In the previous two studies we saw some parallels between Nehemiah and Christ, and Nehemiah as a person associated with a company of God’s people. Here we shall consider him as representing an individual believer, a child of God today, and seek to draw some lessons from his life. We shall observe the following relationships, attitudes and behaviour:
Inadequacy of Personality. Nehemiah was a loyal subject and servant of king Artaxerxes. His successful requests of the king, and fulfilment of the promise to return once his mission was accomplished, vouch for that fact. All of us, too, are subjects of civil authorities, and many have earthly employers. Every Christian ought to obey the civil authorities, for all legitimate authority is derived from God’s authority; and the existing authority is appointed under God, see Rom. 13. 1-7. There can be conflict, however, particularly where interference with spiritual activity is concerned. Previous captives said, “our God … is able to deliver us … but if not … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image”, Dan. 3. 17-18. Daniel “kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed … as he did aforetime”, Dan. 6. 10. Peter, with other apostles, flaunted a civil injunction by continuing open-air evangelism saying, “We ought to obey God rather than men”, Acts 5. 29. We cannot legislate for one another in matters of spiritual activity and civil authorities, but we do need wisdom and courage when there is conflict between human edicts and the will of God.
As employees we should obey our earthly employers in all things; one translation reads, “not only when they are watching you, just to gain their approval, but… because of your reverence for the Lord”, Col. 3. 22. It is not wrong to have spiritual desires while we fulfil secular duties! In the course of duty, Nehemiah was able to unburden his heart. With divine help he requested, “If it please the king …”, Neh. 2. 5. Little wonder that we read “So it pleased the king … the king granted me, according to the good hand of God upon me”, vv. 6, 8. We must recognize the inadequacy of personality, and the need for constant divine guidance, but we may be surprised at the response of our earthly employers, when the Lord’s work requires particular assistance.
Importunity in Prayer. Nehemiah’s prayer-life is characterized by importunity — persistent solicitation of his God, his requests often being of a brief, urgent nature. Eight personal prayers are recorded, and at least a further three when he was engaged in corporate prayer and/or praise. Apart from that in chapter 1, they are extremely brief, two of them each consisting only of seven words. In that first prayer he used the expression “I beseech thee” three times. It was born out of compassionate concern and spiritual exercise, “when I heard these words, I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed”, Neh. 1. 4.
In the parable of the importunate friend, the Lord Jesus indicated that there are occasions when we should not take “no” for an answer, but rather “Ask, and it shall be given you”, Luke 11. 5-10. If we seek the will and glory of God, we can ask “any thing in my name, I will do it”, John 14. 14. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”, James 5. 16. What power, what effects, in Elijah’s case! How effective is our prayer life?
Importance of Priorities. In chapter 10 we have a record of the covenant which the people entered into with God. Although not specifically its instigator in the record yet Nehemiah’s name was the first in the list of those who sealed the covenant made, and was an example in the practical measures that were vowed. The proposed sacrifices set out clear priorities in financial and material giving. There were three distinct elements — annual apportionment of income, “charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God”, 10. 32, the giving of firstfruits, and firstborn of men and beasts; and “tithes of our ground unto the Levites”, v. 37.
The offering of the first ripe fruits of the harvest was a requirement under the Mosaic law, both on behalf of the nation and the individual, Lev. 23. 10, 17. The firstfruit was God’s pledge of the full harvest to come. The offering of firstborn sons to God, however, had been superseded by the establishment of the Levitical priesthood, Num. 3. 12. 45. Although tithing (one tenth of income/ goods) had preceded the law, Gen. 14. 20, God subsequently ordained it specifically to maintain a spiritual priesthood.
In Christian giving, legality is nonexistent. With the hymn writer we should be able to say:
Naught that I have my own I call,
I hold it for the Giver,
My heart, my strength, my life, my all,
Are His, and His for ever.
Writing to the Corinthian believers, Paul stressed the voluntary nature of our giving, based on first giving ourselves to the Lord, 2 Cor. 8. 5. It should be regular, pre-determined, and proportionate to income, “upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him”, 1 Cor. 16. 2. This will help us to get our priorities right, and facilitate continuance of the Lord’s work in and beyond the local assembly.
