Synopsis Nehemiah 6:11-7:3 7/23/2020
The local magistrates wanted to discredit Nehemiah. So, they bribed a prophet in Jerusalem to falsely prophecy that assassins were about to strike him. They hoped to discredit him as a coward.
But, Nehemiah refused to hide in temple. He discerned that the prophet’s warning was not from God. And so, he ignored him.
Instead, Nehemiah accelerated the efforts to complete the project. Accordingly, the whole building project was completed in a mere fifty-two days. Afterwards, he had the doors constructed and setup at the various gates. And finally, Nehemiah selected trustworthy men to manage Jerusalem.
Making Israel Anxious
The magistrates who opposed Jerusalem’s reconstruction were confounded. They could not find a way to stop Nehemiah’s effort to rebuild the city walls.
And so, in the final effort, they attempted to impugn his reputation. Their plan was to have Nehemiah flee to the Temple and hide himself there. And then, they no doubt intended to expose him as he cowered in the outer sanctuary. They imagined this would wreck his creditability with the Jews in Jerusalem.
Once they had driven a wedge between Nehemiah and the people, the magistrates no doubt intended to foment an insurrection against him with Jews who were on his side. However, Nehemiah understood these things and did not fall into their reputation trap.
Fear is a Liar
Very often, it can be a frightful thing to stand for the truth. But the truth offered in love is worth it. And when love is perfect, then there is no longer any room for fear.
“You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.” John 8:44
Synopsis Nehemiah 5:18-6:10 7/22/2020
Nehemiah led the effort to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. As the project neared completion, the regional governor became aggressive with Nehemiah. His name was Sanballet. And, because he feared the Israelites, he plotted to kill Nehemiah.
But Nehemiah did not fall into the traps. Instead, he artfully avoided Sanballet’s schemes.
As a result, Sanballet shifted tactics. He threatened to report Nehemiah to King Artaxerxes as a traitor. But Nehemiah confronted Sanballet with the facts. And after this, the governor shifted back to plotting violence against him.
In and Out of Community
Sanballet was outside the Israelite community. As a result, he had to rely on the authority of the empire to control the Jews. So, when Nehemiah showed up, Sanballet’s authority was diminished. For, Nehemiah had both the authority of the empire and moral authority.
The Jews intuitively respected and followed him as their leader. Even when asked to accomplish great projects in the face of real hardship, they followed him.
And so, Sanballet threatened and manipulated in order to undermine Nehemiah’s authority and break the Israelites resolve.
Threats From Without
There is a distinct difference between those in a community and those outside. This is especially true of the Authentic Community. I owe some allegiance to the synthetic community where I was born and where I live.
But ultimate authority is vested in the Authentic Community alone. And Jesus Christ is fully vested as our Lord, Savior and Leader. This will always threaten those who seek to keep me under control. And so, like Jesus taught, I need to be as “shrewd as serpents and simple as doves”.
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.” Matt 10:16
Synopsis Nehemiah 5:7-17 7/21/2020
Nehemiah realized that Jewish nobles and leaders were lending money to poorer Jews for interest. The result was that many of the poor had lost their lands, possessions. For some, even their children were sold as slaves.
Nehemiah spoke boldly to the leaders. Specifically, he reminded them that charging interest on loans was against the law. Perhaps even more importantly, the practice was injuring the community.
The leaders acknowledged their error. They returned the people’s possessions. And they even returned the interest they had wrongfully charged.
Jewish Leaders Repent
Once told, the leaders repented. In this way, Nehemiah’s willingness to confront the systemic inequity brought the entire community back into harmony.
Repentance and Leadership
Everyone has sinned. In fact, as the scripture states, each of us have fallen short of the glory of God.
So, the fact of my sin is just a fact of life. But the way I respond when I become aware of my sin is another story. Will I accept with humility the reality of my moral failures? Or, will I deceive myself by claiming that I have not sinned?
There’s a lot on the line. Self-deception hurts both my own body and soul. And even more than that, it wrecks the community upon which I depend.
“If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” 1John 1:8-9
Synopsis Nehemiah 4:9-5:6 7/16/2020
Nehemiah led the rebuilding project in Jerusalem. As he did, the local, non-Jewish magistrates attempted to undermine his efforts.
When their efforts didn’t work, they threatened violence against Nehemiah and the Jews. However, the Israelites working in Jerusalem armed themselves for a fight. As a result, their enemies departed.
