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Remember the Lord

Date: Jul. 7, 2013

Author: Michael Mark

Nehemiah 3:1-4:23

Key Verse: Nehemiah 4:14

“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.’”

There is a proverbs that reads, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight (Prov 3:6 NIV 84),” and throughout our study of Nehemiah we see that he acknowledges the Lord as a way of life. When he heard of the trouble in Jerusalem in Ch. 1, he fasted and mourned for days, and prayed to God. In Ch. 2, when the king asked him why his face was so sad, he made a quick prayer to the Lord right before he answered the king. When the king granted all of his requests, he gave credit to God, saying “the gracious hand of my God was on me.” Finally, when he arrived in Jerusalem, he stayed there three days, and said to the Jews, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” He proceeded to tell them about the gracious hand of God upon him, and the people replied, “Let us start rebuilding,” and they began the work. When he was mocked by his enemies, Nehemiah told them, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”

It did not take long for the rebuilding to begin. Sometimes when we are asked to do something, say, like vacuuming the floor, we’ll plan to do that on the weekend. But several weeks may pass by, and the job was not done. Not so with these Jews. We open immediately in Ch. 3 with the work beginning, and Nehemiah takes us on a counter-clockwise tour though the rebuilding of the wall section by section. They wasted no time in getting started, so here we see their enthusiasm and zeal for the work. Don’t you wish you could tell your children, “The dishes need to be done,” and they run right to it? Look at v.1, “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the tower of Hananel.” The high priest and his fellow priests were the first ones on the job! They were the leaders of the people, their servants in the house of the Lord, and here we see them leading the way in the rebuilding work. This sets a good example, and a good precedent for ministers of the Lord. The servants of the Lord should be at the forefront of every good work, setting an example in word and deed.

We also see that there were many people from outside the city who helped to build the wall. There were people from Jericho, west almost 30 miles away. Men from Tekoa, which was about 14 miles to the south came to help. People from Gibeon and Mizpah, also over 10 miles from the northeast, came up to help. Today, we can drive 10 miles in about 10 minutes. Some of us come from farther away, and we come every week. But in those times there was no car. People would need to walk or ride an animal to get to Jerusalem. A 10 mile walk could take around 3 hours, but imagine walking 9 hours from Jericho in order to help your fellow countrymen. Ordinarily the people would come this way for a feast or celebration, but here we see these people have come to do the good work of rebuilding the wall.

The nobles from Tekoa, however, refused to work (v.5). No reason is given why they did not join in the work. Perhaps they thought they were above this kind of work. Maybe they were fearful because of the opposition, and they could lose their wealth or status. Or maybe they might be in alliance with the enemy, which could be a reason why they are wealthy.  In any case, these nobles should have joined in the work, as their other Tekoaite brothers did, but they refused. Rather than being honored, as everyone else in this chapter was, their record here is a shameful witness and testimony of their refusal to do the good work.

Everyone in town participated in the work. Uzziel, the son of Harhaiah was one of the goldsmiths and he repaired a section (v.8). What’s a goldsmith doing in the building of a wall? I’m pretty sure those blocks were not made out of gold. But he was happy to help in the building of the wall. And I’m sure some of you took notice of Hananiah, the perfume maker. Perfume maker?! His section of the wall probably smelled really great. (I’m joking). These were men of fine arts and trade, but you see that they weren’t above or beyond helping with the work of building the wall. Look at v.12 – “Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.” Here’s another unlikely pair. This is a ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, Alderman Shallum, with his daughters (notice more than one). Daughters? Were they like the muscular type? All joking aside, these were regular women, who were commended for their efforts in building the wall.

Everyone seemed zealous to do the work, but there was one who stood out above the others – you’ll find him in v.20, “Next to him, Baruch son of Zabai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.” Here was a man who was recognized for his passion and zeal for the work of the Lord. No one else is mentioned as being zealous. Perhaps by his zeal, he was able to inspire others to work harder, to motivate them and pick up their spirits. Any supervisor would love to have an employee who loves what they do and go above and beyond what they’re asked to do.

Speaking of those who go above and beyond, there were several people who helped to repair other sections of the wall where there was need, once they were done with theirs. These people performed double duty. In v.21, Meremoth repaired a section in front of Eliashib’s house, in v.4, he had already repaired a section by the Fish Gate. Binnui was a ruler of a half district of Keilah (v.18,24), and he helped near the southern end of the city, as well as up by the priest’s houses. The men of Tekoa more than made up for their noble’s lack of efforts, having done work in both the northern and western sides of the wall (v. 5, 27).

From v.22-30, most of the people recorded repaired the section of walls in front of their own homes. In v.28-29, it says the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house, next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. We don’t necessarily have to go far away to do the work of the Lord. We can do the Lord’s work in and around our homes, just where we are at. As families, we pray and read the Bible together. We teach our children. We can help our neighbors and those close to us. Students who live in the dorms kind of live in the same house, and they can meet to pray together, study God’s word, and invite other students to join them.

