The Full Armor of God

Last week we saw the beginning of the opposition as Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. The struggle was not just physical in nature, but spiritual as well. Behind the scenes in the spiritual realm a fierce battle was going on. What many people forget is that everything we do has a spiritual implication. You cannot separate it from the physical realm. Knowing this, Paul gave an excellent exposition on the Christian’s daily spiritual battle and the need for us to dawn the full armor of God. Paul in his brilliance, had a full understanding of a Roman soldier’s battle gear and used it metaphorically for the Christian. Paul was a prisoner of Rome and as such had a Roman soldier attached to him every hour of the day. There is evidence that Paul had conversations with every soldier, sharing the Gospel with them (Philippians 1:13), and many converted (Philippians 4:22). I think he probably studied the soldiers uniform and even asked them about the use of each piece of armor, or if they had been in battle. From his imprisonment in Jerusalem to his travels to Rome, and house arrest under the Imperial guard, Paul had many opportunities to get to know these men. My desire is to help you understand the message Paul was trying to convey through the “Full Armor of God.”

“Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:14-17

“The Belt of Truth”

Having girded – “Perizonnumi”. It is a compound word which breaks down into “Peri” meaning “around” and “Zonnumi” meaning “to gird”. Properly, “to gird around”. During this time Roman soldiers wore tunics which were full length garments that touched down as far as the ankles. A Roman soldier could not go into battle with a tunic down to his ankles because it would encumber him, possibly causing him to trip and fall over it or to limit his movement. In order to properly ready himself for battle the soldier would wear a belt that he would fasten around his waist. He would tuck his tunic into the belt so that it would no longer encumber him. Likewise, the believer has a sin nature that we carry with us wherever we go. What Paul is telling Christians to do is to prepare for battle each day against our sin nature by fastening those shortcomings, which are stumbling blocks, into the truth. We all have different sins that we specifically have trouble dealing with. Someone may have a problem with stealing while another has a problem with sexual immorality. One might struggle with self-righteousness, while another might struggle with gossip or unrighteous anger. By binding these things that will cause us to fall on the spiritual battle field into God’s truth, we will be able to beat back the desires of our sinful heart.

Truth in the ancient Greek is “aletheia” which as you know is the name of my blog. Here is how it breaks down: “A” Alpha is a negative prefix meaning “without” and “lanthano” meaning “to escape notice” or to be hidden”. Together it reveals something that is exposed and can be seen. It is evident. Properly it is rendered, “truth” or “reality”. What helps us to bind up our weaknesses? The word of God. It is what separates truth from deception and in this instance will allow you bind your desires to the word of God, not allowing them to encumber your walk with Christ.

Breast Plate of Righteousness

The Greek word for breast plate used is “θώραξ” (thorax) it stretches from the base of the neck all the way down to the navel. The word denotes a “breastplate” that covered both the front and the back. Its primary job was to protect the vital organs from a fatal blow or strike.

Righteousness “δικαιοσύνη” (Dikaiosuni) – It derives from “dike”, which means “a judicial verdict” or better stated, “judicial approval”. In scripture it denotes a righteous person has been redeemed because they bear the righteousness of Christ. We have no righteousness apart from Christ. When a believer stands before the court of God, He will judge the believer as righteous by the work done on the cross by Christ. God has imputed Christ’s righteousness to believers. Therefore, righteousness is a sign of faith. It is His Holy Spirit that dwells within us that strengthens our faith and sanctifies us in trials making us more like Christ whose righteousness we bear.

In context, righteousness, or even better, “rightwiseness” protects the believer from falling in battle. As the Roman soldiers prepared for battle they would take leather thongs on the bottom of the armor and attach it to loops on the belt in the front and back making it a battle harness of sorts. It kept his armor stable so that in the heat of battle it would not slip and give someone an opening to cut them down. For the believer it shows that righteousness is firmly rooted in the truth. The two are synonymous. Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” A believer that is ready for battle will face each temptation with God’s word. This will make the believer rightminded and protect their heart from a blow of corruption.

