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.”

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.

 

For Ezra Had Prepared

For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel (Ezra 7:10).

Ezra was born and raised in captivity away from the Jewish homeland of Israel. I’m sure it could have been extremely easy for Ezra to just fit it with the Babylonian and Persian culture. He could have decided to forsake his heritage and take part in the ways of the people around him.

What was Ezra doing while he grew up?

He prepared. Preparation implies that he knew he had a purpose. He was going to teach God’s law in Israel one day. But Ezra knew that in order to teach God’s word in Israel there was work to be done first.

Ezra prepared his heart. In order to teach, he must first be doing what he was going to teach. And in order to practice what he preached, he needed to seek God’s law to know what to practice.

For Ezra Had Prepared

This required a firm decision, an unwavering commitment to follow this path. Ezra prepared his mind and heart first. Long before he arrived in Jerusalem leading a group of returning exiles, he made a commitment in concrete to seek God’s law. Years before he led the people in repentance (Ezra 9-10), he was preparing his heart and mind to seek, learn and obey God’s Law. Decades prior to him being used by Nehemiah to lead the people in spiritual revival (Nehemiah 8), he was setting his heart firmly to follow God’s word.

The long and short of it is that if we want to be used by the Lord in His church, we need to like Ezra set our minds in concrete to follow God’s word and to live God’s way. Ezra’s steadfast determination to seek God’s law and do it prepared him to be in a position later to teach God’s law. This is the same for us, men.

Wear the seat of your pants out learning the word of God. Read it. Listen to it. Study it. Meditate upon it. Saturate yourselves in it. Put your heart in concrete to do what God tells you. That will prepare you just like Ezra to be a leader one day in God’s church.

Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you (1 Timothy 4:15-16)

You may do nothing with us

Below are three passages recounting a time when someone or a group was excluded from working with God’s people. The first passage is from the days of Zerubbabel and the first return of the Jews from captivity to rebuild the temple. The second verse comes from the time of Nehemiah who brought the third group back from captivity to rebuild the walls. Finally, the passage from Acts 8 are words of Peter to Simon the Sorcerer who wanted to purchase the gift of the Holy Spirit with money.

Read these three passages and meditate upon them today.

Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the descendants of the captivity were building the temple of the LORD God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and the heads of the fathers’ houses, and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God as you do; and we have sacrificed to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the fathers’ houses of Israel said to them, “You may do nothing with us to build a house for our God; but we alone will build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:1-5).

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

“You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
(Acts 8:21-24)

In all three examples, there are those who with one heart and one soul put their minds to God’s work building God’s things. But also in all three examples there were those whose hearts were not loyal to God and they were not welcomed to join in to the great work of God. In the first two examples, the men were adversaries to the rebuilding of God’s work, and it appears that they remained that way, continually trying to oppose and frustrate the work of God. Thankfully in the final example above, Simon the Sorcerer was moved with godly sorrow and asked for the prayers of Peter (see Acts 8:22).

If you look throughout the New Testament, you will see it is full of teaching and examples showing the importance of having a group of people unified with God and with each other. It is vital to the health and growth of any organization, but especially the church of God.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5)

Let us meditate upon this in our hearts and pray that our souls are loyal to God, to His people, and to His work. May we encourage others to do the same as well.

Seeing the Blessings Right in Front of You

“And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:15).

Naomi received this blessing from the women of Bethlehem when her baby grandson, Obed, was born to Ruth and Boaz.

I like this blessing because Naomi was gently reminded by the women of Bethlehem that she had a gem of a daughter-in-law in Ruth. Naomi experienced overwhelming grief and tragedy by losing her husband and her two sons, and no one can take away that grief. But sometimes in our grief, we focus so much on what we lost or what isn’t right that we fail to see the incredible blessings of God right in front of our faces.

Naomi may not have had a husband or sons anymore, but she had Ruth, who was better to her than seven sons. Ruth could not “replace” who Naomi lost, but Ruth was still an amazing blessing from God in Naomi’s life.

And now, on top of that, Ruth and Boaz bring little baby Obed into the world and he lays in the arms of his grandma Naomi (Ruth 4:16). Again, this wonderful blessing doesn’t replace who or what was lost, but this baby will “restore” her life and “nourish” Naomi in her old age.

It’s just a thought for us today, men, to take inventory of the blessings of God around us, especially in our families and churches. Since this is Friday, and we usually make some application regarding our relationship with our church families, let’s do that with Naomi and Ruth.

We are tempted at times to look at our congregations and find what is “missing” or what “isn’t right” or who “isn’t doing their part.” First of all we need to be careful that we first look humbly in the mirror and pray for God to help us see ourselves clearly before passing judgment upon others. But how about looking around in our congregations and seeing the “Ruth’s” that are better to us than whatever it is we think is lost or missing? I believe there are a lot more Ruth’s in our lives than we think, and we should be always in prayer with a grateful heart for the godly, loving and loyal friends in Christ that surround us.

