Posts tagged Nehemiah
I have to say, the close of Nehemiah’s book it a little off-putting. I mean, again, this blog is my first impression of what I read each day and I haven’t ever done an in-depth study of the book of Nehemiah. However, it appears at first glance that Nehemiah is doing a little self-promotion (and finger-pointing) to close out his book.
Does God really need to be reminded of what happened? Does Nehemiah really feel the need to inform God or give him a history lesson? Or is the last chapter of Nehemiah meant, like so many spoken prayers, more for the “audience” than for God. Whatever the case, I don’t really get it…and yet, I do. I don’t get it because as people of God, we (and Nehemiah) should be above this – not always jockeying for position. But I do get it because we still do jockey for position.
In some ways, perhaps Nehemiah’s jockeying is better than my own. While you and I may jockey for position on earth, Nehemiah just wants to be remembered by God. While you and I may seek respect from others, Nehemiah wants adoration from God.
I guess if you’re Nehemiah and are going to look for some amount of edification, at least you’re focused in the right direction – on the only one whose opinion ultimately matters. And, by the way, God seems to have remembered Nehemiah and he has given us a chance to remember him as well.
It’s “reset” time in Israel…again. The wall has been rebuilt, the law of God rediscovered and the promise of the people renewed. Following the lead of Nehemiah, the people are determined to get it right this time – to do what they should have been doing all along.
I’m reminded, as I read of their re-commitment and resettlement, of the many New Year’s resolutions that are made and broken each year. Just like these Israelites, we hit January 1st with anticipation, excitement and drive. We vow that we are, once and for all, going to change our ways. This year is the year we turn the corner.
And yet, what typically happens? Somewhere along the way, we run out of steam. The thing that was so difficult to do last year is still difficult to do this year. You tell me: we’re almost 5 months into our Bible in a Year commitment. Has it gotten any easier? Hopefully, it has been interesting and maybe even fun at times, but it still requires commitment and, at times, some small sacrifice (of time or sleep) to keep up.
But like the people who volunteered to live in Jerusalem (chapter 11, verse 2) you are to be commended. You are still here. Maybe you skipped some days (or weeks) or maybe you’re a little behind on your reading and are just catching up (anyone reading this on summer vacation?), but you’re here.
God’s desire for us in life is that we keep at it – that we follow through on our commitments and that, when we find ourselves sidetracked or out of steam, we find a way to push past our desire and into his desire for us. That we take a moment to right ourselves, recommit and dig back in. If you’re struggling with this or any other commitment, just know that you aren’t alone. We humans have been pretty bad at this for a long time. But don’t give up. Hang in there. There is (or will be) joy in the journey!
There are two incredible pictures painted in today’s two chapters. The first is a picture of what it means to be holy. The second, a picture of the patience and mercy of God.
In chapter 8, we find the people, upon hearing God’s word read aloud by Ezra, weeping and mourning. They knew that they had strayed hard and fast away from the law. And yet, Nehemiah instructs them not to weep and mourn. Why?
“This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)
You see, this was a holy day – a day set apart for God. And in God’s days, there is no grief, weeping or mourning. There is only joy, supplied by the Father. And this joy is for everyone. Notice how the people are instructed to send food and drink to those who have nothing. On God’s days (and in God’s permanent reality) the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” is non-existent.
Holiness, then, is less about our behavior or contrition and more about our recognition and embrace of God’s desire – a desire that we be filled with his joy and love and that it spill over to those around us.
But there is also a reality that there exists a chasm between our world and God’s desired world. We fail him. And, in chapter 9, the people of Israel are reminded of that fact. But there is a more prominent picture being painted here. It is a picture of a God who so loved his people that even in his anger and frustration, he was ultimately patient and merciful. What we now know is that God would continue to be patient with his people and he would be merciful, you could argue, to a fault – to the point that he would have to sacrifice his son (and himself).
You see, God has always been a God of mercy and we have always been a stubborn and callous people – people who respond to punishment better than we respond to grace. It makes me wonder if God’s end game doesn’t involve the threat of the former to bring about the ultimate reality of the latter.
Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 7
Okay, maybe I’m over-spiritualizing this, but verse 4 in today’s reading really struck me:
Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. (Nehemiah 7:4)
This was a prepared space. It was a city-in-waiting. I can’t help but draw parallels between this restored Jerusalem – rebuilt and awaiting its people – and the “New Jerusalem” that we are told we will see at the end of time. The New Jerusalem, like Nehemiah’s restored Jerusalem, is a city-in-waiting. It is waiting for us!
I never ceased to be amazed at the prophetic poetry of the Bible. It seems that almost everything you read has multiple levels of meaning. There is the surface understanding of the passage, then there is something that lies just beneath the surface. Then, below that, there are one or more deeper meanings.
The question I often ask myself is why God went through the effort to create these little glimpses. I mean, the people in Nehemiah’s time wouldn’t have recognized their restored city as prophetic in nature. And most people who would read those scriptures wouldn’t necessarily make the connection – at least not consciously.
And that’s when it hit me – God doesn’t just work on a conscious level. The prophetic seeds that God has sewn throughout history are not just meant to be understood intellectually. They are to be felt in our core. When the first century church heard about the “New Jerusalem,” the story was oddly familiar. It felt right – like something they had already experienced. It resonated with them at an unconscious level and was somehow comforting.
I expect that the same thing will happen to us as we continue this journey. I can’t help but think that as we sit down to read a few chapters in October or November, that we’ll be reading things that seem oddly familiar and comfortable – things that make sense – not only intellectually, but at a core level.
I’m looking forward to seeing how this all unfolds, but I’m glad you are joining me on the journey!
It dawned on me today, as I read these chapters of Nehemiah’s story, that very little of any importance has ever been done without facing opposition. It seems that there are always people around to oppose even the noblest of plans. But, in reading Nehemiah’s response, I think we can learn a few things.
First, Nehemiah remains calm in the face of opposition. Throughout the process of building the wall, Nehemiah is being intimidated by those who desire to bring his project to an end. And yet, Nehemiah maintains a steady hand. He knows that he has been called by God to lead this rebuilding and he’s not going to let anyone stand in his way.
Secondly, he continues to do the work. It is tempting, when faced with any kind of adversity, to quit what you’re doing and focus your efforts on addressing the issue at hand. But Nehemiah, in his wisdom, kept the work going, even as he addressed the threats and intimidation.
The third thing I think we can learn from Nehemiah is that threats should be taken seriously. I mean, even though he maintained a steady hand and even though he continued work on the wall, he made sure that his people were prepared to confront any threats. In fact, he sacrificed some efficiency in the building process in order to be sure that they were armed. I mean, I would imagine that taking half of your working force and turning them into armed guards would slow your progress. And, the image of the material carriers doing their job with one hand, while wielding a weapon in the other is pretty humorous. But, as I said before, the work was continuing to move forward. Nehemiah managed to balance progress and protection in a way that helped the project move forward.
I wonder how well I face opposition – especially in the form of human opposition to God’s desires. In thinking back to times where I’ve faced opposition, I’m not sure that I have been very good at doing the things Nehemiah did. Was I calm in the face of accusations and threats? Did I continue to press through, or did I allow myself to become distracted by my accusers? And did I find a way to prepare my defense, while also continuing to make progress on my assigned project?
What typically happens in my life is that I get frustrated, distracted and careless. I let my guard down, quit making progress and allow someone else to get the best of me. The kind of response that Nehemiah had must be empowered by the Holy Spirit, but too often, I find that I try to rely on my own strength in those moments and, frankly, I tend to mess it up!