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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

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August 2020

Nehemiah 5:7a: Pause for thought

“5 Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.’When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.   I pondered them in my mind and then...” NIV UK

‘’I pondered them in my mind and then…’’

There is a difference between anger and loss of temper, and perhaps this is the biggest part of the difference – thought/reflection. You don’t just pull the trigger as a matter of reflex; you don’t allow the pan of emotion to boil over.

Someone gave this wise piece of advice: ‘When angry count to ten; when very angry count to a hundred!’

We saw yesterday how Nehemiah became ‘’very angry’’, and he was right to be. But he didn’t immediately let fly. He pressed the pause button.

Anger is such a potent (and important) force that we may live to regret what we say and do if we don’t first pause for thought.

Remember that ‘’patience’’ is a ‘’fruit of the Spirit’’ (Gal.5:). I believe the Greek word used can also be translated as ‘long suffering.’ It is the opposite of having a short fuse.

Paul says that love ‘’is not easily angered’’ (1 Corinthians 13:5). Such love is worked in us, by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus Himself indwells us. We don’t achieve it by simply gritting our teeth.

PRAYER: Please forgive me, Lord, for all my failures of patience. Thank you that what doesn’t come to me naturally can, and does, come supernaturally, by your Spirit.

Nehemiah 5:1-6: ‘Very angry’

“Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. Some were saying, ‘We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive, we must get grain.’Others were saying, ‘We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.’Still others were saying, ‘We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our fellow Jews and though our children are as good as theirs, yet we have to subject our sons and daughters to slavery. Some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but we are powerless, because our fields and our vineyards belong to others.’When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.” NIV

‘The prospects of the poor people among the returned exiles were deplorable. There had been deficient rains and poor harvests, Hag.1:6-11. They had mortgaged their lands to their richer brethren, and had even sold their children to pay the royal taxes and procure means of subsistence. The rich had taken advantage of their necessities, oppressing them with grievous exactions and heavy usury.’ F.B. Meyer, ‘Devotional Commentary’, p.206. No wonder Nehemiah was ‘’very angry’’ (6). There are things that should stir and move us to concrete action. In this case, it was wealthy Jews who were taking advantage of their own countrymen.

Someone made the point that it is easy to be angry. But to be angry with the right person, at the right time, in the right way, and to the right degree is not easy.

It certainly isn’t. But it must be possible, because Paul writes to the Ephesians:

‘’In your anger do not sin’’ (Ephesians 4:26a).

I recall a quote I found years ago that went something like this: ‘Anger is one of the sinews of the soul, and he that lacks it hath a maimed mind.’

There is a place for righteous anger. It is totally possible. Jesus exemplifies this in his turning over the tables of the money changers and driving them out of the temple (John 2:13ff).

PRAYER: Lord, help me to feel what you want me to feel, and move me to take any action you want me to take.

Nehemiah 4:16-23: Covering all the bases

“15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our work.

16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armour. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!’ 21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. 22 At that time I also said to the people, ‘Let every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so that they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.’ 23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.” NIV

‘When the builders had so far reason to think the design of the enemies broken as to return to their work, yet they were not so secure as to lay down their arms, knowing how restless and unwearied they were in their attempts, and that, if one design failed, they would be hatching another. Thus must we watch always against our spiritual enemies, and not expect that our warfare will be accomplished till our work is.’ Matthew Henry.

As we have seen, Nehemiah took a comprehensive approach to the crisis. He believed in the importance of prayer, and he prayed. But he didn’t only pray:

  • He took strategic action: Much of today’s passage shows this (and we have seen examples earlier in the passage). What encouragement it must have been to the builders to know that there were armed officers who ‘had their backs’ (16b/17a). Furthermore, they were armed themselves (18a). Nehemiah had thought everything through, with great attention to detail. He spared no efforts to ensure that the people felt safe and were kept safe. (Part of this strategic approach included the recognition that he, and everyone else needed to up their levels of sacrifice (21-23). While church life always demands absolute commitment, there can come times of emergency where we need to dig deep, and give even more);
  • He called for co-operation: Because the work on the walls was ‘’extensive and spread out’’ (20) and the workers were ‘’widely separated from each other along the wall’’ (19b), they needed to be willing and able to drop what they were doing at a moment’s notice, and run to fight with and for their brothers, if called for. May God deliver us from a petty, parochial approach to ministry that sees only ‘our bit of the wall’, and has little or no interest in what is going on elsewhere. Such a selfish and blinkered attitude can prevail within a church, and between churches;
  • In everything he trusted God, and called the people to do the same (20): Someone said, ‘Pray like it all depends on God, and work like it all depends on you.’ I don’t know if they did, but they could have got that from reading Nehemiah. This leader somehow maintained the delicate balance between preparing the people to fight, and, at the same time, trusting that God would fight for them.

