Sunday, March 25, 2007

Nehemiah and A Secret Enemy

(note from author – Since this post is twice as long as my self-imposed limit, I will declare it to be a two-day post leaving you with the choice of reading it all today or coming back to read the second half tomorrow… I will not be adding another post tomorrow.)

My name is Nehemiah. While we have not yet met, I know that you have heard of me. My story is included in the book of Books, just before Esther’s story.
I am pleased that you are interested in hearing about my life experiences , and I am humbled to realize that my message is still relevant to you even though you live thousands of years after my time which was some 450-400 years before Christ.

The first years of my life were relatively uneventful so I will begin my story from the time that I was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. That was, as I am sure you can imagine, a difficult and fearfully stressful time . But I trusted in my God and He was gracious and merciful toward me – so much so, that I found favor in the eyes of my captors . To make a long story short, I became the trusted cupbearer of the King. I took my position seriously and did my very best to be the most excellent cupbearer he had ever had.
Even though my heart yearned for my own people and my homeland I kept my feelings to myself and whenever I was in the King’s presence I was careful to keep a cheerful countenance.
Then one day, an old acquaintance of mine, Hanani, came to me with the news that the remnant of my people who were still in Jerusalem were in great distress and the walls of the city were broken down and the gates burned . Oh, how great was the anguish that filled my soul to think that the city of God should be so neglected ! I could hardly bear the thought. In fact, I was so upset that I could not hide my grief and for the first time, I came into the King’s presence with a sad expression. I could have been killed for my indiscretion , and when I realized my mistake fear gripped my heart , but the King was very gracious and kindly asked me why I was so sorrowful.
With trepidation, I told him that I desired to go and restore the city of my God. I was amazed at his response; obviously God had already prepared my way before me. The King was more than willing for me to go as long as I would promise to come back. Not only did he give me permission to take a leave of absence from my palace duties, he also wrote letters to people in high places to make sure I would have the supplies and resources I would need to accomplish my purpose.
And so I went to build the city of God.

You, my readers, are also building in the city of God , are you not?? But your city is much more important than mine. Mine was just the shadow, yours is the real thing mine only pointed to -- the eternal city that will endure forever!! The city that Abraham looked for (Heb.11:10) and the city spoken of in Heb12:22, “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem!”

But back to my story. When, after a tiring journey , I arrived back at Jerusalem it was heart wrenching to see the state the city was in, but I was anxious to begin my work to restore it.
At first I told no one why I was there and went out under cover of night to ride around the city without being observed, to evaluate the work needing to be done.
When I had a plan of action, I told the Jews, the priests, the nobles ,the officials and the workers, why I was there and assured them that God’s hand had orchestrated my coming to help them rebuild the ruins. They were encouraged and eagerly willing to join me in the rebuilding of the city’s walls.

Though the walls of the city of God were destroyed and the few remaining people distressed, there was a man who was watching, waiting to hinder anyone who should appear with the express purpose of attempting to rebuild the ruins.
His name was Sanballat.

Let me interrupt myself here to explain something… I don’t think you who are reading my message today put as much importance on the meaning of names as we did in my day. My name , Nehemiah, for instance, means “The Lord’s Comfort”. All my life I knew that my name held an important message regarding my life’s work, and when He called me to rebuild His city , I knew that I knew that for this I had been born.
Speaking of Sanballat, here again the meaning of his name is significant…. it means ‘enemy in secret’. You in the New Covenant also have an enemy who tries to work in secret -- you call him Satan. And he also is watching hoping to hinder anyone who might undertake to work on building the kingdom of God, the heavenly Jerusalem , the body of Christ, the church. If you care about winning souls or strengthening the believers or living a godly life, being diligent in displaying the fruit of the Spirit, he is against you and is watching for opportunities to hinder you.

The man , Sanballat, who was against me, together with his ‘helpers’ Tobiah and Geshem, tried to discourage us from even attempting the work God had called me to. They stood from afar and laughed us to scorn, mocking us, asking …”What do you think you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
I calmly answered , “God of heaven Himself will prosper us and we will build His city …. You have no part in this city at all, past or future and you have no rights here !”

You , my fellow saints, need to understand this about your enemy.. he has no part in God’s kingdom at all nor any rights in the life of a believer. Isn’t that what my Messiah and yours said? “Here comes the prince of this world and he has NOTHING in me.” (John 14:30)

So we began to work… every man was positioned in his place along the wall and each man had his job to do and so we worked shoulder to shoulder. We worked with a sword fastened at our waist.

I love to watch you New Testament believers working and building in the eternal city of God. ( I am, incidentally, one of the ‘cloud of witnesses’ spoken about in Hebrews 12:1.) Each of you has his or her own job to do…each of you is responsible for one small part of the kingdom wall.. If you do not do your part there will be a section of the wall left open and vulnerable to attack. If you are diligent, each doing the work assigned to him and working shoulder to shoulder you will accomplish God’s purposes. And never forgot how important God’s word, your sword, is as your protection!

The work was progressing and we rejoiced to see it , but Sanballat became more and
more incensed. He and all his cohorts conspired together to come and create confusion among us workers in Jerusalem.
We were fully aware of his intent and we continually lifted our voices to God and set a watch around us. At this time the workers were beginning to be discouraged because there was so much rubbish hindering the building of the walls, and Sanballat thought this would be a perfect time to come in when we were weak , catch us ill prepared, kill us and cause the work to cease!! But I encouraged my people and positioned them to be on guard and I told them to remember how awesome their God was!!

Well, when Sanballat received word that we were aware of his plans against us, he had to retreat unable to change the fact that God had foiled all his plans and so we were able to return to our work.

