Thursday, July 24

Thursday


 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.  I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say.   - Nehemiah 5:6-8


This passage shows us that Nehemiah, though angry, was committed to dealing with the issues in God-honoring and Biblical manner.  Jesus laid out this process for us in the Nw Testament. 
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.   - Matthew 18:5-7
It’s easy to get angry but then to cool off and do nothing. After all, it is difficult and uncomfortable to confront those who are causing a problem. It is especially difficult to confront those who happen to be rich and powerful, as these men were. What if they got defensive and withdrew their support of the project? What if they began to view Nehemiah as an enemy? They could use their clout to cause a lot more damage. Maybe Nehemiah should stall for time until the wall was finished. But he didn’t do that.
First, he privately confronted those guilty of mistreating the poor (5:7). We do not know whether this involved a single meeting or a series of meetings, and whether Nehemiah was alone or whether he took some trusted leaders with him. But the biblical pattern for resolving conflict is, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you” (Matt. 18:15-16a). While Nehemiah did not have our Lord’s teaching on this, he seems to have followed this pattern of private confrontation before any public confrontation.
Did Nehemiah succeed in private? We don’t know for sure, but probably not. There is no recorded response from the nobles at this point. So Nehemiah moved to public confrontation.
He called a great assembly and spelled out the problem. He rebuked the leaders (5:8) by pointing out how he and others had redeemed their Jewish brothers who had been sold to the nations, but now it was Jews themselves who were selling their brothers into slavery. They could not find a word to answer. He further stated that their behavior was not good in that their enemies would mock the Jews for their mistreatment of their own people (5:9).
Some think that Nehemiah (5:10) is admitting his own past failure in lending money at interest to his fellow Jews (based on the plural “let us leave off the usury”), but I think that he is just using the plural to identify with these men. Nehemiah had loaned money in accordance with the Law, without charging interest. He is appealing to these wealthy men to join him in doing the same. He asks them to give back to the poor their fields, vineyards, olive groves, and houses, along with the interest that they had charged.

There are many Christian leaders who are afraid to confront sinners with their sin, whether in private or in public. This fear in-creases when the person in sin is rich and powerful. But we must follow Nehemiah’s example of confronting those who are in sin. Nehemiah exhibited proper righteous anger under control. His anger gave him the courage to confront those who were wrong.

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, July 23

Wednesday

 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.  I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say.  So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised.  I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.   - Nehemiah 5:6-13

This passage tells the story of how Nehemiah responded to the fact that some of the Jews were taking advantage of the misfortune of their brothers and sisters, and exploiting them for financial gain.  

It must have been terribly discouraging to Nehemiah to see that the people could stand strong together in the face of an outside threat (Neh. 4) and then turn on each other when times got tough.  After all they had been through together, were they now going to be undone by their own greed, selfishness and lack of compassion.  I wonder if Nehemiah had the words of Psalm 55:12-14 in his heart when he considered how to respond...

For it is not an enemy who taunts me
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me
    then I could hide from him. 

But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.

We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God's house we walked in the throng.



It is not at all a stretch to say that this is the most significant and dangerous threat Nehemiah and the people of God have faced yet.  Even in the church today, external opposition often has the effect of rallying people together, but it is often in-fighting and internal conflict that destroys us.  Sometimes, our greatest battle is not the struggle with the world outside, it is the struggle within!

Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, July 22

Tuesday

Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.  For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.”  There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.”  And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards.  Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”  I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.  I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them.  - Nehemiah 5:1-7


There were four different groups of people who were involved in the community crisis:


People who owned no land but needed food (Neh 5:2) The population was increasing, the families were growing, there was a famine, and the people were hungry. They were working so hard on the wall that they didn’t have time to plant or take care of their crops.

Landowners who had mortgaged their property in order to buy food (Neh 5:3). Inflation was on the rise and prices were going higher and many had their homes repossessed by the moneylenders.

Another group complained that taxes were too high (Neh 5:4). Many people were forced to borrow money just to pay their tax bills.


Finally, there were those who were exploiting the other three groups (Neh 5:5). The wealthy were making loans with exorbitant interest rates and taking land and even children as collateral. Families had to choose between starvation and servitude. When the crops failed because of the famine, the creditors took away their property and sold their children into slavery.

While it was not against God’s law to loan money to one another, they were not to act like pawn shop owners or bankers who charge high interest when lending money to fellow Jews. This is clearly stated in Deut. 23:19-20, “Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the Lord your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.”


