Nehemiah 5:1-13 : Surpise! There's more...

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” There were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and [a]we are helpless because our fields and vineyards belong to others.”
Then I was very angry when I had heard their outcry and these words. I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, “You are exacting usury, each from his brother!” Therefore, I held a great assembly against them. I said to them, “We according to our ability have [b]redeemed our Jewish brothers who were sold to the nations; now would you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us?” Then they were silent and could not find a word to say. Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? 10 And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. 11 Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this [c]promise. 13 I also shook out the [d]front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this [e]promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this [f]promise.

***

Picture this. You've worked and worked and worked for a very specific purpose. The plans have been outlined. You've prayed and prayed and prayed some more. The dream becomes reality; not without struggles mind you, but it's coming to fruition. You begin your work and you see the LORD a part of it. You see Him confirming the passion you had so long ago. It was only a dream then, but now, you can literally reach out and touch what was only in your dreams. The wall is being built. The people are working together. But then you hear the cries on the inside of these walls. The people's hearts are burdened and broken. They are in need of much wisdom. You begin to see that the LORD, in His providence, was with you the whole way with your dream, but has unearthed something that was surprising, but it wouldn't have come to the surface unless you had the plan to build the wall.

This is Nehemiah's life right now.  It is clear that he has seen the labour of both his hands and the many who are helping him to re-build this wall that they are starting to see real progress. But just like anything, there are always stumbling blocks along the way. There's always something more that the LORD desires us to learn. And here, the leadership lesson is this: Be ready to see other needs when you have in mind to fulfill one. Nehemiah becomes for us a beautiful example of some who intercedes on behalf of others.

It is clear that Nehemiah has not known about these concerns of the people because he has been away. His first encounter with his plan was at night. He did not speak with the people - they simply started to show up and become interested in his dream to re-build the wall. But as they worked, there was unearthed a larger concern that was not on Nehemiah's radar. His people were in desperate need of help. They had been in need of help for a while. Re-building the wall would begin to frame for Nehemiah another job he needed to do. He wasn't just re-building a wall - he was re-building a people.

In his passion, he approached the nobles and rulers and says very clearly that this, what they are doing, is not a fair action. It is clear that Nehemiah has a way with words and does not dance around issues that need to be confronted. He 'stands in the gap' for these people and will not give up until the task is done and promises are made. And with his words, they were silent and could not find a word to say (vs. 8).

It's interesting to note, as we follow along in Wiersbe's commentary, that Nehemiah responded in three ways: Anger (vs. 6), Consultation (vs. 7), and Rebuke (vss. 7-11) yet this particular section finishes with four very clear steps, both on Nehemiah's part as well as the nobles' part - Nehemiah shaking his clothes as an object lesson, the collective 'Amen', the people praising the LORD and the nobles doing what they promised. (all found in vs. 13).

I'm struck with the simplicity of these steps. Yet you and I both know that the conflicts we find ourselves in very rarely are ever this 'clean and simple'.  Conflicts often draw out over days and months and we never get to resolve anything because the festering is so detrimental to healing. But by way of object-lesson, I think we, too, need to do a little 'shaking of garments'. This was very common in Jewish culture - and is reminiscent of Jesus commanding His disciples to shake the dust off their feet and move on if they were not welcomed into the home (see Matt. 10:14; cf. Acts 13:51; 18:6).  

Finishing a conflict with a physical act conveys completion - which we all want. An audible agreement for all involved communicates understanding and a promise to fulfill what you have promised is very important. Above all, praising the LORD for His help is a continual marker for Nehemiah's life and should be for our own as well. These are lessons in leadership, but they are lessons for life. 

May we seek to continue to glean all we can through the Holy Spirit's prodding as we walk through the life of Nehemiah.
   

