First, let me say that I am very honoured to be asked to attend and prepare this lesson for you today. I am personally thankful to brother Dennis Gresham for his patience and faith in me to get this far, not only for the lectures, but also to arrive at a level of understanding in regard to the Scriptures. He was responsible for encouraging me to attend the East Tennessee School Of Preaching and Missions that launched me further into the work of service to my fellow man; namely, preaching the Master's holy writ. To Dennis and Shirley I am very indebted.
Second, to Frances my great "help meet" whom I also owe a great deal to, for as she stands by me through thick and thin, the ups and downs, and the marvellous achievements we have made in our walk together to please Him who most matters.
Third, to you, the audience who have the fortitude to sit and listen and participate in such a wonderful feast of learning this week; whether you are here today or reading this in your quiet time of study in the future - I salute you for your faith.
My brief for today's lesson is to: "Give insight into the feelings of Nehemiah as he heard of the condition of his nation - apply this to the condition of the church today". Certainly, when you consider the words of grief that Nehemiah records, one cannot help but get a synonymous deep feeling of frustration and despair at what is happening in our Master's church today. When you survey the reports of faithful brethren in regard to the incremental apostasy that is occurring in congregations throughout the world, is it any wonder that these sad words are oft repeated: "When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days" (Neh.1:4).
It helps to ponder on the developments of the nation to grasp the context of what Nehemiah is dealing with here. The history thus far is not difficult to comprehend, although Israel made life difficult for themselves because they refused to listen to the prohibitions contained in the Law that was designed to make the nation's life relatively simple.
Moses' prophecy in Deuteronomy 31:16-21 casts a mantle of despair even as the fledgling nation is about to make a new start. He records God's words: "this people will arise and play the harlot with the strange gods of the land, into the midst of which they are going and will forsake Me and break My covenant which I made with them" (v.16). God's covenant required them to remain "holy, for I am holy" (Lev.11: 45). They were to be a distinctive, separate nation that should remain apart from those around it. It is my conviction that this was so that they may be evangelistic to those around who had "no hope and without God in the world" (Eph.2:12) and would stand as a type for the church from AD 33 onward as well as keeping the genealogy pure to transport the seed to when "the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law" (Gal.4: 4). Is it any wonder that the holy apostle Paul would speak of similar desecrations in regard to the church in his day and the days that would follow: "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work" in the form of "a deluding influence" (II Thess.2:7, 11), even to the point of entertaining "teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths" (II Tim.4:3-4).
Not withstanding the mistakes that led to the forty year wanderings, Israel's first big mistake came in the time of the judges. After a promise that God would never break His covenant with them. The writer of Judges says, "and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars. But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done? Therefore I also said, 'I will not drive them out before you; but they shall become as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you'" (Judges 2:2-3). These "thorns" culminated in many years of the cycle of sin of correct leadership then sin; correct leadership then sin etc., until a united kingdom eventually settled into some semblance of stability in the time of David.
However, rebellion was no stranger to David either personally or nationally as he struggled to keep his own passions under control (II Sam.11-12 et al.) as well as his son Absalom's desire that actually "stole away the hearts of the men of Israel" (II Sam.15:6). The hearts of such men continued to bring reproach long after the rebellious son was assassinated. David's successor Solomon strayed from the covenant and despite his vanity of vanity recorded in Ecclesiastes, it must have fuelled further desires of like-minded behaviour in a new generation that followed his death. Behaviour that formed hypocrites personified in the form of Jeroboam, son of Nebat. A man who split the nation to take eighty-five percent on an orgy of spiritual adultery (I Kings12:16ff). His influence that was fed by discontent and contempt at the rightful successor's arrogant unreasonableness that led to the object of worship to change from God unto "two golden calves" (v.28). The place of worship changed from Jerusalem to "Bethel, and the other he put in Dan" (v.29). The time of worship from the seventh month to "the eight month on the fifteenth day of the month" (v.32). Israel was no longer united but divided; its people distressed and a reproach and its defences shattered.
