INTRODUCTION: Knowing How to Pray
September 10, 2000
I checked my notes and realized that it’s been a year
since I gave you a Bible quiz. Here’s a new test for
you. I’ll give you a hint – all the questions have to do
with the Old Testament.
Who was the greatest comedian in the Bible?
Samson. He brought the house down.
Who was the greatest male financier in the Bible?
Noah. He was floating his stock while everyone else was
Who was the greatest female financier?
Pharaoh’s daughter. She went down to the bank of the
Nile and drew out a little prophet.
Who is the greatest babysitter mentioned in the Bible?
David. He rocked Goliath to a very deep sleep.
Who is the shortest man in the Bible?
This morning we’re kicking off an 11-part series based
on the book of Nehemiah that we’re calling, “A Time to
Build.” Nehemiah is one of the great characters of the
Old Testament, but perhaps not as well known as some
I’d like to give you an assignment at the beginning of
the message today. I’d like you to read a tantalizing
trilogy – begin with the book of Esther, where you will
discover how God first began to move in the midst of
Israel’s captivity by raising up Esther, a young Jewish
maiden, to the throne in Persia. It was her husband who
is Artaxerxes in the opening chapters of Nehemiah. Then,
read the book of Ezra, which in the Hebrew Bible is
linked with the book of Nehemiah as the same book. When
you’re finished with Ezra, then jump into Nehemiah and
read it carefully. Because of the richness of this book,
you will get more out of this series if you do some
homework each week.
I’m excited about what God is going to teach us as we
travel through this book. We’re going to learn things
that will help us personally, we’ll discover principles
that will guide us as we move into a time of building
here at PBC, and we’ll end up understanding a critical
part of Old Testament history.
A History Lesson
Let me briefly set the historical context. In Genesis
12, God called Abram to leave his country and to follow
Him to another land. As Abraham obeyed, his descendents
multiplied. The Israelites were later enslaved in Egypt
for over 400 years until God called them out under the
leadership of Moses.
Eventually they were allowed to enter the land God had
promised them, Canaan. Hundreds of years passed during
which the nation experienced struggles, faithlessness,
and wrestling with God. The high point of Israel’s
history came when David, a godly king, was called to sit
on the throne. For forty years David expanded the nation
in both breadth of influence and knowledge of God.
But things went downhill from there. After his son, King
Solomon died; Israel was split into two kingdoms. The
Northern Kingdom had ten tribes and was referred to as
Israel. The Southern Kingdom had two tribes and was
referred to as Judah. Because of their disobedience, the
Assyrians conquered Israel and the ten tribes were
scattered and became known as the “ten lost tribes of
Even though the
southern tribes saw all this happen, they, too,
continued to rebel against God. In 586 B.C.,
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army captured the
Jews, Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls were knocked
down, and the temple was burned. The people were
deported and were forced into slavery again. Their
history had come full circle. The city was left in
ruins. Here’s a picture of some of the devastation of
Hiroshima after the bomb was dropped. I imagine
Jerusalem looking a lot like this.
It must have been a
traumatic thing for the Jews to see death and
destruction and then be forced to leave their homeland
and travel about 1,000 miles to a foreign country. Many
of God’s prophets predicted that this captivity would
not destroy the nation; it would eventually end and the
people would be allowed to go back home. Daniel
understood this truth when he was reading the book of
God did not forsake His people. He allowed the Persians
to take over the Babylonians and he moved King Cyrus to
make a decree to let some of the Jews return. And in
three stages, over about a hundred years, they were
allowed to migrate back to Jerusalem, only to discover
the city was still demolished and desolate. Living there
was dangerous and difficult and sorrowful.
After the decree of
Cyrus, 50,000 Israelites returned to Judah with
Zerubbabel and began rebuilding the temple.
Unfortunately, they got discouraged and quit. God then
sent them the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to encourage
them to finish the project. Ezra was also sent to help
restore their spiritual fervor.
tells his story in the twentieth year of the reign of
Artaxerxes. By now Persia had replaced Babylon as the
region’s great power, and the Persians ruled with a very
different means of control. The commitment of the
Persians was to resettle captured people in their native
lands. Conquered peoples could act with a degree of
autonomy as long as they supported the state and paid
their taxes. As we start the book of Nehemiah, God is
about to instigate another movement back to the Promised
The book falls into several divisions. The first six
chapters cover the rebuilding of the wall, while
chapters 7 through 10 deal with the renewing of
Jerusalem’s worship with the final chapters addressing
the repopulation and revival of God’s people.
Are you ready to dive in? I can hardly wait! This
morning we’re going to begin exactly where we should
always begin – with an emphasis upon prayer. Someone
asked me this week what I was preaching on. When I told
him that it was on prayer, he said, “Didn’t you just
preach on prayer a couple months ago?” I told him yes
but that we can never get enough of it.
Prayer is one of the overriding themes of the book and
the secret to Nehemiah’s success. The prayer in chapter
one is the first of 12 different prayers recorded in the
book. It begins with prayer in Persia and closes with
prayer in Jerusalem. His prayers are filled with
adoration in chapters 8 and 9; thanksgiving in chapter
12; confession in chapters 1 and 9; petition in chapters
1 and 2. There are prayers of anguish, joy, protection,
dependence and commitment. It’s a story of
compassionate, persistent, personal and corporate
prayer. Prayer gives Nehemiah perspective; it widens his
horizons, sharpens his vision and dwarfs his anxieties.
Nehemiah’s public life was the outflow of his personal
life, which was steeped in, and shaped by, a lifestyle
of prayer. His devotion to God, his dependence on Him
for everything, and his desire for the glory of God
found equal expression. He knew that only ventures that
are begun in prayer and bathed in prayer throughout are
likely to be blessed.
The Process of Prayer
I want to suggest this morning that Nehemiah went
through a process of prayer that has great application
and relevance to us today. Please turn in your Bible to
The first place Nehemiah started was with a concern
about the problem in Neh 1:1-4.
1. CONCERN About the Problem.
We know from Neh 1:11
that Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. His job was
to taste the king’s wine before the king drank it to
make sure it was not poisoned. I jokingly told some of
the people in the parade that I was the cupbearer when I
was sucking down a pop-ice while I was walking! I didn’t
want anyone to get poisoned so I just sampled all 4,000
As cupbearer, Nehemiah had a great job. He had intimate
access to royalty, political standing, and a place to
live in the palace. It was a cushy job that provided
everything he needed. And yet, when one of his brothers
returned from a road trip to Jerusalem, Neh 1:2 says
that Nehemiah “questioned them about the Jewish remnant
that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” The
word, “question” means “to inquire or demand” an answer.
Nehemiah was greatly concerned about what was happening
in Jerusalem. He could have insulated himself if he
chose to, but he didn’t. He sought them out and wanted
to hear the first-hand report.
This is an important starting point. It’s so easy for us
to stay uninvolved and unaware. Some of us don’t want to
even think about stuff that’s going on in our own lives,
much less take the time to investigate what is happening
in the lives of others. Even though Nehemiah had never
been to Jerusalem, he had heard stories about it, and
knew that his ancestors had been led away in chains when
Babylon destroyed it. He was doing what Jeremiah 51:50
instructed the exiles to do: “…Remember the Lord in a
distant land, and think on Jerusalem.”
As he thought on Jerusalem, he listened to the report in
Neh 1:3 that the survivors were in great trouble and
disgrace, that the wall of Jerusalem was in shambles and
that its gates had been burned with fire. As he tried to
imagine the shame in the city of David, he could barely
stand it. The phrase, “great trouble” meant that the
people had “broken down and were falling to pieces.”
Three words summarize the bad news: remnant, ruin, and
Nehemiah was broken over the complacency of the people
of Jerusalem. They were living in ruins and they
accepted it. They were willing to walk around the
devastation instead of being concerned enough to do
something about their situation. Friends, nothing is
ever going to change in your life, in the life of this
church, or for that matter, our nation, until we become
concerned about the problem. Some of you have become
complacent about the way your life is going. You’re
living with rubble and it doesn’t even bother you any
more. Are you ready to allow God to do some rebuilding?
If so, you need to become concerned about the problem by
listening to the facts – even if you don’t want to hear
When he heard this report, he hit the ground and began
to weep in Neh 1:4. The meaning behind this word is that
he “bemoaned and lamented,” much like Jesus did when he
cried out in painful tears when he observed the hard
hearts of those in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). He also
fasted. In the Old Testament, fasting was only required
once a year, but here we see Nehemiah refraining from
food for several days. In fact, we know from comparing
the different dates in this book that he wept, fasted,
and prayed for four months! These are all signs of
humility and show his deep concern for the problem. (See
related discussion on Fasting)
Do you need some rebuilding today? Are your defenses
broken down such that you are allowing some practices
and sins to control your life? Before you can ask God to
rebuild, you must first become concerned about the
2. CONVICTION about God’s Character.
becomes concerned, he next expresses his conviction of
God’s character in Neh 1:5: “O Lord, God of heaven, the
great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant of love
with those who love Him and obey His commands.”
Nehemiah called God “Lord.” He recognized the Lord as
his master – in Neh 1:6, he refers to himself as God’s
servant. He then refers to His Lord as the “God of
Heaven.” He acknowledged that his God was beyond the
earthly realm and above all other gods. He next refers
to Him as “great and awesome.” God deserves to be
honored, revered and feared by all because of who He is.
Finally, Nehemiah describes God as the one who “keeps
His covenant of love.” God is truthful, faithful and can
His boss, the king, was the greatest and mightiest on
earth, but compared to God, Artaxerxes was nothing.
Nehemiah was in Susa and his concern is in far
off-Jerusalem, but both cities – one rich, the other
poor, one strong the other weak, one proud, the other
broken – were like tiny specks of dust under the vast
canopy of God’s heaven. Friends, when we go to God in
prayer, things get put into their proper perspective.
Because of his conviction about God’s character,
Nehemiah knew that God was not only able, but also
willing to respond to his prayer. But he also knew that
he did not deserve to have God treat him favorably.
That’s why the next phase of his prayer is a confession
of sin. Like Job, his encounter with an awesome God
brings him to the place of repentance and confession.
Job writes in 42:5-6: “My ears had heard of you but now
my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and
repent in dust and ashes.”
3. CONFESSION of sin.
concerned about the problem, and expressing his
conviction about God’s character, Nehemiah is now moved
to admit his sin and the sins of his people in Neh
1:6-7: “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to
hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day
and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I
confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my
father’s house, have committed against you. We have
acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the
commands, decrees, and laws you gave your servant
It’s one thing to be concerned and to even have a firm
conviction of who God is. It’s another thing to actually
confess. Many of us never get this far. We might feel
bad about our sins or be concerned about how things are
going. Our theology may even be correct. We know things
are bad and that God is good but we hesitate at this
Nehemiah boldly asks God to hear his prayer, which
literally means, “to hear intelligently with great
attention.” I see at least three key ingredients in his
confession of sin.
Overwhelmed by concern about sin and in awe of God’s
character, Nehemiah gave himself to prolonged petition
and intercession. He prayed day and night, spending
every moment of time in God’s presence. This is very
similar to Psalm 88:1 where we read, “O Lord, the God
who saves me, day and night I cry out before you.”
• Honesty. Nehemiah made no attempt to excuse the
Israelites for their sin and actually owned his part in
their culpability. He surveyed the grim record of
Israel’s past and present failure, and he knew that he
was not exempt from blame. Notice that he prays, “I
confess the sins we Israelites, including myself…we have
acted very wickedly…we have not obeyed…” This is
remarkable to me. It would have been easy for Nehemiah
to look back and blame his ancestors but instead he
looked within and blamed himself. It’s so easy for us to
blame others, isn’t it? We need to learn from Nehemiah
and confess honestly, “Lord, I am wrong. I not only want
to be part of the answer, I confess that I’m part of the
• Urgency. Nehemiah recognized that sin is not
merely a stubborn refusal to obey certain rules, but is
also a defiant act of aggressive personal rebellion
against a holy God. He knows that they “have acted very
wickedly.” He didn’t try to candy-coat his sin. He owned
it and called it what it was.
The story is told
about some Boeing employees who decided to steal a life
raft from one of the 747s they were working on. They
were successful in getting it out of the plant but they
forgot one thing. The raft comes with an emergency
locator that is automatically activated when the raft is
inflated. So, when they took the raft out on the
Stilliguamish River, they were quite surprised by a
Coast Guard helicopter homing in on the emergency
Trying to hide our sins from God is impossible. He knows
all about them. Numbers 32:23 reminds us that, “…you may
be sure that your sin will find you out.” Friends, we
need to recognize that all sin, those things we have
blatantly done or carelessly committed, or those things
that we have left undone, must be identified and then
confessed. Are you trying to hide anything today? It’s
better to confess it now than to wait until your sin
4. CONFIDENCE in God’s Promises.
While Nehemiah spends
time in broken confession, he doesn’t wallow in a
prolonged introspective examination of his failures and
those of his brothers and sisters. He owns what he did
wrong and then he quickly expresses confidence in God’s
promises in Neh 1:8-10: “Remember the instruction you
gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful,
I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return
to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled
people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them
from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as
a dwelling for my name.’ They are your servants and your
people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and
In this part of his prayer, Nehemiah recalls the words
of Moses about the danger of Israel’s apostasy and the
promise of divine mercy. His words are a skillful mosaic
of great Old Testament warnings and promises, with
quotes coming from Leviticus, Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, 2
Chronicles and Psalm 130.
What was the promise Nehemiah was getting at? It was
twofold. First, if Israel disobeyed, they would be sent
to a foreign land. That had been fulfilled. The second
part was that when the captivity was over God would send
them back to Jerusalem. They were still waiting for that
to be fulfilled. Nehemiah prayed, “Lord, the first part
is true. We’ve disobeyed and we’re in captivity. But
Lord, you’ve made a promise to bring us back home and
protect us there – and that has not happened yet. I’m
claiming your promise that you’ll make it happen.”
Someone has calculated that there are over 7,000
promises in the Bible. The better we know the Word of
God, the better we’ll be able to pray with confidence in
God’s promises. 1 John 5:14 says, “This is the
confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask
anything according to His will, He hears us.”
Are you as confident of God’s promises as Nehemiah was?
If God said it in His Word, you can believe it and claim
it. Nehemiah knew God would keep His covenant of love
with his people. He also knew that, even though God did
not need his help, he was ready to make a commitment to
5. COMMITMENT to get involved.
Do you see the
progression in Nehemiah’s prayer? His concern about the
problem led him to brokenness. While he was weeping and
fasting, he expressed his conviction about God’s
character. As he focused on the greatness and
awesomeness of His holy God, he was quickly reminded of
his own wickedness and therefore cried out in
confession. After owning his role in the nation’s
depravity, he prayed boldly and with confidence in God’s
promises. This then leads him to a commitment to get
We see this in Neh 1:11: “O Lord, let your ear be
attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the
prayer of your servants who delight in revering your
name. Give your servant success today by granting him
favor in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to
It has 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. While Nehemiah
was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and
his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. He
didn’t pray for God to send someone else – he simply
said, “Here am I, send me!” He knew that he would have
to approach the king and request a 3-year leave of
absence and so asked God for “success,” which means “to
break out or push forward.” He wanted to see God break
out on his behalf when he goes in front of the king to
make his request. He was claiming yet another promise
from Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of
the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse where He
Someone has said that the key word in this book is the
word, “so,” which occurs 32 different times. Again and
again, Nehemiah assesses the situation, is moved to
concern and “so” is compelled to action. The true
measure of our concern is whether or not we are willing
to make a commitment to get involved. Martin Luther
said, “Pray as if everything depends on God, then work
as if everything depends on you.”
George W. Bush had an embarrassing moment this week when
a live microphone picked up a private comment. That
reminds me of a college choir which was all set to
present a concert in a large church which was to be
carried live by a local radio station. When everything
appeared to be ready, the announcer made his final
introduction and waited for the choir director to begin.
A tenor was not yet ready, however, so the director
refused to raise his baton. All this time, nothing but
silence was being broadcast. Growing very nervous, the
announcer, forgetting that his microphone was still on
and that he could be heard in the church and on the air,
said in exasperation, “Get on with it, you old goat!”
Later in the week, the radio station got a letter from
one of its listeners--a man who had tuned in to listen
to the music from the comfort of his easy chair. When he
heard “Get on with it, you old goat!” he took the
message personally. He had been doing nothing to further
God’s work, and this startling message was enough to
convict him and get him going again.
Sometimes we need a wake-up call, don’t we? Maybe you’ve
received that call this morning and God is saying to
you, “Get on with it, you old goat…or young goat.” Where
are you in this prayer process right now?
• Are you
concerned about your problems?
• Do you have a conviction about God’s holy character?
• Are you ready to confess your sins?
• Do you have confidence in God’s promises?
• Are you ready to make a commitment to get involved in
God’s kingdom work?
You can do that by
committing to be involved in our Time to Build Campaign.
Our emphasis over the next 10 months or so will
incorporate each of the 6 elements of our IMPACT
statement. We’re asking God to build out through prayer
and evangelism – that will take place primarily through
the Jesus Video and Lighthouses of Prayer. We’re asking
God to build up through instruction or discipleship,
ministry, worship and caring – our emphasis this year
will be on seeking God’s direction for the
implementation of a second worship service. We’re also
asking God to build on by preparing us for a commitment
to the construction of the Family Life Center.
Here are a few ideas that you could implement.
1. The Jesus Video
will be mailed to every home in Pontiac and Livingston
County if area churches can raise the needed funds.
We’re going to take a special offering on October 1st
for this campaign. At only $2.50 each, you can give
“Jesus” to someone this December. Related to this,
commit to pray for 5 of your neighbors, for 5 minutes a
day, for 5 weeks.
2. Commit to pray for the launch of the second service,
to be involved if you can, and to invite those you know
3. Please begin praying daily for the Family Life Center
and ask God how he would like you to be involved –
through your time, your talents, and your treasures. We
could use some help with the parking lot tomorrow
It’s Time to Build!
It’s also a time to
rebuild. When we have the courage to admit that we’ve
messed up, when we become concerned enough about the way
we’ve been living that we confess our sins, we know that
God will do his rebuilding work – He’s promised to do
How to Tackle a Tough Job
September 17, 2000
I came across some lines from actual resumes this week:
I have lurnt Word
Perfect 6.0 computor and spreasheet progroms.
Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year
It’s best for employers that I not work with people.
I’m a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget
I have become completely paranoid, trusting completely
no one and absolutely nothing.
Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest
Finished eighth in my class of ten.
References: none. I’ve left a path of destruction behind
Nehemiah had a pretty
impressive resume and instead of leaving a path of
destruction behind him, he was about to tackle the path
of destruction in front of him. His resume would include
the following accomplishments: “Cupbearer to the king
for many years. Great job stability as long as no one
tried to poison the boss. Served in the court and well
connected with the power brokers of Persia.” Under the
section of his resume where he listed personal
information, you’d see this:
I’m concerned about
I have a strong conviction about God’s character
I confess my sins on a regular basis
I have confidence in God’s promises
And, I have a commitment to get involved
This is really a
summary of what we learned last week in the opening
chapter of his memoirs as we focused on “Learning How to
As we move into Nehemiah 2, I wonder how many of you
completed your assignment to read the trilogy of Esther,
Ezra, and Nehemiah this past week? I saw someone here on
Wednesday night, reading the book of Nehemiah, as she
waited for her child to get done with AWANA. I won’t ask
for a show of hands and I’ll even give you a one-week
extension! I encourage you to complete this homework
because it will help you get more out of our Time to
Before we jump into the text, let me remind you of how
the Book of Nehemiah fits into Old Testament history. (CLICK
TO REVIEW THE PANORAMA PERSPECTIVE OF NEHEMIAH)
Nehemiah did not rely on his resume when it was Time to
Build. He got out his tools so that he could handle the
tasks ahead of him. In Neh 2:1-10, we’ll see that he had
at least 5 tools in his toolbox and in Neh 2:11-20 we’ll
look at the 5 tasks that he tackled. Building Block #2
in our Time to Build series is called, “How to Handle a
Tools in Nehemiah’s Toolbox
I don’t have a lot of tools because I’m not very handy.
I would rather a buy a book than a belt sander any day.
This is a problem for me, however, when I need to fix
something or tackle a project. Fortunately, my dad has
an entire Ace Hardware store in his garage and whenever
he comes down to visit, he loads up his truck with
tools. He’s got so many tools that I don’t know how he
can keep track of them. He was down last weekend to help
me do some work in our basement – actually; I’m helping
him do the work! He’s like the surgeon and I’m his
assistant – I just hand him the tools and wipe the sweat
off his brow!
Nehemiah had a lot of tools as well. He pulled them out,
one by one, just when he needed them.
The first tool
Nehemiah used was the tool called waiting in Neh 2:1. He
was a man of decisive action, and when he prayed it was
natural for him to ask God to provide an early, if not
immediate, opportunity to speak to the king. Remember
the closing verse in chapter one indicates that Nehemiah
wanted success “today” in the presence of the king. He
waited patiently on the Lord for an answer, just as
we’re urged to do in Hebrews 6:12: “…imitate those who
through faith and patience inherit what was promised.”
Nehemiah could weep and pray and he could also wait and
Have you had to wait for God to answer a prayer? In
Nehemiah’s prayer journal, nothing was entered for four
months because nothing happened. Friends, waiting time
is not wasted time. Quiet reflection may have provided
Nehemiah with fresh insight about how to approach the
king. God wants each of us to get real familiar with
this tool – we’re going to have to use it a lot.
The second tool he
fished out of his toolbox was called trusting in Neh
2:2-3. Nehemiah was “sad” in the last part of Neh 2:1
and this word is used three other times to describe how
he looked when he was in the presence of the king. The
king asked him a question to find out why Nehemiah was
not his chipper self. Nehemiah wigged out when
Artaxerxes asked him this question because he knew the
king only wanted to be around happy people. In Neh 2:2,
Nehemiah says that he was “very much afraid” which can
literally be translated, “a terrible fear came over me.”
I think he was very much afraid for at least two
reasons. He knew that he was expected to be perfectly
content just to be in the presence of the king. Subjects
who were sad or melancholy around the king were usually
executed for “raining on his parade.” Second, he was
about to ask the monarch of the Persian Empire to
reverse a written policy he had made several years
earlier about Jerusalem’s reconstruction. This edict was
recorded in Ezra 4:21: “Now issue an order to these men
to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt
until I so order.” Nehemiah knew it would take the power
of God to get Artaxerxes to change his mind. I think I’d
be afraid too.
What are you afraid of this morning? Some of you might
be afraid of the past. You’re worried that something you
did long ago will catch up to you. Maybe you’re afraid
of the present and find yourself crippled by the fear of
people, snakes, or confined spaces. Others of you might
be fearful about the future and even death. In the best
selling book called, “Who Moved My Cheese,” the author
asks a very penetrating question, “What would you do if
you weren’t afraid.” He points out that fear often keeps
us from taking the steps we know we need to take. Fear
can paralyze us. There’s certainly some fear as we move
into the Time to Build campaign – but we can’t let that
keep us from following God’s leading.
Fortunately, Nehemiah’s faith was greater than his fear.
He did the right thing because he believed the promises
of God. Notice what happened, “I was very much afraid,
but I said…” Instead of paralyzing him, fear propelled
Nehemiah to action. Months of prayer had prepared him
for these crucial minutes. Courage filled him when he
realized it was no longer possible to hide his grief.