PRAYER: Lord, may we never fail to pray to you and trust in you; nor may we ever cease to do our obvious duty, even though it may be costly.

Nehemiah 4:13-15: Effective leadership

“11 Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’                13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, ‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our work.”

In this chapter, we have seen some of the stratagems the enemy of God deploys against the church in every age. These include:

  • Mockery (1-5);
  • Physical violence, or the threat of it (7-9; 11,12);
  • Discouragement/fear (10-12).

In dealing with all this Nehemiah stood tall as an effective spiritual leader:

  • He prayed. We have already seen examples of this. But it’s important to note that for all that he stands out in the Bible as a great man of prayer, he didn’t just pray;
  • He took strategic action (13). He was quick to strengthen ‘’the exposed places.’’ I think he showed great wisdom in ‘’posting them by families.’’ There would no doubt be encouragement in fighting alongside your nearest and dearest. But there would also be significant incentive to fight (see the second half of verse 14). How people would fight to defend their families and homes. Nehemiah was canny;
  • He kept vigilant: ‘’After I looked things over…’’ As we might say, he ‘kept his eye on the ball.’ He kept the big picture in mind. His decisions were made thoughtfully, carefully, with a full grasp of the details. But they were also made in faith;
  • He exhorted the people. He gave verbal challenge and encouragement. He called the people to ‘’Remember’’ God in all His awesome greatness. But this would not be an excuse for failing to do what they needed to do. ‘Those that with an eye of faith see the church’s God to be great and terrible will see the church’s enemies to be mean and despicable. The reigning fear of God is the best antidote against the ensnaring fear of man.’ Matthew Henry.

It will be stating the obvious to say that God did not let them down! (15). But I say it anyway. Someone may especially need reminding today that the Lord will never fail or forsake His own.

PRAYER: Lord God, so often in life I find myself looking up at mountains which cast gigantic shadows over my life. At times I can almost despair of them moving. But I thank you that today you have reminded that me they can be moved the same old way – by faith in you. I am deeply grateful.

 

Nehemiah 4:10-12: A choking weed

But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. 10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the labourers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’11 Also our enemies said, ‘Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.’12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’ NIV

Where ridicule and threat of violence may fail, discouragement might be more likely to succeed. It can grow like an ugly, choking weed among God’s people. Discouragement is, I believe, one of the most effective weapons our enemy wields against believers in general, and leaders in particular. If the Jews had succumbed to discouragement they would have defeated themselves.

As I read these verses I thought about how careful we should be regarding the words we speak to one another. Negative words can fall like the drip, drip, drip of water, gradually wearing away even stone. (Warren Wiersbe points out that ‘’ten times’’, v12, is a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘many times’). It’s not that the situation wasn’t dire. It manifestly was. Furthermore, the words of the ‘’enemies’’ themselves (11) seemed to verify the negative chatter among the Jews. But what they were saying to their leaders was not the whole story. It wasn’t untrue, but there were greater truths, and next time we will hear Nehemiah point these out.

Discouragement and fear often go together and can feed off one another. They seemed to do so here.

‘…fear paralyses you, and fear is contagious and paralyses others. Fear and faith cannot live together in the same heart.’ Warren W. Wiersbe: OT Commentary, p.764.

PRAYER: Lord, I want to be a person of faith. Help me to resist discouragement as surely as I should seek to resist sin.

Nehemiah 4:7-9: Prayer and…

“6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” NIV

A common enemy and a common cause brought four different groups together in an attempt to stop the work on the walls. Jerusalem was now surrounded by enemy forces.

I remember hearing Dr. Howard Hendricks say, ‘If the devil isn’t working you over, maybe you aren’t all that significant!’ I think that was roughly and gruffly expressed and it could lead to unnecessary guilt.Nevertheless there is an important point enshrined in his words. When the work of God is progressing, the enemy will be greatly angered (1, 7) and we can expect persecution in some form. Here the opposition goes up a gear from verbal abuse to the threat of physical assault. Words can hurt and damage you, but they can’t kill you. Weapons, however can.

In the face of spiritual attack the church must pray ( 4, 9). Of course we must pray. But if there are other things we obviously should do, let us also do them. Prayer is not a substitute for taking wise courses of action.

‘’But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.’’

On a new year’s eve many years ago, an old gentleman from my church in Wigan, spoke to me about important exams I would be taking the next Spring. His sage advice came in the form of repeating what a general had famously said to his soldiers, ‘Pray to the Lord, and keep your powder dry!.’

PRAYER: Lord, may I never make prayer an excuse for failing to do my duty. Help me to see clearly what activities I need to link to my prayers.

 

 

Nehemiah 4:4-6: Keep prayerful and carry on

“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?’Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, ‘What they are building – even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’ Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of[b] the builders.So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” NIV

Ridicule and mockery will come the church’s way; Christians who are open about their faith will have it to face. How do you deal with it? Nehemiah and the Jewish people show the way – stay prayerful and keep going. Don’t be deflected or distracted, but carry on.