There still remained a remnant in the form of Judah and Benjamin that would surely secure the fortress of their God's house - or did they? It seems God's forbearance was to prevail a little while longer as He sent prophet after faithful prophet, priest after faithful priest, king after faithful king to encourage a return to "thus saith the Lord". In some instances it appears restoration was successful for kings such as Josiah and Hezekiah but, alas, the prophecies, the rebuke and the admonition seemed to harden hearts in much the same manner as the Pharaoh who kept their forefathers in bondage all those years ago. A nation that remembers not the mistakes in its history is doomed to make the same mistakes. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel etc., rebuked, admonished and appealed to the leadership to repent by using illustrations to show that God can remould should they desire to change before it becomes everlasting too late (Jer.18:1-10). But as Jeremiah's object lesson in Jeremiah 19:10-11 demonstrates, due to their decision in Jeremiah 18:12, "for we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart", they would never be a nation as originally intended from their conception.
Despite the warnings, still the false prophets continued their pacification of the reprobates. "They kept saying, 'There shall be no sword or famine in this land'- by sword and famine those prophets shall meet their end!" (Jer.14:15). Or maybe this dreamer's message: "Within two years [God is] going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord's house which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon" (Jer. 28:3). Note: how some truth is mixed in with error, Sheshbazzar (as some indicate, alias Zerubbabel) would bring back the vessels looted by Nebuchadnezzar's thugs in Ezra 5:14-15, but not until at least 538 BC - remind you of distorted teachings heard today? Yet the test of the prophet rings true for them as it does for us today: "The prophet who prophesies of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then that prophet will be known as one whom the Lord has sent" (v.9). Conversely, the implication is: if it does not, then "you shall not be afraid of him" (Deuteronomy 18: 22), for they, as Jeremiah rightly says, "deceive" and "dream" (Jer. 29: 8).
The truth is, Jeremiah issues a "thus saith the Lord" in Jeremiah 29:10, "When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfil My good word to you, to bring you back to this place." Just as sure as Jeremiah's prophecy came true, so too would the words of Isaiah ring loudly in the captive's ears as they witness Cyrus' autocratic rule of Persia. For Isaiah rightly prophesied one hundred and fifty years before Persia was even considered worthy of might, that this man, yes mentioned by name, would let God's people go and return to Jerusalem. "It is I who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd! And will perform all My desire.' And he declares of Jerusalem, 'She will be built,' And the temple, 'Your foundation will be laid'" (Isa. 44: 28). A valued prophesy that would become Persian law that not even a king could alter as is highlighted in Ezra 6:11, "any man who violates this edict, a timber shall be drawn from his house and he shall be impaled on it and his house shall be made a refuse heap on account of this", and amply demonstrated in Esther chapters eight following.
Jeremiah was adamant the remnant would be restored from a position they could not escape from, for he wrote: "For I will restore you to health and I will heal you of your wounds,' declares the Lord..." (Jeremiah 30:12-17). Just as there were three deportations, so too it would be that Zerubbabel would lead the first of three returns. The first rejuvenated group was to restore the holy vessels to their rightful place in a restored temple around 538 BC.(Ezra 1-3). The second was lead by Ezra some 80 years later (457 BC) to "teach [God's] statutes and ordinances in Israel" because "he was a scribe skilled in the law of Moses" (Ezra 7:6-10). The third and final return was to be led by the scribe of the book under scrutiny this week because of the report sent back by Hanani in 444 BC.
Nehemiah, cupbearer to King Artaxerxes (Neh.1:11), is sent a report based on his brother's observation. That report, its meaning and implications is the basis of this treatise so that we might learn a valuable lesson in this day and age, specifically in regard to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul said that these things are written for our profit, an example for instruction that we might know how to avoid or conform to that which pleases the head of this magnificent institution (Rom.15: 4). As has already been stated, if we cannot learn from the mistakes of the past, then we are doomed to repeat them.
Throughout this lecture, please keep in mind the role that Jerusalem stood for; that is, as a type or shadow of that to come. She stood as a type of church that had individual citizens that can think and act of their own free will. She shadowed the church that has defences consisting of walls and gates that regulate entry and stands as proud and solid as the Rock of Gibraltar - that is, through faith that comes solely from the word of God (Rom.10:17).
When its walls and gates are breached, it is not hard to imagine who might enter as undesirable and abominable to the Lord. Equally, when distress and reproach are evident, it is not hard to imagine the squalor of liberal thoughts and desires that have caused such. View God's congregation in 444 BC, and you will see mirrored God's congregation in A.D.1999. The walls are seemingly unable to keep out undesirables, the gates seem no longer to stand as a bar to unauthorised entry of the infidel and charlatan alike and the people are either ill equipped and apathetic to cope or are have simply capitulated to the forces of the adversary's schemes.
Arguments abound as to the cause and completeness of the walls damage. Some say it was due to the destruction left by Nebuchadnezzar, yet countered by the fact that this event happened in 586 B.C. and further evidenced by Nehemiah's reaction of shock that would not be as a result of ancient news. "The reply would be badly misunderstood if we just took it to speak of the ruins left by Nebuchadrezzar. That was ancient history (587 B.C.), but this was news and a shattering blow" Listen to what C. F. Keil had to say in this regard: "Some older expositors thought that Hanani could not have spoken of the destruction of the walls and gates of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, because this was already sufficiently known to Nehemiah, but of some recent demolition on the part of the Samaritans and other hostile neighbours of the Jews..." In Nehemiah chapter three it becomes apparent that the wall was in a partial state of disrepair with many sections needed to be restored by each house that lay opposite. This seemed to be a job that was being actioned even in the day of Ezra. Listen to the devious report of Rehum and Shimshai: "the Jews...are rebuilding the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing the walls and repairing its foundations" (Ezra 4:12).
It is the general state of disarray of the city and the general state of the people that distresses Nehemiah so much. They are, in effect, in a state of defencelessness. The city and occupants are being exposed to the elements of a ruthless, depraved environment, that unless a remedy is found, will engulf them as wolves engulf the unprotected sheep-fold. This, I believe is at the heart of the shock that encompasses Nehemiah at this time. This is further evidenced by the prompt action taken by him to get the walls repaired in double-quick time. They, that is the remnant, were led by a determined mind that coaxed them to have "a mind to work" (Neh. 4: 6) and who were determined to not let their leader down.
Nehemiah, a man unaccustomed to "sounding his own trumpet" as evidenced from his reticence about his position of high standing until the end of the first chapter, was one to raise the plight of his people before the world's most powerful leader in order to make haste and personally return and supervise the shoring up of this once proud stronghold. After all, this city stood on a hill that was renown for being hard to conquer. In fact, with God among its portals, it was an impossible task to capture this city as Sennacherib and his 185,000 discovered (cf. Isaiah 37).
I believe when one reads the first chapter of this inspired work, one observes the quiet resolve to follow through with convictions of the highest esteem that will serve to put right the injustices of the highest degree. Nehemiah's intention to repair the gates, the wall and God's people is the central theme of this magnificent book. Not with bravado, but with a genuine motive to fulfil his Master's desire to keep the remnant on the assigned path, that is to transport the seed to the appointed time (Gal. 4: 4). Nor was it with any thoughts of self-gratification, for his prayer in chapter 1, verses 5-11 is to God and for God's will to be done (Matt. 6:10). Besides, his demeanour before the king in chapter two, verse two was sure to raise the ire of a fickle monarch on a day more circumspect. For it was the policy in that day to insist no one upset the king for fear of grave consequences. Nehemiah was in a position not to dissimilar to Queen Esther who faced Ahasurerus with a request to save her people. Her uncle Mordecai prompted her with the words: "And who knows whether you have attained royalty (position of influence-GJW) for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Might those who take Jude 3 seriously, that is to "content earnestly for the faith", take courage to face the task at hand with the same resolve, even if it means that you might cause an upset along the way?
So the parallels can be drawn between that alarming day and the alarm that is clanging in our ears today? It is my contention that there is great distress and reproach in the remnant today. To say anything contrary is like saying man has never been to the moon, that it is some elaborate hoax as the plot of the Hollywood movie "Capricorn One" portrayed.
