Nehemiah 1-13 - The Bible from 30,000 Feet - Skip Heitzig - Flight NEH01
The Bible from 30,000 Feet, soaring through the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Turn in your Bibles to the book of Nehemiah. Let's get ready in the book of Nehemiah. Tonight, as we look out the plane in our 30,000-foot view, we are seeing migrations from Persia to Jerusalem, three of them if we consider last week and this week together, three movements of Jews from Babylon-- actually now from Persia since the Medo-Persians have taken over the world-- three of those migrations of about 50,000 people total going from Medo-Persia about 900 miles to Jerusalem.
The first group that came back came under the leader named Zerubbabel. Remember him last time? I'm saying his name slowly because it's not a name that you're going to be familiar with unless you read some of these portions of the Old Testament, like Ezra or like some of the minor prophets. So Zerubbabel brings the first group back. Ezra brings the second group back. And now the third group coming back from Medo-Persia to Jerusalem comes under the leadership of a guy named Nehemiah.
Now, some of us identify with Old Testament characters. There's probably one or two that you love, and you go, man, I identify with that one-- maybe Joseph. Maybe like Joseph, your brothers didn't like you. And yet the Lord has just arranged your life in such a way that He just showed you favor anyway.
Or others, if you relate to Daniel, standing up against a world, a sea of unbelievers. And you just really love the faithfulness of Daniel. You relate to him. Many love David and relate to David, those psalms. Maybe he's more of the emotional type in some of those psalms, and you relate to him.
But probably very few of you say, Nehemiah, he's my favorite. I identify with him. Maybe you do. I think if my dad had been a student of Old Testament Scripture more than he was, he probably would have known Nehemiah and said, I relate to him, because my dad was a builder. He loved to take land, subdivide it, sell it off, develop it, sell houses on it. He saw potential.
Nehemiah was such a man. He goes from cupbearer to construction builder. He is a cupbearer for a king in Persia. And he becomes a construction builder for the kingdom of Judah in Jerusalem, bringing back a group of people. He is a contemporary with Ezra, though Ezra was probably older than he was.
And it takes Nehemiah a total of 52 days along with the people in Jerusalem to finish building the protective wall around the city of Jerusalem at the time. One of the key verses is Nehemiah chapter 6. And, yes, I am reading ahead. But after all, this is a 30,000-foot view.
In chapter 6 of Nehemiah, verse 15, "So the wall was finished on the 25th day of the month of Elul in 52 days." Now, we're going to see what he has done in the meantime in those 52 days and how those walls were built. Rebuilding something that is busted up, that is ruined is a daunting task. And it takes not just one but several people with a common desire and a common plan to see it through.
I remember when I had the privilege several years ago after the Towers fell in New York City after 9/11, September 11, 2001. I had a privilege of spending about 20, 22 days working at Ground Zero along with the workers there in New York City. I was credentialed with the Red Cross. I became an FBI chaplain. And so we had access down to Ground Zero.
And I just remember every worker every day looking at that gigantic mess, that hole, those Towers that had collapsed, and trying to get parts of bodies out, people out, identify who they were, and just that whole part of Manhattan so utterly devastated, destroyed, everything affected, and the sense of despair at the thought of not only the loss but the prospect of rebuilding such huge buildings.
Now you go there today, and it's a complete makeover, completely different. But in those days, a daunting task. Nehemiah, as we call him, his Hebrew pronunciation is Neh-ha-me-ah. And Neh-ha-me-ah means "Yahweh comforts" or "God is my comforter." And he becomes a comforter to those people living in Jerusalem as he comes back now to build the wall. The temple has been built by Ezra and his gang. But now that protective wall needs to be built.
Nehemiah was born in captivity, meaning he had never seen Jerusalem before. Keep that in mind as we get into chapter 1. A couple of verses are insightful into his character, having never seen Jerusalem, born in captivity, raised in captivity. He had never known freedom until a certain request that he makes to the king that he serves.
Now I'm going to sum up the book for you in three words. I always give you an outline when we do a 30,000-foot view like this. But I'm going to give you three words that sum up the whole book of Nehemiah-- rebuilding, reviving, resettling. Those three words sum up the entire portion of the book of the Bible called Nehemiah-- rebuilding, reviving, resettling.
The first seven chapters are about rebuilding a city's protection. Nehemiah is all about securing the wall, getting the gaps in the wall secure, finished, the gates hung so that the city is protected. So rebuilding a city's protection, that's chapters 1 through 7.
Second word, reviving. Chapters 8 through 10 are about reviving a city's passion, their passion for God, their worship of God, and their obedience to the word of God. The third section is resettling. They are resettling the city's population. They have to move some people around, as you'll see in chapters 11 through 13.
