Reconstruction Begins – Opposition Begins

When we finished last week we saw Nehemiah inspecting the walls of Jerusalem carefully. The Hebrew word speaks to one who is not just looking at the damage, but also what needs to be done in the way of repairs. Reading about how methodically Nehemiah went about the wall with a thorough examination begs the question, “Do we examine our own lives?” Do we look at the broken down walls around our heart in which we fail to obey Proverbs 4:23? – “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.”

As Nehemiah is examining the walls and the gates in verses 13-15 a book that I have on my shelf from John Bunyan came to mind. It is called, “The Holy War”. It was his second best-selling allegory behind Pilgrim’s Progress. It is about a city called Mansoul, which is impregnable and cannot be overrun unless someone from the inside lets the enemy (Diabolos) in through one of its five gates. There is the Ear Gate, Eye Gate, Nose Gate, Mouth Gate and the Feel Gate. As you can tell each gate represents a sense in which Satan tempts in order to have one gate open. As a believer in Christ the only way the enemy will get in is if we open one of the gates from the inside. In the book, the gatekeeper over the Ear Gate was tantalized by Diabolos persuasive rhetoric and opened the gate so that the enemy could come and rule. What gates do you easily open to temptation? What will you do to ensure that you don’t allow the enemy in? I’ll be honest, there were shows that I had to stop watching because I was opening up my Eye Gate and Ear Gate to things that were not honoring to God. In Nehemiah’s case, he would rebuild these walls and gates, putting trustworthy men in charge of them.

In verse 16 I applaud Nehemiah as he withheld telling anyone, including the Jews of his plans until he was ready. In verse 12, we see God speaking to the heart of Nehemiah and giving him direction as to what he should do. He waited until God was finished giving him direction before he went to take the next step. It shows wisdom when you wait for God to give you direction and instruction. In His perfect timing He will bring about the right time for Nehemiah to share the reason he was in Jerusalem.

“Then I said to them, ‘You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.’ I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work.” Nehemiah 2:17-18

The Jews had been in despair from all the evil that was being carried out against them by the other nations. These people probably felt abandoned by God and lived in discouragement, but Nehemiah was an encourager sent by the Most High Himself. Have you ever had someone come in a time of suffering and despair and give you an aptly spoken word from the Lord that gave you instant strength? The Greek word for encouragement is “paraklesis”. It is where we get our word “paraclete” or advocate/helper. The Holy Spirit is referred to in scripture as a Paraclete. It derives from “Parakaleo”. It is from a combination of “Para” meaning, “beside” and “Kaleo” meaning “to call”. It means, “to call to one’s side” or “to call to one’s aid.” Nehemiah was coming to the aid of his people and his words gave them hope. Not worldly hope which delves into uncertainty (i.e. I hope you get the job, or I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow), but a hope that is certain. Such is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the precious word of God given to us to be a reminder of His goodness and faithfulness in the darkest of hours.

The Jews would now have courage knowing that King Artaxerxes was behind them, but even more important, God, the Lord of all creation was behind them.

“But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Nehemiah 2:19

This was a time when Nehemiah could answer a fool according to his folly. The Hebrew word for “mocked” means “to speak maliciously” or “to deride”. The context of its use is joking or laughing in a cruel way. Imagine for yourselves a group of teenage bullies picking on a smaller weaker teen. They make fun of his clothes and call him names all the while bursting out into laughter with each insult. The purpose of this mockery is solely to intimidate and to discourage. Nehemiah understood this, which prompted his direct response, not retaliation.

“So I answered them and said to them, ‘The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.” Nehemiah 2:20

Their sole intent was to crush the fragile courage of the Jews, and as a leader, Nehemiah had to put them in their place. He told them that God will give them success. In Nehemiah 6:16 we see that they realized Nehemiah’s words had come true when they completed the wall, “When all of our enemies heard of it (the rebuilding of the wall), and the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” Nehemiah’s words were remembered by those who hated the Jews, and God was glorified by the very people that opposed Him. What a paradox! The very people that oppose and hate God will give glory to His name. What I find interesting is that after witnessing this miraculous feat by God, none of the nations repented and turned to Him. Such is the totally depraved nature of man who wants nothing to do with God. There is one more point I would like to make within the context of Nehemiah 2:19-20: If you are serving the Lord, you will be opposed. The opposition will be constant and at times unrelenting. Expect it, prepare for it, and persevere through it. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. You have a Paraclete in the Holy Spirit who is able to guide and strengthen you.

Attaching this to Nehemiah 3, I would like to just hit some key points:

The first part of the wall that the Jewish people started on was the Sheep Gate. The Sheep Gate was where the lambs were brought into Jerusalem and taken to the temple for Passover to be slaughtered. How apropos that the High Priest and the other priests started here first. This very gate would be the gate that the Lamb of God (Lord Jesus Christ) would walk through as a lamb headed to the slaughter for the sins of mankind.

Another interesting point is that the High Priest’s name is “Eliashib”. His name means, “God restores.” Isn’t that beautiful? God is restoring the walls and the people of Jerusalem.