From all quarters, the church is under attack with souls capitulating under the strain of a constant bombardment of rhetoric and verbal abuse from a stand-off position; much like the remnant faced in Jerusalem from the Samaritans, Sanballat and Tobiah in Nehemiah 4:1-3. A constant battle against the tirade of liberal propaganda designed to incite doubt and desertion.
Then there is the distress and reproach caused by the subtle approach that seems to inch its way in, little by little, that in turn gains respect and honour in a manner not too dissimilar to Absalom in II Samuel 15: 2-6, that is to say, hearts are being stolen away from the doctrines of God.
I believe one can see at least three things evident with the remnant that caused the man of God to break down in such a way in 444 B.C. and would cause him to do the same should he be present in A.D. 1999. They are: A loss of focus, apathetic brethren and a failure to adhere to the word.
I. Loss Of Focus.
In Hosea 4: 6 God says of His people, in that day, that they "are destroyed for lack of knowledge." His people had lost the plot; they had "rejected knowledge"; they had a loss of focus. The nation was once again in that predicament, but due to Nehemiah's godly leadership, things are going to change. Sanballat "became furious and very angry" (Neh. 4:1) when he realised Nehemiah had refocussed God's people to take hold of the task at hand. The rebuilding of the wall took the focus away from laxity unto a purpose of both short and long term achievements.
In the short term, their priority was to remain holy just as the Lord is holy. For it has always been a requirement according to the Law - "you shall be holy for I am holy" (Lev. 11: 45). It is the priority of the Christian to achieve the same goal through obedience to the Master's commands (I Peter 1:14-16) .
The nation of Israel was charged with the task of transporting the seed of Christ to appear at the designated time, "born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal. 4:1-4), albeit from a standpoint of ignorance that nonetheless required them to walk by faith and not by sight (implied from Hebrews 4: 2, for the wanderers of the wilderness did not receive their rest because they lacked faith). The direction from the promises made to Abraham and the bloodline of Judah was set well before the nation was born (Gen. 12:1-3; 49: 8-10). They could not hope to expect these promises to come to fruition whilst allowing their bloodlines to go gallivanting in divergent directions. No, this required the nation to show restraint and remain true to the Lord in a holy manner.
The same is true of the church today. The seed has been and achieved His task of saving multitudes who have lived according to God's "knowledge", both before and after Calvary. For the Hebrews writer establishes the ineffectual ability of blood sacrifices before the cross, "for it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb.10:1-8). Then he proclaims the effective ability of Christ's vicarious death "once for all" (Heb.10: 9-18). In order to take advantage of this supreme sacrifice, the Christian must remain focussed on that point of death in order to inherit the life of holiness beyond his own physical death. The Christian's fullness of time is not reached until that time of death (cf, Rev. 2:10b). Drift away from that point by focussing on other targets and you have lost focus in the short term. Is this not the exhortation of the Hebrews writer in 2:1? "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it."
Sanballat and company try refocusing the remnant to their agenda much like the modern day spin-doctors of politics and business by creating doubt in their minds. "What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they fix it in a day? Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble, even the burned ones?" (Neh. 4: 2). Add the aspersions up in quick succession and it would seem to be a task too overwhelming to tackle. It would destroy confidence and again cause one to loose focus. But focus in on each segment with determination to make it work, along with that all important binding agent so powerful, it defies human reasoning which is prayer and one quickly observes: "if God is for us, who is against us?" (Rom. 8: 31). It is vitally important to have a mind-set that it will be done, "for the people had a mind to work" (Neh. 4: 6). A mind that was refocused by listening to that which God had in mind; not that which man has in mind.
Too many times the Lord's body is tortured with doubt because rather than listen to the "knowledge" of God's word, they listen to the Sanballats of faithless propaganda.
Jesus said "the wolf snatches away them and scatters them" (John10:12) in regard to the good shepherd and the hireling. The wolf is not interested in snatching them away all at once. After all, he will do better coping with disunity than with unity. The trade union's motto: "United we stand, divided we fall" stands the test of time in any situation in life and even more so in God's congregation. No, the wolf scatters them so that they will loose their focus upon a safe and secure environment, in order that he can pick them off, one by one at a later, more convenient date.