Let's begin, then, with the first, rebuilding. The book of Nehemiah opens up not in Jerusalem but in the kingdom of Persia. And in this chapter and in the first few chapters, Nehemiah discovers, Nehemiah weeps, Nehemiah prays, Nehemiah travels, Nehemiah builds. That is the activity that you will see.
Chapter 1, verse 1-- "The words of Nehemiah, the son of Hakaliah-- it came to pass in the month of Chislev"-- that's the late autumn, late November, early December-- "in the 20th year that I was in Shushan the citadel."
Now, you know that Babylon had once been in control of the world, right? You know that. You know that the Medo-Persian Empire took over from Babylon. You know that. So the leadership of the Persian Empire was always in one of three places. I mentioned one of them last time. I just want to reiterate this.
In the winter months, they would rule from Babylon, which was the center of the Babylonian Empire at one time but now taken over by the Medes and the Persians. But Babylon, the city of Babylon, is a great place to spend the winter. Think of Palm Springs or Phoenix. Great place to be in the winter, not so great to be in the summer.
So they would be in Babylon in the winter. In the springtime of the year or the cooler months of the year as it's just starting to cool down, they would move to Shushan or Susa, the city of Susa. And then in the summer months when it got hot, they moved into the mountain range in a place called Ecbatana.
And Ecbatana is where the royal records were kept, the archives of the kingdom. You want to find out who reigned when and what edict was given at what time, you have to look in Ecbatana. So we are in that part of the year where they're still in Shushan the citadel.
So Nehemiah says, I was in Shushan or the city of Susa in the palace, the citadel. "Then Hanani, one of my brethren, came with men from Judah. And I ask them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, concerning Jerusalem."
So he sees a guy that he knows has gone to Jerusalem and come back. And so he's just shooting the breeze. Hey, tell me what's happened since they've gone back to Jerusalem. I know that a bunch of them, 50,000 almost, went. So how's that going?
But this is what he hears. Verse 3-- "He said to me, 'The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.'"
At hearing this, Nehemiah's ears perked up like a doberman pincher because he knows what that means. You may have a temple built. Yes, they did. You may have worship occurring. Yes, it was. But if you have no wall, you have no protection. And the gates are burned with fire still? The destruction of the Babylonian captivity are still there? That's all they've done is build the temple? The walls are not intact?
So he knows what that means. In verse 4, "So it was when I heard these words that I sat down and wept." Very interesting insight into the kind of man he was-- emotionally moved, couldn't hold back the tears, had never been to Jerusalem, was just getting information about what's going on in Jerusalem. He falls down. "I sat down and I wept and mourned"-- not for a moment, not for the rest of the day-- but "for many days. I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven."
In his prayer-- we don't have time to go through all of this chapter, all of this book. But he prays. He confesses the sins of the nation in the plural pronoun "we." So he identifies himself with their sin. Down in verse 11, "O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name. And let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer."
Who is the king? The king is a guy by the name of Artaxerxes, full name Artaxerxes Longimanus. Very interesting person. He happened to be the stepson of somebody you know named Queen Esther. Queen Esther had been married to Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus was this guy's father. Ahasuerus is off the scene. So now Artaxerxes is king.
He says, "I was the king's cupbearer." There was probably no more position closer to the king except for his wife than being the cupbearer. It was a very trusted position. The cupbearer meant that you would taste the king's food and taste the king's wine before it ever got to the king. So if somebody poisoned the food or the wine, long live the king. But you better look for another cupbearer. That's how close Nehemiah was to the king.
Now, according to ancient protocol, to be a cupbearer of the king of Persia, you had to be cultured. You had to be knowledgeable in law. You had to be conversant in politics. And you had to be handsome. You had to have all those things working for you. You had to be a man of high integrity, good-looking guy, a knowledgeable person, intelligent person.
And so he hears. He prays. He weeps. He prays, asks God for the next step. It's been said that big doors swing on small hinges. And now you're going to see how God uses a simple conversation that Nehemiah will have with the king that he serves.
But I find it interesting that Nehemiah, in hearing what's going on in Jerusalem, sits down and he weeps. He's never been to Jerusalem. But his heart-- though he lives in Persia, his heart is in Jerusalem, as is the heart of every true Jewish person. It's amazing the connection that the Jewish people have for Jerusalem.
In fact, some of you who aren't even Jewish, but you've been with us to Israel-- when you pull into Jerusalem and you see it for the first time, so many people on our tour buses just break out and start weeping. It's like this connection that goes. But for the Jew, it's so much deeper. You know the psalm that says, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning. May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget Zion as my chief joy."
