Paul J. Bucknell
"Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and [began] to recognize them as having been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply."
God takes the regular and normal and makes godly evangelists and pastors giving their lives to serve others. The difference is found in their coming to know the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not dead but risen. Have you met Him yourself? Peter and John boldly proclaimed in Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."
God takes the raw material of sinful men and does a great work in and through them. If you travel by the Pittsburgh rivers, you will often find coal, iron ore and other materials in huge barges being shipped up the river. This rock is commonly found in these parts. The rock useless in its own form, is made very useful in a very hot fire treatment from which steel and iron come. At one time Pittsburgh ore could be found in great warships.
God is able to change people and use them. In using them, they see the glorious person of God. In serving God, they are personally enriched. I am not just thinking of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah who were outstanding men during the exile times. Yes, each of them were haggled and desperate prisoners from a far away land. But in meeting with God, they were transformed to such a degree they were mightily used of God. But this is the way of God with everyone He meets for redemptive purposes. In Ephesians 4:11-13 the Apostle Paul says,
"And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."
God is intent on transforming all of us together into the perfect body of Christ. We indeed are not the same but as different parts of the body, God is forming a beautiful bride for Christ.
We might think that everything depended upon Nehemiah, but through his many prayers we should realize it was God working through him. The people were demoralized, broken and oppressed. Nehemiah was a key man that God used in rebuilding these people. If we think the wall was the main task, you will quickly learn differently. The whole society needed rebuilding and therefore the people needed to be changed. How often we make laws without fitting the people for these laws! We will first examine how Nehemiah go started in this work through a bit of review and then secondly by paying special detail to the things he did once Nehemiah got to Jerusalem. Have you given up on yourself? You don't quite know where you fit in? Just hang in there for God has His plans for you.
We have a hard time understanding the wonderful things that quickly followed the time when Nehemiah went before the king of the Persian empire and got commissioned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. All the anguish and burden for his people in Jerusalem, all of his tears, fasting and prayers were released at one point in time. This is much like an interview where people get so pumped up. They buy new clothes, study about the business, learn about the people and organization as much as possible. They might even get a haircut! Then the big day comes. The interview. You pretend self-confidence as much as possible. You look more organized than you ever have been before, and maybe you are. The interview progresses and is finally over. Hopefully you will be given an offer, but maybe not. Well, you will try out other places for a job too.
However when Nehemiah came before the king, you must remember the stakes involved in his quasi interview were much more serious. It wasn't for himself he has been weeping, fasting and prayer. If this did not turn out, then the people would suffer. Some Jews had already been back in Jerusalem about 90 years. There were at least three main return of exiles to Jerusalem. Zerubbabel led the first one in 536 B.C.. Ezra the scribe led the second in 455 B.C.. Now Nehemiah leads the third in 445 B.C.. We can sense that the morale of the people that had gone back in the first two returns was very low. From verse 1:3 we see they are in "great distress and reproach." If this interview failed, the people would continue to suffer. Things would get worse if things turned out poorly before the king. More than this concern for their needs was the personal cost for breaking protocol before the king and forcing an interview. If nothing positive came out of this interview with the king, he would probably be killed for showing sadness before the emperor. Just as this interview began, it says in 2:4 that he prayed. Everything was in the Lord's hand now. He just had to await the outcome.
We must keep our eyes off our one or two successes. Our head gets too big. We wrongly focus on our lives rather than God's enabling and the mission to be accomplished.
We must remember that encouraging plans and preparations are not the same as a fulfilled mission. Nehemiah did have everything going for him. It looked like an easy success with such a start, but plans are not the same as the accomplishment of the plans. By remembering this, the disappointment during future implementation will not be so great.
Our solution is to keep our eyes off ourselves and on our Lord and His desires. Nehemiah did this well as a cupbearer. He had great self-control. Every day he could focus on the needs of the king. At this point we see he is like the cupbearer before God Himself. He lives as if he has not a will of his own. His mission is the Lord's. His time is the Lord's. His resources are the Lord's.
The BFF Bible Training Library has all the Nehemiah studies plus all of BFF's Old Testament Bible resources. Details or purchase.
So what did Nehemiah do at first? We find three parts to this first stage of planning: A Quiet Arrival, A Secretive Investigation and A Public Challenge (2:17-20).
1. A Quiet Arrival (2:9-11)
The most significant fact was Nehemiah's nonchalant way of coming into the city. It is true that Ezra after coming to the city, didn't seem to do or touch anything for three days either (cf. Ez 8:32). Let me make a few assessments.
Some might say that coming on such a long trip and resting for three days before anything is done is normal procedure. Indeed the rest does refresh people. Perspective is somewhat restored as one recovering from jet lag. The travelers probably suffered from 'dust fever.' When we were on our vacation we saw an old-fashioned stagecoach. One could easily imagine the discomfort going over dirt roads with all of their holes and dust.
But different from Ezra, Nehemiah came with army captains and horsemen; no one had to say anything. Their presence clearly announced that something is going on, either here or elsewhere. Either they are just passing through, or they are on some kind of mission. Someone important was there. Security guards have their advantages and disadvantages. Nehemiah all of a sudden becomes a threat.
The three days dismisses any sudden and unexpected fears. He did not come in and all of a sudden take over someone's job and kick out all the leaders. He was being civil. But suspicion still arose.
