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Nehemiah 3

Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was a monumental task. The fact that they did it in 52 days just blows the mind. Considering all the obstacles they had to overcome takes it to a level that clearly demonstrates God’s hand was in this good work.

And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.
(Nehemiah 2:18)

I encourage you today to read Nehemiah chapter 3. Sometimes chapters like this can be skimmed through because at first or second glance it seems like just a factual list of the workers, what they did, and where they worked.  But that very list is what is so amazing.

But read the chapter carefully and think about a few things:

  1. The high priest rose up, with his brothers – The first verse shows that the spiritual leaders of Jerusalem took the lead. They were priests, but their hands were dirty and their knuckles got scraped and bloody. If you want to be a leader in God’s good work, you have to lead by example and get your hands dirty, too.
  2. Next to him, next to them, after him – Phrases like these are repeated often in Nehemiah 3. The work on the wall was divided into 42 sections. But each group worked on their section as part of the greater purpose/project. They were not working independently. Also notice that they did not finish one section before moving on to another. Each section was being worked on simultaneously (Nehemiah 4:6), thus closing the gaps.
  3. But their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord (vs. 5). Not everyone put their hands to this good work. Don’t expect 100% participation.
  4. Opposite their house, beside their house – Nehemiah stationed people in areas where there would be the highest motivation to do the best work. Folks were building / repairing the walls and gates nearest their houses (vs. 10,23,29-30). If you know this section of wall is directly connected to the survival and safety of your own family you are going to give it your all!
  5. Rulers, priests, perfumers, merchants, goldsmiths – Another point to make here is that the people working on this were not experienced wall building contractors. I’m sure some of these men had hands that were meant for inside work, and they initially had a lot of blisters and used muscles they never even knew they had! But they all put their shoulders to the work on the wall, whether they were a noble or a servant, male or female, merchant, goldsmith or perfumer. This is a clear picture of the church, guys (Ephesians 4:15-16)!
  6. With his daughters – This was a family project. Shallum was there working with his daughters (vs. 12).
  7. People from outside the city, like from Jericho (Neh. 3:2), and from Gibeon and Mizpah (vs. 5,7) and Tekoa (11 miles from Jerusalem, vs. 5,27) worked on the wall. Think of the influence God’s good work has on those around us.
  8. Repair, rebuild – The word “built” is used 6 times in chapter 3 and means “rebuilt.” The word “repair” is used 35 times and means to “make strong and firm” (compare Ezekiel 13:1-16; 22:28). They were sorting through the rubble and using the stones around them to help repair and rebuild.
  9. Tekoites – In verse 5 we find the men of Tekoa working on one section, and in verse 27 they worked on “another section.” Think about it…when they finished with “their” section, they did not walk away, they moved on to “another section.” Great principle for us to remember. Keep working in God’s work, you are never finished, just re-positioned.
  10. Zealously, carefully – Verse 20 in the NASB says Baruch “zealously” repaired the wall, while the NKJV says he “carefully” did it. Either way, you can see the spirit of the men and women working on the wall. They cared. This was not just a job, this was God’s work, and it directly affected their family, their city, their Jewish brethren. And most of all it was done for God’s glory.

I will finish with a quote from D.L. Moody:

“A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in…to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy, is all they want.  The idea of work for them—actual work in the church—never enters their minds.”

Naomi became Obed’s Nurse

Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him (Ruth 4:16)

The book of Ruth begins with pain, grief, loss and bitterness, but it ends kind of like the book of Job. Naomi’s life was “restored” and her old age was “nourished” by this little grandbaby Obed (Ruth 4:15).

Obed didn’t take away the grief and memories, but he did help Naomi revive by giving her a new purpose. “Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him.”

There are tremendous blessings and benefits that come from serving and caring for others.

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account (Philippians 4:17).

According to Paul, there is a “fruit that abounds” to our account. Paul did not mean, nor do I, that we serve to get something. God knows our hearts. But if we are serving and sacrificing for others, God sees it and promises blessings will come our way. But those blessings are not about money and material kickbacks.

