“Re-Building God’s Temple”
Subject: Who was Nehemiah? The work of Nehemiah:
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah
This book begins by stating that it’s the first person account of Nehemiah.
He says that he was living in the Persian capital, Susa. His brother Hanani came to him, and Nehemiah asked him how the Jews who had left exile and returned to Jerusalem were doing. Hanani explains that they’re in trouble: Jerusalem’s wall is broken down and its gates have been burned. Nehemiah weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for days. He asks God to listen to his words, as he repents for his family and his nation’s failure to keep God’s commandments. He admits that God told them all this would happen when he gave the law to Moses. But he also promised that he’d gather them from exile if they managed to keep his commandments again.
Nehemiah asks God for success and mercy in the mission he’s about to undertake.
He ends by noting that he was cupbearer to the King of Persia, at this time. This was a pretty important position, so he was really close with the king.
Book of Nehemiah. In the 20th year of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, (445/444 BC), Nehemiah was cup-bearer to the king. Learning that the remnant in Judah were in distress and that the walls of Jerusalem were broken down, he asked the king for permission to return and rebuild the city.
Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries, and they both wrote about the rebuilding of Jerusalem, which occurred many years after its destruction by the Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzar. Ezra wrote about the rebuilding of the temple under Zerubbabel, while Nehemiah wrote concerning the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. From ancient times, the cities located in the Middle East were surrounded by stone walls with gates that were guarded for the protection of the citizens. The important men of each city would gather at the gate where they would conduct the business of the city, share important information, or just pass the time of day. Nehemiah’s account begins in 445 B.C., and this date is important because the prophet Daniel, a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah, wrote the “70 weeks of years” prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) based on a very specific date—March 15, 445 B.C. This date is crucial to the beginning of the prophecy; it kicks off the start of the timeframe, which ends with the second coming of Jesus Christ. This prophecy was written long before Jesus came the first time, but it continues through those years leading up to His being “cut off.” It gives details about the antichrist, how he will come onto the world scene, and how he will move against Israel in his final assault on God and His people.
Daniel’s prophecy is found in Daniel 9:25: "Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’ It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble.” Little did Nehemiah know that he was fulfilling the prophecy written by Daniel, but this faithful servant, who was also captive in Babylon at the time, begins his writings with intercessory prayer for his people, Israel, just as Daniel constantly prayed on their behalf, beseeching God to have mercy on them and return them to their home land. Nehemiah listed specific dates, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in order that there might be a written record as to the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
Before he asked the king’s permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah prayed, and God granted his request. As he was leaving Babylon, he met some Arab men who mocked him for what he was about to do. Nehemiah 2:20records his statement, which stands even today as a testament to who has the right to the city known as Jerusalem: “I answered them by saying, ‘The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.’"
Nehemiah continued in his quest to rebuild Jerusalem. God provided all the necessary workers, and the building began. However, they were not without enemies, those who desired to stop the rebuilding. But God intervened as He had done with Moses (Exodus 14:14). Nehemiah 4:20records, "Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!" This was God’s pre-ordained plan to bring His people out of bondage and back into their land to worship in the temple once again.
We can learn from the life of Nehemiah valuable lessons in restoring and maintaining a relationship with God. As the people returned to the rebuilt city, the first order of business was to make certain that they understood the Law of Moses. So Ezra, a priest, spent many hours reading the Law before the assembly, making sure they understood what God desired. Nehemiah 8:18records what should be part of every believer’s life, the daily reading of God’s Word: “Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.”
Nehemiah stands as a testament to faithfulness and perseverance. He lived far away from his home, yet he never gave up hope that someday he would return to it. He spent most of his life in exile in a pagan land, yet he never wavered in his faith and trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was a prayer warrior, putting everything before the Lord in prayer, interceding on behalf of his people, and he was rewarded for his diligence and perseverance. Nehemiah cared so much for his people that he never gave up the hope of their restoration, not only to their homeland, but to the God that first called their forefather, Abraham, out of the same area and made a covenant with him, one which Nehemiah believed would stand forever.
Restoration of Covenant Life, Phase Two; Ezra and Nehemiah together (Nehemiah 8:1-13:31).
After the wall surrounding Jerusalem was completed, the Israelites gathered in Jerusalem in order to renew their covenant with God. Ezra reappeared at this point in order to read the Law to the people (Neh. 8:2-5). As they heard the Law, they wept (Neh. 8:9). Yet Nehemiah rebuked them for their sorrow, adding, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord” (Neh. 8:10). However central work might be to serving God, so is celebration. On holy days, people are to enjoy the fruits of their labors as well as sharing them with those who lack such delights.
Yet, as Nehemiah chapter 9 demonstrates, there was also a time for godly sorrow as the people confessed their sins to God (Neh. 9:2). Their confession came in the context of an extensive recital of all the things God had done, beginning with creation itself (Neh. 9:6) and continuing through the crucial events of the Old Testament. The failure of Israel to be faithful to the Lord explained, among other things, why God’s chosen people were “slaves” to foreign kings and why those kings enjoyed the fruits of Israelite labors (Neh. 9:36-37).
Among the promises made by the people as they renewed their covenant with the Lord was a commitment to honor the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31). In particular, they promised not to do business on the Sabbath with “the peoples of the land” who worked on this day. The Israelites also promised to fulfill their responsibility to support the temple and its workers (Neh. 10:31-39). They would do so by giving to the temple and its staff a percentage of the fruit of their own work. Now, as then, the commitment to give a percentage of our income to support the “service of the house of our God” (Ezra 10:32) is both a necessary means of financing the work of worship and a reminder that everything we have comes from God’s hand.
After completing his task of building the wall in Jerusalem and overseeing the restoration of society there, Nehemiah returned to serve King Artaxerxes (Neh. 13:6). Later, he came back to Jerusalem, where he discovered that some of the reforms he had initiated were thriving, while others had been neglected. For example, he observed some people working on the Sabbath (Neh. 13:15). Jewish officials had been letting Gentile traders bring their goods into Jerusalem for sale on the day of rest (Neh. 13:16). So Nehemiah rebuked those who had failed to honor the Sabbath (Neh. 13:7-18). Moreover, in his typically pragmatic approach, he closed the city gates before the Sabbath began, keeping them shut until the day of rest had passed. He also stationed some of his servants at the gates so that they might tell potential sellers to leave (Nehemiah 13:19).
The question of whether and/or how Christians ought to keep the Sabbath cannot be answered from Nehemiah. A much broader theological conversation is necessary. Nevertheless, this book reminds us of the centrality of Sabbath-keeping to God’s first covenant people and the threat posed by economic interaction with those who do not honor the Sabbath. In our own context, it was certainly easier for Christians to keep the Sabbath when the malls were closed on the Lord’s Day. However, our contemporary culture of round-the-clock commerce puts us in Nehemiah’s situation, in which a conscious — and potentially costly — decision about Sabbath-keeping is required.
WEEK # 4 QUESTIONS:
Questions for Review
- How does Nehemiah identify himself?
- What was Nehemiah’s job in Susa?
- How long was Nehemiah governor of Judah?
- Was God in Nehemiah’s desire?
- What did Nehemiah desire to do?
- Did the king let him go?
- How did Nehemiah distinguish himself from the other Israelites?
- Why did he do this?
- What is the correct way to respond when enemies come against us and/or wish us harm?
- What benefits does sticking with your mission through times of trouble have?
- Does God exonerate His people when one’s respected friends trash them before their mutual friends?
- Did folks in Old Testament times lift their hands toward heaven, shout "Amen!" and chant "Amen!" while praising God?
- When the bible was read, did they just read it or did they stop to explain each part?
- What is the strength of the believer?
- The Israelites celebrated the Festival of Shelters during Nehemiah’s time. When was the last time it was celebrated properly?
- This celebration of the Temple along with Jerusalem being rebuilt and completed was a special time. On what day did the people confess their sins to one another?
- That’s interesting. What else set October 31 apart?
- What causes people to praise God so greatly?
- What else does knowing God’s word bring?
- What was the irony of this era of the Jews?
- What time period does Nehemiah cover?
- What lessons can we benefit from in Nehemiah?
Weekly Word # 4: Table of Shewbread
Our weekly reading for this week: Ezra 10- Nehemiah 1-2