Notice Nehemiah’s immediate reaction when he hears of this terrible oppression and injustice going on in the midst of God’s people - he is “very angry!  This might be the understatement of the year. Nehemiah is hot, and this situation really lit him up!  It wasn’t just that Nehemiah had a short fuse or a bad temper. 

This is what the Bible calls “righteous anger.” Moses expressed this kind of anger when he broke the stone tablets of the Law in Exodus 32 and Jesus was filled with holy rage when he saw the Pharisee’s hard hearts in Mark 43, and when he cleared out the Temple in Luke 19.

While Nehemiah was very angry, we also read that he “took counsel with himself”, this means that he did not react out of his anger, he took the time to “ponder” the charges before he accused the nobles and officials. 

The New English Bible puts it this way: “I mastered my feelings.” The Hebrew literally means, “My heart consulted within me.” Instead of just “going off” on the people in the heat of the moment, Nehemiah paused, took a deep breath and thought about it for a while. 
He did what Proverbs 16:32 challenges us to do - “Better a patient man than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.”

After thinking things over, Nehemiah decided to publicly confront the people whose selfishness had created the strife. Since it involved the whole nation it demanded public rebuke and repentance. This rebuke consisted of several different appeals.  


The first appeal Nehemiah made was to the love that should exist between brothers and sisters in God’s family. Nehemiah reminded them that they were robbing their own countrymen, and their own spiritual family members.  They were actually hurting themselves. He uses the word, “brother” four different times in his speech. Psalm 133:1 must have been echoing in his mind: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”

Jeff Frazier

Monday, July 21

Monday


Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.  For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.”  There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king's tax on our fields and our vineyards.  Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”  - Nehemiah 5:1-5


As we continue in our series through the Book of Nehemiah, we’ve learned that Nehemiah confronted a different challenge in each chapter:

• In chapter one, he was faced with a personal challenge. When he heard about what was happening in Jerusalem, he sat down and wept and then broke out into prayer.

• In chapter two, his challenge was political. When the King asked him what he needed, he prayed a “popcorn prayer” and boldly made his requests.

• In chapter three, he confronted an administrative challenge by positioning the right workers in the right place for the right reasons.

• In chapter four, he dealt with the challenge of discouragement. The workers were afraid of the enemies and convinced they couldn’t work anymore. Nehemiah rallied the troops to come together under pressure.

As we come to chapter five, this same community is starting to self-destruct because of some festering grievances. The workers now face a new enemy who is harder to conquer than the previous ones. The timing could not have been worse because the walls are almost done! Nehemiah has to put down his hard hat and turn his attention from the construction of the wall to the walls that were being put up between his workers. While their external enemies helped to rally the people, internal conflict threatened to divide and destroy them.

Most of us remember well the terrible devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought to the gulf coast.  After the storm we got a glimpse of the greed of some people. While there were many who reached out to help, there were others who saw this as an opportunity to take advantage of those in need by price gouging and stealing. That’s similar to what we see in our text. The city of Jerusalem lies in ruins and people are powerless to help themselves. Taxes are high and because of a long drought there is a bad famine. Most everyone has been working with all their hearts to build the walls but there are others whose alarming acts of greed resulted in widespread poverty and injustice.  Hard times can bring out the best and the worst in human nature.  God’s people (both then &now) are to be marked by His grace and generosity. 

There is a direct correlation between the effectiveness of our mission and how we treat each other!

We must be the church before we can build the church. We must care for one another before we can hope to reach this community and county for Christ.


Jeff Frazier

Friday, July 18

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Friday
Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.  After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”  When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work. From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me. Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”   - Nehemiah 4:13-20

These verses tell us what Nehemiah did, but we can also think of what Nehemiah could have done in this situation.
He could have done nothing - and even been spiritual about it. “Well brothers, we’re just trusting in the Lord. We prayed about it, and believe the Lord will deliver us somehow.”
He could have panicked - and started thinking it was his job alone to defend against the attack.
What he did was to wisely and calmly trust God in the midst of the storm, and to do the concrete things God would have him do to obtain the victory.
Their swords, their spears, and their bows: Nehemiah commanded them to bring out their armor. It was time to get serious, to put on the full armor, and to get ready to fight with every resource they had.
Do not be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, great and awesome: Nehemiah put their mind in the right perspective. The challenge was great but there was no reason for fear. He who was in them was greater than he who was in the world.
We all returned to the wall, each to our own work: This was the victory. Defending against the attack was not the victory; the people of God would not be at peace and security until the wall was rebuilt. Getting on with the work was the victory.
When we are under spiritual attack it is easy to feel that just enduring the storm is the victory. It isn’t. The attack often comes to prevent your progress and work for the LORD. Victory is enduring the attack and continuing the progress and work for the LORD.

