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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Nehemiah 5:19: PS

I entitled my last piece on Nehemiah 5 ‘One final thought.’ But I now need to add a postscript!

Early this morning, as I did something so mundane as walking into the utility room to get my medication from the cupboard, I found myself praying, ‘Lord, please help us with what we have to do today.’ I had a specific situation in mind where I was conscious of needing divine wisdom and aid. My next thought was, ‘This is what we see Nehemiah doing again and again – shooting up ‘arrow’ (or ‘telegraph’) prayers. Furthermore, they are not less powerful or effective because they are short, to the point, and uttered amid ordinary duties. It is not necessarily long prayers that God blesses. In Revelation 8, we read about an angel who ‘’was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.’’ (Verses 3,4). I dare say there were some short, desperate prayers in there, alongside longish intercession.

Think about it, your child will have your interest and attention if they call you and say, ‘Dad, mum, please will you help me with this?’

‘’If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him’’ (Luke 11:13).

PRAYER: Lord, please help us with the dilemmas and decisions we face today. We ask for your Holy Spirit.

Nehemiah 5: A final thought

Before we move on to chapter 6, I wanted to share some words from F.B. Meyer in his ‘Great Verses through the Bible’, p.169:

‘Nehemiah had a perfect right to take this money. Not a word could be said by even his critics, if he did. He was doing a priceless work, and might justly claim his maintenance. On the other hand, the people were very poor, and he would have a larger influence over them if he were prepared to stand on their level, and to share with them. It was just so that the Apostle argued in 1 Cor. 9. And from both we learn that we must forgo our evident rights and liberties in order to influence others for Christ. Do not always stand on your rights; but live for others, making any sacrifice in order to save some – even as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us.’

PRAYER: Again, Lord, we ask for wisdom to make the right choices, and for grace to live sacrificially under your Lordship.

Nehemiah 5:14-19: Integrity

“14 Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year – twelve years – neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. 15 But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels[a] of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. 16 Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we[b] did not acquire any land.17 Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. 18 Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.19 Remember me with favour, my God, for all I have done for these people.” NIV

A famous contemporary book on leadership, written by Simon Sinek, carries the wonderful title, ‘Leaders eat last.’ I haven’t read the book, but I think the title tells us what it’s essentially about – servant leadership. Thankfully, many people in the world today seem to be cottoning on to the idea that leadership is primarily about servanthood. But the Bible got there long before the rest of the planet started to catch up.

Initially, I thought about entitling this piece ‘generosity’, and that would have been relevant. But in the end I decided ‘integrity’ would be a more appropriate word. All the other good things exhibited in Nehemiah’s life, including his generous spirit, were manifestations of that integrity. He didn’t say one thing and then do another.

Earlier on in the chapter, Nehemiah had ‘preached’ to others about walking in the ‘’fear’’ of God (9). Here, in this section, as he sums up his first 12 years as governor, he says that his own life and leadership came ‘’out of reverence for God’’ (15b). He didn’t stand on his rights. His leadership was not infested with the dangerous pest of egotism. Rather, his tenure was marked by sacrifice and service; by giving rather than getting.

We can now look beyond Nehemiah to Jesus who came not ‘’to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’’ (Mark 10:45). Jesus is our supreme example. He humbled Himself ‘’to serve’’ and ‘’to give’’ (see also Philippians 2:5-11). Jesus is so much more than our example, but He is our example. He calls us to ‘’follow’’ Him. If He indwells us, such discipleship becomes gloriously possible.

Nehemiah 5:12-13: Check mate!

“9 So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them – one per cent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.’12 ‘We will give it back,’ they said. ‘And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.’Then I summoned the priests and made the nobles and officials take an oath to do what they had promised. 13 I also shook out the folds of my robe and said, ‘In this way may God shake out of their house and possessions anyone who does not keep this promise. So may such a person be shaken out and emptied!’At this the whole assembly said, ‘Amen,’ and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.” NIV

When Nehemiah issued the instructions in verse 11, backed up with the influence of his own example (10), he put the culprits in ‘check’. In all conscience what could they say other than, ‘’We will give it back’’ (12a). They were caught in the headlights with nowhere to run or hide. But when he built in such a potent accountability structure (12b), they were ‘checkmated.’ Sometimes wise leadership has to show tough love, taking full account of human nature. I think of the words in John 2 about Jesus that: ‘’He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.’’

It seems to me that Nehemiah, knowing human nature – knowing the subtle and powerful pull of greed over the heart – did all he could to help the people not only repent, but then stay on the right path.

PRAYER: Lord, I acknowledge that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.Help me not to be controlled by money, nor by the lust for it, but to steward what I have for your purposes.

Nehemiah 5:9-11: Walking in the fear of God

“9 So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? 10 I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let us stop charging interest! 11 Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them – one per cent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.’” NIV

Walking in the ‘’fear’’ of God has ethical implications:

In the first place, it teaches you ‘’right’’ from wrong. It makes you clear about what is ‘’right’’ and sensitises your conscience to any deviation from it. It causes you to want to do what is ‘’right’’.

 Secondly, it makes you desire to have a good testimony before men. You become aware that the glory of God, or otherwise, is bound up with how you conduct yourself. You don’t want to bring any kind of ‘’reproach’’ on God or His church. (Nehemiah showed, says Matthew Henry, ‘That it was a great scandal, and a reproach to their profession. “Consider the reproach of the heathen our enemies, enemies to us, to our God, and to our holy religion. They will be glad of any occasion to speak against us, and this will give them great occasion; they will say, These Jews, that profess so much devotion to God, see how barbarous they are one to another.” Note… All that profess religion should be very careful that they do nothing to expose themselves to the reproach of those that are without, lest religion be wounded through their sides.’)

Thirdly, it will not permit you to be a hypocrite. If you are encouraging others to live well, and do the right thing, then you will seek to set a good example yourself. This is something Nehemiah did. It helped make his ‘preaching’ so powerful.

 

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.

 

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