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Nehemiah 7: 1-2: Not nepotism

After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” NIV

Nehemiah did not put his brother in charge of Jerusalem (alongside another man, as it happens) because he was his brother. This was not nepotism. It was ‘’because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do’’ (2b). If only we would require similar qualifications for high office today. Character will always matter more than charisma. It’s been said that your gifts (talent) can only take you as far as your character can sustain you.

PRAYER: We pray for all in leadership, in church and state, that they may be people of integrity who desire to honour you and your ways over everything else.

Nehemiah 6: 17-19: Fifth column

17 Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. 18 For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shekaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. 19 Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.” NIV

You might expect this chapter to end on a triumphant high with verse 16. But in a sense we travel from mountain top to valley bottom. The positioning of this is interesting. Whether or not it was the writer’s intention, it reminds me that as long as we live in this world, we will never be so ‘successful’ that there are no more battles to fight.

Furthermore, the most difficult struggles for the church are always those which arise from within. There always have been ‘false bretheren’ who, whilst appearing to be part of the true faith community, actively work against it from inside. They are a fifth column – potentially, a wooden horse in the city of Troy.

So, there will never be a single day in your life when you can afford to drop your guard, or leave your armour hanging up in the closet.

As I heard a Scottish preacher say years ago, ‘It’s a fight all the way, but fight on brother!’ By the grace of God we will.

Nehemiah 6: 16: What we want

16 When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realised that this work had been done with the help of our God.” NIV

This is what we want is it not? For the world to look at the church and be able to say, ‘This is the finger of God.’ What they are seeing, as they peer in, is more than a natural, human institution. There has to be a God to explain what is going on.

The wall had lain in ruins for almost 150 years; it was rebuilt in fifty two days. This was clearly due to more than great leadership and strenuous effort. It was a work of God.

What may be applied to the church community can also be applicable to individual Christians. I think about the author, Edgar Wallace, referring to a sincere Christian man who lived in his street. Apparently he said, ‘As long as I live in the same street as that man, I cannot doubt that there is a God.’

What a testimony to carry in the world. I often pray for Jilly and myself, and our home, that we will bear the ‘’aroma’’ of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14ff); that we will ‘smell’ of Jesus; that His fragrance may be upon us:

‘To me, ‘twas not the truth you taught, to you so clear, to me so dim; but when you came to me, you brought a sense of Him

And from your eyes He beckons me, and from your heart His love is shed; till I lose sight of you, and see the Christ instead.’

PRAYER: Lord, may people in the world come to believe in you because they see your work in the church; may my friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues come to believe in Jesus because they see Him in me.

Nehemiah 6: 10-15: Another ruse

10 One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, ‘Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you – by night they are coming to kill you.’11 But I said, ‘Should a man like me run away? Or should someone like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!’ 12 I realised that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me.14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophet Noadiah and how she and the rest of the prophets have been trying to intimidate me. 15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” NIV

I remember one Christmas morning, when we opened the fridge door. Something didn’t quite smell right. Sadly, the something was our frozen turkey that we’d bought in advance, being assured by the shop assistant that it would keep until Christmas Day. Thankfully, our sense of small warned us off before we, and grandad and grandma, got food poisoning!

Once more in this story, spiritual discernment kicked in (12,13). Nehemiah sniffed out yet another ruse. Sometimes your ‘nose’ just tells you something is awry. This doesn’t smell right. Under the clothing of seemingly spiritual talk, there may lurk the b.o. of ungodly intentions. If Nehemiah could be successfully discredited, the Jews would no longer have a leader to look up to.

So the attacks kept coming in on Nehemiah’s goal mouth. Here another shot was fired from another angle. But it was all designed to frighten Nehemiah (and the people), and bring the work to a halt. It did not succeed (15). Nehemiah repeatedly defended his goal.

As we have to navigate our way through this putrid world, with its numerous temptations and pot-holes, may we always remember who we are (11) and live accordingly. The Duke of Windsor, the uncrowned King Edward VIII, recalling his boyhood as Prince of Wales, said, ‘My father (King George V) was a strict disciplinarian. Sometimes when I had done something wrong, he would admonish me saying, ‘’My dear boy, you must always remember who you are.’’ ‘

Nehemiah certainly did.

Nehemiah 6:9: How to deal with fear

They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’ NIV

Again, we see Nehemiah uttering a short prayer; shooting up an ‘arrow’ prayer. He’s in a desperate situation, and He prays. What should you do when fears press in? ‘Take it to the Lord in prayer.’

Once more I want to underline the point that it doesn’t have to be a long prayer to get God’s attention. It just has to be real and sincere. (I’m not saying there isn’t value in praying for long periods if you can. But that’s another matter). A drowning person doesn’t have much time or strength for anything more than ‘Help!’ (See also Matthew 6:7,8).