None of this is to take away from the faith of Naomi. I believe Naomi was a strong woman of faith and she served God faithfully. She also showed great love and concern for her daughter-in-law Ruth. But we all need reminders sometimes, no matter how strong or mature we may be, to look around and see the blessings right in front of us.

Have You Seen God?

Have you seen God? John was very plain in saying, “No one has seen God at any time.” Do you know what God looks like? Many have undergone the futile task of trying to imagine what God looks like. All kinds of paintings and sculptures have been done through the centuries, and those artistic works reflect the imagination of the artist. They do not reflect reality, because no one could even come close to describing the features of God. God is a Spirit (John 4:24). We see in Scripture that He has hands, eyes, and arms, but we also see God described as having wings. It is all figurative and descriptive.

We go back simply to the words of John, “No one has seen God at any time.” But then again, I ask the question, “Have you seen God?” I can with all certainty and conviction say most positively, “Yes!” I have seen God, face to face, because His image and heart is being reflected and lived out in His people.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:11-13).

“If we love one another, God abides in us.” Did you see that? God is seen in His people. Christ is reflected in His body. I often preach and discuss the concept of “putting skin on” these Bible concepts. I didn’t come up with that, God did. Notice how John begins his gospel account in chapter 1,

And the Word became flesh (put skin on) and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18).

See that phrase again? “No one has seen God at any time.” But Jesus put skin on, He became flesh and we saw God in the flesh. When you see Jesus in Matthew through John, you see God face to face. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Not only do we see God in the face of Jesus, we now see God in the face of the people who walk with Him. Jesus develops His heart and His love within His people and then we reflect the face and nature of God in our lives. We become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Have you seen God? Well, if you like me have experienced the love of God lived out among His people then you can shout from the mountaintops with all confidence that you have seen God.

So who will be seen in our lives today? Will people see God through us? Do they hear God when we talk? Are we reflecting the image and glory of God in our relationships?

May God be seen in us today.

Let Them Measure the Pattern

“According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it” (Exodus 25:9).

Moses was commanded by God to make the tabernacle according to the “pattern,” God’s pattern (See also Exodus 25:40; Numbers 8:4; Acts 7:44). Everything God told Moses to do had a specific point, because God was looking forward to Christ and His church. The Hebrew writer taught that the things of the Mosaic law, tabernacle, sacrifices and priesthood served as a “copy and a shadow” of the heavenly things (Hebrews 8:5).

This same expectation of building after the pattern was placed upon King David as he began all the preparations for the temple which his son Solomon would build.

“All this,” said David, “the LORD made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern” (1 Chronicles 28:19).

In contrast to the obedience of Moses and David in following God’s pattern, there was a king years later named Ahaz who disobeyed God by seeking another pattern. He traveled to Damascus, and met with the King of Assyria. He came back with a pattern for a different altar and had it built (2 Kings 16:10).

During the days of Ezekiel the prophet, God’s people were in complete defiance of His laws, and because of it God punished Judah through the kingdom of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple and took thousands of the people of Judah into captivity. God looked forward, though, to the days of their return and the days of the Messiah. Through Ezekiel, God called His people back to the “pattern.” If they would examine the words of God which contained that pattern, they would hopefully be ashamed of their sins and turn back to God (Ezekiel 43:10).

Let Them Measure the Pattern

“Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the pattern” (Ezekiel 43:10).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul served as a pattern for us in many ways:

  • In his salvation (1 Timothy 1:16). The longsuffering and grace extended by Jesus to Paul serves as a pattern for all who will believe in Jesus Christ.
  • Through his life and character (Philippians 3:17; 4:9). Men like Titus and Timothy were also to serve as a pattern in their behavior (1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:7).
  • The doctrine and sound words he taught (2 Timothy 1:13). These were to be taken by men like Timothy and taught to others so that the pattern of sound doctrine would be repeated for generations to come (2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17).

God has a pattern that He wants us to follow. How we are saved. The way we behave and talk. Our worship to God. It is important for us to examine the Word and to find that pattern of sound words and follow it. As men and leaders in homes and churches, we are to have the courage and love for Christ to lead others in following God’s pattern, which first and foremost comes by living the pattern ourselves.

Sermons on Racism

Today’s post is a link to some much-needed sermons on racism by brother Benjamin Lee. Please consider these sermons prayerfully. Racism is real and as Benjamin says in these sermons, we need to have some crucial conversations about it.

Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him (Acts 10:34-35).

Sermons on Racism by Benjamin Lee

And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings (Acts 17:26).

…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:26-29).

Note: We got our power back sooner than expected, enabling me to post today’s article. Many are still without power in Michigan, though. It makes you appreciate having electricity!

Religious Complaining

This week’s focus has been about complaining and how it affects our various relationships. The previous articles this week centered on complaining about things like the weather, job, bills, etc. Today we will consider “Religious Complaining,” meaning we are complaining about our perceptions of another’s service to God.