I am sad to say that is the case in the vast majority of the Lord's body today. Individuals have been scattered by wolves in sheep's clothing because lacklustre leadership has not been keeping the congregation focused on the word's of Christ! Elders were appointed in the first century to "be on guard for [themselves] and for all the flock...to shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28), that is to focus the brethren on sound doctrine. The qualifications of elders given by the Holy Spirit in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are designed to focus the brethren on righteous living. The admonishment of brethren to obey your leaders and submit to them (Heb.13:17) is given so that elders might focus the brethren on the goal of eternal life by feeding them by way of a loving attitude of example (cf. I Peter 5:1-4).
Failure to shepherd in a focussed direction will give opportunity for the wolves to pick on the vulnerable and least defensible that, sadly, seems to be the majority who then grapple with whatever comes to mind in order to try and help themselves. As with sheep, this does not amount to much which, in turn, takes us back full circle to Hosea 4:6 where lack of knowledge (focus) spells destruction (doom).
Nehemiah was distraught at the condition of the revival. His reaction was something that should be emulated today - get down there and lead this people to have a renewed focus.
II. Apathetic Brethren.
In Jeremiah 27:14 the prophet issues stern words, "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, 'You shall not serve the king of Babylon,' for they prophesy a lie to you." It appears obvious that the nation was taking in words that were contrary to that which had been spoken by inspiration, such as: "I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I am going to bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord's house" (Jer. 28: 23). Words that are wildly out of tune with that which Isaiah issued approximately one hundred years previous. "It is I (God) who says of Cyrus, 'He is My shepherd and he will perform all My desire.'..." (Isa. 44:28). Now you must ask yourself why they did not apply some logic here and see that this man Cyrus was not even on the scene yet, so how could they be returning in two short years? When people let their minds go to sleep and become plainly disinterested in their forward outlook, that is when the "prince of the power of the air" has a field day. Apathy breeds contempt for anything that is right; instead "wanting their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (II Tim.4:3).
How can false teachers get away with such heresy when proven prophets, according to the test of the law (Deut.18: 20-22) have spoken otherwise? I truly believe the answer lies in the arena of apathy. People who did not take seriously the words issued in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 of quid pro quo. True, it is required of one to be well equipped in the education of the law and diligence in study, yet was this not a requisite of true demonstrable love? "Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart" (Deut. 6:4-6). But failure to "walk in [God's] statues and keep [His] commandments" (Lev.26:38) will reap the ringing words: "I will set My face against you" (Lev. 26:17).
In Nehemiah 2:17 it is recognised by the remnant that there is a "bad situation" and a "reproach" (shame, disgrace, discredit) brought by them upon the good name of the Lord's body. A nation that should have stood proud and out spoken for God; not ruinous and of no effect. As Derek Kidner puts it: " for Jerusalem should be seen as 'the city of the great king' and 'the joy of the earth.'" The Psalmist had this to say about the commitment of God's people: "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion in the far north, the city of the great King. God, in her palaces, Has made Himself known as a stronghold" (Psalm 48:1-3). This remnant were not to be bowing to the dictates of a heathen mix of religious syndicates. No! They were to push the ideals and aspirations that the Law demanded. However, they were a disgrace because of their apathetic behaviour that earned them the title of "feeble Jews" (Neh.4: 2). "Stronghold" of God's ideals - not likely if Tobiah's words are any indication of their recent behaviour, for he chided them about the strength of the wall they were to reconstruct, that "if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!" (Neh. 4: 3).
The "she'll be right" concept of apathy that is prevalent in New Zealand and variations of that concept throughout the world can simply not be tolerated by the church because it has never been a concept tolerated by God. He said to: "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth" (II Tim.2:15). "But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence" (I Peter 3:15). "...I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). Surely one can imagine strength and resolve implied within the structure of these inspired words; not a disposition of apathy.
