Have you ever made or built anything? For example, have you ever made a dress or sewn a quilt from scratch? Or perhaps you know how to use tools and can build things, such as furniture or buildings. Wouldn’t you agree that there is a great sense of satisfaction in putting something together that is a result of your own creativity, planning and determination to see the project through to completion?
But often our initial enthusiasm diminishes as glitches and problems arise requiring more time and work than we had anticipated. In that regard, I have a closet full of stuff I planned to do. I hate to admit how many partially completed quilts, pillows, knitting and needlepoint projects are now neatly packed away. In another closet there is an array of paints, brushes, papers and canvases awaiting my creative genius. (I even haul some of this stuff around with me!) How often the desire to start a project outstrips my determination to see it through to the end.
Now most of these things are hobbies and are relatively unimportant. But what is important is how this tendency comes into play when it comes to accomplishing the tasks God has set before us, those things that are of primary importance and for which we will give an account one day. Unfortunately, our lives are not compartmentalized; what’s true in one area can also be true in other areas as well. It’s easy to take on the responsibility of an important project at church while everyone is enthused and identifying with the need and looking to you to point the way. It’s another thing to maintain the momentum, encourage the discouraged, deal with the problems, and live the lonely life of a leader.
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of an individual who saw the need and took on a huge building project that required every physical, spiritual and emotional resource available to him. The job was of immense importance requiring Nehemiah to leave his comfortable life and move to a foreign place. It was a difficult assignment that demanded dedication to see it through to completion. In short, it was a lot of trouble!! Which brings me to the question, “Why?” Why would Nehemiah be willing to leave the comforts of Susa, the Persian palace and a “to-die-for” job to go to a place that probably looked like Tokyo or Berlin after WWII? Why did he think that this building project was of such importance that he was willing to give up all that he had achieved to go to some desolate, lonely place to do what others had failed to do? What was his motivation? The memoirs of Nehemiah record not only the task undertaken but also the importance that Nehemiah placed on it.
In addition to the importance of the project, the way in which Nehemiah went about accomplishing the task is a fine example for those of us whom God has called to positions of leadership. Nehemiah has set the standard for wise leadership; as we observe the man and his method, we will learn valuable lessons in how to lead others in the accomplishment of God’s purpose.
What ever the task, whether it is in a secular environment, foreign field, Christian community, or in your home, there is a particular work that God has in mind for you. Only as we identify with God’s cause and seek to accomplish our task by the means that He provides, will we find our work to be of lasting value. Knowing that one is engaged in an eternal work of permanent significance brings the truest kind of satisfaction in life. Therefore, as we study, let us ask God to help us gain a clear understanding of His will for our lives. And then let us seek to apply the principles of Christian service that Nehemiah exemplifies to accomplish all that God desires.
DAYS ONE and TWO: Nehemiah’s Love for God
As we shall see, Nehemiah loved God deeply and that love found expression in heartfelt concern for the things that God cared about. We see this same attitude in New Testament believers such as the disciples and the Apostle Paul, who had come to understand and embrace that which Jesus cared about – namely His church.
1. Read Matthew 16:13-18. In bringing the disciples to a clear understanding of who He was, Jesus declared His purpose. What do you understand that to be? What do you think Jesus meant by that statement?
2. How does the following passage broaden your understanding of the importance Jesus placed on the church? Ephesians 5:25-27 “…Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
3. The glory of the church is clearly set forth in Revelation 21:9 where she is described as the “wife of the Lamb” and depicted as the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. Read Rev. 21:1-22:5 and note the words and phrases that reveal the close, intimate relationship between Christ and His church.
Thus we see that the focal point of God’s plan for time and eternity is the church. The great, grand purpose of God from the beginning has been to build the church, that community of people who would enjoy the privilege of living in intimate communion with God and in the light of His glorious presence. There can be no greater purpose in life than to be about the business of building the church – that one purpose which is so dear to the heart of Jesus. Therefore, to love the body of Christ, to be concerned with building that community and caring for her needs is one of the truest expressions of Christ-likeness. And so it must be that love for God and the things of God, His great plan revealed through the ages from eternity past and culminating in the future, must be the foundational principle of any leadership service undertaken for God.
Nehemiah loved God and was concerned about God’s plan for His city on earth where He promised to place His name, where His presence would dwell, and where His people would come to worship (Deut. 12:8-14). In Nehemiah’s day, that all- important place was a disaster and a disgrace and in no condition to glorify God. Thus, someone needed to step up to the challenge to rebuild and restore Jerusalem to a place of honor and to its rightful status in the world. God chose Nehemiah to do the job, not because he was a naturally gifted leader with great organizational skills, but because he was a man who loved what God loves. And in heeding the call to serve, Nehemiah exemplified an excellence in leadership from which we, who are called to lead in building Christ’s kingdom today, can gain wisdom, strength, encouragement, and motivation to persevere until our portion of the work is done (Eph. 2:19-22).