Nehemiah doesn’t ask for the trouble to be removed, but for strength to continue the work. It reminds me of the prayer of the church in Acts 4:29: ‘’Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.’’

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, please help me to grasp that short prayers from the heart, in your Name, please you, and reach the heart of God.

Nehemiah 6:5-9: Intimidation tactics

Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his assistant to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written:‘It is reported among the nations – and Geshem says it is true – that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: “There is a king in Judah!” Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.’I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’ NIV

Reading this section of chapter 6 rings bells for me. I feel sure it will for all pastors who come across it. It’s not an identical scenario, but at times I think we all encounter the disaffected person (or people) who intimate that certain other people in the church are unhappy with things, and they are talking to them (but not to you pastor!!). When you ask for names, of course they will not give them, but the implication usually is that significant numbers are upset and, possibly, about to walk. As I say, it’s not an identical situation, but it is similar, and a form of intimidation tactics is being used.

I love verse 8, don’t you? I seem to remember a pastor saying that he had received a letter from someone in the church, probably along the lines I have indicated above, and, he said, ‘My reply was Nehemiah 6:8!!’ It’s been a source of amazement to me through the years to witness what certain otherwise sincere Christians can say and get up to.

I note that Tom Hale, in his ‘Applied OT Commentary’, p.760, says this as a footnote: ‘Always beware a communication that begins: ’’It is reported…’’ (verse 6) – or ‘’I have heard,’’ or ‘’so-and-so says.’’ These are often the opening words of gossip and slander.’

Of course, the problem here was not among the people of God, but with the enemies of the church. But it’s clear they were trying to intimidate Nehemiah.

Nehemiah 4:6: A persistent pest

But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?’ Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his assistant to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written:‘It is reported among the nations – and Geshem says it is true – that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king” NIV

This passage reminds me of when Jesus was being tempted. Following his stiff resistance of all the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, the Biblical record says: ‘’When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time’’ (Luke 4:17).

He didn’t leave him for good. Like an unwanted door-to-door salesman, whom you may dismiss with a flea in his ear, Satan will be back, ringing that bell, hammering on that knocker, more times than you would care to mention. Certainly, more times than you would want.

It is not only the subtlety of temptation that can find a way through your defences; it is its sheer persistence that can wear you down.

Thank God, the Champion, Jesus, lives in each one of His people, and this makes supernatural victory possible.

‘And would’st thou know the secret of constant victory?

Let in the Overcomer and He will conquer thee.’

Nehemiah 6:1-3: Resolute defence

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it – though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates – Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.’But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you? NIV

Nehemiah’s enemies kept bowling ‘bouncers’ at him, but his guard was resolute. He played the ‘dead bat’ to each one.

One way we can be firm in resisting Satan’s temptations is by recognising constantly the greatness of the work we’re involved in. God has saved us ‘’by grace…through faith…’’ (Ephesians 2:8), and ‘’we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’’ (Ephesians 2:10). Whatever work God has called you to do, it is a ‘’great’’ work. It may not appear so to others; sometimes, especially when discouraged, it may appear small in our own eyes. It may be a hidden work. In this life there may be little to show for it. But we need to recognise the greatness of what we’ve been called to do. Refuse to be distracted, deflected, defeated by temptation. Stand your ground, keep your guard up, stay at the crease.

I once heard a preacher say something like this, ‘I’m not very good at cricket, but if Geoffrey Boycott could live inside me, I’d be excellent.’ We are not naturally good at resisting temptation. But if Jesus, who always sent the devil packing, lives in us, we are endowed with His supernatural ability to overcome. As a ‘branch’ in Jesus, the ‘Vine’, you can produce the ‘fruit’ of resistance.

As Graham Kendrick put it, ‘God put a fighter in me.’

PRAYER: Lord God, may I never lose sight of the greatness of the work you have given me to do.

Nehemiah 6:1-2: Discernment

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it – though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates – Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.’ But they were scheming to harm me; ” NIV

‘The devil is so subtle that he dominates man and persuades him at the same time that he is not being dominated.’ D. Martyn Lloyd Jones.

In 2 Corinthians 2: 11, the apostle Paul writes about Satan: ‘’For we are not unaware of his schemes.’’ This comes in a passage where he has raised the possibility of the devil ‘outwitting’ the church.

We have a very real and cunning foe (foes even), and this ‘serpent’ continues to slither into the ‘garden’ in subtle ways. He has the ability to make sin look appealing, appetising, and alluring. He is never more dangerous than when he sidles up to us in this ‘’scheming’’ way. Whereas outright assault may be vicious, it is obvious. Perhaps we are most in danger from Satan’s more subtle approaches.

“But the Dark cannot claim what Light does not surrender.” C.L.Wilson.

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