Apathy can take a once energetic soul and place it into the pits of spiritual darkness that, to be fair, may not be due entirely to that person's doing. It may be that he has become tired of the constant bickering that precedes a fall into incremental apostasy. The church in Corinth serves as such an example that was beset with division that, left unchecked, would almost certainly have destroyed it. One can see a careless attitude displayed in I Corinthians, the fifth chapter. The incestuous man was allowed to carry on in that abominable state because of the congregation's arrogance and as you will note, they "have not mourned" (v.2). Apathy was allowing sin to run rampant throughout the congregation that Paul said they must "clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed" (I Cor.5: 7). Cleaning out would have surely involved a cleaning up of their demeanour of carelessness that lead to this despicable situation in the first place - wouldn't it?
Thanks be to God that Chloe's people saw fit to seek help from the Holy Spirit in the form of Paul (I Cor.1:11). Oh, for the likes of those willing to speak out and appeal to God's word for a healing to such division that besets the church today.
Then there are those within the Lord's congregations that brother Wayne Coats
talks about in Plumbline.
Apathy is tantamount to having the walls "broken down" in our text for this lesson. People are allowed to wander on in without check. Liberalism is allowed to march on in without opposition. Apathy can only come about if one is ignorant of scriptural responsibility. Oh sure, you may know the Scriptures teach that one is to "keep your eye on those who cause dissension's and hindrances contrary to the teaching which your learned, and turn away from them" (Rom.16:17). You may even be cognisant that one is not to "participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them" (Eph. 5:11). You may also be familiar with the teaching that "anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God...", even so far as to "give him a greeting (literally to give him God speed in his efforts)" would be to "participate in his evil deeds" (II John 9-11). But surely you are not meaning those people who are so kind and gentle; are so helpful and humble; are so loving and merciful, you hear apathetic souls cry? Yet was that not how Little Red Riding Hood was approached by a wolf who exploited her apathy that nearly led to her doom?
In the aforementioned verses, the apostles warned with authority from above (Matt.16:19; 18:18ff; 28:20) these things because the wolves will come from among them and savage the flock (Acts 20:29f). Note Paul's words in verse 30 where he says the wolves' intention is "to draw the disciples after them." "To draw" in the original language is to literally use a degree of force. One gets the impression from this obvious action that apathy cannot be a legitimate excuse on the judgement day by simply saying, "I was not aware of those who wrest the Scriptures to their own demise" (II Peter 3:16 KJV). In fact, apathy can be just the mind-set used by the snake that drives out the sound to let the unsound hold sway.
III. Failure To Adhere To The Word.
In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul is said to be "amazed" that brethren had so "quickly" deserted Jesus' doctrines for counterfeit teachings that are a distortion of the real thing. Absolutely no one, including Paul, could teach this and get away with it. God's absolute hatred of false doctrine can be gauged by the repeated use of the noun, anathema. In fact, the Galatians were not the only ones to receive this warning, for even the church at Corinth knew of God's jealous nature in this regard (II Cor.11:1-4). A state of being that will come upon those who practice such perversion that surely on one would wish even upon his vilest enemy, let alone bring it upon himself with such an aberration.
In Nehemiah 5:1-13 such a state existed in Jerusalem that caused Nehemiah to weep and mourn so bitterly. Teachers of such an outrage as charging one's brethren interest on mortgages that were being used to prop up in times of famine. I am not denying it improper to run a profitable financial institution, but to exploit people, and your own at that, with exorbitant usury in times of misery is to say the least - despicable! Nehemiah outlaws such a practice, even serving as an example of forgoing his entitlement as a form of encouragement (Neh. 5:18). Did Nehemiah do such a thing, reasoning from the subjective annuals of his mind? No, he would have referred to Leviticus 25:35-37: "Now in case a countryman of yours becomes poor and his means with regard you falter, then you are to sustain him, like a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with you. Do not take usurious interest from him, but revere your God that your countryman may live with you. You shall not give him your silver at interest, nor your food for gain." Did not the "certain Samaritan" practice this, the golden rule, according to Christ's parable in Luke 10:30ff? Would this not be the thing to do as per Matthew 7:12, "Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them...?" Why were those principles not being followed by the remnant? Because the people were not adhering to the Word.