On the other hand, being quiet for three days, allowed rumors to rise up. The enemy might take special precautions to prepare herself.
2. A Secretive Investigation (2:12-16)
But this leads us to the question of why such quietness? Why was he withholding information from everyone? No doubt he did not know who could be trusted. He was deliberately secretive. After all, if the enemy discovered what he was up to, they could put him out of action before he started. But in this case, they did not know what he was up to. They did not know what to do or say. Maybe he was just passing through.
With his given authority, he did begin to make secret plans. They were secret so they would not be foiled before they began. But how was he going to make any plans without seeing what the conditions were of the walls which he was to rebuild? All of his movements and the movements of his men were being traced carefully. For the purpose of effective service, he did some midnight searching. In verses 13-15 we see what he did. It was nothing spectacular and could have been done much more easily and safely in the morning than the afternoon, but the secrecy demanded special action. He was not a lazy politician but a wise one. Going out of the Valley Gate, he went to the Refuse Gate (Dung Gate) and then inspected the King's Pool. At that point he had to go by foot and check the place near the ravine on the southeast section of Jerusalem.
We might think that with his former success with the king of Persia, that he would have thought this operation was nothing. But he obviously did not think this way. He did not think, "God is with me no matter what I do." God was with him but not to do unwise things. He would risk his life before the king but in this case he was crafty. Nehemiah was not a timid man. But still the same he could say in verse 12 the plan that "God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem." He was confident of the plan and the operation but saw no inconsistency that God would use secrecy more than openness in the beginning of this operation of the Lord Almighty. His reminds me of Matthew 10:16 where Jesus says, "Be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves."
So the polite officials -polite because they were trying to find out what he was up to-, the Jews, the priests, the nobles , the officials or the workers all didn't know what Nehemiah was up to. God used this secrecy to have an impressive and effective start. It allowed him to:
Present the plan to everyone.
Make sure he had everyone's attention because he had their curiosity.
Make sure those wanting to foil the plan would not cast their influence over the crowds.
Avoid any political infighting - as if he was getting power and others loose it. His job would not threaten them openly.
He was trusting God to work freely among the people.
We must not say that Nehemiah did not plan but that at times he would do it in different ways. This time was a secretive plan. He had the authority and wanted as little amount of trouble as possible.
Nehemiah challenged the people by presenting it to them all at once. Let's note how he did this:
1) He told them the need. Jerusalem is in a desperate way. It is desolate and abandoned. The gates are burnt by fire. Hey could all see this need.
2) Nehemiah gave them a plan. "Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem that we may no longer be a reproach." It was simple and straightforward. They together were being asked to join him in rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. He touched upon the people's national pride by saying that they could put away the reproach of their name by doing this.
3) Nehemiah then shared how God had been so favorable giving him opportunity before the King.
4) The people responded to the invitation. All of a sudden there was a leader with a plan to get them out of a troublesome time. They were for it.
We do read on of three people who threatened the work of God. They evidently were in high positions from outside the country but had some controlling influence in Jerusalem. They were trying to voice their opinions loudly so to discourage the people or scare them into immobility. We will look into these characters later. We do see that Nehemiah did not miss them in his planning. They missed their opportunity for causing mistrust early on. But now the people had hope. Now the people were changed. They actually could see that the wall could be rebuilt. Only those who didn't care were trying to scare them as they always have been.
Nehemiah answered with a triumph call. In verse 20 Nehemiah said,
"So I answered them and said to them, "The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right, or memorial in Jerusalem." Nehemiah was very clever in subtly distinguishing those who would participate and those who would not. He made obvious sides so the enemy couldn't creep in too easily. Furthermore, Nehemiah cast their hope in the right direction. He affirmed that God would get this project done because it was His project.
We knew the group was not large. Not that many people lived in that haunted grave of a city. But those there were willing to go ahead. They were demoralized and without hope, but God's messenger brought hoe to their lives. God is the one who brings hope to our lives, points to the cross, and stands us up in a new set of clothes. God does not despise us but has mercy on us. He shows us that we count and are important by giving us a part in His work. The modern welfare state has failed mainly because of this.
One of the biggest lies that goes on and on is that God doesn't care about us. God doesn't want Christians to have fun. God doesn't want the best for His people. You will hear enemies come around and mock your newly found trust in God. "What! You think God is going to help you. You are going to get in trouble just like those others did. You better give up now before you get into trouble." We are not rebelling but submitting to the promise of God. But I tell you service in God's kingdom any day beats out royalty in Satan's court. God treats His children royally.
It is time that we arise and build ourselves. We have given up hope on personal character building because we have failed. We have become haphazard attenders because we can't manage our families. Many of us have dismissed our participation in God's great rebuilding work because of lies. Can you think of any right now. I want you to identify where you have given up hope just like these people have. They were willing at one point to live under reproach. They saw no other way out. They were hopeless. But praise God: His job is a rebuilding one. There is nothing that He cannot touch with His Spirit. When God first worked in my life and gave me a heart to be a proclaimer of God's truth I had to face up to my stammering. I couldn't speak in public. I haven't heard anyone speak as bad as I did back in my first year of university. But I made my decision on what God wanted to do rather than what I felt I could do. Praise God. At least you can understand me now. I can even speak His Word in Chinese. This is to His glory.
"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival."
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."
(By Winston Churchill in Hand me Another Brick, p. 65).
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