Later, Nehemiah came to realize there were certain disparities amongst the Jews. In particular, some of the Israelites had positioned themselves as money lenders within the community. These lenders were charging interest on loans, which was not legal for Jews.
As a result, through pawnbroking and other aggressive lending techniques, many of the Israelites lost their land to the lenders. And many were even forced to sell their children into slavery. All of this angered Nehemiah.
The Law of Moses discouraged aggressive lending practices in general. And it specifically forbade lending money for a profit. God gave Moses the law concerning lending because of the destructive effect lending-for-profit created in the community.
Nehemiah recognized that this issue was dividing the Israelites. And, as a result, it threatened the well-being of the community. Ironically, money-lending injured the community in a way that no outside enemy ever could.
My tendency is to look at the world for what it can do for me. I came into the world thinking this way. So, even many years later, I naturally tend to look at other people from the perspective of what they can do for me. In other words, I treat them like objects.
Unchecked, this attitude is corrosive to community.
In synthetic communities, the check on selfishly objectifying other people is the law. Of course, it’s really an ever expanding system of laws. It is ever expanding because it never treats the root of the problem. It never addresses my need to grow beyond selfish ambition. Instead, systems of laws merely delimit the range of my just ambition.
Contrast this with Authentic Community. In the Authentic Community, the goal is to recognize the other as a person. And the hope is to be able to experience the intrinsic, God-given value of other people. All of this, without regard for my “what’s in it for me?” attitude.
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” John 15:13
Synopsis Nehemiah 3:32-4:8 7/15/2020
Nehemiah came from Susa with the blessing, support and direction of King Artaxerxes. His mission was to rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
And so, he roused the people to rebuild the walls of the city. As they did, the local magistrates attempted to stop the Jews. At first, the magistrates mocked the project in an attempt to discourage the Israelites. Later, they attempted to invade the project and kill some of the workers in order to frighten the Jews away.
But God protected the people. Specifically, the Israelites who lived near the magistrates overheard the plans. And they gave warning to the Jews in the city. As a result, the Jews armed themselves. After this, the laborers kept their weapons at hand even when they were working.
Jewish Determination in Adversity
Under Nehemiah, the Jews who committed to rebuilding the city met the challenge. When threatened with physical harm, they remained steadfast. And, they armed themselves. They put their adversaries on notice that they were willing to fight.
Of course, the magistrates could not risk a fight. Such an act would have been in open revolt against King Artaxerxes. So, in the end, they yielded to the Israelite construction project.
Determination in Adversity
God has given each of us purpose and mission. But very often, when I begin to act on my mission, adversity shows up in my circumstances. And my natural tendency is to shrink away and avoid the confrontation.
But God commands a different approach. So, if the forces of the evil threaten the thing I know that God has called me to do, then its time to arm-up and resist.
Of course, as a Christian, my weapons are not the same as the weapons of this world. And yet, my determination must be no less than a fully armed Israelite determined to rebuild his wall.
“For the weapons of our battle are not of flesh but are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses” 2Cor 10:4
Synopsis Nehemiah 3:17-31 7/14/2020
Nehemiah led the rebuilding effort in Jerusalem. And the Jews living there followed his lead. Throughout the city, the people rebuilt the wall that was directly opposite their residence (right out the front door). As a result, the people were able to keep focus on work that was both familiar and directly in front of them.
Nehemiah’s Great Project
Nehemiah was able to help keep the Israelite volunteers focused by allowing them to concentrate their effort. He wanted them to take responsibility for the wall directly in front of them. Moreover, he wanted them to work on a project that was both familiar and always right in front of their sight.
This helped to keep them from feeling overwhelmed by the massive scale of the project. As a result, they need not worry. All they had to do each day was go out and replace the familiar stones of the ancient broken wall that they already experienced each day.
Working Free From Anxiety
Ideally, my chosen work is always a little more challenging than my present level of skill. In this way, I am always motivated to learn and grow.
The best way for me to do this is to take advantage familiar things. So, by focusing my attention on the ordinary circumstances of life, I remain “in the moment”. And by remaining in the moment, I become free from anxiety in order to work to my full potential.
So, my prayer: “Let me be content to meet the challenge of today with the call to love – in my ordinary circumstances.” And, in this way, I become a little less distracted by the swirl of larger world events over which I probably have very little control.
“So if a son frees you, then you will truly be free.” John 8:36
Synopsis Nehemiah 3:5-16 7/13/2020
Under Nehemiah’s leadership, the Jews began rebuilding Jerusalem. Accordingly, it was a coordinated effort. And unlike past efforts to fortify the city, volunteers provided the labor.
