"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15. 4).
When Nehemiah’s book opened, the witness for God from a united Israel living in the light of His Word and enjoying His covenant-blessings had ceased. Unfaithfulness, culminating in idolatry, had led many Jews into bondage in a foreign land, and the testimony of the remnant left at Jerusalem was feeble and flickering. In following Nehemiah’s movements in endeavouring to “strengthen that which remained” we see a picture of some who, in corresponding conditions in Christian times– when the Lord’s people are divided and scattered by sectarianism and false doctrine, and the corporate testimony of Christians has been marred–have endeavoured to revive the testimony and encourage the saints to a return to the place where the Lord would gather His people for His glory and their blessing.
Nehemiah was moved by a faithful description of the City. There was no separation from the world, for the walls were broken down; any could enter without question, be he Arab or Jew, for the gates had been burned with fire. He sat down and wept, and mourned, fasted and prayed. O for hearts with such a concern for the testimony! To read of early Christian unity in the Acts, the One Body in Ephesians, and then gaze upon the many divisions among the saints, is painful for any who feel for the Lord’s honour and glory.
He was brought to see that his only resource at such a time was the faithfulness of God (ch. 1.5). He acknowledged his own part in the failure (v. 6), prayed for “all saints," and reminded the Lord of His promise for a day of departure and weakness (v. 9). We do well to remember that the promise of Matt. 18. 20 was to two or three, as if the Lord anticipated the company of those desiring His presence and blessing in the latter days becoming so small. And in the pastoral epistles especially, we have full instructions for days of departure and weakness, for in the wisdom of God, evil of every kind was dealt with in the churches within the first century, and we have apostolic instruction to govern our course in the present confusion. May we, like Nehemiah, refuse to be disheartened by those who oppose the truth, and speak faithfully to them.
In ch. 3 we see the exercise of one being shared by many, and many were set to work. An active priesthood takes part in the work of rebuilding.
Watch the word “repair.” Not “make," but “repair," suggesting the use of something which had been neglected and fallen into disuse. It was a question of restoring things to their original place and use. There was no question of a new design, but simply getting back to the old. This should encourage our hearts in striving to maintain simplicity of gathering, and to walk together as saints in the light of the Church epistles.
Each worker’s name was recorded, for all who have a heart for God are taken account of. The word “repaired” occurs 35 times in the chapter, and one man repaired earnestly (v. 20). The nobles put not their necks to the work of the Lord (v. 5); what a contrast to Priscilla and Aquila in Rom. 16. 4! Wholehearted identification with the testimony was needed; for the Lord desires our fellowship, not our patronage. Elijah in rejection in the wilderness is an example of the former; Obadiah in King Ahab’s house of the latter.
No new entrances were made, but the old ones repaired. We do well to refrain from going beyond what is written in the matter of reception. Many plausible theories are abroad, but all must be tested by Scripture. The Lord Himself is entirely responsible if we commit ourselves to a path of simply obeying what is written,, and follow the divine pattern of the New Testament.
We see business-men active in the Lord’s work (v. 8). Even rulers worked! Indeed whole families were united in the Lord’s work–surely no more blessed bond exists. Some had the great wisdom to build the wall near their home (vv. 23, 28). They desired to keep evil from the home environment. One man built the wall near his one room (v. 30).
In ch. 4, separation created trouble with those who opposed the testimony. Some desired the benefits of Jerusalem, but had no heart for her honour and glory and preservation according to the mind of God (v. 1).
The enemy thought the work of God was weak (v. 3), and the religious world united to oppose the truth (v. 7). But Nehemiah was watchful night and day. Even the workers grew weary and disheartened at the great task (v. 10).
The enemy decided on infiltration – insidiously penetrating and working from inside (v. 11). Nehemiah prepared to defend the testimony, and encouraged others to continue in the work (v. 15). A watch was necessary if the work was to be done (v. 16).
The builders were fully occupied with the Lord’s interests, both hands full (v. 17). Those on the wall watched as well as worked. Safety lay in living behind the walls (v. 22). The weakness of the company makes it necessary for all to rally to the fight when the trumpet declares that the truth is assailed (vv. 19, 20). Extreme watchfulness was necessary to ward off attacks from without, but in seeking to preserve the purity of the testimony, Nehemiah was careful to “purify himself" (v. 23).
In ch. 5, we see internal strife among the saints hindering progress. The love of riches, and lack of righteous dealings, and unbridled greed of some caused great bitterness. They did not follow the example of Nehemiah, who sacrificed all for the furtherance of the work. How like Paul he was! He refused what he was entitled to, that others might not be burdened (v. 15).