And finally, the person not mentioned in all of these, but perhaps the most important person on site was Nehemiah. Though it does not say he had a part in building the wall, he initiated the project, supervised it, and kept watch over it from threats by the enemy. In fact, he is responsible for the entire wall. From all these names in this chapter, we can see that these were all average, everyday people contributing what they could to the Lord’s work. We don’t have to be like celebrities, we don’t have to be John MacArthur or Charles Spurgeon to make an impact. From the people listed in this chapter we can be encouraged to act by faith. Most of these people were not particularly famous people, but they were honored by being written into the Bible forever for their work for the Lord. And we too, will be rewarded if we are faithful in doing the Lord’s work while we are here on earth.

It would be nice to end the sermon here, and say, good luck, Godspeed on your work in the Lord, it’s going to be a smooth ride from here. But as we all know, we will come up against fierce opposition. Look at Ch. 4, v.1-2, “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?’” You can almost see the smoke come out of his nose! Even to this day, you can read about the enemies of Israel breathing out murderous threats to them. The president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said these quotes last year “Israel is nothing more than a mosquito which cannot see the broad horizon of the Iranian nation.” And to journalists he said “[Israel] [has] no roots there in history. They do not even enter the equation for Iran.” His quotes almost sound as silly as Tobiah’s in v.3, “What are they building – even a fox climbing on it would break down their wall of stones!” Why this anger? Why this hatred? It stems back far into history, but at its core, the enemies of God will hate God’s people. This comes down to everyone here – if you are a child of God, there is an enemy – Satan and his demons, who are out to get you. If you are not a child of God, he has already got you. The enemies of God despise God’s people, and will shamelessly ridicule and humiliate them – this comes out of a hatred for God.

Nehemiah did not retaliate. He did not send fuming letters back to Sanballat and Tobiah. Sometimes we might like to argue with someone who ridicules and despises us, but look at what Nehemiah does. He takes it to the Lord, in v.4-5, “Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.” You might wonder how he could pray like this “Do not blot out their sins,” but this should be considered more of a prophecy than a prayer. This is what will happen to those who are the enemies of God. Their insults will turn back on their heads. Their sins will not be blotted out, but exposed for all to see. As Christians, I don’t believe we should pray like this, the reason is because Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them” when he was on the cross. But what we can understand is this, and this is the truth – those who reject or have not accepted the forgiveness of Christ for their sins, especially those who attack the children of God, will find themselves in eternal punishment, suffering and shame for their sins. As Christians and as children of God, we can take heart and take comfort that our God is a just and a righteous God, and trust that he will avenge and repay. If we believe in the shed blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, we have this promise.

The peace of God came over their hearts when they trusted in God’s deliverance, and in v.6 it says, “So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.” I did not speak much about the difficulty of building this wall. The wall they had to build had a perimeter of almost 2 miles. Imagine building a wall from State St. to Martin Luther King Dr., and from 31st St. to 35th. Just imagine even building a wall down the main walkway of this campus – except they had no flat surface to build on, the boundaries were not perfectly straight, and they needed to remove all the rubble from the prior destruction, dig out the old foundations and lay new foundations for the new wall. But in this time, Nehemiah and the Jews managed to close all the gaps in the walls and build it to half its height. And they did it with all their heart. Their hearts were engaged in the work. They did the work cheerfully and vigorously, full of passion and zeal.

However, this zeal would soon fade away, as the enemy tries a stronger attack. And this seems to be our experience as well, that we are constantly under assault, but we’ll soon learn how to deal with them. Now it’s not only Sanballat and Tobiah, but all the surrounding nations of Judah have banded together in anger. In addition to Sanballat and Tobiah are the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the age old enemies, the people of Ashdod, the Philistines. They plotted together to come and fight against Jersusalem and stir up trouble against it. It started out with mockery, some words. Then stronger words. Now it has escalated into a devious plot to cause serious harm, even to kill. They wanted to stir up trouble against Jerusalem, to throw them into confusion, demoralize them and make them give up.

But what was Nehemiah’s response? Look at v.9, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” They went back to the Lord. And that is what we should do every time the enemy threatens us. In this passage, the Jews’ enemy were flesh and blood. They needed to sleep. They had limited resources. Still they posted a guard day and night to be on watch. Our enemy is the devil, who walks around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). Jesus tells us in Luke 21:34-36, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing (bar-hopping), drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Our hearts can be weighed down by the anxieties of life. Watch out for that, and pray. And how may we be able to stand before the Son of Man? When we ask for and receive the forgiveness of our sins, he will wash us clean that we may stand before him.

The cheerfulness and vigor of the Jews’ hearts had been snuffed out, and they have given way to fear. Look at v.10, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.’” What happened to the initial zeal? But this does happen in life. I remember being full of zeal to pull out the ivy from the side of the Bible house, which grew to cover the entire wall. I even dared to put the ladder at a steep angle to get as high as I could. But after about an hour, I realized I took on more than I could handle. I filled about 3 trash bags full of ivy, but I could barely reach halfway up the building. They ivy wasn’t ripping off like I thought it would, so there I was, staring at the building, with 90% of the ivy staring back at me.

But with the Jews it was worse. Not only were they feeling weaker and hopelessness was setting in, but now there are rumors (in v.11-12) that their enemies are now planning to kill them by surprise. Anywhere they go, the Jews will be attacked. They have lost their peace. They are not safe inside Jerusalem or out. Have you ever heard the threat, “You better sleep with one eye open…or, you better make sure you have eyes on the back of your head…” The rumors were that the enemies were plotting ambushes and surprise attacks when the Jews would least expect it. Doesn’t it seem sometimes, that when it rains, it pours? When things could not possibly become worse, they do?

Look at Nehemiah’s response to this crisis in v.13, “Therefore I stationed some people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.” The families were now added to the national guard. They took up arms, and were placed in the low points, where enemies may be able to still climb in, and also at the high points, places on the walls that were built – so the watchmen can see an enemy coming, shoot a bow at them, or throw stones. Nehemiah didn’t ignore the threat, he didn’t sit back and do nothing, and he didn’t give in to fear. Instead he fortified the city’s defenses and said, “If we’re goin down, we’re takin some with us (joking).” We too, should fortify our defenses. Eph 6:10-17 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” All of these items are important. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God, and our shield is faith. Be alert and pray.

Now that the people have been armed, look at the command Nehemiah gives. Can we all please read v.14, “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.’” The first command is, “Don’t be afraid.” All those things I mentioned about Satan are indeed terrifying, but under the Lord’s protection, we don’t have to be afraid. In fact we are commanded not to be. Joshua said to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous (Josh 1:9).” How can we be strong and courageous? Because the Lord is with us wherever we go. Nehemiah continues: “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” Remember the Lord. The Lord promises to help his children. He promises to deliver them. Remember the Lord because he is great. He is mighty. He has stretched out the heavens and created the stars, he tells the seas where it’s boundaries should go. The thunderbolts report back to him, saying “Here am I!” The Lord is awesome. In some translations, it says the Lord is “terrible.” In today’s context, it sounds like the Lord is terrible-bad. But terrible means he is fearsome, and that we should fear him. The mountains quake at him, the hills melt, the earth is burned at his presence (Nah 1:5). He poured out 10 disastrous plagues on Egypt to free his people. Why should we fear what man should do to us, if they should fear what God would do to them?

Now remember the Lord, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes. We didn’t just put on the full armor of God to look pretty. The Jews didn’t station themselves at strategic places in the city for a terrific photo opportunity. If the enemy was a comin, they’ll be a-shootin. Why? Because their families were at stake. Everything they held dear was now on the line. Their countrymen, their children, their wives and their homes. The devil has come to steal, kill and destroy. We need to look out for one another, and also for ourselves. If the father of the household, even the mother, live in unrepentant sin, the family will be devoured except by the grace of God. The Jews now have put up quite a resistance. There is no way the enemy will ever get in anymore unnoticed. Look at the result, v.15, “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.” Nehemiah remembers the Lord, and gives credit where it’s due. God frustrated their plans. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

What happened after the Jews successfully thwarted their enemies plans? Did they kick back, relax on top of the wall, and drink some lemonade? V.15 again says they returned, each to their own work. From that day on, the men were divided into two forces. One to continue the work of building, and the other to stand guard. They were both the builder and the soldier. They did their work on one shift, and they took their sword on the next. But the sword was never far away from them. At any moment, they would run to the defense of their city when called. Usually, people would return to their villages during the night and come back during the day, but Nehemiah called on all to stay in the city, that way, they could resume working quicker, but also, they could readily defend the city. They didn’t get into their pajamas to sleep. It’s hard to fight enemies in your pajamas. So they rarely changed their clothes, and always had their sword ready.

As Christians, we are both builders and soldiers. We hold both the sword and the trowel (a trowel is used to lay mortar between bricks). We should have our swords by our sides at all times, the word of God, and be ready to use it at any moment. There is no excuse for not knowing God’s word. We study it, read it daily, and listen to sound teaching. The other day I conversed with a homeless man about the truths of the Bible. He knew the parables. He said he believed Jesus was God. He spoke with an atheist one time, who was trying to prove that the Bible was false, because in Acts, when Jesus was taken up into the clouds, the clouds could not possibly move fast enough to cover him, therefore, it’s not true. But even the homeless man can discern what’s true, because of the sword of the Spirit. He has no access to internet or books, but he believes the word of God.

At the same time we are also builders, using the tools of the gospel. Just as Nehemiah built the walls, God is building his church. The building blocks of God’s church are not brick and mortar, but they are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We build by preaching the gospel to others, telling them Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures – so that our sins might be forgiven and that we will rise again to receive eternal life in the kingdom of heaven through him. You don’t need to go to seminary, you probably don’t even need a college degree, but you do need faith in the Son of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. With love for Christ, go forth and tell, share the gospel!  We must keep on building, and keep on the armor of God, until he comes again. When his church fully built and full of glory, then my dear friends, we will find rest, and it will be sweet. Let us be encouraged by the zeal of the Jews in Ch. 3, and work with all of our hearts. Onward, Christian soldiers! And let us remember our Lord, our Savior, our King, Redeemer, our strength, our refuge and our eternal hope. Our God will fight for us!

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