The vision of rebuilding and restoring Jerusalem coalesced the Jews into action. Especially those living in and around Jerusalem. As a result, the people worked together to accomplish this extraordinary vision.
Collaboration and Community
There is, of course, a difference between a community and a collection of people. Common purpose binds a community together. So it follows that coordinated, collaborative action is the evidence of authentic community.
“Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.” John 6:27
Synopsis Nehemiah 2:14-3:4 7/10/2020
After inspecting the walls surrounding Jerusalem, Nehemiah approached the priests and other leaders in Jerusalem. He persuaded them to join him in reconstructing the wall around the city. So, they began building.
There were three regional magistrates who took issue with the construction project. They were Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshon. At first, they merely mocked the effort to rebuild because there was so much to do and so few people to do the work.
But the Israelites remained determined. And before very long, large portions of the walls and gates were reconstructed. Each section was rebuilt by a Jewish family or the Israelite men from a nearby town.
Nehemiah Overcomes Inertia
Nehemiah helped the people overcome inertia. Many of the Jews had returned from exile years before Nehemiah. The Temple was already rebuilt. But nothing had been done about the condition of the rest of the city.
Nehemiah brought an awareness of possibility. He recognized that nothing was impossible with God. But he also knew that inertia keeps big projects from making progress. So, he helped the people to believe that they could actually get the thing done. And this unlocked
Leadership Overcomes Inertia
Jesus once said that “all things are possible with God”. So, God can do anything. There is no theoretical dispute.
Still, we live in a world where not everything is as it should be. And very often this truth brings with it a feeling of overwhelm. The needs of our world are so many. And the problems we face are often so global.
So, my tendency is to ask, “what good could I accomplish anyway”. On my own, everything seems impossible. As a matter of lived experience, I’m uncertain God can use me to make much of a difference.
So, the question is; who will show us what is possible in our time? Who will cause us to stand up and start building the walls of our Jerusalem?
Without a vision the people lose restraint; but happy is the one who follows instruction.” Prov 29:18
Synopsis Nehemiah 2:2-13 7/9/2020
King Artaxerxes noticed Nehemiah’s sadness.
Nehemiah asked the king for support. And the king gave his support. And he also gave resources for Nehemiah to accomplish his goal.
The region was governed by Sanballat, Tobiah. These men were upset by the plan to restore Jerusalem. So, Nehemiah surveyed the situation in Jerusalem at night, so as not to attract attention.
Nehemiah realized that not everyone would welcome the reconstruction of Jerusalem. Historically, the Israelites had always had enemies from the nations that surrounded them. So, it seemed likely that these same peoples would not welcome a restored Jewish state.
As a result, he kept his plans to himself. Even though King Artaxerxes had commissioned Nehemiah to do the work, he chose to quietly go about the work. His intent was to gain momentum without fanfare that would grab the attention of his potential adversaries.
Vanity and Discretion
Like generations that have come before, we live in a world that glamourizes fame. In fact, it’s safe to say that culturally, we have embraced the idea that relevance is manifest in fame. So, the thinking goes, my importance comes from being known.
Oddly enough, it doesn’t really seem to matter if I am known for good or for evil. In our culture, both fame and infamy bear outsized relevance.
But God fills the earth with members of the Authentic Community who are basically unknown. So, like Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way”, let us commit not so much to doing “great things”, but instead “doing little things with great love”.
“Your every act should be done with love.” 1Cor 16:14
Synopsis Nehemiah 1:1-2:1 7/7/2020
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the King of Persia. According to his writings, he lived in Susa.
One day, Israelites from Jerusalem came to Susa. So, Nehemiah asked about the conditions back in Jerusalem. However, the Jews gave a bad report. The city, it seemed, remained in bad disrepair. And the people were under reproach by local leaders.
Nehemiah was grieved by the news. So, he cried out to God in prayer. Specifically, he asked God to have mercy on the people despite their sins. And he asked God to grant him a role in the rebuilding of the city.
Nehemiah grieved at the news of Jerusalem’s destruction. But his sadness transcended the fact that the people were suffering. It’s true that he felt pity for his kinsmen. Still, his deeper grief was at the thought that God’s plans had seemingly been thwarted by the sins of the Israelites.
Shrugging at Evil
I long for a heart so attuned to God that I grieve for the things that grieve Him.
“Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house; they have eyes to see, but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear. They are such a rebellious house!” Ezekial 12:2