Return from Exile: Nehemiah 1-5 (7)
Pray Psalm 78.32-37.
In spite of this they still sinned,
And did not believe in His wondrous works.
Therefore their days He consumed in futility,
And their years in fear.
When He slew them, then they sought Him;
And they returned and sought earnestly for God.
Then they remembered that God was their rock,
And the Most High God their Redeemer.
Nevertheless they flattered Him with their mouth,
And they lied to Him with their tongue;
For their heart was not steadfast with Him,
Nor were they faithful in His covenant.
Sing Psalm 78.32-37.
(Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
When troubled, they turned to the Lord’s loving face;
He met them and showed them His marvelous grace.
They spoke of their love for Him, yet in their heart
of His holy cov’nant they wanted no part.
Review Nehemiah 1-5; meditate on Nehemiah 2.17-20.
1. What was motivating Nehemiah to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem?
2. Where did he look for confidence in undertaking this project?
If we didn’t know what kind of people these were at the beginning of Nehemiah, it surely begins to be clear to us by chapter 5. Everyone is living “under the sun” rather than “under the heavens”; yet despite this, they could be motivated to take up a difficult project and labor at it in the face of stiff opposition.
No, these people weren’t all bad; they were just self-interested and prone to look for easy fixes instead of waiting on the LORD. No food in the cupboard? Take out a loan. Neighbors in distress? Looks like a chance to pick up some property on the cheap. Enemies appearing on the horizon? Whine to the great leader. He’ll fix it.
But Nehemiah knew what the psalmist had written: Unless the LORD builds the walls, they labor in vain who build them (Ps. 127). Nehemiah’s eyes were continually on the LORD. Even as he had to deal with the many details of organizing the people, defending them, and correcting their errant ways, he never stopped trusting the Lord. We see that throughout these chapters (cf. 1.4-11; 2.4, 18, 20; 4.4, 5, 19, 20; 5.9, 13, 19).
Nehemiah had many details and challenges to deal with in rebuilding the wall. But he trusted God, never lost faith, never doubted or feared. He knew the LORD was in this project, and that He would bring it to completion. It’s amazing to see what one man of true and unwavering faith can do for God and His glory in leading and directing those who are captive to self-love.
Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
“And they said to me, ‘The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach’” (Neh. 1.3).
“Then I said to them, ‘You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach” (Neh. 2.17).
Reproach, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, is criticism of someone, especially for not being successful or not doing what is expected. And another source explains it as an expression of blame or disapproval; a rebuke.
They were a reproach to God: because He expected better of them.
They were a reproach to their brethren: because they wished it was better.
They were a reproach to their enemies: because they feared it would be better.
All looked at the ruined temple, the broken-down wall, the inter-marriage, the usury, and the multiple unkindnesses with reproach because they expected better from the children of God.
“You know my reproach, my shame, and my dishonor; my adversaries are all before You.
Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness…” (Ps. 69.19, 20).
“When the wicked comes, contempt comes also; and with dishonor comes reproach” (Prov. 18.3).
The captive Church today suffers the same reproach:
Because God expects better of us.
Our suffering brothers and sisters in Christ wish we were better.
And our enemies are just frankly disgusted with our hypocrisy.
Paul had a word for Timothy concerning pastors, then and now:
“Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside,
lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3.7).
It's a danger for sure.
Jesus had a word for all with a hypocritical testimony:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you are like graves which are not seen, and the men who walk over them are not aware of them.”
“Then one of the lawyers answered and said to Him, ‘Teacher, by saying these things You reproach us also” (Lk. 11.44, 45). You think?
But look out enemies of Christ!
When the Church and its people are no longer captive to the world, turning continually from our sin, trusting in God for guidance and power, setting out daily to live captivatingly for Him, we may still be reproached, but this time it will be different. It is for Jesus’ sake:
“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you,
for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
On their part He is blasphemed,
but on your part He is glorified” (1 Pet. 4.14).
A life built by the LORD will glory and rejoice in this expected reproach.
1. Is there any sense in which the Church today needs to “rebuild its walls”? How would Nehemiah counsel us to begin this effort?
2. What are we learning from Nehemiah about how to live above reproach?
3. Is there any area of your life where, “unless the LORD” builds it, it will be full of vanity and futility? Explain.
When Nehemiah had considered the matter, he told the Jews that God had put it into his heart to build the wall of Jerusalem. He does not undertake to do it without them. By stirring up ourselves and one another to that which is good, we strengthen ourselves and one another for it. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Nehemiah 2.9-18
Pray Psalm 78.1-7.
We need to remember and emulate great saints like Nehemiah. Pray that God will teach you firm and life-changing lessons from his faith, obedience, and leadership.
Sing Psalm 78.1-7.
(Foundation: How Firm a Foundation)
Give ear, O my people, attend to my word,
dark sayings and parables sent from the Lord,
things we have before by our fathers been told,
which we would not dare from our children withhold.
The glorious deeds of our God in His might,
and all of the works He has done in our sight,
together with all of the words of His Law,
would we on ourselves and our children bestow.
Lord, let all our children arise and declare
the truth of the Lord every day, everywhere,
and set all their hopes in God’s wonderful Word,
and never forget all the works of the Lord.
T. M. and Susie Moore
Two books can help us understand our own captivity and lead us to seek revival and renewal in the Lord. The Church Captive asks us to consider the ways the Church today has become captive to the world. And Revived! can help us find the way to renewal. Learn more and order your free copies by clicking here and here.
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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter, available free by clicking here.