I was taken back by these priests who have no experience in masonry or carpentry being willing to help. These priests had not done their job very well as you will see in the proceeding chapters of Nehemiah, but here they were faithful. The same cannot be said today with the litany of televangelists that call themselves “Christians”. These people peddle a false gospel for the purpose of wealth. They are not Pastors, for they are lovers of money and are marked out for destruction. Ten years ago the false teacher T.D. Jakes was paid $100,000 for a 50 minute “sermon” for a parachurch ministry in New York. Amongst his demands to preach were: Staying in the Presidential Suite of the Ritz Carlton at $2,200 a night, rare chocolates, rare flowers, rare desserts, rare pastries, imported various gifts from around the globe for Jakes and his family. This also included chartering a Learjet for $22,000, i-Tunes gift cards, ipods and various other expensive goods. They created a Green room for him at the venue and rented luxurious furniture and decorations at an enormous cost.  Do you think T.D. Jakes would have assisted Nehemiah in the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem? Do you think he would ever get his hands dirty or do something for God that would sacrifice his love for money, merchandise, and status? I think not. It is false teachers like these who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, looking to devour the wealth of both the believer and the unbeliever. This ministry that brought him in almost went bankrupt as a result. Beware of men and women such as these. They take God’s word and twist it to mean something that it does not.

In verse 5, we see that “the nobles did not work”. If you read Nehemiah 6:17-19 you will see that it was because their allegiance was with Tobiah through marriage. In verse 8, “Gold smiths and perfumers” rebuilt the temple. This shows the trades that they learned while in Babylon as they went from an agrarian nation to one of merchants. Perfumers would actually be modern day pharmacists. In verses 9 and 12 we see that 2 of Jerusalem’s ruling officials made repairs, including one official’s daughters. In verse 14 we see that one of the rulers of half the city was rebuilding the dung gate. He was doing the lowest of the low jobs. Can you imagine the stench that came up from the valley while they rebuilt the wall?

In verse 17, we see that the Levites were even making repairs. If I had to make a judgment purely from what I see from the Jewish people, I believe that the condition of their hearts were beginning to change. They were all in God’s refining fire and He was about to turn up the heat in Chapter 4. We’ll see how next week.

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Romans 8:1: No Condemnation

This is a transcript done by a Twitter friend from my Exegesis of Romans 8:1 via Twitter. I hope it blesses you all. Our salvation is eternally secure in Christ.

Rooted+Relevant

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:1

This speaks to being justified before God. That God is declaring a believer to be righteous by imputing Christ’s righteousness to them.

“no condemnation” (οὐδείς κατάκριμα) “ou” is the strongest negative in Greek. “eis” is the masculine form of “one.” Properly, “no one.”

The best English word I can use to drive home the power and finality of “ou” is the word, “never”. Katakrima is a sentence of damnation.

Paul is saying that those justified in Christ can “Never” be condemned to Hell. The passage of Romans 8 goes on to tell us that nothing in creation can separate true believers from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:37-39).

There are those that posit an unbiblical fallacy that we are in charge of our salvation, and therefore can lose it. This fallacy is foundational to…

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Carrying Out the Will of God Requires Sacrifice

When we finished last time we saw that the queen mentioned in Artaxerxes chamber was more than likely his step mother, Queen Esther. The very Esther which rescued the Jews from the evil Haman was again being used by God to influence King Artaxerxes to consider Nehemiah’s request. Scripture tells us in Nehemiah 2:6 that “it pleased the king” to fulfill Nehemiah’s request. The word, “pleased” (yatab) means to be “merry” or “joyful”. It brought the king joy to grant Nehemiah’s request. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the parallel with God and Artaxerxes. How much more did it bring Yahweh joy to grant Nehemiah’s request through Artaxerxes? If Artaxerxes is joyful, imagine the joy it brought God as his servant faithfully executes His will. The four months of prayer had paid off, but not only that, it fashioned him into a man dependent upon God who would not crumble when the opposition comes. Nehemiah resembles the man here in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For He will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”

“And I said to the king, ‘If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.’ And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.” Nehemiah 2:7-8.

