those who were to be gathering the food and supplies to support the Levites who served in the temple.  He didn’t throw out those who were not doing their job, he put accountability in place to verify they did what they were supposed to.  Trust, but verify, a very powerful leadership approach.

Nehemiah has to deal with yet another problem so “I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?”  They had fallen back to treating the Sabbath just like any other day bringing wares and produce to the city and selling it and doing business.  He kyboshes that and “as soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates”.  He makes sure that does not happen and the Sabbath returns to a holy day of rest.

Ah, but there is more.  It seems that there were marriages being consummated with foreigners so “I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair…I made them take oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves”.  This was obviously a hot button for Nehemiah as God strictly forbid this.  And history had a long record of showing the negative damage done to God’s people because they allowed sin to infiltrate their lives through this all the way back to Solomon.  Nehemiah “cleansed them from everything foreign, and established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work”.  Nehemiah could have easily felt that his job was done when the wall was finished, but he didn’t.  He stayed engaged and led the people to address the sin that had crept back in, and confronted the people responsible and cleaned it up.  This is true leadership, and what it looks like to stay focused and finish strong!

Nehemiah 12

Nehemiah 12 is the story of the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem which is now complete.  Leaders are in place, people have been assigned their tasks, and they have had a celebration of God’s faithfulness.  Now Nehemiah leads them in an official dedication.  It involves all the people and this chapter begins with a long list of the priestly and Levitical families mentioned one by one.  Nehemiah calls them all together to gather for this ceremony of dedication after a very long and tedious time of working hard to put the city back in place.

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres”.  The people are gathered and this is to be a time of joy and thanksgiving as they focus on dedicating the wall to God.  There are lots of instruments involved, as the Levites were skilled in using them to lead the people in worship.  It is a formal event, so “the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and they purified the people and the gates and the wall”.  It wasn’t like the feast of celebration they had celebrated a bit earlier, this was a very formal event.

Nehemiah continues to teach us about leadership as he shines the light on those who he has put in places of authority.  “Then I brought the leaders of Judah up onto the wall and appointed two great choirs that gave thanks”.  He didn’t just call them up to the stage, he has them standing on top the wall.  What better way to show his granting of power to these men, but also tying that to the hard work of the people in building the wall.  And nowhere is he taking any credit here.  “Both choirs of those who gave thanks stood in the house of God, and I and half of the officials with me”.  Nehemiah was there with them, but this wasn’t about him.  It was about God and the leaders who would take things forward.

It was a grand event.  “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away”.  It was a time of singing and praise and celebrating God’s faithfulness as they dedicated this wall to His glory.  But it was more than just observation for those in the crowd. It was a day of giving as people came with their “contributions, the firstfruits, and the tithes” and dedicated themselves as “they performed the service of their God”.  It was active participation in all things worship of God.  Are you all in when you worship, or do you sit there quietly and stay on the sidelines?  Nehemiah led them to purify themselves and get right with God, and to sing and praise and worship which meant bringing of what they had, and committing to the work of the Lord!

Nehemiah 11

Nehemiah 11 moves to the next phase of the city life – getting more people into the city.  The walls were up and the relationship with God was getting back on track, but it was time for people to move back in.  For the last 70 years of so Jerusalem had been more or less a ghost town as the city was destroyed and there was no safety or reason for people to live there.  But now that Ezra has rebuilt the temple and Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the walls, it is time to restore the population and get things back to its former glory.

The leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem” and were setting the example of how others should life.  They were modeling what the rest should desire, and they “cast lots to bring one out of ten” into the city.  They were basically trying to get about 10% of the people living in Jerusalem again.  This was a pretty big change for folks who had settled in outside the city over the last century and built new lives elsewhere.  It meant some sacrifice and making a choice to give up what was comfortable to move to a very different experience.

What were some of the changes the ten percent had to go through to make this change?

–       They had to be willing to give up their current land and life where they were

–       They had to leave behind friends and family

–       They knew living in the city made them a target of their enemies who were very much against Jerusalem’s success

–       They had to be willing to endure the problems of a new city that had been basically empty for decades

–       They had to be willing to find a new way to make a living

–       They had to be willing to be under new leaders and rules

The roster of those living there is defined in this chapter.  It is made up of folks from the tribe of Judah and Benjamin, along with the Levites and gatekeepers.  Families are named and numbers definted.  Some were military leaders, some priests, some civil and royal leaders, some keepers of the city gates.  But each had a role and place in the life of the city.  Nehemiah again leads well and not only defines roles so each person has a specific purpose, but has leaders defined and an org chart in place to keep the city functioning well.  All these people took the lead by choosing to settle in Jerusalem to be part of re-establishing God’s plan for His people!

Nehemiah 10

Nehemiah 10 has the focus moving to creating a structure for ongoing success.  The work on the wall is complete, and Nehemiah has led the people through an overwhelming challenge and provided them a secure future.  They’ve cleaned up their city physically by rebuilding and putting the wall and gates in place.  But they also have corrected their lifestyle and confessed their sin, turned from their ways through repentance, and began to walk in the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word again after many years of wandering without it.

So Nehemiah is leading them to put an ongoing strategy for life in place.  A seal with the names of all the leaders is created.  The people take “an oath to walk in God’s Law….to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord….his rules and his statutes”.  No longer are people going to just do what they want. They are being directed to know and live God’s laws.  They are going to be required to walk in His truth and His way.  This is key to a successful life for the days ahead – clarity in how to live and a measuring stick to know if they are doing it.

