The Book of Nehemiah
Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, June 23, 2019
The Book of Nehemiah
The book of Nehemiah is the sixteenth book in the Bible. It has thirteen chapters and 406 verses. As was noted last week, both Ezra and Nehemiah were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible. Nehemiah himself lived in Persia at the fortress of Susa where he served in the king’s palace as the king’s cupbearer. He served drinks to the king, first tasting them himself in front of the king to assure the king that they were not poised. In those days there was a constant fear of plots and intrigue to kill the king, and poisoning was an easy one.
The book of Nehemiah has been variously divided into two, three, and four parts by different students of it. If we take the four-parts side, they are as follows:
1. Chapters 1 – 2: The first return of Nehemiah to Jerusalem. Nehemiah was permitted by King Artaxerxes of Persia to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. The king provided Nehemiah with everything Nehemiah needed for the journey and for the work of rebuilding the wall including materials.
2. Chapters 3 – 7: The rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem.
Nehemiah inspected the ruins of the wall at night, alone, and took in the gravity of the task ahead. He then mobilized the people to rise up and do the work to erase the shame of Jerusalem on account of a perimeter wall in shambles. The public, including the priests, quickly took up tools and began the work. But soon there was opposition from external enemies who did not want to see the glory of Jerusalem restored. These enemies opposed the work. They mocked the builders and ridiculed the entire project as too poor workmanship. When these tactics didn’t deter the workers, the enemies made threats of violence. They also attempted to blackmail Nehemiah by writing a letter which said there was a rumor that the Jews were building the wall to rebel against Persia. Nehemiah had to order his men to be armed and to work while armed. There were also internal enemies. Some people began getting tired of a project that didn’t seem to make much progress. The task seemed impossible to complete. Why bother. Then the rich were taking advantage of the poor selling them into slavery to foreigners, while Nehemiah had instituted a program to buy back Jews from foreign slavery. Despite these drawbacks, the wall was built and completed in fifty-two days.
3. Chapters 8 – 10: These chapters report the public reading of God’s law and explanation of it to the people by Ezra and other Levites. The people were so touched by the law of God that they cried. They were shown how far they had digressed from God’s standards and there was repentance. They renewed their vows to obey the law of the Lord.
4. Chapters 11 – 13: Nehemiah reorganized Jerusalem and introduced more reforms for effective administration. Nehemiah provides us with leadership strategies that are valid even today. These are mission, vision, strategy, tactics, and all these put together issue into results. There are also other principles garnered from Nehemiah’s leadership style:
1. Observe what God is doing and move with him
2. Know the task ahead
3. Pray and pray and pray
4. Invite others to share the vision
5. Move ahead as a team
6. Observe godly values all through the project
7. Seek God’s guidance every step of the way however small
8. Seek support from authorities
9. Maintain active communication
10. Expect opposition and be prepared for it. Don’t cower and abandon the project in the face of it.
11. Be a servant leader
12. Be concerned about social justice
13. Give the credit to God
14. Affirm your teammates for their contribution to the work
15. Be prepared for a spiritual attack, and more.
The book of Nehemiah is a testimony that holiness and commitment to God must come from the heart. They cannot be legislated and enforced by law. Legislated spirituality cannot last. As soon as the enforcer or enforcers of it leave the scene, it dies out and the people revert to ungodly lifestyles. Also, all of life yearns to be done in God’s way in areas of private and public life. God is looking for men and women who are willing to commit to doing life that way. He wants to commission them to do what needs to be done, for the benefit of both His kingdom and His creation. Enjoy reading Nehemiah.
Worship: The Ultimate Priority
(2012:36 – 38)
How Shall We Then Worship?
Preaching is an irreplaceable aspect of all corporate worship. In fact, the whole church service should revolve around the ministry of the Word. Everything else is either preparatory to, or a response to, the message from Scripture.
When drama, music, comedy, or other activities are allowed to usurp the preaching of the Word, true worship inevitably suffers. And when preaching is subjugated to pomp and circumstance, that also hinders real worship. A “worship” service without the ministry of the Word of God is of questionable value. Moreover, a “church” where the Word of God is not regularly and faithfully preached is no true church.
Edify the flock. Scripture tells us that the purpose of spiritual gifts is for the edification of the whole church (Ephesians 4:12; cf. 1 Corinthians 14:12). Therefore all ministry in the context of the church should somehow be edifying—building up the flock, not just stirring emotions.
