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

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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