Building Walls Devotional
To my treasured brothers and sisters in Christ at Sequoia:
I have always been challenged and inspired by Nehemiah the man. He was a passionate and caring leader, who loved God and loved people. As a leader, Nehemiah was wise, strategic, courageous, incredibly determined, and very effective. God used him in a mighty way to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and to restore many lives in the process. For these reasons Nehemiah is a fitting figure to study as we begin our Building Walls to Restore Lives sermon series.
As a church we are faced with an incredible opportunity heading into 2012. God has positioned us and blessed us with His favour so that we can continue to be both “a symbol and a source of blessing” (Zechariah 8:13). We have been raised up to help others Connect to God, Grow with Others, and Serve the World, with the goal to see disciple-making disciples who proclaim and demonstrate the love of God to a hurting world. We continue to be a very special community of faith committed to impacting the community in tangible ways. God has recently blessed us with the acquisition of 7.4 acres on Greenbank Rd. and we are embarking on a capital campaign, believing that God will provide for the land and Phase 1 of our building in amazing ways. This is a time for us to come together as a church, to worship together as a church, to pray together as a church, to sacrifice together as a church, to give together as a church, to serve together as a church, to work together as a church, to reach out together as a church, and to believe in all this - that God will do “immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20), for His glory!
To help us walk together over the next seven weeks I have prepared a devotional that coincides with the Sunday messages I will be giving at Sequoia. I have adapted much of the background material in this devotional from Warren W. Wiersbe’s Be Determined (Victor Books, Wheaton Ill, 1996). I would encourage you to spend time each day with the Lord reflecting on these scriptures and applying them to your life. You may find it helpful to record your thoughts in a journal. Since there is no devotional for Saturday you can read the next chapter in Nehemiah to prepare for Sunday’s sermon. On Sunday you can spend time reflecting on what God has said to you through the message and take some time to do the Take it Home questions on the notes. If you miss a sermon message please catch up by downloading it from our website www.sequoiachurch.org.
I will be praying for you and for us a church as we journey together and I look forward to seeing what God does in and through us for His glory! And remember you are blessed to be a blessing!
With love in Christ, Pastor Ryan
PS. To download a PDF of the devotional click here. To follow along with the daily entries see below.
Monday: Nehemiah – A Man who Cares! (Nehemiah 1).
Nehemiah was an exceptional leader and he had many incredible qualities but at the heart of this man was a person who loved God and loved people. Nehemiah was a man who cared deeply! “The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity.” George Bernard Shaw put those words into the mouth of the Rev. Anthony Anderson in the second act of his play The Devil’s Disciple. The statement certainly summarizes what Jesus taught in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37); and it rebukes all those who fold their arms complacently, smile benignly, and say somewhat sarcastically, “Ask me if I care!” Nehemiah was the kind of person who cared. He cared about the traditions of the past and the needs of the present. He cared about the hopes for the future. He cared about his heritage, his ancestral city, and the glory of his God. Nehemiah’s passion to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem came from a heart, which loved God and loved people – ultimately Nehemiah built walls to restore lives. As we will see this week Nehemiah revealed this caring attitude in four different ways. He cared enough to ask, he cared enough to weep, he cared enough to fast and pray, and he cared enough to volunteer. May we all be challenged by the heart and passion of Nehemiah.
Building Walls: Read Nehemiah chapter 1 and spend some time praying and asking God to prepare you for this Building Walls to Restore Lives journey over the next 40 days.
Tuesday: Caring Enough to Ask. (Nehemiah 1:1-3)
Nehemiah was a layman, cupbearer to the great “Artaxerxes Longimanus,” who ruled Persia from 464 to 423 B.C. Nehemiah means “The Lord has comforted.” A cupbearer was much more than our modern “butler”. It was a position of great responsibility and privilege. At each meal, he tested the king’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. A man who stood that close to the king in public had to be handsome, cultured, knowledgeable in court procedures, and able to converse with the king and advise him if asked. Because he had access to the king, the cupbearer was a man of great influence, which he could use for good or for evil. That Nehemiah, a Jew, held such an important position in the palace speaks well of his character and ability.
For nearly a century, the Jewish remnant had been back in their own land, and Nehemiah could have joined them; but he chose to remain in the palace. It turned out that God had a work for him to do there that he could not have accomplished elsewhere. God put Nehemiah in Susa just as He had put Esther there a generation before, and just as He had put Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. When God wants to accomplish a work, He always prepares His workers and puts them in the right places at the right time. No doubt it was just another routine day when Nehemiah met his brother Hanani who had just returned from a visit to Jerusalem, but it turned out to be a turning point in Nehemiah’s life. Like large doors, great life-changing events can swing on very small hinges. It was just another day when Moses went out to care for his sheep, but on that day he heard the Lord’s call and became a prophet (Ex. 3). It was an ordinary day when David was called home from shepherding his flock; but on that day, he was anointed king (1 Sam. 16). It was an ordinary day when Peter, Andrew, James, and John were mending their nets after a night of failure; but that was the day Jesus called them to become fishers of men (Luke 5:1–11). You never know what God has in store, even in a commonplace conversation with a friend or relative; so keep your heart open to God’s providential leading.
Why would Nehemiah inquire about a struggling remnant of people who lived hundreds of miles away? After all, he was the king’s cupbearer and he was successfully secure in his own life. Certainly it wasn’t his fault that his ancestors had sinned against the Lord and brought judgment to the city of Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. A century and a half before, the Prophet Jeremiah had given this word from the Lord: “Who will feel sorry for you, Jerusalem? Who will weep for you? Who will even bother to ask how you are?” (Jer. 15:5) Nehemiah was the man God had chosen to do those very things! Nehemiah asked about Jerusalem and the Jews living there because he had a caring heart. When we truly care about people, we want the facts, no matter how painful they may be. What did Nehemiah learn about Jerusalem and the Jews? Three words summarize the bad news: remnant, ruin, and reproach. This news broke Nehemiah’s heart but it led him to pray and then act.
Building Walls: Are we like Nehemiah, anxious to know the truth even about the worst situations? Is our interest born of concern or idle curiosity? Do we care about the challenges we see in our community? Do we care about the lives that need God’s restoration in our neighbourhoods? Do we care about the challenges we see around the world? Are we the kind of people and the kind of church who cares enough to ask? Pray and ask God to give you His heart because He is a God who cares.
Wednesday: Caring Enough to Weep (Nehemiah 1:4).
What makes people laugh or weep is often an indication of character. People who laugh at others’ mistakes or misfortunes, or who weep over trivial personal disappointments, are lacking either in culture or character, and possibly both. Sometimes weeping is a sign of weakness; but with Nehemiah, it was a sign of strength, as it was with Jeremiah (Jer. 9:1), Paul (Acts 20:19), and the Lord Jesus (Luke 19:41). In fact, Nehemiah was like the Lord Jesus in that he willingly shared the burden that was crushing others. “Passion for your house has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me”. (Ps. 69:9; Rom. 15:3). When God puts a burden on your heart, don’t try to escape it; for if you do, you may miss the blessing He has planned for you. The Book of Nehemiah begins with “great affliction” (Neh. 1:3), but before it closes, there is great joy (8:12, 17). “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). Our tears water the “seeds of providence” that God has planted on our path; and without our tears, those seeds could never grow and produce fruit. It was customary for the Jews to sit down when they mourned (Ezra 9:1–4; 2:13). Unconsciously, Nehemiah was imitating the grieving Jewish captives who had been exiled in Babylon years before (Ps. 137:1). Like Daniel, Nehemiah probably had a private room where he prayed to God with his face toward Jerusalem (Dan. 6:10; 1 Kings 8:28–30). Fasting was required of the Jews only once a year, on the annual Day of Atonement; but Nehemiah spent several days fasting, weeping, and praying. He knew that somebody had to do something to rescue Jerusalem, and he was willing to go.
Building Walls: Read and reflect on Jeremiah 9:1, Acts 20:19, and Luke 19:41. When was the last time you wept over an issue or were moved deeply by some difficult situation around you? Has God put a burden on your heart to do something about this situation? Is there a ministry at Sequoia or a need in our community that you feel burdened to help with? Commit to follow God’s lead as He breaks your heart for the things that break His!
Thursday: Caring Enough to Fast and Pray (Nehemiah 1:4-10).
This prayer is the first of twelve instances of prayer recorded in this book. The Book of Nehemiah opens and closes with prayer. Nehemiah was a man of faith who depended wholly on the Lord to help him accomplish the work He had called him to do. The Scottish novelist George MacDonald said, “In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably.” Nehemiah succeeded because he depended on God. Speaking about the church’s ministry today, one writer said, “There is too much working before men and too little waiting before God.” This prayer begins with ascription of praise to God (1:5). “God of heaven” is the title Cyrus used for the Lord when he announced that the Jews could return to their land (2 Chron. 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–2). The heathen gods were but idols on the earth, but the God of the Jews was Lord in heaven. Nehemiah began his prayer as we should begin our prayers: “Our Father who is in heaven, Holy is your name” (Matt. 6:9). To what kind of a God do we pray when we lift our prayers to “the God of heaven”? We pray to a “great and awesome God” (Neh. 1:5) who is worthy of our praise and worship. If you are experiencing great affliction and are about to undertake a great work, then you need the great power, great goodness, and great mercy of a great God. Is the God you worship big enough to handle the challenges that you face?
God is a God who keeps His Word (1:5). The Lord had made a covenant with His people Israel, promising to bless them richly if they obeyed His Word, but warning that He would discipline them if they disobeyed (Lev. 26; Deut. 27–30). The city of Jerusalem was in ruins, and the nation was feeble because the people had sinned against the Lord. The greater part of Nehemiah’s prayer was devoted to confession of sin (1:6–9). The God who promised blessing and chastening also promised forgiveness if His people would repent and turn back to Him (Deut. 30; 1 Kings 8:31–53). It was this promise that Nehemiah was claiming as he prayed for himself and the nation. God’s eyes are upon His people and His ears are open to their prayers (2 Chron. 7:14). Note that Nehemiah used the pronoun “we” and not “they,” identifying himself with the sins of a generation he didn’t even know. It would have been easy to look back and blame his ancestors for the reproach of Jerusalem, but Nehemiah looked within and blamed himself!
