The Book of Nehemiah Survey
Pr Edi Giudetti
Burdened For The Work Of The Lord
The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, 2 That Hanani, one of my brethren, came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. 4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven
Nehemiah is believed to be the last historical book of the Old Testament chronologically, the Book of Esther which we will look at next week, seems to bridge both Ezra and Nehemiah.
One of the most difficult studies I have undertaken is to try to determine the placement of these books in a Chronological fashion and to do so by considering the kings of the Medo/Persian empire which governed the nations after the Babylonian Empire. Ive discovered that I am not alone in finding that a difficult task.
But permit me, if you will, to now set the scene for you that you might be able then to understand both the Burden of Nehemiah at this time and the state of the nation.
In the Book of Ezra the priest we had seen the main thrust of the book being the return of the exiles from Babylon under the decree of Cyrus the great.
This is that same King Cyrus that we had witnessed was prophesied in Isaiah chapters 44 and 45, spoken of again at the end of 2 Chronicles historically and indicated prophetically as he who is to give “the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem” in Daniel 9:25. (This is a controversial point that we will work to bring some clarity when we come to Daniel).
The people then returning to undertake the work, had determined to focus their attention on the rebuilding of the temple, for this was the particular burden of Cyrus and was also that for which the people had received great resources to undertake. Many people therefore did indeed determine to take the long journey home to Israel, but many also stayed behind in Babylon, including, for a time, Nehemiah the Tirshatha (Governor) who was beforehand the cupbearer to the King. Until, that is, he heard word of the troubled efforts of his people to build the walls of the City.
The book of Nehemiah is clearly authored by Nehemiah himself. It intrigues me to find commentaries which state that the author of the book is “Unknown”. Consider Neh 1:1;
“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah.”
When the text itself tells you who’s are the words in a given book or letter, it is usually a good and fair indication that the author of those words is, in fact, KNOWN!
And as you go on to read the accounts described in the book of Nehemiah you cannot help to notice that this seems to be a journal kept by the author, he writes almost consistently in the first person and only deviates from this a few times.
The Book of Nehemiah is fundamentally about the restoration of the wall, as much as Ezra was much about the rebuilding of the temple, and both also about the restoration of the righteous ordinances of the Lord.
Nehemiah is greatly burdened by the news he has heard of his brethren who have returned, he hears of the state of the city and weeps before the Lord.
Midway through verse 3 we read,
The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. 4 And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven.
The house of the Lord is built, this took many years, we witnessed the joy of the people in the book of Ezra when only the foundation of the Temple was laid, Nehemiah is almost two decades along the line and they now desire to build the wall for the defense of the city.
But he is burdened for his people’s affliction for the defensive walls are broken down. He weeps and mourns, fasted and prayed. This news he discovers in the month Chisleu (v1) (Nov/Dec). But his sorrowful appearance before the King does not occur until the month….Nissan (2:1) (March/April), some four months later. Chapter 2 provides the detail for us;
In summary the burden of Nehemiah is to rebuild the defences of the City. To leave the comfort of his current homeland into which he was born, and take his journey some 900km to Jerusalem.
Last week we spoke of some spiritual applications when we considered Ezra, the people now freed from their exile; provisions given them for the work of the Lord, the foundation of the temple laid that the people now had that which they need to build upon.
We saw how the Christian also is made free, is given the spirit of God as the greatest provision he can start his spiritual walk in, he is given also the foundation on which to build in the word of God. But scripture also teaches us that we are the temple of the Holy spirit who dwells within us, just as the Temple that was made with hands became the dwelling place of God in the O/T.
But there is something else that we might consider as we look at the burden of Nehemiah to build the wall that surrounds both the city of God and the Temple of God, and that is understanding that the wall is to guard against attack. It is a defence!
In any war we know that to be successful their must be both an active and progressive effort against the enemy, but also a strong defensive effort against attack. Nehemiah has the burden to ensure The City of God is strongly fortified against attack. The burden belongs to us all to ensure we also build our defences strong.
Brethren this will mean making tough decisions in your lives as you recognize the efforts of the enemy to destroy your spiritual walk with the Lord. Small things such as switching off the TV, avoiding popular music, limiting or even turning off the internet. Some of you will no doubt think this too much, but not if you really knew what was at stake and how subtle the enemy is and the devices he uses.
But brethren, the greatest weapon you have is The Word of the Lord. This book helps us to build the defenses we need, lest we be overrun with the evil that comes against us. The Bible changes us into the image of its author and it is not long before our desires also change. We switch off the TV because it no longer entertains us but grieves us, we avoid popular music because we begin to listen to the words of the songs and they cannot be heard by the same ear that reads Gods book.
