Tuesday, 17 June 2014

(169) June 18: Nehemiah 3-5 & Acts 2:14-47

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note the qualities displayed by the people.

To ponder:
Chapter 3 proves Nehemiah was right to declare God would give the builders success (2v20). It describes the rebuilding of the gates and walls anti-clockwise, beginning and ending at the Sheep Gate (3v1, 32). Perhaps the first section was dedicated to mark the work beginning.
            What is striking is the diversity of people involved and the diversity of organisation: Everyday people, priests, daughters, and temple servants all played their part, organised as individuals, families, districts or according to jobs, with some working on parts of the city in which they had a particular interest, and some even doing a second section. The importance of the work is affirmed by naming those who did it. However, we read that “the nobles” refused, it seems because it would mean being under supervision (3v5). It all pictures every-member involvement in the building of the church, whilst teaching the need of organisation. It also rebukes those who hold authority and esteem in the world, but who are reticent to do the menial tasks as servants in the church.
            On hearing of the work progressing Sanballat became angry. First, he and Tobiah sought to break morale and so hinder the work through ridicule, suggesting all the effort was futile (4v1-3). Through Christ, Nehemiah’s prayer (4v4-5) might have included prayer that these enemies would experience God’s blessing and repent. However, his prayer for justice is not wrong (see Rev 6v9-11). It is selfless, concerned with the fact the builders are being insulted, not Nehemiah. And it enables Nehemiah to leave vengeance with God and not seek it himself (see Rom 12v19). In short, he prays these antagonists would experience exile as Judah had, perhaps so they would know what drives the Jews in their building. The present tense stresses how heart-felt the prayer was, or may mean the Jews were still being insulted at the time of writing.
            The second form of opposition was that of threat. The people worked “with all their heart” and so built the wall to half its size, no doubt putting an end to the taunts, yet bringing more anger. The opponents are portrayed as plotting to fight “against Jerusalem,” which suggest the people are now a kingdom. Nehemiah is as ever practical – praying, but also acting by posting a guard. Yet morale is waning. Some feel they have no strength to go on. Others, that they will be killed. Nehemiah’s rallying call echoes those from Israel’s past: God is mighty and will fight for them (4v14). In this context, a makeshift army was conscripted, frustrating the plot of Nehemiah’s enemies in the sense that the people were now armed and ready. Some worked. Others stood guard. Even the workers carried weapons; and plans were made to rally everyone if an attack came. So we’re reminded never to lower our guard against the spiritual forces that stand against us, looking to God to fight for us, yet actively dressing ourselves in his armour (Eph 6v10-20).
            A third threat to the rebuilding came when a famine had hit. Because of their involvement in the building those with many children hadn’t been able to produce enough grain. Others were having to mortgage their property to gain money for grain, whilst others were having to borrow money to pay taxes, probably to the Persian Empire. In the latter two cases, it was Jewish nobles and officials who were lending their fellow Jews the money they needed, but charging high interest (against Deut 23:20), forcing them to sell them their children as slaves in order to pay their debts (as Deut 15v12). Nehemiah is rightly angry, noting this shows no fear of God or concern to honour him before the Gentiles. He therefore publicly commanded the nobles and officials to return the property and interest, putting them on oath before the priests to do it, and prophetically praying God would remove them from their possessions if they break their promise. We then learn that Nehemiah was actually governor of Judah from the time he arrived for twelve years, but out of reverence for God did not tax the people for his gain as previous governors had, nor take land for him or his men, nor demand the food he might have done. And he did all this despite, as governor, still having to richly host Jewish nobles, officials and other worthies from the Persian Empire (5v17-18). Fulfilling our responsibilities never justifies the oppression of others.
            Nehemiah’s final prayer simply acknowledges that God favours those who fear him, and that Nehemiah was acting for God. It encourages us to do so too.                       

Praying it home:
Praise God for how he uses ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. Pray that in all things you would act in reverence for him and desiring to see him honoured before others through your conduct.

Thinking further:
None today.
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