- Know Your History
- Identifying the Enemy
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
What should it matter if the Israelites rebuilt their wall around Jerusalem? The main issue in building the wall was more of a political statement than a religious one. The wall was essentially a declaration of independence. The Israelites had already rebuilt the Temple, a statement that God was their King, not the Persians. Now they were fortifying their city. Together, this put Israel in the perfect position to rebel. Yet it isn't the Persians that are worried about rebellion, it's the Samaritans and the Arabians. Why?
Know Your History
The Samaritans and Arabians knew the history of Israel. A restored Israel was unlikely to be satisfied with just the territory of Judah. God had promised them the whole land of Canaan, which included Samaria. With Israel under the control of Persia, the surrounding nations didn't have to worry about losing land, however, if Israel gained independence, they would surely try to reclaim the territory. As such, the Samaritans and Arabians allied themselves in attempt to put a stop to the wall’s construction.
Determination is a necessary trait among believers. When we are met with opposition, we can't give in or give up. As the Jews began to rebuild the wall, the Samaritans began to attack, but Nehemiah does not panic. Instead, he leaves the battle in God's hand. Nehemiah assures his men that God will fight the battle, but he also takes logical precautions to aid Israel. God fights the battle, but we still have to show up. As such, Nehemiah orders everyone to camp inside the city; this kept everyone centrally located and provided the most arms for fighting. During the day, Nehemiah divides the men so that half keep guard and the other half build the wall. A trumpeter was used to sound the alarm in the case of an attack. In the previous post I discussed how everyone worked together to build the wall; this continues that theme. Some members of the body are there to ward off attacks and sound the alarm when trouble arises. Others are there to do the work (sew the seeds and spread the word). We must be sure we're doing our part.
Usury is discussed in Exodus 22, Leviticus 25, and Deuteronomy 23, yet the Israelites failed to understand the concept. They were commanded not to commit usury, because they were required to conduct business fairly, but they broke this command.
Usury is the practice of loaning money at obnoxiously high rates; typically the behavior of a loan shark. God's commandment not to engage in this practice is one of God's many commands directed at helping the poor.
You would think, after being in captivity, the Israelites would understand a lot about being poor and thus be sympathetic to the plight of those in need. However, now that they were free, the rich were oppressing the poor. As a prophet of God, Nehemiah was not pleased with this. Nehemiah asks the rich Jews what was the point of leaving captivity, if they were going to enslave each other. This same power play can be seen in black culture. We often find ourselves separated and fighting our own people when we should be working together. This same concept can be applied to America as a whole, in fact. We are to be generous and help our poorer brothers and sisters!
Nehemiah is a prime example of this concept. He is appointed governor of Judah for 12 years, from the 20th to the 32nd year of Artaxerxes. Unlike the previous governors, Nehemiah doesn't exalt himself above the people, because he fears the Lord. He did not require the bread that was due to the governor because he understood that they were not in the position to give. We should be aware of when people are able to give versus when they are not, and like Nehemiah, we should respect those times by not expecting what they cannot give.
Identifying the Enemy
Israel's enemies send for Nehemiah four times, but each time, Nehemiah refuses under the grounds that work would halt with him gone. Just because the devil knocks at the door, it doesn't mean we have to answer! Israel's enemies, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, didn't just aim to stop progress, they meant to do harm to Nehermiah. Having the gift of discernment from God, Nehemiah already knew their intentions. On the 5th inquiry, Sanballat sends a letter accusing the Jews of rebuilding the walls to rebel against Persia. Within this letter, Sanballat also accuses them of setting up a king over the city, specifically accusing Nehemiah of being the one appointed king. Nehemiah denies these claims.
Eventually, a man named Shemaiah—possibly the same Shemaiah who was over the east gate?—asks Nehemiah to meet him at the Temple. Shemaiah is convinced that Sanballat and Geshem will come looking to kill Nehemiah. Nehemiah, however, does not wish to flee. Nehemiah perceives that this man is not of God and figures that he was hired by Sanballat and Geshem to make Nehemiah fear. I find this interesting. Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything, but Nehemiah is certain that hiding is not of God. How did he discern that? In Kings, Elijah also fears for his life and he does flee. God makes it known that this not what he wants from Elijah because there was work to be done. God does not call his people in to hiding mid job. If we are in the middle of carrying out His work, He will fight any obstacles in our way.
Nehemiah was right to be wary of his own kinsmen, however, There were people loyal to Sanballat and Geshem's ally Tobiah in Judah. When these people reported to Tobiah, they informed him of Nehemiah's success. Tobiah then tried to intimidate Nehemiah. Matthew 10:28 tells us not to fear the men who can kill the body (Tobiah), but to fear the One who can kill our soul and body (God). If we are ever in Nehemiah's situation, we must remember this.
References and Footnotes
- "Usury". Merriam Webster; visited April 2017
- “What is Elul?”. My Jewish Learning; visited November 2022
- “Elul”. Wikipedia; visited November 2022