Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for May 25, New 4-6

Today’s readings are Neh 4-6.

Sanballat, a Samaritan, the Ammonites and some people from Ashdod (The Philistines) go into Jerusalem and plant seeds of discontent among the people working on the walls. The work temporarily halts (Neh 4:1-12). The infiltrators seem obsessed with stopping the work. Why? They are sworn enemies of the Jews who have lived on their lands and profited from their cities while the Jews were in captivity in Babylon. To Sanballat and his cronies, the Jews were a defeated and deflated people. The walls will make Jerusalem a fortress city once again. The enemies of the Hebrews know how strong they can be and what amazing victories the Jews enjoyed when God was fighting for them, and they want to ensure that the Jews do not regain their strength and take their land back.

At first, it appears the infiltrators’ plans will succeed. For the Jews, 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.

But, Nehemiah rallies the people by reminding them who their protector is and from where their strength comes (Neh 4:13-14). Work resumes albeit this time with a savvy wisdom and caution (Neh 4:15-23). The people labored "with all their heart" and prayed to God, resisting the external pressures that would dissuade them from completing their task.

Their diligence is a beautiful example of how the work of the church can go forward in a hostile environment. Nehemiah and his people worked with tools in one hand and spears in the other (Neh 4:17-18). They worked with complete dedication to the task at hand, but with a full awareness of the cultural pressures being levied upon them. In the same manner, we work with our Bibles in our hands while being acutely aware of the cultural climate in which we live.

Neh 5:1-13 reveals the extent and scope of the internal pressure on the Jews. 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 supplies are in short order. 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 an inappropriate profit while the whole community is struggling to buy back enslaved Jews from their Gentile oppressors. He commands them to return their profits to the people who are struggling. Apparently, the community responds well. Nehemiah is proving to be a godly leader, one who has a passion for working to give glory to God.

The depth of Nehemiah’s devotion to God’s calling and to serving His people becomes evident in Neh 5:14-19.  Nehemiah becomes governor but refuses to live the extravagant lifestyle of a Persian governmental official while those around him struggle. He sets the standard for others to follow, refusing to sacrifice service to the people for his own comfort. As an example of the type of sacrifice, a godly leader makes, Nehemiah, as governor, is entitled to a food allowance each month. This allowance would feed himself, his family, and those people who serve him in his household. The food allowance is generous, but the cost of the food is paid with taxes collected from the people. Knowing how the people are struggling, Nehemiah refuses the food allowance thereby saving money for the folks under his supervision. He will work for his food just like everyone else does. Not only that, Nehemiah begins to feed those who have no money or food (Neh 5:17-18) while he works on the wall alongside them.

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.

Nehemiah's enemies try to get him to leave Jerusalem and go out to meet them (Neh 6:1-9). A primary tactic of the enemy is always to isolate. When that doesn't work, they circulate rumors that he is seditious. Nehemiah knows where his true strength is and responds to the false accusations with prayer (Neh 6:1-9).

The next thing Nehemiah endures is a "word from God" delivered by a false prophet, encouraging him to hide in the temple. But, Nehemiah knows his Scripture and knows God would never instruct him to flee into the holy area of the temple because Nehemiah is not a priest or a Levite. Again, Nehemiah prayed, and God gave him wisdom (Neh 6:10-14).

The work is finished in only 52 days. Jerusalem's enemies see this for what it is, a miracle brought about by God, through His people. Tobiah, related to the High Priest (Neh 13:4) and having financial ties to some of the Jews, stubbornly continues to oppose Nehemiah (Neh 6:15-19).

Nehemiah's response to opposition and persecution is prayer and a steadfast commitment to doing God's work, a good lesson for all of us. We also learn another lesson from Nehemiah; once the work is completed, there may still be trials, but there is also security in depending on the Lord's strength rather than our own. 

No comments:

Post a Comment