After reading these verses we see that Nehemiah had given much thought logistically as to what would be needed for the travels and restoration of Jerusalem. The reason why he was able to give such a concise and thoughtful (being full of thought) answer is because he had already begun planning well in advance of when his request was made. Another reason God took four months to answer his prayer was to have him prepare exactly for the need of the journey. Imagine if he didn’t reflect on the needs for reconstruction and stood before Artaxerxes speechless because he had given it no thought. How true is this for the believer? If God has put a mentoring ministry on your heart for reaching boys of absentee fathers, would you not sit down and count the cost (time, volunteers, money, space)? Christ said in Luke 14:28, “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, and does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” Now, the context here is the cost of being a disciple of Christ. You just don’t rush into something haphazardly like building a tower without giving thought to the foundation, architecture, materials, number of workers, cost, etc… Knowing Christ as Lord and Savior will cost us everything. We are no longer our own because we were bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Being a believer must change the way you live. It means no more partying, no sex outside of marriage, no stealing, no lying to people, no drunkenness, no foul language, etc… because Christ died to save you from the penalty of those and all sins. You are grateful and thus give up these things to service the Lord Jesus Christ who saved you from God’s wrath. This will cost you relationships with friends, family or even your job. Following Christ requires that you deny yourself (Luke 9:23). For Nehemiah, the cost of denying himself meant giving up his job as cupbearer to the king, putting his life in jeopardy with Sanballat and Tobiah, give up living in his plush royal quarters, using his own money to pay for all of his servants and administrators, and their families daily food allowance (several hundred people). The believer, like Nehemiah, must count the cost of everything we do for the glory of God. God requires sacrifice if you follow Him and it is worth losing everything. The rich young ruler counted the cost and when Christ told him to give all his money to the poor and follow Him…the rich man declined. He could not part with his money.

“Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horseman. When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.” Nehemiah 2:9-10

Note that Nehemiah had a military escort. No doubt Nehemiah understood the evil that was happening in Jerusalem and that he would not be welcomed by the surrounding peoples as a result. Now, Sanballat was from Horonaim which was a town in Moab making him most likely a Moabite. He was the governor of Samaria in the north, while Tobiah was governor of the Samaritan faction in the east. When these two adversaries of Nehemiah heard about it they were very “displeased”. The Hebrew word means vexed. This bothered them deeply. They don’t even know Nehemiah, but they already hate him. Keep in mind, as a believer, if someone hates you and you don’t even know them, know that they hated Christ first, so they will hate you by default as a Christian.

Now, there is one thing that I forgot to mention that is easy to miss in the text, but is nonetheless significant. In verse 10, “someone had come” in Hebrew is “Adam”. For those of you that know Hebrew this is the word for man. You can render it. “a man has come.” Nehemiah hand delivered all these letters to these officials and all they knew about him was that he was “a man”. This means that Nehemiah did not announce, “I am the Cupbearer to King Artaxerxes himself,” or “I am man that was prophesied by Daniel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. I have been divinely sent by Yahweh.” Instead of announcing his stature in the realm of Persia or the realm of Heaven, he chose to say nothing. He did not exalt himself or take pride in his position, rather he came to do the job that God had tasked him to do. What if we as believers did this? Instead of announcing the grandeur of our accomplishments and achievements to those around us or that we come across in ministry, what if we just said nothing?” Far too often I think we try to impress people with our credentials or successes, but in doing so we are impressing man, not God.

“So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire.” Nehemiah 2:10-13

Nehemiah comes into town and waited three days before he begins his work. He patiently waited before he told anyone what he was about to do. He needed this time to contemplate the work, and for God to lead him how to begin. I would assume that he probably did spend a considerable amount of time in prayer. Then in verse 12, he arose in the night and told no one what God was putting into his heart. The Hebrew word is “leb” (mind) means “heart/mind/inner man”. It indicates that God was speaking to his soul. The Lord was bringing things to mind, directing him how to proceed. Nehemiah was alone when God was speaking to his heart. There is something so important for the believer in spending time with God alone. He speaks above the noise of this world when we are alone with Him.

I am not sure if Nehemiah was suffering from the penalty of leadership (so much pressure from being a leader of men that sleep evades you), or he could not sleep because God was directing him, or that he was trying to avoid being seen by his enemies. Personally, I think it may have been all three. God’s hours are 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If he wants to speak or direct us we may be awakened at 2 a.m. because He has something that He wants to say to us. Either way, what is interesting is that Nehemiah inspected the walls. The Hebrew word for “inspect” is “sabar,” it was a medical term for one who would probe a wound to not only see the damage, but to also see the course of action needed for healing. What if we Christians did some needed introspection? What spiritual walls in our lives might we see broken down giving the enemy a way into our lives? If Christians started rebuilding these walls in their lives by mortifying sin I think we would see an amazing transformation, not only in them, but the church, and the world. Nehemiah like a surgeon not only recognizes the extent of the damage physically, but sees the solution. Nehemiah was going to bring physical and spiritual healing to a people and a city that lay in ruins. Not only were the ravenous peoples around them going to be kept out by the rebuilding of the wall, but the hearts of the Jews would be turned back to God. The spiritual walls of their lives which had been torn down were going to be rebuilt.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Athanasia: The Great Insurrection – A basic introduction to my book.

I wanted to do a short post on the epic fantasy novel that I have written. It is the first book in a six book series and is called, “Athanasia: The Great Insurrection”. In 2011 I had an insatiable desire to write a book, but I was unsure as to what I would write, so I committed it to prayer. I had always admired the fantasy writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. As a child I remember being given a creative writing assignment on one occasion. I enjoyed creating stories out of thin air with epic battle scenes. I wrote one of the most off the wall stories that included the Easter bunny and those giant robotic cats from Voltron (I told you it was crazy). When I became  a man I did not put my childish ways behind me except the desire to be really grown up (C.S. Lewis said something like this). Part of finding the will of God is searching for it. I decided to write a fantasy novel and see if this was what the Lord desired. If it was not God’s will then no one would like it and I would struggle writing it. This novel would not be a typical fantasy novel, but one that is partial allegory, pointing to the glory and majesty of Christ. I wanted it to be deeper theologically than both Lewis and Tolkien’s excellent novels. I wanted to speak to deep theological questions like total depravity, predestination, moral relativism, evil, vengeance, redemption, grace, mercy, pride, forgiveness, meekness, and many others. I want to point the unbeliever to Christ while at the same time challenge and encourage the brethren. It took me 3 months to write the book. I prayed before I wrote each chapter and the words just kept coming and coming. I was unsure of what to do when it was complete. I went to agents and publishing houses and had the door slammed in my face over 50 times. It was at this point that I was about to give up. I thought that maybe this was not God’s will. I prayed to the Lord that if it was His will for me to continue refining this book and writing others in the series that he open a door for me. That very day I was approached via Twitter about entering my book into a fantasy contest. I entered the contest and won third place. I took all of this as confirmation from God that I needed to keeping writing.

I created a land called, “Athanasia” (ἀθανασία). This is a Greek word used in the New Testament 3 times (1 Corinthians 15:53, 54 and 1 Timothy 6:16). This word is a combination of “Alpha” and “Thanatos”. In Greek, when you place the prefix “a” (alpha) in front of the word it gives it a negative meaning. Alpha signifies “without”. “Thanatos” is the word for death. When you combine the two it means “deathless” or “without death”, or more properly, “immortality”. Athanasia was a world originally created to be immortal until it too had a fall.

The triangle with circle around it is the symbol for Sophos, the God of all creation. Sophos means “wisdom” in Greek and he is my Christ figure. The reason I chose the triangle with the circle around it was to give a representation of the Holy Trinity. I tried to think of a symbol that would encompass the Godhead and came up with this idea back in the mid-2000’s, several years before I had written the book. Each point represents a member of the Trinity, showing the distinct persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, while at the same time the circle around it touching at the three points shows the unity, co-equality, perfection and eternality of the Trinity. I use this image when I witness to Mormons when discussing our Triune God. I do not have a God the Father character or a Holy Spirit character in the book. Tim Challies enlightened and confirmed that what I was writing was not outside the realm of scripture as he addressed why we should not create any type of image to represent God or the Holy Spirit. The reason is that back when Israel was freed from Egypt they wanted to create an image that would represent Yahweh who freed them from Pharaoh. They violated the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” Doing this would only take away from the glory of God as His beauty and majesty cannot be symbolized or reproduced in any form of His creation. It degrades God. For me, to create a God the Father character or a Holy Spirit Character I believe would violate this commandment. I would be acting like the Israelites when they made a golden calf. As for a God the Son figure, this is feasible because Christ came to earth as fully man and fully God. Creating a character like this would not blaspheme God.

I have a Satanic character named Mardok whose name I derived from the false Chaldean god Marduk. Mardok rebelled against Sophos when he witnessed all the people of Athanasia bring their gifts to his throne, giving Sophos honor and glory. Mardok craved that glory and fell from his position as an immortal who protected the King of Portus. He began to scheme for a way to supplant the 21 Athanasian kings so that all glory and honor of mortal man would be directed to himself as king of all Athanasia.

Some of the names, but not all, should give the reader a representation of each person’s character. Some examples are King Justinian, Arsinian, Petros, or Sinjin. Notice the “sin” in two of the names. It is meant to give you the impression of one prone to sin. Justinian is one who is just and righteous. He faithful to Sophos, the creator of all things. Petros is the Greek word for “rock”. His character is one that is decisive and firm. He holds steadfastly to the truth and does not bend. Biblically, names were important because they carried meaning tied to an event or something meaningful to the person giving the name, whether to a child, or even Adam naming the animals.

There is a race of immortals called the Adelphos. Adelphos is singular for brother in Greek. I chose not to call them the Adelphoi because most people don’t understand or care about Greek tenses. Adelphos sounded better. Sophos created these beings to protect and advise the 21 kings whom he established in Athanasia. There were four assigned to each king. Each wields a sword of Helios, which was created by Sophos from drops of the sun. They were indestructible and could cut through anything. Mardok abandoned the role he was given by Sophos and sought to lead as many of the Adelphos as he could to rebel against Sophos. Seventy eight defected, while only six remained faithful. The only way an Adelphos could die was by a sword of Helios. They could be wounded in battle and would heal quickly. Sophos gave each king a Sword of Helios for protection, unknown to the kings was that the swords were created not only to defend against man, but against the Adelphos should they ever rebel.

In my book there are NO sex scenes, no sexual immorality, no homosexuality, no sexual innuendo, no course joking, no scantily clad characters, no foul language and no gore filled battle scenes. In the overwhelming majority of fantasy novels you cannot read a book without some or all of these sins clearly flaunted and demonstrated. Just because every one of these sins exist doesn’t mean that I should show it for the purpose of “keeping it real”. It throws stumbling blocks in front of many believers today. I do not desire to resemble a Game of Thrones series. I desire a clean book that is glorifying to God.