To begin, let’s look at Martha the sister of Mary and Lazarus.

But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40).

In other words, Martha said, “I’m all alone in the kitchen, Mary’s not helping, and Jesus You don’t even seem to care.” Jesus had to remind her that Mary was right where Mary needed to be. Mary wasn’t idle or neglecting her duties. It was Martha who was troubled and worried about many things, and it would serve Martha well to follow her sister’s example and sit at Jesus’ feet for awhile (Luke 10:41-42).

Next up, Elijah:

So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (1 Kings 19:10).

Elijah in his genuine discouragement, thought he was all alone. A lot of what Elijah said was true, but he wasn’t alone. God reminded Elijah of His presence and power, and of the fact that there were 7,000 others who faithfully served God (1 Kings 19:10,18).

Elijah was discouraged and Martha was distracted, but both came to the same conclusion: “I’m all alone.” Sometimes we may complain because we look around and perceive that others are not working for the Lord like we are. We set ourselves up, whether out of arrogance or just plain discouragement, as the judge of how others are serving God.

When we begin to make judgments about the quality of another’s service to God, we become the judge instead of God. The disciples of Jesus did this to the woman who poured out the expensive oil upon Jesus. They set themselves up as the arbitrator of how she could have better used her resources for God. Jesus told them to leave her alone because she had done a good work for Him (Mark 14:4-6. We can do good works, like hospitality, and begin to grumble. “Why aren’t others doing the same? I wish others would appreciate what I’m doing!” (1 Peter 4:9).

Our assessment of the reward we should get for all we have sacrificed becomes overblown. We overvalue our service and undervalue the service of others. How much I served gets compared to the “little” someone else has served. Jesus talked about this mentality in the parable of the Landowner (Matthew 20:1-16). The basic lesson there is that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Let’s be careful about religious complaining. James wrote, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9).

Religious Complaining

Really, this is ultimately what the disciples were arguing about among themselves. “Who is the greatest?” In the very presence of Jesus, the Son of God, they argued about who was the greatest! When we begin to do our religious complaining, then we are sounding just like the disciples in arguing who the greatest is (Luke 22:23-27).

Finally, take a moment to thank God for all of the faithful people around you who are serving God every day. May we ask the Lord to remind us that there are many things going on in service to God everyday that we have no idea about. There are many great servants of God doing many wonderful things, and they are not sounding a trumpet about it. Only God knows. Let’s continue to pray for humility and a mindset of service simply to do the job God has called us to do…and do it with thankfulness.

Took their stand with him

And from all their territories the priests and the Levites who were in all Israel took their stand with him (Rehoboam). For the Levites left their common-lands and their possessions and came to Judah and Jerusalem, for Jeroboam and his sons had rejected them from serving as priests to the LORD. Then he (Jeroboam) appointed for himself priests for the high places, for the demons, and the calf idols which he had made. And after the Levites left, those from all the tribes of Israel, such as set their heart to seek the LORD God of Israel, came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the LORD God of their fathers. So they strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and made Rehoboam the son of Solomon strong for three years, because they walked in the way of David and Solomon for three years (2 Chronicles 11:13-17).

Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, began making significant religious changes. This left the faithful people of God in that kingdom in a serious dilemma. They continued to follow God’s law and to stand for God, and because of this they were “rejected.”

God’s faithful remnant needed a new home, a welcome place to serve and worship the God of Israel. Notice the priests and Levites left all their property and possessions behind. This property was God-given to the priests and Levites (Numbers 35:1-8), but they were forced to leave it. Maybe King Jeroboam seized their assets as part of his religious intimidation. At any rate, they left for Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. Just like the Hebrew Christians, being faithful to God was more valuable than holding on to possessions (Hebrews 10:32-34).

Many of the people of Israel who were faithful to the Lord also left and came to Jerusalem. These citizens of Israel had “set their heart to seek the Lord God of Israel.” During this brief time, for 3 years, they found a welcome home with King Rehoboam in Jerusalem. They helped the King and Judah stay faithful and strong.

Took their stand with him

So, with whom are we making our stand? It is clear that not everyone left Jeroboam in Israel. Most folks stayed and lived with the changes. They took their stand with Jeroboam. Their choice was to be safe rather than sound.

Are we willing to leave behind precious possessions and relationships in order to be part of a congregation that holds fast to God’s word?

Is our congregation a welcome home for the faithful? Even in this culture where many churches are abandoning God’s word for better entertainment and political correctness, there are still believers who care more about being faithful to God’s word. But what about our congregation? Are we more concerned with revenue, numbers, and drawing in the crowds? Or are we focused on the spiritual matters, simply following what Jesus and the apostles told us to do?

Jesus was rejected by men, just like those faithful few in Jeroboam’s kingdom. But to God, He is chosen and precious (1 Peter 2:4). May the same be said of us. We don’t belong here anyway, our hearts should be set on the heavenly kingdom. Let’s learn a lesson today from these rejected priests and Levites who took their stand with God and His faithful people.