So Nehemiah, feeling that pull, feeling that tug-- if it helps, think of it this way. He sat down and wept. He knelt down and prayed. And then he stood up and worked. That follows his life as we see it in this book.
Chapter 2-- notice how innocuously it opens. It's sort of a bland opening of chapter 2. It says, "And it came to pass in the month of Nissan in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes." Yeah, see, that doesn't move you. But now listen to it in the Living Bible. "One day in April, four months later."
Here's why I'm giving it to you in the Living Bible. Nehemiah prayed fervently, but it's been four months before he sees any answer to prayer. Now, he's weeping, man. He's fervent. He is so intense in his prayer. It's not, "O Lord, bless this food in Jesus." It's just-- it's intense, man. And you read his prayer, and you see the intensity. And you think, man, this prayer's got to be answered tomorrow or at least in a week.
But weeks go by. Months go by. But one day in April, God answers this prayer. Take heart when your fervent, effective prayers-- the Bible says they avail much but don't get answered the next day or the next moment. Don't walk away and say, I prayed about it. It never happened. Keep at it.
He mourned for many days. He fasted. He prayed. But four months later, God's about to answer it. So verse 1, "It came to pass in the month of Nissan in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes when the wine was before him that I took the wine and gave it to the king." So he tried it first, didn't drop dead, gave it to the King.
"Now I had never been sad in his presence before." What a statement. I never was bummed out. I smiled all the time. You'll find out why in a moment. "Therefore, the king said to me, 'Why is your face sad?'" Why art thou so bummed out?
"'Since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.' So I became dreadfully afraid and said to the King, 'May the king live forever.'" He's worried. May the king live forever. I might not live past the end of the day, but may the king live forever. "'Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste and its gates are burned with fire?'"
Servants in the Persian court were always expected to put on a happy-- a professional face. You're in the workplace. People come in. You can't wear your heart on your sleeve, before the king of Persia especially and just, man, I'm sort of bummed out. I just got to really be authentic with you, king. No, none of that. Your head will be lifted off your shoulders.
So the idea was the king has to be protected from sadness. So you would act merry, put on the best face. Verse 4, "The king said to me, 'what do you request?'" Wow, what a setup. Talk about teeing up the ball.
So what is it you want? So he's praying. He's sad. Four months go by. The king goes, what do you want? What a great moment this is. What do you request? "So I prayed to the God of heaven."
Since you have your Bible open, turn with me to Proverbs chapter 21. A verse I mentioned last week, I want you to look at it with your own eyes this week-- chapter 21 of Proverbs, verse 1. "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord. Like the rivers of water, He turns it wherever He wishes."
It's a great verse. I hope you know it. I hope you mark it. I hope you memorize it. The king's heart is in the Lord's hand. He can turn that heart. He can make things happen. He can deal with your boss, the people who are hassling you, troubling you. Are you having trouble with somebody? Then take their name and write it just in verse 1, chapter 21 above where it says the king's heart.
Your boss's heart is in the hand of the Lord. Your husband's heart is in the hand of the Lord. That creepy dude who cut you off on the way to church tonight is in the hand of the Lord. The person who stole your car, cussed you out is in the hand of the Lord. So the king says, what do you want? And then it says, "So I prayed." How do you think he prayed?
Silently, quickly. The king done ask you question, and he gets on his knees and goes, "Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." That wouldn't work before the king. And you can't take too much time because the king would get suspicious. So it's what I call a popcorn prayer.
So I prayed, God help me right now in Jesus' name. Of course, he wouldn't praying in Jesus' name at that time. But he just shot up a quick one, shot it up to heaven. "I prayed to the God of heaven." Verse 5-- "I said to the king, 'If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me.'" He's a trusted person in the king's court.
But he's saying, relieve me of my duty and "'send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it.'" Now, that's a heart because he's got it made. He's in the palace. He gets the best food, the best wine, the best position, the best comfort, closest to the king. He's asking to go to the city whose gates are burned with fire. No protection. He says, "Send me."
So he's bold with his request. The king notices he's sad. He prays. He stands up, and he's respectful but bold. Here's the principle. When you kneel before the King in heaven, you can stand before any king on Earth.
He stands up, and he says, I'll tell you what I want. I want you to send me to Judah, to the place of my ancestry, that I may get involved in the work. Verse 11-- "So I came to Jerusalem. I was there three days." Now Ezra had already been there 14 years by the time Nehemiah comes to the city. I'm sure they were glad to see each other.
But look at verse 12. "Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I told no one what my God put in my heart to do at Jerusalem." Now, he will tell them. But at first, he tells no one. It's just in his heart. He's wrestling with it. He's trying to figure out a game plan.
