Nehemiah 8

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reviveTrue revival.

Nehemiah has orchestrated the process of rebuilding the physical walls of Jerusalem – despite resistance from the enemies of God. Now we see him help orchestrate the rebuilding of the spiritual walls of God’s people as well. 60-70 years prior, Ezra the priest had led a group of Israelites out of Babylon and back to their home land. Now, as an old priest, Nehemiah has Ezra stand before the entire assembly of God’s people and read the Word. He (and the other Levite priests) read the Word from daybreak to noon – as all of the people listened attentively (Neh 8:3).

This is how true revival starts. It is clearly mentioned many times that the Israelites had failed to obey God’s instructions over the generations. By now – things had been so long forgotten that they were foreign to the ears of the people. So, as Ezra read from the Word, they were all focusing on what was being said – fully understanding that their past troubles were directly linked to their disobedience. (Neh 9:37). True revival begins with the Word – both reading it and understanding it. In Nehemiah 8 we see that “they read from the Book of the Law of God distinctly, faithfully amplifying and giving the sense so that [the people] understood the reading.”Neh 8:8 AMP.

After reading God’s Word to the people – and explaining it to them so that all understood it – the reaction was immediate. “For all the people wept when they heard the words of the Law.”Neh 8:9 AMP. This is the second step for true revival – heartbroken repentance. When the people of Israel heard the Word of God and came to the realization that their forefathers (and thus themselves as well) had sinned against God – they didn’t just shrug it off or “feel sorry”… they wept. Their hearts broke. This is typically a sure sign of repentance – the breaking of the heart due to sin.

If sin does not grieve you – then repentance has not taken place.

After repenting – Ezra instructed the people to go home and celebrate. That is the third step of true revival! While repentance is filled with weeping and tears – it does not last forever… for God has redeemed us and forgiven our sin! The people of God who enter into true repentance must then enter into true celebration and praise. Ezra has the people gather together and enjoy food and fellowship – not due to their past – but in anticipation of the future obedience to the Lord. (Neh 8:10).

After a night of celebration – the people gathered again to hear the Words of God. This is the next sign of true revival – a hunger for Truth. Once the realization huts that they had strayed from God’s Truth for many years – the now repentant people earnestly sought to return to obedience (and had to know how to do that). Like them – when we go through revival we will see an increase in our hunger to know the Lord and His Truth.

Finally, once it became clear what they were to do – the Israelites (under Ezra’s teaching) were quick to obey. Upon reading the Law, they learned about the various Feasts God has instructed His people to annually hold in remembrance of what they had gone through in the past. (The Feast of Tabernacles was a way of helping them remember how God had led them out of slavery from Egypt). Not since the very beginning had God’s people obeyed this instruction (Neh 8:17). In the same way – the final step of true revival is immediate obedience to the newly learned Words of Truth.

  1. Reading the Word.

  2. Repenting of disobedience (sin).

  3. Celebrating forgiveness.

  4. Immediate obedience for the future.

The Israelites had tasted the bitter waters left for them by their forefathers disobedience – and they gathered under Ezra to form a new covenant with God… ushering in a national revival. In the same way – you and I must come to our own personal place of revival – marked with these same steps of the Word – repentance – celebration – and obedience. When we do that – Sunday mornings no longer are a habitual regulation – but a weekly opportunity to read/hear God’s Word – repent – celebrate continued forgiveness and favor as we seek to obey the Lord in our lives.

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

Nehemiah 1-2

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Elephantine PapyriThe words of Nehemiah were once included along with the words of Ezra as one book. As time passed, they became divided – referred to as 1st and 2nd Ezra. In the 4th century, Jerome (an early church leader) began to refer to this second section as Nehemiah. While Ezra focused on the rebuilding of the Temple, it is Nehemiah who focuses on the walls.