There will be battle scenes with people dying, but nothing with gore. I grew up studying ancient warfare and read much about ancient Sparta, Athens, Macedonia, Rome, and Carthage. I incorporate some of their tactics and weapons into many of the battle scenes. There is even one scene I created with Sterling Bridge in mind for those of you that are familiar with William Wallace.

As you read through the book scriptural references and biblical insights will jump off the page at you. There are a lot of characters that I have taken much time to craft. My hope is that it will not deter the reader just as Tolkien’s wide cast of characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series did not deter readers.

There is lots of action and adventure, but there are also times of instruction where the character instructing another character in a scene is actually meant to instruct the reader. There are scenes that are didactic. Many non-fiction readers who do not read epic fantasy enjoyed this book, and I think this and the partial allegory side of it may be part of the reason. I have tried to write in such detail with viewpoint characters and in depth explanation that you feel like you are part of the book. This is what many readers have explained to me.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot so I will stop here. If you are interested, my first book is available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

Making A Request Before the King

When we finished last week Nehemiah was mourning over the remnant in Jerusalem. This mourning led him to introspection and his introspection led him to confession of sin for Israel, his family, and himself. After his confession he reminded God of His promises and remembered His goodness. It was at this point at the very end of the chapter that he made his petition before God. There is something key that I would like to point out here. Nehemiah confessed his sin before he made his request. Sin is what separates us from God, causing us to fall out of fellowship with Him. It anchors us in the ocean of life not allowing us to move forward, but rather to stagnate in our faith. Is it any wonder that David says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart the Lord will not hear.” Psalm 66:18. The Hebrew word for “regard” means “to cherish/to defend”. This is a person who treasures their sin, not a person who randomly sins. God will not hear the prayers of those who relish in their sins. Or how about, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” Isaiah 59:2

Make no mistake, a believer that cherishes their sin and lives to please themselves will have no prayer heard by God. He or she’s sin will separate them from the Almighty so that they will be unable to have fellowship. God is the one who leads us in prayer, we do not lead Him. As a result, their prayers will be meaningless because the purpose of prayer is to conform us to the will of God. Cherishing a sin puts a blockade between us and God. God is holy and demands that the believer strive for holiness. It comes as no surprise that the first thing that Nehemiah did was inspect the ruins of his life for sin. He confessed his personal sin not only to God, but his family’s sin and Israel’s. You see, we are responsible for the sin that lives in our families and country because we are contributors to it. I used to picket abortion clinics with my mom until about the age of 14. When I got to high school I became silent. I was silent in the face of those in my family who were committing sexual immorality or drunkenness, and even gave them a nod of approval. I contributed not only to the sin in my family, but to the sin in our country. On one occasion in college I got a good Christian friend to join the fraternity I was in at East Carolina University knowing that it would corrupt him, and it did. You see, every sin we weave has a ripple effect in our lives, our families, and our nation. The reason the United States is in such a poor state of morality is because I contributed to its immorality. We all contributed to it. This is the reason why Nehemiah’s prayer is so wide in its scope. He was a contributor of sin too.

Nehemiah is now right before the Lord. He has confessed and forsaken his sin and is eager to do God’s will. We will see shortly that God heard his prayer.

“Now I was the cupbearer to the king.” Nehemiah 1:11c

The position of cupbearer was important in the realm of the king’s court. Nehemiah’s job was to taste the wine served to the king to ensure there was no poison. If there was, he would die. In my opinion, I do not believe that this position would be a highly sought after job. The interesting fact about Nehemiah being a cupbearer was that he had direct access to the king. It allowed him to develop a relationship with King Artaxerxes. In God’s sovereignty He would use the relationship between a Jew and a Gentile king to bring about the deliverance of His people. Wherever God places you in your occupation, church, club, or even a random encounter has an eternal purpose. Do you make the most of these encounters so that God’s name is glorified?

“And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.’ Then I was very much afraid.” Nehemiah 2:1

