Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflections on Ezra 6

    Ezra 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Darius ordered someone to go through the old records kept in Babylonia.
  2. Finally, a scroll was found in Ecbatana, the capital of Media Province, and it said: This official record will show
  3. that in the first year Cyrus was king, he gave orders to rebuild God's temple in Jerusalem, so that sacrifices and offerings could be presented there. It is to be built ninety feet high and ninety feet wide,
  4. with one row of wooden beams for each three rows of large stones. The royal treasury will pay for everything.
  5. Then return to their proper places the gold and silver things that Nebuchadnezzar took from the temple and brought to Babylonia.
  6. King Darius sent this message: Governor Tattenai of Western Province and Shethar Bozenai, you and your advisors must stay away from the temple.
  7. Let the Jewish governor and leaders rebuild it where it stood before. And stop slowing them down!
  8. Starting right now, I am ordering you to help the leaders by paying their expenses from the tax money collected in Western Province.
  9. And don't fail to let the priests in Jerusalem have whatever they need each day so they can offer sacrifices to the God of heaven. Give them young bulls, rams, sheep, as well as wheat, salt, wine, and olive oil.
  10. I want them to be able to offer pleasing sacrifices to God and to pray for me and my family.
  11. If any of you don't obey this order, a wooden beam will be taken from your house and sharpened on one end. Then it will be driven through your body, and your house will be torn down and turned into a garbage dump.
  12. I ask the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem to destroy any king or nation who tries either to change what I have said or to tear down his temple. I, Darius, give these orders, and I expect them to be followed carefully.
  13. Governor Tattenai, Shethar Bozenai, and their advisors carefully obeyed King Darius.
  14. With great success the Jewish leaders continued working on the temple, while Haggai and Zechariah encouraged them by their preaching. And so, the temple was completed at the command of the God of Israel and by the orders of kings Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes of Persia.
  15. On the third day of the month of Adar in the sixth year of the rule of Darius, the temple was finished.
  16. The people of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and everyone else who had returned from exile were happy and celebrated as they dedicated God's temple.
  17. One hundred bulls, two hundred rams, and four hundred lambs were offered as sacrifices at the dedication. Also twelve goats were sacrificed as sin offerings for the twelve tribes of Israel.
  18. Then the priests and Levites were assigned their duties in God's temple in Jerusalem, according to the instructions Moses had written.
  19. Everyone who had returned from exile celebrated Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month.
  20. The priests and Levites had gone through a ceremony to make themselves acceptable to lead in worship. Then some of them killed Passover lambs for those who had returned, including the other priests and themselves.
  21. The sacrifices were eaten by the Israelites who had returned and by the neighboring people who had given up the sinful customs of other nations in order to worship the LORD God of Israel.
  22. For seven days they celebrated the Festival of Thin Bread. Everyone was happy because the LORD God of Israel had made sure that the king of Assyria would be kind to them and help them build the temple.

    The Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile had initially begun rebuilding the temple but had only laid the foundation when they were stopped by oppostion. Construction did not resume for 15 years, but when it did, Tattenai, the governor of the region west of the Euphrates River, went to Jerusalem to investigate what they were up to. He followed up his visit to Jerusalem with a letter to King Darius reporting his findings and forwarding a request by the Jews that a search be made of the royal archives in Babylon for a decree issued by King Cyrus authorizing them to rebuild the "house of God" in Jerusalem.

    Tattenai's investigation of the temple construction may have simply been a precaution or it may have been motivated by a desire to stop the construction. If it was the latter, he was surely disappointed by the outcome, for not only did King Darius verify that the project was authorized by King Cyrus, Darius ordered that the Jews not be hindered in their efforts and that revenue of the region be used to finance the project. Indeed, the decree by King Cyrus to authorize construction of the temple was found and greater detail was included than Ezra had earlier recorded. His decree gave specifics of how the temple should be constructed, specified that its cost should come from the royal treasury, and ruled that the gold and silver articles taken from the original temple by Nebuchadnezzar be returned and placed in the temple when it was completed.

    In addition to upholding King Cyrus' decree authorizing construction of the temple and financing it, King Darius gave explicit instructions that the construction not be hindered adding the decree that for anyone who interfered with the construction "a beam be torn from his house and raised up," and he be impaled on it and his house destroyed. (6:11) Thus, Tattenai faithfully carried out the king's decree and the temple construction quickly completed. Upon completion, the Israelites "celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy." (6:16) The accounting given of their offerings of bulls, rams, etc, reflects their relative poverty at the time. In addition to the celebration, they appointed priests and Levites to attend to the duties of the temple as prescribed "in the book of Moses." (6:18)

    Then, for the first time in 70 years they observed Passover, signaling the end of the exile. With the temple rebuilt and the sacrificial system reinstated, it would be important for those who wanted to be in fellowship with God to be in Judah.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reflections on Ezra 5