There is much debate about when the accounts of this book actually happened. Right in the first few verses we are told that Nehemiah was a cup bearer to Artaxerxes, the king of Persia. The issue is that “Artaxerxes” is not an actual name, but a title. (It means “the great king” and was applied to many of the kings of the Media/Persian dynasty). It is pretty much the consensus that the Artaxerxes spoken of in Nehemiah 2:1 is indeed Artaxerxes 1, who reigned from 464-424 BC. Since this happened 20 years into his reign, it would put Nehemiah’s journey to Jerusalem about 60-70 years after Ezra’s – during which time the Temple was completed and the walls were slowly being rebuilt. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_kings_of_Persia#Old_Persian_Empire.2C_550.E2.80.93329_BC)

Nehemiah was the cup bearer to Artaxerxes 1, and thus held a great relationship with the king. The position of cup bearer was one of great privilege, as you were with the king on a continuous basis – being an aid to help him while he relaxed. This would no doubt afford you moments with the king’s ear, as well as the opportunity to win the king’s heart. But, it was also a position of great risk, as the Persian kings were known for expecting high standards from their servants. This is why Nehemiah was afraid, when he was caught being downcast in the king’s presence. Nehemiah had just heard that the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem some many years earlier were not doing so well. (Obviously not All the Jews returned when freed by Cyrus, many instead choosing to remain behind in their established lives in Babylon).

Artaxerxes had mercy on Nehemiah and granted him permission to return to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding of the walls, including granting him supplies for the work when he arrived. This news was not met with joy by the enemies of Israel who dwelt in the area of Jerusalem. As we saw with Ezra, these enemies had been stirring up trouble for many years for the Israelites as they initially came back and sought to rebuild their once great capital. Since the day Cyrus decreed them released, these enemies had been working to thwart their mission – and Nehemiah’s was no different.

Sanballet (whose name means “the enemy is secret”) was an enemy of the Jews who led the charge against resisting the planned work going on in Jerusalem. This guy is not just a character in the Bible, as there have been found several archeological documents with his name on them. He was a governor to the east of Palestine, a powerful man under the Persian kingdom who held much sway in the region. An Aramaic papyrus found among the ruins of Elephantine, Egypt – which dates to the 5th Century BC – was addressed to a couple of Jews named Delaya and Shelemya – called “sons of Sanballat”. (http://www.formerthings.com/sanballat.htm). Many examples such as this exist which give historical validity to the Biblical accounts.

As in all Scripture, the main theme of the record of Nehemiah is not just physical, but also can be applied to us today. While Nehemiah faced great resistance from the enemies of God while rebuilding the physical walls of Jerusalem, we as well face resistance in our work today, as we rebuild the shattered walls of peoples lives all around us. As we follow Nehemiah on his mission, think of your own personal mission from God – given by Jesus in the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) – and take note of the clever ways the enemy tries to disrupt your work!

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

Ezra – 419

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750px-NY-419.svg419 words.

That is the total length of the prayer of repentance out of the mouth of Ezra when he arrived in Jerusalem and saw the rampant sin that had already infected God’s newly-released people.

Ezra was a priest and a scribe and was commissioned by Darius, King of Persia, to travel with a second group of Israelites from Babylon to Jerusalem – joining with the original group which had left with Zerubbabel – for the purpose of helping reestablish the Law into the lives of the people and their newly rebuild Temple (Ezra 7).

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, after about a 4 ½ month journey, Ezra found this original group completely mixed with the pagan cultures living around them. (This may seem petty to us – but if you remember, it was this exact mindset which eventually led the people to adopt their idol worship and vile sacrifices to false gods (such as burning their own children and temple prostitution). So this is a big issue. When Ezra finds out about this – he is grieved. He tears his garments. He plucks out his beard and hair. He then sits in astonishment for the rest of the day, (all signs of inward mourning over a great calamity – Joshua 7:6; 1 Sam 4:12; etc). That is quite a reaction!

Which brings up a great point for us to ponder…

Is this how you react to sin… yours or someone elses?

Do you react with grief and mourning when you find out someone who should know better is living in unrepentant sin – or do you easily dismiss it or ignore it?

