Bible Study: Nehemiah
Nehemiah was an instrument through which God expressed His love for His people Although Jesus Christ had not yet come, Nehemiah was, nevertheless, the vessel of Christ. Through Nehemiah Christ expressed His deep concern for the purity of God’s people. Nehemiah sacrificed himself and his own ambirions in order to maintain that purity, actively and responsibly relied upon God alone as his only source of strength, and persevered despite the mocking of his enemies. Nehemiah models for us at it means to be a vessel of Christ totally dedicated and set apart for God’s use.
Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 13; 24-18). The purpose of walls Is to protect those within the was from enemies who threaten them in some way. Such was may protect people from a physical threat as when enemies threaten to destroy or enslave people, or they may protect people from a spiritual threat, as when the world and Satan to corrupt the people of God with bad values, bad morals and unbelief. So we can see that walls establish boundaries between Christ and Satan, between God’s people and the world Walls protect the purity of God’s people so that they do not become mixed up with or contaminated by the evil spirit that dwells in the people of this world God wants us to be pure vessels, a pure community through whom He can display His perfection without contamination.
So Nehemiah was not just concerned with protecting the Jews from a physical threat, but from the grave spiritual threat that the peoples around them posed At the end of the book we find that Nehemiah is deeply concerned with the fact that the Jews have been marrying foreign women, those who are not God’s people He says how it was because of foreign women that Solomon was led astray into worshiping idols and how the nation was led into being unfaithful to God by marrying such women (Neh 11:23-27).
Nehemiah was a man concerned with protecting the spiritual purity of God’s people Purity is not a concept with which people of this age are very familiar. Purity has to do with maintaining appropriate boundaries. That is, if something is out of place or becomes mixed with some-thing it shouldn’t, then it is impure. For example, if we have a cup of water and put dirt in the water, the water becomes mixed with the dirt and becomes unfit for drinking and is therefore impure. In the same way, if the people of God, the Jews, became mixed with the peoples around them, marrying them and worshiping their gods, then they would no longer be the holy and pure people that God desired In the same way, we Christians today are constantly threatened by the attempts of the world to absorb us into its culture so that we lose our distinctiveness as Gods people The only way to preserve our identity and distinctiveness as Gods people is to maintain high spiritual walls between ourselves and the world around us.
So we must maintain strong spiritual ‘boundaries if we are to be that spotless and holy.bride of Christ that He desires us to be (Eph. 5:25-27). God expects us to be holy as He is holy (1 Pet 1.16), and holiness means that we are set apart for use as His vessels, rather than as vessels of Satan’s wickedness (ITlm. 2:20-21, 26; see Rom. 6:19).
But how do we go about building strong spiritual was, strong boundaries for ourselves? First we must have a clear idea of what boundaries God has set for us. Being set apart for God’s use implies a clear boundary between sin and righteousness, Mn tweeChrist and Satan How do we know at these boundaries are? Only by reading God’s Word and knowing what He says. David says: Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you (Ps. 119:11). Solomon in the Proverbs commands us to "trust in the Lord with all your heart and to lean not on your own understanding acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will direct your paths (Prov. 3:5,6). Trusting our own thoughts and feelings will get us nowhere, for most of us were raised in the world by parents who were indwelt by Satan. If we want strong spiritual boundaries, we will have to immerse ourselves in Gods Word But merely knowing God’s Word is not enough; we must trust the Lord to direct our paths and to keep us from sin. Only He can keep us and live out His holy and sin-free life through us.