"Nor was there any animal with me except the one in which I rode." So he goes out to survey the walls at night, I imagine, under a full moon. He's with his donkey, goes out just to survey and assess the need, to inspect the wall. He did not immediately go into action.
Now, again, I see lots of principles in this book. Don't have time to go through all of them. But this is an important one. He didn't hit the ground in Jerusalem and go, "I'm here. Let's get to work right now. I heard about this place. Yeah, you built a temple, but the walls are busted up. The gates are still burnt. Come on."
He first kept it inside, no doubt praying as he went, praying as he surveyed, trying to get a plan going first before he started working. One of my favorite AW Tozer quotes goes like this. "Aimless activity is beneath the worth and dignity of a human being. The great weight of exhortation these days is in the direction of zeal and activity. 'Let's get going' is the favorite watchword for Gospel workers with the result that everyone feels ashamed to sit down and think."
Nehemiah has to go around the walls and think first before he speaks, before they work. He just wants to take it all in and think before the zeal, before the activity. After this, he rallies the people. They're all on board. Let's build. Let's do it.
Now, it's a great plan. It's under the providence of God. It's under the favor of the king. Therefore, expect opposition. Please remember this principle. If you think, I'm in God's will and therefore everything's just going to flow smoothly, you will be shocked a lot. In fact, many of you, if that is your attitude, will stop working for the Lord.
Verse 19-- "But"-- uh-oh. "But." That means that's not a good sign if everything's good, they're going to build-- "but." "But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official"-- those are sworn enemies of the Jews-- "and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they laughed at us and despised us and said, 'What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the King?'"
Well, of course not. They're not rebelling against the king. They're responding to the king. The king said go. Nehemiah asked permission. The king gave him permission. But they're all acting all haughty and cool, and we represent the king. They had no clue.
"So I answered them and said to them, 'The God of heaven Himself'"-- interesting response. Nehemiah didn't put his chest out and go, let me tell you something about the king. I was his cupbearer, dude. I was as close to the king as you could get. He gave me permission. He didn't even bring the king's name up.
He says, "The God of heaven Himself." He appeals to the King of kings. "The God of heaven Himself will prosper us. Therefore, we His servants will arise and build. But you have no heritage or right or memorial in Jerusalem." So now the plot thickens.
He comes to Jerusalem after hearing the report. He starts in motion the idea of rebuilding the protective walls. And as soon as he does, the enemies come. And you're going to read about these enemies all through the book to the very end. Ever heard of Murphy's law?
You've heard about it, right?
Do you know who came up with it? Do you know what it is? Tell me. What is Murphy's law?
If anything can go wrong--
That's it. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. It started on an American Air Force Base in California, Edwards Air Force Base, started by a guy named Murphy. They were doing a bunch of tests. I won't get into the minutia. But he came up with this idea, and it became kind of coined as Murphy's law.
So you know that. But there's another law you need to know about. It's called Lucifer's law. And Lucifer's law is this. Whatever God loves, Satan hates. So if you attach yourself to what God loves, and if Satan hates that, you can expect some opposition. If you do right, if you live righteously, expect to be attacked.
I believe that if Nehemiah would have gone to anywhere else in the Persian Empire to build a city, he would not have gotten the kind of blowback that he got here. And whenever you undertake any work for God, expect to get a bullseye put on your back. You're a target. Get prepared to pay the price.
Think of David, a simple shepherd enjoying the stars, enjoying his sheep, enjoying life until the day Samuel the prophet said, you're the next king. Then for a decade of his life, the king of Israel tried to kill him, tried to put a spear through him, tried to eliminate that one who would be that messianic fulfillment of the promise of the Messiah.
So just a friendly caution. Satan would love nothing more than to take the wind out of your sails. Don't let him. Don't let him. Know it's coming. Don't let it happen. Let's see what happens. Chapter 3, they build. Jerusalem gets an extreme makeover. In 52 days, they take a pile of rubble, they build up those walls, surrounded by enemies, and they finish it.
Now, if you go to Jerusalem today and we show you some of the piles of stones and some of the rubble, you'll get all excited. Wow. Look at that pile of rubble. That's so cool. Man, that was part of that building and that time, and it's in the Bible.
But a pile of rubble to people in Nehemiah's day wasn't, wow, what a cool tour we're on. It's like, what an enormous job we have to do. It brought despair to them, not joy, not encouragement because those rocks should be up on a wall to protect them.
So they go to building. And the chapter begins by showing them building the northern wall of Jerusalem. I'm going to give you relative directions now. They start on the northern wall, work their way to the western side and then the southern side, then the east side. So they move counterclockwise.