Then, using wisdom, he affirms his boss by saying, “Long
live the king!” He explains why he was sad in Neh 2:3:
“Why should my face not look sad when the city where my
fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have
been destroyed by fire?” Did you notice that Nehemiah
never mentions the name of the city? Jerusalem’s history
of independence might have turned the king’s thoughts
toward questions of politics and national security.
Instead of going political, he chose the personal route
– that’s usually the better choice. What Nehemiah did
say was, “I want to honor the burial place of my
fathers.” This made a lot of sense to the King because
the Persians honored their dead as well.
Nehemiah’s fear could have led him to be timid. Instead
he used the tool of trusting very effectively. In Neh
2:4-5, Nehemiah pulls out another very well-used tool –
the tool of praying.
Neh 2:4 begins with a
direct question from the King: “What is it you want?”
Before answering the King of Persia, Nehemiah needed to
speak briefly with the King of Heaven. I love this. The
text says, “Then I prayed to the God of heaven.” This
had to be a short prayer because it happened between the
time the king asked his question and Nehemiah’s answer.
I picture him sending up an arrow prayer, or in
contemporary jargon, doing some “Instant Messaging” with
God. He obviously didn’t have the time to drop to his
knees or even bow his head. If he had done that, the
king would have suspected treason. His emergency prayer
was backed up by four months of fasting and
This is encouraging to me. You and I can pray at any
time, in any place by sending up a brief prayer to God.
Right before we have to give an answer to our boss, or
before responding to our spouse, or when disciplining
our kids, or when looking for a way to impact our
neighbors for Christ, just shoot up a prayer. It doesn’t
have to be long or even audible. We need to make good
use of these chance moments to send up “popcorn prayers”
to God. I’m convinced that this is the only way to
fulfill 1Thes 5:17 where we’re challenged to
4. The next tool is planning.
We see this in Neh
2:5-8a. Nehemiah has lifted his heart to God; now he
must open his mouth to the king. He practiced both
dependent praying and deliberate planning. This is good
for us to hear. Some people think that all you have to
do is pray; others focus almost exclusively on planning.
It shouldn’t be an “either/or” but a “both/and” deal. We
are called to pray and plan; to worship and work; to
make requests and to fill out requisitions.
Notice that he knew how to answer the king’s questions.
He anticipated the question related to how long his
journey would take, so when the king asked, Nehemiah
gave him a timeframe. He also knew how to plan the
dangerous journey by asking for letters on the king’s
stationery, which would give him safe passage through
the different territories he came across.
He didn’t stop there. Look at Neh 2:8. We see here that
he wanted permission to take some timber out of the
king’s own forest -- he was not asking for a gift
certificate to Menard’s! He had done some research to
know that the keeper of the king’s lumberyard was named
Asaph. This forest was also called “paradise” in Hebrew
and looked like a park filled with orchards.
Nehemiah asked for, and received three things from the
king: permission, protection, and provisions.
5. The final tool he pulled out in Neh 2:8b-10 was
the tool of testifying.
He gave testimony to
the goodness of God in answering his prayers, guiding
his mind, directing his speech, and meeting his needs.
Look at the last part of Neh 2:8: “…And because the
gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my
requests.” Only God could have brought about such a
dramatic change in the king’s mind and the cupbearer’s
Nehemiah knew that what was taking place had everything
to do with God’s arranging, not human contriving. It’s
like what Psalm 118:23 says, “The Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.” Nehemiah was
meticulous in his planning but it would not have been
enough were it not for the Lord’s perfect timing,
constant guidance, and overruling provision.
As we move into our Time to Build campaign, I am
confident that we will see the “gracious hand of God
upon us.” We must use the tools of waiting, trusting,
praying and planning. And then, we’ll see God do
something truly amazing. When He does, we will testify
about His gracious provision.
Neh 2:10 introduces some bad guys – I’ll come back to
them later. Suffice it to say that they cast a long
shadow over the story.
Tasks for Tackling a Tough Job
I asked Beth this week if she could think of any
projects that I have tackled recently that didn’t go
quite right. It didn’t take her long to point out one I
wasn’t even aware of. Several months ago, the handle
broke on our microwave and I ordered a new one. When it
arrived, I searched the house until I found a
screwdriver and installed it. I was pretty proud of
myself. Beth wasn’t going to tell me – but since I
asked, she informed me that I had put it on upside down!
She put it on the right way several weeks ago and I
hadn’t even noticed!
I admire my dad for many things but I’m always amazed at
how he seems to know how best to tackle a job. He can
look at a project and determine what needs to happen
first. Sometimes he’ll think about it for a while, and
even lay awake figuring everything out – but he always
knows the steps that need to be taken before the project
can be completed.
Nehemiah was a master builder as well. As we move to the
second half of chapter 2, we’ll see that he tackled five
1. Nehemiah first replenished his resources in Neh 2:11.
When he arrived in Jerusalem, he could appreciate why
his brother Hanani was so bummed out. As he looked at
the city’s shattered walls and useless gates, he was
overwhelmed. But, before he could examine them more
closely, there was a greater priority. Nehemiah needed a
The journey of four months took its toll on Nehemiah –
he was probably suffering from ‘camel lag’! Ezra did the
same thing when he arrived in Jerusalem many years
earlier when he rested for three days (see Ezra 8:32).
Just as Elijah needed rest under the juniper tree, and
Jesus withdrew with his disciples for rest, so too, you
and I need to make sure we replenish our resources on a
regular basis. Here’s a biblical principle: Don’t try to
make major decisions when you’re tired. I know when I’m
short on sleep I’m not usually very sharp and I’m
usually crabby – sometimes I need to just wait until the
next morning to tackle something.
2. After getting recharged, Nehemiah assessed the need.
We see this in Neh 2:12-16. Nehemiah knew that in order
to lead this project, he would need a firsthand picture
of what needed to be done. He then scouted out the
damage to the walls one dark night. With the moonlight
showing the mounds of broken stone and demolished gates,
Nehemiah made some notes to himself.
This moonlight journey is one of the most dramatic
scenes in the book. I think he discovered at least three
things as he did his assessment:
• It was a demanding job. The circuit of the walls was
more than a mile long, and the new wall needed to be
three or four feet thick, and fifteen to twenty feet
high. This was not going to be easy but Nehemiah knew
that he and his people had to give their best to it. The
same is true for us – kingdom work is demanding, but
it’s worth our energy.
• It was a hazardous assignment. Nehemiah went at night
because there were enemies lurking around. He said
nothing to anyone until the time was right. The careless
leakage of information might bring the work to an end
even before it started.
• It was a co-operative venture. It was only by
surveying the walls and gates that Nehemiah could
calculate how the work should be divided.
That leads us to the third task.
3. After replenishing his resources and assessing the
need, Nehemiah now recruited workers in Neh 2:17.
some way not mentioned in the narrative, Nehemiah
gathered together a large group of prospective partners.
Let’s look and see how he put his work force together:
First, he identifies with the workers: “Then I said to
them, ‘You see the trouble we are in.” Nehemiah is
passionately involved in the city’s welfare and feels
its need as acutely as though he had been living in the
desolate city all his life.
Next, he presents spiritual perspectives. They are in
trouble – and its not just because Jerusalem is in
ruins. He sees their spiritual disgrace. The sight of
those collapsed walls for well over a century has
created the impression in the pagan mind that the God of
Israel has abandoned his people. He recognizes that
there are always spiritual issues involved – a building
project is more than just brick and mortar. As His
people, we have to be aware of the spiritual
opportunities and challenges as they present themselves
Then, he invites immediate action. Everybody knows
exactly what is required, “Come, let us rebuild the wall
of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace,” and
everyone realizes that the task must begin without
further delay. Nehemiah is asking a lot of the people.
He’s not afraid to ask them to step up to the plate. The
sacrifices will be huge. They will have to take time off
from work in order to rebuild the walls. Who will
protect their families? Before people can respond they
need to know that there is someone greater than Nehemiah
behind this project.
4. That leads to the next task – Nehemiah inspired
confidence in the people in Neh 2:18.
the walls is an important job, the central theme in the
book is the sufficiency of God. His mind dwells on the
greatness of God and he wants his workers to do the
same. As we move into a Time to Build at PBC, the Family
Life Center is important, but the central thrust must be
the sufficiency of God.
Listen to Nehemiah’s testimony:
“I also told them
about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the
king had said to me.”
He didn’t reach Jerusalem because he
was a skillful persuader, or because the queen was
possibly a compliant helper, or because the king was a
generous benefactor, but only because God was a
sovereign provider. Since God had done all that, He
would certainly help them to complete the task of
rebuilding the walls.
By telling the people what God had already done, he was
firing them up for what He was about to do. His appeal
was positive as He focused on the glory and greatness of
God. When you think about it, it’s amazing that the
people said, “Let us start rebuilding.” Think about what
they could have said. They could have been apathetic –
they had been living in the rubble for a long time and
could have just stayed there. They could have reminded
Nehemiah that the Jews had “already tried that” before
in Ezra 4 and were stopped by the authorities.
We often face those same two obstacles within the
church. Either “we’re content with the way things are”
or, “we tried that before and it didn’t work!” I’m
thankful that this church responds much like the wall
builders did in this chapter. Someone has defined
leadership as “the art of getting people to do what they
ought to do because they want to do it.” I’m proud to be
your pastor and want to do all I can to help us do the
things we ought to do because we want to do them –
because the gracious hand of our God is upon us.
5. The fifth task comes almost immediately after the
decision to make an impact takes place: He Handled
Whenever we get serious about kingdom work,
Satan will oppose us. The first two enemies have already
been identified in Neh 2:10. Now Sanballat the Horonite
and Tobiah the Ammonite are joined by Geshem the Arab.
In Neh 2:10, the opponents are “very much disturbed,”
now this troublesome trio becomes highly vocal in their
attacks on Nehemiah and his work crew. Let’s look at
First, they derided the efforts of the workers. Neh 2:19
says that they “mocked and ridiculed” them. Verbal
onslaughts have always been part of the enemy’s
demoralizing tactics. They laughed at the workers and
belittled both their resources and their plans.
Next, they suggested that they were rebelling against
the king – that weapon had worked once before in Ezra 4:
“What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against
the king?” This was a cutting allegation to the timid
I love how Nehemiah deals with these bad guys. He
doesn’t answer their lies or engage in a conversation
with them. Nor does he just ignore them. He first exalts
the God who called him to do the work in Neh 2:20: “The
God of heaven will give us success.” He wasn’t concerned
about their fictitious insinuations – he was concerned
that God would get the glory in the project.
Nehemiah wanted his people to know that God had
everything in control. Even though Geshem controlled the
southern approach to the city, and the other two thugs
patrolled the north and east, Nehemiah was not ruffled.
In his reply, he made three things clear:
• Rebuilding the wall
was God’s work
• The Jews were God’s servants
• Their opponents had no part in the matter.
The last part of Neh
2:20 says it rather strongly: “We his servants will
start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in
Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Their
opponents had no past right, not present prerogative to
be there, and no future role in the city.
Let me just say that as believers we should expect
spiritual opposition and even be thankful for it. It’s a
sign that we’ve angered the enemy and encroached on some
territory that He thinks is his. If there’s no conflict
or opposition, then we’re probably not disturbing the
enemy enough. Remember, Satan only shoots at moving
The tools are now out of the toolbox – waiting,
trusting, praying, planning, and testifying. Are you
ready to pick them up and start using them? It’s not
enough to just rely on your “religious resume.” And the
tasks are ready to be tackled – replenish your
resources, assess the need, recruit workers, inspire
confidence, and handle opposition. This is a continual
commitment and a long term-task. God wants us fully
engaged for the long haul.
That reminds me of two guys in a pickup who drove into a
lumberyard. One of the men walked into the office and
said, “We need some four-by-twos.”
The worker said, “You mean two-by-fours, don’t you?”
The man said, “I need to check with my buddy. I’ll be
right back.” When he came back, he said, “Yeah, that’s
what I meant. I need some two-by-fours.”
The worker then said, “Alright. How long do you need
The customer paused for a minute and said, “I better go
check.” He came back in a few minutes and said, “We need
them for a long time. We’re gonna build a house with
If we’re going to be part of God’s construction project
here at PBC, and if we want to see God rebuild some
things in our own lives, than we’re going to need to
rely on Him for a very long time. As Psalm127:1 says,
“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in
Brothers and sisters, it’s time to build!
Working Well With Others
September 24, 2000
Have you been watching the Olympics? NBC isn’t very
happy with their ratings but it’s been fun to watch the
different sports. As the athletes compete, they’re all
seeking a medal and the recognition that comes with it.
Those who win a gold are held up as heroes.
While most of us have a desire to be recognized, our
chances of competing at the Olympics are pretty slim.
This week I read about a guy named Stefan Sigmund from
Romania, who has been trying for many years to get his
name in the Guinness Book of World Records. His recent
attempt went up in smoke. Using a contraption that
looked like an air filter for a car, Sigmund managed to
smoke 800 cigarettes at one time. Only later did he
discover that Guinness no longer accepts these kinds of
Another time he ate 29 hard-boiled eggs in four minutes.
Unfortunately, Guinness quit printing gluttony records
many years ago. He also jumped into a lake from a
135-foot cliff only to find out that the record for
diving from a fixed point had already been set at 176
People like to hear their name mentioned in a positive
way. Our text for today is basically a list of people
who achieved some pretty major accomplishments.
Alongside the medal winners, there are a few who are
listed because they never joined the team. And, it’s
interesting that Nehemiah is not mentioned at all. I
think he wanted to keep the attention on others.
At first glance, Nehemiah chapter 3 looks a bit dry. One
commentator refers to it as a “colorless memorandum of
assignments.” It reads much like the book of 1
Chronicles with its long lists of names that are
difficult to pronounce, information that seems
redundant, and a chronology that seems meaningless. It’s
hard to muddle through. I’ll never forget Tim Tuley
reading genealogy lists during our Bible Reading
Marathon! He did it with determination – and good
pronunciation! While it may be tempting to skip this
chapter, it contains some great insights and principles
that have direct application to our lives today.
Let me briefly set the historical context in case you’ve
missed the last couple weeks. In 586 B.C.,
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army captured the
Jews, Jerusalem was destroyed, the walls were knocked
down, and the temple was burned. The people were
deported and were forced into slavery and Jerusalem was
left in ruins.
But God did not forsake His people. He moved King Cyrus
to make a decree to let some of the Jews return. And in
three stages, over about a hundred years, they were
allowed to migrate back to Jerusalem, only to discover
the city was still demolished and desolate.
By way of review (CLICK
TO REVIEW THE PANORAMA PERSPECTIVE OF NEHEMIAH), through Nehemiah’s prayer in Chapter
One we learned that he was concerned about the problem
of Jerusalem’s desolation, he had a conviction about
God’s character, he confessed his sins, he was confident
about God’s promises, and he was committed to get
involved. Last week we journeyed with Nehemiah back to
Jerusalem and discovered that as Contractor he had 5
tools in his toolbox – waiting, trusting, praying,
planning, and testifying. He also tackled five different
tasks – replenished resources, assessed the need,
recruited workers, inspired confidence, and handled
Let me make two preliminary observations:
1. Nehemiah 3 reveals Nehemiah’s extraordinary gift of
administration and organization.
He was able to mobilize
and empower 44 separate groups of people for the
ingenious task of rebuilding the walls. This no doubt
came about because of his careful assessment of the need
during his moonlit reconnaissance mission in 2:13-16.
Let’s take a visual look at how Nehemiah organized his
2. This passage shows how people working together can
accomplish more than if just one person tried to do all
Underline in your Bible every time you see the
following phrases: “next to him,” “next to them,” “after
him,” and “after them.” These expressions are recorded
28 times in this chapter! The biblical principle is
this: every person is to be involved in ministry because
everyone has a job to do.
It’s hard to find the right job, isn’t it? Some of you
are doing exactly what you need to be doing – both in
your career and in kingdom work. Others of you are
struggling to find your niche. It might help you feel
better if you hear someone else’s job history. Listen to
this guy’s story:
• My first job was
working in an orange juice factory, but I got canned
because I couldn’t concentrate.
• Then I worked in the woods as a lumberjack, but I just
couldn’t hack it, so they gave me the axe.
• After that I tried to be a tailor, but I just wasn’t
suited for it. Mainly because it was a so-so job.
• Next I tried working in a muffler factory but that was
• I wanted to be a barber, but I just couldn’t cut it.
• I attempted to be a deli worker, but any way I sliced
it, I just couldn’t cut the mustard.
• I studied a long time to become a doctor, but I didn’t
have any patients.
• I became a professional fisherman, but discovered that
I couldn’t live on my net income.
• I managed to get a good job working for a pool
maintenance company, but the work was just too draining.
• Next, I found being an electrician interesting, but
the work was shocking.
• After many years of trying to find steady work I
finally got a job as a historian until I realized there
was no future in it.
I heard another guy
say, “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 sitting on the couch and
watching Award Ceremonies. As we will see in this
chapter, the wall workers accomplished an incredible
task – and in the process, smashed a world record for
The Purpose of the Work
Nehemiah was able to build his team around a central
rallying point. He pointed them to the purpose of the
work – the glory of God. They weren’t just working on
walls, they were worshipping their worthy God. The
workers were bummed about the conditions of the city and
disgraced in the presence of their enemies. It was
difficult for them to sing out the truth of Psalm 48:2,
which describes Jerusalem as “beautiful in its
loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.” They longed for
God’s city to regain its splendor and for God to get the
The purpose of all ministry, and really of life itself
is the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 puts it
succinctly: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you
do, do it all for the glory of God.” When we’re ready to
build here at PBC, we are going to attempt something so
big, that unless God is in it, it will fail. But, that’s
a good thing because we’re motivated and mobilized by
the relentless pursuit of God’s splendor.
Take a look at Neh 3:1: “Eliashib the high priest and
his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep
gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place…”
It’s no accident that the list starts at the Sheep Gate.
[Show Slide of Wall Workers]
It’s another way of saying, “Put God first.” Close to
the wall’s northeast corner, this gate provided easy
access to the Temple, and was given this name because of
all the sheep that entered through it to be sacrificed.
By beginning here, Nehemiah is establishing that their
relationship with God was central. This was the most
important place to start.
They had a time of dedication right at the beginning of
the construction project. We must make sure we are
dedicated to God before we begin working for Him. This
is critical. Don’t make the mistake of focusing so much
on the work or the task that you forget God Himself. God
is not impressed with your labor. He wants your heart.
That’s why worship must always precede work.
Have you settled that question? Are you sold-out to God,
completely committed and totally devoted to Him? If you
are, then get ready to work. If you’re not, then keep
the main thing the main thing and do what 1 Peter 3:15
says, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord…”
The People in the Work
One reason I think the Olympic ratings are suffering is
that everything is on tape delay. If you want to, you
can find out who won by looking on the Internet,
listening to the radio, or even reading the newspaper.
If you’ve already read the Book of Nehemiah you know the
final results – the wall was built in a world record 52
days! And yet, just as it’s interesting to watch the
intricacies of Olympic competition, so too, as we dive
into this chapter we’re going to see more of the
details. We’re also going to learn about several
individuals – much like the human-interest stories NBC
has been airing on some of the athletes.
I see 6 principles from this chapter that will help each
of us “Work Well With Others.”
1. Leaders must set the example.
We see this in
Neh 3:1. If anybody in the city should have been busy
with the work, it was the priests, for God’s reputation
was at stake. The high priest had no hesitation using
his consecrated hands to swing a hammer or push a
wheelbarrow. As befitted the superior dignity of his
office, he wore a sacred garment of gold, blue, purple,
and scarlet, made out of fine linen. On the upper part
he had 12 precious stones set in gold with the names of
the 12 tribes of Israel engraved on them. On his head,
he wore a dark blue turban with the phrase, “Holy to the
Lord” engraved on a diadem of pure gold.
And yet, here he was picking up rubble and laying brick.
I bet he had to have his clothes dry-cleaned after this!
I take seriously my joyful responsibility to be involved
in the work of the ministry as well. While you’ll never
catch me dead in a robe and a turban, I don’t have a
problem getting my hands dirty. When we’re ready to move
ahead with the Family Life Center, I commit to being
involved with my time, my talents, my treasures, and my
tools – though I may need to borrow some of yours
because I don’t have very many!
Our leaders have been, and will continue to set the pace
here at PBC. The elders, deacons, and staff will be
giving sacrificially to the Jesus Video offering next
Sunday. We will be completely on board – all of us.
That’s exactly what happened last December when we did
the Bible Reading Marathon. The leadership was
completely committed to it, and signed up for large
blocks of time and recruited others to do the same.
Sad to say, Eliashib did not remain true to his calling
and later partnered with the enemy to create some
serious problems for Nehemiah in 13:4-9. This serves as
a good reminder to us – it’s not as important how we
begin a project, it’s how we finish that counts. Some
people who enthusiastically begin a job or a ministry
may drop out or even turn against it for one reason or
2. God uses all kinds of people.
Take a look at
Neh 3:8: “Uzziel son of Harhaiah, one of the goldsmiths,
repaired the next section; and Hananiah, one of the
perfume-makers, made repairs next to that…” The Lord
didn’t need a thousand masons and carpenters to rebuild
the wall – he needed ordinary people who were willing to
work. People from a wide variety of different
backgrounds, trades, and localities gathered to work on
the wall. The rulers and priests worked together with
regular people, some who even lived 10-15 miles away.
There was a place for everyone, and a job for everyone
to do. That’s the beauty of gift-based ministry. One of
our purposes as a church is to mobilize people for
ministry – it’s the “M” of our I.M.P.A.C.T. statement
printed on the back of your bulletin. This bedrock truth
is based on the belief that God has gifted each of us
and called each of us to be involved in a lifestyle of
servanthood. As we use our gifts, we will be fruitful,
we will be fulfilled, and the church will be fortified.
One of the key words in this chapter is the word
“section.” It is used 13 times. The wall was divided and
people were assigned a certain section to work on.
Likewise, just as no one person could construct the
whole wall by himself, so too, you and I are called to
work in a certain part of the kingdom. No one can do
everything, but everyone can do something. Romans 12:6
says, “We have different gifts according to the grace
Are you serving in your area of giftedness right now? If
not, it’s time to grab a brick and jump in. When we take
an offering next Sunday for the Jesus Video, will you
come prepared to give – not as much as your friend
gives, but as much as you can give? When the Family Life
Center project needs workers, will you volunteer to work
on a section of it?
3. Some people will not work.
Having said that
there is a place for everyone, and a job for everyone to
do, there will always be those who refuse to exert
themselves. Most people worked, but some shirked their
responsibility. We see this in Neh 3:5: “The next
section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their
nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under
their supervisors.” Tekoa was a town about eleven miles
from Jerusalem, and while some of the people commuted to
the job site; the nobles from Tekoa called in sick.
Actually, the text says that they refused to participate
in the work of God because they didn’t want to follow
orders. They were too proud to submit themselves to the
supervisors of the job. They were too important to get
their hands dirty.