It had now been four months since Nehemiah had run into his brother and received the bad report about Jerusalem. I firmly believe that Nehemiah was being refined over this period by God so that he would be ready to face the coming adversity in Jerusalem. I remember listening to a Pastor that our church sponsored in India tell a group of us preparing for a short term mission trip six months away, paraphrasing, “You can expect that between now and the time you leave that God will refine you. You will face much adversity, but God will use it to refine you so as to prepare you for the work that he has for you there.” What is interesting is that I was going to pay for most of my trip and then I lost my job a month before we were to leave. I had only raised half the money. The team understood if I bowed out, but I knew it was God’s will to go and that he would provide the funds, and He did. He really refined me so that when I went to Delgado, El Salvador I was ready. I worked in the medical clinic and one day saw a one armed man who was a diabetic. He had fallen earlier in the day and was banged up. When I examined him I noticed that his feet were turning dark brown which signified that they were rotting and would need to be amputated because of his diabetes. I patched up his wounds and gave him some glucose tablets to take when he felt light headed. I knew that he probably didn’t have more than a year or two to live. I asked him if he attended the church we were serving in. He replied in Spanish, “No, but I am going to start attending now.” Two days later he came to a church service where the Gospel was proclaimed powerfully. It was at that point that he believed in Christ and repented of his sin. I remember shaking his one hand and seeing his eyes well with tears. He was a new creation. I was so happy because this man’s body was broken and dying, but I would see him again in Heaven. Faith comes through hearing, just keep in mind that many times our actions open the door to sharing the Gospel. God used the adversity I experienced to trust him more and I got to see him move mightily those 10 days in El Salvador. There are many reasons why God waited four months to open the door for Nehemiah to petition the king, but one was certainly preparation of his servant.

Ancient King’s took good care of their court. The demeanor of their servants was a reflection of how they cared for them. Scripture tells us that Nehemiah had not been sad in his presence, but now his countenance was downcast. If a king ever saw a change in the demeanor of one of his servants it would immediately arouse suspicion. His father Xerxes and his brother Darius were assassinated by a man in their court by the name of Artabanos. Artabanos was dead, but paranoia doesn’t depart so easily. Artaxerxes could have become paranoid that an attempt was about to be made on his life by his cupbearer’s actions. Nehemiah was “very much afraid”. The Hebrew word is “yare” and it literally means “to physically tremble”. Even the Greek translation enhances this word to imply that he was shaking “violently”. Visibly, this did not make Nehemiah look very good, but the king asked him why he looked so despondent? I love Nehemiah’s answer:

“I said to the king, ‘Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?’” Nehemiah 2:3

He didn’t say “everything is fine” or stutter in his response. He was direct, and for a man that was trembling he was articulate too. Maybe we should all approach the throne of God in the same fear and trembling as Nehemiah did when he made his request to Artaxerxes?

“Then the king said to me, ‘What would you request?’ So I prayed to the God of Heaven.” Nehemiah 2:4

Nehemiah lifts up a prayer on the spot in front of the king asking for the words to say. How many of you have been in a perplexing or stressful situation and you lifted up a quick prayer to the Lord and it came through? It has happened to me and every believer I know. The historian Flavius Josephus records what Nehemiah asked: “He granted God to give him favor, and afford him the power of persuading by his words.” Proverbs 21:1 comes to mind in this instance, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” God in His sovereignty is the only one who can change hearts.

“I said to the king, ‘If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.’ Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time.” Nehemiah 2:5-6

I want to focus on “the queen” now. A queen was never allowed into the king’s chambers during business hours. In Esther 4:16 if the queen enters the king’s chambers and was not summoned by him, then she will be executed unless the king extends his golden scepter to her. This was more than likely not Artaxerxes wife. Many historians believe that Artaxerxes was not even married at this time. The book of Esther was written around 445 B.C. but the events took place about 37 years earlier. This means that it is more likely that this was Queen Esther, the wife of Xerxes, Artaxerxes father. The Queen mother was allowed to sit in the kings chambers while he was conducting the business for the day. That is why I am almost convinced that this was Queen Esther, Artaxerxes step mother. This is an amazing nugget to find in the text. Esther delivered her people from Haman and now she more than likely used her influence to help persuade Artaxerxes to look favorably on Nehemiah. God is good!

We will pick things up in verse 7 next week.

Soli Deo Gloria!

God’s Call to Action Starts with Mourning

When we finished last week Nehemiah had just found out all the evil that was happening to the remnant in Jerusalem. People in the city were being pillaged, enslaved, and murdered by the surrounding peoples. Nehemiah’s response to this in verse four was, “When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days; and I was fasting and praying before the God of Heaven.”

The Hebrew word for “mourn” is “Abal”. It literally means “to walk with the head cast down.” It denotes a mourning for the dead. The remnant in Jerusalem was disgraced and a reproach, while the glory of this once mighty city had passed away into obscurity. Nehemiah was so burdened by this news that he did all one could do, he fasted and he prayed. This was a Godly sorrow. A sorrow that hurts to see the chosen people and the chosen city of Almighty God be stripped of its glory and lie in shambles. My question to believers is why is this type of mourning not seen in the church? Almost 60 million babies have been aborted legally since 1973 and very few mourn. Marriages amongst believers today are breaking into pieces and very few show any care to even mourn. False teachers are more prominent today in the world than probably any other time in history through the medium of TV and the internet. They have been given pulpits and preach a false Christ as they sing the Song of the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey leading all who follow to their demise, yet no one mourns. There are fathers and mothers who verbally and physically abuse their children daily, and yet, no one mourns for these precious little ones. When O church will we move away from self-help theology which is worthless in God’s eyes and mourn over our sin! Oh how I pray for the day that believers would be less concerned about the material things of this life and mourn over the eradication of their brothers and sisters in the Middle East! I say all of this to you because the message that I share is for me first. I have failed to mourn in countless areas including at times weeping over my own sin. I have loved myself so much that I had no concern for these things. Oh how I pray that God would awaken me and the church to fall on our faces and mourn like Nehemiah did!