It appears the Law was not being read in public, for Ezra the scribe was required to expound the Law in an expository fashion so that the people would understand it (Neh. 8:7-8). One of the quickest ways to dupe the congregation into not thinking about God's requirements is to leave out the reading of the word. Such was their amazement at what this law contained, that it is said that they were "weeping when they heard the words of the law" (Neh. 8:9). The word explained will either rest the heart content, or wrest it with pain when publicly read. Paul told Timothy to "give attention to public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching" (I Tim. 4:13).
This people found commands they were unaware existed, such as various festivals (Neh. 8:14). They confessed their sins after soon discovering they no longer had a theocracy due to the sins of their fathers and here they were in the process of emulating their father's sins (Neh. 9 ff.).
Much was restored to what God intended from Mt. Sinai. No foreigners in the assembly of God's house - Tobiah and his house are thrown out of that which was reserved for those descended from Levi. The Sabbath was restored and mixed marriages forbidden (Neh.13 ff.). After all, the gates had been burned, entry was not checked and it seemed anybody's doctrine could hold sway if the implication of these chapters is anything to go by.
If Nehemiah were to view certain quarters of the church today, would he break down with similar dissatisfaction? Amen! If he were to ride the wall today, would he discover gaping holes where unrestricted entry abounds? Amen!
Brethren, there needs to be more weeping and mourning over the apparent breeches that are common in congregations; not just generically, around the world like some blanket statement of anguish, but in our own backyards. Do you think that Nehemiah was weeping solely on behalf of his own anguish? No! It becomes obvious by the use of the plural pronouns in chapter one that he includes his brethren in this account before God. "...I am praying before Thee now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Thy servants...We have acted very corruptly against Thee...may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants" (Neh.1:6-11 emphasis mine). Also, would you note with me that Nehemiah's appeal refers back to the law giver, "Thy servant Moses" (Neh.1:7) for the recognition of their sins; that is, they have not been walking in accordance to the law given by him. They were simply not adhering to the word.
The church in certain quarters needs to wake up in this regard, for they have acted corruptly against God by not referring back to the lawgiver in this day and age - Christ and His delegated apostles. The early church was exhorted to be devoted to "the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2: 42; 20: 7; I Cor.11: 2; II Thess. 2:15), even to "expose them that teach error" (Eph. 5:11) through the Scriptures so that change may come about in like manner to Nehemiah's day. Expound the law publicly in an expository fashion so that the people will understand that what they have been hearing and believing is at odds with the holy writ.
Nehemiah stands tall as an example of strong leadership that took an uncompromising, yet gentle and fair-minded approach that rooted out error with the word that clearly gelled the people into that which must have seemed like a "fragrant aroma" to God. "God will fight for us" will be the result for God's people when they have a "mind to work" and do what He requires, that is to adhere to His word. I see it no differently today. It should be the churches' resolve to tackle error ridden messages in this authoritative way just as the Master did with the snake - "It is written" (Matt. 4: 4, 7, 10). Bold words that our Christ issued should also be used to arrest those who do not adhere to His Word: "And why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me, and hears My words, and acts upon them, I will show you whom he is like" (Luke 6: 46-47).
We have noted the reason for the Nehemiah's sadness which was because the nation was sinking deep into similar troubles that their fathers had embarked on. His anguish could be likened to Paul's as he heard reports from faithful members from the church in Corinth who set about immediately to remedy the situation with a "thus saith the Lord".
Conditions in the congregation in Jerusalem are not peculiar to the time before Christ, for the church in 1999 is in a similar predicament. A loss of focus has diverted God's children to listen to dreamers who know not what the Lord requires. Apathy has led to division and dissension on a scale that has become alarming. Non-adherence to the word has led to all sorts of doctrines not unlike the Heinz slogan - "57 Varieties".
The cure is simple. Refocus them, rekindle them and refix them to the word of
God so that they may utter the words Nehemiah leaves us with: "Remember me, O my
God, for good" (Nehemiah 13: 31).