Nehemiah faithfully exposed to the brethren their carnality and disobedience (v. 7), and won them for the Lord (v. 13); cp. 1 Cor. He himself continued in the work, placing all his resources at the Lord’s disposal (v. 18) and keeping an open house (v. 17); cp. Acts 28. 30.
Ch. 6 records continued opposition. The enemy sought to bring Nehemiah off the proper ground and leave the walls of separation. He was not seduced, because he refused to leave the work for discussions or arguments with them (2 Cor. 6. 14).
Even one “within" was in league with those without, and would have denied the truth and overthrown the testimony (vv. 12, 13). Personal faith and dependence upon God preserved Nehemiah. They desired to harm the witness by the downfall of a leading and prominent brother, and Nehemiah’s advocacy of the truth made him a marked man.
The wall was finished in 52 days. This prospering of the Lord’s work and the evident working of our God caused the opponents of the truth to be downcast.
The enemy used the following methods in opposing the work of God:
(1) Ridicule, ch. 2. 19;
(2) Mocking, ch.4. 1,2;
(3) Infiltration, ch. 4. 11;
(4) Seduction “without," ch. 6. 1-4;
(5) Treachery “within," ch. 6. 13; and
(6) Intimidation, ch. 6. 19.
Ch. 7 opens with a brother being appointed to guard the doors. All who entered must bear the full test of the light, for entrance could only be granted “while the sun was hot," and none were to come in under cover of darkness.
Watchfulness was again enjoined on all, for the cooperation of all was needed. All who had a part in the work had a spiritual history ("genealogy," v. 5). They had been carried away, but now came again to Jerusalem. Some, alas! were not sure of their descent, whether they, were Israelites (v. 61), and some could not find their’ genealogy and therefore could not serve in nearness (v. 64). Some not only worked, but gave.
Ch. 8. In the place of separation, the people found attraction in coming together, and had an ear for God. Hearing the word brought conviction (v. 9) and a desire to understand (v. 13). They found it written (v. 14), see Ps. 119. 82, 162. The people went forth (v. 16). There was very great gladness (v. 17), see Ps. 119, 71. The ordinances were kept.
In ch. 9 we see that light obeyed brings further light. The word came home with increasingly closer application. Joyous obedience to the word resulted in further reading, confession and worship. In the place of separation and under the power and authority of the word, they are now in a state to delight themselves in God and bless Him (vv. 5, 6).
Tracing the cause of failure, they find that their repeated failure and God’s repeated deliverances magnified His grace and mercy. They are brought to confess that they are still in bondage as a result, and make a covenant.
Ch. 10. The whole company are now separated to the law of God intelligently, and cleave unto their brethren (v. 29). Responding to the word of God, they gladly owned His claims. Separated from the people of the land, we see the ordinances in all their fulness and freshness being brought before the saints. There was renewed concern about the Levites and the service of God (vv. 37-39), and also the House of God (v. 39).
Ch. 11. Those who ruled dwelt in the blessedness of the place where‘God had placed His name (v. 1). Those who did not return to the city recognized authority, and kept their place in the Divine scheme. We see a variety of functions:–
(1) “ruler of the house of God” (v. 11);
(2) “brethren that did the work of the house" (v. 12);
(3) those that had “the oversight of the outward business of the house “ (v. 16);
(4) “principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer’ (v. 17); and
(5) “porters that kept the gates” (v. 19).
The Christian counterpart will suggest itself to a spiritual mind.
Ch. 12. Those who followed after Nehemiah are recorded, for heaven takes account of those desiring to please the Lord. Priestly service included praise and thanksgiving (v. 24), and keeping the gates (v. 25). The joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off on account of the singing of the Levites (v. 43).
Ch. 13. Further light led to the putting away of the mixed multitude (v. 3). We see here Eliashib as a source of weakness in the assembly:–
(1) No bolts or bars on his door (see ch. 3. 1);
(2) defiled the house of God by his friendship with Tobiah (v. 4);
(3) neglected the Levites (v. 10);
(4) neglected the singers (v. 10); and
(5) grandson linked with Sanballat (v. 28).
We see also the need of constant reiteration of the great truths learned. Proper repetition has its place, see Phil. 3. 1; 2 Pet. 1. 13.
Just as churches turned from Paul and his teaching in his absence, so we find in Nehemiah’s absence; the gates were not kept (v. 16), there was a departure from the word (v. 15), and even mixed marriages (vv. 23, 24).
If the testimony is to be maintained in purity and power, there must be a constant exercise of shepherd care, and a sustained exercise in teaching and exhortation.
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