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We Know Better Sometimes, Don’t We?

Saturday, April 08, 2023

We Know Better Sometimes, Don’t We?

David Sproule

Did your children ever talk back to you?  Frustrating, wasn’t it?  Who did they think they were?  Why do children talk back to their parents?  It’s because they think they know better and/or because they want their way and are not interested in the parents’ way.  But, when we get older, we outgrow that “talking back” thing, right?

Interestingly, there are some who will not outgrow that “talking back” thing, even after they die.  There is an interesting account in Luke 16 of a glimpse into a scene of two men after they died.  Jesus tells of a rich man who died and went to “torments” (16:22-23).  He struck up a conversation with Abraham, whom the rich man was able to see “afar off” in Paradise.  He begged Abraham to send the beggar named Lazarus, who was in Paradise, to return to the rich man’s house and “testify” to his five brothers, “lest they also come to this place of torment” (16:27-28).

The rich man’s request was not going to be granted.  Abraham responded to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (16:29).  In other words, they have the Bible (at least the portion that had been written by this time).  Abraham said that the rich man’s brothers needed to listen to Scriptures, to which they had access.

The rich man’s retort is fascinating.  He was having a conversation with an apparent representative of God (for Paradise is called “Abraham’s bosom” in verse 22), and he was not satisfied with the information that was being given.  He quickly replied, “No, father Abraham” (16:30).  Can you imagine snapping back at a representative of God by saying, “No”?  That almost reminds you of your kids talking back to you, doesn’t it?  That’s what the rich man was doing.  “NO, father Abraham; BUT if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”  You see, the rich man, like your kids, knew better than Abraham.  He was not satisfied with the response that his brothers needed to read the Bible, and so he offered his “better” solution with the word “But” to express its superiority.

Abraham calmly replied, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (16:31).  There was one way for his brothers to come to know the truth and avoid the fiery torments, and if they ignored that one way, there was no other option that would alter their course.

Do we sometimes think we know better than God?  Do we sometimes read God’s expectations for us and think, “No.  But this idea that I have would be better”?  May God help us to learn from the rich man that we do not know better than God.  May we read, accept, love and follow the Bible.

The Stone of Navigation (Nehemiah 5)

Saturday, April 01, 2023

The Stone of Navigation (Nehemiah 5)

Wade Webster

Each chapter in the book of Nehemiah gives us a stone that we must revive to rebuild the Lord’s work.  The stone in the fifth chapter is the stone of navigation.  Although Nehemiah’s leadership is seen throughout the book in various ways, it comes to the forefront in the fifth chapter.  Nehemiah leads the people through some very difficult circumstances.  We see his leadership in his indignation, his contemplation, his motivation, and his demonstration.

His Indignation

The fifth chapter begins with a great outcry of the people and their wives.  The people were facing harsh economic circumstances.  Many of them had mortgaged their lands to buy food and to pay their taxes.  Some of their children had even been forced into bondage.  To make matters worse, they were being taken advantage of by their own brethren. Their brethren were charging them usury or interest.  When Nehemiah heard of how brethren were taking advantage of brethren, he became very angry (Neh. 5:6).  Good leaders are passionate.  They feel things deeply, they care about those that they lead, and they hate injustice.  Good leaders get angry; sometimes, as in Nehemiah’s case, very angry.  In fact, they might even get angry every day.  God does.  The psalmist wrote, “God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psa. 7:11).  Nehemiah had many reasons to be angry.  First, these men were violating the law of God by charging usury.  Second, these men were giving the enemy a reason to reproach them.  Third, these men were undoing the good that Nehemiah and others were doing. 

His Contemplation

Although Nehemiah was very angry, he didn’t speak or act hastily or foolishly.  He gave serious thought before rebuking those in the wrong (Neh. 5:7).  Good leaders think before they say or do something that they will later regret.  David wrote, “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still” (Psa. 4:4).  Good leaders are slow to wrath.  James wrote, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (Jam. 1:19-20; cf. Prov. 14:17; 16:32).

His Motivation

Good leaders are great motivators.  They know how to get people to do the right thing.  To motivate those who were charging their brethren usury to stop this practice and to restore what had been taken, Nehemiah called a great assembly of people against them (Neh. 5:7).  He wanted these men to see those that they were hurting.  Furthermore, he called the priests to take a solemn oath to ensure that those who had taken advantage of their brethren didn’t go back on their word (Neh. 5:7-13). 

