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NEHEMIAH: Building the Future Series

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"BUILDING THE FUTURE"

Studies in Nehemiah

Term 3, 1995

1. SPIRITUAL BROKEN-HEARTEDNESS

Passage: Nehemiah 1:1-11

*  Introduction: During these next two months our Sunday  morning services  will be focussing on the story of Nehemiah. However  we will be looking for lessons, models and applications for our  own situation  here  as we seek to plot our course towards  the  21st century. We want to be an effective kingdom-agent in God's  hands in  the  new  centuring.  However,  our  thinking,  planning  and preparing begins now. Whether we like it or not, agree with it or not, regret it or not the old order is passing away. We must know what we are aiming for, what course we are following in preparing for  the  future God has for us.  Nehemiah's  prayerfulness,  his preparedness  and his practical leadership all contributed to the success  of  his  venture.  Session would  like  housegroups  and individual persons to work through these weekly study guides, and would  appreciate hearing from you about your  perceptions  about how we should be going about "Building the Future".

 

*  Background: The Book of Nehemiah recounts the events  of  what some describe as the third return of the exiles after the fall of Jerusalem  [586 BCE]. Zerubbabel led the first return  [538]  and the  people  settled down but neglected the  restoration  of  the temple [cf Book of Haggai] and the temple was not restored  until 516. Ezra led the second return in 458 while Nehemiah arrived  on his wall-building mission in 445.

     The  land of Israel is still under the control  of  Babylon. While  life  seems to be going on as normal the  destroyed  walls have  not been repaired. Does it not seem important? Is it a  low priority  for  the  citizens? The  broken  down  walls  represent physical  devastation, national disarray, spiritual  indifference and religious disobedience. Jerusalem always represents more than the  national capital - because of the Temple and its  ceremonies it  was the religious centre. It was Zion, the city of  God,  the Holy  One of Israel.

     The walls represented power and protection, security, safety and peace. The continuing ruin of the walls and the insecurity of the  city was devastating news for Nehemiah to hear.  Notice  the specific  reference  to the reports of the walls and  gates  [3]. Compare  the idea of these walls being "salvation" and the  gates "praise" - cf Isaiah 60:18. Instead of Jerusalem being secure, it was  vulnerable;  instead of a place of glory and a testimony  to God's praise, it was a ruin and an affront. We see how played his part in building the future.

* 1. His Anguish of Spirit:

Consider the picture of the devastation of the city of God -  the ruined  walls,  the  burned gates.  In what  ways  do  you  think legitimate  parallels  can be made with  our  personal  spiritual lives,  with  our  congregational life, or even  with  the  whole Church  up  and  down our land at  present?  Is  there  busyness, complacency, indifference.

     See how immediately and intensely his emotions were engaged.

          # he mourned

          # he fasted

          # he prayed

All  this  was done in the presence of God - "before the  God  of heaven" [4].

*  DISCUSSION  POINT:  How important or relevant is intensity  of spiritual feeling - or the lack of it - for us in our situation?

* 2. His Agony in Supplication:

See  how his intensity ofd feeling comes through in  his  prayer. See how -

          # he affirms God as the sovereign Lord and the

               covenant-God

          # he confesses the sins of the people of Israel,

               their faithlessness and disobedience

          # he reminds God of His word and His promises of

               restoration and renewal if the people will

               repent

     There is real confession of sin and true repentance. We  can almost feel Nehemiah's pain. If spiritual walls are to be rebuilt today, we need to learn to pray like this! We taslk of the  great worldwide prayer movement. We have heard reports of it from GCOWE in  Korea  earlier this year. What signs can we see  that  it  is touching New Zealand - or ourselves. What lessons are there  from the three weeks of praying and waiting last year?

     See Nehemiah's "solidarity" with his countrymen - he  speaks of  "we",  not  "they".  There  is  also  the  further  step   of personalizing the responsibility for the situation occurring  and being put right - "I and my father's house".

*  DISCUSSION  POINT: How can we begin to feel the  pain  of  the church's plight - and help others to feel it too?

* 3. His Attitude to Service: 

Like  Nehemiah, we must remind ourselves the work and the  people are  God's. God is not indifferent. Nehemiah recognised he has  a responsibility,  something  to do. He commits the  enterprise  to God. He does not rush ahead.