The phrase, “would not put their shoulders to the work,”
suggests that it was pride more than anything else which
kept them from pitching in. Nehemiah is using
agricultural imagery that describes a “stiff-necked” ox
who refuses to be yoked. Any one here today who refuses
to roll up their sleeves and work? Feeling like you’re
too important to spend time with a hurting person, teach
Sunday School, listen to AWANA verses, or help pour
concrete? Jeremiah 48:10 is a stinging rebuke to those
of us who just sit back, with our arms crossed: “A curse
on him who is lax in doing the Lord’s work.”
By the way, those who are lax in the Lord’s work are not
only subject to a curse – they’re also missing out on
one of the greatest privileges of all time! I can’t
think of anything more rewarding than being involved in
kingdom work. You can’t beat it, can you? Beth and I
love giving our tithe each week because we know what our
giving is used for. We love serving because we believe
it makes a kingdom impact. Some of the happiest
Christians I know are those who are serving in their
area of giftedness. On the other hand, some of the
grumpiest Christians I know are those who are “pew
potatoes” and are not willing to put their shoulder to
4. Some do more work.
In every church, and in any
project, there will always be some who are slack in
their serving. At the same time, there will always be
those who do more work than others.
Remember the men from Tekoa? In Neh 3:5, we read that
they finished their section of the wall, even though
their nobles didn’t help out at all. Drop down to Neh
3:27: “Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another
section…” Refusing to follow the bad example of their
leaders, these workers went the extra mile. I picture
them coming up to Nehemiah and telling him that they
finished their job. Nehemiah asked them if they wanted
another section and they said, “Bring it on, man. We’re
in a groove.” The men of Binnui did the same thing in
Neh 2:18 and 24.
Another guy named Meshullam completed one part (Neh 3:4)
and then repaired an additional section (Neh 3:31). In
Neh 3:21: “…Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz,
repaired another section, from the entrance of
Eliashib’s house to the end of it.” After he finished
his assignment, he worked on the wall in front of his
neighbor’s house. When he was done shoveling his
sidewalk, he moved down the street to his neighbor’s
There’s a tendency within most of us to finish the work
we volunteered for and then stop, stretch out our arms
and say, “Boy, that was great to do the Lord’s work, but
I’m finished now.” Not so with these guys. They knew
that kingdom work is never finished. When we complete
one job for the Lord, we can’t sit back and think we’ve
fulfilled our ultimate responsibility as a Christian.
Friends, as long as there is work to be done in God’s
kingdom, there’s work for you to do. In Matthew 5:47,
Jesus addresses each one of us when He asks a very good
question, “…What are you doing more than others?”
Brothers and sisters, what are you doing more than
5. Some work with passion.
In this entire
chapter, there is only one guy mentioned who worked
zealously. Look at Neh 3:20: “Next to him, Baruch son of
Zabbai zealously repaired another section…” The Hebrew
word means “to burn or glow” and suggests that Baruch
burned a lot of energy. He was not just serving; he was
on “fire.” This is amazing because in Neh 4:6 we read that
“the people worked with all their heart.” Everyone was
working hard, but in a crowd of committed construction
workers, Baruch stood out from the rest. We need people
like him who will say, “I don’t really care what others
are doing, I’m going to do my very best.”
I normally resist honoring individuals by name when I’m
preaching, but I can’t hold back this morning because
PBC is privileged to have at least one “Baruch” in our
midst. In a church full of hard working, dedicated and
devoted workers, Robert “Baruch” Guth stands out above
the rest of us. I still hear stories of all the work he
did on our parking lot several years ago, and I’ve been
watching him work on the new lot during the past several
weeks when no one else is around. He’s here at church
during the week replacing light switches and light bulbs
and is faithfully involved in AWANA and serves as a
church deacon. Robert, I know that this is embarrassing
to you, and you would say that you serve because of what
the Lord has done in your life and He gets all the
credit, but I want you to know that I want to be just
like you when I grow up!
Anyone else want to be like Baruch this morning? Are you
willing to go the extra mile and burn with zeal and
passion in your service? Are you tired of just going
through the motions? Are you ready to get fired up and
work? Friends, let’s kick it up a notch. If the truth
were known, most all of us could do a lot more, with a
lot more passion, than what we’re doing right now.
6. Some work as families.
The final principle
from this great passage is that some people worked as
families – either on a section in front of their home,
or on another section away from their neighborhood.
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 would look differently.
Friends, look at your neighbors as your mission field.
Befriend them. Serve them. Pray for them. Decide as a
family how much to give to the Jesus Video Project next
Sunday. I want to challenge each of you to identify 5
neighbors that live near you and then commit to do three
things – Prayer – Care – Share. As you pray for them,
God will give you opportunities to care for their needs,
which will open up avenues to share the Good News.
We’re called to start at home, but we’re not supposed to
stay there. In Neh 3:3, the Fish Gate was rebuilt by the
sons of Hassenah and in Neh 3:12, the daughters of
Shallum worked on the wall. As families, we have the
opportunity to be used in our neighborhoods and in our
community. Instead of just looking at what you can do as
an individual, think creatively about how you can
include your entire family in the joyful task of kingdom
As a church we are committed to make an impact in our
city, in our county, in our country, and on the
continents. But, it’s got to first begin at home. In
John 15:16, Jesus told his disciples that He had
appointed them to go and bear fruit. The word
“appointed” means that he had “strategically placed
them.” The key truth that emerges is this: God has
placed each of us strategically right where he wants us
If God’s work is going to get done, we’re called to
cooperate with one another, not to compare or criticize.
We must keep the main thing the main thing by never
forgetting that God’s glory is at stake. And, we won’t
all give equally, but we can all make equal sacrifices.
Remember that nothing has ever been done for God without
In order to work well with others on a job that is much
bigger than we are, at a task that demands everything we
have, we need to recognize that:
• Leaders must set
• God uses all kinds of people
• Some will not work
• Some will do more work
• Some will work with passion
• Some will work as families
I love this time of year when the geese start making
their way south. One of the fascinating things about
geese is that they normally fly in a V-formation. Have
you ever noticed that one side of the “V” is usually
longer than the other side? Do you know why that is?
It’s because there are more geese on that side!
Geese often cover thousands of miles before reaching
their destination – and they can only get to where
they’re headed if they work together. Here are some
facts about their flight patterns:
• By flying as they do, the members of the flock create
an upward air current for one another. By flying in a
V-formation, the whole flock gets 71% greater flying
range than if each goose flew on its own.
• When one goose gets sick or wounded, two fall out of
formation with it and follow it down to help and protect
it. They stay with the struggler until he’s able to fly
• The geese in the rear of the formation are the ones
who do the honking. It’s their way of announcing that
they’re following and everything’s going well. The
repeated honks encourage those in front to stay at it.
As I think about all this, one lesson stands out above
all others -- it’s the natural instinct of geese to work
together. Like swimmers on the United States Olympic
relay team, everyone has to do their part if they want
to win a medal. Whether it’s flapping, helping, or
simply honking, the flock is in it together…which
enables them to accomplish what they set out to do.
October 1, 2000
Are you familiar with Murphy’s Law? The original
“Murphy” was an engineer who conducted an experiment to
test human acceleration tolerances. Unfortunately for
him, he installed 16 motion sensors the wrong way,
leading to the now famous quotation, “If anything can go
wrong, it will.” I guess the corollary is also true: “If
anything can’t go wrong, it will anyway.”
Here are some other laws blamed on poor Mr. Murphy:
• Left to themselves,
things tend to go from bad to worse.
• Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its
• You will never find a lost article until you replace
• Everything goes wrong all at once.
• If everything seems to be going well, you’ve obviously
As we come to
Nehemiah 4, everything seems to be going wrong all at
once. In chapter one we looked at how Nehemiah prayed,
in chapter two we saw how God moved him from the
prosperity of Persia to the desolation of Jerusalem.
Last week, we were introduced to the wall workers and
discovered that in kingdom work, no one can do
everything, but everyone can do something. And, because
some worked harder, and Baruch worked with more zeal
than anyone else, the construction project was really
But when we come to chapter 4, things start to get more
complicated for Nehemiah. Mr. Murphy shows up and
reminds Nehemiah that when everything seems to be going
well, you’ve obviously overlooked something. That
reminds me of a situation that took place several years
ago in Darlington, Maryland. Edith, a mother of eight,
came home one Saturday afternoon from her neighbor’s
house, only to discover five of her youngest children
huddled together in the living room intensely
concentrating on something. As she slipped in behind
them to see what they were doing, she couldn’t believe
her eyes. Smack dab in the middle of her kids were
several baby skunks. She screamed at the top of her
voice, “Children, run!” So each kid grabbed a skunk and
ran to their bedroom!
If anything can go wrong, it certainly will!
Did you know that there is a plague sweeping the country
today? It’s not the Beijing flu, or cancer, or even the
common cold. This outbreak, however, can be just as
deadly as the most dreaded disease known to man – it’s
called the epidemic of discouragement. At least three
things make it such a potent problem.
• It’s universal.
None of us are immune to discouragement. Everyone you
have ever known has been discouraged at one time or
• It’s recurring. Being discouraged once does not give
you an immunity to the disease. You can be discouraged
over and over again. In fact, you can even be
discouraged by the fact that you are discouraged a lot.
• It’s highly contagious. Discouragement spreads by even
casual contact. People can become disheartened because
you are discouraged. You can be bummed out because other
people are discouraged.
This morning we’re
going to focus on both the causes and cures for
discouragement. Let’s begin by looking at the causes.
There are two main types of discouragement – one set of
problems come at us from the outside, the other set
attacks us on the inside. Let’s look first at the
external causes. The wall workers were initially
excited. They began the work with great anticipation and
joy. It says of them in Neh 4:6 that the “people worked
with all their heart.” Things were going well, the
people were excited, and the wall was going up. Then
Getting the work started on the wall was a major
achievement, but keeping the workers working proved to
be a much tougher assignment. Someone has said that
exhilaration is that feeling you get just after a great
idea hits you and right before you realize what’s wrong
Where God is at work, the enemy is also at work.
Rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem was certainly no
exception to this. When people take kingdom priorities
seriously, Satan stirs up agitators to block the work of
God. These enemies used two types of external forces.
1. The first one was ridicule.
We see this in Neh
4:1-2: “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the
wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He
ridiculed the Jews…”
This is the third time in the book that we come across
Sanballat, who was Nehemiah’s stiffest opposition. Every
time we read about him he is standing against the work
of God, rejecting and ridiculing everything that
Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. Someone has said that
ridicule is the “language of the devil.” Those who can
stand bravely when shot at will collapse when they are
laughed at. The enemy often insults the servants of God.
Goliath ridiculed David when the shepherd boy met the
giant with only a sling in his hand (1 Samuel 17:41-47).
The soldiers mocked Jesus during his trial and the crowd
taunted Him while he was hanging on the cross (Luke
Sanballat and his cronies had begun to ridicule the
workers even before the work started in 2:19: “…they
mocked and ridiculed us.” Here in chapter 4, he is
making a speech before the army of Samaria, intensifying
the power of ridicule.
Notice that he called the workers “feeble.” That word
means “withered and miserable.” Next he ridiculed the
job they were doing by asking four taunting questions:
“Will they restore their wall?” That must have made the
Samaritan army break out into laughter. How could a
remnant of feeble Jews hope to build a wall strong
enough to protect the city from a mighty army? “Will
they offer sacrifices?” Sanballat is saying that it will
take more than prayer and worship to rebuild the city.
“Will they finish in a day?” suggests that the workers
had no idea how difficult the task was and would soon
stop what they were doing. “Can they bring these stones
back to life?” indicates that their building materials
were so old and damaged that they couldn’t possibly be
used to make a strong wall.
In Neh 4:3, it was Tobiah’s turn to ridicule the workers
when he tried out a joke on them, “What they are
building – if even a fox climbed up on it, he would
break down their wall of stones!” Archeological
excavations on these walls revealed that they were nine
foot thick – they would need more than a small fox to
knock them down. The workers became the punch line of
every joke, and everyone got a laugh at their expense.
Tobiah hoped that his sarcasm would make the builders
cast an apprehensive glance at their hard work and
activate within them an avalanche of discouragement.
Friends, whenever you attempt to get involved in the
work of God, you will always face ridicule. Expect it
and don’t stop working.
2. The second cause of their external discouragement
was repression in Neh 4:7-8.
The enemies have moved
from being bothered by the Jews to being very angry.
They all plotted together to come and fight against
Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. Warren Wiersbe
writes, “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.”
The references in Neh 4:7 are to the four points of the
compass. Sanballat and the Samaritans on the north,
Ashdod on the west, Tobiah and the Ammonites on the
east, and Geshem and the Arabs to the south. The workers
were surrounded and lived in constant fear of being
Pressures from without often create problems within.
Opposition outside the ranks can lead to depression on
the inside. It wasn’t the voice of the enemy that was
the most pervasive; it was the voice of God’s own
people. And, just like today, it’s so easy to
internalize the words of the enemy and feel like giving
Notice the first part of Neh 4:10: “Meanwhile the people
in Judah said…” Discouragement started first within the
royal tribe of Judah. They had David’s blood in their
veins and you would think they would have had more faith
and courage than the rest of the people. They were
looked upon as leaders and pacesetters. If the tribe of
Judah was bummed out, then the other tribes would be
more inclined to give up the project as well.
1. The first cause of internal discouragement was
Neh 4:10 reads, “Meanwhile, the people in
Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving
out…” Simply put, the workers were tired. They were
hitting it hard and needed some rest. The phrase “giving
out” carries with it the idea of “staggering, tottering,
When you are physically drained, it is very easy to
become discouraged at the slightest problem. It’s also
interesting to notice when the workers became fatigued
and discouraged. Neh 4:6 says that the wall was built to
half its height. Many times when we start a new project
the first half goes quickly because we’re excited about
accomplishing the goal.
But, when the newness wears off and the work becomes
routine and boring, then it’s easy to become fatigued.
And when you’re tired it’s easy to become discouraged
and to begin to think that you will never finish the
job. Neh 4:10 says: “…we cannot rebuild the wall.” They
were ready to throw in the towel. These are the same
people who were described in Neh 4:6 as those who worked
with all their heart.
If you’re feeling fatigued today, watch out. Tiredness
can lead to discouragement. Remember what God did when
Elijah was tired – he sent an angel to give him some
bread and something to drink and then told him to go
back to sleep. You cannot burn the candle at both ends
on a long-term basis. Sometimes the most spiritual thing
to do is to go to bed.
2. The second thing that can happen is that you can
Neh 4:10 continues by saying that
there is “so much rubble” that they cannot rebuild the
wall. They became discouraged because they were so
aggravated with the situation. I’m sure they were
encountering old broken rocks, dirt and dried-out
mortar, and other debris that was underfoot. This junk
was everywhere. And it was frustrating.
Just as they lost sight of their goal, so too we can
lose sight of our goal when we have too much garbage in
our lives. Hebrews 12:1 challenges us to get rid of
anything that causes us to be frustrated in our pursuit
of godliness: “…let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run
with endurance the race marked out for us.”
I don’t know what the rubble is in your life but it may
be television, it might be a possession you’re holding
on to, or even an unhealthy relationship. Is there a sin
you’ve been playing around with too long? Do you have a
drinking problem, or are you involved in some other kind
of entanglement that is tripping you up? Something
you’ve been doing in secret that you think no one else
knows about? As the writer to Hebrews says, “Throw it
off so you don’t get tripped up.”
3. Another cause of discouragement is fear.
enemies of the Lord’s work had struck fear in the hearts
of God’s people and they felt like giving up. Remember
what they said in Neh 4:10: “We cannot rebuild the
Did you notice in Neh 4:12 who gets afraid the quickest?
“Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten
times over ‘Wherever you turn, they will attack us.’”
Those most affected by fear are those who lived near
pessimistic people. If you want to limit the depressing
thoughts that bring fear into your life, then it’s best
to not hang around with negative people. It’s like the
old saying, “If you’re going to soar with the eagles,
you can’t run around with turkeys.”
Fear puts us in a frame of mind where we cannot only
become discouraged, we can also be deceived. I don’t
want to spoil the ending, but since most of you have
already completed your assignment to read the book of
Nehemiah, I’m going to give it away – the enemies never
do attack Jerusalem! In the book, Scared to Life,
Douglas Rumford cites a study that shows why we
shouldn’t let fear rule our lives (Marriage Partnership,
Vol. 12, no. 2):
• 60% of our fears
are totally unfounded
• 20% are already behind us
• 10% are so petty they don’t make any difference
• 5% are real, but we can’t do anything about them
• 5% are real, and we can do something about them
Now we know some of the causes of discouragement –
ridicule and repression can lead to fatigue,
frustration, and fear. Let me tell you definitively that
discouragement is a curable disease. This is good news –
you don’t have to live with a chronic condition anymore!
Let’s look briefly at three cures for discouragement.
1. The first cure is to request God’s help.
the jungles of Africa, a man was being pursued by a
roaring, hungry lion. Feeling the beast’s hot breath on
his neck, and knowing his time was short, he broke out
into prayer as he ran like crazy, “O, Lord, please make
this lion a Christian. Please make him a Christian!”
Within seconds, the frightened man noticed that the lion
had stopped chasing him. When he looked behind him, he
found the lion kneeling and moving his lips in obvious
prayer. Greatly relieved at this turn of events, he got
close enough to the lion to hear him pray, “And bless,
Oh Lord, this food which I am about to receive.”
Nehemiah requested God’s help in chapter one for
Jerusalem. In chapter two, he prayed a “popcorn prayer”
while he was in the presence of the king. Now, in
chapter four, he prays two different times. He looked up
before launching out, he prayed before proceeding. Take
a look at his first prayer in Neh 4:4-5: “Hear us, O
God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on
their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of
captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their
sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in
the face of the builders.” This was quite a prayer – he
wasn’t praying for his enemies to become believers but
instead for God to judge them. This prayer was not nice,
but it was understandable and honest. He knew that the
enemies were really fighting against God and so he asks
God to deal with them. He didn’t give lectures to the
workers, organize raiding parties against the enemies,
or create propaganda campaigns to put a different spin
on things. Here’s the principle we can learn from
Nehemiah: When people talk against you, don’t talk back
– talk to God. Neh 4:9 tells us that they prayed to God
and posted a guard. When their enemies started talking,
Nehemiah continued to pray, and the people continued to
2. The second cure is to reorganize your priorities.
In Neh 4:13 Nehemiah said, “Therefore I stationed some
of the people behind the lowest point of the wall at the
exposed places, posting them by families, with their
swords, spears and bows.”
Nehemiah had already organized the people in chapter 3
and they had finished half of their task. Now, however,
a new situation had come about that required a change in
organization. If the enemies were going to attack they
would most likely do so at the weakest places. So
Nehemiah put guards at all the vulnerable spots. This
served two purposes – it discouraged the enemy and it
encouraged the people because it dealt with their fear.
When we’re discouraged, one of the things we can do is
to reorganize our priorities. You can look at your life.
You can adopt a change in approach instead of becoming
so discouraged that you quit. Do you have a problem in
your marriage? If so, don’t bail on your spouse! Change
your approach. Adopt a new attitude. Get some help. Do
you have a problem in your job? Don’t give up! Change
your priorities. Do you have a problem in your walk with
God? Don’t stop following Jesus! Reorganize your
schedule so you can meet with Him on a regular basis.
Plug into a small group. Don’t be overcome by
discouragement. Do something about it!
In Neh 4:16 the workers reorganized again by dividing
responsibilities – half worked and the other half kept
watch. Those who worked used one hand for pushing the
wheelbarrow, and with the other hand, they carried a
weapon. And, they worked together as a team.
3. If you want to defeat discouragement, the
third thing you can do is to remember who God is.
looking everything over and sensing the discouragement
within his team, Nehemiah rallied his troops in Neh
4:14: “…Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who
is great and awesome…” Nehemiah knew, even in the face
of opposition, that the success of the wall was wholly
dependent upon God who inspired its beginning. Neh 4:10
was true – the people could not rebuild the wall on
their own. They needed to remember God and what He had
I don’t know about you, but it’s easy for me to forget
God when things are tough. I need to be reminded that He
is always there for me. How do you remember the Lord? By
remembering that He will always be there for you. We’re
to remember that He is great and awesome. God is more
than able to deal with your discouragement.
So, when you’re down, turn your attention from your
discouragement to the One who is able to do something
about it. God has been faithful to you in the past. He
is faithful to you today. And He has promised to be
faithful to you in the future. Remember the Lord.
Remember His promises. Remember His goodness. Remember
His power. Our God is great and awesome! Remember Him.
The people complained about all the rubble in Neh 4:10.
Question. Wasn’t the rubble there in the beginning? Of
course it was. The difference was that when they started
the project they were focused on God and His character.
Now, they had become rubble-gazers. Friend, if you focus
on all the junk in your life, and in the lives of
others, you will become discouraged. Let’s determine to
be God-gazers instead of rubble-gazers, OK?
Our Security Net
At the time it was completed in 1937, the Golden Gate
Bridge was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
During the first phase of the project 23 men fell to
their deaths in the icy water. Murphy’s laws were in
evidence! Things were going from bad to worse because
there were very few safety devices. And so, when it was
halfway completed, they decided to take another look and
make some changes.
Do you know what they did? They reorganized and built
the largest net ever made, and attached it under the
area where the men were working. Was it worth the cost
and the time it took to do this? Ask the ten men who
fell into it without being injured! Not only did it save
those ten lives, I’m told that the work was completed in
three-fourths the time because the workers no longer
lived in fear of falling.
Friends, God’s great net of security spans this globe.
No matter where we live. No matter what we’ve done. No
matter how discouraged we’ve been. He’s stretched out
His everlasting arms beneath us. As a result, we can
live and work freely and without fear, knowing that we
are protected, safe and secure. Discouragement can be
defeated as we request His help, reorganize our
priorities, and remember who He is.
When you think about it, most of us are just halfway, if
even that, in our Christian lives. We’re well aware of
the rubble and the mess. And, like the wall workers,
it’s so easy to get discouraged and not remember the
Lord who is great and awesome.
Jesus knows that we have a built in capacity to forget
and that many of us default to discouragement. I truly
believe that is why he commanded us to celebrate the
Lord’s Supper on a regular basis. We’re to do it “in
remembrance of Him” so that we don’t forget Him.
As we prepare to meet Him at His table this morning, I
want to show you a clip from the Jesus Video. This
section of the film, based on the Gospel of Luke, will
help us recapture the reality and significance of what
He did for us.
Given that Christian (Biblical) Contentment is the
Converse of Christian Discouragement, here are some
discussions of contentment for your edification in the
Contentment - Multiple Quotes and
Contentment- overview of
Contentment-more in depth
Stealth Attack Study Guide-Ray Pritchard, Brian Bill
How to Stop Strife
October 8, 2000
As we continue in our series through the Book of
Nehemiah, we’ve learned that Nehemiah confronted a
different challenge in each chapter:
• In chapter one, he
was faced with a personal challenge. When he heard about
what was happening in Jerusalem, he sat down and wept
and then broke out into prayer.
• In chapter two, his challenge was political. When the
King asked him what he needed, he prayed a “popcorn
prayer” and boldly made his requests.
• In chapter three, he confronted an administrative
challenge by positioning the right workers in the right
place for the right reasons.
• In chapter four, he dealt with the challenge of
discouragement. The workers were afraid of the enemies
and convinced they couldn’t work anymore. Nehemiah
rallied the troops to come together under pressure.
