Text Nehemiah 4-6 (Ps. 48)
Observe Chapter 4 begins with an angry man. The Samaritan leader Sanballat and his henchmen mock the Jews’ wall-building efforts. Nehemiah, ever close to the Lord, (4-5,9) prays for wisdom, so the workers now carry weapons and tools, with half building and the others guarding, and a trumpet signal to muster when enemies attack (15-23), with a reminder to trust the Lord.
Internal oppression poses another problem: Jewish officials collect interest from their own poor who must borrow to survive, or they sell their children into debt slavery (Lev. 25:39). Nehemiah publicly rebukes the officials and exhorts them to fear God. Shamed, they refund what they had extorted. The peoples’ Amen signals their willingness to obey God (5:13).
No armchair CEO, Nehemiah works on the wall alongside the people. In his high position he remains loyal to Artaxerxes the Persian, yet he and his brothers do not claim their perks (14). He cannot live in comfort while his people are in need; meanwhile, he provides generously for his workers (18).
Again Sanballat, still conspiring against Nehemiah to stop the work, issues four invitations to meet (6:2,4). Nehemiah sees through the ruse and refuses to come, citing a prior commitment. Frustrated, Sanballat sends an accusing letter (a scam) to him. So, Nehemiah wonderfully prays, But now, O God, strengthen my hands (9c).
The priest Shemaiah has a go at Nehemiah. Meet me at the Temple. Sorry, can’t do, says wise Nehemiah. I cannot enter the holy place. Discerning a false prophet, he cries out a “Remember” prayer. (14; 5:19; 13:14,22,31)
On 25 Elul (Oct 2), after 52 days of hard labour the wall is finished. The opposition fell greatly in their own esteem (16) as they witness God’s power. We began with an angry man; we end with angry men -- the nobles and Tobiah, Sanballat’s ally, keep threatening Nehemiah. Nehemiah appoints a God-fearing man as governor.
Interpret Nehemiah chronicles a massive work of reconstruction – just think of the limited technology of the time!
Through Nehemiah’s gifts of leadership and organization, God reignites the Jews’ desire for renewed life in Him as each diligently completes a section of wall. As for Nehemiah, we note constant prayer before and during his many challenges. He does nothing without honest prayer – a pattern for us!
Mockery, criticism, anger do not deter this faithful man of God. His enemies’ feeble weapon of choice is bullying, only increasing the Jews’ faith in God and enthusiasm for the megaproject. Nehemiah (“Yahweh comforts”) is a truly Godly leader: hard-working, just, gentle, humble, wise, obedient, generous, committed to prayer (14 are recorded) work, and his Lord. Through Nehemiah, God re-forms the exiles into people of God, whom they had forgotten.
Apply One person can significantly influence others. God put us where we are for His purposes (“Bloom where you’re planted.” Thanks, Rev. Kim!). Nehemiah’s attitude to his workers, his enemies, his Lord, reveals his heart of compassion, grounded in prayer. Our attitude can then bless our work: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).
Let’s consider our Godly leadership and staff at St Aidan’s -- no armchair CEOs here! Their prayers for us, hard work and the power of the Holy Spirit are growing us into Christ-centred people. We pray and care for them, becoming Real Church, bound together in Christ and His purposes as we His people face increasing opposition.
Ask Who has/had significant influence in my spiritual life? What attracted me to them, and through them to the Lord of my salvation? What influence do I have on others by God’s work in my life?
Pray Lord, put me to work for You. Bring me in prayer to You. Keep me bound to You. Strengthen me to stand up for You. Help me to love You, for apart from You I have no good thing.
Ps 48: City of Elohim by James Block
Ps 48: Great is the Lord by Karl Kohlhase
Ps 48: Great is the Lord by Richard Smallwood
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.