How do we know that God forgives our sins when we repent and confess to Him? He has so promised in His Word. Nehemiah’s prayer is saturated with quotations and allusions from the Old Testament. In Nehemiah 1:8–9, he reminded God of His words found in Deuteronomy 28:63–67 and 30:1–10, just as we remind the Lord of His promise in 1 John 1:9. Nehemiah asked God to forgive His people, re-gather them to their land, and restore them to His favor and blessing. This humble prayer closed with an expression of confidence (Neh. 1:10–11). He had confidence in the power of God and the faithfulness of God because Nehemiah knew that he was too weak to rebuild Jerusalem, but he had faith that God would work on his behalf. Too often, we plan our projects and then ask God to bless them; but Nehemiah didn’t make that mistake. He sat down and wept, knelt down and prayed, and then stood up and worked because he knew he had the blessing of the Lord on what he was doing.
Building Walls: Spend some time in prayer and ask God to reveal any sin in your life that is still unconfessed. Write these sins on a piece of paper. Read 1 John 1:9 and then write 1 John 1:9 over your list of sins. Thank God for His forgiveness and then tear up the sheet or burn it. Spend time marveling in God’s grace to you.
Is God asking you to fast (give up something) for a time to focus on a spiritual need in your life or the life of others? Consider fasting in some way during this 40 day journey for God’s work and God’s provision concerning Sequoia Community Church.
Friday: Caring Enough to Volunteer (Nehemiah 1:11).
It has well been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven but getting God’s will done on earth. However, for God’s will to be done on earth, He needs people to be available for Him to use. God does “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us (Eph. 3:20 NKJV). If God is going to answer prayer, He must start by working in the one doing the praying! He works in us and through us to help us see our prayers answered. While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. Real prayer keeps your heart and your head in balance so your burden doesn’t make you impatient to run ahead of the Lord and ruin everything. As we pray, God tells us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it; and all are important to the accomplishing of the will of God.
Some Christian workers are like Lord Ronald in one of Stephen Leacock’s short stories who “flung himself upon his horse and rode madly off in all directions.” Nehemiah planned to volunteer to go to Jerusalem to supervise the rebuilding of the walls. He didn’t pray for God to send somebody else, nor did he argue that he was ill-equipped for such a difficult task. He simply said, “Here am I—send me!” He knew that he would have to approach the king and request a leave of absence. Eastern kings’ word meant life or death. What would happen to Nehemiah’s plans if he approached Artaxerxes on the wrong day, when the king was ill or displeased with something or someone in the palace? No matter how you look at it, Nehemiah was facing a test of faith; but he knew that his God was a great God and would see him through. The king’s cupbearer would have to sacrifice the comfort and security of the palace for the rigors and dangers of life in a ruined city. Luxury would be replaced by ruins, and prestige by ridicule and slander. Instead of sharing the king’s bounties, Nehemiah would personally pay for the upkeep of scores of people who would eat at his table. He would leave behind the ease of the palace and take up the toils of encouraging a beaten people and finishing an almost impossible task. And with the help of God, he did it! In fifty-two days, the walls were rebuilt, the gates were restored, and the people were rejoicing! And it all started with a man who cared. Abraham cared and rescued Lot from Sodom (Gen. 18–19). Moses cared and delivered the Israelites from Egypt. David cared and brought the nation and the kingdom back to the Lord. Esther cared and risked her life to save her nation from genocide. Paul cared and took the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. Jesus cared and died on the cross for a lost world. God is still looking for people who care, people like Nehemiah, who cared enough to ask for the facts, weep over the needs, pray for God’s help, and then volunteer to get the job done. “Here am I, Lord—send me!”
Building Walls: What difficult task has God put in front of you to overcome? Read and reflect on Ephesians 3:20 and 2 Corinthians 3:5. What do these verses say to you today? Pray to God “Here am I, Lord—send me!” and move forward with confidence in the One who sends you!
Monday: Faith to Wait (Nehemiah 2:1-3)
Nehemiah was a man of great faith. As we study these evidences of faith, we must examine our own hearts to see whether or not we are really walking and working by faith. Nehemiah had the faith to wait (Neh. 2:1–3). Since the Jewish month of Nisan would be our mid-March to mid-April, it would indicate that four months have passed since Nehemiah received the bad news about the plight of Jerusalem. As every believer should, Nehemiah patiently waited on the Lord for directions; because it is “through faith and patience” that we inherit the promises (Heb. 6:12). True faith in God brings a calmness to the heart that keeps us from rushing about and trying to do in our own strength what only God can do. We must know not only how to weep and pray, but also how to wait and pray.
Three statements in Scripture have a calming effect on me whenever I get nervous and want to rush ahead of the Lord: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord” (Ex. 14:13); “Sit still...until you know how the matter will turn out” (Ruth 3:18, NKJV); “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). When you wait on the Lord in prayer, you are not wasting your time; you are investing it. God is preparing both you and your circumstances so that His purposes will be accomplished. However, when the right time arrives for us to act by faith, we dare not delay. Eastern monarchs were sheltered from anything that might bring them unhappiness but on that particular day, Nehemiah could not hide his sorrow. “By sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13. Perhaps each morning, Nehemiah prayed, “Lord, if today is the day I speak to the king about our plans, then open the way for me.” The king noticed that his cupbearer was carrying a burden. Had Artaxerxes been in a bad mood, he might have banished Nehemiah or even ordered him killed; but instead, the king inquired why his servant was so sad. “The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases.” (Prov. 21:1). World leaders are only God’s servants, whether they know it or not. “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can withstand You” (2 Chron. 20:6).
Building Walls: What situation are you facing right now where you need to wait upon the Lord? Review and reflect on Exodus14:13, Ruth 3:18, and Psalm. 46:10. What is God saying to you today?
Tuesday: Faith to Ask (Neh. 2:4–8)
The king asked him, “What is it you want?” What an opportunity for Nehemiah! All the power and wealth of the kingdom were wrapped up in that question! As he was accustomed to do, Nehemiah sent one of his quick “telegraph prayers” to the Lord (4:4; 5:9; 6:9, 14; 13:14, 22, 29, 31). But keep in mind that these “emergency prayers” were backed up by four months of fasting and praying. If Nehemiah had not been diligent to pray in private, his “telegraph prayers” might have gone unanswered. “He had only an instant for that prayer,” wrote George Morrison. “Silence would have been misinterpreted. Had he closed his eyes and lingered in devotion, the king immediately would have suspected treason.”
It encourages my prayer life when I contrast the earthly throne of Artaxerxes with the throne of grace in heaven. Nehemiah had to wait for an invitation before he could share his burden with the king, but we can come to the throne of grace at any time with any need (Heb. 4:14–16). Artaxerxes saw the sorrow on Nehemiah’s face, but our Lord sees our hearts and not only knows our sorrows but also feels them with us. People approaching the throne of Persia had to be very careful what they said, lest they anger the king; but God’s people can tell Him whatever burdens them. (The word boldly in Heb. 4:16 means “freedom of speech.”) You are never sure of the mood of a human leader, but you can always be sure of God’s loving welcome towards you.
Building Walls: Read Hebrews 4:14-16. What is the basis for the confidence you can have before God’s throne of grace? How does this make you feel? What do you need to ask of the Lord with boldness and “freedom of speech?” Spend some time praying to your Father in heaven, believing that God hears you and He will respond to you in love.
Wednesday: Faith to Ask (Nehemiah 2:4-10)
Nehemiah had been praying for this opportunity to talk to the King, but he had also planned for it and he had his answer ready. During those four months of waiting, he had thought the matter through and knew exactly how he would approach the project. His reply to the king can be summarized in two requests: “Send me!” (Neh. 2:4–6) and “Give me!” (vv. 7–10) Nehemiah could not leave his post without the approval of the king, nor could he work in Jerusalem without the authority of the king. Pressure from local officials had stopped the work once before (Ezra 4), and Nehemiah didn’t want history to repeat itself. He asked Artaxerxes to appoint him governor of Judah and to give him the authority he needed to rebuild the city walls. He told the king when he expected to return, but we don’t know what that date was. According to Nehemiah 5:14, Nehemiah spent twelve years as governor. He went back to Persia briefly to report to the king, but then returned to Jerusalem to correct the abuses that appeared during his absence (13:6–7). But Nehemiah asked for even more. He needed letters of introduction that would guarantee safe travel and hospitality between Susa and Jerusalem. He also requested letters of authority that would provide the materials needed for the construction of buildings and walls. (Nehemiah had done his research well. He even knew the name of the keeper of the king’s forest!) Artaxerxes gave him what he asked, but it was the good hand of God that made the king so cooperative (see 2:18; and Ezra 7:6, 9, 28).
When Jesus sent His disciples out to minister, He first gave them the authority they needed to do the job; and He promised to meet their every need (Matt. 10:1–15). As we go forth to serve the Lord, we have behind us all authority in heaven and on earth (28:18); so we don’t have to be afraid. The important thing is that we go where He sends us and that we do the work He has called us to do. Nehemiah is a good example of how believers should relate to unsaved officials as they seek to do the work of God. Nehemiah respected the king and sought to work within the lines of authority that existed in the empire. He didn’t say, “I have a commission from the Lord to go to Jerusalem, and I’m going whether you like it or not!” When it comes to matters of conscience, we must always obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29); but even then, we must show respect for authority (see Rom. 13 and 1 Peter 2:11–25). The king’s response is evidence of the sovereignty of God in the affairs of nations. We expect God to be able to work through a dedicated believer like Nehemiah, but we forget that God can also work through unbelievers to accomplish His will.