Have you not experienced that , dear reader? That your enemy waited for a time when you were discouraged by the rubbish in your life and you were distracted and discouraged in your working for the kingdom? Do not give him a foothold in your life!! Walk in obedience and self-discipline and keep your focus on the things of God, and he will have to flee! (James4:7).

(break - if you wish to come back tomorrow)

After seeing our vulnerability we recognized that we needed to be better armed and took even greater care than before – working with one hand and carrying our swords in the other. And none of us took off our clothes, except to wash them.

I cannot stress this enough ! You who are are building the spiritual kingdom, hear me ! it is not sufficient just to know about God’s word, you must know it so well that is ready ‘in your hand’, a sword ever ready to be used! I must also remind you to always wear your spiritual clothes, your garment of righteousness - it will keep you safe from your enemy. When you do slip and sin… then cleanse your garment immediately , to keep it without spot or wrinkle (Rev. 3:4, Eph. 5:27) You must keep your spiritual garment clean to be effective in your work.

And the one who sounded the sword stood beside me.
I spoke to my fellow workers about the fact that since the work was getting so extensive, we were often far apart from each other and therefore more easily singled out for attack. I made the rule that when they heard the trumpet blow , that was the signal to come together for strength and safety. I assured them that “Our God will fight for us !”

Dear ones, is that not also your strength? Does God not tell you ‘not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together, and the more so when you see the day approaching?’ (Heb. 10:25) You need each other, together you are the body of Christ, undefeatable and strong!

I also had to deal with quarrels and complaining that broke out among my people. When I heard how the leaders had used their positions of authority to line their own pockets … I became very angry and rebuked them sharply saying they were worse than the heathen nations who took our people captive. Hearing my outburst against them , they were ashamed and promised to change their ways.

I am saddened when I look down the corridors of time to where you live today and I see that there are still leaders over God’s people who do not walk in humility but rather use the gospel and their positions for financial or personal gain. Oh, that they would hear my rebuke and let God change their hearts.

The work on the walls was almost completed when I got a message from Sanballat . He invited me to come meet with him and Geshem in one of his villages. But I was wise to his devises and knew he wished me only harm.
So I just told him I was too busy to come.
He did not give up easily and repeated his invitation four times!! I did not change my answer.
Then , the fifth time, instead of sending me secret invitations, he sent his servant to me with an open letter. In this letter he accused me of planning to lead a rebellion against the King . He also said, I had appointed prophets ready to make proclamations – announcing that I was setting myself up as king!
Sanballat said that my intentions were already common knowledge among the heathen nations and if I did not agree to come meet with him to take counsel together he would make this letter public and give it to the king and I would be in big trouble !!!
Of course these were all lies !! I laughed to myself and thought, he is just trying to frighten us… He thinks if he can make us afraid our hands will be weakened and we will not be able to work!! Huh!
I sent back a reply saying as much and went to God in prayer , giving the situation to Him.

Some time later, I had occasion to go visit a friend, Shemaiah, at his house. He took me aside to whisper to me confidentially that he had inside information . Sanballat and his supporters had plans to come kill me. Shemaiah was offering to help me… he suggested we meet together in the house of God, inside the temple and close the doors securely behind us … and we would be safely hidden from Sanballat’s attack.
I was puzzled at first and responded, “Why would I want to flee? Do you think I am
someone who would go to the temple to save my own life and leave my fellow workers outside?”
Then God gave me insight and I perceived that Shemaiah was not a friend at all!
He was an informer hired by Sanballat to try to trick me into following his advice and subsequently sinning before God , giving Sanballat occasion to accuse me before the people.
But I did not fall into his trap . I escaped and called on God to deal with Sanballat and his friends according to their works against us, trying to confuse us or make us afraid!!

I know my dear friends that you can relate easily to the events I just told you about. Is that not like your enemy, Satan? He can do nothing but try to confuse or frighten you into making a ‘deal’ with him, compromising your faith or your work for God. Learn from me and follow my example. Just as Sanballat could not touch me so also Satan cannot touch you ! My God fought for me and my God is also your God – He has not changed, and He will also fight for you. Do not listen to your enemy ! What he hates most is to be ignored or not taken seriously !! But be on guard not to be tricked by him. He will use innocent things or even good things to try to pull you into sin, sometimes he will even speak through your friends or people that you trust. You must be strong and test all the voices you hear and listen only to the voice of your God.

And so God helped us mightily and we finished the work . When it was finished we planned a great celebration at which Ezra read the book of the law to all the people who stood and listened and were overcome with sorrow and conviction. But I told them that this was not a day to be sorrowful but they should recognize that the JOY of the Lord was their strength . And the people dried their tears and rejoiced greatly that they understood the words that had been read to them.

I have seen the day coming that you , my readers today , have not yet seen. There is coming a wonderful day of celebration when all tears will be wiped away and you will know joy unspeakable… and you will understand all the things you do not understand today – you will know even as you are known.
How I am looking forward to that day when you and I and all the saints of the ages will all be together rejoicing before the throne of our great God crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

Thank-you for sharing your time with me...and I pray that you are encouraged by my experiences and will continue to work and to build together with those who have gone before , for you too are "my fellow workers for the kingdom of God..." (Col.4:11 , I Cor. 3:9)
signed, Nehemiah

1 comment:

Lovella ♥ said...

I have a song in my heart today . . ."I know that my Redeemer lives . . ."
There are so many valuable lessons here today. I think I will reread it tomorrow again. This weekend the speaker at church talked about how if we truly understood the cup that Jesus drank on our behalf this community would be turned upside down and our passion for trusting God and being obedient would be profoundly different. Obviously Nehemiah knew his Lord.