And in chapter 3, there's a phrase that is used 16 times. If you see it, you just might want to circle it a couple times. It's the word "next to" or the phrase "next to." This guy worked next to this guy. This group worked next to this group. This section worked next to that section. They're next to each other. They're working together with, not against, each other.
So the work of building is not one man's job. It's the job of the team. In fact, understand this. 38 individuals are mentioned in chapter 3, and 42 different groups are mentioned in chapter 3. They're identified. Nehemiah's name isn't mentioned once in chapter 3. It's this group and that group and this person and that person. And they all work together. Yes, Nehemiah is there. But he is not mentioned.
That's how the church works. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12, "The body is not one member but many members." Moses learned that. His father-in-law Jethro-- not Bodine but Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, the Midianite-- said, Moses, what you're doing is not good. You need help.
Moses had to understand that one person, no matter how gifted, can do the ministry alone. You need a team. You need a group. So it is with the church. The church is not a spectator sport, where I'm going to come to church, and my job in my church-- here's my job in my church. I come to watch.
That's what I do. I come to the feeding trough, and I eat. I come to the gas station, and I get filled up, fill my tank. I get ministered to. Then I live my week. Then I come back. That's a good start. But just to come to the field and sit in the dugout and not get out on the field becomes a problem eventually.
I loved how one coach was asked, what is the definition of football? And he said, here's my definition of football. It's 22 men on the field who desperately need rest and 50,000 people in the grandstands who desperately need exercise.
And isn't it funny? One of those fans or a lot of them-- one of the players on the field does something they don't like, [GRUMBLES] you're a horrible player. Boo. Well, he's just munching his Doritos, gaining weight up there, doing nothing at all. Couldn't make that play to save his life.
But I digress. Chapter 4 is more opposition. I'm going to quickly move through it and then show you opposition of four different kinds, first of all, opposition of ridicule. Verse 1-- "But it so happened when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall that he was furious and very indignant and mocked the Jews or ridiculed them. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria."
So evidently, he's brought an army with him just in case. He wants to be prepared for military action, probably provoke a war. So "he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria and said, 'What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish, stones that are burned?'
Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him and said, 'Whatever they build, if a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.'" Wow. That's ridicule. What does Nehemiah do? What's his response? Does he go out there, let me tell you guys something?
Look at his response. Verse 4-- "Hear, O God." See, here's a man who knew. When I'm touched with a need and I fall on my knees and pray, it might be four months before I see the answer. But that prayer worked. So he saw in his own life the evidence of answered prayer. So immediately, he hears the ridicule. He prays.
"Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their reproach on their own heads"-- kind of a mafia prayer-- "and give them as plunder into a land of captivity." I pray, Lord, that you bring a nation to take them captive. Wow.
Verse 6-- "So we built the wall. And the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work." I love that. It's one of my favorite verses in this, my favorite book of the Bible this week.
Nehemiah. "The people had a mind to work." Not a mind a watch. Not a mind to mock. Not a mind to gossip. Not a mind to disrupt. But a mind to work. That's good. But the opposition won't stop. The opposition, we've already seen, comes, and it will continue. And that's important just to make note of. When you attempt anything for God, get used to it. You'll have opposition.
Listen to these verses. 1 Timothy chapter 6, verse 12-- "Fight the good fight of faith. Lay hold of eternal life." Why would Paul have to write about the Christian life like it's a fight? Because it is. 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 3-- "You must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
We're in a battle together, not a playground, a battleground. 2 Timothy chapter 4-- "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." So that's the first opposition, the opposition of ridicule.
Second is the opposition of discouragement. Chapter 4, verse 10-- "Then Judah said"-- not the person of Judah. He's long gone. The tribe of Judah, the people in Jerusalem. "Then Judah," these people, "said, 'The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.'"
Why do they call it rubbish? Because in verse 2, the enemies called it rubbish. In verse 2, the enemy said, will they revive the stones from the heap of rubbish? They heard the enemy say that. Now they're believing the spin. You just say something over and over and over again, and people start-- that's where their mind goes.
So what was once rocks to them is now rubbish to them. These stones, these precious rocks that are part of God's wall to protect the city, it's just rubbish. They're pretty low in their spirits. That's the opposition of discouragement.
So Nehemiah responds to this. Verse 14-- "And I looked and arose and said to the nobles, to the leaders, to the rest of the people, 'Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses.'
And it happened when our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work." So Nehemiah responded to this by encouraging those who were discouraged in building.
Chapter 5, we have a third kind of opposition. Let's call this opposition by greed or selfishness. What's going on is this. There's a famine. Things aren't growing very well. Crops aren't growing very well. And the leaders unfortunately are raising the taxes, hurting the people by high taxes.