As we come to chapter
five, this same community is starting to self-destruct
because of some festering grievances. The workers now
face a new enemy who is harder to conquer than the
previous ones. The timing could not have been worse
because the walls are almost done! Nehemiah has to put
down his hard hat and turn his attention from the
construction of the wall to the walls that were being
put up between his workers. While their external enemies
helped to rally the people, internal conflict threatened
to divide and destroy them.
I’m told that when a group of thoroughbred horses face
an enemy attack, they stand in a circle facing each
other, and with their back legs, kick out at the foe.
Donkeys, on the other hand, do just the opposite. They
make a circle and face the threat while using their hind
legs to kick at each other!
It’s much easier to conquer and subdue an enemy who
attacks us than it is to forgive and restore a friend
who hurts us. Psalm 55:12-14 puts it this way: “If an
enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe
were raising himself against me, I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close
friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we
walked with the throng at the house of God.”
Complaints Nehemiah Heard (Neh 5:1-5)
There’s a word in Neh 5:1 that sets the tone for
Nehemiah 5 – it’s the word, “against.” Strife was
brewing, tension was mounting, and horns were locked.
Let’s look at the complaints Nehemiah heard in Neh
In the midst of a “great work” in Neh 4:19 for a “great God”
in Neh 1:5, in Neh 5:1 “the men and their wives raised a great
outcry against their Jewish brothers.” This was not just
a little disagreement or a minor problem. They weren’t
crying out against the Samaritans or the Ammonites, but
against their own people!
Do you remember when hurricane Andrew tore through
southern Florida several years ago? After the storm we
got a glimpse of the greed of some people. While there
were many who reached out to help, there were others who
saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of those in
need by price gouging and stealing. That’s similar to
what we see in our text. The city of Jerusalem lies in
ruins and people are powerless to help themselves. Taxes
are high and because of a long drought there is a bad
famine. Most everyone has been working with all their
hearts to build the walls but there are others whose
alarming acts of greed resulted in widespread poverty
There were four different groups of people who were
involved in the community crisis:
• People who owned no
land but needed food (Neh 5:2). The population was
increasing, the families were growing, there was a
famine, and the people were hungry. They were working so
hard on the wall that they didn’t have time to plant or
take care of their crops.
• Landowners who had mortgaged their property in order
to buy food (Neh 5:3). Inflation was on the rise and
prices were going higher and many had their homes
repossessed by the moneylenders.
• Another group complained that taxes were too high (Neh
5:4). Many people were forced to borrow money just to
pay their tax bills – some of us might have to do the
same thing in a couple days!
• Those who were exploiting others (Neh 5:5). The
wealthy were making loans with exorbitant interest rates
and taking land and even children as collateral.
Families had to choose between starvation and servitude.
When the crops failed because of the famine, the
creditors took away their property and sold their
children into slavery.
While it was not
against God’s law to loan money to one another, they
were not to act like pawn shop owners or bankers who
charge high interest when lending money to fellow Jews.
This is clearly stated in Deuteronomy 23:19-20: “Do not
charge your brother interest, whether on money or food
or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge
a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so
that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you
put your hand to in the land you are entering to
Steps Nehemiah Took (Neh 5:6-13)
Nehemiah heard their complaints in the first five
verses. Now, in Neh 5:6-13, we see the steps that he
took to stop the strife. Notice Neh 5:6: “When I heard
their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.” This
lit him up! It wasn’t just that Nehemiah had a short
fuse or a bad temper. This is what the Bible calls
“righteous anger.” Moses expressed this kind of anger
when he broke the stone tablets of the Law in Exodus 32
and Jesus was filled with holy rage when he saw the
Pharisee’s hard hearts in Mark 3:5 and when he cleared
out the Temple in Luke 19.
While Nehemiah was very angry, Neh 5:7 says that he took
the time to “ponder” the charges before he accused the
nobles and officials. The New English Bible puts it this
way: “I mastered my feelings.” The Hebrew literally
means, “My heart consulted within me.” Instead of just
“going off” on the people in the heat of the moment,
Nehemiah paused, took a deep breath and thought about it
for a while. He did what Proverbs 16:32 challenges us to
do: “It is better to be slow-tempered than famous; it is
better to have self-control than to control an army.”
After thinking things over, Nehemiah decided to publicly
confront the people whose selfishness had created the
strife. Since it involved the whole nation it demanded
public rebuke and repentance. This rebuke consisted of
six different appeals:
1. He appealed to their love (Neh 5:7).
them that they were robbing their “own countrymen,” not
the Gentiles. He uses the word, “brother” four different
times in his speech. Psalm 133:1 must have been echoing
in his mind: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers
live together in unity!”
2. He reminded them of God’s redemptive purpose (Neh
While God’s people
had been redeemed from Egypt and most recently from
Babylon, and Nehemiah himself had bought back some of
the Jews who were in slavery, their fellow Jews were
returning people into bondage just to make money.
3. His appeal was based on God’s Word (Neh 5:9a).
Nehemiah calls them
on the carpet: “What you are doing is not right…” As
we’ve already learned, they were going against God’s
4. They needed to remember their witness (Neh 5:9b).
Israel was to be a
light to the nations but their behavior was dark and
shady. They were to “walk in the fear of the Lord in
order to avoid the reproach of their enemies.” Because
they weren’t right in their relationship with God they
weren’t able make a positive impact on those around
them. Instead of making people thirsty for God, they had
lost their saltiness.
5. He appealed to his own actions (Neh 5:10-11).
Nehemiah lent money
but he didn’t charge interest. He had integrity (Integrity-
The Ultimate Virtue - by Dr. Ray Pritchard;
Integrity - A Few Thoughts) when he
told the other moneylenders to stop what they were
doing: “Give back to them immediately their fields,
vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury
you are charging them.”
6. Finally, he appealed to the judgment of God (Neh
I love Neh 5:12
because it shows that they really wanted to do what was
right and didn’t have to wait and think about it: “We
will give it back and we will not demand anything more
from them. We will do as you say.” Since the brokers
promised to obey, Nehemiah made them take an oath in the
presence of the priests. This was a way of saying that
the promise was not just between the bankers and the
builders but between them and the Lord. Nehemiah then
concluded this special business meeting with three
actions in Neh 5:13 that lifted up the seriousness of
what they had decided to do:
• Nehemiah shook out
the folds of his robe, which symbolized what God would
do if they broke their vow.
• Next, the congregation responded with a collective
“amen” which was a solemn assent to what had been said.
The word literally means, “So be it” and it made the
entire assembly a part of the decision.
• Then they praised the Lord in unison. What started as
a great cry of outrage led to a confrontation which led
to a commitment to change and concluded with shouts of
praise in a corporate worship service.
Nehemiah Set (Neh 5:14-19)
In describing his own lifestyle during this period,
Nehemiah’s memoirs tell us how he behaved. He was
motivated by two biblical principles during the 12 years
he was the governor in the land of Judah. He was devoted
to the Great Commandment as spelled out later by Jesus
in Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your
heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and
with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your
neighbor as yourself.’”
Before thinking about how he could make a profit, he
considered what was pleasing to God. In Neh 5:15 he
describes how previous governors got wealthy at the
expense of the people. When comparing himself with what
others did, Nehemiah stated, “But out of reverence for
God I did not act like that.”
In Neh 5:17-18 we see that he did not live extravagantly
but instead lived generously by providing meals for
others and not using his expense account to do so.
Because he loved and revered God, he also loved the
people he was called to serve.
That’s a great example for us to follow as well. Start
first by focusing on God and your relationship to Him.
As you do, you will have more love and compassion for
others – even for those you have conflict with.
Principles to Ponder
Having walked through a brief exposition of this passage
let me draw out some principles to ponder.
1. There is a direct correlation between the
effectiveness of our mission and how we treat each
We must be the church before we can build the
church. We must care for one another before we can hope
to reach this community and county for Christ.
2. Relational problems are inevitable and we can’t
Even though it’s painful and it may seem
easier to avoid or deny relational ruptures, we must
face conflict head-on. If we don’t, we’ll pay because it
will go underground, grow deep roots, and bear bitter
fruits. One of my pastor friends puts it this way: “The
first price you pay is always the cheapest.” It’s
painful to stop strife but it will only get more
difficult the longer you wait.
3. We must take the initiative to restore relationships
whether we want to or not.
Don’t wait for the other
person to come to you. You need to go to them. Be
tenacious about this one. If you’ve been hurt, go and
talk it out as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18. If you’ve
hurt someone else, go and confess what you did according
to what Jesus said in Matthew 5. We’re covered either
4. God’s reputation is at stake when we have conflict.
In John 17:23, Jesus prayed that lost people would know
God’s heart of love when brothers and sisters in Christ
are brought together in complete unity. Let’s be like
Nehemiah and walk in the fear of God to not only avoid
the reproach of unbelievers but to also make God
attractive to those who need Him – and we can do that by
living in loving community with each other.
Action Steps for Stopping Strife
I came across something this week called, “How to Turn a
Disagreement Into a Feud.” I wonder how many of us have
done these things? I know I have:
• Avoid conflict so
that your feelings build up and then you explode.
• Be vague and general when you share your concerns so
the other person cannot do anything practical to change
• Assume you know all the facts and that you are totally
• Avoid possible solutions and go for total victory and
I want to focus our
remaining minutes on some practical action steps you and
I can take to stop strife – these come right out of
1. Make sure it’s a moral issue.
very angry because of the injustice he saw in Neh 5:6.
If you’ve been wronged and sinned against, your anger is
justified. On the other hand, if you’re ticked off at
someone just because they’ve done something that you
don’t like, and it’s not a moral issue, then cut them
some slack and give some grace.
2. Think before speaking.
If you’ve been sinned
against, take some time to ponder what was done and how
you feel about it. That’s exactly what Nehemiah did in
the first part of Neh 5:7. Anger is a gift from God that
motivates us to action but it can just as easily
backfire if we just let things fly out of our mouths.
3. Meet face-to-face.
Someone has said:
“Confrontation is caring enough about another person to
get the conflict on the table and talk about it.” Just
as Jesus commanded in Matthew 18, we are to be direct
with the people we have strife with. Nehemiah went right
to the source in Neh 5:8 and confronted the people with
what they had done wrong.
When we ignore this critical step we often end up
talking to someone else about how we’ve been offended by
someone else. When you go to a third party you create a
“communication triangle.” So go directly to the person
you’re upset with. If someone comes to you to express
anger at another person, your first question should
always be, “Have you talked to him? Have you met with
4. Seek Resolution.
Our goal in stopping strife
or confronting conflict should always be resolution and
restoration of the relationship. We shouldn’t be set on
proving ourselves right and the other person as wrong.
We’re not to vanquish our brothers and sisters but to
build them up and have the issue resolved so that we can
all get back to kingdom work.
Woodrow Wilson once said, “If you come at me with your
fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will
double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say,
‘Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we
differ from one another…we will find that we are not so
far apart after all, that the points on which we differ
are few and the points on which we agree are many, and
that if we only have the patience and the candor and the
desire to get together…we will.”
When the workers took these steps, the team was able to
get back to the job they were commissioned to do. If we
allow strife and discord to go on, kingdom work will
come to a standstill. If we would follow Nehemiah’s
example, my guess is that 95% of our relational problems
would be solved. If we have an issue with anyone in this
church, let’s follow these four steps: #1: Make sure
it’s moral; #2: Think before speaking; #3: Meet
face-to-face; and #4: Seek resolution.
In an old monastery in Germany, I’m told you can see two
racks of ancient deer antlers permanently interlocked.
Apparently the animals had been fighting fiercely, and
their horns became so tangled that they could not be
disengaged. As a result, both of them died of hunger.
Anyone here this morning who is tangled up with someone
right now? Is there strife in your life? In your home?
In your workplace? With someone in the church? Don’t let
it fester any longer. I love how the people responded to
Nehemiah’s challenge in Neh 5:13 when it says that the
“people did as they had promised.”
What about you?
Are you willing to make a promise
stop strife in your life – and in our (your) church?
NEHEMIAH 6: Dealing With Distractions
[Drama] Do you have any unfinished projects lying around
collecting dust? It’s so easy to get sidetracked isn’t
it? It takes tenacity to finish what we start because
there are always so many competing distractions.
One thing that clearly emerges from our study in the
Book of Nehemiah is that life is a battle from beginning
to end. In Ephesians 6:12 the Apostle Paul warns, “Our
struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the
powers of this dark world.” We meet these powers of
darkness in our text today.
Here in Nehemiah 6, as in many other places in
Scripture, we learn that the devil has two main ways of
working. The first tactic is fear. Satan is prowling
around, as Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “like a roaring
lion looking for someone to devour.”
But he has another battle plan as well. He not only uses
fear, he also utilizes flattery. 2 Corinthians 11:14
reveals that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light.”
He comes with enticing promises and flattering words,
assuring us that what he proposes will cost us nothing.
Whatever method the evil one employs, whether it be fear
or flattery, his aim is to distract and destroy us. We
need to be on guard against each of these approaches.
That is why Paul says in 2 Corinthians 2:11 that “We are
not unaware of his schemes.” We need to be on guard
because Satan is both a lion that devours and a serpent
Let me give you a simple outline of chapter 6 that will
help us get a better handle on how to deal with
• The Intrigue (Neh
• The Innuendo (Neh 6:5-9)
• The Intimidation (Neh 6:10-19)
The Intrigue (Neh
Since Sanballat and his sinister buddies failed in their
attempts to stop the wall builders, they decide now to
concentrate their attacks on Nehemiah himself by
changing their tactics and resorting to subtle
persuasion. We might call this political softball. You
will experience this as well when you try to correct
some things in your life. Many people today are
faltering in their Christian pilgrimage because they
listen to the advice and temptations of those closest to
Let’s take a look at Neh 6:1-4: “When word came to
Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our
enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was
left in it -- though up to that time I had not set the
doors in the gates -- Sanballat and Geshem sent me this
message: ‘Come, let us meet together in one of the
villages on the plain of Ono.’ But they were scheming to
harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply:
‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.
Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to
you?’ Four times they sent me the same message, and each
time I gave them the same answer.”
These enemies suddenly become Nehemiah’s friends and
invite him to a conference down on the plain of Ono. The
first four verses look like a political concession
speech – they want to meet with Nehemiah and cut their
losses – or so it seems. Ono is located on the seacoast
near the Gaza strip. It was a beautiful resort area. But
Nehemiah senses danger: “they were scheming to harm me.”
So Nehemiah said, “Oh, no!” to Ono.
Some commentators suggest that they were trying to trick
him into leaving Jerusalem, where he had armed support,
to come to a conference where they could ambush him.
Nehemiah evidently senses this. He firmly declines,
saying, “I am carrying on a great project, and I cannot
go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and
go down to you?”
That is a great answer even though it sounds rather
blunt. But Nehemiah sees through their scheme by
refusing their invitation four different times. You,
too, may experience continuing pressure to change your
mind and go along with something that is wrong. Some of
us give in to repeated pressure. We might decline the
first invitation but find our defenses weakened as the
enticements continue. But Nehemiah persists in his
refusal because he knows what his priorities are: “I am
doing a great work. I have a great calling. God has
committed a tremendous project to me, and if I leave, it
will be threatened.”
Sometimes these distractions come disguised as harmless
options or even good things. In staff meeting this week
we were discussing this passage and Geoff and I
mentioned that we both recently turned down speaking
engagements elsewhere because of the work we’re involved
with here. Those speaking opportunities were good, but
they could have become distractions. As we discussed
during our meeting, there are many things that distract
us from what’s really important – things like meetings,
TV, sports, reading, and even email.
That’s one of my biggest distractions. I like to get up
early so that I can read and pray and jump into sermon
prep while I’m still fresh. Lately however, when I
arrive at the office, I’ve been turning my computer on
and checking email before praying and reading. While
that’s not really bad, it does serve as a distraction,
especially when I take the time to respond to my emails.
Unfortunately, when I start my morning this way, I don’t
give God His proper place in my schedule – and sometimes
neglect meeting with him altogether.
One of the most helpful things that we can do to resist
temptation is to remember that God has called each of us
to a great task. This is true of every believer in
Christ – whether you’re just joining PBC today or you’ve
been here for many years. We are called to make a
kingdom impact. Our priorities as a church are summed up
in the IMPACT acrostic printed on your bulletin – and
they are to be personal priorities as well:
• Instruction in
God’s Word. We are called to read, study, and apply the
Bible. We are to do this on our own and also by
listening to the Word as it is preached and by being
involved in one of our small groups.
• Mobilized for Ministry. We are to be involved in using
our time, talents, and treasures in the work of the
• Praying with Faith. We are to be engaged in regular
and fervent prayer.
• Adoring God in Worship. We are to worship God with
reverence and with joy both individually and
• Caring for others. As we mentioned last week, we must
be the church before we can build the church. We must be
committed to each other. About 50 women experienced this
kind of caring this past Thursday at the “Gathering.”
• Telling Others the Gospel. We are to look for ways to
share the gospel message with those around us.
I read years ago of a
missionary in China whose abilities were so outstanding
that one of the American companies tried to hire him.
They offered him an attractive job with a salary to
match, but he turned it down. He told them that God had
sent him to China as a missionary. He thought that would
end the matter, but instead they came back with a better
offer and an increase in salary. He turned that down
too, but again they came back, doubling the financial
package. Finally he said to them, “It’s not your salary
that’s too little. It’s the job that’s too small!”
In her book, “A Practical Guide to Prayer,” Dorothy
Haskins tells about a noted concert violinist who was
asked the secret of her mastery of the instrument. This
is what she said, “There are many things that used to
demand my time. When I went to my room after breakfast,
I made my bed, straightened the room, dusted, and did
whatever seemed necessary. When I finished my work, I
turned to my violin practice. That system prevented me
from accomplishing what I should on the violin. So I
reversed things. I deliberately planned to neglect
everything else until my practice period was complete.
And that program of planned neglect is the secret to my
Friends, in a similar way, we’ve been called to a great
task – one that we have to prioritize or we’ll be
distracted from it. If we don’t practice some “planned
neglect” of other things, even good things, we’ll be
distracted from God’s best. That’s what Nehemiah does.
He’s involved in a great work, and he’s not going to
forsake it for anything less.
The Innuendo (Neh 6:5-9)
When the enemy cannot accomplish his purpose by offering
peace, he switches back to his original scheme of
sinister threats. He moves from political softball to
political hardball. Take a look at Neh 6:5-7: “Then, the
fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same
message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which
was written: “It is reported among the nations -- and
Geshem says it is true -- that you and the Jews are
plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the
wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about
to become their king and have even appointed prophets to
make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is
a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the
king; so come, let us confer together.”
This arm-twisting tactic is designed to pressure
Nehemiah to yield to their request, and thus fall into
their trap. But he resists because he sees it for what
it really is, an enticement based upon lies. Note that
it was an “unsealed letter.” In other words, it was
designed for everyone to read, so that the lie would be
spread around that Nehemiah was trying to make himself
Have you ever noticed that rumors regularly cite people
of distinction as sources? That’s what happened here –
“and Geshem says its true.” Someone has said that gossip
is news you have to hurry to tell somebody else before
you find out isn’t true!
Nehemiah responded three different ways – he denied the
rumor, he prayed to God for strength, and he went back
to work. Look at Neh 6:8: “I sent him this reply:
‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are
just making it up out of your head.’” That’s the best
way to respond to a charge like this -- just a flat
denial. He doesn’t try to disprove the accusation but
merely states, “That is a lie. There is no truth in it.”
And then, invariably, as was his practice, he responds
with another “popcorn prayer” in Neh 6:9: “They are all
trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get
too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’
But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’”
Their tactics were to get the people to think that
Nehemiah had some hidden motive -- his own glory -- for
rebuilding the wall, hoping that the workers would thus
become discouraged and quit. Nehemiah simply prays,
“Lord, do not let that happen. Strengthen me to work all
the harder.” They were on the last lap of the race and
the finish line was in sight. He took care of his
character and trusted God to take care of his
The Intimidation (Neh 6:10-19)
Once again the enemy switches his game plan in Neh 6:10:
“One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah,
the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He
said, ‘Let us meet in the house of God, inside the
temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men
are coming to kill you -- by night they are coming to
This false prophet claims to have hidden knowledge. That
is suggested by the phrase, “he was shut in” at his
home. He was secluding himself for some religious
reason. This is frequently the case with those who claim
to be psychics who are in touch with the invisible
world. They sit behind curtains in semi-darkness, trying
to create a sense of mystery, as though they know more
about inscrutable things than others.
What he says sounds logical: “Some people are out to get
you. They are going to kill you.” Nehemiah certainly
believes that! The man suggests, “Come on up here and we
will go into the temple and shut the doors. They will
not dare attack you there.” That sounds good, but
immediately Nehemiah detects that something is wrong. He
knows that he is not permitted to go into the temple,
for only priests could enter the holy place.
So he answers in Neh 6:11: “But I said, ‘should a man
like me run away? Or should one like me go into the
temple to save his life? I will not go!’” He realizes
that a prophet who was really from the Lord would say
nothing contrary to God’s commands. In Neh 6:3 he said,
“I cannot come down.” Now he says, “I will not go in.”
Having right priorities gave Nehemiah the courage to do
what was right. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but
instead it’s the tenacity to do what is right no matter
how much we’re afraid. You see, it’s not just a matter
of saying ‘no’ to distractions. We have to first say
‘yes’ to the right things, so that our priorities match
up with God’s priorities. As we keep the main thing the
main thing, we’ll be able to deal with distractions the
way Nehemiah did.
God gives Nehemiah some insight in Neh 6:12-13: “I
realized that God had not sent him, but that he had
prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had
hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I
would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would
give me a bad name to discredit me.” It was all part of
a plan to discourage and distract the people from
following Nehemiah’s lead. Fueled by jealousy and
ambition, these enemies slandered him and tried to trick
him into yielding to their demands.
We must be aware of this kind of attack in our lives as
well. Don’t take someone’s advice or do what a friend
asks you to do just because they seem like a nice
person. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from
God’s priorities. The best response to such an approach
is what Nehemiah uses here -- a deep sense of his true
identity as a believer. “Should a man like me run and
hide and try to save his life by wrong approaches and
unlawful practices?” He falls back upon his clear
understanding of who he is and what his priorities are.
He is a believer in the Living God and as such need not
resort to trickery to save his life.
Nehemiah meets this attack of the enemy by going to
prayer once again in Neh 6:14:
“Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of
what they have done; remember also that prophetess
Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets who have been
trying to intimidate me.”
This brings us to the end of this first phase of
Nehemiah’s work in Neh 6:15-16: “So the wall was
completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two
days. When all our enemies heard about this and all the
surrounding nations saw it, our enemies lost their
self-confidence, because they realized that this work
had been done with the help of our God.” Even their
enemies had to admit that God was at work! This entire
project was finished in just 52 days! What a beautiful
picture of the power of Christian witness in a
community! Even their foes must agree that God is at
work among them. But the enemies are still not through.
In these closing verses we see how they continue their
tactics of opposing and distracting: “Also, in those
days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to
Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For
many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was
son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son
Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of
Berekiah.” (Neh 6:17-18)
That is simply saying that Tobiah had intermarried with
the Israelites. Taking advantage of that relationship,
he was seeking to undermine Nehemiah’s influence by
nothing more than mere gossip. As Nehemiah says in Neh
6:19: “Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good
deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent
letters to intimidate me.”