E.M. Bounds said it best, “How few men in these days who can weep at the evils and abominations of the times! How rare are those who are sufficiently interested and concerned for the welfare of the church to mourn! Mourning and weeping over the decay of religion, and the decline of revival power, and the fearful inroads of worldliness into the church are almost an unknown quantity.”

For the believer there is good that comes from pain, agony, or any suffering. One of my favorite quotes is from Oswald Chambers. It says, “Before God can use a man greatly He must wound him deeply.” God was about to use Nehemiah for something that will echo into the halls of eternity forever, and Nehemiah didn’t even know it. What might happen if Christians experienced a healthy mourning like Nehemiah over the state of our country, over our families, over the church, or over the sin in our lives? What might God do to bear enormous fruit for His kingdom? This type of mourning is healthy, not harmful. Healing, not destructive.

The Godly mourning of Nehemiah led him to fast and pray. What better place to take our pain than the One who saved us from the torment of Hell and gave us new life. Nehemiah’s fasting and praying led him to some serious introspection and the evidence is seen in verses 5-11a.

  • V6 – “I am praying before you now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned.”
  • We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses.”

 

Nehemiah is confessing the sin of his nation, his family, and his life. He is laying it out all before God. This Godly mourning brought forth prayer which led to self-examination, and now self-examination is bringing about repentance. This is an example we should all follow.

Before we go any further I would be remiss if I did not talk about fasting, which I believe is key in a believer’s life. I also do understand that not everyone can fast from food for medical reasons. In Matthew 6:16-18 where fasting and praying is exhorted, notice it says, “When you fast”, not “if”.

  1. Fasting is associated with sadness. The loss of David’s son in 2 Samuel 12:15-16. Grief leads us to fast. This is the case with Nehemiah.
  2. Fasting frees us from bondage. It weakens the sins we grapple with so that when the fast is over we are much better off, focused on Christ. Isaiah 58:3-6.
  3. Fasting is associated with prayer/Seeking the Lord’s will. In times of confusion and struggle when we humble ourselves before God by depriving ourselves of food God will give us direction. – Acts 13:2-3.

Keep in mind that prayer and fasting go hand in hand. Fasting was not widely practiced by the Jewish people at this time. We have seen where David fasted when his infant son ailed, Daniel fasted a century earlier, and the people of Nineveh fasted after Jonah proclaimed that they repent. It is an act of humility to give up one’s need for sustenance and make God preeminent in your life. I remember fasting one time over a sin that I had placed higher than God. My time in prayer and scripture with Almighty God was sweet. I remember praying for an hour and it felt like a minute. I even remember preparing a lesson, and as I read scripture amazing insights were coming to mind out of the text that I had never seen before. When my fast was finished I did not want to eat any food because of the time I had together with my Lord was so sweet and satisfying that I didn’t want it to end.

After Nehemiah’s confession he begins reminding God of His promises in verses 8-10. The promises that Nehemiah brings before the Lord are from the past with Moses and Israel. He is pleading with God to deliver His people from this evil situation just as He did with Moses. One of the best things one can do is to remind God of His promises in prayer. God does not need reminding of His promises unless He were a forgetful man, rather it is a reminder to us of His faithfulness and a call for Him to put His promises into action. Keep in mind this is not the false prosperity theology where you name it and claim it. God is not a genie in which you rub a lamp and get your heart’s desire. The purpose of prayer is to conform the believer to the will of God. The Lord promises that all those that follow Christ will suffer, but He does promise to give us the strength to endure when going through trials or persecutions. As you can see, Nehemiah’s prayer is conforming to God’s will, prompting the Lord to put him to action.

After Nehemiah reminds God of His promises he makes his supplication in verse 11, “make your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.” Nehemiah turned this over to God knowing that God controls the hearts of kings. I wonder if this verse came to mind when Nehemiah prayed for compassion before King Artaxerxes? “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1

God’s calling of Nehemiah to action started with an encounter with his brother who brought a bad report about Jerusalem. It grieved his heart and led him down a path of repentance and submission. Before God will do great things through you He will have to grieve you. It is not something we will enjoy, but it is something that is good for us.

We will pick up next week with Nehemiah 1:11c “Now I was cupbearer to the king.”

God’s Call to Action – Exegesis of Nehemiah 1:1-3

When I started this blog I was currently teaching in Nehemiah chapter 5, so my first four postings covered Nehemiah chapters 5-6. My goal over the coming weeks is to deliver Nehemiah chapters 1-4 so that you can have the full picture of this man and what he endured in faithful service to our God. Today we will cover Nehemiah 1:1-3.

Nehemiah’s name means “Jehovah comforts”. The book of Nehemiah was actually written by Ezra, but as you look through the book you see that it is written in the first person. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) and Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible), Ezra and Nehemiah were actually one book. The book of Nehemiah is written in the first person revealing that Ezra was transcribing Nehemiah’s personal diaries.