    Ezra 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Then the LORD God of Israel told the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to speak in his name to the people of Judah and Jerusalem. And they did.
  2. So Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the priest urged the people to start working on the temple again, and God's prophets encouraged them.
  3. Governor Tattenai of Western Province and his assistant Shethar Bozenai got together with some of their officials. Then they went to Jerusalem and said to the people, "Who told you to rebuild this temple?
  4. Give us the names of the workers!"
  5. But God was looking after the Jewish leaders. So the governor and his group decided not to make the people stop working on the temple until they could report to Darius and get his advice.
  6. Governor Tattenai, Shethar Bozenai, and their advisors sent a report to Darius,
  7. which said: King Darius, we wish you the best!
  8. We went to Judah, where the temple of the great God is being built with huge stones and wooden beams set in the walls. Everyone is working hard, and the building is going up fast.
  9. We asked those in charge to tell us who gave them permission to rebuild the temple.
  10. We also asked for the names of their leaders, so that we could write them down for you.
  11. They claimed to be servants of the God who rules heaven and earth. And they said they were rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago by one of Israel's greatest kings.
  12. We were told that their people had made God angry, and he let them be captured by Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who took them away as captives to Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar tore down their temple,
  13. took its gold and silver articles, and put them in the temple of his own god in Babylon. They also said that during the first year Cyrus was king of Babylonia, he gave orders for God's temple to be rebuilt in Jerusalem where it had stood before. So Cyrus appointed Sheshbazzar governor of Judah and sent these gold and silver articles for him to put in the temple.
  14. (SEE 5:13)
  15. (SEE 5:13)
  16. Sheshbazzar then went to Jerusalem and laid the foundation for the temple, and the work is still going on.
  17. Your Majesty, please have someone look up the old records in Babylonia and find out if King Cyrus really did give orders to rebuild God's temple in Jerusalem. We will do whatever you think we should.

    Ezra returned to Judah with a group of Jews for the express purpose of rebuilding the temple. Soon after their return they built an altar so they could begin offering burnt offerings to the Lord. In the second year after their return, they laid the foundation of the temple. But then they began to experience opposition from those who were already living in the land and the project came to a halt. It did not resume for another 15 years. It was at the urging of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, mentioned in verse 1 of this chapter, that the Jews returned their attention to building the temple. In the books of Haggai and Zechariah we can see the messages they gave the people, telling them that the hard times they were experiencing during this period was due to their failure to rebuild the temple.

    Encouraged by these two prophets the people returned to building the temple. And when they did, Tattenai the governor of the region, appeared on the scene. Since there was considerable political unrest at the time, it was natural that he investigate the intentions of the Jews to be sure they were not rebelling against the empire. Having made his investigation, Tattenai sent a letter to King Darius reporting his findings. He found that "the house of the great God in the province of Judah" was indeed being built and was "being done diligently and succeeding through the people's efforts." (5:8) Tattenai asked the Jews who had ordered this rebuilding of the temple and for a listing of names of the Jewish leaders involved.

    The Jews told him that King Cyrus of Babylon had authorized the rebuilding of "this house of God." Furthermore, he released the gold and silver articles Nebuchnezzar had taken from the original temple for them to put in the temple when it was completed. The Jews requested that King Darius conduct a search of the royal archives to verify the decree issued by King Cyrus and in turn that "the king's decision regarding this matter be sent to us." (5:17)

    Beginning with King Cyrus' original decree that the temple be rebuilt, it was established that the real authorization for rebuilding the temple came from God. Cyrus stated that "The LORD, the God of heaven, . . . has appointed me to build Him a house at Jerusalem in Judah." (1:2) The prophets Haggai and Zechariah also verified that it was "the God of Israel" who was pressing for the temple to be rebuilt. (5:1) God had already used King Cyrus to initiate the project and now He would use King Darius to restart it. God's purposes would be fulfilled and He was not opposed to using pagan kings to make them happen. The question was whether or not those who were called by His name would do their part.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Reflections on Ezra 4

    Ezra 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The enemies of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people had come back to rebuild the temple of the LORD God of Israel.
  2. So they went to Zerubbabel and to the family leaders and said, "Let us help! Ever since King Esarhaddon of Assyria brought us here, we have worshiped your God and offered sacrifices to him."
  3. But Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the family leaders answered, "You cannot take part in building a temple for the LORD our God! We will build it ourselves, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us."
  4. Then the neighboring people began to do everything possible to frighten the Jews and to make them stop building.
  5. During the time that Cyrus was king and even until Darius became king, they kept bribing government officials to slow down the work.
  6. In the first year that Xerxes was king, the neighboring people brought written charges against the people of Judah and Jerusalem.
  7. Later, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel, and their advisors got together and wrote a letter to Artaxerxes when he was king of Persia. It was written in Aramaic and had to be translated.
  8. A letter was also written to Artaxerxes about Jerusalem by Governor Rehum, Secretary Shimshai, and their advisors, including the judges, the governors, the officials, and the local leaders. They were joined in writing this letter by people from Erech and Babylonia, the Elamites from Susa, and people from other foreign nations that the great and famous Ashurbanipal had forced to settle in Samaria and other parts of Western Province.
  9. (SEE 4:8)
  10. (SEE 4:8)
  11. This letter said: Your Majesty King Artaxerxes, we are your servants from everywhere in Western Province, and we send you our greetings.
  12. You should know that the Jews who left your country have moved back to Jerusalem and are now rebuilding that terrible city. In fact, they have almost finished rebuilding the walls and repairing the foundations.
  13. You should also know that if the walls are completed and the city is rebuilt, the Jews won't pay any kind of taxes, and there will be less money in your treasury.
  14. We are telling you this, because you have done so much for us, and we want everyone to respect you.
  15. If you look up the official records of your ancestors, you will find that Jerusalem has constantly rebelled and has led others to rebel against kings and provinces. That's why the city was destroyed in the first place.
  16. If Jerusalem is rebuilt and its walls completed, you will no longer have control over Western Province.
  17. King Artaxerxes answered: Greetings to Governor Rehum, Secretary Shimshai, and to your advisors in Samaria and other parts of Western Province.
  18. After your letter was translated and read to me,
  19. I had the old records checked. It is true that for years Jerusalem has rebelled and caused trouble for other kings and nations.
  20. And powerful kings have ruled Western Province from Jerusalem and have collected all kinds of taxes.
  21. I want you to command the people to stop rebuilding the city until I give further notice.
  22. Do this right now, so that no harm will come to the kingdom.
  23. As soon as this letter was read, Governor Rehum, Secretary Shimshai, and their advisors went to Jerusalem and forced everyone to stop rebuilding the city.
  24. The Jews were forced to stop work on the temple and were not able to do any more building until the year after Darius became king of Persia.