Brothers and sisters, here’s one of the overriding
truths from this book: the devil never quits. He is
never going to give up while we are still alive. God has
wonderful blessings and much encouragement and joy for
us along the way, but we must never cease battling
against the world, the flesh and the devil until we get
to heaven. The enemy of God will never quit. If he
cannot distract you with fear and flattery, he will use
gossip and false accusations.
As we close this morning, let’s ask God to apply this
passage to our lives. I see at least two action steps:
1. Practice saying, “yes” to God’s priorities.
The best way to not
be distracted is by being attracted to those things that
are on the heart of God. Once we’re aware of what those
are, and are attracted to them, we need to commit
ourselves to a life of full devotion and complete
I heard a story about a Native American who left the
reservation to join his cousin who lived in the city.
One day, as they were walking down a busy street, the
Native American said, “I hear a cricket.” His city
cousin was amazed because all he could hear was the
traffic. After a short search, the man reached down and
picked up the cricket. When he stood up, he pulled some
change out of his pocket and dropped it on the sidewalk.
The noise was no louder than the cricket’s, but
immediately several pedestrians stopped and turned
toward the sound. The man then turned to his cousin and
said, “See, people hear what’s important to them.”
What are you hearing today? What is it that’s important
to you? Are you locked into God’s kingdom purposes or
are you focused on a bunch of other things?
2. Practice saying, “no” to the devil’s distractions.
I don’t know what
distractions you’re faced with but it might be
television. I read this week that the average American
spends three hours and 46 minutes watching TV every day.
That equals 52 days of nonstop TV watching per year. By
the age of 65, the average American will have spent
nearly nine years glued to the tube.
Let’s take some time right now and ask the Holy Spirit
to help you identify those things that are distracting
you from God’s priorities. Is it a friend? An activity?
Your money? Your possessions? Your thought life? Your
career? When the Spirit makes it clear, decide how you
can begin to say “no” to those things that are derailing
you from what’s most important. Maybe you can practice
saying, “no” like Nehemiah did – “I will not come down”
and “I will not go in.”
Someone sent me this fictional report of a worldwide
convention that Satan and his demons participated in. In
the devil’s opening address to his followers, he said,
“We can’t keep Christians from going to church but we
can steal their time. Let’s keep them busy in the
non-essentials of life and invent innumerable schemes to
occupy their minds…keep them busy, busy, busy! And when
they meet for spiritual fellowship, involve them in
gossip and small talk so that they leave with troubled
consciences and unsettled emotions. Let’s crowd their
lives with so many good things that they have no time to
seek the best things.”
Friends, the enemy will act to distract you. But while
he blasts away, God is building His kingdom. Satan is
subtle but God is sufficient. Remember, when God’s
priorities become our priorities, God’s kingdom work
will advance. When the wall was completed, Neh 6:16
says, “…All the surrounding nations were afraid and lost
their self-confidence, because they realized that this
work had been done with the help of our God.” May that
be said of us!
NEHEMIAH 7-8: Steps to Spiritual Renewal
I received an email this week from Janelle Becker, one
of our missionaries serving in the Philippines. She’s
been there for about 10 weeks and is learning the
language and beginning to understand the culture. In her
email, she forwarded what her co-worker wrote about a
shared experience in a recent church service:
I heard my pastor
announce that we were going to take up an offering to
purchase some “sin” for another developing church. The
pastor made this compelling announcement: “Their church
building is nearly finished, and they are in desperate
need of more “sin.” If you would like to make a donation
toward the purchase of more “sin” or if you would just
like to go out and buy “sin” to give them yourself, let
us know as soon as possible. If you aren’t going to be
here next Sunday and would like to leave your donation
for “sin” with us, that would be fine. I know the Lord
will bless you for your generous gift toward this
Janelle’s friend Marilee continues: “At that point I was
nearly unable to contain myself! I leaned over and
whispered to my friend [who I think was Janelle], ‘So,
you can actually go out and purchase “sin” here in the
Philippines? What a shame they don’t have enough “sin”
in their church already!”
Later on, they figured out what was going on:
The Cebuano word for “tin” is “sin”!
They were in fact,
needing more tin to complete the roof of the new church
building. Could it be said, then, that they were in sin
over their heads?”
My guess is that most of us have plenty of sin to deal
with in our lives – we certainly don’t need to purchase
any more! What Janelle is experiencing in another
culture is very common. Due to the difficulty in
understanding a new language, she’s faced with some
Just as there are many misconceptions when trying to
learn a new language, so too, many of us have some
misconceptions about the Bible. Here are three that come
• It’s too confusing
• It’s too boring to study
• It’s impossible to apply
These myths are
demolished in Nehemiah 8. In the first half of the book,
in chapters 1-6, the focus is on reconstruction.
Chapter 1 Knowing How
Chapter 2 How to Tackle a Tough Job
Chapter 3 Working Well With Others
Chapter 4 Defeating Discouragement
Chapter 5 How to Stop Strife
Chapter 6 Dealing With Distractions
The emphasis shifts
in Nehemiah 7, as the focal point becomes reinstruction
in the rest of the book. We move from rebuilding the
city, to rebuilding the people.
I want to use these myths, or misconceptions, as an
outline this morning.
The first myth is that the Bible
is too confusing to read.
In Neh 8:1-8, we’ll see that
the Bible, instead of being confusing, is actually a
book that you and I can comprehend – You can understand
The second myth is that the Bible is too dry and boring
What we’ll discover in Neh 8:9-12 is that the
Bible is anything but dull – You can rejoice in it!
The third misconception is that the Bible is impossible
What relevance does a book this old have to do
with my world today? Neh 8:13-18 show us that there are
many ways we can apply its truths – You can obey it!
You Can Understand It
Take a look at Neh 8:1: “When the seventh month came and
the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the
people assembled as one man in the square before the
Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the
Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded
The Bible is not a “magic book” that changes us just
because we read it – God’s Word must be understood
before it can enter the heart and release its
life-changing power. The word, “understanding” is used
six times in this chapter, which shows that the Bible is
not meant to be confusing, but to be understood.
Ezra was the ideal man to conduct this outdoor Bible
conference. He had come to Jerusalem 14 years before
Nehemiah and was a priest, scholar, and teacher of the
Law. Ezra 7:10 gives us some insight into what kind of
man he was: “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study
and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching
its decrees and laws in Israel.” He was committed to
personal study of the Word, he looked for ways to apply
the Bible to his life, and then he taught it to others.
This is one of my favorite verses – I consider it a
personal challenge because I want to do the same. I’m
committed to study and personal application so that I
can teach the Word accurately and with integrity.
They came together on the first day of the seventh
month, which was the Jewish equivalent of our New Year’s
Day. During this month, the Israelites celebrated the
Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast
of Tabernacles. It was the perfect time for them to get
right with God and make a fresh start. Notice that this
seems to be a spontaneous gathering. No invitations were
sent out. No public notice was given. They came together
as “one man,” eager to understand God’s Word. They met
before the “Water Gate.” In the Bible, water is a
picture of the Word of God.
Instead of waiting to hear what Ezra wanted to preach
on, “they told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of
the Law…” Like an impatient audience at a concert, the
people were probably chanting, “We want Ezra. We want
Ezra. Teach us the Word. Bring it on!” The Book of the
Law was the Torah, which contains the first five Books
Neh 8:3 tells us that he started reading at dawn and
read until lunch. The people listened to the Word of God
for over six hours! We know from Neh 8:18 that this
continued for a week. And, they didn’t just sit in their
pews – they “listened attentively.” There’s no greater
thrill to a preacher then when people listen alertly to
the Word of God. When I was candidating here at PBC, the
search committee told me that this church really
responds to biblical preaching. They were absolutely
right – thank you for your attentiveness and compelling
desire to understand God’s Word. In an effort to follow
Ezra’s example, we’re going to have six-hour services
beginning next Sunday! Just kidding.
In Neh 8:4 we read, “Ezra stood on a high wooden
platform built for the occasion” so they could see and
hear him better. Some churches in Scotland have high
pulpits, with 20 or 30 steps leading up to them – they
probably got the idea from this passage. Thirteen men
stood with Ezra while he read.
When Ezra opened the Book in Neh 8:5, the people honored
God by standing up. They knew this was not just a man
speaking; they were about to hear the very Word of God.
After Ezra praised “the great God” in Neh 8:6, all the
people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!”
No one fell asleep in this service. Everyone listened
attentively and everyone responded. Then they “bowed
down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the
The people went from sitting to standing. Then, they
raised their hands, shouted out their agreement by
saying “Amen” and then bowed down and worshipped by
putting their faces to the ground. The anticipation of
hearing the Bible in a way that they could understand
totally gripped them. They were locked in, focused, and
ready to hear from their great God.
In this spirit, please stand as I read the rest of this
In Neh 8:7-8, the Levites join Ezra in helping to
instruct the people. They “made it clear” and gave the
meaning “so that the people could understand what was
being read.” Their task was twofold. First, they had to
translate from Hebrew into Aramaic because the language
would have undergone some changes since the days of
Moses. By the way, the reason we need new translations
of the Bible is not because the Bible changes, but
because our language is undergoing change all the time.
Second, they had to spell out the application, so that
the listeners would know how to flesh out God’s truth in
their own lives. They probably mingled with the people
and, when there was a break in the reading, answered
questions and told them how to apply the Law. There was
both a public proclamation of the Word in a large
assembly and the face-to-face interaction of a small
Myth #1 is that the Bible is too
confusing to read.
What we learn from Neh 8:1-8 is that
the Bible is designed to be understood. Let me give you
four hints to help you better comprehend the Word of
• Find a contemporary
translation and read a chapter of the Bible every day.
Grab a notebook and write down one verse that impacts
you. Saturate yourself with Scripture.
• Be attentive during the preaching time. Read the
passage I will be speaking on during the week. Bring
your Bible and follow along. Take notes.
• Participate in an IMPACT class on Sunday mornings.
These classes are designed to help you understand more
about the Bible.
• Plug into a small group. Like the Levites with Ezra,
our small group leaders are trained to help you better
understand the Bible. If you’re ready to join a group,
pick up some information in the hallway or call the
inductive Bible study
is a very
productive and powerful "technique" for reading and
understanding Scripture. Try it!)
You Can Rejoice In
Myth #2 is that the Bible is too boring to study.
The truth of the matter is that you can rejoice in it!
We see this in Neh 8:9, 10, 11-12.
As Ezra read and the small group leaders explained the
Word, the congregation’s first response was one of
conviction and grief in Neh 8:9. The natural reaction to
the Bible is guilt. The people wept because they knew
they had been neglecting God’s Word. Another reason they
were broken up is because their hearts were convicted by
what they heard. As Romans 3:20 says, “…through the Law
we become conscious of sin.” The ministry of Scripture
caused them to see the beauty of God and the ugliness of
their own hearts.
Though weeping is necessary and important, it’s not the
final message God has for us. Assisted by the Levites,
Nehemiah convinced the people to stop mourning and start
celebrating. The Word of God brings conviction and leads
to repentance, but it also brings us joy; for the same
Word that wounds also heals. Jeremiah 15:16: “When your
words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s
delight…” Psalm 19:8: “The precepts of the Lord are
right, giving joy to the heart…” Friends, it is as wrong
to mourn when God has forgiven us, as it is to rejoice
when sin has conquered us. Grief for sin, and joy in
God’s forgiveness are not far from each other. The God
who convicts of sin is the God of grace and mercy.
It isn’t enough for us to read the Word, or receive the
Word as others explain it; we must also rejoice in the
Look at Neh 8:10-12:
Go and enjoy choice
food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have
nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not
grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. The
Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for
this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.’ Then all the
people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of
food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now
understood the words that had been made known to them.
Did you catch that?
When people understand the Word of God, it brings them
joy. We can have joy because God has found a solution to
the sin problem.
Notice how the people are urged to share what they have
with others. This is significant in light of what we
learned in chapter 5 when the rich were taking advantage
of the poor. When we understand God through
understanding His Word, we will have a contagious joy as
we invite others to experience the same thing. As
someone has said, “Joy is magnified when it’s shared.”
That’s one of the points Nehemiah makes: Eat something
good, drink something sweet, and give some to people who
don’t have any. This is a sacred day, so be joyful.
Reverence and rejoicing go together. Philemon 6
challenges us to “be active in sharing our faith so that
we will have a full understanding of every good thing we
have in Christ.” We can’t have true joy unless we share
what we have with others.
Friends, the Bible and the truths within it are far from
dry or boring. If we understand Scripture, we will come
to the place of joy. Every effort to make Christianity
seem sad, heavy, strict, and boring comes up short. The
people who know the story of redemption the best are the
most free, the most joyful, and the least likely to keep
it to themselves.
Let me give you a couple ways to demolish this second
myth so that you can rejoice in what you understand from
• Instead of focusing
on how you’ve messed up, draw your attention to what God
has done on your behalf. Some of you are crippled with
guilt and paralyzed with shame. If you’ve confessed it,
the Bible says you are forgiven and free. It’s time to
move on with joy. Isaiah 44:22 is a great verse to
treasure if you’re struggling with guilt and shame: “I
have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins
like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed
• Look for ways to share what you have with others.
Someone this week stopped by my office because she
wanted to give a meal to a homeless person. She was
passing along her joy to someone else. Who can you give
something to this week? Think of someone you know who is
a pre-Christian. Ask God to give you an opportunity this
week to share your joy with him or her.
You Can Obey It
Myth #3 is that
the Bible is impossible to apply.
This myth says that God is just out to make
life miserable for us by giving us things to do which
are unattainable. While it’s certainly true that we
can’t obey everything in the Bible because of our
sinfulness, we can live out its truths and principles on
a daily basis. In fact, God’s Word was given in order to
transform our lives. We don’t have to make the Bible
relevant because it already is. Our challenge is to
follow what we know to be true as we ask the Holy Spirit
to empower and fill us. As James 1:22-25 reminds us,
it’s not enough to just hear the Word of God; we must
obey what it tells us to do.
You see, as we understand the Bible, we will debunk myth
#1, which says that it’s too confusing to read. As we
celebrate with rejoicing and disarm myth #2, which says
that it’s too boring to study; we will be ready to obey
and destroy myth #3 which says that it’s impossible to
apply. Matthew Henry, a Bible commentator once wrote:
“Holy joy is oil to the wheels of our obedience.” To the
believer without joy, the will of God is drudgery; but
to the believer who is strengthened by the joy of the
Lord, the will of God is nourishment.
In Neh 8:13-18 we see how the Israelites found great joy
in their obedience. As they paid attention to what they
heard, Neh 8:14 says that they discovered they were not
fully following the Lord in all areas. While they had
celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles at different times
in their history, they were supposed to set up booths
made out of branches. They were doing part of what God
wanted, but weren’t following all the directions. There
are times in my life when my problem isn’t that I’m not
following the Lord, it’s that I’m not obeying Him
The Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths, was a
reminder that they were called as a people out of Egypt.
When they got into the desert, God told them to collect
branches and limbs of trees in order to have shelter.
God then told them to do this every year, even when they
had their homes to dwell in.
God told them to live in shacks for a week. They were to
go out, fetch some branches and sticks, and make booths
for their families to live in. They may have wondered
why this was so important, especially since the wall was
now complete. Sanballat and Tobiah must have just shaken
their heads in amazement. They made fun of the wall’s
construction and now the people were busy building
little shacks. These little lean-tos were scattered all
There were three main purposes for this festival. It was
a time for looking back and remembering the nation’s
forty years of wandering in the wilderness, when the
people were homeless and lived in temporary shelters. It
helped them remember where they had come from and how
far God had brought them.
This “Fall Festival” was also a time for looking around
at the harvest blessings from the hand of God. That’s
one of the reasons we are going to meet tonight at our
Fall Fest – to celebrate the harvest from our fields and
to thank God for the spiritual harvest that God is
blessing our church with.
The Feast of Tabernacles was also an occasion for
looking ahead. These believers may have been tempted to
get comfortable with their new city and their new homes.
But the Word of God says, “Remember, your home is not in
this world. You are always going to be pilgrims here.
Your home is in heaven.” After the walls were up, God
wanted to make sure they didn’t count on the walls, but
instead, count on Him. We need that reminder – don’t
sink your roots too deep into this world because our
true home is in heaven.
As the people applied God’s truth, they did it with an
attitude of joy. Look at Neh 8:17: “And their joy was
very great.” When God gives you insight, no matter how
strange or difficult it appears to be, cultivate an
attitude of complete commitment and unreserved
obedience. When you obey Him, you will have the deep
satisfaction that you are doing the right thing, no
matter how hard it is. If we are truly a people of the
Book, we’ll live by the Book. Let me suggest three
action steps that will help you develop an application
orientation to the Word of God. The Bible is not
impossible to apply – you can obey it!
• Pray and ask God
for personal transformation as you read and understand
the Bible. Ask Him to reveal what it is He wants you to
do as a result of what you’ve read or heard. Avoid the
temptation to just “study” the Bible, compiling
information as if that’s the only goal. Expect to hear
something that God wants you to apply.
• When God reveals something to you, don’t put it off.
Don’t bargain with God. Don’t go halfway. Don’t settle
for spiritual mediocrity. Determine to be obedient.
• Ask someone to help hold you accountable. When you
know what God wants you to do, and you’re not sure if
you’re going to be able to do it on your own, ask for
I want to close this message by first addressing those
of you who are believers. In every genuine revival in
history, there have always been two major thrusts:
• Proclamation and
preaching of the Word
• Responsive mobilization of God’s people
As you’ve listened to
God’s Word this morning some of you are ready to be
renewed. You want to respond because you know you need
to be personally revived. It’s so easy to slip, isn’t
it? Our natural tendency is to head south spiritually.
Some of you have lost your joy and feel a bit dry. You
can relate to the psalmist when he asked in Psalm 85:6:
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may
rejoice in you?”
Are you ready to repent and turn from your sins? There’s
a town in Canada called Wabush that was completely
isolated for many years. Recently they cut a road
through the wilderness to reach it. It now has one road
leading into it, and thus, only one road leading out. If
someone would travel the 8 hours it would take to get to
Wabush, there is only one way they could leave – by
Some of you have been spending too much time in a town
called SIN. As with this town, there is only one way out
– a road built by God himself. In order to take that
road, one must first turn around. Are you ready to turn
from your sin and experience the power of the Lord again
in your life? Are you ready to commit to full obedience?
If so, commit to understand, rejoice, and obey the Word
My second invitation is for those of you who have not
yet put your full faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness
of sins. You have no need to purchase more sin in your
life because you have plenty already. The Bible says
that each of us are stained by sin and because of that,
we have been separated from God. Jesus, when He died on
the cross, paid the price for our sins so that we can
have forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Let me illustrate. This week I was having lunch with a
recent visitor to our church. During lunch I got up and
said “hi” to another couple I knew. When we were done
eating, the waitress came over and said that this other
couple had paid our bill for us. I couldn’t believe it.
I didn’t do anything to deserve their kindness.
That’s exactly what Jesus has done for you. He’s paid
your sin tab because of how much He loves you. All you
have to do is accept His payment and receive Him into
your life. But it takes a response on your behalf. Max
Lucado has said that there are a thousand steps between
us and God and that God will take all of those steps,
but one. He’s leaving the final one for us. The choice
Are you read this morning to take this final step? You
see, if you want spiritual renewal in your life, you
first need to be regenerated. Just as Nehemiah listed a
bunch of names in chapter 7, which proved who the true
believers were, so too, there is another book that is
full of names. It’s called the Lamb’s Book of Life. Is
your name in it? Are you ready to take the step you need
I want to give you the opportunity right now to respond
to God’s Word. If you’re a believer and you need
revival, I invite you to come forward. If you’re not yet
a believer, and you need regeneration, I invite you to
slip out of your chair and come forward.
Someone has said this about repentance:
“If we put off
repentance another day, we have one day more to repent
of, and a day less to repent in.”
Prone to Wander
It was a bright Sunday morning in 28th century London,
but Robert Robinson’s mood was anything but sunny. All
along the street there were people hurrying to church,
but in the midst of the crowd Robinson was a lonely man.
The sound of church bells reminded him of years past
when his faith in God was strong and the church was an
integral part of his life. It had been years since he
set foot in a church—years of wandering,
disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he
once loved. That love for God—once fiery and
passionate—had slowly burned out within him, leaving him
dark and cold inside.
Robinson heard the clip-clop, clip-clop of a horse-drawn
cab approaching behind him. Turning, he lifted his hand
to hail the driver. But then he saw that the cab was
occupied by a young woman dressed in her Sunday best. He
waved the driver on, but the woman in the carriage
ordered the carriage to be stopped.
“Sir, I’d be happy to share this carriage with you,” she
said to Robinson. “Are you going to church?” Robinson
was about to decline, but then he paused. “Yes,” he said
at last. “I am going to church.” He stepped into the
carriage and sat down beside the young woman.
As the carriage rolled forward Robert Robinson and the
woman exchanged introductions. There was a flash of
recognition in her eyes when he stated his name. “That’s
an interesting coincidence,” she said, reaching into her
purse. She withdrew a small book of poems, opened it to
a ribbon-bookmark, and handed the book to him. “I was
just reading a verse by a poet named Robert Robinson.
Could it be…?”
He took the book, nodding. “Yes, I wrote these words
“Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Imagine! I’m
sharing a carriage with the author of these very lines!”
But Robinson barely heard her. He was absorbed in the
words he was reading. They were words that would one day
be set to music and become a great hymn of the faith,
familiar to generations of Christians:
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace’
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
His eyes slipped to the bottom of the page where he
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it—
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
He could barely read the last few lines through the
tears that brimmed in his eyes. “I wrote these words—and
I’ve lived these words.
‘Prone to wander…
prone to leave
the God I love.’”
The woman suddenly understood. “You also wrote, ‘Here’s
my heart, O take and seal it.’ You can offer your heart
again to God, Mr. Robinson. It’s not too late.”
And it wasn’t too late for Robert Robinson. In that
moment he turned his heart back to God and walked with
him the rest of his days.
And, it’s not too late for you! Are you ready to turn
your heart back to God right now? I’m going to ask Susan
to play this hymn and as she does, if you need revival,
or if you need regeneration, come up front and I’ll pray
Oh, dear friends, you
may rejoice. God has laid no embargo upon rejoicing; he
puts no restriction upon happiness. Do believe it that
you are permitted to be happy. Do believe that there is
no ordinance of God commanding you to be miserable.
NEHEMIAH 9: Putting First Things First
Earlier this week I was sitting in my office when I
received an email from my youngest sister. She and her
husband have been attending a church for a while and
have become interested in spiritual things. We’ve been
praying for both of them for quite some time and have
known that they’ve been close to making a spiritual
commitment to Christ.
Here’s part of her letter: “I have joined a women’s
Bible study through church. We met for the first time
last Monday and I really liked it…The books were on back
order so last week we just sort of talked and the women
answered a lot of my questions. I seem to have so many.