For Naomi those blessings were that this child would restore her life and nourish her in her old age. Our life is restored and nourished when we pour ourselves into serving the people around us God has placed in our lives.

You have seen those “before” and “after” shots of people on those infomercials, right? Some “revolutionary” new treatment takes someone who is 90 and makes them look 15 again. Well, I would love to see the before and after shots of Naomi. The Naomi of chapter 1 who walks slowly back into Bethlehem wanting to be called “Mara,” and the Naomi of chapter 4 who holds this little bundle of joy called Obed.

The name Obed means “serving,” I believe, which is fitting.

Naomi did not “retire” in the kingdom of God, she was called by God into the service of a young child. There is no retirement in God’s family, no one is “put out to pasture” like a crippled, old horse.

Find someone to serve, someone to care for. Look around, especially within your congregation and see someone who is discouraged or going through some trial and find a way to brighten their day a little.

Be a Naomi for an Obed today.

Chesed

Yesterday we considered several passages of Scripture that demonstrate the faithfulness of God and His unfailing love and presence in our lives. Today I would like for you to consider the word “chesed” which is often translated as lovingkindness.

Here are some notes from A Theological Word Book of the Bible on the word “chesed.”

It is important to realize that though the Hebrew chesed can be translated by loving-kindness and mercy without doing violence to the context, yet we must always beware lest we think that God is content with less than righteousness. There is no reference to any sentimental kindness, and no suggestion of mercy apart from repentance, in any case where the Hebrew original is chesed. His demand for righteousness is insistent, and it is always at the maximum intensity. The loving-kindness of God means that his mercy is greater even than that. The word chesed stands for the wonder of his unfailing love for the people of his choice, and the solving of the problem of the relation between his righteousness and his loving-kindness passes beyond human comprehension.

The word is used to contrast man and God.

  • Isaiah 40:6 – Isaiah used chesed (“loveliness”) in the context of man’s lack of steadfastness or strength. The prophet is contrasting man’s frailty with God’s steadfast reliability.
  • Hosea 6:4 – Israel’s chesed was like the morning cloud which goes away. ‘as the morning cloud, and as the dew that goeth early away,’ a regular feature of the Palestinian climate when once the spring rains are past.

God’s loving-kindness is that sure love which will not let Israel go. Not all Israel’s persistent waywardness could ever destroy it. Though Israel be faithless, yet God remains faithful still. This steady, persistent refusal of God to wash his hands of wayward Israel is the essential meaning of the Hebrew word which is translated loving-kindness.

In light of these thoughts about the “chesed,” the unfailing lovingkindness God, let us pray for God’s “chesed” to be a part of our marriages. May we as men love our wives “just as” Jesus loved us, and may that unfailing lovingkindness flow from our hearts and souls toward our wives.

Interesting thought, when I type “lovingkindness,” it gets underlined in red because it is not part of the dictionary on this program. This term lovingkindness is not familiar to it, but may that not be the case for us in our marriages. Hopefully lovingkindness is part of our “program,” deeply embedded within our souls.

God is Faithful

Let’s look today at several passages in Scripture that speak of God’s faithfulness. Our God is faithful at all times, even when we are not.

Before we sin, while we are being tempted

1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

2 Thessalonians 3:3  But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.

While we are sinning

2 Timothy 2:11-13 – This is a faithful saying:  For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

While we are seeking to come back

1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Hebrews 2:17 – Jesus is a merciful and faithful High Priest

Even when we are standing in the wake of the consequences

Lamentations 3:18-24 – And I said, “My strength and my hope Have perished from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and roaming, the wormwood and the gall. My soul still remembers and sinks within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”

Until Jesus comes again

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 – Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

God Does Not Change

Malachi 3:6 – I am the Lord I do not change

Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever.

How Long Nehemiah Prayed

I’m listening to some sermons on Nehemiah and this fellow made a wonderful observation that I want to share with you today.