I have pleaded with you all to get to know your Bibles, many of you are struggling to keep up with your reading of the word, please keep it up; if you have put the book down, pick it up again.
I understand the difficulty, I too found it difficult in the beginning, do not waiver, do not falter, do not give in to your natural inclinations and emotions.
- None of us go to work each day because we feel like it, we do so because without work we do not eat
- None of us cook each day because we feel like cooking, we do so because without food we die.
It is the same with our relationship with our Lord, he is both our fortification and thereby our peace. We do what we need to do in order that we do not struggle, such is our need for the word of God. Therefore We must actively build that fortification.
Nehemiah had a burden for the work of the Lord respecting this particular effort, we should consider it as a priority for ourselves and our family. Nehemiah was also a leader, he was distinct from others, this then applies to you men to take the lead in the spiritual state of your homes, your family need your strength and courage and there is much to teach respecting this in Nehemiah.
So Nehemiah is burdened for the Work of the Lord, and we see that the burden arose for all that he saw which troubled the people.
Troubled In The Work of the Lord
Nehemiah weeps for the state of his city.
He is not weeping about an event that occurred almost a century ago when the King of Babylon came to take the children of Judah away and destroyed the city. Nehemiah weeps for the work that is being attempted by the people to continue in their rebuilding efforts since their first return to their homeland, BUT it is continually being frustrated by their adversaries.
Turn to Chapter 4:1-3
But it came to pass, that when Sanballat heard that we builded the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews. 2 And he spake before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? 3 Now Tobiah the Ammonite was by him, and he said, Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.
The same trouble afflicted the people in the Book of Ezra, you recall that they were actually commanded by Ahasuerus to stop the building of the temple.
Turn to Ezra 4:4
4 Then the people of the land weakened the hands of the people of Judah, and troubled them in building, 5 And hired counsellers against them, to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
And no matter how much effort the people put in, they were continually being troubled. In Nehemiah, when the adversaries of the Jews could not prevail against the people, they turned their attention to their leader and desired to trouble him personally. turn back to Nehemiah 6:1-4
6 Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;) 2 That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief. 3 And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? 4 Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner.
And when they could not gain the advantage by violence against him, they then tried to slander him. Verses 5-8 give the account in detail.
After the commandment and decree given by Cyrus, the people were troubled greatly in their building.
Turn with me to Daniel 9:25
I cannot tell you how important this passage is to bring to our understanding, for even the Lord Jesus himself held the people accountable to know his very coming into Israel, for this not only prophesies his presentation to the people as King (Prince) but also gives the exact timing of it. But look at the prophecy in detail, particularly the last few words.
25 Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.
From the time the people had set themselves to turn to Jerusalem, they were troubled. And friends so it is even with us when we desire the things of the Lord. When we first earnestly look to the God of heaven and Earth, trouble comes. When we seek to do good, evil is present with us! So how do we answer it?
We actively build the defenses we need and we seek after the God of heaven and earth to bless the work. We take courage knowing that it will be the Lord who will bring the sayings and counsels against you to nought, but it will be you who must build the defenses and having done all, to stand.
Certain we are aware of the work of the adversary without and remembering also that there can be a hindrance within.
This brings me to my next point
Hindered Against the Work of the Lord
In chapter 5 of Nehemiah we are given an account of the state of the people who have returned. Not only is there an adversary desiring to trouble the Work of the Lord from outside, but we see a hindrance of the work of the Lord from the inside.
Let’s look at the account from the pages of the bible itself.
5 And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. 2 For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. 3 Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. 4 There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. 5 Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards. 6 And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. 7 Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. 8 And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer.
What a hindrance is this? True it is what Nehemiah tells to the people. They were sold to the heathen and now are they to be sold to their brethren? After they were redeemed from their enemies are they now to be enslaved by their family?
Consider also verse 9;
9 Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?
Nothing is worse than to give credibility to those who reproach you when you treat your brother or sister in the same or worse manner that a stranger would treat them. Jesus said that the world will come to know him by the love that the brethren show one to another. We are not to treat one another as the world treats each other.
I passionately hate sarcasm. It was something I used often against people when I was in the world, and it was used often against me, even by my closest friends. IT IS DANGEROUS! It seems harmless as a joke, but you have no idea when it will blow up.
Friends, SARCASM is the RUSSIAN ROULETTE OF RELATIONSHIPS!!!
As Christians, this is just one thing we should never do nor use.