This is the third time we find Nehemiah praying, and it certainly will not be the last (see 1:4-11 and 2:4). He commits his persecutors to the Lord in prayer.

Warren Wiersbe helpfully explains what is going on in a prayer which might sound spiteful to some ears:

‘Nehemiah’s prayer resembles the ‘’imprecatory psalms,’’ such as Psalms 69; 79; and 139:19-22. We must remember that Nehemiah was praying as a servant of God concerned for the glory of God. He was not requesting personal vengeance but official vindication for God’s people. The enemy had blasphemously provoked God before the builders, and this was a terrible sin. The opposition of Sanballat and Tobiah against the Jews was in reality opposition against God.’ Old Testament Commentary, p.763.

F.B. Meyer also offers this insight:

‘Whenever God’s work revives, there is sure to be evil-speaking and reproach. It is a mistake to reply. Let us hand over our cause to God, and go on with his work. It matters very little what men say, as long as he is pleased.’

He goes on to suggest:

‘Had Nehemiah had the message of Christ, he would not have prayed as in v.5. Our Lord taught us to intercede for our enemies, Matt.5:44. But let us emulate Nehemiah’s zeal for the name of God, and let us remember that increased light means increased responsibility, Matt.11:11.’ ‘Devotional Commentary’, p. 206.

PRAYER: If my ‘friends’ (or enemies) ‘despise, forsake’ me, help me to ‘take it to the Lord in prayer.’ Indeed, enable me please to take them ‘to the Lord in prayer’.

Nehemiah 4:1-3: Attack

 “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?’Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, ‘What they are building – even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!’ ” NIV

‘God had one Son without sin, but He never had a son without trial.’ C.H. Spurgeon.

As previously noted, the book of Nehemiah provides vivid insights into the spiritual battle all believers face. As the work of God progresses it is not unusual for God’s workforce to come under spiritual attack. This will regularly come through people, and it may take a number of forms. One of the major weapons the enemy uses against us is that of ridicule, scorn, contempt, derision. This is not the first time we have watched this weapon being wielded (see 2:19). No-one on the receiving end of it is likely to argue that it doesn’t hurt. It can be potent. Shakespeare called ridicule ‘paper bullets of the brain’, but these bullets have, all the same, brought some people down.

By the way, as we overhear the barbed comments, we do get an insight into how big a task the Jews had on their hands. They certainly were not up to it in their own strength. This was true.

Looking at verse 2, you wonder if Sanballat had the army assembled to frighten the Jews and intensify the power of his ridicule.

Tomorrow we will see how Nehemiah again lifted up ‘the shield of faith.’ But for now I think it’s important to say that coming under such verbal abuse may be part of the price you have to pay for being a disciple of Jesus. It’s not easy; but neither are we defenceless. It doesn’t have to stop us. We have armour to wear (Ephesians 6:10-20). We must use it.

Nehemiah 3: 22-32: Full circle

“22 The repairs next to him were made by the priests from the surrounding region. 23 Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house. 24 Next to him, Binnui son of Henadad repaired another section, from Azariah’s house to the angle and the corner, 25 and Palal son of Uzai worked opposite the angle and the tower projecting from the upper palace near the court of the guard. Next to him, Pedaiah son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on the hill of Ophel made repairs up to a point opposite the Water Gate towards the east and the projecting tower. 27 Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shekaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30 Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters. 31 Next to him, Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and the merchants, opposite the Inspection Gate, and as far as the room above the corner; 32 and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs.” NIV

We have seen that this description of the work on the walls moves anti-clockwise around them. So, with these final verses, we come full circle. Having already pointed out key ideas, thoughts and phrases, I leave you to read the remaining paragraphs, bearing these in mind.

Perhaps the key point to underline is this: in the church we believe in every member ministry. Each one has a role to play, and each must do their bit, or there will be ‘gaps’ in the wall. There are no ‘good for nothings’ among us. God has gifted everyone to do at least one thing well. So team-work is required, and true team-work slays egotism because we all need each other. No-one is self-sufficient.

Nevertheless, although hard work is called for, Oswald Chambers sounds a wise and loving cautionary note in these words:

“Beware of any work for God that causes or allows you to avoid concentrating on Him. A great number of Christian workers worship their work. The only concern of Christian workers should be their concentration on God. This will mean that all the other boundaries of life, whether they are mental, moral, or spiritual limits, are completely free with the freedom God gives His child; that is, a worshiping child, not a wayward one. A worker who lacks this serious controlling emphasis of concentration on God is apt to become overly burdened by his work. He is a slave to his own limits, having no freedom of his body, mind, or spirit. Consequently, he becomes burned out and defeated. There is no freedom and no delight in life at all. His nerves, mind, and heart are so overwhelmed that God’s blessing cannot rest on him.”

‘’Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain’’ (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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