Nehemiah 4 : Overcoming Discouragement

Now it came about that when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became furious and very angry and mocked the Jews. He spoke in the presence of his brothers and the [b]wealthy men of Samaria and said, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Are they going to restore it for themselves? Can they offer sacrifices? Can they finish in a day? Can they revive the stones from the [c]dusty rubble even the burned ones?” Now Tobiah the Ammonite was near him and he said, “Even what they are building—if a fox should [d]jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!”
Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not [e]forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have [f]demoralized the builders.
So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a [g]mind to work.
[h]Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the [i]repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance in it. But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night.
10 Thus [j]in Judah it was said,
“The strength of the burden bearers is failing,
Yet there is much [k]rubbish;
And we ourselves are unable
To rebuild the wall.”
11 Our enemies said, “They will not know or see until we come among them, kill them and put a stop to the work.” 12 When the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times, “[l]They will come up against us from every place where you may turn,” 13 then I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the [m]exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows. 14 When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and 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 houses.”
15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had frustrated their plan, then all of us returned to the wall, each one to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants carried on the work while half of them held the spears, the shields, the bows and the breastplates; and the captains were behind the whole house of Judah. 17 Those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. 18 As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built, while [n]the trumpeter stood near me. 19 I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated on the wall far from one another. 20 At whatever place you hear the sound of the trumpet, [o]rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
21 So we carried on the work with half of them holding spears from [p]dawn until the stars [q]appeared. 22 At that time I also said to the people, “Let each man with his servant spend the night within Jerusalem so that they may be a guard for us by night and a laborer by day.” 23 So neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water.

***

Please notice three things that are present here in this passage to overcome discouragement: togetherness, prayer and truth. It's always difficult when you put your hand to a task and all you hear is ridicule. No doubt, we would never ask for this in our lives, but more often than not, it does happen. So what are we to do when these experiences bring discouragement? 

In this fourth chapter of Nehemiah, the people have a mind to work (see vs. 6). They are working well together and finding much comfort in their effort. But just like the ol' character in all of our lives, Murphy seems to always creep in - anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. But the question is, in this reality, how to we fight Murphy and succeed from becoming further discouraged?

Notice that the people have been together from the start - they have literally been working together, long enough that the whole wall has come to have its height all the way around. That is no small task. One could say they are half-done. But isn't this always the way. We are half-way through something and we lose our steam. We were so driven at the beginning of our work, but we now come to the wall (excuse the pun) and falter; we lax in our efforts, we've become tired. So what can we learn in this passage about pressing on. We need each other to succeed. No one should carry a burden on their own. Absolutely no one. This wall has been built to this point because people have been doing it together. And it will be complete because people will continue to encourage each other to do it together. Community breeds fruit. Every time.

Yet we cannot back away from one of the main points of Nehemiah's story - prayer. Note, again, the fluidity of Nehemiah's prayers. They have just received ridicule from Sanballat and his 'friend'  Tobiah the Ammonite who also gets on the bandwagon of ridicule, but what does Nehemiah do? He prays. Note his prayer: Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have demoralized the builders (vss. 4, 5). I'm not going to say that I agree that we should pray this kind of prayer when we are being ridiculed as it goes against Jesus' command for us to pray for our enemies ( see Matt. 5:43-48) but I will point out that Nehemiah is consistently coming to his LORD as the One in times of distress. We do the opposite. We so often ridicule back, or yell and be angry back, but it never does any good. But praying does. Note the end statement that is provided for us once Nehemiah prays: So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work (vs. 6). Why did they have a mind to work? Because of prayer.Instead of wasting time with fighting back or throwing back ridicule, they simply prayed and put their hand to their work.

The third aspect that I think is very important in this passage is the truths that have been clearly demonstrated to God's people while they worked. Yes, the truth is they have experienced ridicule. Yes there is a threat of battle on their backs, but note what Nehemiah sings over them: 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 houses (vs. 14). Truth is truth. We cannot back away from the threat of battles every day in our lives, but we can either focus on that truth and be discouraged or focus on the truth that brings great encouragement. The whole truth was that the people were being ridiculed AND the LORD who is great and awesome was with them. He hadn't left them for one second. Nehemiah reminds them of the generations that they are representing in building this wall, for the LORD to continue to be glorified in their midst.

When in times of discouragement, we all would do very well with encouraging each other in community, praying for our enemies in our lives, and speaking truth over each other. In this way, the LORD is most glorified.

Nehemiah 3 : The Repairs Begin...

Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated [a]the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel. Next to him the men of Jericho built, and next to [b]them Zaccur the son of Imri built.
Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. Next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz made repairs. And next to him Meshullam the son of Berechiah the son of Meshezabel made repairs. And next to [c]him Zadok the son of Baana also made repairs. Moreover, next to [d]him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not [e]support the work of their masters.
Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Old Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars. Next to them Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, [f]also made repairs for the official seat of the governor of the province beyond the River. Next to him Uzziel the son of Harhaiah of the goldsmiths made repairs. And next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, made repairs, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs. 10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph made repairs opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah made repairs. 11 Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of Furnaces. 12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, the official of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
13 Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and a thousand cubits of the wall to the [g]Refuse Gate.
14 Malchijah the son of Rechab, the official of the district of Beth-haccherem repaired the [h]Refuse Gate. He built it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars.
15 Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, the official of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He built it, covered it and hung its doors with its bolts and its bars, and the wall of the Pool of Shelah at the king’s garden as far as the steps that descend from the city of David. 16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, official of half the district of Beth-zur, made repairs as far as a point opposite the tombs of David, and as far as the artificial pool and the house of the mighty men. 17 After him the Levites carried out repairs under Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, the official of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18 After him their brothers carried out repairs under Bavvai the son of Henadad, official of the other half of the district of Keilah. 19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, the official of Mizpah, repaired [i]another section in front of the ascent of the armory at the Angle. 20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the Angle to the doorway of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 After him Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz repaired another section, from the doorway of Eliashib’s house even as far as the end of [j]his house. 22 After him the priests, the men of the [k]valley, carried out repairs. 23 After [l]them Benjamin and Hasshub carried out repairs in front of their house. After [m]them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah, carried out repairs beside his house. 24 After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah as far as the Angle and as far as the corner. 25 Palal the son of Uzai made repairs in front of the Angle and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king, which is by the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh made repairs. 26 The temple servants living in Ophel made repairs as far as the front of the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower. 27 After [n]them the Tekoites repaired another section in front of the great projecting tower and as far as the wall of Ophel.
28 Above the Horse Gate the priests carried out repairs, each in front of his house. 29 After [o]them Zadok the son of Immer carried out repairs in front of his house. And after him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, carried out repairs. 30 After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah, and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah carried out repairs in front of his own [p]quarters. 31 After him Malchijah, [q]one of the goldsmiths, carried out repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, in front of the [r]Inspection Gate and as far as the upper room of the corner. 32 Between the upper room of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants carried out repairs.

***

Though it is a long chapter, I couldn't leave out any portion of this text as it is very important to see the links between each verse. It is clear that there are three aspects important to this work: unity, dedication and vision.

It may seem too obvious a statement, but note the unity of each of these workers (note the phrase in the text - next to him...). Each began where the other left off; each had their role in a specific place and gave way for the other to complete their work. I imagine much conversation and comradery  in this rebuilding - a blending of joy and effort must have been present here. Imagine yourself working on your section of the wall. Literally picking up stones that have been left in ruins. You place your stone on top of the pre-made mortar and find that the end of that line is complete as your partner in building and re-building literally right next to you with his chosen stone and pre-made mortar. I just can't help but see this as a reflection on our work as Christians today. We cannot possibly do the work of Glorifying the LORD on our own - He is too big a God to have just one person building His fame. We are all called to work in unity together to re-build that which has been broken. Yet please note unity is the essence of this work. All have their part to play. All do it for the Glory of the LORD. All receive their reward (see 1 Cor. 12:12 for a NT example of this).

Dedicated workers came from all over. All for the purpose of re-building. They saw the effort that was required, and gave it their all. It is clear that there were some that did more than others, but that does not mean that their efforts were of less value. We need the dedicated worker in all paths of work. It is interesting to note that there were some who decided to repair what was only in front of where they lived and others who clearly had a greater vision. Both are necessary. Their pride in their work of those who chose to work close at home was due to close proximity to where they live. I see this as an echo of the work we do for the LORD today. The work that we do should be closest to where we live. First start in the home and what surrounds your home dwelling, then work your way out - not the opposite.  Some have clearly been sent to 'go' and others have clearly been sent to 'stay'. Both are necessary for the LORD's Glory.

No where do we hear that there was a lack of vision. In fact, this chapter is written in such a way that it just seems that all knew what they were supposed to do and did it. I find it interesting that no where do we read that Nehemiah commissioned one person, group or other to their section - each simply knew what they needed to do, and no doubt, Nehemiah was intricately involved in their work, yet also watching from a distance. It is clear that throughout this plan that Nehemiah had, he clearly had a vision and knew what was required for him to complete it the task the LORD gave him to do. 

