It was wonderful to be back at staff devotions at St.C’s on Thursday morning (despite having to get out of bed before 9 o’clock) before spending the day painting holiday club sets. We were studying Nehemiah 4, a chapter I found very challenging.
The general theme of the chapter, and you could say of the book of Nehemiah as a whole, is pray and do.
Cyrus the Great, the Emperor of Persia in 538 BC allows the Jewish people to return home from their exile in the Babylonian lands which he has just conquered. In 444 BC Nehemiah receives permission to begin rebuilding the walls of the Jerusalem temple. However, they face some opposition from Sanballat and Tobiah of Samaria, who likely want to assert their authority in Judah. Chapter 4 begins with a cry from the writer against these men, asking God to protect his people from their jeers.
And the people keep building.
Sanballat and Tobiah decide it’s time to send their armies, to stop this abominable construction attempt, “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night” (Nehemiah 4:9 ESV)
At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:12-14 ESV)
The Jews who lived in the surrounding areas, who had not returned to Jerusalem and were not a part of the temple building plan, begged that their fellow believers return to the safety of obscurity. Nehemiah and his followers were going out on a limb with this. They were doing something new and different, something involving a great deal of risk and even more faith. Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem? A handful of people, many of whom were unskilled? Families, children, elderly? Absurd! But it was God ordained, God led, and the Jews that surrounded them did not share their faith. Often when we go out on a limb for God, some of our brothers and sisters in Christ find it difficult to share our vision. They beg us to continue in relative comfort and safety. But when you know God has called you to a new venture, when you know he has plans for you and is moving you to take the first step, you have to leave even those you love behind, even those who have your best interests at heart.
Nehemiah sent his guards to stand in the lowest parts of the walls. Are we defending the weakest parts of our ministries, fellowships and personal lives? We might be blessed to not yet have to fight physical battles here in the West but we are certainly always fighting Spiritual ones. And we don’t fight with metal swords or wooden bows, but we do fight with the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God and the shield of faith and the breastplate of righteousness (Eph 6). Paul also encourages us to be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18 ESV). Do we guard our weak spots with fervent prayer? Do we take action to put temptation out of reach? Do we fend off apathy and selfishness? Are we supporting those who need our support – physically, mentally, materially, spiritually?
Do not be afraid. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome.
I was particularly challenged by verse fourteen here: “fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes”. I’ve stopped fighting. There are so many people whom I love who don’t know the Lord and this should break my heart but it doesn’t. I’ve given up. I care but I’ve given in to that age old excuse of “It’ll happen in God’s time” and I’ve abandoned the fight. 2 Chronicles 16 says that if God’s people will humble themselves and pray to Him he will hear their prayers. God is almighty and his plan will come to pass and he could do this all by his own efforts; but there is a partnership here, an understanding, and he gives us a role. We are to fight. We are to pray fervently and we are to use every opportunity – fear, feelings of incompetency, tiredness, pride – none of these are excuses when the great and awesome God is with you. This is God’s earth. These are his people. And we are to fight for them.
to be continued . . .