Friday, June 26, 2015

Going Deeper in the Book of Nehemiah

I'm guessing you've gathered from my rather brilliant title that we are going deeper into the book of Nehemiah today. You should pat yourself on the back for your accomplishment.

But yes, that book which I and every one else loves to discuss and share truths from is exactly where we'll be going once more. Hopefully, you haven't grown bored of a wonderful part of the Word of God yet!

So we all are pretty familiar with the events of the book. The Israelites are in bad shape - they are poor because of a famine, their rulers are exploiting their poverty, simply making it worse, they are selling their children into slavery because things are just that bad. And then just to top it off, their wall's been torn down.

Now the wall wouldn't have just looked cool for the Israelites! Rather, it would have been protection from outside forces. Thus, the Israelites were vulnerable to attacks from Sanballat and Tobiah and the lesser-known Geshem the Arabian.

But we know that Nehemiah enters the story and suddenly all else is good in the world. Nehemiah's life can teach us many great lessons, like how to properly handle burdens, how to be a good leader, and how to keep from getting ambushed in the wilderness (the answer is of course, don't go because you are too involved in the work of the Lord).

But you know what in all of these things we seem to be missing one largely important thing - why was the book written in the first place? Why did Nehemiah pen these words? Better yet, why did the Holy Spirit direct Nehemiah to write this book?

Pulling in all our lessons are not necessarily wrong, but we should dig a little deeper to find out why it was written.

And of course, to do that, it would be necessary to take ourselves back to the time in which it was written.

The time is after the 70 years predicted by Jeremiah that the captivity would last. The Temple has been rebuilt, and the people have returned to Jerusalem. At that time, everyone thought that this was it. That Zerubbabel, the son of David, would rise to the throne, and Israel would be restored.

But no throne for poor Zerubbabel, and David's line had still not returned to the throne of Israel. God didn't seem to be keeping His promises anymore. Indeed, the fact that there was a famine and that everything seemed stacked against the Israelites might have led many to wonder - does God even care?

Then comes Nehemiah. When he hears of the destruction of the wall, he is distraught, but he does one thing at the very beginning of the book. He prays. And in that prayer, he confirms that God is not the kind of being that turns His back on His people. Instead in Nehemiah 1:5, we read,
"And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:"

 God keeps covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments. Hmmm... I guess that means God still cares for His people right?

Further, it is seen that this word for mercy, is the covenantal word hּׅesed which could be translated loyal love or lovingkindness, but actually means a lot more. It is a word linked to the covenants of God. The covenant this one seems to link to would be the conditional mosaic covenant. If the Israelites hold up their end of the bargain, God will hold up His. 

Thus, Nehemiah seeks to show that God still cares for His people and those that love Him. It signifies this theme by showing God's provision through the person of Nehemiah, as well as showing the Israelites grow to observe more of God's commandments. 

So, does God still care, according to Nehemiah, it's against his nature not to. And where do we find this proclamation? Well, right at the beginning, where you would expect to find a thesis statement! 

And that's not all. If you were writing  story, you'd want your theme to be explicit from the start, but you would also want to repeat it from time to time. Observe, how this operates in the book of Nehemiah, 
"Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people." ~Nehemiah 5:19 
"My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear." ~Nehemiah 6:14 
"And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good." ~Nehemiah 13:31  

It's easy to just read past these words, but when you examine this based on the purpose behind the book itself, you notice that these are actually super important textual clues that point to a unified part of the book.

And you should pay special attention to what shows up in Nehemiah 13:32.

For those of you who actually follow all my Bible links, I'm sorry. There is not Nehemiah 13:32, and there isn't a Nehemiah 14 either. The book ends with Nehemiah asking the Lord, "Remember me, O my God, for good."

That is not a coincidence. Because when you are writing anything, you try to make sure your point is near the beginning of the book, near the end of the book, and interspersed throughout the book, and that's exactly what Nehemiah has done here.

So what does it all mean? It means that God does not abandon His people. He didn't abandon Israel, and He won't abandon us. Indeed, if it seems that you are having difficulty in your relationship with the Lord, it can only be because you have sin that is driving you away from the Lord.

The good news, the Lord will still extend care and provision and His unconditional promises, like salvation to those who have accepted Him no matter what. Also, He is always willing to restore fellowship with those who want to love Him and observe His commandments once more.

 Read within this light, those stories certainly do hold a lot more weight than some moral we apply to them, don't they?

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