Boots of Readiness

The Greek word for “having shod” is ὑποδέω (hupodeo). “Hupo” means “under” and “deo” means “to bind/to tie”. Properly, “to underbind or bind underneath”. In the context of a soldier it is binding their feet with shoes that are fit for battle. For a warrior, maintaining their footing was essential to holding the line in battle. The Roman soldiers wore sandals that had pieces of metal or nails on the bottoms of the soles. They were essentially a sandal like cleat that we see worn as shoes by modern day football or soccer players. It kept them from sliding around or being pushed backwards. For the believer, the Gospel is our footing. We have been redeemed and we never have to fear losing that. We are eternally secure ( John 10:28). It is important because when you are in battle with a group of atheists who do nothing but deride and make fun of you, there is a temptation to doubt or to repay their evil. If you have committed a sin against God there is a temptation to doubt you are secure in God’s hands. Knowing that you are at peace with God will give you peace to know that Christ was persecuted and so will you. “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” Matthew 10:22. Or, if you have sinned there is restoration in repentance. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9. Can you see the pattern of the armor? It all revolves around Christ and in doing so it all revolves around His word. The believer does not retreat in the heat of battle because those who are firmly rooted in the word will not run, but will hold the line.

One of the best examples that I can give here is how the world is trying to pressure the church into accepting homosexuality by attacking Christian bakers and florists. They pronounce lies like “God is a woman”, or that “there is no Hell”, or that “all ways lead to heaven” as there are no consequences for sin. We live in a sin saturated society where they are daily trying to force us to assimilate. Things will continue to get worse for the believer as we get closer to Christ’s return and it will only be a matter of time before the world says, “Assimilate or die.” Will you hold the line with the truth of God’s word and not acquiesce to the world system? Holding the line for Christ is brutal, not easy. He will give you the strength to do so because He is a gracious God (“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13).

Shield of faith

“Shield” θυρεός (Thureos) – This Greek word reveals that this is a large rectangular shield that covered the entire body of the soldier. The front of the shield was covered in leather that had been soaked in water. When enemy archers began firing flaming arrows at these soldiers they would duck behind the shield which would absorb the arrows and extinguish the flame. Another interesting use for the shield in combat was that the soldiers could group together in what was called a “testudo” formation. The front line soldiers would drop their shields to the ground where their necks and heads would peer over the shield, while a second line of soldiers would come and place their shields at an angle over them. The soldiers on the back line would rest the shield against their helmets to give it stability. This would snuff out almost any chance of an arrow penetrating the line.

In the context of spiritual warfare our enemy Satan is firing flaming arrow after flaming arrow in hopes of getting the believer to stumble. He is relentless in the number of temptations that he volleys at us each day. He is the ruler of this world system so he uses it to influence our flesh to take the bait. Woe to the believer who does not take cover behind His shield. You could be praying and have an evil thought enter your mind out of nowhere. You could be walking down the street wearing your wedding ring and an attractive member of the opposite sex strolls by smiling at you, and then gives you a wink. The one thing that you must know about our enemy Satan is that his quiver never runs out of arrows. His attacks are relentless and only have our destruction in mind. There are those Christians that try to serve two masters so that when Satan fires an arrow at them there is no faith to get behind the shield, so they are hit and destroyed by the arrow. There are Christians that battle drug addiction, alcoholism, pornography, sexual addiction, homosexuality and many others, but because they believe Satan’s lies and hold them as truth they are struck and utterly destroyed. You cannot serve two masters, you can only love the one and hate the other. The believer lifts the shield of faith in battle when a temptation comes by remembering God’s word, trusting it so that you get behind it and let His word protect you. Faith is rooted in belief. In order to overcome the temptation you must believe that God’s word is true. If you don’t believe God’s word is true then you will succumb to the arrows and fall headlong into the darkest pits of depravity. The truth protects.

There is another way that the shield of faith is wielded that I haven’t heard any theologians mention. Remember the Testudo formation I mentioned above? When Satan’s arrows are coming at you, you have at your disposal other believers that you can call on to stand with you in battle. They will lock shields with you and join you in prayer or accountability to help you persevere through even the darkest hours of your life. Is there some area of your life where you are constantly stumbling? Maybe God is moving you to call for others to lock shields with, giving you strength to persevere?

Helmet of Salvation

“Helmet” περικεφαλαία. Is a combination of “peri” and “kephali”— “Peri” means “around” and “Kephali” means “head.” Properly, “Around the head” denoting something covering and protecting the head. The head was vulnerable in battle and would be a target to slay an enemy. In the battle at the river Granicus, Alexander the Great charged out into battle ahead of his soldiers. He was met by a Persian soldier that brought his scimitar down over the top of Alexander’s head. The strike from the scimitar hit Alexander’s helmet, cutting half of it off. The helmet saved his life. Likewise, the helmet of salvation represents our current position before the King of Kings as those whom have been saved. This has nothing to do with attaining salvation. One thing Satan is good at is getting into our heads to cause us to doubt God’s faithfulness in the assurance of our salvation. If we harbor any sin in our hearts, be sure that Satan will leverage it against us. If we cannot keep our head in battle we will surely fall.