When Nehemiah, cup-bearer for the king of Persia, heard that his ancestral city of Jerusalem was lying in rubble and his fellow Jews were in distress, he prayed fervently. Between chapters 1 and 2 there is a period of 3-4 months. Nehemiah prayed for 90-120 days before God gave him the first opportunity to petition his boss, Artaxerxes the King of Persia, to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild.

When the people of Israel began to rebuild the walls under his leadership, it took the Jews 52 days to build the wall (Nehemiah 6:15).

Do the math. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took them to build the wall.

Don’t we have this reversed sometimes? We work twice as long, beating our heads against the wall, because we did not spend enough time inviting God into our lives and our planning. Not enough time was spent seeking God’s advice, God’s will, His wisdom and His plans, and as a result we make our lives and work all the more difficult.

It’s something to think about. Nehemiah prayed about this twice as long as it took him to actually do the project.

 

Greeting with a loud voice in the morning

He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him (Proverbs 27:14).

This proverb is one that I have lived. I’m a morning person, Anna is not. Enough said? Some folks are 0-90 in the morning, and others are a slow build. After a few cups of coffee and some silence they are ready to go. So, for this knucklehead (me) to go around the house blasting the Beatles on the radio at 6:30 a.m. is a really bad idea!

This proverb is about knowing how to be appropriate, and how to approach people and situations properly. Your personality and the way you want to be approached may not be the same way others want to be approach. This requires humility, wisdom and seeking advice. It also means that sometimes we really blow it by approaching people the wrong way.

Here is another proverb that speaks to being proper and wise in how we approach things.

Like one who takes away a garment in cold weather, and like vinegar on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart (Proverbs 25:20).

Remember those elementary school science experiments? Baking soda and vinegar…what happens? Well, it erupts and makes a mess! That’s precisely what happens when we try to sing “I’m Happy Today!” to someone who just suffered extreme loss. It erupts and makes a mess.

Here are two passages about learning how to say the right things at the right time. Let’s meditate upon this and pray for God’s wisdom to guide us today in how we approach people and situations.

Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one (Colossians 4:5-6).

A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is! (Proverbs 15:23)

Summer Brain Drain

Today is an article by NetNanny about tips to reduce “Summer Brain Drain” now that the kids are out of school for roughly 3 months.

I thought it would be helpful. In addition to their tips and advice, here are some additional thoughts:

  1. Have your kids read the Bible out loud with you. Maybe they can write down some of the verses to practice their writing and spelling skills.
  2. Take them to Bible-based camps where they can be encouraged. This will fight “soul drain” as well as “brain drain”!
  3. Visit members of your congregation and get involved in doing works of service to help those in need.
  4. If you have kids who are artistic, have them draw pictures of the places they visit and the things they do during the summer. Encourage them to think of a Bible verse that connects to it.
  5. Get them involved in the gardening or any building/remodeling projects you are working. They will develop all kinds of practical skills as you develop a closer relationship with them. We just had a shed delivered by the Amish a few days ago, and it was amazing to see these young boys with their father going right to the work knowing exactly what to do. I think those boys were around 8-10 years old.
  6. Take a walk with them and identify all the creatures you see along the way (butterfly, hawk, ant, etc.). You can talk about how special each of these creatures is and how beautifully and wonderfully designed it is.

“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

Please, let us make a small upper room

And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.” (2 Kings 4:9-10)

For today’s MDB, I want to go back to the verses we considered yesterday as we reflected upon the character of the Shunammite woman. This woman demonstrated great humility and contentment, and the Lord rewarded her for it. But for today, I want to consider her husband. Read the above verses and think about the relationship of a husband and a wife. Think about the fact that she could come to her husband with a request, that he listened to her, and he actively supported what she wanted to do.

He was approachable. There are men like Nabal (1 Samuel 25) that were not approachable, but not the husband of this Shunammite woman. They had the kind of marriage where she knew she could come to him with such a request.

He listened to her request. The man could have dismissed her, cut her off, told her her idea was silly or you fill in the blanks. That’s not what happened. They were a team in this marriage, a partnership. He considered her viewpoint, he took time to think about what she was asking. The husband listened to her dreams/visions/plans.

