Nehemiah 5-9 (7.30.22)
There are some really cool things going on in the book of Nehemiah, and I thought it would be very helpful for your time to give you an overview of what the book and its storyline are showing us. The first thing to remember is this book is a historical book or genre of writing. These stories took place and are real historical accounts of God’s people in the Old Covenant. The book of Nehemiah was originally a unified book with the book of Ezra, and they were both written by the same writer. Our modern Bibles have them as two separate books, and that really doesn’t change anything; it’s simply some neat insight. There is a theme throughout the three stories from these two books and I wonder if you’ll be able to see it when you think about what you’ve read and what you will read. In each historic account throughout both of these books, there are three main characters who go to the reigning king and receive the king’s blessing to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city in different ways. With each person, they do begin this work, and some people are happy about the work being done, but some people are upset. And so you will see this theme carried out in Nehemiah, just like it was in Ezra. When Nehemiah hears about Jerusalem’s ruined walls, he prays and comes to the king for permission to rebuild the walls. God gives him favor with king Artaxerxes, and the king sends him with an armed escort to return and build the walls around the city. Then, of course, when Nehemiah gets there, he’s met with opposition, and people mock him and begin to threaten him. They even go so far as to try and trick him to make him look bad and most likely try to kill him. Therefore, as they finish building the city walls, Nehemiah and his people have to do so with one hand on the wall and one hand on their weapons. Now, the theme that’s running through these two books ends with a very anticlimactic disappointment; however, we haven’t gotten that far in our study yet.
What’s special in the chapters we read this week is the turning from a sinful way of living unto a right obedience to the law that God had given His people. When they are nearly done with the wall, we see in chapter 5 that Nehemiah hears the cries of the people who are being oppressed, and he calls a council. He tells the leaders they should not be enforcing such strict fees/taxes during this time and calls them to repay or remove the debts that the people had incurred. Now interestingly enough, they agreed, and we really see the beginning of things shifting as far as Nehemiah’s story goes. In chapter six, we see one more attempt to trick Nehemiah and stop the rebuilding. However, this fails, and the chapter ends with the declaration that the wall was finished. Chapter seven has a lot of information about the exiles who had returned and what family they belonged to. We really see here that there was a great number of people living in this city. It must have been a very large city, and the wall that was rebuilt must have been a great undertaking. In chapter eight, Ezra comes back into the scene (remember these two books were actually one historical account, and Ezra and Nehemiah were written at the same time by the same author) and begins to read from the Law to the people of Israel.
Something that really struck me here and caused me to take inventory of my own life was the response of the people. Upon hearing God’s commands and the realization of how far they had fallen away from them, the people immediately repent. They are so burdened at their sin that they begin to cry, but God through Nehemiah tells them instead to celebrate that the Lord’s word had been proclaimed and the joy of the Lord should be their strength. What a beautiful picture of God’s people truly repenting of their sin and yet entering into the joy of the Lord who would in the future send His very own Son to pay for sin. God in His grace most definitely convicts us of our sin, but He also invites us into His joy as we repent from our sin against Him and turn to pursuing His glory above all things.
Be sorrowful, Christian, but for a moment; repent earnestly, and feel the weight of offense to the God we love, and then turn and let the joy of the Lord—the same joy that Christ saw before Him when He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2)—be your strength. Remember, you have been purchased, you have been redeemed, and God joyfully paid your penalty; so turn from your sin and return to glorifying your God! This struck me particularly, because I will often remain in a sort of self-pity rather than thankfulness that God has paid for my sin and was gracious enough to reveal it to me once more!
Now, the people continue to listen to the Law being proclaimed day by day, and they realize the things they have failed to do. Instead of mourning their failure, they go and they obey—building booths, since it was the seventh month, and honoring the festival of booths that God had commanded them to honor.
We see then in chapter nine the people come into full repentance and confess their sins before God. They do so thoroughly and with the intent to renew the covenant that God had made with His people when He gave them His law. We don’t see the details of this covenant until next week in chapter ten; we only see the beginning at the end of chapter nine.
So, track the overall story line and see if you can’t pick up on the bigger picture: God’s people were in sin and suffering from the consequences of it, yet God raises people up to help address the issue, and those whom God raises up call God’s people to listen to His word and obey it. The people hear God’s word and are shown how sinful they are. In light of this, they repent and cry out to God for mercy. Just when it seems things are getting better and all will be made right again … well, you’ll see how it ends next week during our reading. Until then, may we confess our sins and joyfully turn to the Lord. Remember, it is God’s grace to show you when you are not in line with His word. Instead of fighting or sorrowing, repent and turn and be healed. Walk in the joy of Lord as your strength!
*Special thanks to a great gospel partner, Steve Obert, who helped write this week’s study.
By His grace and for His glory,
Soldiers for Jesus MC