* DISCUSSION POINT:  How can we motivate our people to serve  God in a time of great transition and help build the future   


                     "BUILDING THE FUTURE"

                       Studies in Nehemiah

                          Term 3, 1995

                     2. OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS!

                 Study Passage: Nehemiah 2: 1-10

*  Introduction: The times are already changing.  The changes  in society  are  already  impacting and affecting  the  church.  Our desire  in  "Building  the Future" is  for Greyfriars  to  be  as diligent  and  effective in mission,  witness and service in  the coming  century  as  it has been  in  the  20th  century.  Ideas, attitudes, mindsets are all changing -  and we need to get ready, to  retool  if you prefer,  to be God's kingdom-agents in  a  new situation.

     Nehemiah was stunned,  dismayed and  distraught by the  news he  had heard.  For all his eagerness  and willingness to  become involved, he was a court official serving an absolute monarch. He couldn't  just  apply for "leave of absence" on  the  appropriate form  and  go  off  to  do his  own  thing!  He  waited  for  his opportunity.  When it came,  he  grasped it.  Notice some factors surrounding the moment of opportunity.

* 1. The Persistence he displayed:

     #  He  had patience.   It could not have been easy,  but  he         waited. He did not rush ahead. From Kislev [1:1] to Nisan         [2:1] is some 3 months.  For all his sense of urgency and         and agony of spirit, he bided his time.

     #  He prayed.  Is there a link between the "some days" [1:4]         and  this three month's gap?  Do you think 1:5-11 is  the         burden  of  his  praying over some  days  or  over  three         months?

     #  He  trusted God.  When the time came Nehemiah  was honest         enough to say,  "I was very much afraid" [2:2].  Later he         records,  "Then  I  prayed to the God of  heaven,  and  I         answered the king". In life there can be fear - but faith         should be alongside it! See the outcome!

*  DISCUSSION POINT:  In our Building the Future at  what  points will FEAR come into the situation? Is it present already? What is it we fear?  How will FAITH help us?  Note Colossians 4:2 [Living Bible].

2. The Practicalities he considered:

 He had  been praying.  Clearly he had been doing something else. It  would seem prayer and planning are not mutually exclusive  in the  Lord's  work.  What  evidence is there in the  passage  that Nehemiah had already been giving some thought to what he would do

when the king gave a favourable reply?


* DISCUSSION POINT: What can we as a church learn from Nehemiah

at this point?

* 3. The Provision he acknowledged:

The  preliminary  stage of Nehemiah's venture has  proved  almost unbelievably successful.  In success we tend to propose a vote of thanks  to ourselves for our cleverness,  daring,  creativity  or whatever.  Nehemiah  gives credit to God [8b].  In what  ways had God prevailed for Nehemiah and answered his prayers?

* DISCUSSION POINT:  How important is it for us not only to  pray to God but to give Him praise, thanks and glory?

* 4. The Perception he evidenced:

For  the first time [2:10] the narrative hints at the  opposition waiting  on  the wings,  which will feature dramatically as  time goes on.  Sanballat and Tobiah are mentioned. They will be joined by others,  figuring prominently and persistently in the  record. See  how  the reaction is instinctive and  immediate.  Nehemiah's mission to Jerusalem is in its very initial stage,  yet the  word is out among the opposition.  Nehemiah is not so carried away  by the  sense of success,  joy or hope that  he is not alert to  the  danger already threatening beyond the horizon.  His comments make this plain.

     See  how  the  forces of opposition are  not merely  in  the areas  of principles and power-plays but are located in  persons. Similarly, the work of God is focussed in persons - here Nehemiah - and  their  willingness  to  respond  in  faith,   vision   and obedience.   We  are told Sanballat and Tobiah were  "displeased" [RSV] by the news - "highly indignant" [GNB],  "vexed" [NEB].  It "grieved them exceedingly" [KJV]. "They were very much disturbed" [NIV] and "very angry" [LB].

*  DISCUSSION  POINT:  Do we take the possibility/probability  of spiritual opposition seriously enough - or not?  See 1 Corinthians 16:9.


"BUILDING THE FUTURE"

Studies in Nehemiah

Term 3, 1995

3. COMMUNICATING THE VISION

Study Passage: Nehemiah 2: 11-20

* Introduction: Nehemiah has arrived in Jerusalem. Given the ruin of  the  city  and his agonising burden for  the  place  and  the people,  how  can  he  begin to  motivate  others.  For  all  his leadership  abilities  he cannot do the task alone.  How  can  he raise  up  people  who have  been  paralysed  by  disappointment, frustration and a sense of fatalism - there's nothing they can do to  change  the  situation? How can he  rally  others  to  become involved in Building the Future?

 

* 1. The Reconnaisance he made:

Notice the factors of his initial time in Jerusalem -

    

     # three days when he did nothing [11] - or what do you think

       he was doing?

     # he kept his own counsel about what he intended.  This is stated twice [12, 16]. Any suggestions why he acted in this way?

     # his personal survey of the situation [13-15]. He explored

       the walls, the damage, the requirements for himself.

 

**  DISCUSSION POINT: What practical lessons for our own  efforts at  "Building  the Future" can we learn from  Nehemiah's  actions here?

 

* 2. The Review he presented:

It  is only after he has done all this preliminary work  that  he begins  to  talk  to the people in  Jerusalem!  Notice  that  his communication includes the facts - all of them:

     # the ruin and destruction in Jerusalem

     # the spiritual significance of the situation - "trouble",

       "in disgrace" [17]

     # the challenge to commitment and action - "Come, let us

       rebuild the wall of Jerusalem"

     # his personal testimony [18] of what God is already doing!

 

**  DISCUSSION POINT: Share with one another some experience  YOU have  had  of a vision being communicated to you. What  were  the marks of that sharing - what sticks in your memory?

 

 

 

 

* 3. The Response he received:

 

     *  Enthusiasm  -  "Let us start" [18a] A  key  indicator  of responsiveness  is  when  people talk in  terms  of  "us" rather  than "you" or "they"! What happened to the  "cold water" brigade? Don't worry they will soon appear.

     *  Dedication - not only in terms of words but in actions  - "they began this good work" [18b]

     *  Derision - the  opposition also responds [19].  How  well informed  the enemies were! The original makes plain  the mockery and ridicule have strong spiritual  connotations. There  is also an edge to the laughter in the  suggestion that the motive of it all is not renewal and  restoration         but rebellion.

**  DISCUSSION  POINT: Why do you think our Dedication  so  often stops  with words, sentinments and feelings, and fails  to  carry over into actions?

* 4. The Reliance he demonstrated:

See how Nehemiah's reply was not based on the political authority of his royal appointment. It stemmed from the spiritual authority of his divine commission.

     # His confidence in God is unwavering - "The God of heaven"

     # His resolution is unfaltering - "we his servants will..."

     # His judgment is uncompromising -  he draws a line  between        the servants of God and the enemy [Sanballat and co] -

       "but as for you..."

**  DISCUSSION  POINT:  In  what ways can you  see  verse  20  as containing principles of response for us today? OR pray  together in  terms  of  "the God of heaven will" and  "we,  his  servants, will".


                      "BUILDING THE FUTURE"

                       Studies in Nehemiah

                          Term 3, 1995

                          4. TEAM WORK!

                 Study Passage: Nehemiah 3: 1-32

*  Introduction:  Enthusiasm and Dedication, and  even  spiritual fervour,  are  all  very well in their  place.  Getting  down  to practicalities  can be something different. How do  you  organise such a task?

     At  first  sight this looks like a  daunting,  uninteresting chapter. Don't be put off because it sounds like a cross  between a catalogue of names and a job sheet. That's exactly what it  is! What  can  we possibly learn from this old list? We can  see  how Nehemiah  accomplished his task. Remember it was accomplished  in 52  days [6:15]. We learn something of how it was  organised  and how people were motivated to get on with the good work.

     Clearly, it is not an exhaustive list, but a general picture of how it was done. We are told Malkijah [11] worked on a  second section,  but there is no reference to his first section.  Notice the account begins with the rebuilding of the Sheep Gate [1]  and concludes with a reference "to or as far as the Sheep Gate" [32]. The list has taken us right around the whole project.

