Can you identify the politician? He was born in 1800, and suffered his first major defeat in 1832 when he lost a bid for the state legislature. The next year he failed in business. In 1835, two years later his childhood sweetheart died. The next year he had a nervous breakdown. In 1843 he lost a bid for the United States Congress. In 1848 he was defeated again for the Congress. In 1848 he decided to become a land official, but was rejected. In 1854 he was defeated in a race for the United States Senate. In 1856 he lost the nomination for the Vice Presidency. In 1858 he was defeated again in his bid for the Senate. You would think that a list of defeats like this would discourage any person. But he said, “I will always do my best no matter what…and someday my chance will come. One day hos chance came, in 1862 Abraham Lincoln became the sixteenth President of the United States.
It reminds me of Sir. Winston Churchill’s words during Brittan’s darkest days of World War Two, “Never give up, never, never, never give up.” It was that kind of resolve that brought victory to Brittan, America, and the Allies in a brutal, devastating war. Never give up could be a summary of Nehemiah’s life.
Verses 1-3: Those present realized how careless they had been about their exclusive loyalty to God. They knew that they were “God’s chosen people” (Deuteronomy 14:2). When they heard the “book of Moses” (The Pentateuch, the five books of Moses) read publicly, they remembered what had happened to their ancestors when they were on the threshold of the Promised Land, “And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God…” (Verse 1).
This prohibition against Ammonites or Moabites goes back to the time of Balaam, who had been hired by the Moabites to put a curse on Israel, but instead of cursing them, all Balaam could do was to pronounce blessing on them (Numbers 22). Because of all this trouble, this law was given. The Ammonites’ sin was one of omission: they had not met the Israelites with food and water (Deuteronomy 23).
A great application for believers.
First, let’s just admit that we all fall short of God’s perfect plan for us, “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 TLB). But we often pursue our own plans and we break promises we have made to God. We mess up. We don’t always follow what we know to be true. It seems that we have two choices. We can continue this pattern of disobedience or we can stop and decide to live by God’s word!
The Christian life is a series of new beginnings. It’s never too late to start taking God’s Word seriously! “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like” (James 1:22-24 MSG).
This chapter refers to a time when Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem after twelve years. He came to rebuild the wall in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, Verse 6 tells us it is now the thirty-second year of the king. It doesn’t say how long he stayed at this time, verse 6 says, “certain days.” But with the major problems he’s going to face on his return, it is more than likely it was an extended stay. Historians believe that he was there for 12-13 years. The first visit for the repair of the wall lasted 12 years, so he is now sixty-five years old. Most people are thinking about retiring, or are already retired at this age, but Nehemiah is taking on a new challenge. For the servant of God, the challenges never end! Look around you, Christian, “The fields are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35).
He faces the same old problems. Remember the covenant in chapters 8-10?
The six points of the covenant were:
The family: Not to allow their children to marry outside of their faith.
The Sabbath: To abstain from any commercial activity on the Sabbath day.
The Temple tax.
Additional provisions for the Temple.
Dedication of their firstborn.
Of these six promises, they only kept one: the dedication of their firstborn.
How solemnly they declared in chapter ten that they will not neglect the ”House of God,” but they soon broke their promise. It’s amazing how God’s people, even today, can promise things during an inspirational moment, but fail to keep them when the emotion wears off. How piously the people were in making promises during a time of revival, but when they cool off, things are different.
During a very emotional missions service in our church, one man of modest means, promised to give $100.00 a week to missions. When he found that he couldn’t keep that promise, he was embarrassed and left the church.
General William Booth of the Salvation Army said, “I want you young men always to bear in mind that it is in the nature of a fire to go out; you must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”
Did they just forget their promises? No! God had sent Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets to warn them against their abuses:
He exhorts them for defiling the Temple (Malachi 1:6-14).
He exposes a corrupt priesthood (Malachi 2:1-9).
He condemns marriage to unbelievers (Malachi 2:10-16).
He accuses them of robbing God of His tithe (Malachi 3:6-12).
This chapter deals with four of the most damaging problems:
Nehemiah faced these problems head on, and dealt severely with them. Then he didn’t just put a Band-Aid on the problems, he worked for a permanent solution. He was a positive, courageous, tell-it-like-it-is leader, he doesn’t want to come back in another twelve years, when he is seventy-seven years old to correct the same problems.
It is such a blessing when we hear, years later, that someone with whom we had some spiritual influence, is still serving God. “I was most happy when some friends arrived and brought the news that you persist in following the way of Truth. Nothing could make me happier than getting reports that my children continue diligently in the way of Truth!” (3 John 4 MSG).
Nehemiah approached each problem with prayer. That’s where so many solutions to problems in the church break down. There are too many angry, bitter, negative, witch-hunting people who only want to have their own way, with no desire to correct the problem.
During a church business meeting, the leader read the financial report, concluding with, “And that, fellow members, is our status quo.” One older lady in the back stood and said, “Is that French for the mess we’re in?”
I. The problem of Compromise (Verses 4-9).
Remember Tobiah, the Ammonite? He is an enemy of God, and a thorn in Nehemiah’s flesh. Nehemiah had faced him repeatedly as he tried to stop the construction of the wall. He had criticized and attacked Nehemiah, and he had a fierce hated of God and His people. Tobiah is now occupying a suite of rooms in the Temple. It’s incredible how far these people had fallen in just 12 years!
Nehemiah says “Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal…(Verses 4,5 TLB).
Nehemiah got mad! What did he do?
“When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense” (Verses 7-9).
“He didn’t even want the smell of Tobiah to hang around the building” –Chuck Swindoll.
You have to admire Nehemiah, he was my kind of leader!
Was he right to be angry? Listen to what the Prophet Malachi said to them, “Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves” (Malachi 2:11).
Remember our Lord Jesus Christ, “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers’” (Matthew 21:12,13).
The Scripture gives some specific rules about anger in Ephesians 4:26,27, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. If you can be angry without the rage and bitterness that sometimes comes with anger; if you can be angry, for the right reason, at the right person, and for the right length of time, if you can be angry without Satan taking charge of your anger, then it’s not wrong.
One of the problems in Christianity today is lack of backbone Our cowardice and compromise when we will not stand against attacks on our faith and on the church.
“I have to write insisting—begging!—that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish” (Jude 3 MSG).
“Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles” ( 1 Timothy 1:18).
“Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).
“In Christian work our cowardice in avoiding unpleasantness is currently doing more damage than any damage from irascibility (anger) on the part of Christian leaders. And what irascibility we do give is usually verbal. It wounds without correcting. The church has become flabby, old womanish, inept and unwilling to act. Discipline should be reconciliatory and loving, but it should take place. And on the whole it doesn’t…who are we, who condone every manner of evil in our midst, to criticize one of those rare leaders who does not hesitate to act when the integrity of God’s Temple is in question” –Excellence in Leadership, John White.
If someone is attacking your family, you can be angry, but be careful, even righteous indignation can be carried too far!
When God is being attacked, stand your ground, but again be careful not to carry your anger too far! Listen to the Psalmist, “Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies” (Psalm 139:21,22).
I read a story of a msn who was deaf and blind, but he never missed a service at his church. Finally, someone got up the courage to communicate with him, asking, “Why do you come to church, you can’t see anyone, you can’t enjoy the worship of hear the sermon, I don’t understand, why do you come? His response. “I just want everyone, including Satan to know who’s side I’m on.”
II. The problem of the tithe (Verse 10-14).
Their covenant, “To bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse” (Nehemiah 10:37,38).
Malachi admonishes them: “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
The Levites, Temple servants, who were like pastors, had to leave the work of the Temple and go to work in the fields. The New Testament speaks to this: “Don’t you realize that those who work in the temple get their meals from the offerings brought to the temple? And those who serve at the altar get a share of the sacrificial offerings. In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the Good News should be supported by those who benefit from it” (1 Corinthians 9:13,14 NLT).
Nehemiah…”Immediately confronted the leaders and demanded, “Why has the Temple of God been neglected?” (Verse 11). “Then I called all the Levites back again and restored them to their proper duties. And once more all the people of Judah began bringing their tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil to the Temple storerooms” (Verses 11,12).
A word about giving to New Testament believers:
God commands us to give, not out of compulsion or guilt, but because we love God and His work. “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:7,8).
Giving is investing with God. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 9:38).
Giving is to be sacrificial. Jesus…”Looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites (A mite was the smallest Roman coin with the smallest monetary worth). So He said, ‘Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had’” (Luke 21:1-4).
Giving is not a matter of what we have. People say, “If I only had more, I would give more.” “He who is faithful in a very little thing is also faithful in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little thing is also dishonest in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of earthly wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:10,11 AMP).
Giving is a demonstration of love not law. The principle of giving is found in the words, “They that love much, give much!” Paul talks about the Macedonians, “Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in His kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity” ( 2 Corinthians 8:1,2).
Do we give to meet the needs of the church or the pastor? No, we give because we love God and His work. The believer doesn’t give till it hurts, he gives till it feels good, “And not only as we had hoped, but they first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God” (2 Corinthians 8:5).
Giving is to be generous. “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19 MSG).
“Generosity is impossible apart from our love of God and of His people. But with such love, generosity not only is possible but inevitable” – John MacArthur
III. The problem of the Sabbath (Verse 15-22).
The people had promised to abstain from any commercial activity on the Sabbath day. Nehemiah 10:31, “If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.”
Nehemiah says, “In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day” (Verse 15).