Building Walls: Is there something that you have been praying about that you need to spend some time preparing for, believing that God will open a door? Sometimes in our life we ask God to open doors but we are not prepared to walk through them. Trust that God is preparing to pour out His favour upon you. It is also important that we pray specifically enough so that we know when God answers our prayers. Consider recording your specific prayers for the month in your prayer journal and highlight when God answers your prayers. This will increase your faith and give you confidence in your relationship with God.
Thursday: Faith to Challenge the Critics (Nehemiah 2:11-18)
No description is given of Nehemiah’s trip from Susa to Jerusalem, a journey of at least two months’ time. As a testimony to the faithfulness of God, Ezra had refused military protection for his journey (Ezra 8:21–23); but since Nehemiah was a governor on official business, he had a military escort. Nehemiah had just as much faith as Ezra; but as the king’s officer, he could not travel without his retinue. For one thing, he would not oppose the will of the king; and he could not force his faith upon others. When the official caravan arrived, it was bound to attract attention, particularly among those who hated the Jews and wanted to keep them from fortifying their city.
We soon learn that Nehemiah gained some enemies: Sanballat, from Beth Horan, about twelve miles from Jerusalem; Tobiah, an Ammonite; and Geshem, an Arabian (Neh. 2:19), also called “Gashmu” (6:6). Sanballat was Nehemiah’s chief enemy, and the fact that he had some kind of official position in Samaria only made him that much more dangerous (4:1–3). Being an Ammonite, Tobiah was an avowed enemy of the Jews (Deut. 23:3–4). He was related by marriage to some of Nehemiah’s co-laborers and had many friends among the Jews (Neh. 6:17–19). In fact, he was “near of kin” (“allied”) to Eliashib the priest (13:4–7). If Sanballat was in charge of the army, then Tobiah was director of the intelligence division of their operation. It was he who gathered “inside information” from his Jewish friends and passed it along to Sanballat and Geshem.
But Nehemiah would soon discover that his biggest problem was not the enemy on the outside but the compromisers on the inside, a problem the church still faces today. After his long difficult journey, Nehemiah took time to rest; for leaders must take care of themselves if they are going to be able to serve the Lord. He also took time to get “the lay of the land” without arousing the concern of the enemy. A good leader doesn’t rush into his work but patiently gathers the facts firsthand and then plans his strategy (Prov. 18:13). We must be “wise as serpents” because the enemy is always watching and waiting to attack. Leaders are often awake when others are asleep, and working when others are resting. Nehemiah didn’t want the enemy to know what he was doing, so he investigated the ruins by night. By keeping his counsel to himself, Nehemiah prevented Tobiah’s friends from getting information they could pass along to Sanballat. A wise leader knows when to plan, when to speak, and when to work. As he surveyed the situation, he moved from west to south to east, concentrating on the southern section of the city. It was just as his brother had reported: The walls were broken down and the gates were burned (Neh. 2:13; 1:3). Leaders must not live in a dream world. They must face facts honestly and accept the bad news as well as the good news. Nehemiah saw more at night than the residents saw in the daylight, for he saw the potential as well as the problems. That’s what makes a great leader!
Building Walls: When God calls you to a task He does not promise it will be easy. On the contrary you can expect criticism and opposition as you seek to follow God’s will. Sometimes this opposition comes from people who are close to us and sometimes it comes from people we don’t really know, but we must keep in mind that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Read Ephesians 6:10-20 and pray through this passage “putting on God’s armour” so that you can stand in God’s mighty power.
Friday: Faith to Challenge Colleagues (Nehemiah 2:17-20)
Despite the opposition Nehemiah was experiencing he had faith enough to challenge his colleagues to join him in rebuilding the walls. His appeal was positive as he focused on the glory and greatness of the Lord. He had been in the city only a few days, but he spoke of “we” and “us” and not “you” and “them.” As he did in his prayer (1:6–7), he identified with the people and their needs. The city was a reproach to the Lord, but the hand of the Lord was with them; and He would enable them to do the work. God had already proven His power by working in the heart of the king, and the king had promised to meet the needs. It was Nehemiah’s personal burden for Jerusalem and his experience with the Lord that convinced the Jews that the time was right to build. It is to the credit of the Jewish nobles that they accepted the challenge immediately and said, “Let us rise up and build!” They were not so accustomed to their situation that they took it for granted and decided that nothing could be changed. Nor did they remind Nehemiah that the Jews had once tried to repair the walls and were stopped (Ezra 4). “We tried that once and it didn’t work. Why try again?”
Christian leaders today face these same two obstacles as they seek to lead God’s people into new conquests for the Lord. How often we hear, “We’re content the way things are; don’t rock the boat by trying to change things.” Or, “We tried that before and it didn’t work!” It is worth noting that God sent the Jews a leader from the outside. Nehemiah came into the community with a new perspective on the problems and a new vision for the work. Too often in a local church, new members have a hard time “breaking into the system” because the veterans are afraid of new ideas that might lead to change but new workers from outside might open the windows and let in some fresh air. The good hand of God was upon the leader, and the followers “strengthened their hands” for the work (Neh. 2:8, 18). It takes both the hands of leadership and the hands of partnership to accomplish the work of the Lord. Leaders can’t do the job by themselves, and workers can’t accomplish much without leadership.
Anyone can go through life as a destroyer but God has called His people to be builders. What an example Nehemiah is to us! Trace his “so” statements and see how God used him: “So I prayed” (2:4); “So I came to Jerusalem” (v. 11); “So they strengthened their hands for this good work” (v. 18); “So built we the wall” (4:6); “So we labored in the work” (v. 21); “So the wall was finished” (6:15). Were it not for the dedication and determination that came from his faith in a great God, Nehemiah would never have accepted the challenge or finished the work. He had never seen the verse, but what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58 was what kept him going: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”
Building Walls: What kind of leaders and followers does God want us to be? Like Nehemiah, do we have a burden in our hearts for the work God has called us to do? Are we willing to sacrifice to see His will accomplished in the life of Sequoia Church? Are we patient in gathering facts and in planning our work? Do we enlist the help of others or try to do everything ourselves? Do we motivate people on the basis of the spiritual—what God is doing—or simply on the basis of the personal? Are people following us or are they following the Lord as He leads us? As followers, do we listen to what our leaders say as they share their burdens? Do we cling to the past or desire to see God do something new? Do we put our hands and necks to the work? Are we cooperating in any way with the enemy and thus weakening the work? Have we found the job God wants us to complete? Spend some time praying through these questions and then memorize 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Monday: The Purpose of the Work (Nehemiah 3)
Nehemiah faced a great challenge and had great faith in a great God, but he would have accomplished very little had there not been great dedication on the part of the people who helped him rebuild the wall. With the kind of humility that befits a godly leader, Nehemiah gave all the credit to the people when he wrote, “So built we the wall...for the people worked with all their heart.” (Neh. 4:6). British humorist Jerome K. Jerome said, “I like work, it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” When it comes to the work of the Lord, there is no place for spectators or self-appointed advisors and critics; but there is always room for workers. As you study this chapter, you will discover principles that apply to all human labor, especially the work of building the church.
The purpose of Nehemiah’s work was ultimately to bring glory to God. “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be a disgrace.” (Neh. 2:17) The Gentiles delighted in mocking their Jewish neighbors by pointing out the dilapidated condition of Jerusalem. After all, the Jews claimed that their capital city was “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth” (Ps. 48:2). They said that God loved “the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (87:2). If God loved Jerusalem so much, why were the walls in ruin and the gates burned? Why was the “holy city” a disgrace? Why didn’t the Jews do something?
For the most part, the world today ignores the church. If it does pay any attention to the church, it is usually to condemn or mock. “If you are the people of God,” unbelievers ask, “why are there so many scandals in the church? If God is so powerful, why is the church so weak?” Whether Christians like it or not, we are living in a day of reproach when “the glory has departed” (1 Sam. 4:21). The purpose of all ministry is the glory of God and not the aggrandizement of religious leaders or organizations (1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Cor. 4:5). The words of Jesus in His high priestly prayer should be the motivating force in all Christian ministry: “I have glorified you on the earth; I have finished the work which you gave Me to do” (John 17:4). God has a special task for each of His children and by humbly and faithfully that task, we glorify God’s name. Of course, the rebuilding of the walls and the setting of the gates also meant protection and security for the people. Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies, and it seemed foolish for the residents to improve their property when nothing was safe from invasion and plunder. Over the years, the citizens had become accustomed to their plight. Like too many believers in the church today, they were content to live with the status quo. Then Nehemiah arrived on the scene and challenged them to rebuild the city to the glory of God.
Building Walls: Read Ephesians 2:10. What are the good works that God has prepared in advance for you to do? As you reflect on the ways you serve the body of Christ and the community through Sequoia, evaluate your motives in serving. Have you been serving with all your heart like the workers who built the wall? Do you serve to bring glory to God or are you serving out of obligation, the desire to be noticed, or for some other reason? Spend some time praying and ask God to refine your motives and to glorify Himself through your life.
Tuesday: The Pattern of the Work (Nehemiah 3)
Nehemiah was a leader who planned his work and worked his plan, and the way he did it is an example for us to follow. Thirty-eight individual workers are named in this chapter, and forty-two different groups are identified. There were also many workers whom Nehemiah did not name whose labors were important; and each worker—named and anonymous—was assigned a place and a task. “A great many people have got a false idea about the church,” said evangelist D.L. Moody. “They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in...to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy, is all they want. The idea of work for them—actual work in the church—never enters their minds.”
In 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Paul compared individual Christians to members of the human body: Each member is important, and each has a special function to perform. I recall the relief that came to my own heart when I realized that God didn’t expect me to do everything in the church, but rather to use the gifts He gave me in the tasks that He assigned. When I started doing that, I discovered I was helping others discover and develop their own gifts; and all of us accomplished more for the Lord.