 

     Facing any task we need to assess our resources - personnel, materials,  financial,  time, skills, etc - and then we  need  to deploy  our  resources  appropriately  and  wisely.  Notice   the strategy that was used:

 

* 1. The big job was broken down into smaller, achievable  tasks. Notice  the  references  to  specific  projects  or  jobs  -   eg repairing/restoring  the  Sheep  Gate;  and  to  clearly  defined sections  of the wall - eg "a thousand cubits/five hundred  yards as  far as the Dung Gate" [13]. For many people the "big  vision" can incomprehensible at best and paralysing at worst. It seems an impossible dream. Yet when broken down into its component parts - suddenly the smaller task is both manageable and achievable.

*  2.  Nehemiah  organised groups who could relate  well  to  one another to work together on the wall.

a.  Families  worked  themselves  on  the  restoration  or   were     responsible for its being done [3 etc].

b.  Groups with a common interest did the same - eg the  priests,     the goldsmiths, the perfumers and the merchants [1, 18, 31].

c.  People from the same locality or small towns and villages  in     the  immediate vicinity worked together as teams [see  5,  7,     13, 15, 16, 17, 18, etc].

*  3. Many people undertook the responsibility for that  part  of the wall close to their own homes.

     How  often  the  phrase occurs  "over  against/opposite  his house" [10]. How often do we overlook an achievable  Kingdom-task lying to our hands to do?

**  DISCUSSION  POINT:  What has Nehemiah's  utilization  of  his resources to say to us in our task of "Building the Future"?  How can we apply these same principles in our situation today?

 

**  CONCLUDE by PRAYING for such unity in relationships,  purpose and action here in Greyfriars.


                      "BUILDING THE FUTURE"

                       Studies in Nehemiah

                          Term 3, 1995

                   5. PROGRESS AND OPPOSITION

                 Study Passage: Nehemiah 4: 1-23

*  Introduction: The challenge has been presented and the  vision shared. With real enthusiasm and practical commitment it has been taken  up  by the people. "Let us rise and build!" We  have  seen with  interest the breakdown of the grand venture  into  smaller, more achievable units, as well as the strategy of allocating  the work  on sections of the wall. Now, in the midst of  the  intense activity of rebuilding - what do we find? Chapter 4 points up for us some very interesting insights into spiritual work.

 

* 1. The Venom against the Work:

In chapter 4 [and later] we find that as the work progresses,  so the opposition intensifies. We have the picture of Sanballat  and the others almost beside themselves with anger.

     # they ridicule the efforts of the builders

     # they rail against them - taunting them

     # they "plot" [NIV] and "conspire" [KJV] against Jerusalem

     # they desire to "fight against" Jerusalem

     # they want to "hinder it" [KJV], to "stir up trouble" [NIV]

       against it, and to "cause confusion in it" [RSV]

 

**  DISCUSSION  POINT: How might some of these  tactics  be  used today to hinder the work of of the Kingdom of God in the world?

 

* 2. The Vexations within the Work:

Meanwhile, within the city and around the walls, how are  things going with the builders? Having begun with the lofty vision, deep dedication and practical resolution, how are  they  persevering? Notice when things threatened to turn sour. It was when they were halfway  to  their  goal  [6] and work was well  on  the  way  to success.  Is there a lesson here for us to heed? See  how  verses 10-12 illustrate how things threatened to come unstuck.

 

     * Discouragement - having worked so hard and so well,

       people became weary in spirit [10]. Did they feel the

       task too much, the time too long or the demands too great?

·          Disappointment - It was "Judah" who felt this way. Some

    might well think that this was the very group which should have been leading the way - an    example to others. What a

       blow it must have been to Nehemiah [cf Genesis 49:10a].

 

 

     * Distractions - the grapevine or the fifth-column was

       busy in Jerusalem with all kinds of stories, scares and rumours [11]. There were constant threats [12]. There was

       a growing sense of worry and fear [14 GNB]

**  DISCUSSION  POINT: What kind of "rubble  [NIV]  or  "rubbish" [KJV]  might be hindering us, and will require clearing  away  in order to build the future [10]?