The call to leadership is not usually “out-of-the-blue”, but a careful preparation and grooming by God over a period of time through comparatively less important areas of responsibility. One of these areas of seeming insignificance is motherhood. I cannot tell you the number of gifted, godly women leading others in important ministries whose greatest preparation for the task was the years of shepherding her little flock. It is good for us to contemplate our spiritual journey in terms of leadership, including the years of behind-the-scenes preparation. Then think about the periods in your life when God has called you to various positions that required taking the lead role of responsibility in the public arena. What was in your heart at the time? How close was your walk with God? What were the circumstances surrounding that call? How did you know that God was asking you to lead? What was your response? How have you seen a progression towards greater areas of responsibility as God has developed your leadership abilities since that time?
Include in your journal entry words of thanksgiving for the privileges that have been yours as He has developed your leadership potential and appointed you to fulfill His purpose.
DAYS THREE through FIVE: Background and Setting
Now that we have come to understand something of the importance of Nehemiah’s leadership in God’s program, we’re ready to dig into his amazing story. Before we analyze the text, it is beneficial to gain a perspective on the historical context in which Nehemiah lived.
After Solomon’s death the nation of Israel became divided. Ten northern tribes made up the northern kingdom of Israel and two tribes became known as Judah. The kings who reigned were mostly evil and despite repeated warnings, God judged both kingdoms. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom and deported the people, effectively causing that kingdom to cease to exist (II Kings 17). Approximately three hundred years later, in 586 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, broke down the walls, burned every important building with fire, gouged out the eyes of their king, removed valuable articles from the temple and carried the people captive to Babylon (II Kings 24-25:21; II Chron. 36:5-21). Worse than the physical suffering was the suffering of soul amongst the captives as they remembered the words of Jeremiah, the prophet who had warned them repeatedly to turn from their wickedness in forsaking the Lord (Jer.1:14-16; 2:16-30). Psalm 137 was written during this period and mournfully records the anguish of God’s people, exiled and held captive in a foreign land.
Yet God in His great mercy and love had not forsaken them entirely. Even in the dark days of captivity, God was equipping new leaders; people such as Ezekiel, Daniel, Esther, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Eventually, the world domination of the Babylonians was replaced by the Persian Empire. God moved in the heart of Cyrus, Prince of Persia, to allow the Jewish captives to return to their homeland. The first group returned and rebuilt the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua in 538 B.C. (Ezra 1-6). The story of Esther occurs after this time (circa 483-473 B.C.) when Haman plotted to exterminate the Jews left in Persia. A second group of returnees led by the priest, Ezra, returned in 458 B.C. (Ezra 7-10). Finally, a third group returned under the leadership of Nehemiah in 444 B.C.
There are differing points of view concerning the authorship of Nehemiah. Some scholars believe that Nehemiah wrote the whole book based on his memoirs and because of the first person perspective of certain passages (1:1-7:5; 12:27-43; 13:4-31). Others believe that Ezra wrote the book due to the extensive lists and similarities found in the two books (Neh. 7:5-73 and Ezra 2:1-70.) In the Hebrew Bible, Ezra and Nehemiah comprise one book which may also account for the similarities. In fact, it is thought by some that Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah were the work of just one man, Ezra. He was a priest and a scribe whose heart would naturally be concerned about the temple, God’s Word, and the Levites.
A Personal Spiritual Perspective:
Isaiah 49:15-16 says,
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
See I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me.”
If you’ve ever nursed a baby, you know that it is well nigh impossible to forget that your baby is hungry! So with God – He cannot forget His children or the condition of the walls of their lives. As God has dealt with Israel, so He deals with all His children (Heb. 12:5-11). Therefore, we can all expect to undergo discipline at some time because we are Abba’s child. And when that becomes necessary you can be sure that He will never forget you. Even if He’s taken you to the woodshed, administered discipline, and left you there to think about it awhile, He will not forget that you are there and in need of His reassurance.
However, it would be prudent to take heed and listen when God warns us by His Word and through His messengers concerning some area of our life in which we have let the wall of protection fall into disrepair or be broken down. In preparation for our study in the book of Nehemiah, let us begin by examining the walls of our lives to determine their condition. Some of those walls might include:
- The wall of separation from the world and worldlines
- The wall of our spiritual life that protects us from wrong thinking and acting
- The wall of our personal witness and testimony among our family, church family, and those to whom we minister
- The wall of our marriage
- The wall of our church or mission organization and its witness in the local community and throughout the world
As you examine the walls of your life, record you thoughts in your journal.
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