The people finished this difficult task because they obeyed the same leader, kept their eyes on the same goal, and worked together for the glory of God. Neither the enemy outside the city nor the difficulties inside the city distracted them from their God-given task. Like Paul, they said, “This one thing I do” (Phil. 3:13). The word built is used six times in Nehemiah 3 and means “rebuilt.” George Morrison reminds us “that for this restoration no new material was needed. In the debris of the ruined masonry lay all the material required...and it seems to me that is always so when the walls of Zion are rebuilt”. It is not by inventing clever new things that we take away the church’s reproach, but by going back to the old truths that made the church great in ages past. They lie like stones in the dust, waiting for some burdened Nehemiah to recover them and use them. The word repair is used thirty-five times; it means “to make strong and firm.” Nehemiah wasn’t interested in a “quick fix,” a whitewashed wall that would soon crumble. They were building to the glory of God, and therefore they did their best. The gates of Jerusalem had been destroyed by fire (Neh. 1:3; Jer. 17:27; Lam. 1:4), so Nehemiah requisitioned timber from the king’s forest and had new gates constructed (Neh. 2:8) and put into place (6:1; 7:1). The gates were important to the safety of the people and the control of who went in and out of the city. If the Lord loves the gates of Zion (Ps. 87:2), then His people ought to love them too. Locks and bars are mentioned five times (Neh. 3:3, 6, 13–15). Locks refer to the sockets into which the bars were fitted, thus making it difficult for anyone outside to open the gates. It isn’t enough that we simply do the work of God; we must also make sure that what we do is protected from the enemy. “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (2 John 8).
Building Walls: Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and prayfully consider what spiritual gifts God has given you. In what ways could you operate better in these gifts to help build up the church so that Sequoia is “strong and firm”?
Wednesday: The People in the Work (Nehemiah 3)
As you get acquainted with the various people mentioned in Nehemiah 3, you will find yourself saying, “This is just like the church today!” Circumstances change but human nature remains pretty much the same. God uses all kinds of people. The chapter mentions rulers and priests (vv. 1, 12–19), men and women (v. 12), professional craftsmen (vv. 8, 32), and even people from outside the city (vv. 2, 5, 7). There was a place for everyone, and a job for everyone to do and leaders must set the example. If anybody in the city should have been busy in the work, it was the priests, for the glory of the Lord was involved in the project. That the high priest used his consecrated hands to do manual labor shows that he considered the work on the wall to be a ministry to the Lord. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). Eliashib enlisted the other priests to work at the sheep gate in the northeast corner of the city. Since the sacrifices came into the city that way, the priests would be especially interested in that part of the project. Sad to say, Eliashib did not remain true to his calling; for later he allied with the enemy and created serious problems for Nehemiah (Neh. 13:4–9). Some people who enthusiastically begin their work may drop out or turn against it for one reason or another. Eliashib’s grandson married a daughter of Sanballat (v. 28), and this alliance no doubt influenced the high priest.
Tekoa was a town about eleven miles from Jerusalem, and some of their people traveled to Jerusalem to assist in the work. What a contrast between these people and their nobles! The Tekoites built in two places on the wall (vv. 5 and 27), while their nobles refused to bend the neck and work in even one place. Were these “aristocrats” so important in their own eyes that they could not perform manual labor? Yet Paul was a tentmaker (Acts 18:3), and Jesus was a carpenter (Mark 6:3). The Tekoites were not the only “outsiders” to go to Jerusalem to work on the wall; for men also came from Jericho (Neh. 3:2), Gibeon, and Mizpah (v. 7). Their loyalty to their nation and their Lord was greater than their local interests. They were certainly safer back in their own communities, but they risked their lives to do the work of the Lord. Some people do more work than others but most workers are glad to lay down their tools when their job is finished, but these people asked for additional assignments. It isn’t enough for us to say that we have done as much as others; we must do as much as we can as long as the Lord enables us. Jesus asked, “What do you do more than others? (Matt. 5:47)
At least six different workers, plus an unknown number of priests, repaired the portions of the wall that were nearest to their own houses. If all of us would follow this example, our neighborhoods and cities would be in much better shape! Of course, there is a spiritual lesson here: Christian service begins at home. A Chinese proverb says, “Better to be kind at home than to burn incense in a far place”; and Paul challenged believers to put their religion into practice at home. (1 Tim. 5:4).
Baruch is the only worker of whom it is said that the work was done “earnestly” (“zealously,” NIV). The Hebrew word means “to burn or glow” and suggests that Baruch burned a lot of energy! “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Ecc. 9:10). Paul admonished the slaves to work hard for their masters because they were really working for Christ (Eph. 6:5–8).
Building Walls: Read Colossians 3:23 and reflect on what this verse says to you. Where do you need to “zealously” engage in God’s work? How could you better live out your faith at home so that those closest to you will be encouraged by your example?
Thursday: The Places of the Work (Nehemiah 3:1-13)
Nehemiah began his list of the “work stations” with the Sheep Gate in the northeast corner of the city (Neh. 3:1). Then he moved counterclockwise around the walls to the Inspection Gate (“the Muster Gate”), which was adjacent to the Sheep Gate and just above the East Gate (v. 29). In his record, he names ten gates and several towers and other landmarks. He describes the work on the north wall first (vv. 1–7), then the western wall (vv. 8–13), then the southern point of the city (v. 14), and finally the eastern wall (vv. 15–32). His primary purpose was to document for posterity and the official records the names and accomplishments of the people who worked on the wall. Without straining the text, however, we can glean from this chapter some spiritual illustrations to encourage us in our own personal lives and ministries.
The Sheep Gate (Neh. 3:1, 32). This was the gate through which the animals were brought into the city, including the temple sacrifices. The gate was near the temple area, so it was logical that the priests make this their special project. This is the only gate of which it is recorded that it was “sanctified,” that is, dedicated to God in a special way. This gate reminds us of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 5:2). Nehemiah could have begun his record with any of the gates, but he chose to start and end the report with the Sheep Gate. Jesus is the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending” (Rev. 1:8). Apart from Him and His sacrifice, we would have nothing eternal and satisfying. Nothing is said about the gate’s “locks and bars,” for the way is never closed to the lost sinner who wants to come to the Savior.
The Fish Gate (Neh. 3:3). This was located to the west of the Sheep Gate, and between the two stood the Tower of Hammeah (“the hundred”) and the Tower of Hananeel (v. 1). These two towers were a part of the city’s defense system and were close to the citadel, where the soldiers guarded the temple and protected the northern approach to the city which was especially vulnerable. Merchants used this gate when they brought fish from the Mediterranean Sea, and there may have been a fish market near the gate. In any event, it was a key entrance to the city.
The Old Gate (Neh. 3:6) is probably the Corner Gate (2 Kings 14:13; Jer. 31:38), located at the northwest corner of the city. Some students identify this with the “Mishneh Gate”; the Hebrew word means “second quarter” or “new quarter” (Zeph. 1:10, NIV). In Nehemiah’s day, the northwest section of the city was “the mishneh” or “new quarter”; and this gate led into it. What a paradox: the old gate leads into the new quarter! But it is from the old that we derive the new; and if we abandon the old, there can be nothing new (see Jer. 6:16 and Matt. 13:52).
The Valley Gate (Neh. 3:13) is where Nehemiah began his nocturnal investigation of the ruins of the city (2:13). It was located at the southwest corner of the city walls, about 500 yards from the Dung Gate; and both opened into the Valley of Hinnom. The workers here not only restored the gate, but they also repaired the section of the wall between the two gates. It is likely that this long section of the wall—over 1,700 feet—was not as severely damaged as the other sections. Every Christian needs a “valley gate,” for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5–6). It is only as we yield to Christ and serve others that we can truly enter into the fullness of the life He has for us (Phil. 2:1–11).
Building Walls: Which gate do you find most symbolic for you today? What could God be saying to you from His Word? Choose a particular verse and mediate on it today.
Friday: The Places of the Work (Nehemiah 3:14-31)
The Dung Gate (Neh. 3:14) was located at the southernmost tip of the city, near the Pool of Siloam. It was a main exit to the Valley of Hinnom, where the city disposed of its garbage. The word gehenna means “valley of Hinnom” and identified this area that Jesus used as a picture of hell, which he mentions in Mark 9:44. King Manasseh had sacrificed children to idols in that valley (2 Chron. 33:6), and King Josiah had desecrated the place by turning it into a rubbish heap (2 Kings 23:10). The sanitary disposal of waste materials is essential to the health of a city. It reminds us that, like the city, each of us individually must get rid of whatever defiles us, or it may destroy us (2 Cor. 7:1).
The Fountain Gate (Neh. 3:15) was on the east wall, just north of the Dung Gate, in a very strategic location near the Pool of Siloam, the old City of David and the water tunnel built by King Hezekiah. The Gihon Spring that fed the water system was an important source of water in the city. In the Bible, water for drinking is a picture of the Holy Spirit of God (John 7:37–39), while water for washing is a picture of the Word of God (Eph. 5:26; John 15:3). Spiritually speaking, we have moved from the Valley Gate (humility) to the Dung Gate (cleansing) to the Fountain Gate (fullness of the Spirit).
The Water Gate (Neh. 3:26) led from the old City of David to the Gihon Spring, located adjacent to the Kidron Valley. Jerusalem was one of the few great cities of antiquity that was not built near a great river, and the city depended on reservoirs and springs for its water. The text does not say that this gate was repaired, but only that the workers repaired the walls adjacent to it. The Water Gate reminds us of God’s Word as Ezra and the priests explained the Scriptures to the people there(8:1ff). This gate was not repaired, suggesting that the Word of God stands forever and will not fail.
The Horse Gate (Neh. 3:28) stood north of the Water Gate, adjacent to the temple area. It was here that wicked Athaliah was executed (2 Chron. 23:15). God warned His people not to trust in horses and chariots (Deut. 17:14–20), but Solomon imported them from Egypt (1 Kings 10:26–29), and they became an important part of the nation’s defense system. The Horse Gate reminds us that there is warfare in the Christian life (2 Tim. 2:1–4) and that we must always be ready to do battle.
The East Gate (Neh. 3:29) led directly to the temple and is know today as the Golden Gate. Tradition says that Jesus entered the temple on Palm Sunday through this gate. Jewish and Christian tradition both connect the Golden Gate with the coming of the Messiah to Jerusalem. Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord depart from the temple at the East Gate (Ezek. 10:16–22; 11:22–25), and the Lord will return to the city the same way (43:1–5). So, we have every reason to associate this gate with the coming of the Lord and to remind ourselves to trust in Him so that we are not ashamed at His return. (1 John 2:28).
The Inspection Gate (Neh. 3:31) was located at the northeast corner of the city. The Hebrew word refers to the mustering of the troops for numbering and inspection. This is where the army was reviewed and registered. The north side of Jerusalem was the most vulnerable to attack, so this was a logical place to locate the army. When our Lord returns, He will gather His people together and review their works in preparation for giving out rewards for faithful service (1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:9–10; Rom. 14:10–12).
No one person could have accomplished the work of repairing the walls and restoring the gates. It took leadership on Nehemiah’s part and cooperation on the part of the people. Each had a place to fill and a job to do. So it is with the church today: We must work together if we are to finish the work to the glory of God.
Building Walls: Which gate do you find most symbolic for you today? What could God be saying to you from His Word? Choose a meaningful verse and mediate on it today.
Monday: Overcoming Obstacles
“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” Those words from Gilbert Keith Chesterton were certainly true in Nehemiah’s situation. His arrival in Jerusalem was a threat to Sanballat and his associates, who wanted to keep the Jews weak and dependent. A strong Jerusalem would endanger the balance of power in the region, and it would also rob Sanballat and his friends of influence and wealth. When things are going well, get ready for trouble, because the enemy doesn’t want to see the work of the Lord make progress. As long as the people in Jerusalem were content with their sad lot, the enemy left them alone; but, when the Jews began to serve the Lord and bring glory to God’s name, the enemy became active. Opposition is not only evidence that God is blessing, but it is also an opportunity for us to grow. The difficulties that came to the work brought out the best in Nehemiah and his people. Satan wanted to use these problems as weapons to destroy the work, but God used them as tools to build His people. “God had one Son without sin,” said Charles Spurgeon, “but He never had a son without trial.”
When Sir James Thornhill was painting the inside of the cupola of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, at one point he finished an area and stepped back to view it. Had he gone back one step more, he would have fallen from the scaffolding and perhaps killed himself. Seeing the situation, a friend seized one of the brushes and rubbed paint over a part of the picture. The artist rushed forward to protect his work, and at the same time, his life was saved. When the picture of our life or ministry is not all we think it ought to be, perhaps the Master Artist is rescuing us from something far worse and preparing us for something far better.
Chapters 4 to 6 describe at least nine different tactics that the enemy used to try to stop the work on the walls. First, they attacked the Jewish people with ridicule (4:1–6) and plots of war (vv. 7–9). This resulted in difficulties within the Jewish ranks: discouragement (v. 10), fear (vv. 11–23), and selfishness (5:1–19). When attacks on the people failed to stop the work, the enemy then started to attack their leader, Nehemiah. They tried compromise (6:1–4), slander (vv. 5–9), threats (vv. 10–14) and intrigue (vv. 17–19); but none of these devices worked either. Nehemiah was “steadfast and unmovable” and led his people to finish the work in fifty-two days! Referring to Satan, Paul wrote, “For we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). This chapter presents four of Satan’s devices for opposing the Lord’s work, and it also tells us how God’s people can be steadfast and defeat the enemy. If you start building, you will soon be battling; so, be prepared!
Building Walls: Read James 1:2. What does this verse tell you about trials in your life? Read Romans 8:25-31 and reflect on the truth of this passage of the Bible. How does this encourage you in the midst of the difficulties you are facing?
Tuesday: Overcoming Ridicule (Nehemiah 4:1–6)
British critic and author Thomas Carlyle called ridicule “the language of the devil.” Some people who can stand bravely when they are shot at will collapse when they are laughed at. Shakespeare called ridicule “paper bullets of the brain,” but those bullets have slain many a warrior. It is not unusual for the enemy to insult the servants of God. Goliath ridiculed David when the shepherd boy met the giant with only a sling in his hand (1 Sam. 17:41–47). Jesus was mocked by the soldiers during His trial and by the crowd while He was hanging on the cross. When the enemy laughs at what God’s people are doing, it is usually a sign that God is going to bless His people in a wonderful way. When the enemy rages on earth, God laughs in heaven (Ps. 2:4).
Sanballat and his friends had begun to ridicule the Jews even before the work on the wall had begun. “They laughed us to scorn,” wrote Nehemiah, “and despised us” (Neh. 2:19). What special relationship Sanballat had with the army of Samaria is not explained to us. Perhaps he had the army assembled as a show of strength to frighten the Jews. By making his initial speech before the army, Sanballat intensified the power of his ridicule as he made some important people laugh at the Jews. First, Sanballat ridiculed the workers by calling them “feeble Jews” (4:2). The word feeble means “withered, miserable.” The people were like cut flowers that were fading away. They had no human resources that people could see, but the enemy could not see their great spiritual resources. The people of the world don’t understand that God delights in using feeble instruments to get His work accomplished (1 Cor. 1:18–31). The world glories in its wealth and power, but God’s people glory in their poverty and weakness. When we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:1–10).
Then Sanballat ridiculed the work itself by asking three taunting questions. “Will they fortify themselves?” must have evoked gales of laughter from the Samaritan army. How could a remnant of feeble Jews hope to build a wall strong enough to protect the city from the army? “Will they sacrifice?” implies, “It will take more than prayer and worship to rebuild the city!” This question was blasphemy against God, for Sanballat was denying that God would help His people. “Will they finish in a day?” suggests that the Jews didn’t know how difficult the task was and would soon call it quits. In his final question, Sanballat ridiculed the materials they were using. The stones were taken out of the rubbish heaps and probably were so old and damaged that they would never last when set into the wall. While it is true that limestone is softened by fire, it is also true that the walls were “broken down,” while the gates were “consumed with fire” (Neh. 2:13). In spite of what Sanballat said, there was still plenty of good material for the builders to use.
Tobiah the Ammonite was one of the visiting dignitaries at the Samaritan army inspection; and when it was his turn to make a speech, he ridiculed the finished product (4:3). You wouldn’t need an army to knock down the wall; a solitary fox could do it! Of course, much that Sanballat and Tobiah said was true from a human point of view; for the Jewish remnant was weak and poor, and the work was too great for them. But they had great faith in a great God, and that’s what made the difference.
Building Walls: How did Nehemiah respond to this ridicule? He prayed and asked God to fight the enemy for him. Nehemiah didn’t allow himself to get detoured from his work by taking time to reply to their words. Where have you allowed ridicule to distract you from doing what God has called you to do? When you experience ridicule the best thing to do is to pray and commit the whole thing to the Lord; and then get back to your work! Anything that keeps you from doing what God has called you to do will only help the enemy.
Wednesday: Overcoming Intimidating Plots (Nehemiah 4:7–9)
A common enemy and a common cause brought four different groups together to stop the work on the walls of Jerusalem. The city was now completely surrounded by enemies! To the north were Sanballat and the Samaritans; to the east, Tobiah and the Ammonites; to the south, Geshem and the Arabs; and to the west, the Ashdodites. Ashdod was perhaps the most important city in Philistia at that time, and the Philistines did not want to see a strong community in Jerusalem. God’s people sometimes have difficulty working together, but the people of the world have no problem uniting in opposition to the work of the Lord (Ps. 2:1–2; Acts 4:23–30; Luke 23:12).
As the enemy saw the work progressing, they became angry and decided to plan a secret attack against Jerusalem. Satan hates the Jews and has used one nation after another to try to destroy them. God chose the Jews to be His vehicle for giving the world the knowledge of the true God, the Scriptures, and the Savior (Rom. 9:1–5). “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22), and Satan wanted to prevent the Savior from coming into the world. If he could destroy the nation, he would frustrate God’s plan.
Nehemiah suspected that his enemies would launch an attack, so he posted a guard and encouraged the people to pray. The workers held both tools and weapons (Neh. 4:17) and were prepared to fight when the signal was given. “Watch and pray” combines faith and works and is a good example for us to follow in our work and our warfare (see Mark 13:33; 14:38; Eph. 6:18; Col. 4:2–4). The Christian’s battle is not against flesh and blood, but against Satan and his demonic forces that use flesh and blood to oppose the Lord’s work. If we hope to win the war and finish the work, we must use the spiritual equipment God has provided. If we focus on the visible enemy alone and forget the invisible enemy, we are sure to start trusting our own resources; and this will lead to defeat.
Building Walls: How have you been intimidated recently in your quest to live for Christ? What resources has God provided for you to fight your spiritual battles? Read Ephesians 6:10–18 and 2 Corinthians 10:1–6. What specific piece of equipment is most helpful for you today and why?
Thursday: Overcoming Discouragement (Nehemiah 4:10)
Pressures from without often create problems from within. It isn’t easy to carry on your work when you are surrounded by danger and daily face the demands of a task that seems impossible. If the Jews became discouraged, they would defeat themselves; and Sanballat and his allies would never have to wage war. Discouragement is a key weapon in Satan’s arsenal. It was discouragement that kept Israel from entering the Promised Land at Kadesh-Barnea (Num. 13). “We are not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we are” (v. 31). The ten unbelieving spies “discouraged the heart of the children of Israel” (32:9); and as a result, the nation wandered in the wilderness forty years until the new generation was ready to conquer the land.
“We are not able!” is the rallying cry of all who take their eyes off the Lord and start looking at themselves and their problems. These discouraged Jewish workers were actually agreeing with the enemy who said they were feeble! Sanballat had openly declared that the work would stop, and it almost did. Why did this discouragement arise from the royal tribe of Judah? They had David’s blood in their veins, and you would think they would be men and women of great faith and courage. The answer is found in Nehemiah 6:17–19: Some people in the tribe of Judah were secretly cooperating with the enemy. The ties of marriage were stronger than the bonds of commitment to the Lord. According to Nehemiah 13:15–22, some of the leaders of Judah were not wholly devoted to the Lord, but were more interested in making money. The combination of marriage and money divided their loyalties, and they became the cause of discouragement.
In my years of ministry, I have learned that, in the Lord’s work, discouragers are often doubters and compromisers. There is usually something wrong in their spiritual walk. They frequently lack faith in God’s Word, for one thing; and they are primarily interested in their own plans and pursuits. A double-minded person is unbelieving and unstable in all his ways (James 1:5–8) and hinders the work of the Lord. Nehemiah didn’t pay much attention to these complainers but went right on with the work. That’s the best thing to do. If you take time away from your work to listen to everybody who wants your attention, you will never get anything done. Nehemiah got his encouragement from prayer and the promises of God, and the occasional complaints of some of the people didn’t upset him.
Building Walls: Where have you been prone to discouragement in your life and ministry? What can you learn from the example of Nehemiah that can help you overcome discouragement? Read Hebrews 12:1-2. What does this verse challenge you to do?
Friday: Overcoming Fear (Nehemiah. 4:11–23)
The Jews who lived in the outlying villages kept bringing a report to the city that the enemy was planning another surprise attack. Whether these Jews were merely spreading rumors or helping to promote a conspiracy, we don’t know; but they told the story repeatedly. Nehemiah didn’t respond immediately and probably was praying for God’s guidance. He himself was not afraid of the enemy; but when he saw that his people were starting to become afraid, he began to act.
In his First Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said to a nation in the grip of an economic depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Why? Because fear paralyzes you, and fear is contagious and paralyzes others. Fear and faith cannot live together in the same heart. “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26) Frightened people discourage others and help bring defeat. Nehemiah’s first step was to post guards at the most conspicuous and vulnerable places on the wall. The enemy could then see that the Jews were prepared to fight. He armed entire families, knowing that they would stand together and encourage one another. The Jews not only repaired the walls near their own houses, but they stood with their families to protect their homes and their city. After looking the situation over, Nehemiah then encouraged the people not to be afraid but to look to the Lord for help. If we fear the Lord, we need not fear the enemy. Nehemiah’s heart was captivated by the powerful and awesome God of Israel, and he knew that God was strong enough to meet the challenge. He also reminded the people that they were fighting for their nation, their city, and their families. If the nation were destroyed, what would become of God’s great promises to Israel and His plan of redemption?
When we face a situation that creates fear in our hearts, we must remind ourselves of the greatness of God. If we walk by sight and view God through the problems, we will fail, but if we look at the problem through the greatness of God, we will have confidence and succeed. When the enemy learned that Jerusalem was armed and ready, they backed off (Neh. 4:15). God had frustrated their plot. It is good to remind ourselves that the will of God comes from the heart of God and that we need not be afraid. Nehemiah knew that he couldn’t interrupt the work every time he heard a new rumor, so he set up a defense plan that solved the problem: Half of the men worked on the wall while the other half stood guard. He saw to it that the people carrying materials also carried weapons and that the workers on the walls carried swords. In this way, the work would not be interrupted, and the workers would be ready in case of an alarm. The man with the trumpet stayed close to Nehemiah so the alarm could be given immediately. The people were prepared to fight (Neh. 4:14), but they realized that it was God who fought with them and He alone could give the victory.
When Charles Spurgeon started his church magazine in 1865, he borrowed the title from Nehemiah and called the publication The Sword and Trowel. It is not enough to build the wall; we must also be on guard lest the enemy take it from us. Building and battling are both a normal part of the Christian life if we are faithful disciples. Again, Nehemiah spoke words of encouragement to the people (Neh. 4:19–20). He reminded them that they were involved in a great work. After all, they were serving a great God and rebuilding the walls of a great city. He also reminded them that they were not working alone, even though they couldn’t see all of their fellow workers on the wall. God was with all of them and would come to their defense.
Building Walls: Where has fear paralyzed you from moving forward in your ministry? The work of God requires both the sword and the trowel. What do you need to fight against and what do you need to build to help Sequoia become the church God desires?
Monday: Defending the Oppressed (Nehemiah 5:1-5)
When the enemy fails in his attacks from the outside, he then begins to attack from within; and one of his favorite weapons is selfishness. If he can get us thinking only about ourselves and what we want, then he will win the victory before we realize that he is even at work. Selfishness means putting myself at the center of everything and insisting on getting what I want when I want it. It means exploiting others so I can be happy and taking advantage of them just so I can have my own way. It is not only wanting my own way but expecting everybody else to want my way too. Why are selfish people so miserable? I think Thomas Merton said it best: “To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.” This chapter reveals to us the depths of sin in the human heart and how each of us must learn to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In the midst of a “great work” (4:19) for a “great God” (1:5), a “great cry” (5:1) was heard among the Jews. They were not crying out against the Samaritans, the Ammonites, or the Arabs, but against their own people! Jew was exploiting Jew, and the economic situation had become so desperate that even the wives (who usually kept silent) were joining in the protest.
Four different groups of people were involved in this crisis. First, there were the people who owned no land but who needed food (v. 2). The population was increasing; there was a famine (v. 3); and the people were hungry. These people could not help themselves so they cried out to Nehemiah for help. The second group was composed of landowners who had mortgaged their property in order to buy food (v. 3). Apparently inflation was on the rise, and prices were going higher. The combination of debt and inflation is enough to wipe out a person’s equity very quickly. The third group complained because the taxes were too high, and they were forced to borrow money to pay them (v. 4). In order to borrow the money, they had to give security; and this meant eventually losing their property. The Persian king received a fortune in annual tribute, very little of which ever benefited the local provinces. Unlike our situation today, the taxes did not support local services; they only supported the king. The fourth group was made up of wealthy Jews who were exploiting their own brothers and sisters by loaning them money and taking their lands and their children for collateral. Jewish boys and girls had to choose between starvation or servitude! It was not unlawful for Jews to loan money to one another, but they were not to act like money lenders and charge interest (Deut. 23:19–20). They were to treat one another with love even in the matter of taking security (24:10–13; Ex. 22:25–27) or making a brother a servant (Lev. 25:35–46). Both the people and the land belonged to the Lord, and He would not have anybody using either one for personal gain.
One reason for the “Year of Jubilee” (Lev. 25) was to balance the economic system in Israel so that the rich could not get richer as the poor became poorer. All debts had to be forgiven in the fiftieth year, all land restored to its original owners, and all servants set free. These wealthy businessmen were selfishly exploiting the poor in order to make themselves rich. They were using their power to rob some and to put others into bondage. Greed was one of the sins the prophets had denounced before the Babylonian Captivity (Isa. 56:9–12; Jer. 22:13–19; Amos 2:6–7; 5:11–12). God has a special concern for the poor and will not hold those guiltless who take advantage of them.
Building Walls: What does this passage of scripture reveal about how God feels about those who are less fortunate? Read James 5:1-6 and James 2:14-17. How do these passages challenge you? What is God asking you to do now?
Tuesday: Confronting Injustice (Nehemiah 5:6–13)
It is one thing to confront foreign enemies and quite something else to deal with your own people when they fight one another. Young Moses learned that it was easier to dispose of an Egyptian master than to reconcile two Jewish brothers (Ex. 2:11–15). Nehemiah showed true leadership in his responses to the problem. Nehemiah responded with righteous anger. (Neh. 5:6). This was not the flaring up of a sinful temper but the expression of righteous indignation at the way the businessmen were oppressing their brothers and sisters. “In your anger do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). Nehemiah was not a politician who asked, “What is popular?” or a diplomat who asked, “What is safe?” but a true leader who asked, “What is right?” His was a holy anger against sin, and he knew he had the Law of God behind him. Moses expressed this kind of holy anger when he broke the stone tables of Law (Ex. 32), and so did Jesus when He saw the hardening of the Pharisees’ hearts (Mark 3:5).
Why didn’t Nehemiah know about this scandalous economic problem sooner? Probably because he was so immersed in the one thing he came to do—the rebuilding of the walls—that he had no time to get involved in the internal affairs of the community. His commission as governor was to repair the walls and restore the gates, not to reform the community. Furthermore, Nehemiah had not been in the city long enough to learn all that was going on. It is important to note that the building of the wall did not create these problems; it revealed them. Often when a church enters into a building program, all sorts of problems start to surface that people didn’t even know were there. A building program is a demanding thing that tests our faith, our patience, and our priorities; and while it brings out the best in some people, it can often bring out the worst in others.
In Nehemiah 5:7 the text reads “after thinking it over”, which literally means “I consulted with myself” or “My heart consulted within me.” A friend of mine calls this “putting my heads together.” Actually, Nehemiah put his heart and his head together as he pondered the problem and sought God’s direction. He got control of his feelings and his thoughts so that he could give constructive leadership to the people. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32, NKJV). If a leader can’t control himself, he will never be successful in controlling others. Nehemiah decided to call a great assembly (Neh. 5:7) and publicly confront the people whose selfishness had created this difficult and painful situation. Theirs was a grievous public sin, involving the whole nation; and it demanded public rebuke and repentance.
Building Walls: Nehemiah was not afraid to confront injustice and sin when he encountered it but he did so in a righteous and controlled manner. What issue of injustice and sin do you need to confront? What can you learn from Nehemiah’s example in how to approach this situation?
Wednesday: A Generous Leader (Neh. 5:14–19)
D.L. Moody said, “A holy life will produce the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine.” In our day of public scandals in almost every area of life, especially the political, how refreshing it is to meet a man like Nehemiah who put serving the people ahead of getting gain for himself. Nehemiah never read Philippians 2:1–13, but he certainly practiced it. During his first term of twelve years as governor, and then during his second term of office (Neh. 13:6–7), he used his privileges for helping the people; he did not use the people to build a kingdom for himself. In that day, most officials exercised their authority in order to promote themselves and protect their personal interests. They had very little concern for the needs of the people. As children of God, our example is Jesus Christ and not the leaders of this world (Luke 22:23–30). “A cross stands in the way of spiritual leadership,” writes J. Oswald Sanders, “a cross upon which the leader must consent to be impaled” (Spiritual Leadership, Moody Press, 1976; p. 105).
In what ways are these men examples to us? To begin with, Nehemiah and his assistants did not use the official expense account for their household expenses, nor did they tax the people in order to have something to eat. They paid their expenses out of their own pockets and didn’t ask to be reimbursed. The Apostle Paul followed a similar policy with the church at Corinth. He could have accepted support from them, as he did from other churches; but he chose to work with his own hands and preach the Gospel to them “without cost” (1 Cor. 9). Paul did not say that every Christian worker should do this, for “the worker is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:14). But every Christian should follow Paul’s example in having a balanced spiritual attitude toward wealth and ministry. We must be willing to sacrifice personal gain for the spiritual good of others.
Building Walls: How are you challenged by Nehemiah’s generosity? As we embark upon a building campaign to build a multi-purpose building that will help restore lives for Jesus Christ we will need the people of God to be extremely generous. What is God asking you to sacrifice over the next three years towards this noble project?
Thursday: A Leader with Integrity (Neh. 5:14–19)
As we have seen Nehemiah was incredibly generous to those he served. He was also a leader who had great integrity and he is a great model for us to follow. It has been said that leaders are people who accept more of the blame and less of the credit, but they are also people who quietly sacrifice so that others might have more. Nehemiah and his associates not only paid their own bills, but they were also careful not to exploit the people in any way (Neh. 5:15). The servants of previous governors had used their positions for personal gain, perhaps taking bribes from the people and promising to represent them before the governor. For people in places of authority, the temptation to increase wealth and power is always present; but Nehemiah and his friends walked in the fear of the Lord and served honestly.
Nehemiah and his aides also participated in the rebuilding of the wall (v. 16). They were not advisors who occasionally emerged from their ivory towers, but workers who stood with the people in the construction and defense of the city. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27); and Nehemiah and his aides had that same attitude.
Nehemiah also had the gift of hospitality. He not only paid for his own food, but he shared what he had with others (Neh. 5:17–18). He regularly fed over 150 guests, both residents and visitors, and he gave them a marvelous meal! (See 1 Kings 4:22–23 for Solomon’s daily fare.) It is estimated that this amount of food would meet the needs of over 500 guests, so Nehemiah must have kept “open house” constantly. Or perhaps he shared what was left with the people working on the wall. At any rate, he was generous to others and asked for no reward. Nehemiah 5:19 indicates perhaps the greatest thing about Nehemiah’s service: He did what he did only to please the Lord.
Building Walls: How does Nehemiah’s example of honesty, generosity, hard work, and integrity inspire you? Would people consider you to be generous, hospitable, and integral? Are there places in your life where you lack integrity or where growth is needed? Confess these areas to the Lord and ask Him to give you the strength to change. Read and reflect on Psalm 1 and Colossians 3:23.
Friday: Leadership Lessons (Nehemiah 5:1-19)
If you are in a position of leadership, chapter 5 has some important lessons for you. Whether you give leadership in the context of your work, your family, at church, or in the community we have much to glean from the example of Nehemiah. To begin with, expect problems to arise among the people you lead. Wherever you have people, you have the potential for problems. Whenever God’s work is prospering, the enemy sees to it that trouble begins. Don’t be surprised when your people can’t always get along with each other. Second, confront the problems courageously. “There is no problem so great that you can’t ignore it” might be a good philosophy for a character in a comic strip, but it won’t work in the Lord’s service. Every problem that you ignore will only go underground, grow deeper roots, and bear bitter fruits. Pray for God’s help and tackle the problem as soon as possible. Third, be sure that your own integrity is intact. A guilty conscience will rob you of the spiritual authority you need to give proper leadership, but every sacrifice you have made will give you the extra strength you need to defeat the enemy. Finally, see in every problem an opportunity for the Lord to work. Solving problems in ministry and life is not an intellectual exercise but a spiritual experience. If we depend on the wisdom of the world, we will get what the world can do; but if we depend on the wisdom of God, we will get what God can do. All that we say and do must be motivated by love, controlled by truth, and done to the glory of God.
Building Walls: Read Nehemiah 5 again and reflect on the most significant leadership lesson you have learned from this great leader. How will you apply this to your context at home, at work, at church, or in the community? Spend some time praying through Philippians 2:5-11 and Galatians 5:22-24.
Monday: The Pressures of Leadership (Nehemiah 6)
Under Nehemiah’s gifted leadership, the people completed the rebuilding of the walls. Now all that remained to do was the restoration of the gates and the strengthening of the community within the walls. Since Sanballat and his friends had failed miserably in their attempts to stop the people from working, they decided to concentrate their attacks on Nehemiah. If they could eliminate him, or even discredit him, they could mobilize their allies living in Jerusalem (Neh. 6:17–18) and take over the city. The average person doesn’t realize the tremendous pressures and testings that people experience day after day in places of leadership. Leaders are often blamed for things they didn’t do and criticized for things they tried to do. They are misquoted and misunderstood and rarely given the opportunity to set the record straight. If they act quickly, they are reckless; if they bide their time, they are cowardly or unconcerned. Referring to the pressures of leadership, President Harry Truman wrote in Mr. Citizen, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!” People in places of spiritual leadership not only have the pressures that all leaders face, but they must also battle an infernal enemy who is a master deceiver and a murderer. Satan comes either as a serpent who deceives or a lion who devours (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Peter 5:8), and Christian leaders must be alert and spiritually equipped to oppose him. It behooves God’s people to pray earnestly, not only for those in civil authority (1 Tim. 2:1–3), but also for those in places of spiritual authority. If Satan can defeat a Christian leader, he can cripple a whole ministry and discredit the cause of Christ.
The enemy’s main purpose was to generate fear in the heart of Nehemiah and his workers (Neh. 6:9, 13–14, 19), knowing that fear destroys faith and paralyzes life. Adolph Hitler wrote, “Mental confusion, contradiction of feeling, indecisiveness, panic; these are our weapons.” Both Jesus (Luke 13:31–37) and Paul (Acts 21:10–14) had to face the specter of fear, and both overcame it by faith. Nehemiah didn’t listen to the enemy’s lies. He and the people completed the wall and hung the gates in only fifty-two days, much to the chagrin of their adversaries.
Building Walls: Make a list of leaders in your church, community, city, and country. Begin to pray for them by name and ask God to help them lead as Jesus led, so they are full of grace and truth. Consider writing an encouragement note to one of these leaders so that they will not become weary in doing good.
Tuesday: The Danger of Compromise (Nehemiah 6:1-4)
Up to this point in the building program, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem opposed everything that the Jews did; but now they offered to cooperate and help the Jews build the wall. They offered to meet Nehemiah in a village halfway between Jerusalem and Samaria, a quiet place where they could make plans on how to work together. “We’re willing to meet you halfway,” was their approach. “Now, don’t be an unfriendly neighbor!” Of course, the enemy’s strategy was, “If you can’t whip ’em, join ’em—and then take over!” Once the enemy gets a foothold in a ministry, he starts to weaken the work from within; and ultimately, the work will fail. While cooperation in the Lord’s work is a noble thing, leaders must take care that they cooperate with the right people at the right time for the right purpose; otherwise they may end up cooperating with the enemy.
Satan is a master deceiver and he has his servants ready to join hands with God’s people so he can weaken their hands in the work (2 Cor. 11:13–15). Loving compromise and cooperation can be good and useful things if there are no moral or spiritual issues involved. Happy compromise can invigorate a marriage or strengthen a ministry (Phil. 2:1–4), but this is compromise among people who love each other and have the same purposes in mind. When you invite the devil to join your team, expect him to change the rules and the goals; and expect to be defeated.
Nehemiah rejected their offer because of three convictions. First, he knew that they were lying and wanted to kill him (Neh. 6:2). Nehemiah had the kind of spiritual discernment that leaders must possess if they are going to detect the enemy’s strategy and defeat it. Second, he was convinced of the greatness of the work God had given him to do (v. 3). If Nehemiah allowed himself to be distracted and detoured from the work God had called him to do, where would his people go for leadership? A leaderless project is an aimless project and eventually falls apart. Leaders must be good examples and stay on the job.
Behind these two convictions was a third conviction: The Jews had nothing in common with Sanballat and his crowd, so there could be no basis for cooperation. Nehemiah had made that clear at the very outset of the project when he said to Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, “But as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it” (Neh. 2:20). God’s people are different from the people of the world and must maintain their separated position (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1). If Nehemiah had cooperated with Sanballat and his allies, how could he have led the nation to separate itself from the foreigners in the land? He would have been inconsistent. Nehemiah had both discernment and determination as a leader. Decisions based only on opinions might be reconsidered, but decisions based on convictions must stand unless those convictions are changed. Otherwise, decision becomes indecision; and the leader who ought to be a guidepost becomes a weather vane.
Building Walls: Where have you been tempted to compromise in your leadership and life? How can Nehemiah’s example keep you from getting distracted and discouraged in your work and leadership? What does Proverbs 1:10 and Isaiah 33:15-16 suggest about ungodly compromise?
Wednesday: God is Our Defender (Nehemiah 6:5-9)
The fifth time the enemy approached Nehemiah, it was with an open letter accusing him of sedition. They had hinted at Jewish insurrection before the project had even begun perhaps borrowing the idea from the people who had stopped the building of the temple years before (Ezra 4). Even our Lord was accused by His enemies of promoting sedition (Luke 23:1–5). It would be considered a serious charge in Nehemiah’s day, because Persian kings tolerated no resistance from their subjects. Any hint of rebellion was immediately and ruthlessly put down. It’s interesting to see how often the enemy used letters in their attacks against the work. An “open letter” to a royal governor would be both intimidating and insulting. Letters to officials were rolled up and secured with seals so that only those with authority could open and read them. Sanballat wanted the public to know the contents of the letter because he hoped to undermine Nehemiah’s reputation and authority. If some of the Jewish workers believed what was in the letter, Sanballat could organize them and create division within the ranks. It was a splendid opportunity for the enemy to divide and conquer.
Statements like “it’s been reported” and “they say” have caused trouble in many local churches and other ministries. In every organization, there are those who gossip, and this vice undermines unity. One person defined gossip as news you have to hurry and tell somebody else before you find out it isn’t true! A. B. Simpson, founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance said: “I would rather play with forked lightning, or take in my hands living wires with their fiery current than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christians are hurling on others, to the hurt of their own souls and bodies.”
Not only did his enemies falsely accuse Nehemiah of fomenting a rebellion, but they also said he was planning to make himself king and had prophets prepared to announce his coronation. If this report got back to the Persian king, there would be immediate reprisal; and that would be the end of the Jerusalem project. We can learn a great deal from how Nehemiah handled this situation.
Christians must know how to handle false accusations, unkind words, and gossip. The temptation is to allow these divisive weapons to distract and to cause one to lose his or her perspective because of the desire to defend oneself. But we must remember that God is our defender and He will justify us. Nehemiah didn’t invest energy defending himself - he simply denied the reports, prayed to God for strength, and went back to work. He knew that his character was such that no honest person would believe the false reports. If we take care of our character, we can trust God to take care of our reputation.
Building Walls: Spend some time reading and praying through Psalm 59. Where do you need God to defend you today?
Thursday: Responding with Courage (Nehemiah 6:10–14)
Shemaiah, a hireling prophet (v. 12), devised a clever plan for trapping Nehemiah. He shut himself up in his house and gave the impression that, like Nehemiah, his life was in danger. When Nehemiah came to see him, Shemaiah suggested that they both take refuge in the temple, where the enemy couldn’t reach them. His words were very threatening: “Men are coming to kill you; by night they are coming to kill you” (Neh. 6:10). Since he had access to the temple, it’s possible that Shemaiah was of priestly descent; but even this didn’t influence Nehemiah’s decision. He quickly detected the hoax and let it be known that he was not about to run away in the face of danger. In the first place, he was not that kind of a leader. “Should a man like me run away?” he asked (v. 11). He had previously said, “I cannot go down!” (v. 3) and now he declared, “I will not go!” (v. 11) Nehemiah was a true shepherd and not a hireling like Shemaiah. If he had run away and hidden in the temple, it would have ruined his reputation forever. Nehemiah rejected Shemaiah’s proposal because it was contrary to the Law of Moses. It was forbidden for a layman to go beyond the altar of burnt offering at the temple. “The outsider who comes near shall be put to death” (Num. 18:7 NKJV). When King Uzziah tried to invade the holy precincts, God struck him with leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16–21).
Nehemiah knew that Shemaiah was a false prophet because the message he delivered was contradictory to the Word of God (Deut. 13:1–5 and 18:20–22). “What does Scripture tell us?” (Rom. 4:3) must be the test of any message, even if that message comes from somebody who claims to be one of God’s servants. “To the law and to the testimony: if they do not speak according this word, they have no light of dawn”(Isa. 8:20).
Nehemiah 6:14 indicates that there was a conspiracy against Nehemiah among the prophets, including a prophetess named Noadiah. This created a great deal of pressure for Nehemiah, for the Jews had great respect for their prophets. Nehemiah was outnumbered, yet he stood his ground. He was a layman opposed by a body of “professionals,” yet he refused to give in. He prayed about them and left the matter with the Lord. In verses 9 and 14, we have the fifth and sixth of Nehemiah’s “telegraph prayers” that he sent to the Lord in times of crisis. Of course, behind these brief intermittent prayers was a life of prayer that gave them strength.
Building Walls: Nehemiah responded to Shemaiah with courage? What was the source of His courage? Read 2 Timothy 3:16. What does this tell you about the importance of God’s Word for our lives? Spend some time reflecting on the wonder of God’s Word in Psalm 119.
Friday: Finishing Well (Nehemiah 6:15-19)
The completion of the walls in troubled times was an embarrassment to the enemy, but they did not give up. Satan is not a quitter but stays on the field even after it looks as if he has lost the battle. Many a careless Christian has won the war but afterward lost the victory. Satan is always looking for an opportune time to attack the victors and turn them into victims. We need to heed the counsel of that saintly Scottish minister Andrew A. Bonar, who said, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.” If you can’t see Satan working, it’s probably because he has gone underground. Actually, we are safer when we can see him at work than when his agents are concealed. Open opposition is good for God’s work and God’s workers because it keeps us alert and trusting the Lord. “Watch and pray!” was certainly one of Nehemiah’s chief admonitions to his people (Neh. 4:9).
It seems incredible that any Jew would secretly cooperate with the enemy, let alone Jews who were nobles from the royal tribe of Judah! If any tribe had a stake in the future of “the city of David,” it was the tribe of Judah; for God promised that a Savior and King would come from their tribe (Gen. 49:10; 2 Sam. 7). When these nobles cooperated with Tobiah, they were resisting the Lord, disobeying the Word, and jeopardizing their own future. Why would they do such a treacherous thing? For one thing, Tobiah wrote them letters and influenced their thinking. Instead of seeking the truth, the nobles believed the enemy’s lies and became traitors to their own people. Because they believed he was right, some of the men of Judah even took an oath of loyalty to Tobiah! In his letters, Tobiah no doubt flattered them and made promises to them; and they foolishly believed him. The nobles secretly shared the letters with others, and thus the conspiracy grew. Don’t believe everything you read or hear about Christian leaders. Consider the source and firmly refuse to accept as truth anything that can’t be documented. How could these Jews turn their backs on their own heritage, their own brothers and sisters, and their own God? The answer is that the bonds of human connection were stronger than the bonds of spiritual affection. Because Tobiah was tied to the tribe of Judah through marriage, the nobles of Judah gave the loyalty to him that they should have given to God. The men of Judah forgot that they were “married” to God and owed Him their love and loyalty. Because these leaders were easily influenced and led astray they unfortunately did not finish well.
Building Walls: It is easy to criticize these Jewish nobles, but let’s examine our own lives. Are we totally yielded to the Lord and fully obedient to Him? Do we ever permit human relationships to influence our decisions so much that we deliberately disobey the Word of God? Read Romans 12:1-2. What is God saying to you in this passage? Read Hebrews 12:1-2. What could hinder you in your faith race and cause you to not finish well? Be aware of these things, confess them to the Lord and then “fix your eyes on Jesus!”
Saturday: Completing the Task (Nehemiah 7)
The walls were completed, the gates were restored, and the enemy was chagrined; but Nehemiah’s work was not finished by any means. Now he had to practice the truth Paul emphasized in Ephesians 6:13, “And after you have done everything, to stand.” Nehemiah had been steadfast in building the walls and in resisting the enemy, and now he had to be steadfast in consolidating and conserving the gains. “Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for” warned the Apostle John, “that you may be rewarded fully” (2 John 8).
A city is much more than walls, gates, and houses; a city is people. In the first half of this book of Nehemiah the people existed for the walls; but now the walls must exist for the people. It was time to organize the community so that the citizens could enjoy the quality of life God wanted them to have. God had great things in store for Jerusalem, for one day His Son would walk the city streets, teach in the temple, and die outside the city walls.
Nehemiah’s work was “done with the help of God” (Neh. 6:16); and when God begins a work He completes it (Phil. 1:6). The story began with “I prayed” (Neh. 2:4). Then we read, “So I arrived in Jerusalem” (2:11). “So they began the good work” is the next link in the chain (2:18), followed by, “At last the wall was completed” (4:6) and, “We worked early and late” (4:21). Now we reach the end of this part of the story: “So the wall was finished” (6:15). But this marks a new beginning, for now Nehemiah must protect what he has accomplished. How he does this is the theme of the rest of the book and you can read that for yourself.
We started this journey with the idea that we would Build Walls to Restore Lives. Our heart as a church is to help people Connect to God, Grow with Others, and Serve the World – so that we see multiplying disciples raised up who will help others experience the grace and love found in Jesus Christ. I pray that you have sensed God’s presence and heard His voice clearly over these last 40 days. I pray that you are resolved to be all that He wants you to be, to do all that He puts before you to do, and to stand with us at Sequoia Community Church as we trust God for the future.
Building Walls: What have you worked for over these past 40 days that you need to guard? Commit these things to the Lord and continue to walk closely with the God who loves you deeply.
Tomorrow is Commitment Sunday where we will make our 3-year financial commitments to the Lord above and beyond our tithes. We make these commitments as a church, to the Building Walls to Restore Lives capital campaign, believing that God is leading us to sacrifice so that His work in and through Sequoia Community Church will prosper. We give so that lives are restored, and as we give generously and sacrificially God promises to bless us and provide for our needs. Read Phil. 4:18-20, Matt. 6:33, and Luke 6:38. What is God challenging you to sacrifice and give?
After tomorrow there is still much work to do. Like Nehemiah in chapter 7 we need to continue to enlist more leadership, establish a strong membership, and encourage worship, to see the work of God continue. In many ways the adventure has just begun!