Sword of the Spirit

“Sword” μάχαιρα. The machaira was more like a short sword or a dagger, not a long sword. It was used in battle for close combat. A sword is used both offensively and defensively. It can block a strike or pierce an enemy soldier. The word of God is sharper than any double edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) and as such it can block a lie or even cut through a lie. God also uses it to pierce through the hearts of men with His truth. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God and is the foundational piece of the armor with which all other pieces work. Have you ever had a person pierce you with the truth before? I remember when I was on a singles retreat and was close friends with another girl whose boyfriend lived in another state. We hung out a lot that weekend. We went running together, went out on the beach together, and talked together. I had a friend and his girlfriend come up to me and warn me about what I was doing. They told me that what she and I were doing was wrong. Amongst other things they said she was desperate for attention because she wasn’t getting much from her boyfriend, so I was being used to fill that need. That crushed me, but at the same time brought me back to a sober mind. My eyes opened at that very moment to something that I had never seen. I was immediately convicted. My heart had deceived me. I really did like her as more than a friend, and it was wrong. We were both wrong. God in his grace pierced my heart and stopped me from hanging out with her anymore. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Proverbs 27:6. What my friends told me was rooted in God’s truth and had a lasting impact on me. The word of God is powerful and should not be wielded carelessly like many liberals and legalists do. Legalists cut to hurt and maim, not heal. Liberals wield a dull blade that is useless. The believer wields the word of God in grace and truth whether in offense or defense.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Preparing for Battle – Nehemiah 4:1-5

In 1896 at the Battle of Adwa in Ethopia, the Italian forces led by General Baratieri fought against The King of Ethiopia, King Menelik. Menelik’s forces had an estimated 100,000 soldiers while the Italians only had 25,000. A few years earlier Italy had given the Ethiopians state of the art rifles and ammunition in hopes of annexing the nation down the road. King Menelik accepted the gifts, but would not give his country over to Italian rule. Ultimately, war became the only way that Italy could annex the nation. In the midst of all this General Baratieri failed to prepare his men for battle. He had no maps of the terrain, his men had thin soled boots that were not conducive to the rocky steep terrain, bad communication equipment, and slow firing and inaccurate rifles for his soldiers. The Ethiopians outmatched them in every way. The two armies stood at a standstill on this barren land for quite some time. They were not fighting, but waiting for the other to make the first move. Food was very scarce in this area so King Menelik decided to retreat. As he was preparing his forces for retreat, a scout came into his camp and told them that the Italian forces were on their way to fight. Menelik welcomed this as he prepared his troops for battle. Baratieri was literally forced by the Italian Prime Minister to either go into battle or be labeled a coward, which forced him to march against Menelik. The Italians attacked at night and were defeated by early afternoon. Without maps his brigades left gaping holes (some a mile long) in the lines when they engaged, so much so, that some of them ran into each other, while others got completely lost. The Italian forces were completely routed all because General Baratieri failed to prepare his men for battle.

Likewise, the Christian whom does not prepare for battle each day will face the same end. The world hates us. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” John 15:8

“But an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God.” John 16:2. Wasn’t this true of Stephen who was martyred by the Pharisees? They thought they were doing a service to God. Understand that we will be battling against Satan, the world, and our flesh on a daily basis, and if we do not prepare for battle against those things that wish to destroy us, then we will do little to nothing and will only be as one entering heaven, escaping through the flames with nothing to show for our lives.

Nehemiah prepared for battle in several ways:

  • He confessed his sin which rekindled his relationship with God.
  • He fasted for a time and prayed for months leading up to God answering his petition. It built a pattern of faithfulness that would not wane in adversity.
  • Nehemiah came with a military escort for his protection.
  • He spent late nights studying the damage of the wall and how to fix it.
  • He didn’t let anyone know about what God had been instructing him to do until it was time.

How will you prepare for battle? The struggles we have are daily and at times unrelenting. The pressures from this world are constant, which is why it is so important that we spend time meditating on God’s word daily, praying without ceasing, and plugging into a church that teaches sound doctrine and will hold us accountable if we fall into sin. If you do not have this at the very minimum, then you will be setting yourself up for defeat just like General Baratieri.