By the way, I never made it through the first Left
Behind book. The first 100 pages scared the pants off me
and I got the point quickly…the message came to me loud
I’ve probably asked the Lord to come into my heart and
change my life 50 times, and Pastor Glenn said that
asking once would do just fine. I do not want to be left
behind and I want my son and husband to grow together
with me. I get worried about the change thing cuz I sort
of like my life, but I’m getting the drift and the women
in the Bible study will really help me. Honestly, you
and Beth have been my inspiration, it has just taken me
As tears rolled down my face and splashed onto my
keyboard, I could barely contain my excitement. I called
Beth and we rejoiced together about my sister’s new
birth. After praying for her, we hung up and I went back
to crying. Just then Chuck Cunningham came to my door,
and I noticed that he had tears in his eyes as well. He
explained to me that his aunt was dying and would
probably not live through the day. He then noticed that
I had been weeping. Here we were, two grown men, one
rocked by the grief of death, the other impacted by the
joy of the new birth. His grief, though deep and real,
is tempered by the fact that his aunt is a born again
believer. The angels were rejoicing over a new birth,
and an aunt was getting ready to spend an eternity
filled with jubilant joy. This underscores the truth
that there are times when we are pumped up and there are
other times when we are bummed out. In fact, in our
spiritual lives, we often experience indescribable joy
when we contemplate God’s amazing grace, and we also
grieve and mourn over our own tendency to tube out
spiritually. Paul linked joy and grief together in
“For in my inner
being I delight [that’s joy] in God’s law; but I see
another law at work in the members of my body, waging
war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner
of the law of sin at work within my members. What a
wretched man I am! [that’s grief]. Who will rescue me
from this body of death?”
As we learned last week, God’s people were told to stop
mourning and start rejoicing. It’s now later in that
same month, the “branch booths” and “tents of twigs”
have been taken down. God’s Word is given central
attention once again, but instead of jubilant praise,
there is a mood of repentant sorrow. Nehemiah 8 focused
on God’s Word as it was read, interpreted and applied;
in chapter 9, the people respond in prayer with genuine
sadness about their sins. Listening to God through His
word and responding to Him in prayer are twin aspects of
every believer’s experience. There can be no spiritual
growth without the regular cultivation of this dual
privilege and discipline.
Here’s another way to compare the two chapters. In
chapter 8, Ezra and Nehemiah comfort the afflicted. In
chapter 9, the comfortable are afflicted. Joy and grief
are two sides of the same coin. After a thrilling
encounter with God, which causes them to break into
celebration, the believers now come face to face with
their own depravity.
Interestingly, if you want to study three of the most
powerful prayers ever written, they are all found in
chapter 9 – of Ezra, Daniel and Nehemiah. Nehemiah 9
records an extended prayer, which is in fact, the
longest prayer in the Bible outside the Psalms. D.L.
Moody once asked someone to pray during a church
service. The man began his prayer and was still droning
on after ten minutes had gone by. Finally, Mr. Moody
stood up and said, “While our dear brother is finishing
his prayer, let’s turn to number 342 and sing it
together!” This prayer in Nehemiah is not that long, but
it’s a great model for us to study so that we can learn
to put first things first.
This prayer is a brilliant mosaic of biblical
quotations, recollections, images and phrases. The
Levites, who led the people in this prayer of
confession, knew Scripture by heart and relied on the
language of the patriarchs, prophets, priests and
psalmists. This confession accurately expresses the
people’s disappointment with themselves and their
confidence in God. In other words, this declaration has
two elements – they confess who God is and they confess
I’ve been helped in my study of this passage by Warren
Wiersbe’s treatment of the text – I’m going to borrow
his outline this morning:
• The Greatness of
God (Neh 9:1-6)
• The Goodness of God (Neh 9:7-30)
• The Grace of God (Neh 9:31-37)
The Greatness of God
Neh 9:1 indicates that the Israelites gathered together
on the twenty-fourth day of the month – on our calendar,
that would have been October 31st. They were fasting,
wearing sackcloth, and had put dust on their heads.
These were common signs of mourning that were often done
when Old Testament believers were in deep sadness
because of a loss or when they were ready to repent and
recommit their lives to God.
Neh 9:2 tells us that they had separated themselves from
those who would have a bad influence on them. As they
heard the Bible read, they no doubt came across
Leviticus 20:26: “You are to be holy to Me because I,
the Lord, am holy, and have set you apart from the
nations to be my own.” Israel’s history tells the tragic
story of what happens when believers don’t make a break
from the “world.” Some of us are too cozy with the
things of the world as well – God wants us to live
distinctive lives that draw people to the Savior.
Someone has said that separation without devotion to the
Lord can become isolation, but devotion without
separation is hypocrisy. Notice that they stood up and
confessed, not only the sins of their fathers, but their
own sins as well. There was a solidarity in their guilt.
As we learned last week, they couldn’t wait to hear the
Word of God. In Neh 9:3, we read that they spent three
hours reading the Bible and then three hours in
confession and worship. The order here is significant –
when we read the Word we will then see how far we come
short. Once we contemplate our own sinfulness we will
begin to understand more about God’s greatness. As we
do, we’ll break out into worship.
Neh 9:4 and 5 explain how they conducted this service.
The Levites divided themselves into two groups. Some
were standing on the stairs on one side of the assembly
and the other group stood across from them. These two
groups called back and forth to the congregation, one
group confessing the sins of the people, the other
praising God for His greatness. It’s like an antiphonal
chorus. The first group “called with loud voices.” This
literally means that they “cried out.” The second group
focused on God’s character as they sang. In fact, the
rest of this chapter gives us the actual words they
used. Cries of guilt are followed by shouts of praise
for God’s greatness, goodness, and graciousness. Tears
of grief form the lyrics of lament while tears of joy
transpose the anthem of adoration.
In Neh 9:5, the “worshippers” invite the people to,
“Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from
everlasting to everlasting.” Before they come to a time
of necessary confession, they must first praise the one
who alone can hear, pardon and change them. He never
changes and will never go back on His word because He is
Their prayer continues in the last part of Neh 9:5:
“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted
above all blessing and praise.” In this chapter, the
believers reflect on God’s nature and character as well
as His mighty works in history. Adoration is really the
heart of true prayer. If you’re struggling with your
faith this morning, it may well be because your view of
God is too small or too narrow. Or, it may be that your
theology is fine, but you don’t think God has much to do
with your life today. David Wells, a theologian, refers
to this view as the “weightlessness of God.” He writes
that our sense of inadequacy or ineffectiveness can be
traced to our limited understanding and experience of
God: “God rests too inconsequentially upon the church.
His truth is too distant, his grace too ordinary, his
judgment too benign, his gospel too easy, and His Christ
Friends, we must glory in the incomparable magnificence
of our grand God. Neh 9:6 starts off with a clear
statement of God’s greatness that is grounded in the
opening verses of Genesis: “You alone are the Lord. You
made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all
their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the
seas and all that is in them. You give life to
everything and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”
There is no one like God – the evidence for His
greatness is seen in His works of creation as Psalm 19:1
clearly states: “The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
During the French Revolution, many people wanted to get
rid of Christianity forever. On one clear night an
atheist boastfully proclaimed his beliefs to a poor
peasant: “Everything will be abolished – churches,
Bibles, and the clergy. Yes, even the word “God” itself!
We shall remove everything that speaks of religion.” The
peasant gave a quiet chuckle. The atheist wanted to know
what the believer was laughing about. The peasant then
pointed to the stars and replied, “I was just wondering
how you’re going to manage to get all of those bright
lights out of the sky!”
It’s always best to begin with the greatness of God. If
we focus too much on what He gives to us, or on what we
want Him to do for us, we may find our hearts becoming
selfish. Do you see God as great this morning? Or, is
your God too small?
The Goodness of God
The bulk of this chapter focuses on the goodness of God
in Neh 9:7-30. God is very clearly the focal point, as
the word “you” is used over 50 times. In Neh 9:7-15, He
is the subject of ever sentence and the word “give” is
used in one form or another at least 16 different times.
This part of the prayer rehearses the history of Israel,
revealing God’s goodness to His people and their
repeated failure to appreciate His gifts and obey His
will. George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher has
said, “He who forgets the past is condemned to repeat
it.” Romans 15:4-note helps us see the value in studying the
“For everything that was written in the
past was written to teach us, so that through endurance
and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have
God’s goodness is seen in at least four ways in
1. Forming (Neh 9:7-18).
In Neh 9:7-18, the
prayer begins with how God formed the nation of Israel.
He chose Abram and brought him out of Ur and made a
covenant with him. Then, when God’s people were
suffering in Egypt, Neh 9:10 says that God made a name
for Himself by dividing the sea and releasing His people
from bondage. In Neh 9:13, they recall God’s goodness in
the giving of the Law and in Neh 9:14, 15, they praise
God for how the newly formed nation was given possession
of the land that was promised to them.
After this protracted praise time where the focus in on
God for His goodness, the choir of confession sings out
words of guilt in Neh 9:16: “But they, our forefathers,
became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your
commands.” This is followed by a reply from the other
side of the choir loft in Neh 9:17: “But you are a
forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger
and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert
them.” They are guilty – but God is good…all the time!
2. Leading (Neh 9:19-21).
After forming the
nation, God was committed to lead His people on a daily
basis – even when they disobeyed Him. We see that in Neh
9:19:”Because of your great compassion you did not
abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud
did not cease to guide them on their path, not the
pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to
take.” Neh 9:20 says that God gave His Spirit to the
people to provide for their spiritual requirements and
food and water to meet their physical needs. Neh 9:21
tells us that for forty years, as the children of Israel
wandered in the desert, their feet did not swell and
their clothes did not wear out.
3. Providing (Neh 9:22-25).
God’s goodness is
seen through His forming of the nation and by how he led
them on a daily basis. He also provided them with
everything they needed. He helped them defeat their
enemies and gave them kingdoms and nations. He
multiplied their numbers by blessing them with children.
Neh 9:25 is a good summary of how God showed His
goodness by providing for their needs: “They captured
fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession
of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells
already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in
abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished;
they reveled in your great goodness.”
Did you catch that? God gave them much more than they
deserved. The land was fertile. Their houses were
already furnished. The water was already running and the
fruit was just waiting to be picked. They had everything
they needed. They “reveled” in God’s great goodness,
which literally means that they “luxuriated” in God’s
In a similar way, God has given us everything we need as
well. 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given us
everything we need for life and godliness through our
knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and
goodness.” That leads to a question. Are you
“luxuriating” in God’s goodness today? Or, are you
taking Him for granted? Are you focused more on what you
4. Correcting (Neh 9:26-30).
After singing God’s
praises for His wonderful provision, the other choir
hangs their heads and sings in a dirge-like manner. They
remembered how their forefathers acted in the Book of
Judges: “But they were disobedient and rebelled against
you; they put their law behind their backs. They killed
your prophets…they committed awful blasphemies.” This is
called defiance. They knew what God wanted because He
had made it very clear. Even though every one of their
needs was met, God’s people exhibited a rebellious
spirit and tried to eliminate both the message and the
messengers. Instead of praising God for his goodness,
they blasphemed Him. As a result, Neh 9:27 tells us that
God corrected them by handing them over to their
I want you to notice how God’s goodness pervades His
personality. I picture the “Praise Choir” singing the
last stanza of Neh 9:27 fortissimo: “…But when they were
oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard
them, and in your great compassion you gave them
deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their
As they hold their final note, the “Confession Chorus”
rises to its feet and sings what sounds like a requiem
in Neh 9:28: “But as soon as they were at rest, they
again did what was evil in your sight. Then you
abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they
ruled over them.” The Maranatha singers answer this way:
“And when they cried out to you again, you heard from
heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time
after time. By the way, aren’t you glad that God
delivers each of us “time after time?”
The sad singers then belt out these somber words in Neh
9:29 and 30: “You warned them to return to your law, but
they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They
sinned against your ordinances…stubbornly they turned
their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to
listen.” God corrected them by sending their enemies to
rule over them. God used successive world powers to both
punish and correct them. First, it was Assyria, then
Babylon, Persia, Greece and finally Rome.
But all of this was done because He is a good God. He
demonstrates that fact clearly through His forming of
the nation, by leading them, by providing for them, and
even by correcting them.
Corrie Ten Boom writes: “Deep in our hearts we believe
in a good God. Yet how shallow is our understanding of
His goodness. How often I have heard people say, ‘How
good God is! We prayed that it would not rain for our
church picnic, and look at the lovely weather!’ Yes, God
is good when He sends good weather. But God was also
good when He allowed my sister Betsie to starve to death
before my eyes in a German concentration camp.”
I want to pause here to address something that is very
relevant to us a church. Last Sunday night, at the Fall
Fest, Shawn McGee fell off the hayrack ride and one of
the wagon tires ran over his leg. It was a scary time.
As we waited for the X-ray results, most of us thought
that something really bad had happened. When the results
came back, and they showed no significant damage, my
first thought was to thank God for His goodness to
One year ago this Tuesday, little Brian Sledgister had
his “heavenly birthday” (that’s the phrase his parents
like to use). When I met with Rich and Melody this week
I told them that I admire them for how their theology,
or understanding of God and His character, has kept them
strong during this long year. I’ll never forget both of
them stating clearly on the night that Brian died: “God
is still a good God.” That continues to be their
testimony today – and I know it will be tomorrow as
Shawn was run over and is fine today – and God is a good
God. Brian was hit by a car and died – and God is a good
God. God is good…all the time. Some of us mistakenly
thank God for His goodness only when things go the way
we want them to go. The real challenge and test of our
discipleship, is to thank Him for His goodness even when
we experience pain and loss.
God is great and He is good. There’s one more part of
His character that is given prominence in this chapter –
He is gracious.
The Grace of God
The “praise team” sings out again in Neh 9:31: “But in
your great mercy you did not put an end to them or
abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.”
God does not treat His people as they deserve – and
that’s a good thing because He is a great, mighty and
awesome God! Because He is a God of grace, He is good to
His people even when they are not good to Him. In His
mercy, God didn’t give them what they deserved; and in
His grace, He gave them what they didn’t deserve.
Drop down to Neh 9:33: “In all that has happened to us,
you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we
did wrong.” The “grief team” finishes this chapter by
singing about the wrong things the people had done, and
how they are slaves to others because of their sins. Did
you notice the change in pronouns here? Instead of
focusing on “their” sins, the people now say, “we did
wrong.” Until we can personally own our specific
transgressions, we will miss out on experiencing the
grace of God.
The closing stanza ends on a jarring note, “We are in
great distress.” The people recognize that generation
after generation; the same sin problems seem to come
back. Some of you here this morning are brave enough to
admit that you are in great distress. You have your own
history of good intentions that fell apart. You’ve seen
the cycle of sin in your life where you mess up, and
then repent and confess, and then walk with God and then
sin and repent and confess all over again. And God
delivers you time and again.
God doesn’t just offer help from heaven. He offers help
from the inside to those of you who are born again. It
is possible to change. God himself invests in us in ways
that we discover over a lifetime. We don’t have to stay
in the sin cycle any longer. Jesus has joined us in the
process, and that’s the indescribably good news. We have
a royal, a divine, permanent Companion.
Listen to how the writer of Hebrews describes Jesus’
ministry to us in Heb 4:14-16:
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has
gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us
hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have
a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our
weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in
every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us
then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so
that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in
our time of need.”
Instead of sinning and confessing and sinning and
confessing over and over again, when we’re struggling,
failing, being tempted in the midst of the battle, let’s
draw near to him. Let’s covenant together. God isn’t
sitting back waiting for us to fail. There is grace,
mercy, companionship and strength through Jesus – not
just when we have tears of gladness; but when we have
tears of grief. So let’s draw near to Him.
This entire chapter speaks of grace. God demonstrates
His greatness and His goodness and what do the people
do? They turn from Him. They run from His word. They
persist in doing things their own way. In short, they
sin repeatedly. At any point, God could have said,
“That’s it. You’ve messed up too much. You’re on your
own.” While He did send some correction into their
lives, He never stopped loving them. When they sinned,
God exhibited His grace. Or as Romans 5:20 puts it: “But
where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” The
King James Version is even more graphic: “But where sin
abounded, grace did much more abound.”
Max Lucado tells a story about a young girl from Brazil
who wanted to see the world.
Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the
floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she
dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she
slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what
life on the streets would be like for her young,
attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find
her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore
to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the
photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she
could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of
small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus
to the city.
Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She
also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up.
When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that
were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her
search in bars, hotels, and nightclubs, any place with a
bad reputation. She went to them all. And at each place
she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked
to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone
booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.
It wasn’t too long before both the money and the
pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary
mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to
her small village. It was a few weeks later that young
Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was
tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but
spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her
dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she
had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure
pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways,
too far away.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes
noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on
the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother.
Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she
walked across the room and removed the small photo.
Written on the back was this compelling invitation.
“Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it
doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did. (Max
Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah
Press, 1986, pp. 158-9)
Friend, no matter what you’ve done or who you’ve become,
it doesn’t matter. Jesus wants you to come home. In Neh
9:38, it says that the people made a “binding agreement”
and put it into writing. That means it was personal. It
was practical. And it was public.
1. Personal. What do you need to do this morning?
First of all, do you personally see God as great, as
good, and as gracious? If not, determine to lock into
these theological truths and to never doubt them again.
Personalize your faith by making it real.
2. Practical. Secondly, based on who He is, what
is the Holy Spirit prompting you to do right now? What
practical step does He want you to implement?
3. Public. Thirdly, how can you make your
decision public? If you’re in a small group, and I hope
you are, you could tell your group this week. You could
call a friend and tell him or her. If you’re a believer
and have never been baptized, you could take that step.
Or, you could slip out of your chair during our closing
song and come forward – for confession or for
I believe so strongly in the Word of God and in the Holy
Spirit’s ability to apply His Word, that I’m going to
allow the closing this morning to be open ended. Let’s
see how God wants you and me to respond.
If tears of tender joy fill your eyes, don’t hold back.
And if sobs of sorrow ambush you, follow the Holy
As Mary comes to sing, I invite you to allow the words
to penetrate your head and your heart so that you will
live out the truths of what you’ve heard today through
Give Me Jesus
Making Investments That Last
I heard about this man who bought a parrot. It was a
beautiful parrot but he had a really bad mouth. He could
swear for five minutes straight without repeating
himself. The man was embarrassed because the bird was
driving him crazy in front of people.
He tried to appeal to the bird by asking him to clean up
his language. The parrot promised to change but nothing
happened. In fact, his swearing increased in both volume
It finally got to be too much, so the guy grabbed the
bird by the throat and started shaking him and yelled,
“Quit it!” But this just made the parrot angry and he
swore more than ever.
Then the guy got really mad and locked him in a kitchen
cabinet. That really aggravated the bird and he started
clawing and scratching and making all kinds of racket.
When the guy finally let him out, the parrot let loose
with a stream of swear words that made the man blush.
At that point, the guy was so ticked off that he threw
him into the freezer. For the first few seconds the bird
squawked and screamed and thrashed around. And then
there was silence.
At first the guy just waited, but then he started to
wonder if the bird was hurt. After a couple minutes of
not hearing anything, he was so worried that he opened
the freezer door. The bird calmly climbed onto the man’s
outstretched arm and said, “I’m really sorry about all
the trouble I’ve been giving you. I make a solemn
promise and vow to clean up my language from now on.”
The man was astounded. He couldn’t believe the
transformation that had come over the parrot as a result
of being in the freezer for only a couple minutes. The
parrot then turned to the man and said, “I just have one
question…what did the chicken do?”
This morning we’re going to learn about 4 vows, or
promises, that the people of God made in Nehemiah 10.
We’ll tackle these in Part 2 of the message a little
later on. While God’s people weren’t thrown in the
freezer, they did feel the sting of God’s spoken Word in
chapters 8 and 9. After hearing what God wanted from
them, and owning their own persistent rebellion, Neh
10:38 says that the people made a “binding agreement” to
follow the Lord wholeheartedly. They put it in writing
and sealed it. Putting a seal on a document is a serious
matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the
Lord. Those who agreed to this covenant are listed in
The law governing oaths and vows is found in Numbers
30:2: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an
oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break
his word but must do everything he said.” Ecclesiastes
5:4 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in
fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your
vow.” Since an oath involved the name and possible
judgment of God, it was not to be taken lightly. Jesus
also warned against using empty oaths in Matthew
The Bible contains many examples of people making vows
and covenants with God, only to break them later on. In
Exodus 24, the Israelites promise to do “everything the
Lord has said.” But in less than six weeks, these same
people construct a golden calf and bow down in worship
before it. In Mark 14:29, Peter promises Jesus, “Even if
all fall away, I will not.” Hours later, Peter responds
to a servant girl’s questions by swearing in Mk 14:71:
“He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore
to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’”
That leads to a question. Are vows of any use today? I
think they are for at least two reasons. First, they
help us focus. When you make a vow, you are saying that
you are going to do something specific. We can say,
“Lord, I need to witness more” or we can say, “I’m going
to invite my neighbor to the Christmas cantata and I’m
going to give a book to him so that I can open up a
conversation with him.”
Second, vows allow us to express our love. That’s why
couples make vows during a marriage ceremony. They’re
the language of love. Love is more than just a feeling,
it’s a commitment or promise to be married until death
do us part.
God is a covenant-keeping God, even when we don’t keep
our end of the deal. You may have made some promises to
God in the past that you haven’t kept. You may have
broken some vows. If you have, you’re not alone.
Jeremiah 31:32 says that God’s people broke the covenant
on a regular basis. Jer 31:33 says that He will one day
make a new covenant in which he says, “I will put my law
in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be
their God, and they will be my people.”
Jesus inaugurated this new covenant. Listen to what He
said in Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many.” In the Old Covenant, we
are expected to live up to our end completely –
everything comes from us. In the New Covenant, nothing
comes from us, and everything comes from Jesus. Because
of His grace, we can surrender, submit and obey out of
love, not fear.
While it may be helpful to make a vow or an oath to God
today, remember this: We don’t succeed as Christians
because we make promises to God, but because we believe
the promises of God and act upon them.
Having said that, many of us never come to the point of
getting serious in our walk with God simply because we
never get specific with Him. We hear sermons and sense
the Spirit’s tug at our heart, but until we decide to be
completely committed to Him, we won’t be. As we
celebrate communion this morning, I invite you to use
this time to think through any decisions the Lord wants
you to make. Perhaps you’ve been challenged or convicted
by the Lord during this series. Listen to Him and decide
right now to put into practice what you know you need to
do. If you’ve broken some promises with Him or with
others, confess it right now. 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells
us to examine ourselves before we eat the bread and
drink the cup of communion.
While Jeff Troyer comes to sing, I invite you to use
this time to both examine yourself (Read 1Cor 11:27, 28,
29) and to express
yourself in prayer to God.
Above All (with lyrics)
Read 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 and then distribute bread.
Read 1 Corinthians 11:25-26 and then distribute cup.
Vow #1: Submission to God’s Word
As a result of hearing God’s Word, the Israelites made
four decisions. The first one is found in 10:29: “All
these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind
themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of
God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey
carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of
the Lord our God.”
This is vow #1: Submission to God’s Word. They were
totally serious in their desire to devote themselves to
everything that is spelled out in the Bible. This week I
went back and re-read my very first sermon here at PBC.
This is what I said then, and it bears repeating today:
“Who does God use to make an impact? Super saints?
Heroes? Pious religious people? No. Listen to the words
of 1 Chronicles 16:9, “For the eyes of the Lord range
throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts
are fully committed to Him.” The key is devotion. We
need to remember that the depth of our devotion
determines our impact. God is not looking all over the
earth for strong people, for great people, for perfect
people, or even for religious people. This morning, as
He scans the congregation at PBC, He’s looking for
devoted disciples, for men and women, and boys and girls
who are fully committed to Him. He’s looking for a
regular person who He can pour His strength out on. In
order for that to happen, we need to be completely
committed and dangerously devoted.”