    The return of Jews to Palestine was agreeable with the people already living there as long as they didn't start trying to change things. But their efforts to rebuild the temple and later the walls of Jerusalem suggested they were attempting to take back their land, upsetting life as these people had known it over the past 70 years. Therefore, those already living in the land, referred to here as "the enemies of Judah and Benjamin," attempted to stop any rebuilding efforts. Their first attempt was to pretend to be helpful, volunteering to help rebuild the temple. In this way they could sabotage the project from within.  But the leaders of the project, "Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel's families" immediately turned down their offer of help: "You may have no part with us in building a house for our God, since we alone must build it for the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us." (4:3)

    Thwarted in this attempt to stop the project from within, they turned to instilling fear in the Israelites and hiring counselors to lobby against them at the royal court. Such opposition succeeded in stopping the construction for about 16 years, at which time work on the temple resumed, in "the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia." (4:24) Once resumed, work on the temple continued until it was completed, at which time they turned to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. This also met opposition. It was this opposition that Ezra addresses in verses 6-23 in this chapter. Therefore, chronologically, verses 6-23 follow verse 24, and verse 24 immediately follows verse 5.

    When the Jews completed the temple and turned to rebuilding the walls, their enemies in Palestine sent a letter to King Artaxerxes of Persia who controlled Palestine. They alerted him to the rebuilding efforts of the Jews and suggested that it was an act of rebellion and that once the walls were rebuilt the Jews would no longer pay tribute to the king. The king responded with an edict that the work be stopped thus authorizing the local authorities to use force in halting the work. Later, when Nehemiah took his request to King Artaxerxes, the king reversed his edict and authorized Nehemiah to rebuild the walls.

    Returning the Jews to their homeland, rebuilding it and returning it to them as their own land was not an easy or smooth process. The rebuilding process included not only the land but the spiritual condition of the people. They had been taken from their land because they broke the covenant with their God. This covenant relationship would have to be rebuilt if they were to return to any semblance of life as they had once known it. Rebuilding the temple was the beginning of that process.  Contrary to common thought, the strengthening of our relationship with God does not happen simply because He makes things go our way. Rather it is in having to depend on Him through difficulties and oppostion to get to the intended outcome that our relationship with Him is strengthened.  As James points in his letter, "(2)  Consider it a great joy, my brothers, whenever you experience various trials, (3)  knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. (4)  But endurance must do its complete work, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing." (James 1:2-4) It is through difficulties that we come to be mature in our faith.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflections on Ezra 3

    Ezra 03 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. During the seventh month of the year, the Israelites who had settled in their towns went to Jerusalem.
  2. The priest Joshua son of Jozadak, together with the other priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his relatives rebuilt the altar of Israel's God. Then they were able to offer sacrifices there by following the instructions God had given to Moses.
  3. And they built the altar where it had stood before, even though they were afraid of the people who were already living around there. Then every morning and evening they burned sacrifices and offerings to the LORD.
  4. The people followed the rules for celebrating the Festival of Shelters and offered the proper sacrifices each day.
  5. They offered sacrifices to please the LORD, sacrifices at each New Moon Festival, and sacrifices at the rest of the LORD's festivals. Every offering the people had brought was presented to the LORD.
  6. Although work on the temple itself had not yet begun, the people started offering sacrifices on the LORD's altar on the first day of the seventh month of that year.
  7. King Cyrus of Persia had said the Israelites could have cedar trees brought from Lebanon to Joppa by sea. So they sent grain, wine, and olive oil to the cities of Tyre and Sidon as payment for these trees, and they gave money to the stoneworkers and carpenters.
  8. During the second month of the second year after the people had returned from Babylonia, they started rebuilding the LORD's temple. Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the priests, the Levites, and everyone else who had returned started working. Every Levite over twenty years of age was put in charge of some part of the work.
  9. The Levites in charge of the whole project were Joshua and his sons and relatives and Kadmiel and his sons from the family of Hodaviah. The family of Henadad worked along with them.
  10. When the builders had finished laying the foundation of the temple, the priests put on their robes and blew trumpets in honor of the LORD, while the Levites from the family of Asaph praised God with cymbals. All of them followed the instructions given years before by King David.
  11. They praised the LORD and gave thanks as they took turns singing: "The LORD is good! His faithful love for Israel will last forever." Everyone started shouting and praising the LORD because work on the foundation of the temple had begun.
  12. Many of the older priests and Levites and the heads of families cried aloud because they remembered seeing the first temple years before. But others were so happy that they celebrated with joyful shouts.
  13. Their shouting and crying were so noisy that it all sounded alike and could be heard a long way off.

    Upon arriving in Jerusalem in their return from Babylon, the Jews collected contributions from each family for rebuilding the temple and then went to their hometowns to get settled. After settling in, their first project was to build an altar on which they could make burnt offering to the Lord, doing all in accordance with "the law of Moses." (3:2) Once the altar was ready they began offering the morning and evening burnt offerings. Then they celebrated the Festival of Booths and settled into regular offerings "for the beginning of each month and for all the LORD's appointed holy occasions, as well as the freewill offerings brought to the LORD." (3:5) They did all as prescribed by the law of Moses. They offered the burnt offerings "even though they feared the surrounding peoples." (3:3) Forsaking the covenant had resulted in their 70 year exile. They did not intend to let this happen again.

    Having accomplished this important step, they turned their attention to the temple. Using the money they had collected upon first arriving in Jerusalem, they paid stonecutters and artisans and purchased cedar wood from Lebanon which they imported to Jerusalem. Priests were appointed to supervise the work to be sure it met the stipulations of the law. Construction began in the second month of the second year after their arrival in Jerusalem. When the foundation had been laid for the temple, a celebration was held in accordance with instructions that had been given by King David. This was a time of mixed emotions as they all were joyful on this occasion, but those who had seen the first temple also mourned for what they had lost.