Above all, ministry should be aimed at stimulating genuine worship. To do that it must be edifying. This is implied by the expression “worship…in spirit and truth.” As we have noted repeatedly, worship should engage the intellect as well as the emotions. By all means, worship should be passionate, heartfelt, and moving. But the point is not to stir the emotions while turning of the mind. True worship merges heart and mind in a response of pure adoration, based on the truth revealed in the Word.
Music may sometimes move us by the sheer beauty of its sound, but such sentiment is not worship. Music by itself, apart from the truth contained in the lyrics, is not a legitimate springboard for real worship. Similarly, a poignant story may be touching or stirring, but unless the message it conveys is set in the context of biblical truth, any emotions it may stir are of no use in prompting worship. Aroused passions are not necessarily evidencing that true worship is taking place.
Genuine worship is a response to divine truth. It is passionate because it arises out of our love for God. But to be true worship it must also arise out of a correct understanding of His law, His righteousness, His mercy, and His Being. Real worship acknowledges God as He has revealed Himself in His Word. We know from Scripture, for example, that He is the only perfectly holy, all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent source from which flows all goodness, mercy, truth, wisdom, power, and salvation. Worship means ascribing glory to Him because of those truths. It means adoring Him for who He is, for what He has done, and for what He has promised. It must, therefore, be a response to the truth that He has revealed about Himself. Such worship cannot arise out of a vacuum. It is prompted and vitalized by the objective truth of the Word.
Neither rote ceremonies nor mere entertainment is able to provoke such worship—no matter how moving such things may be. Moods and activities that are detached from truth can’t edify. At best they can arouse a purely emotional response. But that isn’t true worship.
Honor the Lord. Hebrews 12:28 says, “Let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.” That verse speaks of the attitude in which we should worship. The Greek word for “service” is latreuo, which literally means “worship.” The point is that worship ought to b done reverently, in a way that honors God. In fact, the Authorized Version translates it this way: “Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, and the next verse adds, “For God is a consuming fire” (v.29).
There is certainly no place in the corporate worship of the church for the kind of frivolous, shallow, giddy atmosphere that often prevails in the sort of church that is desperately seeking to be “relevant” for a postmodern comedy-club culture. To exchange the worship service for a circus is about as far from the spirit of biblical worship “in reverence and awe” as it is possible to get.
“Reverence and awe” refers to a solemn sense of honor as we perceive the majesty of God. It demands both a sense of God’s holiness and a sense of our own sinfulness. Everything in the corporate worship of the church should aim at fostering such an atmosphere.
Why should a church replace preaching and worship with burlesque in the Lord’s Day services? Many who have done it say they are aiming to reach non-Christians. They want to create a user-friendly environment that will be more appealing to unbelievers. Their stated goal is relevance rather than reverence. And their services are designed to appeal to the taste and preferences of unchurched unbelievers, not for the edification of believers who have come together to worship.
Many of these churches give little or no emphasis to the New Testament ordinances. The Lord’s Supper, if observed at all, is relegated to a smaller midweek service. Baptism is virtually deemed optional, and baptisms are normally performed somewhere other than in the Sunday services.
What’s wrong with that? Is there a problem with using the Lord’s Day services as evangelistic meetings? Is there a biblical reason Sunday should be the day believers gather for worship?
Both biblically and historically there are a number of reasons for setting aside the first day of the week for worship and fellowship among believers. Unfortunately, an in-depth examination of all these arguments would be far outside the scope of this brief chapter. But a simple application of the regulative principle yields ample guidance.
We learn from Scripture, for example, that the first day of the week was the day the apostolic church came together to celebrate the Lord’s table: “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them” (Acts 20:7). Paul instructed the Corinthians to do their giving systematically, on the first day of the week, clearly implying that this was the day they came together for worship. History reveals that the early church referred to the first day of the week as the Lord’s Day, an expression found in Revelation 1:10.
….They gathered for worship and fellowship and scattered for evangelism. When a church makes all its meetings evangelistic, believers lose the opportunity to grow, be edified, and worship.
More to the point, there is no warrant in Scripture for adapting the church’s weekly gatherings to the preferences of unbelievers. Indeed, the practice seems to be contrary to the spirit of everything Scripture says about the assembly of believers.
When the church comes together on the Lord’s Day is no time to entertain the lost, amuse the brethren, or otherwise cater to the “felt needs” of those in attendance. This is when we should bow before our God as a congregation and honor Him with our worship.