Specifically, God commands us not to be yoked together with unbelievers and to "come out from the world and be separate from it" and to’purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit" (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). We are yoked together with unbelievers when our association with them causes us to compromise Gods values and to disobey Gods commands. If our friends or business associates involve us in their sins, or if the places we go for entertainment lead us into temptation, perhaps we should re-evaluate whether such friends and places are appropriate for us as God’s holy people
You might say that by associating with them you are witnessing to your unbelieving friends. But sincerely ask yourself if that is in fact the case or whether you are just deceiving yourself. Perhaps you will be the means through which these friends will be led to God On the other hand perhaps your friend is leading you into sin. You should never lose sight of the fact that your unbelieving friends are indwelt and operated by Satan and therefore incapable of truly loving you and caring for you, even if they express feelings of affection and friend-ship for you If you are truly witnessing to them, then the conflict between Christ and Satan must at some point come out into the open, and they will either accept Christ or you will go your separate ways. The only other alternative is for you to compromise your faith for the sake of the friendship, in which case you have lowered your spiritual was and have compromised the boundaries God set up for your own protection. So, like Nehemiah, we need to maintain high spiritual walls between ourselves and the world always being aware that we cannot have both the friendship with God and with the world (James 4:4-5).
Nehemiah was also a man willing to sacrifice his ownpersonalambitions, position and wealth for the sake of the work of God. In Persia he was the kings cupbearer (Neh.1:11), a position of great privilege and responsibility. It was his duty to over-see the safety and quality of whatever the king ate or drank in case anyone tried to kill the king through poisoning. He must have been greatly trusted by the king to have been given such a responsibility, and that was no small honor. But when one of his brothers came to visit him, he was told that his people in Jerusalem were in trouble and in disgrace and that the walls around Jerusalem had been torn down and burned (1:3). Nehemiah could not stand by and do nothing. He was deeply moved by this news and immediately began fasting and mourning for days, devoting himself to prayer on behalf of his people (1:4). He deprived himself of those things which ordinarily give him pleasure because he so identified with the troubled state of his people How could he continue to enjoy the pleasures of the king’s table when his people were enduring such hardship and were naked and defenseless before their enemies without was to protect them? So Nehemiah cried out to God on behalf of his people and asked God to forgive their sins and to remember his unfailing love for his people (15-11). His fasting and mourning were not works that were somehow supposed to impress God with how serious he was; instead they were the natural outward expression of his deep concern for and identification with his people. If he could not identify with their troubles, how could he even begin to pray effectively on their behalf? Self sacrifice was the core of Nehemiah’s style of leadership, and how could it be otherwise if it was truly the Spirit of God who was acting in and through him?
Nehemiah’s sacrifice was not merely that of fasting and giving up the pleasure of the king’s table-he also asked the king if he could return to Jerusalem and over-see the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls (24). This was no vacation for Nehemiah, for at this time Jerusalem was a pitiful pile of rubble in the middle of a desert compared to the great cities of Persia and Babylonia where the king lived Nehemiah was giving up a position of tremendous honor and privilege to go do God’s work, but what else could he do? God’s people were in trouble, and that fact overrode any consideration of his own personal gain or comfort. Like Moses before him, earthly position, privilege, and wealth were not the treasures of his heart, rather his heart was set on God’s work on the welfare of God’s people (Neb. 11:25-26).
Norman Grubb once said Not God first, but God only." God will not stand to be first on a list of other priorities that threaten to compete with Him in our lives. He is our only real concern and everything else flows from that one holy passion. We should ask ourselves: Is God’s work the one consuming passion of our lives, or has Satan seduced us with some earthly treasure, no matter how good in itself? Not even our families, our wives or husbands should keep us from the pursuit of God’s kingdom in this world. Our life-breath should be the spreading the news of that kingdom, because it is the life-breath of Christ.
What else ultimately matters? From an eternal perspective, of course, it really is no sacrifice at all to give up earthly pursuits and pleasures for the sake of the kingdom, because what we receive back is worth infinitely more than anything we can imagine on this earth–what we receive is the salvation of others whose fellowship in Christ we can now enjoy. Our treasure in heaven is the people whose lives have been saved, delivered, and trans-formed by the Spirit of Christ through us. We are the people who know the finer things in life-the snatching of souls from the fires of hell (Jude 23), and aren’t such finer things worth the sacrifice of our earthly pursuits of pleasure and reputation?