His Demonstration

Good leaders don’t just talk, they do.  Nehemiah practiced what he preached.  He declared, “Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year until the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the governor’s provisions. 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. Yes, even their servants bore rule over the people, but I did not do so, because of the fear of God. Indeed, I also continued the work on this wall, and we did not buy any land. All my servants were gathered there for the work. And at my table were one hundred and fifty Jews and rulers, besides those who came to us from the nations around us. Now that which was prepared daily was one ox and six choice sheep. Also fowl were prepared for me, and once every ten days an abundance of all kinds of wine. Yet in spite of this I did not demand the governor’s provisions, because the bondage was heavy on this people. Remember me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (Neh. 5:14-19).  Nehemiah’s life was the greatest asset that he had as a leader.

If we are going to be successful in rebuilding the work of the Lord where we are, we are going to have to revive the stone of navigation.  We are going to have to find leaders who can and will lead us like Nehemiah did his people in the long ago.

The Stone of Dedication (Nehemiah 4)

Saturday, March 25, 2023

The Stone of Dedication (Nehemiah 4)

Wade Webster

Each chapter of the book of Nehemiah gives us another stone that must be revived to rebuild the work of God.  So far, we have noticed the stones of supplication, preparation, and coordination.  In this installment of our study, we will notice the stone of dedication. We will see the dedication of Nehemiah and the people in the hearts, the hands, and the hours that they gave to the work. 

Their Hearts

“So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work” (Neh. 4:6).  Please note that the people had a mind to work.  Their hearts were in what they were doing.  Had they only been going through the motions or half-hearted about the work of rebuilding, they would have quit.  The context reveals that they faced great ridicule from those in the region.  We read, “But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews. And he spoke before his brethren and the army of Samaria, and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish—stones that are burned?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall” (Neh. 4:1-3).  Although these words must have stung them, they didn’t stop them. 

Their Hands

“So it was, from that time on, that half of my servants worked at construction, while the other half held the spears, the shields, the bows, and wore armor; and the leaders were behind all the house of Judah. Those who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other held a weapon” (Neh. 4:16-17).  When ridicule didn’t stop the work, the enemies in the region threatened to attack them.  We read, “Now it happened, when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion… And our adversaries said, “They will neither know nor see anything, till we come into their midst and kill them and cause the work to cease.” (Neh. 4:7-8, 11). The enemy hoped to create confusion and to cause the work to cease.  Although the enemy wasn’t able to stop the work, they did slow it tremendously.  Some of the workers had to be assigned to guard duty.  Others had to work with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other.

Their Hours

“So we labored in the work, and half of the men held the spears from daybreak until the stars appeared. At the same time I also said to the people, “Let each man and his servant stay at night in Jerusalem, that they may be our guard by night and a working party by day.” So neither I, my brethren, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me took off our clothes, except that everyone took them off for washing” (Neh. 4:21-23).  Please note the long hours that they worked.  They were dedicated to completing this project as soon as possible. 

How dedicated are we to the work of the Lord today? Are our hearts in it?  Are we working with both hands?  Are we willing to get up early and to stay up late until the job is done?

The Stone of Coordination (Nehemiah 3)

Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Stone of Coordination (Nehemiah 3)

Wade Webster

At first, the third chapter of Nehemiah might just seem like a long list of names of people and places.  We might be tempted to just skip it.  However, since God saw fit to include it, we must see fit to investigate it.  In the third chapter, we see great coordination.  Notice the language throughout the chapter: “next to” (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 19) and “after him/them’ (16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 27, 29, 30, 31).  Workers are working one after the other or side by side.  The workers seem to have been organized or coordinated according to three things:  ability, activity, and address. 

First, the workers seem to have been organized by ability. There were clearly different levels of expertise among the workers.  Notice the different occupations mentioned in the chapter:  priests (1,  22, 28), goldsmiths (8, 31, 32), perfumers (8), leaders (12, 15, 16, 18, 19), Levites (19), gatekeepers (29), and merchants (32).  Likely, many of these individuals knew little to nothing about laying stones or building walls.  Yet, they were willing to learn.  They did what they could.  Notice further that one man worked on the wall with his daughters (12).  I doubt that these girls were stonemasons, but they pitched in and helped.  In addition to the differences that we have noticed, the assigned jobs required different skill levels.  Some jobs required more ability.  For example, hanging doors and gates (1, 3, 6, 13, 14, 15), laying beams (3, 6), and repairing towers and ovens (11) required more specialized workers than other tasks.  Furthermore, please notice that some built (1, 2, 3), evidently from scratch, while others simply repaired what had been broken down (4, 5, 6-32).  Building a wall from scratch was more difficult than merely putting stones back into place. 

