“Moreover, from the day that I was appointed to be their governor in the land
of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes,
twelve years, neither I no my kinsman have
eaten the governor’s food allowance. But the
former governors who were before me laid burdens
on the people and took from them bread and wine
besides forty shekels of silver; even their servants
domineered the people. But I did not do so because
of the fear of God.”
Tuesday’s Bible reading is Nehemiah 5–9. As you read these chapters it’s evident that the wall of Jerusalem would not have been rebuilt without the leadership of Nehemiah. There are several things that stand out about this man. The first in chapter 5 is his integrity. When there is an outcry by some of the people against the oppression of their Jewish brothers, Nehemiah steps in and rebukes them, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies?” The people hear him, are convicted and change. He had already set the example by not using his authority as governor to domineer them. When a leader lives what he says
In chapter 6 Nehemiah’s wisdom is evident in his discernment of the plots of his enemies, and we also see that their efforts to frighten him are meaningless because of his resolve not to sin against God.
“But I said, “Should a man like me flee? And could one such as I go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in.” Then I perceived that surely God had not sent him, but he uttered his prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He was hired for this reason, that I might become frightened and act accordingly and sin, so that they might have an evil report in order that they could reproach me. Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these works of theirs, and also Noadiah the prophetess and the rest of the prophets who were trying to frighten me.”
Nehemiah truly exemplifies the wise man who fears God.
In addition to Nehemiah’s leadership, the other thing I want to point out in these chapters is the response of the people to the Word of God. In chapter 8 the people ask Ezra to read God’s Word—and the hearing of God’s Word brings great spiritual renewal.
“Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.”
They revere God’s Word by standing to hear it, and by their response to God’s Word when they do hear it.
“Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.”
Many times Christians give lip service to the Bible as God’s Word, but we do not treat it as such. We promote our own thinking—or the thinking of others as not just equal to God’s Word, but even over the Bible as our final authority. There is a dangerous pattern of thinking in women’s Bible studies that is mysticism cloaked in Christian words as inner feeling and thoughts are promoted as revelation from God. Look at Nehemiah 8. Derek Kidner writes:
“Mindless superstition was the mark of paganism…and had been the downfall of an apostate Israel (Hos. 4:6 ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’)” 1
“The whole occasion emphasizes the clarity and candor of God’s dealings with His people, and, not least, the contrast drawn elsewhere between His ministers and ‘the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter’ (cf. Is. 8:19f).”2
People are being destroyed for lack of knowledge because we have forsaken God’s Word to listen to those who speak of inner feelings or thoughts as if they were direct revelations of God. When words are said with charismatic and appealing warmth, too often we take them in without examining them and realizing what is actually being said. John Owen writes:
“Without absolutes revealed from without by God Himself, we are left rudderless in a sea of conflicting ideas about manners, justice, and right and wrong, issuing from a multitude of self-opinionated thinkers. We could never know who God is, how He is to be worshiped, or wherein true happiness lies…”3
And B. B. Warfield comments:
“…God is a person, and persons are known only as they make themselves known — reveal themselves.
“…Revealed religion comes to man from without; it is imposed upon him from a source superior to his own spirit.
“…we do not see in revelation man reaching up lame hands toward God and feeling fumblingly after Him if haply he may find Him, but God graciously reaching strong hands down to man, bringing him help in his need, we see in it a gift from God, not a creation of man’s….”4
God has given us His revelation—the Bible. This is where we learn of God and who He is and how we are to live—not in a subjective moment of inner listening.
In Nehemiah 8, the people are told the day is holy to the Lord and not to mourn or to weep, “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Kidner writes:
“…holiness and gloom go ill together . . . To be altogether joyful was the prospect held before the guests of God (Dt. 16:15), and words that went most naturally with “holiness” were not only “justice and righteousness” but “glory”, “beauty”, “strength” and “joy.””5
We have a hard time wrapping our minds around the connection between holiness and joy, because we do not think of God as He is, but as our minds or our culture or our friends or family have conceived Him to be. Remember these words in Jeremiah:
Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD.
If you want to know God, then look to His Word and read it. Then you will know Him and find that, “…the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
5Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, as quoted by Paul Apple at Bible Outlines.
1, 2Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, pp. 105, 107; as quoted by Dr. Keith E. Gephart. My copy of this book is not available to me at the moment.
3John Owen, Biblical Theology: The History of Theology from Adam to Christ, p. xl. Via: Kubecki.com
4Benjamin B. Warfield, Mysticism & Christianity, “This essay originally appeared in The Biblical Review (vol. 2 ,1917, pp. 169-191) but this edition was derived from The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991, vol. 9, pp. 649-666). The electronic edition of this article was scanned and edited by Shane Rosenthal for Reformation Ink. It is in the public domain and may be freely copied and distributed. Pagination from the Baker edition has been retained for purposes of reference. Scanning errors may be present in this edition.”
This essay discusses mysticism as a man-made religion.
Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter
As you read Nehemiah, I thought it might be helpful to have a chart of the sequence of some major events in the return of the exiles to Jerusalem.
These dates are from Dr. Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, a standard and respected work. Within each chapter he discusses his reasoning as well as that of other scholars.6
|The Exiles Return to Israel|
||Burning of Jerusalem and destruction of Temple
|538 B.C.||Cyrus: Rebuild Temple (2 Chronicles 36:22–23)|
||Exiles return under Zerubbabel (Ezra 2–3)|
||Foundation of Second Temple laid (Ezra 3:8)|
||Building stopped by enemy discouragement (Ezra 4)
|520 B.C.||Haggai & Zechariah prophesy (Ezra 5:1–2)
|Building of Temple resumes
||Temple Finished: 70 years after 586 B.C. destruction
||Artaxerxes I: Rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 7)
|445 B.C.||Artaxerxes I: Rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2)|
“For thus says the LORD, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’”
6Gleason L. Archer, Jr., “Postexilic Historical Books: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 404–421; “Postexilic Prophets: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi,” A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, pp. 422–432.