After his day of mourning – Ezra immediately falls upon his face and prays a prayer. (Ezra 9:6-15).

419 words.

He doesn’t mince words or attempt to justify the actions of his people – but instead uses words like “ashamed” and “blush” (vs 6). He doesn’t blame God for their situation, but attributes the recent decades of calamity and heartache to sin just like this (vs 7). He acknowledges that God has shown them great grace by causing Cyprus to release them (vs 8 & 13).

Ezra didn’t hide it – didn’t excuse it – didn’t write a new doctrine to justify it… he repented and was grieved. Then he stood up and led the people in undoing the damage – correcting the error (not an easy thing to do… but necessary) – and then doing things the correct way.

That is what true repentance brings… correction and then resolve to turn from that sin.

The end result of those 419 words is that the entire nation repented and turned back to the Lord. The Temple worship was re-established and the city of Jerusalem was strengthened in preparation for the next phase… the rebuilding of the walls under the leadership of Nehemiah.

First repentance and the Temple (Ezra) – then the rebuilding of the walls (Nehemiah).

And it all started with 419 words.

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

Ezra

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ezraOriginally, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were both combined into one book – with 685 verses numbered from Ezra 1:1Neh 13:31. In Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament – as well as early Christian documents – they were treated as one book entitled “The Book of Ezra”. Eventually the book was divided into two sections and called “Ezra 1 & 2” – and then finally titled what we now know as “Ezra” and “Nehemiah”.

The book of Ezra picks up the history of the Jewish people as it ended in 2 Chronicles 36 – with Cyrus, King of Persia sending the Israelites, who had been held captive in Babylon, back to Jerusalem with all of their possessions, along with orders to rebuild the Temple and the city. There is great debate as to why Cyrus would do such a thing – but it is clear by reading the historical accounts that this was not out of character for him. Obviously (from our perspective) God had a hand in this and was, once again, intervening for His people.

The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are the final books included in the History section of the Bible; and although they appear in a certain order in our Bible – that is not the order in which they actually occurred. The account in Esther took place while the Jews are still in Babylon and under the rule of Darius the Mede, while Ezra and Nehemiah take place some years later under Cyrus. As well, the events of Ezra and Nehemiah are more contemporary then first appears. The main theme of Ezra is the rebuilding of the Temple, while the main theme of Nehemiah is the rebuilding of the city and the walls of Jerusalem. Both of these building projects actually took place around the same years – but since the Temple is more important then the city walls, Ezra is placed first in the canonical order.

Although the authorship of the book of Ezra has been attributed to Ezra (a scribe and priest), that doesn’t mean that he was present during all of the events described in it. In truth – the first sections (which deal with the first wave of returning exiles under Zerubbabel) was probably copied by Ezra from documents recording the event. Ezra himself did not return to Jerusalem until much later, sent by Artexerxes, King of Persia, for the purpose of helping establish God’s law back into Israel and teaching the people how to obey it (Ezra 7:25). By this time the Temple was mainly finished and the walls were well on their way. (Nehemiah would be sent later as governor to ensure the completion of the work – with the help of Ezra the scribe – along with some prophets).

Just from the first few chapters of Ezra we see how difficult a task it was going to be in rebuilding this once magnificent city. Enemies of the Jews still lingered in the land surrounding Jerusalem, and the last thing they wanted to see was this city restored to her former glory. Almost immediately, we see these enemies sticking their noses into the work – attempting to stop its progress and hinder the end goal.

This brings up a great comparison to our own lives. As in any work of the Lord – the Enemy wishes to hinder it and prevent it from happening. He uses many tactics to aid him in this goal – from fear and intimidation to civil authority and persecution. We, today are not immune to these ageless strategies – as we obey the Lord and do the work of His kingdom in our own day. Honestly – it is those who do not face resistance who need worry. To not face any persecution or to not have anyone attempting to sidetrack your obedience to the Lord is a sure sign that you are probably not doing anything of value in the first place. The enemy basically leaves alone those who are no threat to him!