Second, the workers seem to have been organized by activity.  Some workers distinguished themselves by how hard they worked.  We read, “After him Baruch the son of Zabbai earnestly repaired the other piece, from the turning of the wall unto the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest” (3:20).  Please note that Baruch “earnestly repaired” the wall.  He wasn’t just going through the motions or giving a token effort.  He was giving it his all.  Others in the chapter were noted for how much they did.  We read, “The valley gate repaired Hanun, and the inhabitants of Zanoah; they built it, and set up the doors thereof, the locks thereof, and the bars thereof, and a thousand cubits on the wall unto the dung gates ( cf. 3:13).  A thousand cubits seems like a lot, doesn’t it? Did Nehemiah assign them this section of wall because he knew how much they would do?  Perhaps, he did.  If not this time, he would certainly do so in the future.  Sadly, some were known for their inactivity.  We read, “And next unto them the Tekoites repaired; but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord” (3:5).  Evidently, the nobles thought that they were too good to get their hands dirty. 

Third, the workers seem to have been organized by address.  Some built near where they lived (10, 23, 28, 29, 30).  We read, “From above the horse gate repaired the priests, every one over against his house. After them repaired Zadok the son of Immer over against his house. After him repaired also Shemaiah the son of Shechaniah, the keeper of the east gate. After him repaired Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, another piece. After him repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah over against his chamber” (28-30).  No doubt, there were many advantages to this arrangement. Others worked near where they worked.  For example, the priests worked on the sheep gate.  This gate was named for the sacrificial animals that came in by it.  It made sense that consecrated men should build it and bless it.    We read,  “Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brethren the priests, and they builded the sheep gate; they sanctified it, and set up the doors of it; even unto the tower of Meah they sanctified it, unto the tower of Hananeel” (3:1). 

As you can see, there was great order in the arrangement of the workers.  No doubt, this coordination contributed greatly to the overall speed and success of the project.

The Stone of Supplication (Nehemiah 2)

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Stone of Supplication (Nehemiah 2)

Wade Webster

Each chapter of Nehemiah gives us a stone that must be revived if we are going to build the Lord’s work.  The stone that must be revived in the second chapter is the stone of preparation. The preparation of Nehemiah is seen in three things.

First, Nehemiah had to petition the ruler (Neh. 2:1-10).  In the first chapter, Nehemiah asked God to give him mercy in the sight of the king (Neh. 1:11).  Three months later, the requested opportunity finally presented itself.  For the first time ever, Nehemiah was sad in the king’s presence (Neh. 2:1). The king noticed the sadness and asked Nehemiah about it (Neh. 2:2).  Great fear filled Nehemiah’s heart (Neh. 2:2).  He explained to the king that he was sad because of the destruction of Jerusalem and the tombs of his ancestors (Neh. 2:3).  The king was touched by Nehemiah’s sadness and asked what he could do to help (Neh. 2:4). Before Nehemiah answered the king, he said a quick prayer.  To his credit, Nehemiah was ready with a list of things that he needed.  His careful preparation was clear.   He began by asking for the king’s permission to go back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the city (Neh. 2:5).  When the king asked how long he would be gone, Nehemiah set him a time (Neh. 2:6).  Again, this reveals careful planning on Nehemiah’s part.  Nehemiah further requested letters of passage from the king.  This would prove especially important because some of the leaders in the region would not be happy with Nehemiah’s presence and plans (Neh. 2:7-10). Finally, Nehemiah requested timber from the king’s forest to use in rebuilding the gates (Neh. 2:7-8). Again, this shows great preparation.                                             

Second, Nehemiah had to probe the ruins (Neh. 2:11-16).  Although Nehemiah had heard of the terrible destruction, he needed to see it for himself (Neh. 1:1-3; 2:11-16).  Three days after arriving in the city, Nehemiah goes up to view the ruins.  The Hebrew word translated as viewed is a medical term.  It refers to probing a wound to determine the extent of the damage.  Amazingly, Nehemiah went up to view the ruins at night (Neh. 2:11).  It seems clear that Nehemiah wanted the viewing to be as private as possible.  No doubt, he expected to have opposition from without and within. He wanted to formulate his own plan before others began interjecting their own opinions and objections. 

Third, he had to persuade the residents (Neh. 2:17-20).  Nehemiah knew that he couldn’t do the work of rebuilding by himself. He needed help from the people.  To persuade the people, he recounted how that God had blessed his efforts and granted him favor in the sight of the king (Neh. 2:17-18).  His words convinced them and they agreed to rise up and build (Neh. 2:18).   In spite of strong opposition, Nehemiah was convinced that God would prosper them (Neh. 2:19-20).

Like Nehemiah, if we are going to be successful in building the Lord’s work, we must revive the stone of preparation.  Without preparation, the work will likely never get off the ground.  If it somehow gets off of the ground, it will soon come crashing down.

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