Whatever opposition comes our way, the best thing we can do is to turn our hearts to God and turn our hands back to doing the work that we know God has called us to do!
Jeff Frazier

Thursday, July 17

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Thursday

But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.  And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.  In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”  And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.”  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 4:7-14


If we only read through chapter 3, we would get the impression that the work on the wall went without a snag. “So-and-so built this gate, and these people built the wall to this point, and next to them, these people built the wall further, etc.” It sounds as if there were no problems. But this was not at all the case. It never is! Chapters 4-6 show us some of the problems that had to be overcome in the process of rebuilding the wall. There is a cycle of advance and setback through chapters 3-6:
Chapter 3: Advance 
4:1-3: Setback
4:4-6: Advance
4:7-8: Setback

4:9: Advance
4:10-12: Setback

4:13-23: Advance
5:1-6: Setback
6:1-14: Attempted setback 

6:15-16: Final advance
6:17-19: Attempted setback

This cycle shows that the Christian life is a conflict, a struggle, a battle. There will always be opposition. The enemy will try to get you sidetracked or to give up completely. Even though it was God’s will for the wall to be rebuilt, He did not remove the opposition. God allowed the attack to go on, even though He could have instantly swept it away. Yet He allowed it to continue because He was delighted that His people drew closer to Him with a deeper trust than ever before. God did His perfect work both in building the walls and His people.  Even though it is God’s will for you to grow strong in your faith and to work to advance His kingdom, God does not remove the opposition. In fact, He often uses it to strengthen our faith. 
I am convinced that one of the best devices of our enemy is to get us to believe that the Christian life should be a conflict and a struggle free life.  If he can get us to believe this, then when opposition and difficulty comes we will either question our faith, or we will question our God.  

God does not promise His children an opposition free life.  He promises us that when we face opposition, He will be with us in the midst of it and He can use it to strengthen our relationship with Him.

Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, July 16

To listen to the audio version, click here.

Wednesday


So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.  But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it.  And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.  In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.”  And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.”  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 4:6-14

In this part of the story of Nehemiah, the work was half finished. It was an exciting, but dangerous time; much had been done, but much was left to do. Fatigue and discouragement were ready to set in, if given an opportunity.  

It was also about this time that the opposition is getting organized. Instead of just a couple of critics shouting insults we have the beginnings of a conspiracy.  Sanballat has gathered all the disgruntled parties to resist the rebuilding of the wall. 

Sanballat and the Samaritans were in the North, the Arabs were in the south, Tobiah and the Ammonites were in the east, the men of Ashdod were in the west. The Jews were surrounded by these people who were conspiring against them. Have you noticed that negative people tend to gravitate to each other?  The purpose was to fight and stir up trouble. These folks are all around. Some people, their whole purpose in life, seems to be against stuff. 

On the one hand, this was serious: the wall was built to protect against the attacks of violence, and now it seemed that the very building of the wall may prompt an attack to come. It would have been easy for the people to fear and to think perhaps all their work would be made useless.
On the other hand, this wasn’t serious at all. We notice that they didn’t attack - they just talked about it. Sanballat and Tobiah were hoping that the threat of attack would be enough. Satan uses the same strategy of fear against us, and if we are paralyzed by a threat the threat has worked - even when nothing actually happens against us.
Let me ask you an important question: When is discouragement most likely to occur?  Notice that in verse 6 it says,  "So we rebuilt the wall until all of it reached half of its height."  Discouragement comes most often at or near the half way point.  When you start a project you are excited and motivated, you’ve got grand plans and you can’t wait to get going.  At the end of a project, you are motivated because you can see the finish line and you are excited to get it over with.  But, how many of you have half finished projects around your house, and how long have those projects been half finished?  Even as I write this, I’ve got an inside and an outside project that have been sitting around about half-done for several weeks.

This passage from Nehemiah shows us 3 major causes of discouragement:

1. Fatigue -  "the strength of the laborers is giving out" Vince Lombardi once said, "Fatigue makes cowards of all of us.”

2. Frustration - "there was so much rubble" Frustration is usually a matter of perception. Actually the piles are getting smaller.  The people are so discouraged by the conditions that they say, "we cannot rebuild the wall." 

3. Fear - "the enemies will attack us" The opposition always has two goals. One of them is to hinder God's word and one is to stop God's work. 

Perhaps nobody in history (outside of the Bible) has put this better than Winston Churchill.  Against incredible odds, he led a nation to victory in World War 2. I love what he said to a group of young men at Harrow School,October 29, 1941:  "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy." 


This is not at all unlike what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Jeff Frazier