Very early on we can garner much encouragement and motivation from Ezra’s account. Encouragement in that, if you are enduring opposition in your walk of faith, stand firm and continue to do what God has told you to do in the face of pressure… and God will carry you forward. On the other hand – if you can look at your daily life and find no signs of resistance then it may be time to re-examine your walk – and seek ways to become the threat you were called to be!

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK

2 Chronicles 36

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babyloniaPatience only stretches so far, even when discussing the patience of the Lord. As we have read through some 380 years of the people of God – from the start of Solomon’s reign to the end of the nation of Judah – we have seen kings rise and fall, with some following God’s ways (and prospering) – while most ignore Him and come to a destructive end. What began as a strong and influential Israeli nation under Solomon digressed into civil war and a kingdom divided – and ended with both portions of that once glorious kingdom being conquered and led off into captivity.

While 1-2 Kings and the beginning of 1 Chronicles deals with both the kings of Israel (northern section) and the kings of Judah (southern section); most of 1-2 Chronicles follows the circumstances of the southern kingdom of Judah (Israel having already been overtaken and hauled off into captivity by Assyria in 721 B.C.). As we have seen – despite the occasional good king, Judah failed to heed the warning of her sister state, and instead basically ignored God – leading to the same demise under the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.

The deportation of the Jewish people from Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar took place in 3 sections:

  • The first group of exiles around 597 B.C. during the reign of Jehoikim. It was at this time that Daniel and the rest of the ruling elite were taken into captivity – as recorded in Daniel 1:1-6.

  • The second group taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar took place just a little over 3 months later during the reign of Jehoichin (also known as Jeconiah). Esther and Mordecai were part of this group.

  • The final seize of Jerusalem – culminating in her destruction and the rest of the Jews drug into slavery (minus the very poor) took place 11 years later in 586 B.C. under the reign of Zedekiah.

God refers to Nebuchadnezzar as His “servant” several times in Scripture (Jer 27:6); and He makes it quite clear that the reason He raised up Nebuchadnezzar as leader of the Babylonian Empire was to punish His people for their sins. We must not see this as a rash decision on God’s part – but instead one which I’m sure He agonized over for years. His patience can be easily seen in the writings of the many Prophets, whom God sent to both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in His effort to warn them and draw them back to Him – to stave off what was sure to come as a result of disobedience. (In fact – it was Jeremiah who was serving in the role of Prophet during the deportation of Judah to Babylon. King Zedekiah, the final king of Judah, had a very cantankerous relationship with Jeremiah and is spoken of many times in the book bearing Jeremiah’s name).

Notice this set of verses at the end of 2 Chronicles:

And the Lord, the God of their fathers, sent to them persistently by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God and despising His words and scoffing at His prophets till the wrath of the Lord rose against His people, till there was no remedy or healing.” – 2 Chr 36:15-16 AMP

God had been patient with His people… yet, despite countless warnings and pleadings, they ignored Him and chose to go the way they did – ending in their destruction.

(To read more about Nebuchadnezzar – go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebuchadnezzar_II).

But, as always, grace prevails… and God did not forget His promises to His people (for David’s sake). At the end of 2 Chronicles we are told that after the fulfillment of 70 years (as predicted by both Jeremiah & Daniel) – that God raised up another “servant” (Isaiah 45:1) named Cyrus – king of Persia. Cyrus had adopted a policy in which he respected the cultures and religions of the nations he conquered. So, in 539 B.C., the Persians destroyed the Babylonians – and the very next year, King Cyrus allowed the Jewish people to go back to their land and rebuild the city of Jerusalem.

(To read more about Cyrus – go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_the_Great).

So, we have come to the end of the monarchy of Israel – and have progressed almost 1/3 of the way through the Bible. Next we enter the books of Ezra and Nehemiah – which will tell us about the Israelites return to their land (after their release by Cyrus) – and the rebuilding of both the Temple (Ezra) and the Walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah) – both of which had been destroyed by the Babylonian siege.

Be Fruitful & Multiply,

PK