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army was
once asked what his secret was to his incredible
ministry. This is what he said, “God has had all that
there was of me. There have been men with greater brains
than I…but from the day I got the poor of London on my
heart and caught a vision of what Jesus Christ could do
with me and them, on that day I made up my mind that God
should have all of William Booth that there was.”
In Nehemiah 10, the people are saying that they are so
seriously submitted to God and His Word that they are
willing for the curses of God to fall on them if they do
not carefully obey what He says. I wonder if we have
that same submission and dangerous devotion today? Does
God have all of you?
Vow #2: Separation From the World
After submitting themselves to God and His Word, the
believers make a second vow to be separate from the
world in Neh 10:28, 30: “We promise to not give our
daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or to
take their daughters for our sons.” When you think about
it, separation is simply total devotion to God, no
matter what the cost. When a man and woman get married,
they separate themselves from all other possible mates
and give themselves completely to each other. We
separate from others to the one who is our life mate.
The Israelites separated from the peoples around them
and to God and His Word.
This was not about ethnic pride or a sense that the
Israelite gene pool was superior to that of other
peoples. Rather it had to do with how they worshipped
God and honored Him. Wrong relationships can nullify a
believer’s distinctive witness. God wanted his followers
to be a missionary people and so it was vital that their
message not be corrupted. In declaring this prohibition,
the Lord was concerned about both the purity of their
faith and the holiness of their lives. They had been
entrusted with the most wonderful message in the world
and nothing was to be allowed to corrupt it.
There were at least two reasons why marriages with pagan
people were disastrous.
First, there were clear biblical warnings. When two
people in the ancient world made a marriage agreement,
they normally confirmed their commitment in the presence
of their gods and gave each other’s idols a prominent
place in their new home.
Joshua 23:13 says that heathen
spouses would become “snares and traps for you, whips on
your backs and thorns in your eyes…”
Secondly, there was abundant historical evidence that
unequally yoked marriages led to a decline in Israel’s
spiritual and moral life. Nehemiah 13:26 asks the
question, “Was it not because of marriages like these
that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many
nations there was no king like him. He was loved by His
God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he
was led into sin by foreign women.”
We are more influenced by other people than most of us
care to admit. Mixed marriages were a danger then, and
they’re a danger now. God’s concern is that when a
believer marries a non-believer the stage is set for
conflict, compromise and at times outright conformity.
2 Corinthians 6:14 very clearly states:
Do not be yoked
imperative with a negative)
with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and
wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light
have with darkness?
Let me be clear. I know some of you are married to an
unsaved spouse. I respect and applaud your commitment to
Christ and your determination to live out the teaching
of 1Peter 3:1-6-see
notes. The New Living Translation puts 2Pe
3:2, 3 this way: “Your godly lives will speak to them
better than any words. They will be won over by watching
your pure, godly behavior.”
I want to address those of you who are not married yet.
Perhaps you’re dating someone who is not a believer. It
may seem harmless to date a non-Christian, especially if
you’re a teenager, but watch out. God cares about your
spiritual life and He cares about your ability to be a
clear witness to Him. On the authority of God’s Word,
don’t deliberately disobey God in this area. The
question is not, “Will this relationship work out?” but,
“Will this relationship enjoy God’s best blessing and
fulfill God’s will?” I know this is not easy for some of
you to hear but if you are truly submitted to God and
His Word, you will honor Him in all your relationships
as well. If you put Him first, don’t enter a marriage
relationship with someone who does not also put the Lord
Vow #3: Sabbath for God’s People
After pledging themselves to submit to the Word of God
and to live separated lives, the believers renew the
covenant with a third vow: the Sabbath for God’s people
in Neh 10:31: “When the neighboring peoples bring
merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not
buy from them on the Sabbath or any holy day. Every
seventh year we will forgo working the land and will
cancel all debts.” In Nehemiah’s time, it was necessary
for God’s law about the Sabbath to be clearly
First of all, this day was set aside to honor God. It
was distinctive from other days and given to God so that
they might offer their worship to Him without being
distracted by the demands of everyday life.
Secondly, it was a day of rest. Relaxation is a vital
ingredient in effective living. God set the pattern for
this in Exodus 20:11: “He rested on the seventh day.”
The Israelites worked with no breaks in their weekly
schedule when they were slaves in Egypt – God did not
ever want this repeated again.
One man challenged another to an all-day wood chopping
contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only
for a brief lunch break. The other man ate a leisurely
lunch and took several breaks throughout the day. At the
end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed
to find that the other guy had chopped a lot more wood
than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I
checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more
wood than I did.” To which the winning woodsman
responded, “Didn’t you notice? I was sharpening my ax
when I sat down to rest.” If you’re feeling a bit dull
today, perhaps you need to schedule some rest into your
schedule so that you can get ‘sharp’ again.
Thirdly, it was a day to help others. Israelite
employees had a compulsory rest day automatically
written into their employment contracts. This helped
others enjoy the blessings of rest.
Fourthly, the Sabbath was a day to declare truth. It was
a silent witness to God’s supremacy and gave the
Israelites multiple witnessing opportunities. To their
unbelieving neighbors it proclaimed, in very practical
terms, the truth that God comes first.
This is an important paradigm or model for us today.
From the very beginning of the church, Christians made
the Lord’s Day their appointed day for worship, rest,
service, and witness. While avoiding the legalism that
the Pharisees fell into, most of us can do a much better
job of looking for ways to keep Sunday special.
The Israelites also promised to observe the “Sabbatical
Year.” Every seventh year, they were to let the land lie
idle so that it might restore itself. To obey God in
this way, they certainly needed to trust Him with their
needs during the seventh year. It seems to me that
obedience to God always involves trust. We cannot always
see what’s coming up, but if we are doing what God says,
He will never disappoint us. Their commitment to
commemorate the Sabbatical Year was a great step of
faith and is a beautiful illustration of Matthew 6:33-Note:
But seek first His
kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will
be given to you as well.
Notice that they also canceled all debts in Neh 10:31.
They promised that every seven years, they would live
out a renewed scale of values that people matter more
than money. The keeping of the Sabbath and Sabbatical
Years were ways of saying “no” to a life of maximum
acquisition. My highest goal is not to make the most I
can and then spend my life trying to keep everything
that I have.
Vow #4: Support For God’s Work
That leads to their fourth pledge: support for God’s
work in Neh 10:32-39. The phrase “house of our God” is
used nine times in this section and refers to the
restored temple. The people were promising to follow
God’s priorities by submitting to Him, by separating
from the world, by keeping the Sabbath, and by
supporting the work of God. Neh 10:39 sums up their
commitment: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
The temple in Jerusalem stood at the heart of the
country’s religious, moral and spiritual life. In
symbolic terms it proclaimed the presence and power of
God among His people and the centrality of spiritual
This passage covers an impressive series of promises to
support God’s work in a variety of different ways and
gives us 7 insights into how our giving can support
God’s work today.
1. It was responsible giving.
Look at Neh 10:32 and
Neh 10:35 where the people say that “they assume
responsibility…” They owned it and gave what they owned
because they saw it as their privilege and their
2. It was obedient giving.
They didn’t practice
“impulse giving” but instead gave as an expression of
practical obedience. Those who love Him will do what He
says. They were “carrying out the commands to give”
(Neh 10:32), as it “is written in the Law” (34, 36). God had
been good to His people, and generosity was expected
from them. There was nothing remotely optional about the
support of God’s work. Everyone was required to give in
one form or another. This was yet another way to
demonstrate that God came first in their lives.
3. It was systematic.
There was nothing
haphazard about their giving. Neh 10:32 says that they
were to bring a third of a silver shekel each year. Neh
10:34 states that lots were drawn to determine when
families were to bring a contribution of wood at set
times each year. Neh 10:35 tells us that first fruits
were brought each year. There was an orderliness about
these offerings and a system that was followed. The
people knew precisely what was expected of them. The New
Testament teaches systematic giving as well in 1Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of every week, each
one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping
with his income…”
4. It was proportionate.
The reference to the
wood offering suggests that many poor people in Israel
had an opportunity to make a gift to the Lord that would
demand time rather than money. The temple needed a
regular supply of firewood to keep the sacrificial fires
burning. Everyone, regardless of income, could gather
wood and take it to the temple.
In addition, Israel’s sacrificial system recognized that
not everyone could make the same kind of offering. If
someone could not afford the cost of a young bull, a
male goat or lamb, they were able instead to offer two
doves or young pigeons. It they could not even afford
that, Leviticus 5:11 allowed them to bring some fine
flour as an offering. It is not the amount that is given
which is important; it is the spirit in which we make
our offering. We should give in proportion to how we’ve
been blessed. The New Testament echoes this principle in
1 Corinthians 16 and 2 Corinthians 8-9.
5. It was sacrificial.
They were to bring to
God’s house the “first fruits” of their crops “and of
every fruit tree.” (Neh 10:35) To offer the first of their
crops was to declare that God was the giver of all
things, that everything belongs to Him, and that He is
worthy of the best we can offer Him. Here’s a helpful
principle to remember: while not everyone can give the
same amount, everyone can make the same sacrifice. Not
equal giving, but equal sacrifice. It was Mother Teresa
who said, “If you give what you do not need, it isn’t
C. S. Lewis put it this way,
believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I’m
afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can
6. It was comprehensive.
They were to not only
bring their crops and their money; they were to also
bring their first-born sons and their animals to the
Lord in Neh 10:36. God is not just interested in our
money, He wants our hearts. Actually, He wants
7. It was prescribed.
They were not only to
bring their “first,” but also a “tithe” of their crops
to the Lord in Neh 10:37. Giving a tenth of their
produce or income to the Lord has a long and dignified
history among believers and is an appropriate guide for
Christian giving. As someone has said, “the tithe is a
great place to start.” I’m convinced that the tithe is
the minimum we should be giving to further the Lord’s
Tithing can be a great blessing, and I practice it and
recommend it highly, but there are at least three
• It’s easy to give
with the wrong motives. We can give out of a sense of
duty or fear, or even greed (“If I tithe, God must
• Thinking that we can do whatever we want with the 90%
• Giving only the tithe and failing to give love
offerings to the Lord.
Someone has said that
we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by
what we give. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 6:21-note:
“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Let’s determine to be like the believers in Nehemiah
10:39: “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
When it comes to giving, we can do it for at least three
• Because we have to
– that’s law
• Because we ought to – that’s obligation
• Because we want to – that’s grace
I don’t know about
you, but I want to give to the Lord. I came across a
list of 10 reasons to give 10% or more to the Lord’s
work. A guy from the great state of Wisconsin (not me)
put these together (Brian Kluth, Dimensions, Vol. 20,
Fall 1997, pp. 1-2).
1. It is a tried and
true pattern of giving (Malachi 3:7-15).
2. It will help you revere God more in your life
3. It will help you harness the dragon of materialism (1
4. It will serve as a practical reminder that God is the
Owner of everything (Haggai 2:8).
5. It will allow you to experience God’s provisions in
incredible ways (Luke 6:38).
6. It will encourage you to trust in God (Proverbs
7. It will ensure you of treasure in heaven (Matthew
8. It will strengthen the ministry and outreach of your
local church (2 Corinthians 9:12).
9. It will support church staff and missionaries
10. It will help accomplish needed building projects (1
Are You On the
I’m sure you heard the tragic news this week about the
Singapore Airlines jumbo jet that crashed on take-off,
killing at least 81 people. Investigators have now
determined that the jet was on the wrong runway when it
tried to leave for Los Angeles. The pilot realized at
the last moment that he was on a strip closed for
repairs and plowed into some heavy construction
Seconds before the jetliner crashed, caught fire and
broke into three sections, the pilot swore and screamed
out, “Something there.” Apparently the pilot knew what
runway he was supposed to be on and was not misdirected
by the control tower. However, the officials have
admitted that there was no barrier set up to block
planes from going onto the closed runway. In addition,
the lights on this runway were turned on because of the
I’m wondering this morning if any one here is on the
wrong runway. It might look like everything is going ok
in your life, but you actually might be headed for a
crash. The Bible is clear – if you do things your way,
you’re going to have a collision. God wants you and me
to make investments that last by:
• Submitting to God –
that answers the question, “Who’s the pilot of your
• Separating from the world – that covers who we spend
• Practicing a Sabbath rest – that deals with how we
spend our time
• Supporting God’s work – which involves how we spend
If you’re submitted
to God, and He has “all of you,” then you’re cleared for
take-off in your relationships, with your time, and with
Here’s another way to look at it. If you could look at a
person’s friendships, their calendar, and their
checkbook, you could determine whether or not they are
fully submitted to God and completely committed to His
As Jeff sang earlier, “Jesus is Above All.” I’m going to
ask him to close our service with this song. If you want
to come forward this morning to make sure you’re on the
right runway, please slip out of your chair and someone
will pray with you up front.
Jesus is Above All
NEHEMIAH 11-12: Taking Time to Give
You made a good decision this morning to come to church
because I have some inside information about the recent
presidential election that you will not hear on CNN.
With all the intrigue and controversy surrounding the
final tally, coupled with the waiting that we’ve had to
do as a country, I wanted to fill you in on what really
happened this past Tuesday.
The election, contrary to what the experts have been
telling us, did not swing on the sunshine state of
Florida. The outcome was actually determined by a group
of relatively unknown, first-time voters who cast their
ballots a short distance from here. I have one of the
original ballots that I’d like to show you.
It was a landslide and there will be no recount – in a
tightly contested race between a cat and a dog, the cat
won by a certified margin of 6 to 2!
Mrs. Sancken’s kindergarten class at PCS participated in
the election by marking their ballots for either the
canine or the feline (and there was no confusion about
who they were voting for!). Mr. Cat now has a clear
mandate since he received 75% of the vote. As far as I
know, we are not waiting for any absentee ballots!
I read something this week from Chuck Colson, President
of Prison Fellowship that helps us keep the presidential
election in perspective. I want to share part of it with
“Whichever way things turn out, some people will be
joyous, and some people will be dismayed. But one thing
is absolutely clear. It should not alter in the
slightest the course that we, as Christians, follow in
our society…If you’re disappointed in the election
results when they’re finally clear, that’s
understandable. All of us have partisan choices. Maybe
you’ll be jubilant over them. If so, you’re going to
think, ‘Well, the culture war’s been won.’ And if you’re
discouraged over the results, you’ll think, ‘The culture
war’s been lost.’ Nonsense!
Cultures are changed from the bottom up. Fads start from
the top down. Movements start from the bottom up…what
moves America are the ‘habits of the heart.’ This is the
genius of America. We are moved by the tastes and
dispositions of the people. We’re moved by the way we
live with our neighbors around us. People need to see
something better, something that they can long for in
our lives. That isn’t affected by elections. They’re not
going to look to Washington for that, they’re going to
look to us.
So we keep living in biblical faithfulness. And
remember, too, that God appoints the leaders. And that
whatever happens in the election that’s now being
tallied; we have to accept God’s sovereign judgment. We
have to pray for those in authority. We have to respect
those whom God has put in power over us, and live
peaceably in the midst of whatever government we have.
The first century church did that; the twenty-first
century church ought to be doing exactly the same thing.
Don’t be overly jubilant, but don’t despair. Take a
cool-headed perspective and keep your Christian faith
and your Christian witness strong.” (Break Point with
Charles Colson, 11/8/2000)
Colson is saying that we need to keep the main thing the
main thing. We need to focus on the most important. As
we near the end of the Book of Nehemiah, we’re
discovering what really matters. As someone has said,
“God is large and in charge.”
When an election is this close, it shows the value of
everyone’s vote. When there are only a few votes
separating the candidates, some have suggested that we
should just flip a coin or have them draw straws. I’m
not sure this would be the best way to elect a president
today, especially when there’s such a difference between
their personalities, their platforms and their
In Nehemiah 11, we come across a situation where the
people are faced with a national referendum. But instead
of taking a vote, they flip a coin to determine what
should be done. Actually, the biblical phrase is that
they “cast lots.” In the Old Testament, the casting of
lots was like throwing dice and was a way of discovering
God’s will. We even see this used in the Book of Acts
when the disciples are trying to figure out who should
replace Judas in Acts 1:26: “Then they cast lots, and
the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven
They didn’t believe in “luck” or “chance.” They actually
were so committed to the sovereignty of God that they
knew God would direct the outcome of the lots according
to His divine providence. Proverbs 16:33-note
is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the
The votes are cast by the people but the election
is determined by the Lord.
Since the walls and gates of Jerusalem were now
restored, it was important that the builders inhabit
their capital city and make the population grow. Some of
the citizens volunteered willingly while others had to
be “drafted.” We see this in Neh 11:1: “Now the leaders
of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the
people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live
in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine
were to stay in their own towns.” The people had
promised to tithe their produce and income in chapter
10; now Nehemiah decides to tithe the people by
arranging for 10% of them to move from the suburbs to
These believers exhibited four counter-cultural traits
that have application to us today. Regardless of who is
the president, this is how God wants us to live.
4 Traits to Emulate
1. Move out of your comfort zone.
Most of the
families living outside Jerusalem depended entirely on
the land for their daily existence. Over the years they
had developed a pattern of life as they plowed, planted
and harvested their crops. For many of them, the thought
of leaving their comfort zone was highly traumatic. But
some left their homes, relatives, neighbors, work,
friends, and familiar routines to set up a new life in a
radically different environment.
Are you willing to leave your comfort zone for the sake
of the kingdom? I don’t know what God might be asking
you to do, but I do know that He wants you to be
available. I’ll never forget what God did about five
years ago, as a result of a prayer I prayed: “Lord, I’m
willing to do whatever you want, to go wherever you
want, whenever you want it.” It was shortly after this
that God moved us out of our comfortable routine in
Rockford, Illinois to the heart of Mexico City.
What is God asking you to do that may stretch you? Maybe
you need to check out a short-term missions trip. As you
pray for your neighbors, and look for ways to care for
them, God wants to use you to share with them. For many
of us, that’s outside our comfort zone. Maybe it’s as
simple as putting the “Jesus is Coming” sign on your
front lawn. Or it might be a commitment to start
tithing. Whatever it is, tell God you’re willing to live
outside your normal boundaries. Let him stretch you.
2. Commit to holiness.
After moving out of their
comfort zone, the believers commit to holy living. They
didn’t just agree to live in a remodeled city; they were
coming to “the holy city.” Nehemiah was fascinated by
the holy and has reminded us that the Sabbath is a
distinctive day (Neh 10:31) and that the temple
sacrifices are sanctified (Neh 10:33). His ministry
partner, Ezra, emphasized that God’s people need to be
holy (Ezra 9:2). Jerusalem itself was set apart for the
Lord’s special use. To live in Jerusalem and be given
the opportunity to serve God in such a holy place was an
immense privilege. This would outweigh their natural
sense of disappointment about leaving their friends and
To live in the holy city might be a great privilege, but
it was also a challenging responsibility. It’s one thing
to have a home in a holy city; it’s another thing to
make a home holy. Living in a holy context did not
automatically transmit holiness to the individual
citizens – they were made holy be giving everything over
to God. Have you committed yourself to holiness and
purity? Are you living your life separated from the
“world” because you’re set apart for His use?
3. Mobilize for ministry.
Now that the people
were committed to live outside their comfort zone and
wholeheartedly devoted to holy living, they are now
ready to be mobilized for ministry. We’ve already seen
that some people were drafted to live in Jerusalem. But
there were others who offered themselves freely to this
new work in Neh 11:2: “The people commended all the men
who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”
In the remainder of Neh 11, we see that God has always
used a wide variety of people. I see three different
groups in this passage:
• Those with leadership gifts. In addition to the
leaders mentioned in Neh 11:1, there were “provincial
leaders” mentioned in Neh 11:3. These pacesetters were
noble examples to those who were relocating to
Jerusalem. If the leaders are out front, then others
will follow. Someone has said, ‘The speed of the leader
determines the speed of the team.” This is true. As the
leaders of PBC commit their time, talents and treasures
to kingdom living and kingdom expansion, the environment
is set for others to follow that example.
• Those with administrative gifts. As you read this long
list of names in Neh 11, there were other people who
served as administrators. Neh 11:9: “Joel son of Zicri
was the chief officer, and Judah…was over the Second
District.” These officers made sure the city functioned
well and that the infrastructure was sufficient to
handle the growing population.
• Those with serving gifts. Neh 11:16 tells us that two
guys “had charge of the outside work of the house of
God.” The temple had to be kept in good repair and these
individuals dedicated their practical skills to care for
the building. We have been blessed with deacons at PBC
who serve with both their hearts and their hands.
Thanks, guys for your commitment to this part of the
ministry. Actually, this church is filled with people
who use their serving gifts on a regular basis. You are
Friend, are you mobilized for ministry? As Romans 12 and
1 Corinthians 12 make clear, every believer has at least
one spiritual gift that has been given to be used. We
are saved to serve. As I like to say: No one can do
everything, but everyone can do something. Let me
encourage you to find your ministry niche and discover
the joy of serving in your area of giftedness.
4. Adore God in worship.
Take a look at Neh 11:17
where we see that Mattaniah was the “director who led in
thanksgiving and prayer.” In thanksgiving we acknowledge
God’s generosity. In prayer we seek God’s help. These
themes were often expressed in song as we see in Neh
11:22: “Uzzi was one of Asaph’s descendants, who were
the singers responsible for the service of the house of
David had commissioned his worship leader Asaph in a
similar way centuries earlier in 1 Chronicles 16:8:
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on His name.” Praise and
prayer are central to the spiritual life of God’s
people. That’s what we’ll be doing this Friday night at
the Concert of Prayer for the Jesus Video Project. We’ll
praise God in song as we adore Him, as we confess our
sins, as we thank Him, and as we intercede on behalf of
our community. I hope you can come.
Guidelines for Worship
Worship can be defined as “worth-ship,” where we engage
our mind, our emotions, and our will to gratefully
acknowledge the worth of our God. There is no other
human activity as lofty as that of adoring God. As
important as electing a president is to our country, the
determination to worship God is supreme. Like Colson
said, “we must keep living in biblical faithfulness.”
The Westminster Shorter Catechism states “our chief end
is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
If we’ve been made to magnify the Majesty, then we need
to know how to do that.
Nehemiah 12 begins with a long list of names. Neh 12:24
helps us see that there were two choirs who stood
opposite from each other to “give praise and
thanksgiving.” I want to spend our remaining moments
gleaning 4 worship guidelines from Neh 12:27-47.
1. The Purpose of Worship.
Let’s start by
looking at the purpose of worship. In Neh 12:27 we read
about a dedication service for the newly constructed
wall. The Levites were brought “to celebrate joyfully
the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the
music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” Grateful
celebration, thanksgiving and dedication are the three
main themes, and they take us to the heart of what
worship is all about.
Celebration is the primary aspect of worship. It does
not begin with us, but with who God is, what God has
said, and what God has done. Thanksgiving was a way of
marveling at God’s generosity. Neh 12:31 tells us that
the choirs were appointed “to give thanks.” That was
their job or purpose. Let me just say that our
thanksgiving needs to be specific. I think its best when
we can itemize our thanks to God. That’s what we’ll be
doing during our Thanksgiving Service one week from
Wednesday. I encourage you to begin thinking about what
you want to share that night. By offering themselves in
dedication, they were surrendering themselves to God.