He supported her in what she wanted to do for the Lord. “Let us make…” implies that she wanted him to be a part of this project, too. She didn’t say, “Let me make.” They were a team. It wasn’t, this is “your thing” or “your project,” he was involved also. But to support our wives means more than just writing a check. We need to be emotionally and verbally supportive as well. If he rode her the whole way through the project reminding her of how much it costs and how much of a hassle it is, then that is not supportive, is it? Think about it, she asked her husband to take on a building/remodeling project for a man who would only occasionally come by. I’m sure he could have fired off several practical reasons as to why that wasn’t a good idea, but that’s not what he did. He supported her. That’s what we as husbands need to do, too.

This couple is like the Priscilla and Aquila of the New Testament church (Romans 16:3-5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), who showed great hospitality and sacrifice for the church. They were a team and a partnership working for Jesus, and as husbands that requires that we have the kind of heart like his husband of the Shunammite woman. The heart to be approachable, to listen and to fully support our wives.

I Dwell Among My Own People

And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’ ” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” (2 Kings 4:13)

Today’s thought comes from a statement made by the Shunammite woman. We are studying 2 Kings 4-5 in our Bible class, and yesterday we considered the example of this wonderful woman and how she served God. This woman was a “notable” woman (2 Kings 4:8) who took the initiative to provide food for Elisha whenever he passed by that way. She took it a step further and worked with her husband to make an addition to their house to provide a furnished apartment for Elisha whenever he traveled through the area (2 Kings 4:9-10). What a wonderful example of godly people using their resources and energy to serve God and His people!

What is even more remarkable than that to me is how she responded when Elisha asked her what he could do for her. How did the Shunammite woman respond?

I dwell among my own people,” she replied.

That is a statement of contentment. It is a sentence that comes from a person who is at peace with God and others. She, like any other person, had desires and wishes; you can see later in chapter 4 that one big one was that she wanted a baby. But she did not serve God and do things for Elisha so that she could have something in return. She served because she truly was grateful for her blessings and position in life, and she wanted to share that with someone. She didn’t want praise and attention for it. There was not clamoring for kickback and rewards. The Shunammite woman just served.

Do you and I “dwell among our own people”? Are we serving God and others with the same heart and motives as this lovely Shunammite lady?

Something to think about today.

An old Anglican prayer

Today I want to share with you an old Anglican prayer that I heard someone pray yesterday. Meditate upon these simple words:

What we know not, teach us

What we have not, give us

What we are not, make us

Here are some prayers in Scripture that go along with each of the above statements

What we know not, teach us

  • Teach Me your way, O Lord (Psalm 86:11). In Psalm 119, David repeatedly asked God to “teach” him.
  • Samson’s parents prayed for wisdom and instruction on how to raise their son (Judges 13:8).
  • Paul’s prayers for what he wanted the brethren to learn and understand (Colossians 1:9-12; Ephesians 1:15-19).

What we have not, give us

  • Wisdom (James 1:5).
  • You have not because you ask not (James 4:2).
  • Boldness to speak the gospel clearly (Ephesians 6:19-20; Colossians 4:2-4).
  • Earthly blessings of this life (1 Chronicles 4:10).
  • Longer life, physical healing (2 Kings 20:1-6).
  • Nehemiah, among his many prayers, prayed for success before speaking to the King of Persia (Nehemiah 1:11).

What we are not, make us

  • To stand perfect and complete in the will of God (Colossians 4:12).
  • To be strengthened by God in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 3:14-21).
  • You are the potter, Lord; we are the clay (Isaiah 64:8).
  • Prayers for forgiveness would fit within this prayer. If we are not forgiven, please Lord make it so through Your grace (Psalm 51; Ezra 9; Nehemiah 9; Daniel 9).

You could find many other examples. I think this would be a great sermon to preach, or a great devotional study you could lead at someone’s house.

This simple prayer packs a lot of power in it. Pray it today.