Integration in Fellowship. Though outstanding in spiritual vision and ability in leadership, Nehemiah integrated effectively into the fellowship of God’s people at Jerusalem. Before his arrival he had prayed for them, but later he surveyed the need with them, ch. 2; he prayed, built and watched with them, ch. 4; he shared with them, ch. 5; and listened with them to the public reading of the Word of God, ch. 8. Also as a wise, responsible, spiritual leader, he encouraged, protected, rebuked, instructed, numbered, and purified them. What a wonderful blend of meek humility and dynamic strength!
The most gifted servant of God can be the least effective in service, if he elevates himself above the people of God — there is no place for superiority complexes in Christian service. We must not be like domineering Diotrephes, the trouble-maker, “who loveth to have the preeminence”, 3 John 9. We are “one body in Christ, and every one members one of another… having then gifts differing”, each of us ought “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think”, Rom. 12. 3-8. Those whose ministry is most effective are often the most humble. The great apostle Paul described himself as “the least of the apostles”, 1 Cor. 15. 9, and earlier in the same letter he wrote, “Who then is Paul? … neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth … we are labourers together”, 1 Cor. 3. 5-9. Elders are exhorted not to act as “lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock”, 1 Pet. 5. 3. The Lord Himself said, “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant”, Matt. 23. 11-12. There is a great need for togetherness and genuine fellowship in service among the Lord’s people — a working and sharing with, rather than lording it over, the saints. May the Lord help us to be truly humble, and to show real fellowship with His people, that our service may become increasingly effective among them.
Integrity in Perseverance. The enemies’ attempts to frustrate the work were relentless and varied in character. But it is encouraging to note Nehemiah’s absolute integrity as he persevered — honest uprightness and single-mindedness of purpose — because it was the work of God, and for the blessing of His people. The opposition began before the work started and did not cease even after it was finished. External opposition was experienced on at least twenty occasions. Two further problems came from internal sources at the half-way stage of the work, chs. 4, 5, “there Is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build”, 4. 10, “there was a great cry of the people … against their brethren”, 5. 1. A promising work was thus threatened by faint-heartedness and internal wrangling. Has our work for the Lord reached a critical point, with waning enthusiasm and growing concern about personal disputes? We are exhorted to be “of the same mind in the Lord”, Phil. 4. 2, and to “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”, 3. 14.
As the work neared its completion, ch. 6, Nehemiah experienced a triple attack — an offer of worldly association; worldly aspersion against his character and intentions; and worldly advice how to save his own life (albeit from a quasi-religious source). What dignity and devotion he displayed in the words, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down”, Neh. 6. 3, — surely an epitome of his approach to this task! In individual witness and service today as children of God, we need to be vigilant and aware of the adversary’s tactics who not only goes about “as a roaring lion … seeking whom he may devour”, 1 Pet. 5. 8, but also as “an angel of light”, 2 Cor. 11. 14. We are tempted not to be fanatical about our faith — “a little friendship with the world, and some small worldly indulgence, won’t do any harm”. No! The person whom God uses mightily is marked by total commitment and consecration. Compromise causes catastrophe! “Friendship of the world is enmity with God”, James 4. 4. Slanderous comment may hurt a servant of God and temporarily impede God’s work, but that person’s integrity will be proved by his continuance and effectiveness. It is sad, but true, that often the last part of our being to be consecrated is the tongue — and what devastation it can cause!, 3. 1-12. Those who suggest that we cease from God’s work for the sake of self-preservation should be treated with Nehemiah-like disdain, “Should such a man as I flee? … I will not go in”, Neh. 6. 11. Life’s true values are indicated by the Lord Himself, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal”, John 12. 25.
In spite of the crushing attacks and subtle pressures of the adversary, may the Lord enable us to emulate those who “continued steadfastly”, Acts 2. 42. May our work be of such a character that we shall merit His “Well done, thou good and faithful servant… enter thou into the joy of thy lord”, Matt. 25. 21.