These three elements of celebration, thanksgiving and
dedication are expressed by our total being. When we
celebrate, we engage our minds by recalling what God has
said and done. When we give thanks, we express our
hearts in gratitude. And, in dedication we employ our
wills by surrendering to Him.
2. The Joy of Worship.
The secret of
acceptable worship is not simply what we do but how we
do it. The new residents of Jerusalem radiated joyful
hearts with jubilant songs of thanksgiving. The
opportunity to magnify God was a supremely happy
occasion. Recall their response to the reading of
Scripture in Neh 8:12: “they celebrated with great joy,
because they now understood the words that had been made
known to them.” When they made their ‘twig tents’ and
celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, “their joy was very
great” (Neh 8:17).
Worship was never meant to be drab and boring. There was
nothing stereotyped or monochrome about this
thanksgiving service. A wide variety of musical gifts
were used to express adoration and praise. In Neh 12:27
we see that instrumentalists played “cymbals, harps and
lyres.” Neh 12:35 and Neh 12:41 tell us that the priests
played their trumpets. Choral music was given the most
prominent place, as many singers joined the two large
choirs to give thanks on behalf of all the people.
This passage is filled with superlatives. In Neh 12:27
they celebrate “joyfully.” The choirs are not just
choirs but “large choirs” in Neh 12:31. In Neh 12:43 the
priests “offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God
had given them great joy.” There is nothing half-hearted
about their joyful adoration because it is the outflow
of supremely grateful hearts from people who have
personally experienced the lavish generosity of God.
3. The Witness of Worship.
Neh 12:31-39 tell us
that the leaders went up on the top of the wall. The
Jews were accustomed to having workers and watchers on
the walls, now the people are assigned to be worshippers
on the walls. The two large choirs walked on top of the
wall, one to the right, and the other one went to the
left. Ezra was one of the worship leaders and Nehemiah
led the other choir.
This worship service could have taken place at the
temple area, but instead Nehemiah wanted it to take
place on the walls themselves. I think he did this for
at least three reasons.
First, it was important for the people to see and touch
the walls during this dedication service. It was a
visual reminder of God’s faithfulness.
Secondly, the people were bearing witness to the
watching world that God had done the work, and He alone
should be glorified. The enemy had said in Neh 4:3 that
the walls were so weak that a fox could knock them down,
but here the people are marching on the walls! It was
another opportunity to prove the truth of Neh 6:16:
“…this work had been done with the help of our God.” As
they marched on top of the walls, everyone could see
what was happening, and for miles around unbelievers
heard the sound of praise. Look at Neh 12:43: “The sound
of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”
Let me suggest a third reason for this march around the
walls. It was a symbolic act by which they stepped out
in faith to claim God’s blessing. In that day, to walk
on a piece of property meant to claim it as your own. In
Joshua 1:3, God said to Joshua, “I will give you every
place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.”
That’s one reason we are going to do some “prayer
walking” next Saturday as we hand out some publicity for
the Jesus Video. Believers will be walking through our
entire community, praying and claiming God’s promises.
We want to take this town for Jesus! We’re going to meet
here at 9:00 a.m. and then scatter throughout all the
neighborhoods of Pontiac. And, as we go, we’ll be
praising and praying and handing out some popcorn.
4. The Response of Worship.
The concluding verses
present us with another aspect of authentic worship: the
offering of our money as well as our time and service
for the Lord’s work. After the exciting service of
dedication was over, provision must be made for the
continuing worship of God’s people. Neh 12:47 says, “all
Israel contributed the daily portions for the singers
and gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the
other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for
the descendants of Aaron.”
It was organized, specific, grateful, regular and
universal. But most of all, the people gave in response
to who God is and what He had done on their behalf.
Thomas Adams, a colonial Puritan, said this: “Let us do
good with our goods while we live…to part with what we
cannot keep, that we may get what we cannot lose.”
The Valley of Decision
This has been a crazy week for our country as we wait to
hear the final results of the presidential election.
We’re kind of in a holding pattern right now. As I think
about all this, I’m reminded of a verse I read in my
Quiet Time from Joel 3:14: “Multitudes, multitudes in
the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near
in the valley of decision.”
As important as it is for us to cast our votes in order
to elect government officials, we are really faced with
an even greater decision. Joel pictures millions of
people in a valley called decision. And, one day the
Lord is coming back. Those who have cast the ballot of
their lives for the Lord will be saved; those who
haven’t will face eternal condemnation with no hope of a
• Ultimately, there
are really only two questions. The first one is this. Is
Jesus resident in your life? Have you ever elected to
receive Him into your life by turning from your sins and
asking Him to forgive you? If not, that’s what you need
to do this morning.
• The second question is this. Is Jesus president of
your life? Are you living under His lordship and
leadership? Is He on the throne, or are you?
You see, Jesus is
Savior and Lord. He is forgiver and leader. He not only
wants to be resident, He desires to be your president.
If you are ready for the first time to make Jesus
resident in your life by asking Him to save you from
your sins, would you please stand up?
If you are ready to make Him president of your life,
would you please stand in recognition of lordship and
leadership in your life?
NEHEMIAH 13: Standing By Our Promises
As many of you know, I really like Snicker bars. For the
past year, whenever I would go to Dairy Queen, I would
always order a Snicker Bar Breeze. All I had to do was
walk in and one of the workers would start filling a cup
with chunks of tasty nougat. It was automatic for me,
until the day I tasted my six-year-old daughter’s mint
From that point on, I’ve left Snickers behind – I guess
that makes me a “Snicker Bar Breeze Backslider.”
When Becky had her tonsils out, we told her she could
have whatever she wanted at Dairy Queen. She didn’t feel
like eating anything for about a week, but when she was
better, she remembered our promise. One day, I stopped
and got her a blizzard. I tried every trick I could
think of to get as many spoonfuls as I could! She
finally made me promise to not eat any more.
When we got home, she put what was left in the freezer
to save until she felt better. A few hours later, I
remembered it was in there, so I grabbed a spoon and
finished it (I didn’t think she’d want it because she
felt so sick). When she opened the freezer, she saw that
it was gone and said, “Dad, you promised!” To make it up
to her we went out to Dairy Queen a couple days later
and split a large mint Oreo blizzard. I was a good boy
but she kept her eye on me to make sure I didn’t hog it.
A few days later, Beth bought her another blizzard.
Becky once again put was left in the freezer but this
time I didn’t touch it. A couple minutes later, Becky
said that I could finish her tasty treat. I thanked her,
opened the freezer and pulled out an…empty cup! She
laughed so hard that she fell on the floor.
Well, just this week we went to Dairy Queen as a family
and Becky once again ordered her favorite blizzard. I
ordered one as well but I could tell Becky didn’t trust
me. I noticed that she sat as far away from me as she
could. I tried to exchange cups with her when mine was
empty but she was on to me. She gave me one of her great
smiles and said, “Dad, you promised!” I smiled
sheepishly and then mentioned that it was funny that I
was speaking on the theme of “Standing By Our Promises”
this Sunday. To which Lydia, our 9-year-old, said, “Well
then you better start keeping yours, Dad.” Ouch.
We all fail to keep our pledges, don’t we? Our good
intentions and plans often fall by the wayside.
Sometimes we blatantly break our promises but other
times, we just kind of drift away, a little at a time.
Someone has said that moral failure and spiritual
decline are a great deal like a flat tire. Most flat
tires don’t occur as a result of a blowout. They get
flat because air leaks out over time, often
imperceptibly. I’m told that generally speaking, a tire
will lose one or two pounds of air per month in cool
weather, and even more in warmer weather. Sometimes you
don’t even know you’re going flat until the car becomes
difficult to steer.
In our passage for today, we come face-to-face with some
backsliders. The dictionary defines the verb “backslide”
this way: “To relapse into bad habits, sinful behavior,
or undesirable activities.” You would think that the
last chapter of this great book would contain
encouraging and compelling stories of how God’s people
took their spiritual commitment to the next level.
Frankly, this script does not have a happy ending.
Within a relatively short period of time, the children
of Israel went spiritually flat and returned to their
old ways of doing things – violating God’s laws and
allowing the world’s system to press them into its mold.
That leads to one of the lessons of the book of
Nehemiah: Good beginnings are no guarantee of happy
Before we jump into Nehemiah 13, I want to give you some
background information (Ed:
For review see book chart
Nehemiah: Building for Security -
1. Nehemiah went back to Persia at the end of chapter
12. In chapter 1 we learned that Nehemiah had a great
job in the Persian White House. Sensing God’s clear
leading, Nehemiah requested and received permission to
lead a team of builders to reconstruct the walls
surrounding Jerusalem. Nehemiah was appointed governor
and served for 12 years in that position. He dealt with
the enemies, organized the people, rebuilt the wall, set
up the infrastructure for the repopulated city, and led
a great celebration of dedication. When he was done with
all this, he returned as a senior advisor to the king of
Persia. We don’t know how long he stayed but it was
probably several years.
When he finally retired from his government job in Susa,
he returned to Jerusalem because he wanted to enjoy his
retirement years and eventually be buried in the city of
his fathers. Nehemiah 13 records what Nehemiah discovered
when he returned. I can’t imagine what he must have
felt. When he left, Neh 12:43 says that the “sound of
rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” Because
these same people had violated the covenant they had
publicly signed in Neh 9:38, Nehemiah came back hitting as
hard as the Pontiac Indians football team. Like Tuley
and Cunningham, PBC’s own “Thunder and Lightning,”
Nehemiah attempted to jar team Jerusalem out of their
comfortable compromise with the world.
2. There is a literary link between Nehemiah 10 and
Nehemiah 13. In chapter 10, the people made 4 vows or
promises. First, they pledged to submit to God’s Word;
second, they vowed to live separate from the world;
third, they promised to keep the Sabbath, and fourth,
they agreed to support God’s work. Sadly, by the time we
get to chapter 13, each of these promises are broken.
This reminds us that the most spiritual person, and the
best church, can find its standards subtly eroded as we
gradually accommodate to the pressures of contemporary
worldliness. At the dedication in chapter 12, the
builders celebrated their moral victory in a battle
against secularism and materialism, but they had
certainly not won the war.
Since Nehemiah 13 is best understood in light of
10, I’m going to follow the same outline from two weeks
ago so that we can look carefully at each one of their
four broken promises.
The Submission Promise
The promises of chapter 10 began with an affirmation of
loyalty to the Word of God in Neh 13:29: “…to obey
carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of
the Lord our God.” In Nehemiah 13:1, we read a
description of Israel’s carelessness about what God had
said in the Book of Moses concerning the purity of their
worship: “On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud
in the hearing of the people and there it was found
written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be
admitted into the assembly of God…”
We see again that Scripture was read publicly. Those
present realized how sloppy they had been about their
exclusive loyalty to God. As they listened to the words
of Moses they remembered what had happened to their
ancestors when they were on the threshold of the
Promised Land. The Ammonites’ sin was one of omission:
they had not met the Israelites with food and water. The
Moabites’ sin was one of commission: they had hired
Balaam to call a curse down on the Israelites. We don’t
have time this morning to go into much detail on this
but I invite you to read Deuteronomy 23:3-5 to get a
better understanding of what happened. The bottom line
is that the Moabites and Ammonites were notorious for
infiltrating Israel and causing their worship to become
Here’s the good news. When the Israelites heard what
God’s Word had to say, they obeyed it. Check out Neh
13:3: “When the people heard this law, they excluded
from Israel all who were of foreign descent.” That’s a
great application for us. Let’s admit that we fall
short. We break our promises. We mess up. We don’t
always follow what we know to be true. It seems to me we
have two choices. We can continue this pattern of
disobedience or we can stop what we’ve been doing and
determine to live out what God says. The Christian life
is a series of new beginnings. It’s never too late to
start taking God’s Word seriously.
Is there something you need to do that you’ve been
putting off? Is there a decision you need to make? I
suspect that some of you have no question about what God
wants you to do but you’re afraid to do it because it’s
difficult. Friend, if God is asking you to do something,
He will take care of all the details. Matthew 6:33 says,
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and
all these things will be given to you as well.”
The Separation Promise
While they broke their promise to submit to God’s Word,
they determined once again to do what God says. The next
promise that they did not keep was to live separate from
the world. They ignored this vow in two ways.
1. An enemy intruder.
In Neh 13:4-9, we see
that one of these Ammonites was actually living in the
Jewish temple! Nehemiah was horrified to find that
Eliashib, who was the high priest in Israel, had
prepared a guest room for Tobiah in the temple. This
room was the size of a small warehouse. Unbelievably, an
archenemy of God’s people had set up residence in the
nerve center of Jerusalem. From this position he could
This is one of the first consequences of the breaking of
the vow to not intermarry with pagans. Eliashib had
become a traitor because one of his relatives was
married to Sanballat’s daughter (13:28), and Sanballat
and Tobiah were friends. Throughout the book of
Nehemiah, Tobiah had been an enemy of God and a thorn in
Nehemiah’s side. Nehemiah dealt with him many times
before and made sure that he was never allowed inside
the walls. While Nehemiah was away, the high priest not
only allowed Tobiah inside the city, he gave him the
keys to a large suite of rooms where the tithes and
offerings of the people were stored.
Eliashib had been entrusted with a privileged
responsibility but, by cultivating wrong relationships,
he misused his office and frustrated God’s work.
Nehemiah saw Eliashib’s act for what it was – an offense
against a holy God, a public denial of the priority of
spiritual things, and an act of blatant disobedience to
Scripture. In Neh 13:7, Nehemiah called it “an evil
The identification of the problem demanded drastic,
public, and immediate action. Take a look at Neh 13:8-9:
“I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s
household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify
the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment
of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the
incense.” Nehemiah went off on Tobiah! He showed him the
door and then threw his furniture, TV, computer and
stereo into the street. He then gave an order to have
the rooms cleansed. Nehemiah wanted every trace of
Tobiah’s presence removed from the temple. He had the
room disinfected and fumigated so that no one could even
smell his cologne after he left. Nehemiah could not live
with wrong in a place that was built for right.
The first separation vow they broke was that they
allowed a pagan unbeliever to take up residence in their
temple. The second separation promise they broke was to
allow mixed marriages to take place.
2. Mixed marriages.
You’ll recall this
vow from Neh 10:30: “We promise not to give our daughters in
marriage to the peoples around us or take their
daughters for our sons.” Drop down to Neh 13:23-28. When
Nehemiah returned he saw that men of Judah had married
women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. He also heard their
children speaking foreign languages, which meant that
they would not know how to read the Law of God or
participate in temple services. Their sins were damaging
their home and family life.
Only a few years earlier, as God’s people were repairing
the walls, Neh 4:7-8 tells us that the “Ammonites and
the men of Ashdod” had “plotted together to come and
fight against Jerusalem.” Yesterday’s enemies had become
today’s marriage partners. In challenging them about
their disobedience, Nehemiah uses arguments from
experience in Neh 13:23-24 and from history in Neh
This really lit Nehemiah up and he went off on the
people! Check out Neh 13:25: “I rebuked them and called
curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled
out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name…”
By calling down curses on them, he was pronouncing God’s
judgment on their actions. He was so mad, and his anger
so intense, that he smacked some of the husbands and
yanked out their hair! When Ezra was faced with a
similar situation in Ezra 9:3, he plucked his own hair
out. Instead of doing that, Nehemiah pulled the hair of
some of the offenders. This may seem like violent and
inappropriate behavior for a man of God, but when we
interpret Nehemiah’s actions against the backdrop of
Israel’s history, it’s easier to understand his intense
This very sin was the primary reason they were taken
into Babylonian captivity in the first place. Nehemiah
knew that pagan women led even their wisest king into
sin. And, Nehemiah himself had personally experienced
the results of Solomon’s sin. That’s why his
grandparents had been carried off to Babylon. That’s why
he was a servant to King Artaxerxes. There was no way
that Nehemiah wanted God’s judgment to fall on Israel
again. If God did not tolerate it in Solomon’s life, he
certainly would not allow it now.
The Support Promise
The third fractured vow was that they neglected to
support God’s work in Neh 13:13. Their final statement
in chapter 10 was that they would “…not neglect the
house our God.” When we come to this final chapter,
Nehemiah discovers that the ministry at the temple was
hampered in Neh 13:10 because the Levites and singers
had to get jobs in the fields in order to survive. The
temple storerooms were empty because people had stopped
bringing their tithes and offerings. By the way, this
probably explains why the rooms were available for
Tobiah to live in.
Nehemiah has to do some tough talking again in Neh
13:11: “So I rebuked the officials and asked them, ‘Why
is the house of God neglected?’” Nehemiah then set up a
system so that they could once again put God first with
their finances. Nehemiah not only rebuked them, he
showed them what to do to make some changes. That’s
exactly what God does for each one of us. He wants the
bad removed and the good immediately restored. When the
Holy Spirit convicts us, He also prods us to positive
behavior. We are to stop doing something destructive and
begin doing something constructive.
Nehemiah set up some administrative systems to insure
that the tithes would once more start rolling into the
temple. The temple officers in charge of the gifts had
left their posts because there was nothing coming in or
out, so in Neh 13:11, Nehemiah “stationed them at their
posts.” In Neh 13:12 we read that the people started
bringing their “tithes of grain, new wine and oil into
the storerooms.” They renewed their commitment to put
God first in their finances and brought to God what was
rightfully His. He then appointed four men in Neh 13:13
to supervise the treasury and distribute the tithes and
offerings. Interestingly, these men represented the
priests, Levites, scribes, and laymen. They were all
different but they had one thing in common: “they were
When God’s people start to go flat spiritually, one of
the first places it shows up is in their giving. Jesus
put it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your
heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Just as the
Israelites renewed their commitment to honor God with
their wallets, so too, you and I need to do an honest
assessment of our giving. Are you putting God first in
The Sabbath Promise
When they signed the covenant, the Israelites promised
not to do business with the Gentiles on the Sabbath Day
in 10:31: “…We will not buy from them on the Sabbath.”
In Neh 13:15-22, Nehemiah discovered that the people
were not only doing business on the Sabbath, they were
treating it as any other day of the week. They had
broken their fourth promise by secularizing the Sabbath.
Neh 13:16 tells us that there were men of Tyre who
actually moved into Jerusalem and set up their own
businesses. The leaders allowed them to operate their
shops seven days a week.
Nehemiah didn’t sit back and let this promise be ignored
either. He spoke sternly and acted firmly by instituting
three action steps. First, in Neh 13:15 he rebuked the
Jews who were working and selling on the Sabbath and
made them stop.
Second, he rebuked the nobles for allowing business on
the Sabbath day by reminding them that the violation of
the Sabbath was one of the reasons for their captivity
in the first place. We see this in Neh 13:18: “Didn’t
your forefathers do the same things, so that our God
brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city?
Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by
desecrating the Sabbath.”
His third step was very practical: He ordered the city
gates shut on the Sabbath and he put some of his own
guards on duty in Neh 13:19. He threatened those who
wanted to sell their goods on this holy day and also
ordered the Levites to set a good example and minister
to the people in Neh 13:22.
In demanding that the people keep their Sabbath promise,
Nehemiah was emphasizing the centrality of worship, the
importance of witness, the necessity of rest, and the
priority of love. Loving obedience is always better than
a full wallet. This command was not intended to be a
chore. God never demands anything from us that is not
for our own good. When Nehemiah’s people ignored the
Sabbath, they were damaging the very fabric of their
spiritual, physical and social lives.
Nehemiah’s Top Ten
As we wrap up this chapter, and our series on Nehemiah,
I want to give you my top ten lessons from this very
1. It’s never too late to do what’s right.
though God’s people had messed up pretty bad, it didn’t
disqualify them from service or ruin their relationship
with God. Don’t let your past keep you from doing what
is right. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve done.
What matters is that you begin right now to renew your
walk with God.
2. Don’t play around with sin.
with sin decisively and abruptly. Most of us
underestimate our sinfulness and overestimate our
goodness. Friend, don’t flirt with sin. Don’t get cozy
with compromise. Be vigilant. As Romans 12:9 says, “Hate
what is evil. Cling to what is good.”
3. Remember who God is.
He is great and awesome.
That means that He is large and He is in charge! He is
also good…all the time. Even when bad things happen to
us, He is good. And, He is gracious. He doesn’t treat us
as we deserve but always grants us grace and fresh
4. Cultivate a lifestyle of praise and prayer.
God desires for each of us to worship Him with reverence
and with joy, both individually and corporately. As we
do, we’ll also cry out to Him in confession and
supplication. When we pray, we should pray doctrinally
and also be ready to shoot up “popcorn prayers”
throughout the day.
5. Move out of your comfort zone.
Most of us are
way too comfortable with the way we’re living. We tend
to default to what is predictable and easy. God wants us
to be available to Him. When He asks us to do something
that stretches us, let’s be ready to move!
6. Don’t let difficulties derail you.
times come, and they will, don’t bail on God. God allows
tough times in our lives for a purpose. Use them to get
closer to Him and ask Him to develop your character
through the process.
7. Seek to resolve relational ruptures.
spend time with people, we are bound to have conflict
and disagreements. Each of us sin against others, and
others sin against us. Don’t allow this conflict to go
underground. Meet face-to-face and seek resolution.
8. Say “yes” to God’s priorities and “no” to the
God wants us to live
purposeful lives, focused on those things that matter to
Him. The evil one seeks to get us off track through
busyness and selfishness. Commit yourself to God’s
priorities, specifically as it relates to your time,
your talents, and your treasures.
9. Believe the promises of God and act upon them.
While it can be helpful to make promises, or vows, to
God, it’s more important to believe the promises of God
and act accordingly. We don’t have to perform for God.
Instead, claim what God has promised to do for you and
ask Him to give you the tenacity to take Him at His
10. Allow God to use you.
God takes great
pleasure in using people who are available to Him. You
don’t have to be a super saint or a spiritual giant. God
delights in using ordinary people like us so that His
extraordinary power can be unleashed in our lives.
Legend's song Ordinary People”
God uses people that will give Him all. Nehemiah prays
three “popcorn prayers” for himself in Nehemiah 13.
Neh 13:14: “Remember me for this, O my God, and do not
blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of
my God and its services.”
Neh 13:22: “Remember me for this also, O my God, and
show mercy to me according to your great love.”
Neh 13:31: “Remember me with favor, O my God.”
He reminded God of His faithfulness and prayed that what
he had done would not be blotted out. Nehemiah wasn’t
pleading for blessings on the basis of personal merit,
because He knew that God’s favor only comes by His grace
and mercy. He is simply asking God to remember Him and
what He had done. He wanted God’s favor and reward, not
the accolades of man.
These prayers reveal an attitude toward life. Nehemiah
could have built a monument to himself. He could have
written this inscription on the wall: “Built by Nehemiah
the Great.” He could have looked back at his life and
been proud of his accomplishments. Or, he could have
been frustrated because the believers had broken their
promises. In other words, he could have been impressed
with his past accomplishments or discouraged about the
But he chose neither of those things. He simply said,
“Lord, a day is coming when all of this will be over. I
want the meaning of my life to be anchored in the
future.” He knew that there was a time coming when He’d
be rewarded by the Lord and embraced by Him. His prayers
reveal that He’s living for that day, when the Lord will
say to him,
done, good and faithful servant”
Are you living for that day?