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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.

Can Jesus See Your Faith?

Saturday, March 04, 2023

Can Jesus See Your Faith?

David Sproule

In Mark 2, we find one of the most exciting and vivid stories in the New Testament.  Jesus was preaching in Capernaum, “and it was heard that He was in the house.  Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door” (Mark 2:1-2).  Four men carried a paralytic to the house, but “they could not come near Him because of the crowd” (2:3-4), so “they uncovered the roof where [Jesus] was.”  Can you imagine seeing that from inside the house?  “So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying” (2:4).  The Bible says in the next verse that “Jesus saw their faith” (2:5).

What does that mean?  Isn’t faith something in a person’s heart?  Does that mean that Jesus was looking into their hearts to see their faith?  Not necessarily.  It is certainly possible (see John 2:24-25), but we also know that faith is something which God teaches that we “show” to others through our “works” (Jas. 2:17-18).  So, when “Jesus saw their faith,” He saw four men at work on behalf of their friend, and the paralytic was blessed by Jesus as a result of the faith of his friends.

So here’s the question—Does Jesus see your faith?  And when He sees your faith, what does He see?

Does Jesus see your faith in teaching the gospel to others?  “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:17).  You may have faith in the gospel.  You may have faith in the need to take the gospel to lost souls (Mark 16:15).  But, if your mental belief is not put into action with actual works of teaching the gospel, then your faith is dead.

Does Jesus see your faith in serving your brothers and sisters in Christ?  “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:20).  You may have faith in the value of the church.  You may have faith in the need do good especially to brethren (Gal. 6:10).  But, if your mental belief is not put into action with actual works of encouraging and serving the brethren, then your faith is dead.

Does Jesus see your faith in worshiping God every week?  “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:26).  You may have faith in the blessing of regular worship.  You may have faith in the need to prioritize and enjoy assembling with the church and worshiping God every week (Matt. 4:10; 6:33).  But, if your mental belief is not put into action with actual and faithful attendance and participation in worshiping God, then your faith is dead.

Jesus saw their faith!  What did He see in their faith?  What does He see when He sees your faith?

Reviving Stones – Supplication (Neh. 1)

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Reviving Stones – Supplication (Neh. 1)

Wade Webster

Every chapter in Nehemiah gives us a stone that must be revived in the Lord’s work. The stone in the first chapter is supplication. Almost the whole chapter is a prayer or a supplication (all but three verses). You might see the word supply in the word supplication (Phil. 4:19). Nehemiah was asking God to supply him with mercy in the sight of the king. We read, “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer” (Neh. 1:11). Please consider six characteristics of Nehemiah’s supplication.

He Prayed Compassionately- Nehemiah was comfortable where he was. He had everything he needed and then some. When he heard of the condition of those remaining in Jerusalem, he sat down, wept, mourned for many days, fasted and prayed. His heart went out to them. Their pain was in his heart. Though Nehemiah was miles away from them physically, he was with them emotionally. I am reminded of the words of Ezekiel: “Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days” (Ezek. 3:15). It does us good to sit where others sit. It does us good to sit with others at the hospital and at the funeral home.

He Prayed Reverently - Nehemiah understood who God was and who he was. He knew that God was a great and awesome God (Neh. 1:5). He knew that God was to be had in reverence by all those about him (Psa. 89:7) and to be feared above all gods (Psa. 96:4-5). He knew that he and his people had sinned. He knew that they had not kept God’s commandments (Neh. 1:6-7). He knew that God was a holy God and that he and his people had been unholy. Therefore, he approached God with great reverence and fear.

He Prayed Continually - When Nehemiah heard about the condition of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed many days (Neh. 1:4). He didn’t pray just one prayer or just one day and stop. He prayed day after day and night after night. We read, “Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father's house have sinned” (Neh. 1:6). No doubt, the Bible student is reminded of Anna. Luke records, “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Lk. 2:36-37). What a wonderful thing to be known for! Sadly, some of us might be known for a lack of prayer instead of a life of prayer (1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; Acts 2:42).

He Prayed Humbly - At least two times, Nehemiah used the word please (Neh. 1:6, 11). He wasn’t making demands of God. He was asking. He repeatedly described himself and his people as God’s servants (Neh. 1:6, 11). They were sinners in need of grace and lawbreakers in need of mercy(Psa. 34:18; 51:17; Isa. 57:15; 66:2). Likely, the Bible student is reminded of the praying publican who wouldn’t live up his eyes to heaven, but smote upon his breast begging for mercy (Lk. 18:9-14).

He Prayed Confidently - Nehemiah knew God’s promises. He knew the punishment that God had promised for disobedience and the restoration that God had promised for repentance. We read, “Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there” (Neh. 1:8-9). Nehemiah was confident that God would keep His promises and answer the prayers of His people (1 John 5:14-15; Jam. 1:5-7; 1 Tim. 2:8).

He Prayed Specifically - Nehemiah didn’t just pray for God to prosper him. He prayed for God to prosper him in the sight of one man - the king. The king was the only one who could give him permission to return. Nehemiah further prayed for God to do it on that day. Nehemiah wanted God to soften the heart of a specific man on a specific day. We read, “O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man. For I was the king's cupbearer” (Neh. 1:11). Although the opportunity to make his request wouldn’t present itself immediately, it would eventually come (Neh. 2:1-4). Perhaps, God began softening the king’s heart that day and continued to do so until the time was right for Nehemiah to make his petition.

If we are going to revive the Lord’s work where we are, we must begin with prayers asking for God’s blessings. With God’s help, nothing can stop us (Rom. 8:31). Without God’s help, our labor will be in vain (Psa. 127:1).

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