Grab your Bibles, and let’s dig back into Nehemiah and see what God has for us today!
After the Babylonian empire fell to the Persians, they became the new world power. Persia often allowed exiles to return to their homelands; this included the Jews, following Cyrus’ proclamation in 538 BC (2 Chronicles 36:22–23). Since the restoration of Israel did not get off to a very good start, God sent prophets and leaders to encourage the people to rebuild the temple and prepare for the Messiah. Nehemiah was one of these key leaders. Nehemiah, a Jew serving in the Persian court, was facing the loss of his traditions as Jerusalem lay in ruins and the people of God were held in reproach. He had to learn how to be faithful to the Lord while under the rule of a king who did not know the God of Israel.
We are faced with a similar dilemma with the current state of our nation. The moral decay of our youth and the aggressive invading of worldly agendas into everyday society is more and more prevalent. It is too easy to get caught up in focusing on the demise of the culture, but we must never forget that this world is demised in sin. Only salvation in Jesus brings true and lasting obedience to God. We must lead in all we do with the gospel of Jesus Christ and never set it down to play only in the political realm. Our greatest weapon is the good news. Let’s be sure to keep it in the center of all we do. Our hope is not in this kingdom nor in our next leader nor the next laws on which we will vote. Instead, our hope is in Jesus. Do we need revolution? Yes! But the only true and lasting reformation will come when the church leads with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Nehemiah 1:4-11, we read Nehemiah's prayer. This is an outstanding prayer because of its emphasis on the Lord’s covenant faithfulness, which God displayed not only in blessing His people but also in bringing about the curses that He warned of in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. God is, by nature, faithful, and thus He keeps His promises; so, when Israel boldly violated the terms of the covenant and refused to repent, they reaped the consequences. Nehemiah was not afraid to acknowledge both sides of God’s covenant faithfulness, and so this prayer stands as a great model to us. What we must also realize is that the faithfulness of God to His promises also involves disciplining us for sin. We should not think that He is being less than faithful to His covenant when we feel His hard, but loving, hand of discipline.
Assassinations by poisoning were common in the ancient world, and kings would take precautions to ensure that their food and drink were safe. Often they would employ cupbearers who would taste their food and wine ahead of time to make sure it was not poisoned. A cupbearer held an important place in the royal court and had to be a trustworthy individual. The fact that Nehemiah served as the cupbearer to the ruler of Persia shows he was a trustworthy man. Nehemiah understood that confidence in the sovereignty of God does not mean that we say a prayer and then sit around waiting for Him to move. Instead, those who rightly understand the Lord’s sovereignty pray and act at the same time, knowing any risk they take for the kingdom will not, ultimately, derail the plan of God. He went to work, and God used Nehemiah’s faithfulness to set the table for big things.
In Chapter 2, we read that Nehemiah shared his sadness over the poor condition of Jerusalem and asked the king for help in returning to the Holy City and rebuilding the wall. Amazingly, the king granted Nehemiah’s request, providing him with letters of safe conduct and materials to use in reconstructing the wall around Jerusalem. On his way back home, Nehemiah heard of the opposition to his efforts by Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite. These men would surely threaten the progress of rebuilding the wall, but that should not be surprising to any of us who belong to Christ. Satan does not like it when the people of God are in the process of returning to Him, and he often stirs up people to speak and act against the work of God-honoring reformation. There is always a cost to serving the Lord, and Jesus Himself warns us of the price to be paid in this world for following Him in Luke 14:25–33. I pray that none of you underestimate this cost, but you are willing to pay it for the glory of Christ.
In Nehemiah 5, we see it is easy to become wearied and feel like giving up after a long period of suffering. This is what happened during Nehemiah’s wall-building project. Eventually, the people complained that they were unable to continue their work because of financial problems. Famine made food scarce, families were in over their heads financially maintaining their farms, and so on. Some of the people did not give because they were too focused on storing grain for themselves. This is the faulty thinking that plagues many in the modern-day church. It is often not a lack of funds that keeps them from giving regularly and sacrificially but an unwillingness to give up a certain lifestyle in order to obediently give God His firstfruits. We need to see it as our joy to be saved and to get to participate in the building of God’s kingdom. Here we are given a practical view of what happens when we get too focused on building our own kingdoms.
Having rebuilt the wall, Nehemiah recognized that a physical defense for the city wouldn’t matter without a change in the hearts of the people. So he gathered the people together to hear Ezra read the law of God and express repentance for the sins that had put them into exile in the first place. There was also a great celebration at the dedication of the wall around Jerusalem, for the Lord had been faithful to grant the people success in their important endeavor.
In Nehemiah chapter 13, we read that there was much going on that could have led to the reintroduction of idolatry into the covenant community. Nehemiah kicked Eliashib the priest out because he was related to Tobiah the Ammonite, and Eliashib had been trying to make the house of God into a house for the pagan ruler. Intermarriage with forbidden, as God had commanded Israel not to intermarry with the Ashdodites, Ammonites, and Moabites because of the temptation that these peoples would lead the hearts of the Jews to follow after other gods. Other violations in Nehemiah’s day included the breaking of the Sabbath and the failure to provide for the clergy. Evidently, these sins were renounced in public, but the hearts of a majority of the people remained hard. Therefore, Nehemiah’s effort for reformation did not last, and things faded out until the coming of Christ.
One of the huge reminders we are given from this testimony is that the gospel must be embraced and lived out in every generation. In this time, we need to be sure to obey God’s word in all things and keep the true and living gospel at the center of our words and testimony. We need to be reminded of the gravity of our sin and the greatness of our Savior in order to live in grateful obedience to His word. My prayer is that many will realize their sin and their need for Christ alone, that they will repent and believe, be saved, and their lives will be transformed.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC