Friday, July 28, 2017
Men of the Bible - Nehemiah
His name means: "God Is Consolation"
His work: Nehemiah was a Jew living in Babylon. He and his people had been defeated by the Assyrians and taken as slaves to a foreign land. The Persians had conquered the Assyrians and were now in power. Nehemiah served Artaxerxes, the king of Persia, as his personal adviser and escort, or cupbearer. Surrounded by the opulence of a palace, Nehemiah had an eye for building and construction.
His character: Nehemiah was a tenderhearted man who loved God's people. He honored the living God and was also a man of courage and vision. His Sorrow: Living as an exile deeply troubled Nehemiah. He longed for "home" even though he had never lived there.
His triumph: Unlike his forefathers who had been defeated by the size of the task, Nehemiah's dream was to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem.
Key Scriptures: Nehemiah 1-4
A Look at the Man
It's hard to imagine living your life in captivity. Rights that free men take for granted—where to live, where to work, where to go—may be denied someone living in exile. This was the lot of Nehemiah. His beloved nation had been conquered, his people driven to a foreign land where they lived as captives. But Nehemiah was not going to let external circumstances control his character. Instead, he resolved to live with integrity and in reverence before God, regardless of his locale.
Nehemiah had a dream that would not be denied by his circumstances. Like so many of the "ordinary" men of the Bible, Nehemiah believed that God was with him and would call him someday to a great task.
One day that mission presented itself to Nehemiah in the form of a fellow Hebrew named Hanani. The man reported to Nehemiah that the wall surrounding Jerusalem lay in ruin. Many years before, conquering nations had decimated it, tearing the stones to the ground and burning the great wooden gates.
In his mind, lying in bed at night, Nehemiah could see the walls of Jerusalem shining in the noonday sun, standing strong as a testament to God's presence therein. A skeptic could have argued that the odds were stacked against him, and everything told him it was impossible. How will you quit your job? The king will never let you go. How will you get back to Jerusalem? The journey is long and dangerous. Who will pay for this project? The cost in human labor and materials is well beyond your reach. You're a slave, Nehemiah. You're hundreds of miles from home, Nehemiah. You don't have a shekel to your name, Nehemiah.
But Nehemiah was not to be denied. The story of his successful campaign—the fulfillment of his dream—is the stuff of folklore and legend.
Ironically, as the story of the rebuilding of the wall unfolded, Nehemiah's greatest foes were not those tactical challenges—travel, safety, funding—but the emotional ones. Nehemiah and those who were working with him were forced to face the greatest test of all—discouragement.
In his sovereignty, God allowed two men, Sanballat and Tobiah, to attempt to interfere with Nehemiah's work. At first their taunts were verbal: "What are those feeble Jews doing? If even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones." But when their words didn't stop the men's efforts, their mocking words turned to threats of sabotage.
So Nehemiah stationed half of the workers as sentries with swords, spears, and bows to guard the walls. The rest of the workers—even those who were carrying the building materials—kept their weapons close by. Because of his steadfastness and confidence in God, these attempts to thwart Nehemiah's dream were crushed. And he knew where his protection was coming from. "Our God will fight for us," he told the people.
Reflect On: Nehemiah 6:15–16
Praise God: For empowering his faithful servants to do great things.
Offer Thanks: For granting us minds to dream and courage to tackle those dreams.
Confess: The temptation to take a dream that only serves our purposes and ask God to bless it, rather than to listen first to his voice.
Ask God: To give you joy in your work—to see it as the place where God wants you to be to accomplish his purposes.
Today's reading is a brief excerpt from Men of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Men in Scripture by Ann Spangler and Robert Wolgemuth (Zondervan). © 2010 by Ann Spangler. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Enjoy the complete book by purchasing your own copy at the Bible Gateway Store. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media. Coming this fall: watch for Wicked Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler.