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Worldview Bible
The Threats of the Threatened


Nehemiah 2:19-20

But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

The Story: It was probably well known by people like Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem that King Xerxes had years earlier declared that Jerusalem would not be rebuilt until he permitted it (Ezra 4:18-22). Now here was Nehemiah announcing the king’s changed mind. In an era where news traveled slowly, Nehemiah could well have been a fraud and a rebel, but their jeering, hatred, and harsh words went beyond that. Sanballat governed Samaria to the north of Judah. Tobiah governed Trans-Jordan to the east. And Geshem was a warlord and spice trader who controlled the territories to the south and southeast. A renewed people in Jerusalem posed a political, military, and economic threat to all three. Their resistance to the building began with verbal assaults and, as we will see, escalated from there. Nehemiah’s response demonstrates his faith in God to not only rebuild the city, but to rebuild His people, a people exclusively chosen by Him.

The Structure: A wag once commented that when someone says, “It’s not the money. It’s the principle of the thing,” be assured: It’s the money. When the Jewish leaders conspired to kill Jesus, they did so because they feared “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (John 11:48). Jesus threatened their status, power, and positions, and so He needed to be eliminated. When Paul preached in Ephesus and people converted to faith in Jesus, it was craftsmen whose income depended on idol worship who complained, “Men you know that from this business we have our wealth” before they cited religious concerns (Acts 19:25). And things are no different today. Christian morality poses an economic threat to the entertainment industry, to consumerism, to global corporations doing business with oppressive regimes, to abortionists and many in the biotechnology sector, and to other parts of the economy that depend on ethics and morality contrary to natural law and the Scriptures. It’s about the principle of separation between church and state, we’re told. It may be for some, but for many, it’s the money.

Christians too can claim principle when really what concerns us is economic gain. Are there ways in which you’ve done that? If so, how can you learn to live more consistently out of biblical principles of truth, goodness, and justice?

 
Living to Make Intercession


Hebrews 7:23-25

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

The Story: After Jesus rose from the dead on that first Easter, He spent 40 days teaching, encouraging, and strengthening the faith of his disciples. Why 40 days? Well, of course, 40 in the Bible signifies perfect completion, but along with that, it could be that Jesus simply enjoyed the warm friendship He shared with Peter, James, John, and the rest. Perhaps the nearly six weeks together with them was one of His great rewards after the Cross. When the 40 days were over, Jesus gave them the “Great Commission,” promised His abiding presence, rose from the ground, and disappeared from sight in the clouds (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:7-11). As the disciples stared into the sky, two angels reminded them that Jesus “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Today He is in the highest heavens at the right hand of His Father. There, the writer to the Hebrews wrote, “He always lives to make intercession for us”; that is, He lives to pray for us. John said the same thing. In Jesus, ascended to the Father, we have an advocate who pleads for us in our sinfulness (1 John 2:1).

The Structure: James (5:16) wrote, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” It is always a joy to know that a friend or family member or complete stranger is praying for us. Those who have endured deep suffering, life threatening illnesses, or great challenges often say that they could “feel” the prayers that others offered for them. Jesus is not a righteous person, but The Righteous Person. He is the source of all righteousness. And He, The Righteous Person, has ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and lives to pray for each of us. I can’t even begin to get my mind around such blessing and, as a result, such riches. Harkening back to Nehemiah, the ruins, disorder, and enemies that mark our lives do not have the final word. In the midst of whatever we encounter in this life, Jesus is in heaven at the Father’s right hand praying for us. In His ascension, we celebrate the truth so beautifully expressed by Juliana of Norwich, “All shall be well and all will be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Since it is through Jesus that we have access to the Father, share your prayer requests with Him, asking Him to plead for you and those you love, confident that He is pleased to do just that.

 
Looking with Vision


Nehemiah 2:17-18

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.

The Story: The people of Jerusalem had lived for years with broken-down walls and no gates. It was a problem, but they no longer saw the problem. They had become habituated to the ruin that passed for a city. It took someone from the outside to point the thing out—someone with a vision. Nehemiah’s vision would do two things: make the city safe and remove disgrace from the city and her people. During the period of the exile in Babylon, God, through His prophets, began revealing more and more about the Messiah, the great King who would come one day to Jerusalem. God’s King could not arrive at a devastated city. That would be a disgrace, a source of derision. Consider the words of Psalm 48:1-3 that proclaim the beauty of God’s city, “the joy of all the earth.” Jerusalem in shambles was incompatible with the deeper reality of what Jerusalem was. Thus, rebuilding was a holy project, a labor of love for God. Nehemiah told the people his story, a story that confirmed that this was God’s vision and God’s project. The people responded immediately.

The Structure: An old business joke defines a consultant as “someone who looks at your watch and tells you what time it is.” There’s certainly something to that. Consultants typically don’t discover problems and issues no one ever suspected. What good consultants do is force people and organizations to see the problem and then motivate them to take action. This was what Nehemiah did for the people of Jerusalem. Spiritual directors (using the phrase both as a formal title and an informal function) do the same for us in our lives with God. Sometimes in conversation with others we discover something new about our spiritual journeys, but usually we notice the rubble and disorder we knew were there all along. When we have become habituated to the status quo, it often takes someone from the outside to focus our eyes on the need to deal with the messier parts of our lives, forsake sins and bad habits, and follow Christ more fully. Only then do we begin to clear away the rubble, rebuild what is broken, and adorn the work of God in our lives, thus letting our “light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Who serves as a Nehemiah in your life? Explore the options for spiritual direction in your church and community.

 
Assessing the Damage


Nehemiah 2:13-16

I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.

The Story: At night, probably with a bright moon, Nehemiah went around the City of David, which is the south end of Jerusalem. Invading armies always attacked from the north where the city was most vulnerable. It is probable that the northern walls were flattened by the Babylonian army when they took the city nearly 150 years earlier. The southern wall, not being in the direct line of attack, had not been completely wrecked. It was, however, in a state of great disrepair and all of the gates needed to be replaced. Nehemiah took a good hard look at the walls and the gates. In doing that, he faced reality. Was he encouraged or discouraged? We don't know. Was he surprised? We don’t know. All we know is that Nehemiah found out what he was up against all around the city. As a leader, he needed to carefully assess the damage and match that with his resources. Nehemiah wisely did that quietly and privately.

The Structure: American culture—including the culture within our churches—encourages us to deny any unpleasant reality or, perhaps more accurately, any reality we consider unpleasant. We have almost endless access to virtual realities that can help us pretend what we wish is what is actually true. And when reality comes crashing in regardless of those wishes, we have a mountain of entertainment and crates of pharmaceuticals to help us pretend things are otherwise. That can no longer continue. It can no longer continue because it is inconsistent with God. Our God is a God of reality and a God of truth. We can’t just talk about truth; we have to live truth. In a world like ours, the church must provide a counterculture that identifies and tells the truth. When the walls are broken down, wise people, like Nehemiah, go out and take a good look at the wreckage, no matter how painful the experience. Then they report on what they’ve seen and make plans to work for the common good.

What parts of modern life do you find most distasteful? How have you ignored reality? What will you do to face the facts square on?

 
Preparing to Lead


Nehemiah 2:11-12

So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode.

The Story: Nehemiah traveled from Persia to Jerusalem with all the authorizations he needed to rebuild Jerusalem and with a full military complement (2:9). Those who saw them pass would have known that this was a detachment on the king’s business. That was helpful on the road, with its dangers. Once he arrived in Jerusalem, however, Nehemiah kept the pomp to a minimum and maintained a low profile for three days. We know based on his conversation with King Xerxes that Nehemiah felt a strong sense of urgency. He wanted to get going, in part because he loved Jerusalem and wanted it to be a real city again, and in part because he had only a limited time to direct the project (2:6). Yet Nehemiah spent three days doing we don’t exactly know what. He told no one why he had come and didn’t even examine the extent of the damage to the city in any detail. He waited and then began to reconnoiter the city quietly at night while the people slept.

The Structure: Nehemiah showed the restraint necessary for good leadership. It would have been easy to show up with the cavalry as the king’s own out-of-town expert intent on helping everybody—whether they wanted help or not. Instead he waited. I suspect he used the three days to get to know the people and the leaders of the city as an interested traveler. The time allowed him to get a feel for the city, the people, their morale, their hopes and fears. It’s far too easy for leaders to jump into leading without ever listening. When leaders do that, they hobble themselves. Nehemiah didn’t fall into that error, and neither should we. Effective leaders know their people. They understand the history of the people, the place, and the organization. They find out what’s going on emotionally as well as organizationally. Above all, leaders come to love and to identify with those committed to their charge and that takes time.

Whether at home, school, at church, among friends, or in your workplace, what have done to better understand those you lead? What do you need to do this week to strengthen the bonds you have with others?

 
Opposition


Nehemiah 2:9-10

Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king's letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

The Story: While others arrived in Jerusalem as a private citizens, Nehemiah arrived as the king’s man. Thus it was appropriate that he should have not only the right letters, but also a complement of soldiers as he traveled south, crossed the Euphrates River, and entered Israel. As with almost any good work, opposition began immediately. Sanballat’s name means “Sin (the moon goddess) has given life.” He presumably worshipped the local dieties and in contemporary documents was referred to as “governor of Samaria.” Tobiah’s name means “The Lord is good.” He apparently came from an Ammonite family that converted to Judaism. The designation “servant” probably meant servant of the king, that is, some sort of royal official. Their displeasure with Nehemiah’s arrival was probably not personally or religiously motivated. It was all about politics. Nehemiah with his letters and retinue threatened their carefully tended power arrangements. Something had to be done.

The Structure: That Nehemiah faced opposition in the work to which God called him should come as no surprise. God’s work in this world always faces opposition. We see it from the beginning, when the serpent interrupted Adam and Eve’s work in the Garden (Genesis 3:1). It’s there throughout the Old Testament and into the New. In the wilderness as Jesus prepared for His ministry, “the tempter” came to Him (Matthew 4:1-2). In His hometown, His old neighbors tried to kill Him (Luke 4:29). Even His family, thinking that he must be crazy, tried to stop Him for His own good (Mark 3:21). Paul made a long list of the opposition he faced (2 Corinthians 6:3-10). And before this age ends, Satan will have one last big binge (Revelation 20:7-9b). St. Peter’s words, therefore, apply to each of us as individuals and collectively as God’s people: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

What opposition do you face as you seek to live out a Christian worldview? What’s your attitude toward that opposition? How does the life of Jesus and of His Old and New Testament saints encourage you?

 
Integrity


Nehemiah 2:6-8

And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king's forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

The Story: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). In this text, we see the proverb come to life. The king clearly wanted to retain Nehemiah in his service at the royal palace, but was immediately willing to allow him a leave of absence. Partly that was because Nehemiah had a clear, well formulated, and complete plan. He had thought this out for a long time and the king, a seasoned executive, could see that. Second, he trusted Nehemiah. Nehemiah asked the king to reverse his policy against a city known for “rebellion and sedition” (Ezra 4:19-21). The success of that request rested on Nehemiah’s faithfulness as cupbearer, that is, on the integrity Nehemiah demonstrated day after day at his post. Artexerxes refused to let people he didn’t know rebuild Jerusalem, but he trusted Nehemiah. Having seen Nehemiah’s integrity and faithfulness in little things, he trusted him with this big thing (Luke 16:11).

The Structure: Evangelical theologian J. I. Packer was so impressed with Nehemiah’s faithfulness and integrity that he entitled his book about Nehemiah “A Passion for Faithfulness.” Where did such integrity find its origin? Packer writes, “Nehemiah’s public life was the outflow, and thus the revelation, of his personal life, and his personal life as his narrative shows it to us is steeped in, and shaped by, habitual petitionary prayer, in which devotion to God, dependence on God, and the desire for the glory of God found equal expression. In this he stands before us as a model.” Spending time and energy developing a Christian worldview and finding outlets for ministry is, in large measure, a waste of time and energy unless we are also developing rich spiritual lives. For it’s only as we live coram Deo—before the face of God—that we develop the integrity, faithfulness, and humility required to effectively live out a Christian worldview to the glory of God.

What shape is your spiritual life in these days? Since you will never “find time” for your spiritual life, how will you make time to spend with God in devotion and prayer?

 
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