* 3. The Vigour for the Work:

The  summary in verse 6 catches the attitude and activity of  the builders.  They persevered despite the taunts of Sanballat.  They stuck with it in the face of every insult.

     # they had energy - "the people had a mind to work" [KJV] or  They bustled about everywhere, even later under very real

       threats.

     # They had enthusiasm  - "the people worked with  all  their heart" [NIV]. By personal example, Nehemiah was everywhere.

       Meanwhile the burdenbearers carried with one hand and had a weapon in the other [17].

** DISCUSSION POINT: In "Building the Future" how can we find and maintain such Kingdom-eagerness in the face of many difficulties?

* 4. The Vigilance in the Work:

"Pray and Work" was the motto of the monks in old time.  Nehemiah seems to have had that maxim too.

     * "We prayed to our God and posted a guard" [9]

     * Nehemiah was prepared - he mentions weapons: swords

       spears, and bows, as well as breastplates [13, 16] Where

       had they come from?

     * Nehemiah organised the defence of the walls. He had good

       tactics.  They stood behind the lowest parts of the  wall, the vulnerable points - but they were      also visible. Sanballat would know the defenders were ready to repel

       attackers. What other organisation did he make?

     * Nehemiah constantly encouraged the people - notice his

       little watchwords or slogans: "Don't be afraid of them",

       "Remember the Lord", "Our God will fight for us". They       

       were constantly on the alert [22-3].

** DISCUSSION POINT: In our ministry of building how can we  move from playing games to being on red alert?


                      "BUILDING THE FUTURE"

                       Studies in Nehemiah

                          Term 3, 1995

                   6. INFIGHTING AND INTEGRITY

                 Study Passage: Nehemiah 5: 1-19

Introduction:  Nehemiah's journal provides a faithful  record  of the  project.  It  includes  the  record  of  achievements,   the machinations of Sanballat and his cronies and the blemishes  that spoil  the catalogue of vision, dedication and  perseverance.  It would  be easy to adopt a romantic view of the  rebuiilding,  but Nehemiah is too much of a realist for that. Ther journal  records the division and dissension - no differences are papered over. We are  shown the difficulties of the situation - the real  cost  in "blood, sweat and tears".

1. The Resentment Nehemiah heard: [1-5]

The work has apparently been going forward apace with success and speed,  diligence and dertermination, in spite of  Sanballat  and co.  However,  under  the  surface discontent  has  built  up  to bursting  point. Now it erupts in anger and outrage. In spite  of their privation the outcry is not directed against Nehemiah. They are  having  a struggle economically - barely  subsisting  -  due directly in part to their working so magnificently on the walls.

     # poverty and hunger [2]

     # mortgaging fields, vineyards, olive groves, etc [3]

     # borrowing money to pay taxes [4]

The result of this oppressive situation was that many were having their  children taken into debt slavery [cf Exodus 21:1-11]  They did  not  mind  sacrifice  in order to  restore  the  walls,  but others were taking advantage of the situation for personal  gain. They  felt they were being disinherited in their own  land.  They were sacrificing, paying as heavy cost, and orthers were  getting a fat profit out of it.

*  DISCUSSION POINT: Dissension can hinder any work of God.  What kinds of dissension do you consider we could fall prey to at  the present time?

2. The Rebuke Nehemiah gave: [6-13]

Nehemiah was also angry, but he considered the matter deeply  [7] before a large assembly of the people. His anger stemmed from the fact that those engaging in this outrageous practice should  have known  better, should have shown greater sensitivity to the  real predicament of their people. They were the nobles, the officials, the  leaders of the community. More, Nehemiah alleges,  they  had
not redeemed their fellow countrymen from foreign slavery only to be  dispossessed in their own land and sold all over again!  That would be tragic irony. Silence was the mark of conviction in  the gathering.  Relief  to  the  burdened  and  restoration  to   the dispossessed  quickly and solemnly followed [12,13].  Notice  how praise follows from practical penitence [13b].

 

*  DISCUSSION POINT: How does this incident bear on what  is  our understanding about God's concern for justice and equity?