So you got a famine. You've got high taxes. Then people are lending money with a high interest rate, an exorbitant interest rate. That's called usury. Look down in verse 7. Nehemiah gets mad about this. "After serious thought, I rebuked the nobles and the rulers and said to them, 'Each of you is exacting usury from his brother.'
So I called a great assembly against them. And I said to them, 'According to our ability, we have redeemed our Jewish brethren who were sold to the nations. Now indeed, will you even sell your brethren? Or should they be sold to us?' Then they were silenced and found nothing to say."
You get his logic. We just came out of captivity, man. We were sold to another nation. We came back from that captivity. You're taking them captive again by the way you are lending to them, making them in bondage once again.
Now, in chapter 6, we have another form of opposition. I'm going to call it opposition by distraction. The enemies come, verse 2, and they say to Nehemiah, "'Come let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.' But they thought to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, 'Oh, no.
I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.'" I love this, too. This is another one of my favorite verses in the book. I'm busy doing God's work. I don't have time for the lightweight stuff. I don't have time. "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?" It's a great answer.
I was reading an article the last couple of days. I get these articles sent to me, and I think the article was like "13 Habits of Insanely Successful People." And one of the quotes was from Warren Buffett, who said, the difference between a successful person and a very successful person is a very successful person says no most of the time.
He is so or she is so narrowed down the focus. So this is what I'm good at. This is what I'm called to. I'm not going to do that other stuff. That's important stuff. It's urgent stuff. But it's not important to me right now. This is what I'm going to do and get others to do it, but I won't do it. I'm not coming down.
Well, that didn't go very well with the enemies. They did this. They requested to meet with him four different times after this. When you're opposed by people, you're going to have to learn how to turn off those voices who clamor for attention and just plow right through their intimidation, the intimidation of the critic. Just keep going. Keep plowing.
Finally, chapter 6, verse 15, I read it to you a moment ago. "So the wall was finished"--
Yeah-- "on the 25th day of Elul"-- that's October-- "in 52 days." This is one of the key verses of the book. "And it happened when all our enemies heard of it and all the nations around us saw these things that they were very disheartened in their own eyes." It's about time. "For they perceive that this work was done by our God."
Now, in chapter 7, there's a list. There's a lot of names in it-- leaders, citizens, those who returned from Persia to Jerusalem, and were a lot of different portions of land. Now let's begin in chapter 8 where we come to the second section, right? We said that you can divide the book into the three words-- rebuilding, and now the second word, and that is reviving, reviving a city's passion, chapters 8 through 10.
Now I mentioned a couple verses that are some of my favorite verses, right, in the book. This is my favorite chapter. Truly is, to me, the highlight of the book. I'm calling chapter 8 the Water Gate Revival.
Now, when I say Water Gate, some of you were around in 1974, was it? Was that when Watergate happened in Washington under President Nixon? That was a scandal that occurred. This is another Water Gate that was a place in Jerusalem called the Water Gate, one of the gates in the wall of the city by the Gihon Spring facing the Kidron Valley.
So chapter 8 is where they get together and they consecrate. After construction comes consecration. Now, Ezra, remember him last week? I mentioned Ezra is in Jerusalem when Nehemiah comes. Ezra now enters the scene. He has been there as a spiritual leader. Now he comes on the scene.
Verse 1, chapter 8-- "Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square, the large patio that was in front of the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Bible, bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel.
So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month." That's Rosh Hashanah. That's the Jewish new year. And the seventh month has all those great feasts like the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Trumpets, the Feast of Yom Kippur. So it is that month.
Verse 3-- "Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday." He read the Book of the Law, the Bible. He's reading Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy half a day. That's a long sermon. It's a long reading.
"He read it from morning till midday before the men and the women and all who could understand, and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law." I'm guessing like six hours. This is a spiritual appetite. Man, if you've been deprived of Bible study for a long time, it's like they're salivating as he's reading Leviticus.
Verse 4-- "So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood." The Old King James says a pulpit of wood. Verse 5-- "And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people. And when he opened it, all the people stood up." Verse 6-- "Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, 'Amen! Amen!' So it's OK for you to do that.
If you like a truth, if you like a truth when you hear it, shout it out.
Amen. Get vocal. I'm good with that.
You know what it means, right? So be it. Let it be. I agree with that. So they shouted, "'Amen! Amen!' while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground." Verse 8-- "So they read distinctly from the book in the Law of God and gave the sense or the meaning and helped them to understand the reading."
This is expository preaching. This is where you take a text of Scripture, drill down, explain the meaning of the text of the Scripture. And it's not just my favorite topic or a little exhortation here and there. It's Bible study and Bible teaching, and it's expositional. The people had an appetite for that. Ezra gave it to them.