    It is foolish to think we can do better apart from the Lord than we can with Him as was the case with Israel. But foolishness is no respecter of persons nor is it reserved for the unintelligent. Many otherwise intelligent people become fools when it comes to understanding this truth.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reflections on Ezra 2

    Ezra 02 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia had captured many of the people of Judah and had taken them as prisoners to Babylonia. Now they were on their way back to Jerusalem and to their own towns everywhere in Judah.
  2. Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah were in charge of the ones who were coming back. And here is a list of how many returned from each family group: 2,172 from the family of Parosh; 372 from the family of Shephatiah; 775 from the family of Arah; 2,812 descendants of Jeshua and Joab from the family of Pahath Moab; 1,254 from the family of Elam; 945 from the family of Zattu; 760 from the family of Zaccai; 642 from the family of Bani; 623 from the family of Bebai; 1,222 from the family of Azgad; 666 from the family of Adonikam; 2,056 from the family of Bigvai; 454 from the family of Adin; 98 from the family of Ater, also known as Hezekiah; 323 from the family of Bezai; 112 from the family of Jorah; 223 from the family of Hashum; and 95 from the family of Gibbar.
  3. (SEE 2:2)
  4. (SEE 2:2)
  5. (SEE 2:2)
  6. (SEE 2:2)
  7. (SEE 2:2)
  8. (SEE 2:2)
  9. (SEE 2:2)
  10. (SEE 2:2)
  11. (SEE 2:2)
  12. (SEE 2:2)
  13. (SEE 2:2)
  14. (SEE 2:2)
  15. (SEE 2:2)
  16. (SEE 2:2)
  17. (SEE 2:2)
  18. (SEE 2:2)
  19. (SEE 2:2)
  20. (SEE 2:2)
  21. Here is how many people returned whose ancestors had come from the following towns: 123 from Bethlehem; 56 from Netophah; 128 from Anathoth; 42 from Azmaveth; 743 from Kiriatharim, Chephirah, and Beeroth; 621 from Ramah and Geba; 122 from Michmas; 223 from Bethel and Ai; 52 from Nebo; 156 from Magbish; 1,254 from the other Elam; 320 from Harim; 725 from Lod, Hadid, and Ono; 345 from Jericho; and 3,630 from Senaah.
  22. (SEE 2:21)
  23. (SEE 2:21)
  24. (SEE 2:21)
  25. (SEE 2:21)
  26. (SEE 2:21)
  27. (SEE 2:21)
  28. (SEE 2:21)
  29. (SEE 2:21)
  30. (SEE 2:21)
  31. (SEE 2:21)
  32. (SEE 2:21)
  33. (SEE 2:21)
  34. (SEE 2:21)
  35. (SEE 2:21)
  36. Here is a list of how many returned from each family of priests: 973 descendants of Jeshua from the family of Jedaiah; 1,052 from the family of Immer; 1,247 from the family of Pashhur; and 1,017 from the family of Harim.
  37. (SEE 2:36)
  38. (SEE 2:36)
  39. (SEE 2:36)
  40. And here is a list of how many returned from the families of Levites: 74 descendants of Hodaviah from the families of Jeshua and Kadmiel; 128 descendants of Asaph from the temple musicians; and 139 descendants of Shallum, Ater, Talmon, Akkub, Hatita, and Shobai from the temple guards.
  41. (SEE 2:40)
  42. (SEE 2:40)
  43. Here is a list of the families of temple workers whose descendants returned: Ziha, Hasupha, Tabbaoth, Keros, Siaha, Padon, Lebanah, Hagabah, Akkub, Hagab, Shamlai, Hanan, Giddel, Gahar, Reaiah, Rezin, Nekoda, Gazzam, Uzza, Paseah, Besai, Asnah, Meunim, Nephisim, Bakbuk, Hakupha, Harhur, Bazluth, Mehida, Harsha, Barkos, Sisera, Temah, Neziah, and Hatipha.
  44. (SEE 2:43)
  45. (SEE 2:43)
  46. (SEE 2:43)
  47. (SEE 2:43)
  48. (SEE 2:43)
  49. (SEE 2:43)
  50. (SEE 2:43)
  51. (SEE 2:43)
  52. (SEE 2:43)
  53. (SEE 2:43)
  54. (SEE 2:43)
  55. Here is a list of Solomon's servants whose descendants returned: Sotai, Hassophereth, Peruda, Jaalah, Darkon, Giddel, Shephatiah, Hattil, Pochereth Hazzebaim, and Ami.
  56. (SEE 2:55)
  57. (SEE 2:55)
  58. A total of 392 descendants of temple workers and of Solomon's servants returned.
  59. There were 652 who returned from the families of Delaiah, Tobiah, and Nekoda, though they could not prove that they were Israelites. They had lived in the Babylonian towns of Tel-Melah, Tel-Harsha, Cherub, Addan, and Immer.
  60. (SEE 2:59)
  61. The families of Habaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai could not prove that they were priests. The ancestor of the family of Barzillai had married the daughter of Barzillai from Gilead and had taken his wife's family name. But the records of these three families could not be found, and none of them were allowed to serve as priests.
  62. (SEE 2:61)
  63. In fact, the governor told them, "You cannot eat the food offered to God until we find out if you really are priests."
  64. There were 42,360 who returned, in addition to 7,337 servants and 200 musicians, both women and men. They brought with them 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.
  65. (SEE 2:64)
  66. (SEE 2:64)
  67. (SEE 2:64)
  68. When the people came to where the LORD's temple had been in Jerusalem, some of the family leaders gave gifts so it could be rebuilt in the same place.
  69. They gave all they could, and it came to a total of 1,030 pounds of gold, 5,740 pounds of silver, and 100 robes for the priests.
  70. Everyone returned to the towns from which their families had come, including the priests, the Levites, the musicians, the temple guards, and the workers.

