Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Nehemiah

In Nehemiah, the Israelites have survived their 70-year captivity in Babylon, and a few waves of them have been migrating back home to Jerusalem. The trouble with Jerusalem is, it's basically a city-wide wreckage and even after it's been inhabited for awhile, it has no outer wall of defense. Nehemiah is a cupbearer (a fairly high-ranking servant) for the king of Persia, and when he hears of Jerusalem's defenselessness, the book says he "sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven" (1:4). He asks God for help in getting the wall rebuilt, and God delivers.

In chapter 2, the king of Persia himself notices that Nehemiah is sad and asks him what he needs. Well, Nehemiah is a proactive planner-type person and he already has in mind exactly what he needs. He asks the king for letters of passage that will allow him to travel unharmed all the way to Jerusalem, and for lots of timber to help rebuild the wall of the city. And the king agrees! Nehemiah goes home to Judah, surveys what needs to be done, and galvanizes the local forces. Every group of people repairs the section of wall in front of their residence, and the wall is progressing just fine. A few foreign men (Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem) insult and discourage the builders and try to cause trouble for Nehemiah. His response is to have the builders work on the wall with one hand while holding a weapon in the other! And at all times, he reminds his people of how the Lord is their strength.

The wall isn't Nehemiah's only project, though. He has to deal with other serious matters, like how some of the Israelites are impoverished because their own people have basically made them mortgage their properties to the hilt. Nehemiah is a governor who is not afraid to bring the hammer down when he sees people doing wrong. And he never demands a governor's salary or takes advantage of the people under his care, which is an even bigger deal. He's an excellent leader and he repeatedly asks the Lord to look on him with kindness: "Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my goods deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof". (13:14). And apparently, God did just the opposite of wiping out his good deeds--he made Nehemiah's story part of his holy scriptures so everyone could know what this one man did for the Lord long ago. That's pretty sweet.

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