Nehemiah did four things.
He rebuked the nobles, reminding them that because of this activity the judgment of God had come on them years before.
He locked the gates on the Sabbath, and placed guards on the gates.
He ran off any merchants camped outside the gates, merchants waiting to see if the Sabbath regulation would be lifted.
He instructed the Levites to purify themselves and take over guarding the gates.
But we New Testament believers have more recent orders.
The Sabbath is no more! “It is part of Judaism that has been replaced by the new covenant. And the new covenant has a completely different day. Saturday, as I said, reminds us of God as Creator and God as law-giver, and it reminds us of the beauty of God’s creation, the magnificence of His creation, and the sinfulness of our own hearts.
But when you come to the new covenant, you have a new kind of observation, not observing God as Creator, not observing God as law-giver, but in the new covenant God is defining Himself as what? Savior. So the new covenant has its own day, a day in which we focus on God as our Savior” –John MacArthur.
“So don’t let anyone criticize you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating Jewish holidays and feasts or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these were only temporary rules that ended when Christ came. They were only shadows of the real thing—of Christ himself” (Colossians 2:16,17 TLB).
Resurrection: John 20, “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week… He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:1,6). We are to remember Christ’s resurrection on the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week
Communion: “ On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7).
Giving: “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2).
John on Patmos: “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10).
IV. The problem of intermarriage: (Verses 23-29).
About mixed marriages, Nehemiah discovered that one of the grandsons of the High Priest had married a daughter of Sanballat, one of Nehemiah’s greatest enemy. He drove the young man away (13:28) so he could not defile the priesthood.
Intermarriage posed a threat to the unity and future of the renewed community in Judah. They had made a solemn covenant to live under the law of God. Children raised in mixed-marriages would have weaker ties to the Jewish community. Nehemiah knew that one generation’s weakened faith and practice would have a residual effect on subsequent generations. Verses 23,24 point out the obvious outcome, “In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.”
Was this important to Nehemiah? He ran around hitting people and pulling out their hair and beards. This is indicative of the emotional intensity of this subject. If your pastor saw you living in sin, how would you like it if he ran up to you and started hitting you and pulling out your hair?
One of our Junior High teachers was visiting her students on a Saturday morning, she walked up on the porch of the teen’s house and through the open door she saw her fourteen-year-old student in a compromising situation with an older boy. She was furious, ran in to the house and literally pulled the boy to his feet and hit him. Now I do not recommend that you attack someone who is sinning, but you do have the authority to confront and correct them. “Christian brothers, if a person is found doing some sin, you who are stronger Christians should lead that one back into the right way. Do not be proud as you do it. Watch yourself, because you may be tempted also. Help each other in trouble” (Galatians 6:1).
Conclusion: The book ends on a very practical note. “Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service, and to bringing the wood offering and the first fruits at appointed times. Remember me, O my God, for good!” (verses 30,31).
As we close this series let’s look at Nehemiah, obedient servant of God:
First to note is his submission to God. He had no personal plans for his own life. He only wanted to do what God wanted him to do. He could say with Jesus, “Not My will, Yours be done.”
Then note his ability to focus on the right goals. He clearly saw the finished product. That first night in Jerusalem as he inspected the ruined wall, he already saw it finished.
He never got hung up on trivial things. He always saw the big picture, and he never deviated from the plan, not even in the face of unbelievable opposition.
He exercised God-given wisdom throughout the entire project.
He had God-given wisdom in handling complex situations, and the courage to act decisively, because he was following God, not his own wisdom. He knew the purposes of God would ultimately triumph.
He had perseverance. He never gave up. He stuck to his God-given task. The call was upon him, and he never detoured from the plan.
Here’s an Andrew Jackson story that wraps up the story of Nehemiah:
“The story is told that Andrew Jackson's boyhood friends just couldn't understand how he became a famous general and then the President of the United States. They knew of other men who had greater talent but who never succeeded. One of Jackson's friends said, "Why, Jim Brown, who lived right down the pike from Jackson, was not only smarter but he could throw Andy three times out of four in a wrestling match. But look where Andy is now." Another friend responded, "How did there happen to be a fourth time? Didn't they usually say three times and out?" "Sure, they were supposed to, but not Andy. He would never admit he was beat -- he would never stay 'throwed.' Jim Brown would get tired, and on the fourth try Andrew Jackson would throw him and be the winner." Picking up on that idea, someone has said, "The thing that counts is not how many times you are 'throwed,' but whether you are willing to stay 'throwed'." We may face setbacks, but we must take courage and go forward in faith. Then, through the Holy Spirit's power we can be the eventual victor over sin and the world. The battle is the Lord's, so there is no excuse for us to stay "throwed!” –Our Daily Bread.
Never give up, never, never, never give up!
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible (TLB).