Nehemiah most definitely needed a unified group of people, dedicated to the task of re-building the wall but if he didn't have a vision, the whole plan would have come to nothing. As the writer of Proverbs puts it, Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained (Prov. 29:18). It is an interesting picture - this unrestrained. Eugene Peterson, in The Message paraphrase translates it, If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves; But when they attend to what he reveals, they are most blessed. If the people who worked on this wall did not submit to the vision that was cast, they literally would stumble all over themselves, but they did not - they accepted their part in the greater picture and internalized the vision that was given. 

This, my friends, is a great and lasting picture of who we are in Christ. We all need vision. In this vision, rather than stumbling all over ourselves, we can learn to live and work together for the Glory of the LORD - knowing our part to play in the greater picture of how the LORD has caused all of us to be unified for His purposes and glory.

Nehemiah 2:17-20 : Direction, Communication & Opposition (again)

Then I said to them, “You see the bad situation we are in, that Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we will no longer be a reproach.” 18 I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king’s words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, “Let us arise and build.” So they put their hands to the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite [f]official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, “What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 So I answered them and said to them, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build, but you have no portion, right or memorial in Jerusalem.”

***

It has been clear that Nehemiah has had a plan - directed by God - from the beginning. As we already discussed, he chose to inspect the walls at night so that he would not be distracted or disturbed by by others. He now has done just that and now he gives direction, '...let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem'.

As we continue to read through this book, as I've mentioned a couple of times already, we will see great leadership lessons. This is a lesson that seems too easy, but too often is overlooked. Once we have communicated what needs to be done, we need to get to work. Planning behind a desk rarely gets anything done - yes, we need to direct and plan out our plans - but we need to have the intention of getting up off the chair and doing the planned directive. Nehemiah's direction is clear. We have a wall to rebuild. Let's re-build it! His direction was meant to inspire work.

I appreciate this second lesson as well. Note that Nehemiah desires his followers to know exactly what his motivation is. He has clearly communicated what the LORD had given him to do and they can trust in him because of it. This reminds me of a concept that I have learned very early on in my ministry - be very ready to turn the shoulder. John, when sitting down with his disciples, notices Jesus walking by. He points his finger and says, Behold, the Lamb of God! (Jn. 1:36). The two disciples that he was standing with then began to follow Jesus. That was John's job - to point people to Christ. We read later on in Chapter 3 that John comments, [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease (Jn. 3:30). This is the lesson for us today. And Nehemiah has learned this lesson before the Gospel of John was written. In communicating, we must be ready to turn the shoulder and allow others to acknowledge the LORD in our midst and encourage them to follow Him as we are. His communication was meant to point to God.

And yet, isn't there always the looming reality that there will always be opposition. Yet still, the greatest rebuttal to opposition is faith. Nehemiah calmly says, The God of Heaven will give us success (vs. 20). He has faith that it will succeed because God is a part of it. He has been more than a part of this plan, He's been the reason for their efforts. Nehemiah clearly will not shy away from opposition nor is he asking for it. But when it comes, he is ready because the LORD is on his side. The opposition will come but is meant to convince others of God's presence in their midst.

And so the work continues. Some have said that when we get to this stage of a project or assignment, this is where the real work begins. I disagree. There has been much work leading up to this point in the work of re-building the walls - namely much patience and prayer. But through it all, it is clearly Nehemiah's motivation to direct, communicate and deal with the opposition because he believes in the LORD who called him. May we live in the same way with the tasks that are before us.  

Nehemiah 2:11-16 : Rest, Plans & Secrets

So I came to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my [c]mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding. 13 So I went out at night by the Valley Gate in the direction of the Dragon’s Well and on to the [d]Refuse Gate, inspecting the walls of Jerusalem which were broken down and its gates which were consumed by fire. 14 Then I passed on to the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was no place for [e]my mount to pass. 15 So I went up at night by the ravine and inspected the wall. Then I entered the Valley Gate again and returned. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I had done; nor had I as yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials or the rest who did the work.

***

As I've said from the beginning, we will see many good leadership lessons from Nehemiah, and these few verses are packed full! Nehemiah shows us in these short but deliberate actions on his part that as leaders, we need to be very intentional in our plans.

It seems like a strange yet simple statement but note - once he came to Jerusalem, it was three days before he inspected the walls (vs. 11). Three days! Many would think, 'Get to it yesterday man!' but not Nehemiah. He understands the value of waiting. He understands the value of resting. We should too. It is not written exactly what Nehemiah was doing, but with a chapter behind us, I believe we can hazard a guess that he was most likely sleeping, talking to his companions and praying. Each of these are very important for any leader - commune with our own souls, community with others and community with God. They all wrap up into a nice little lesson for us of rest. When we have a task in front of us, do we take the time to do these things?

Secondly, we see him setting out some plans. Remember this is the first time that he has actually seen the walls so he didn't want to be interrupted. But we read he chose to examine the walls at night so as to not arose concern of the enemy. Smart, very smart. An attribute of a true leader. Wiersbe writes,  'Nehemiah saw more at night than the residents saw in the daylight, for he saw the potential as well as the problems. That’s what makes a leader!' When having a plan in front of us, we need to clearly see the potential as well as the problems. We cannot rush through this process - another reason why Nehemiah chose to inspect the walls at night - he didn't want to be rushed through - he needed time to clearly inspect all that needed to be done. This is a mark of a great leader. Great leaders have great plans. Those plans become great only when we set out to do them. Many a plan never becomes great unless we set out to do them. Yet notice too that in his plans and assessing what needed to be done, he involved others. Another mark of a great leader. You cannot do everything on your own. You need to involve others in the process. Many a plan is a great plan, but if it rests on one person's shoulders, the plan will certainly crumble especially after we're long gone. But if many hands are a part of the carrying out the plan, it will succeed (as we will see in the following chapters regarding the actual building of the wall).

Yet we see a third aspect of of Nehemiah's plan that perhaps makes us a little uncomfortable. Nehemiah had secrets. He inspected the walls at night. He did it without others knowing. He clearly had things 'up his sleeve'. Yet note this verse: And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem and there was no animal with me except the animal on which I was riding (vs. 12). It cannot be made any more clearer than this: Please note that Nehemiah didn't tell anyone what his GOD was putting into his mind to do for Jerusalem. God must be a part of our plans 100% of the time. If God is not a part of our plans, than He is apart from our plans...no plan that does not have God at the centre succeeds. Nehemiah was secretive, not for dishonesty sake or for the purpose of deception. Please note that his secret-plan had everything to do with God and His plan for Nehemiah and Jerusalem. We see this from the beginning of this book - Nehemiah doesn't involve God in the process, he is following after God in His process. Oh so often we work the other way around! We pull on God to work the way we want Him to. This truly is not the way our Creator of Heaven and Earth would have us live. It is imperative for us to submit to the LORD in our lives, our plans, our work - all needs to be in His timing, not ours. Yet I do need to make an additional point about secrets. Note that the secret was made public later (see the following devotional) - Nehemiah had every intention to tell others what he was up to. Those who keep secrets become suspicious. Those who keep secrets to reveal the perfect plan of God in our midst later are good leaders. Let's make sure we distinguish between these two!

And so, we come away, again, with more lessons on leadership - we need to rest, plan and keep to ourselves (at least temporarily) what the LORD would have us do for His Glory. May we take these lessons to heart.

Nehemiah 2:9, 10 : There's always opposition...

Then I came to the governors of the provinces beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite [b]official heard about it, it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel.

*** 

Please excuse my short Scripture text, but I do want to glean all that I can from this book and felt very much that I needed to slow down especially when it came to these two verses. There is always opposition...but the question is, what do we do with the opposition?

Here's what we know:
- Nehemiah is grieving over his own people and its wall (symbol of protection)
- He has risked much already in asking for favour from the King as his cupbearer
- He has been given officers of the army and horsemen (vs. 9) so his presence could not have been unnoticed when traveling from Susa to Jerusalem
- And he has just been given his first opposition

I do not mean to slow down to the point of being overly simplistic, but we're all going to have opposition, especially when we are passionate about what we want to do. I will go as far to say that when something is as monumental a task and involves the LORD's fame, we will always have opposition. This is just how the world works. Yet, in all its decay and corruption, we do have a choice though.

Nehemiah clearly was passionate about this cause and would do his very best to make sure that the walls were re-built. But he may not have been ready to face all that would transpire by way of opposition. But I do find it interesting the ramifications of this first opposition. I believe it made him stronger. I believe all opposition in our lives makes us stronger. But the ticket is that we need to believe and be ready to receive this teaching. If we allow ourselves to be pulled down by opposition, we will not see the purpose in it. I believe with all my heart that the events of our lives all happen because they have been caused by the LORD's hand (Rom. 8:28). The question that is asked though, is do we trust the LORD in these circumstances?

When facing a monumental task, which all seem to be when it is something the LORD puts on our hearts to do, how are we going to respond with opposition? Can we see these circumstances as learning-experiences and events that the LORD has caused for His glory or are we going to get discouraged because it reminds us that it is too difficult?
 
There's always opposition...but we need to remember Who is on our side.

Nehemiah 1:11-2:1-8 : The Risk-Taker

Now I was the cupbearer to the king. And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, that wine was before him, and I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. So the king said to me, “Why is your face sad though you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What would you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. I said to the king, “If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor before you, send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” Then the king said to me, the queen sitting beside him, “How long will your journey be, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me, and I gave him a definite time. And I said to the king, “If it please the king, let letters be given me for the governors of the provinces beyond the River, that they may allow me to pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress which is by the [a]temple, for the wall of the city and for the house to which I will go.” And the king granted them to me because the good hand of my God was on me.

***
And so we come to the first step of Nehemiah's journey to Jerusalem. Though it is an important first step, like all stories, there is always 'pre-steps' for the journey.

We read in the first verse of chapter 2 that the beginnings came about in the month of Nisan. This was four months after Hanani, Nehemiah's brother, came to Susa to tell him about the walls! What is the first lesson we learn about Nehemiah? He was patient, very patient. We would do well to learn this lesson as well. When we have something that we believe the LORD has called us to do, we need to realize that His timeline is often not ours. We would do very well to be guided by Him instead of pulling on Him, requesting Him to follow us. Following Him is ALWAYS better.

Second, note that there has been a relationship that has been fostered with the King and Nehemiah. It is clear that the King cares for Nehemiah. Yet, we cannot forget the  responsibility that Nehemiah has. As out of place the final verse of chapter one looks, it is very important for us to know the role Nehemiah plays. Kings were often the focus of many threats and attacks and to have someone that they could trust was very, very important. Nehemiah literally was putting his life in the King's hands as he would be the one to sample whatever the King had by way of sustenance. And so, when we read this question of the King - Why is your face sad though you are not sick?(vs. 2) - it speaks both of the importance of the King's knowledge of his cupbearer and his care for him. It would most definitely not be appropriate for the cupbearer to be sick - and if he was, he would have been taken out of the King's presence. So this confirms that Nehemiah's health was always carefully monitored but we find here that his emotional health was watched as well, which brings me to my next point.

Being willing to bring before our leaders our cares and concerns are often looked down upon, even in our culture. We would often say that they wouldn't care what us 'little people' think. Yet we do not see this in Nehemiah. We see a man who cared enough to remain in his job, but also waited on the LORD's timing. While doing his job, it was noticed by the King that he was sad. We find Nehemiah's story always at some point of risk but we always find him willing to take the risk for the LORD was with him. And so, in his own grief-stricken and fearful state, he speaks out his rehearsed statement to the King: Let the king live forever. Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire? (vs. 3). And his story leaps forward.

After four months of waiting, Nehemiah is granted an ear from the King. He shares his heart, fearful that the King may banish him from his job and responsibility as cupbearer, or worse, but risks all of this for the LORD's glory. And he is granted his request. Nehemiah then prays before he outlines all that he knows needs to happen for this project to succeed.

What are we willing to risk? First, are we willing to risk the long wait that might be waiting for us for our plans to move forward? Are we willing to risk the silence of God? Are we willing to approach people that may very well deny our case but speak out our hearts anyway? What is clear is that Nehemiah is a man who takes risks. He believes in trusting the LORD in his own story that wasn't even written yet.  

What are we willing to risk today for the LORD's glory?