But when the unsaved see the love and compassion we have one for another, when we so quickly forgive each others shortcomings, when we OVERLOOK a transgression done against us; You know, there is nothing that says every transgression someone commits against you needs to be answered and dealt with! They can certainly be overlooked or passed over
Turn to Proverbs 19:11
11 The discretion of a man deferreth his anger;
And it is his glory to pass over a transgression.
Turn back also to chapter 17:9
9 He that covereth a transgression seeketh love;
But he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.
Brethren, use love, faith, patience and grace to discern what needs an answer or a rebuke. I have often said that we should at the very least “Major on the mayors and minor on the minors” But the Godly might also choose to Minor on the majors! It is your Glory to pass over a transgression, and when you do so cover that transgression, you seek only love.
We are living in a world where every body is being offended by every body else, should we then follow in their path? Let them see the love you have for each other. In this the heathen will know God.
Nehemiah was right to chastise the people for the bondage that led their brethren into. Instead of feeding the hungry, they chose to profit from them. This is not the nature of the Lord, nor should it be ours.
This needless battle within the family of God Hinders the work of God.
Understanding Compels The Work of The Lord
Turn to Nehemiah 8:1-8
8 And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. 2 And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. 8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
As you read this portion of the scriptures you would have been well aware of certain traditions that have carried on with us to this day.
We see Ezra read the word of the Lord behind a pulpit of wood. (See how godly we are?)
We also see that when Ezra opened the book of the Lord in the sight of the people they all stood for the reading…..from morning to midday! I noticed Ezra read from the morning even until midday, the morning is counted as the time when the sun rises. Perhaps we should…..
But we also see something else that helps us gain an understanding of that which COMPELS THE WORK OF THE LORD. Midway through verse 7;
, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. 8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
We know that it is the word of the Lord that helps us to grow and motivates us for the work of the Lord when we trust that his words are true. But the Lord has also given us people who may have a further understanding of the words of the Lord and can cause to bring the sense of it to our ears, that we may understand it. And when we do come to understand the words of the Lord…..it is a true joy and we worship him with all our hearts.
Move forward to chapter 9 in Nehemiah
9 Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. 2 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the Lord their God. 4 Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the Lord their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said,
Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
And they go on and recall all the wonderful things of the nature of the Lord and what he has done;
His greatness and power v6
His sovereignty in v7
His blessings in v8
His mercy v9
His authority v10
His judgment v11
His guidance v12
His righteousness v13
His holy ordinances v14
His provisions v15
And then they go on to relate the distinction between the nature of the Lord and their own natures. Friends, when you see this and when you relate to this, how can we at all believe that we do not need any guidance from the Lord? When we see that God is righteous and we are but flesh, how can we not place our trust fully in him? And when we do, how can we not be motivated to live and even die for him?
I have been reading Foxes ‘Book of Martyrs’ and I must say that I am overawed by the willingness of our brethren who gave themselves to such extremities of suffering that I cannot bring to your sensitive ears today. And I cannot but help to think if I too might know the Lord so well and love him so deeply and trust him so emphatically, that I will be motivated to such an extreme!
Do we know that which awaits those who are not born again?
Do we truly understand what the Bible means when it says, “it is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the Judgement”?
I fail to relate to you the suffering of the martyrs who themselves understood its temporary nature, but how can we fail to understand the suffering which has no end created for the devil and his angels, for which God went to such extremities to sacrifice his own son to rescue man?
Especially when its avoidance is so simple! Especially when our command is only to tell of the good news! Friends, Our The understanding of the word of God compelled the people to do the work of God, how much more we who have both the full counsel of the Lord as well as the gift of his salvation living like a burning lamp within us?
Can we also be desirous for the work of the Lord when we are given the sense and understanding of his words?
Jealous For The Righteousness of God
Well Nehemiah concludes his journal with that which comes from the understanding of the Lord and that is a JEALOUSY FOR THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LORD.
4 And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: 5 And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. 6 But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: 7 And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. 8 And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. 9 Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.
Lets also read from the 15th Verse
15 In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. 16 There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. 17 Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. 19 And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. 20 So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. 21 Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath.
Purity is that which Nehemiah desired, he was extremely Jealous for the Righteousness of God. If your desire is to be truly a man or woman of conviction, jealous for the work and righteousness of God, a study of Nehemiah is certainly a worthy work.
He is but a man, yet there are very few like him.
There are less than a person in ten thousand today who will stand on principle.
There are less than a person in a hundred thousand who would stand and be jealous for the righteousness of God.
These are the people the Lord seeks to work through, for he is a God of principle and the Lord of Righteousness.