"And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and the scribe, all the Levites who taught the people said to the people, 'This day is holy to the Lord, your God. Do not mourn nor weep.' For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law.
And then he said to them, 'Go your way. Eat the fat. Drink the sweet. Send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.'"
It's great that they were convicted. There is a time for that. But the leaders knew today, yeah, I know you're listening to this, and it's gripping your heart and convicting you of the sin you and your forefathers have committed. But today's a day of joy, a day of consecration.
So Ezra unrolls the scroll. As he unrolls the scroll or opens the book, as says here, people stood up. By the way, that is a practice that still goes on in the synagogue. When you open the Word of God, people stand. In many churches, there's a reading at the beginning of the service. Many Protestant churches reopen the Bible for like a Psalm. The people stand up and maybe read the section and then sit down.
So here's what I want to say before we move on to finish the book. There has never been revival, genuine revival without people returning to the Word of God. Look at it in church history.
The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century was a Catholic priest who rebelled against all of the traditions of the church and said, we don't even know what the Bible says in this church. We need to find-- go back to the Bible. And he taught through the Scriptures. And it was revival based upon the reading of and the exposition of Scripture.
First Great Awakening in the United States, Second Great Awakening in the United States-- first in England and the United States, second and third in the United States-- based on the Scripture from Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, et cetera. A return back to the Bible. Let's get back to the Bible. Let's read the Bible again. That is what brings revival.
A man was in India, and he heard a leader talk about revival happening in India. But the particular Indian dialect that he was speaking, he put it this way. (INDIAN ACCENT) We are having a great re-Bible.
I like that, a re-Bible. You bring the Bible in again, and the re-Bible brings the revival.
So here, they go back to the Word. Ezra gives exposition. Well, by the 24th day of that month-- days have gone by. It's now day number 24 of the seventh month. Not the first day, not the 10th day. It's the 24th day. You think people will be over it by now. They're not over it by now. They're still sensitive. They regather. They're still bothered by the great sin of the past and even the present.
Chapter 9, verse 1-- "On the 24th day of this month, the children of Israel were assembled with fasting in sackcloth"-- that's a sign of mourning-- "with dust on their heads," a sign of distress. "All those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners. And they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their father."
"And they stood"-- verse 3-- "in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord, their God, for one-fourth of the day." There it is again, this long Bible study. "And for another fourth, they confessed and worshipped the Lord, their God." It wasn't like 40 minutes go by, and they look at their sundials, make sure-- why is Ezra going so long?
Fourth of the day. Three hours they stood as the Scripture was read. Three hours they confess their sin and they pray and they worship. Then in chapter 9, Ezra prays, a very long prayer, the longest prayer recorded in the Bible. I commend it to you. We don't have time to look at it. But verse 6 through verse 38 is his lengthy prayer.
Why a long prayer? Not to impress people but to express to God his heartfelt conviction, sorrow, and worship. And what's great about this prayer is the prayer reflects what Ezra has just read in the Law of the Lord. There are nuances of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy in the prayer.
There are also hints of Joshua and Judges and Kings and Chronicles in the prayer. So it's based upon what has been read and understood by the people. It reminds me of Jeremiah chapter 15, verse 16. It was a verse that I was reading to some of our worship team before the service.
Jeremiah said, "Your words were found, and I ate them. And they were to me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart." I love it when people have such a hunger for the word of God. It's like, oh, a meal. Read more. Do more. Speak more. "Your words were found. I ate them. They were to me the joy and the rejoicing of my heart."
I honestly-- not this church. This is a Bible church. I've been in some churches in my travels where when I opened the Bible, mine is the only Bible open. It's sad, isn't it? Mine was the only Bible open. It was more of a pep talk. It wasn't a Bible study. It was more of a rally. I could get that anywhere. I could go to an Elks Club and get that.
Preacher, give me a Bible verse. Tell me thus sayeth the Lord. Ezra did. He brought revival. Chapter 10, there are 84 names, many of them difficult. I do not commend exhaustive reading of it, though you should at least read through it at least once in your life.
It's a chapter that begins with the name of Nehemiah. It includes the names of priests, Levites leaders, those who were touched by, affected by Ezra's sermon, his public reading of the Law. And they are listed because they commit to obey.
Chapter 10, verse 29-- "These joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law, which was given by Moses, the servant of God." I commend to you to read Deuteronomy 28, Deuteronomy 29. You'll get a flavor of that curse and that oath.
And it says, it continues, "--to observe and to do all of the commandments of the Lord, our God, and His ordinances and His statutes." So after the rebuilding, after the reviving comes the third phase, and that is resettling a city's population. That's chapters 11 through 13.
