Israel 2016

Israel 2016
Roman architectural influence in Bet Sean, Israel

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Sep 25, Neh 1-5

Today's readings are Neh 1-5. Tomorrow's are Neh 6-7.

Nehemiah followed Ezra in returning to Jerusalem. He led a third wave of returning Jewish exiles who were sent by Artaxerxes in 445 B.C. This era of Jewish history is commonly known as the post-exilic period. It begins when Cyrus sends the first wave of people back  in 538 B.C. While Ezra focuses on the rebuilding/re-establishing of the religious practices of the Jews, Nehemiah details the governmental/political/physical restoration.

In Neh 1-2 Nehemiah hears of the sad state of Jerusalem and prays for God to help him restore the city. King Artaxerxes sees Nehemiah's despondent face and grants him extraordinary privileges, protection and provision to return and begin work. Sanballat, governor of Samaria, and Tobiah, another Samaritan are not happy.

In Neh 3-4 work begins. Nearly everyone joins in.  But Sanballat and a few other neighbors (the Ammonites and the Ashdod (The Phillistines) make things very difficult fo the rebuilding efforts. The people labored "with all their heart" and prayed to God, resisting the external pressure on the work of God.

Interestingly, in Neh 4:10, we hear that internal rumors and grumbling begin to slow down the work. Some of the concerns expressed are that the enemies are threatening to attack and the work load seems too large. The unsettled factions petition Nehemiah to abandon the work or rebuilding in order to defend those who are in fear of war. Nehemiah encourages them to pray reminding them that God defends and protects His own. Work resumes but Nehemiah and his men stand guard and everyone remains armed and vigilant while they work.

Neh 5 reveals the extent and scope of the internal pressure. Some of the poorer folks have mortgaged their homes and land. The rebuilding effort is expensive, taxes to the Persians are exceptionally high and food is short. Some Jewish lenders are taking advantage of those who are needy. Some of the poor are being sold into slavery. Nehemiah chastises the lenders, rebuking them for making ill-advised profit while the whole community is struggling to buy back enslaved Jews from their Gentile oppressors. In Neh 5:14-19, Nehemiah becomes governor but refuses to live the posh lifestyle of a Persian governmental official while those around him struggle. He sets the example for others to follow, refusing to sacrifice service to the people for his own comfort.

God is moving in a mighty way. As is so often the case, the biggest obstacle to overcome is not from outside, it is from inside. Notice that work slowed when the threats from outside made the people fearful. These particular threats had been there all along. The Samaritans and the Philistines were old and familair enemies of the Jews. The taxes were in place prior to the Jews leaving Babylon. Work didn't slow down until the returning Jews focused on their enemies and obstacles rather than their calling. They had to be reminded that God promised to protect and preserve them.

Work on the walls continues. But the people begin to suffer hardship. Their personal needs begin to take priority over the work of the Lord.  They want to abandon the work on the walls to better protect themselves. Ironically, without the walls, the people will be left to their own resources to defend themselves. Their fears can cause them to become victims to the very things they fear. However, Nehemiah successfully redirects their attention to God who is  the solution to all their fears. The walls are finished.

It's natural to be concerned over the events in our lives. Things happen that can distract us from the work of the Lord. One of the most difficult things we can do is to keep our focus on the One who protects us, finish His work and find sanctuary and safety in Him.

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