Although Nehemiah sacrificed his position as the king’s cupbearer, he was not deceived into thinking that any sacrifice or commitment on his part would be enough to deliver God’s people out of their troubles. From the beginning, Nehemiah knew that it was God who had placed these plans in his heart for Jerusalem (2:12) and God who would ensure their success (1:11; 2:20). Several times Nehemiah stated how the gracious hand of God was with him (2:8, 18).
But Nehemiah did not simply say this after he had already succeeded in his task; instead he boldly claimed that God’s hand is with him and that the God of heaven will enable them to succeed before they had even begun rebuilding the walls. Nehemiah was not deceived by the lie of independent self, that he and his countrymen could rebuild the walls in their own strength. Nor was he deceived into thinking that he must handle the situation on his own without the ability to do so. Nehemiah neither wallowed in self-pity over his inability, nor was he prideful in the leadership skills that God had given him. Instead he boldly trusted God to complete the task through him (2:20). So Nehemiah was not only a man who depended upon God as the source of his strength; he was also a man of responsibility. His dependence upon God was not passive: he actively took responsibility for the situation, believing that God was acting in and through him and the people.
But simply because Nehemiah trusted God as the source of his strength did not mean that his faith would not be tested. Nehemiah was also a man whose faith in God persevered under trial. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem probably only required some planning and some physical labor; the real danger came from the enemies in the surrounding country-Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite-who opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem because they were not Jews and did not want the Jews to become a power in the land. Nehemiah represented a real threat to the nations which surrounded Jerusalem and they did everything in their power to stop the rebuilding of these walls. They taunted the Jews and tried to discourage them, calling them a bunch of poor feeble Jews; they mocked their attempts to rebuild the wall with charred stones, saying that it would collapse even if a fox walked on top of it (Neh. 4:1-3).
Now Sanballat and Tobiah were probably right: the Jews were feeble and the wall was probably nothing impressive to look at. But they were only looking at the wall and the work of the Jews outwardly, not taking the God of Israel into account. So Nehemiah prayed that God would not blot out their sin, for they had provoked Him to anger (4:5). How had they provoked God? Because they did not merely mock the feeble efforts of a few weak human beings: they mocked what God was doing through those people and called God’s work as of no account. To insult the work of God is, of course, to insult God Himself. Nehemiah could pray with such boldness because he was not deceived that it was he alone in his own human strength that was accomplishing this task.
Like Nehemiah, we should expect Satanic opposition when we pursue the work of God in our lives. Satan would love to drag us down with discouragement and unbelief when we face obstacles, if we let him. He will mock us with reminders of our own inadequacy, but we need only remember that such thoughts and feelings of inadequacy can be the springboard to trusting in the power of the God who dwells in us. Of course we are inadequate-Nehemiah never says back to them, "Oh yes, we can build that wall!" On the contrary, Nehemiah knows that it was God who began the good work and that He would bring it to completion (see Phil. 1:6).
Satan’s attempts to pull us down can become precisely the means by which our faith in God is tested, purified and strengthened. As Peter said, "These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tested by fiery trials, it will bring much glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world" (1 Peter 1:7).
So Nehemiah is a model for us in several ways: in his deep concern that God’s people maintain high spiritual walls and appropriate boundaries, in his sacrifice of his own personal ambition and position as the king’s cupbearer, in his active and responsible dependence upon God, and in his perseverance despite the opposition and mockery of his enemies. Of course, we know that these were not just Nehemiah’s own qualities, as if he were an independent self, but the expression of the character and person of Christ through him. Because he knew that God was his strength, Nehemiah was enabled to be God’s vessel for the restoration of His people.
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 15 No 1
- The Purpose of the Negative
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- New York Fall Conference
- The Story of the Ten
- Faith Action
- Tape Talk
- Life of a D.C.D.
- To Think About
- Questions & Answers
- Bible Study: Nehemiah
- From Jollity to Joy
- The Mailbox
- One Honest Moment That Changed My Life
- Area Fellowship News
- The Key to Everything
- Zerubbabel Focus: Zerubbabel Tape Ministry
- The truth is…
- Words to Live By…