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jew.” Nehemiah 4:1

The Hebrew word “charah” means “to be kindled” or “to burn”. The word implies an anger that can be seen in expressions or one’s countenance. He was literally in anguish over what the Jews were doing that it showed in his expressions and demeanor. The next emotion conveyed in the verse was that Sanballat was “very angry”. In the LXX, the word used to translate the Hebrew into Greek was Orgizo. “Orgizo” is an anger that can be used in either a good or bad context and is derived from “orge”. In this context, it is evil. Orge is a “settled anger” in that the person who possesses it has a natural disposition for it. The best analogy I can give for this is of a forest that has not seen rain for 6 months. It is dry and ripe for a fire. A spark from a camp fire floats through the air and eventually lands on a batch of straw nearby, igniting instantly. Within moments a forest fire ensues. This is Sanballat. He is the dried out forest ripe for destruction and Nehemiah is the spark that sets him ablaze. Do you know anyone like this? There are many believers who are dried out forests and are sparked everyday to sin because they have no self control. This type of anger sin is common in the person who refuses to forgive his offender. They are one that repays evil for evil, not evil with good. They have a natural disposition to avenge every offense carried out against them even if what was done was not an offense. If you are a believer and this describes you, then you must repent of this sin. It will ruin your witness and make you useless in God’s service.

“He spoke in the presence of his brother and the wealthy men of Samaria and said, ‘What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?’ Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, ‘Even what they are building – if a fox should jump on it he would break their stone wall down!’” Nehemiah 4:2-3

Mockery can be rooted in both righteous and unrighteous indignation (anger), but it is a slippery slope for sinful man. Elijah exhibited a righteous mockery against the prophets of Baal. Also tied to mockery is its cousin sarcasm. Jesus wielded sarcasm from time to time, but He was God, and we are not. I would like to sternly warn Christians that are “fluent in sarcasm” or who mock others who don’t agree with their beliefs, even if they are heretical. Your heart is evil to the core and I cannot see much, if any good coming from mocking that would glorify your Father who is in heaven. I think it is best for the Christian to abstain from such practices unless the Spirit leads you to do so. The primary strategy of mockery is to embarrass and thereby discourage a person from what they are doing. The Jews confidence hung by a thread with each mocking word spoken by Tobiah and Sanballat, putting a heavy weight on the people to give up. I would say that 99% of the time mockers are delusional as they posit lies as facts. They said that if a fox jumped on the wall that it would collapse. It is utterly ridiculous nonsense to say something as buffonic as that. Sanballat and Tobiah dangled the bait of mockery in front of Nehemiah to get he and the Jews to stop building.

Look at Nehemiah’s response: “Hear O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted before You, for they have demoralized the builders.” Nehemiah 4:4-5

In light of this temptation to give up Nehemiah went to God in prayer. I believe this is prescriptive for every believer when they are mocked and derided. Prayer should be the believer’s first resort, never the last. Nehemiah turned these evil men over to God for Him to deal with. It was God’s battle, not his. Nehemiah’s words were angry and passionate, but they were not unjust. He took his righteous anger to God and expressed his desire for Yahweh to take vengeance for the evil Sanballat and Tobiah were doing. He did levy curses in a righteous anger, but he laid them before the throne of God, not before Sanballat and Tobiah. That is the difference. Those curses would go no further than a prayer to God.

Nehemiah was right to be angry, but he never sought vengeance. He left that to God. God will be the one who will vindicate him and bring justice against those who oppose Him. God is just, we are not.

 

Soli Deo Gloria!

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.

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 is 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. 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.

The above illustration is meant to be seen in a light of the old covenant if I were part of the nation of Israel. Let me be clear, I may have influenced others with sin or been silent about sin, but I did not make them choose sin. They did. Asking God to forgive the sins of your fathers and nation was part of the old covenant, and for Israel alone (See Deuteronomy 28). Even the priest would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to confess the sins of the nation of Israel. When Christ died, so too did this requirement as a new covenant was established. The veil was torn giving man direct access to God. We are responsible for our sins only, not for the sins of others. We cannot pass our sins down to others just as we cannot pass righteousness onto our spouse, children, extended family, friends., co-workers, etc. I confessed those sins I mentioned above and was forgiven by God because they were my sins. The sins that people carry out as a result of my sins are their decision. No one makes us sin, we choose it. That is why when the unredeemed stand before God at the Great White Throne Judgment they will be without excuse when God says, “Depart from me you evildoer!” because it was their sin that sent them to Hell, not mine.

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!