Before we dive into the text there is some history that is important to share. In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar overthrew Jerusalem and began deporting all of the royal family, leaders, and administrators.  In 597 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar began deporting warriors, military leaders, blacksmiths and craftsmen, leaving only the weak and poor behind (See 2 Kings 24:10-16). This would thwart the possibility of rebellion as the weak and poor would not rise up, but it would also build loyalty to Babylon as they would appoint leaders from the remaining underclass. Would you not be loyal to one who brought you from rags to riches? In 538 B.C. the first exilic return began as the Israelites were allowed to go back to Jerusalem. The historian Josephus tells us that the surrounding nations coined the term “Jew” because the tribe of Judah was the first to return. They began using this term for every tribe in Israel, and it has continued throughout history. In this first return there were approximately 50,000 Jews that returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. Then in 458 B.C. another 41,000 Jews migrated back to Jerusalem in what would be the second exilic return. In 445 B.C. the third exilic return only brought back around 2,000 Jews. There were millions of Jews, but only roughly 93,000 moved back to Jerusalem when they were given the green light. Why would so few return when this was their time to regather as a nation? I believe the reason was that they had become comfortable in Babylon. They went from an agrarian society to a merchant society. They put down their plows and became jewelers, pharmacists, clothing makers etc… They were seduced by the wealth and prominence they gained in this foreign land. If you read the secular historian Josephus’s accounts you will see that it was very dangerous to live in Jerusalem (I will elaborate more on that shortly). We should learn that God always leaves a remnant. Many Jews had made their home in Babylon, thus forsaking God, and so a faithful remnant emerged. How true is this today? There are so many people that label themselves Christians, but they revel in their sin and spit on the authority of the Bible. Despite this there is a faithful remnant even today that submits to the inerrant word of scripture and who humbly seek the will of God. Is it any wonder that the Apostle John says in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

As you open your Bibles to Nehemiah 1:1a we see, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.” Hacaliah was not a man of renown. Nehemiah did not descend from the line of kings. He was not a descendant of Aaron and the priestly line, nor was he a descendant of the Levites. He was not a prominent businessman or politician. Nehemiah was an ordinary man like you and me. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for His kingdom if they will humble themselves before Him. David was a shepherd who became king of Israel, Peter a fisherman who became the leader of the Apostles and the foundation for building Christ’s church, Daniel was made into a Eunuch as a 15 year old boy and put into service of Nebuchadnezzar before becoming a top Administrator and leader of the Magi in Persia. This gives credence to 1 Samuel 16:7, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Note in Nehemiah 1:1b-3 “In the month of Chislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa the capitol, that Hanani, one of my brothers, and some men form Judah came; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They said to me, “The remnant there in the province who survived the captivity are in great distress and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

Chislev was the November/December time frame of 446 B.C. Susa was also the place where the King of Persia wintered. It was east of Jerusalem in Iraq and approximately 150 miles north of the Persian gulf. Also keep in the back of your mind that Susa was where the book of Esther took place and was penned close to this time. Though the actual events in Esther were roughly 37 years earlier.

In verse 2, we see that Nehemiah runs into one of his biological brothers (Hanani, See Nehemiah 7:2) and inquires of the happenings of the remnant in Jerusalem. Nehemiah then hears a very negative report about Jerusalem being in physical disrepair and that the walls are in shambles. However, even more disturbing is the fact that the Jews are “in great distress and a reproach”. The Hebrew word for “reproach” carries the implication that the Jews were taunted and despised. I then wondered, what does “distress” actually mean in the Hebrew? The Hebrew word is “Ra” and it simply means “evil”. I then thought to myself, “What does this mean? What kind of evil was being done to the Jews more than being taunted and looked down upon?” This was when I went to my bookshelf and pulled off the ancient historian Flavius Josephus. In his records he gives us a glimpse of the kinds of “evil” that were happening in Jerusalem. He writes in Book 11 chapter 5 line 161, “and when they (Hanani and these other men) replied that they were in a bad state, for that their walls were thrown down to the ground, and that the neighboring nations did a great deal of mischief to the Jews, while in the daytime they overran the country and pillaged it, and in the night did them mischief, insomuch that not a few were led away captive out of the country, and out of Jerusalem itself, and that the roads were in the daytime found full of dead men.”

The Jews were literally being pillaged by the nations around them during the day. Can you imagine these foreigners coming in and taking the Jews money, food, clothing and even animals for their own. Then at night the Jews were taken away from their homes and made into slaves in different lands. Not only this, but in the morning Jewish men were found murdered as their lifeless corpses lay rotting in the streets. What wickedness! Why was God allowing this to happen to His remnant? How could such evil even be happening?

Upon hearing this news Nehemiah reacts to what he just heard in verse 4, When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”

Nehemiah was devastated to hear about these things happening to his people, God’s holy city and chosen remnant. We will pick up here next week.

Soli Deo Gloria!