 

3. The Righteousness Nehemiah evidenced: [14-9]

In  this  section Nehemiah recounts the principles  on  which  he acted during his tenure of office as governor of Judah. Look  ast the integrity of this man:

     # he saw leadership in terms of service rather than personal

       privilege or domination.

     # he was mindful of the Lord and His requirements - "out of

       reverence for God, I did not act like that" [15].

     # he concentrated his whole attention on the great task of

       rebuilding - "I devoted myself to the work on this wall"

       [16a].

     # his goal was the completion of the task rather than

       personal gain and profit [16b]

     # he was sensitive and alert to the need around him [18].

*  DISCUSSION POINT: What lessons in leadership can we draw  from the integrity of Nehemiah?


                      "BUILDING THE FUTURE"

                       Studies in Nehemiah

                          Term 3, 1995

                      7. DOING A GREAT WORK

                 Study Passage: Nehemiah 6: 1-16

* Introduction: Once more in Jerusalem the work is going  forward with a will. However, again the opposition intensifies.  Remember there  is  always something else? As one problem or  obstacle  is overcome another arises! Chapter 6 sees a shift in their tactics. Hitherto the opposition has been directed at the builders and the situation  generally.  Now the objective is  more  personal.  The target is Nehemiah himself.

 

1. How Devious the Adversary!

Having tried the threat of military might, Sanballat, Tobiah  and co  now  adopt a change of strategy - but no change  of  mind  or purpose.  Now  there  is the touch of subtlety  -  the  guise  of friendship  and  diplomacy. Recall that Satan can go about  as  a roaring lion to devour [1 Peter 5:8], or as an angel of light  to delude [2 Cor. 11:14]. For Nehemiah now, in rapid succession, the devices were:

     #  Personal  [2-4]  -  "Let's have  a  personal  meeting  to straighten  this  whole  thing  out"  A  top  level  round  table conference  is  proposed. They want him to  compromise.  See  the pressure of the repeated invitations.

 

     #  Political  [5-7]  -  The "open letter"  in  itself  is  a calculated insult. The rumours contained in it carry the  earlier accusations of rebellion against the king [2:19] even further. It alleges  that  Nehemiah  proposes to  proclaim  himself  king  in Jerusalem!

     # Religious [10] - Masquerading as a prophetic message he is urged  to seek sanctuary in the Temple, because  hired  assassins are  coming to kill him. Had he given in to this, he  would  have been branded a coward and lost all credibility as a leader.

** DISCUSSION POINT: In what ways do you think individuals can be attacked or be put at risk today?

 

2. How Discerning the Answers!

Again  Nehemiah  is resolved not to be deflected  from  his  high purpose or distracted from his real work in Jerusalem. See  again his personal integrity in his response to Sanballat's wiles;  but there is spiritual perception as well.


     *  He  sees that they are trying to stop the work  [3].  Her resists  the temptation to be talking about the work rather  than actually getting on and doing the work!

     * He sees that they are trying to frighten or intimidate him [9]  so  that  fear of the king and the effects  of  the  rumour-mongering will paralyse his will to persevere. Notice also verses 13 and 14 in this regard.

 

     *  He  sees  that they are trying to make  him  sin  and  so discredit  him in the eyes of the people of Jerusalem. Thus,  his support would fall away. You can't be a leader with no followers! The work would come to a halt.

 

** DISCUSSION POINT: "Why should the work stop?" asked  Nehemiah. What kinds of "reasons" can make us stop our Kingdom-work today?

 

3. How Dedicated the Attitude!

 

* See his prayer [9b] "but I prayed, 'Now strengthen my hands"

Nehemiah always takes time to pray - even, or is it  especially?, in tight spots or tricky situations.

*  See his perseverance - four times he responded to  Sanballat's invitation. "I am carrying on a great project" [NIV] "I am  doing a  great  work"  [KJV].  That is  not  presumption  or  pride  or arrogance  or boasting. It is a matter of  spiritual  perspective and priority! It is a statement of attitude and purpose - "so the wall was completed" [16].

 

* See his praise - the glory belongs to the Lord [16b].

 

 

**  DISCUSSION  POINT:  Share with one another  the  thing  which strikes you most strongly about Nehemiah in this chapter.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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