That matters because the big motivator is behind them.  Nehemiah was able to rally the troops around a big project that was essential to their safety and ability to live long term.  But now, it is time to create a new normal, and having God’s Word as the guide is critical to keep people focused on living the right way.  The next area they address is funding the temple and city, so the people “obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground”.  They commit to tithing their crops and fruit and herds and flocks.  That would be one thing that would change our world today – if people truly tithed.

Of course, with money flowing in, someone has to take care of it.  “The Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse”.  They appoint these men to take care of the tithes and keep them in the temple.  They are key to helping create a sustainable future.  Nehemiah doesn’t want the people to forget how they got to this place.  It was by God’s power and through His might the city was rebuilt.  So he is clear in saying “We will not neglect the house of our God”.  

Nehemiah 8

Nehemiah 8 has Nehemiah getting the people focused on God.  He has Ezra the scribe bring the book of the Law from Moses “And all the people gathered as one man….both men and women and all who could understand what they heard….And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday”.  So every man, woman and child who could understand was gathered together in one place.  Ezra was up on a wooden platform above the crowd reading the law.  It wasn’t a short session either – hours together hearing God’s word.

Remember from the last chapter how many people there were in town?  Almost 50, 0000, so this was no small gathering.  But scripture tells us “the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law”.  Ezra had their attention.  There were 13 men standing beside him on the platform, six on his left and seven on his right.  And “as he opened it all the people stood….lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground”.  This wasn’t a sit back and listen session – it was participatory worshipful listening.  They were there to meet God and hear His word.

There were other folks in the crowd that “helped the people to understand the law” so they not only heard it, they were taught in a way they understood it.  These Levites moved among the crowd and helped them understand.  And as they did, they were overcome with grief realizing just how sinful they were.  But Nehemiah and Ezra stepped in and said “do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength….And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them”.  It was a time of celebration.

The next day they gathered to hear the law again.  And they learned about a feast that had been forgotten many years ago – the feast of booths or shelters.  Their hearts were sensitive and they immediately wanted to be obedient so they went out and gathered what they needed to build booths for themselves on their roofs, or in their courts, so they could return to the celebration of days gone by.  But their desire for God’s Word was strong and “day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule”.  Oh that we would hunger for God’s word this way!

Nehemiah 7

Nehemiah 7 has the wall complete and the gates in place.  The project is done.  What Nehemiah has been focused on and working toward has finally been completed.  So what’s next?  Setting up a sustainable community with strong leadership.  Nehemiah knows that merely building the walls and creating a safe place was not enough.  There needed to be structure.  So scripture says “I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many”.

Do you see the criteria he used?  It wasn’t that they were necessarily the best leaders in town.  It wasn’t that they had lots of experience, althougth they did have some.  He used two criteria – faithfulness and God-fearing.  Nehemiah wanted to have men in charge that would walk with God and lead the people from that perspective.  He wanted leaders, and he chose two, not just one, that he could depend on to be in line with God’s plan and direction for His people.

He asks them to “Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes”.  Once again, Nehemiah realizes that people care most about what is at home so they set up a structure that allows people to care for and protect that which matters most to them.  But there was more that needed to be done – they needed to see who was in the city and what they would need to have in order to make it sustainable.  So they took a census.  “Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy”.

There were quite a few in the city.  “The whole assembly together was 42,360, besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337”.  That’s almost 50 thousand people so it was going to take some money to make this all work.  They gathered funds from everyone, and put together a treasury that would be used to keep the city afloat.  Nehemiah is getting the infrastructure in place and finishing up his work there.  What a great project leader he has been, coming into a desperate and completely overwhelming situation and rallying the troops to get it done quickly.

Nehemiah 6

Nehemiah 6 has the enemies of the Jews trying another tact to disrupt the building of the wall because it was almost complete. In fact, the wall is done and only the gates remain to be put in place.  Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem are getting desperate and want to try and disrupt things.  So they send a message to Nehemiah and say “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono”.  Sounds innocent enough doesn’t it?  Their intent was not to meet.  Nehemiah figures out that “they intended to do me harm”.

So Nehemiah responds and sent a message 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”.  He isn’t falling for their sneaky trick at all. He is staying and finishing the work. They didn’t take no for an answer and sent the same request four more times and each time Nehemiah says no.  So the enemies change their approach and threaten to send a letter to the king that Nehemiah “and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall”.

They began the rumor that Nehemiah wanted “to become their king”.  Their approach was to frighten the people and get them to stop the work of completing the walls and gates.  They were telling more lies that Nehemiah “set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem”.  So Nehemiah did what he did every time things got intense – he prayed.  “But now, O God, strengthen my hands”.  He is not going to run from them.  So they take yet another tact and hire a traitor on the inside to try and disrupt things from the inside out.

Nehemiah is encouraged to violate God’s laws to go into the temple to seek God’s help.  That would be wrong, and Nehemiah sees right through the attempt to cause him to sin. “For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me”.  Nehemiah doesn’t fall for it.  He identifies the man as having poor character and is discerning at the attempt to discredit him and cause him to be in violation of God’s laws.  Instead, he stayed the course and finished the wall in 52 days.  And when he did, his enemies “perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God”.  Nehemiah didn’t take credit – he gave it to God!

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