Now we have a massive relocation program. Here's what I mean. There's a problem. They build this great city. There's a temple in it. There's walls around it. And there's gates hung. Here's the problem. Nobody's living inside of it.
There are more people living outside of the city than inside. So let's build a cool town, but nobody wants to live in. Nehemiah sees this as a problem. So he gets the outlying districts, the towns surrounding Jerusalem where people are living, to tithe people, to tithe people literally.
Verse 1, chapter 11-- "Now the leaders of the people dwell at Jerusalem." "Now the leaders of the people dwelt at Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring 1 out of 10"-- that's a tithe-- "to dwell in Jerusalem, the holy city, and nine-tenths were to dwell in other cities."
Chapter 11 lists those cities inside and outside-- or the families who are inside the city and outside. Chapter 12 lists the priests as well as the Levites who returned from the captivity. Now the best part, the closing part. Now comes the shindig. Now comes the hoedown, the hootenanny, the party.
It's time to party in Jerusalem. It's dedication day. And the emphasis is on joyful praise. In this section, singing is mentioned eight times, thanksgiving mentioned six times, rejoicing mentioned seven times, musical instruments three times.
Chapter 12, verse 27-- "Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, they sought out the Levites in all their palaces to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgiving and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps."
Verse 31-- "So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs. One went to the right on the wall toward the Refuse Gate." Go down to verse 38. "The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall."
Next time we're in Jerusalem together, remind me of this verse. I want to show you the wall that Nehemiah built. It's still there. They, the archaeologists, have found a section of wall that extends throughout the Jewish quarter.
But they have exposed just a small part of what they have actually discovered underneath-- but this small portion of this thick, huge, broad wall built by Nehemiah. You can see, touch the Broad Wall that Nehemiah built. So remind me next time we're there.
Verse 43-- "Also that day, they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy. The women, the children also rejoice, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off." Notice how that's phrased. Not the singing was heard. The joy was heard. It was a palpable sense of joy. How do you sing when you come to church? Well, I don't.
But I'm really good at folding my arms and sitting like a bump on the log and listening to others sing. Well, shame on you, man. Get into it. Get into it. Make a joyful noise. Sing. You've heard me preach on this a lot of times.
Let people hear the joy down at Starbucks, down at the corner, across the street. Just a quick note-- praise is almost always linked to music in Scripture. You'll read that. You'll see that. Both instrumental and vocal worship together.
Martin Luther said a lot of great things. One of my favorite is, "Next to theology, I give to music the highest place of honor." And he called music the handmaiden of theology second only to theology. He also said this. It's my favorite quote, perhaps, he's ever said. Well, not my favorite.
But he said, "How does it happen that in the secular field, there are so many fine poems and so many beautiful songs, while in the religious field we have such rotten, lifeless stuff?"
And then he said, "If any man despise his music, as all fanatics do, for him, I have no liking, for music is a gift and grace of God, not an invention of man. Thus it drives out the devil and makes people cheerful. Then one forgets all wrath and impurity and other devices," close quote.
OK, walls are finished. Book is finished almost. You might think, they built the walls. They lived happily ever after. Is that what happens? They live happily ever after?
Did they? They did not. Building a new structure never guarantees a new heart. They built a cool temple, and they built walls. Yet chapter 13, we're not going to look at it, just going to mention it. Chapter 13, last chapter, there are three problems.
Problem number one, people are not supporting the Levites financially. Problem number two, people are breaking the Sabbath, carrying burdens on the Sabbath day. Problem number four, they're marrying foreigners. So Nehemiah deals head on with them.
And every time he deals with a problem, he closes out the resolution with the phrase, "Remember me, O God. Remember me, O God. Remember me, O God." Verse 14, verse 22, verse 31-- "Remember me, O God." I'm going to deal with the problem, but remember me, O God. I'm going to deal with this problem. Help, God. I need your strength. Remember me. I'm doing this to honor your name.
That is the book of Nehemiah. Let's pray. Father, thank You for this book. Rebuild our hearts. Rebuild the walls, Lord of protection. I know that we put up walls sometimes, and we talk about that in a negative sense, that we wall people out that we should let in. But we should keep out certain things.
And there are enemies who come in, and they don't want us to shore up our spiritual defenses. They want us to walk in the world and be of the world and be like the world. I pray, Lord, that we would be in the world but not of it and that strong walls of protection in our hearts, in our minds, in our eyes, our ears would be present. In Jesus' name, amen.
We hope you enjoyed this message from Skip Heitzig of Calvary Church. For more resources, visit CalvaryNM.church. Thank you for joining us for this teaching from The Bible from 30,000 Feet.