    Ezra recorded in chapter two a listing of those who returned to Judah. They are listed in various groupings which include: families, towns, priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers, temple servants, and descendants of Solomon's servants. A Nehemiah is listed among those returning, but this was not the Nehemiah who returned 90 years later to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem.  Some of those returning were unable to prove themselves to be Israelites and others who claimed to be priests could not be found in the geneology of priests.

    It appears that upon arrival in Judah the returnees first went to Jerusalem to "the Lord's house," and there family leaders gave freewill offerings for rebuilding the temple. At this gathering in Jerusalem they no doubt discussed their plans for the rebuilding project. Then they all went to settle into their hometowns.

    These were a people without a home even though they were returning to "hometowns." Those who were old enough to have actually lived in these towns had not lived in them for 70 years, and so didn't likely have the feeling of home. Plus, the land was still occupied territory under the rule of the Persians. It wasn't truly theirs. If place or location is our bases for belonging, such circumstances can leave one feeling very lost. But if our bases of belonging is in the Lord, such circumstances can be unsettling, but we are not lost. We belong to the One who created it all. We have a sense of belonging wherever we are.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Reflections on Ezra 1

    Ezra 01 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Years ago the LORD sent Jeremiah with a message about a promise for the people of Israel. Then in the first year that Cyrus was king of Persia, the LORD kept his promise by having Cyrus send this official message to all parts of his kingdom:
  2. I am King Cyrus of Persia. The LORD God of heaven, who is also the God of Israel, has made me the ruler of all nations on earth. And he has chosen me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. The LORD God will watch over and encourage any of his people who want to go back to Jerusalem and help build the temple.
  3. (SEE 1:2)
  4. Everyone else must provide what is needed. They must give money, supplies, and animals, as well as gifts for rebuilding God's temple.
  5. Many people felt that the LORD God wanted them to help rebuild his temple, and they made plans to go to Jerusalem. Among them were priests, Levites, and leaders of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
  6. The others helped by giving silver articles, gold, personal possessions, cattle, and other valuable gifts, as well as offerings for the temple.
  7. King Cyrus gave back the things that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the LORD's temple in Jerusalem and had put in the temple of his own gods.
  8. Cyrus placed Mithredath, his chief treasurer, in charge of these things. Mithredath counted them and gave a list to Sheshbazzar, the governor of Judah.
  9. Included among them were: 30 large gold dishes; 1,000 large silver dishes; 29 other dishes; 30 gold bowls; 410 silver bowls; and 1,000 other articles.
  10. (SEE 1:9)
  11. Altogether, there were 5,400 gold and silver dishes, bowls, and other articles. Sheshbazzar took them with him when he and the others returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia.

    Ezra points out in the first verse of his book that with the proclamation of King Cyrus to send Israelites back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, prophecy was being fulfilled. Ezra refers to Jeremiah's prophecy which states that, "When 70 years for Babylon are complete, I will attend to you and will confirm My promise concerning you to restore you to this place." (29:10) However, even before Jeremiah, Isaiah prophecied this event and even named Cyrus as the one who would make the proclamation: "I am the LORD, who made everything; who stretched out the heavens by Myself; who alone spread out the earth; . . . . who says to Cyrus: My shepherd, he will fulfill all My pleasure and say to Jerusalem: She will be rebuilt, and of the temple: Its foundation will be laid." (Isaiah 44:24, 28) Not only did Cyrus give the proclamation that fulfilled this prophecy, he did so at the Lord's bidding, though he was not a believer in this God of Israel. Truly "A king's heart is a water channel in the LORD's hand: He directs it wherever He chooses." (Proverbs 21:1)

    Cyrus' proclamation encouraged Jews to "go to Jerusalem in Judah and build the house of the LORD," and also encouraged those who did not go to assist them "with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, along with a freewill offering for the house of God in Jerusalem." (1:3, 4) And this is what took place.  Those who "God had motivated" prepared to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the Lord's house, and "All their neighbors supported them with silver articles, gold, goods, livestock, and valuables, in addition to all that was given as a freewill offering." (1:6) In addition, King Cyrus brought out all the articles taken from the temple when Babylon took Israel captive and gave them to those making the journey to Jerusalem so they might be returned to the temple.

    God's purposes will be fulfilled, and will be accomplished by willing participants whether intentionally or not. Cyrus had his own reasons for his proclamation that fulfilled prophecy, but became an unwitting participant in God's plan.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 12

    Nehemiah 12 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Many priests and Levites had returned from Babylonia with Zerubbabel and Joshua as their leaders. Those priests were Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,
  2. Amariah, Malluch, Hattush,
  3. Shecaniah, Rehum, Meremoth,
  4. Iddo, Ginnethoi, Abijah,
  5. Mijamin, Maadiah, Bilgah,
  6. Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah,
  7. Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, and another Jedaiah. These were the leading priests and their assistants during the time of Joshua.
  8. The Levites who returned were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah. They and their assistants were responsible for the songs of praise,
  9. while Bakbukiah and Unno, together with their assistants, were responsible for the choral responses.
  10. Joshua was the father of Joiakim, the grandfather of Eliashib, and the great-grandfather of Joiada.
  11. Joiada was the father of Jonathan and the grandfather of Jaddua.
  12. When Joiakim was high priest, the following priests were leaders of their clans: Meraiah of the Seraiah clan, Hananiah of Jeremiah,
  13. Meshullam of Ezra, Jehohanan of Amariah,
  14. Jonathan of Malluchi, Joseph of Shebaniah,
  15. Adna of Harim, Helkai of Meraioth,
  16. Zechariah of Iddo, Meshullam of Ginnethon,
  17. Zichri of Abijah, Piltai of Moadiah,
  18. Shammua of Bilgah, Jehonathan of Shemaiah,
  19. Mattenai of Joiarib, Uzzi of Jedaiah,
  20. Kallai of Sallai, Eber of Amok,
  21. Hashabiah of Hilkiah, and Nethanel of Jedaiah.
  22. During the time of the high priests Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan, and Jaddua, and including the time that Darius was king of Persia, a record was kept of the heads of the Levite and priestly families.
  23. However, no official record was kept of the heads of the Levite clans after the death of Johanan, the grandson of Eliashib.
  24. Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their assistants organized two choirs of Levites to offer praises to God, just as King David, the man of God, had commanded.
  25. Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, and Akkub were responsible for guarding the storerooms near the temple gates.
  26. All of these men lived during the time of Joiakim and during the time that I was governor and Ezra, a teacher of the Law of Moses, was priest.
  27. When the city wall was dedicated, Levites from everywhere in Judah were invited to join in the celebration with songs of praise and with the music of cymbals, small harps, and other stringed instruments.
  28. The Levite singers lived in villages around Jerusalem, and so they came from there, as well as from the villages around Netophah, Beth-Gilgal, Geba, and Azmaveth.
  29. (SEE 12:28)
  30. The priests and Levites held special ceremonies to make themselves holy, and then they did the same for the rest of the people and for the gates and walls of the city.
  31. I brought the leaders of Judah to the top of the city wall and put them in charge of the two groups that were to march around on top of the wall, singing praises to God. One group marched to the right in the direction of Garbage Gate.
  32. Hoshaiah and half of the leaders followed them.
  33. Then came the priests Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam,
  34. Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, and Jeremiah,
  35. all of them blowing trumpets. Next, there was Zechariah of the Asaph clan
  36. and his relatives, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani. They played musical instruments like those that had been played by David, the man of God. And they marched behind Ezra, the teacher of the Law.
  37. When they reached Fountain Gate, they climbed the steps to David's City and went past his palace, before stopping at the Water Gate near the eastern wall of the city.
  38. The second group of singers marched along the wall in the opposite direction, and I followed them, together with the other half of the leaders of Judah. We went past Oven Tower, Broad Wall,
  39. Ephraim Gate, Old Gate, Fish Gate, Hananel Tower, Hundred Tower, and on to Sheep Gate. Finally, we stopped at Gate of the Guard,
  40. where we stood in front of the temple with the other group, praising God. In the group with me were half of the leaders,
  41. as well as the priests Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, who were blowing trumpets.
  42. Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam, and Ezer also stood there, as Jezrahiah led the singers.
  43. God had made the people very happy, and so on that day they celebrated and offered many sacrifices. The women and children joined in the festivities, and joyful shouts could be heard far from the city of Jerusalem.
  44. On that same day, some leaders were appointed to be responsible for the safekeeping of gifts for the temple and to be in charge of receiving the first part of the harvest and the ten percent of the crops and livestock that was offered to God. These same leaders also collected the part of crops that the Law of Moses taught was to be given to the Levites. Everyone was pleased with the work of the priests and Levites,
  45. when they performed the ceremonies to make people acceptable to worship God. And the singers and the temple guards did their jobs according to the instructions given by David and his son Solomon.
  46. In fact, ever since the days of David and Asaph, there had been song leaders and songs of praise and worship.
  47. During the time that Zerubbabel and I were in charge, everyone in Israel gave what they were supposed to give for the daily needs of the singers and temple guards from the Levi tribe. Then the Levites would give the priests their share from what they had received.

    The final chapter of Nehemiah records a celebration of the completion of rebuilding the wall that incorporates the commitments made to renewing their worship of God. For this celebration all the priests and Levites who had returned from Babylon were gathered along with all the musicians. These worship leaders were divided into two groups as were all the people, forming two large processions. These processions made their way to the top of the wall with one group going around the wall counter clockwise while the other went clockwise, both groups joining again at the temple.

    When they arrived at the temple they offered sacrifices along with loud rejoicing that could be "heard far away." (12:43) They also followed up on their commitment to provide for the priests and Levites and ongoing care of the temple activities by placing men "in charge of the rooms that housed the supplies, contributions, firstfruits, and tenths. The legally required portions for the priests and Levites were gathered from the village fields, because Judah was grateful to the priests and Levites who were serving." (12:44)

    This celebration that could be heard far away and the image of this huge procession walking along the walls of the city must have communicated a resounding message to their enemies as well as bolstering their own spirits. Tobiah, the leader of the opposition, had told Nehemiah, "Indeed, even if a fox climbed up what they are building, he would break down their stone wall!" But here were thousands of people walking upon the wall. It was secure! And having made possible the rebuilding of a secure wall in the short amount of time they had done so was a feat only God could accomplish. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 11

    Nehemiah 11 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. The nation's leaders and their families settled in Jerusalem. But there was room for only one out of every ten of the remaining families, and so they asked God to show them who would live there.
  2. Then everyone else asked God to bless those who were willing to live in Jerusalem.
  3. Some of the people of Israel, the priests, the Levites, the temple workers, and the descendants of Solomon's servants lived on their own property in the towns of Judah. But the leaders of the province lived in Jerusalem with their families.
  4. From the Judah tribe, two leaders settled in Jerusalem with their relatives. One of them was Athaiah son of Uzziah. His ancestors were Zechariah, Amariah, Shephatiah, Mahalalel, and Perez, the son of Judah. From the descendants of Perez, four hundred sixty-eight of the best men lived in Jerusalem. The other leader from Judah was Maaseiah the son of Baruch. His ancestors were Colhozeh, Hazaiah, Adaiah, Joiarib, Zechariah, and Shelah, the son of Judah.
  5. (SEE 11:4)
  6. (SEE 11:4)
  7. From the Benjamin tribe, three leaders settled in Jerusalem. The first was Sallu son of Meshullam, and the others were Gabbai and Sallai. Sallu's ancestors were Joed, Pedaiah, Kolaiah, Maaseiah, Ithiel, and Jeshaiah. Altogether, there were nine hundred twenty-eight men of the Benjamin tribe living in Jerusalem.
  8. (SEE 11:7)
  9. Joel son of Zichri was their leader, and Judah son of Hassenuah was second in command.
  10. Four priests settled in Jerusalem. The first was Jedaiah; he was the son of Joiarib and the uncle of Jachin.
  11. The second priest to settle there was Seraiah son of Hilkiah. His ancestors were Meshullam, Zadok, Meraioth, and Ahitub, who had been a high priest.
  12. Altogether, there were eight hundred twenty-two from his clan who served in the temple. The third priest to settle there was Adaiah son of Jeroham. His ancestors were Pelaliah, Amzi, Zechariah, Pashhur, and Malchijah.
  13. Altogether, there were two hundred forty-two clan leaders among his relatives. The fourth priest to settle there was Amashsai son of Azarel. His ancestors were Ahzai, Meshillemoth, and Immer.
  14. Altogether, there were one hundred twenty-eight brave warriors from their clans, and their leader was Zabdiel son of Haggedolim.
  15. Several Levites settled in Jerusalem. First, there was Shemaiah son of Hasshub. His ancestors were Azrikam, Hashabiah, and Bunni.
  16. Next, there were Shabbethai and Jozabad, who were in charge of the work outside the temple.
  17. Then there was Mattaniah son of Mica. His ancestors were Zabdi and Asaph. Mattaniah led the temple choir in the prayer of praise. Bakbukiah, who also settled in Jerusalem, was his assistant. Finally, there was Abda son of Shammua; his grandfather was Galal, and his great-grandfather was Jeduthun.
  18. Altogether, two hundred eighty-four Levites settled in the holy city.
  19. One hundred seventy-two temple guards settled in Jerusalem; their leaders were Akkub and Talmon.
  20. The rest of the Israelites, including priests and Levites, lived on their own property in the other towns of Judah.
  21. But the temple workers lived in the section of Jerusalem known as Ophel, and the two men in charge of them were Ziha and Gishpa.
  22. Uzzi son of Bani was the leader of the Levites in Jerusalem. His grandfather was Hashabiah, his great-grandfather was Mattaniah, and his great-great-grandfather was Mica. He belonged to the Asaph clan that was in charge of the music for the temple services,
  23. though the daily choice of music and musicians was decided by royal decree of the Persian king.
  24. The people of Israel were represented at the Persian court by Pethahiah son of Meshezabel from the Zerah clan of the Judah tribe.
  25. Some of the people of Judah lived in the following towns near their farms: Kiriath-Arba, Dibon, Jekabzeel,
  26. Jeshua, Moladah, Beth-Pelet,
  27. Hazar-Shual, Beersheba,
  28. Ziklag, Meconah,
  29. Enrimmon, Zorah, Jarmuth,
  30. Zanoah, Adullam, Lachish, and Azekah. In fact, they settled the towns from Beersheba in the south to Hinnom Valley in the north.
  31. The people of Benjamin lived in the towns of Geba, Michmash, Aija, Bethel with its nearby villages,
  32. Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah,
  33. Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim,
  34. Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat,
  35. Lod, and Ono, as well as in Craft Valley.
  36. Several groups of Levites from the territory of Judah were sent to live among the people of Benjamin.

    Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was completed but few people lived there. This was in part because the city was still mostly rubble, but also in part because people feared living in the city. It was the city that drew the attention from foreign powers and invaders. In the countryside the people were more obscure. It was time, now, to repopulate the city of Jerusalem. This was important for the protection of the city from attack but also from a point of commerce.

    Lots were drawn to select the people who would move to Jerusalem for the repopulation. Preparation for this selection previously been made for this procedure about which we are told in chapter 7. God put it in Nehemiah's mind to assemble the people and register them by genealogy. (7:5) So the selection by lot made use of this register. There were people also who volunteered to relocate to Jerusalem. Whether lots were cast to select who among the volunteers would relocate or the volunteers were in addition to those selected by lot is unclear.

    The number of men who volunteered and/or were selected by lot to relocate to Jerusalem totalled 3,044. This included 468 descendants of Judah, 928 descendants of Benjamin, 1,192 priests, 284 Levites, and 172 gatekeepers.  Since this list included only the men, the total number including women and children might have been 3 to 4 times that number.

    "The people praised all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem." (11:2) This statement leads me to believe that all those selected were volunteers and lots were cast among the volunteers to determine those who would go to Jerusalem. The main point of this praise from the people, though, is that they commended the courage of those willing to live in the city.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 10

    Nehemiah 10 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. As governor, I signed the agreement together with Zedekiah and the following priests:
  2. Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah.
  3. (SEE 10:2)
  4. (SEE 10:2)
  5. (SEE 10:2)
  6. (SEE 10:2)
  7. (SEE 10:2)
  8. (SEE 10:2)
  9. The Levites who signed were: Jeshua son of Azaniah, Binnui from the clan of Henadad, Kadmiel,
  10. Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan,
  11. Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah,
  12. Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah,
  13. Hodiah, Bani, and Beninu.
  14. The leaders who signed were: Parosh, Pahath Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani,
  15. Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,
  16. Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin,
  17. Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur,
  18. Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai,
  19. Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai,
  20. Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,
  21. Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua,
  22. Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah,
  23. Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub,
  24. Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek,
  25. Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah,
  26. Ahiah, Hanan, Anan,
  27. Malluch, Harim, and Baanah.
  28. All of us, including priests, Levites, temple guards, singers, temple workers and leaders, together with our wives and children, have separated ourselves from the foreigners in this land and now enter into an agreement with a complete understanding of what we are doing. And so, we now place ourselves under the curse of the LORD our God, if we fail to obey his laws and teachings that were given to us by his servant Moses.
  29. (SEE 10:28)
  30. We won't let our sons and daughters marry foreigners.
  31. We won't buy goods or grain on the Sabbath or on any other sacred day, not even from foreigners. Every seven years we will let our fields rest, and we will cancel all debts.
  32. Once a year we will each donate a small amount of silver to the temple of our God.
  33. This is to pay for the sacred bread, as well as for the daily sacrifices and special sacrifices such as those offered on the Sabbath and during the New Moon Festival and the other festivals. It will also pay for the sacrifices to forgive our sins and for all expenses connected with the worship of God in the temple.
  34. We have decided that the families of priests, Levites, and ordinary people will supply firewood for the temple each year, so that sacrifices can be offered on the altar, just as the LORD our God has commanded.
  35. Each year we will bring to the temple the first part of our harvest of grain and fruit.
  36. We will bring our first-born sons and the first-born males of our herds and flocks and offer them to the priests who serve in the temple, because this is what is written in God's Law.
  37. To the priests in the temple of our God, we will bring the bread dough from the first harvest, together with our best fruit, and an offering of new wine and olive oil. We will bring ten percent of our grain harvest to those Levites who are responsible for collecting it in our towns.
  38. A priest from the family of Aaron must be there when we give this to the Levites. Then the Levites will put one tenth of this part in the temple storeroom,
  39. which is also the place for the sacred objects used by the priests, the temple guards, and the singers. Levites and everyone else must bring their gifts of grain, wine, and olive oil to this room. We will not neglect the temple of our God.

    The temple had been rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra, the wall rebuilt under the leadership of Nehemiah, and now, more importantly, the people were being restored to the Lord under the leadership of both Ezra and Nehemiah. From the reading of God's word the hearts of the people had been stirred to return to the Lord. This chapter tells of the signing of a covenant by both the religious and civic leaders and the making of an oath by the people to recommit themselves to the Lord. In the latter part of the chapter some specifics were listed as to what they were committing to do.

    First, they committed themselves to keeping themselves separate by not giving their daughters in marriage to the surrounding peoples or not taking their daughters in marriage for their sons. This was a requirement in the Mosaic law intended to keep them from the pagan religions of the surrounding peoples. Next they committed to keeping holy the Sabbath day and observing the Sabbatical year every seven year. The remainder of their list of committments had to do with maintaining the temple and its activities along with contributing their tithes and offerings.

    This was a good beginning that involved the externals of their faith. This is typical of people who are new in their faith. But the question is whether one will mature to the point that their devotion to God involves the more important inward devotion to Him of loving Him with their whole heart which involves the giving of oneself wholely? Unfortunately, for these postexilic Jews this maturing did not happen for the community in general or its religious leaders. Instead, from this focus on externals developed the corrupt pharisaical system that opposed Jesus with His weightier issues of inward devotion.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 9

    Nehemiah 09 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. On the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, the people of Israel went without eating, and they dressed in sackcloth and threw dirt on their heads to show their sorrow.
  2. They refused to let foreigners join them, as they met to confess their sins and the sins of their ancestors.
  3. For three hours they stood and listened to the Law of the LORD their God, and then for the next three hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the LORD.
  4. Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the special platform for the Levites and prayed aloud to the LORD their God.
  5. Then the Levites Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah said: "Stand and shout praises to your LORD, the eternal God! Praise his wonderful name, though he is greater than words can express."
  6. You alone are the LORD, Creator of the heavens and all the stars, Creator of the earth and those who live on it, Creator of the ocean and all its creatures. You are the source of life, praised by the stars that fill the heavens.
  7. You are the LORD our God, the one who chose Abram-- you brought him from Ur in Babylonia and named him Abraham.
  8. Because he was faithful, you made an agreement to give his descendants the land of the Canaanites and Hittites, of the Amorites and Perizzites, and of the Jebusites and Girgashites. Now you have kept your promise, just as you always do.
  9. When our ancestors were in Egypt, you saw their suffering; when they were at the Red Sea, you heard their cry for help.
  10. You knew that the King of Egypt and his officials and his nation had mistreated your people. So you worked fearsome miracles against the Egyptians and earned a reputation that still remains.
  11. You divided the deep sea, and your people walked through on dry land. But you tossed their enemies in, and they sank down like a heavy stone.
  12. Each day you led your people with a thick cloud, and at night you showed the way with a flaming fire.
  13. At Sinai you came down from heaven, and you gave your people good laws and teachings that are fair and honest.
  14. You commanded them to respect your holy Sabbath, and you instructed your servant Moses to teach them your laws.
  15. When they were hungry, you sent bread from heaven, and when they were thirsty, you let water flow from a rock. Then you commanded them to capture the land that you had solemnly promised. *
  16. Our stubborn ancestors refused to obey-- they forgot about the miracles you had worked for them, and they were determined to return to Egypt and become slaves again.
  17. But, our God, you are merciful and quick to forgive; you are loving, kind, and very patient. So you never turned away from them--
  18. not even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and insulted you by claiming, "This is the god who rescued us from Egypt."
  19. Because of your great mercy, you never abandoned them in the desert. And you always guided them with a cloud by day and a fire at night.
  20. Your gentle Spirit instructed them, and you gave them manna to eat and water to drink.
  21. You took good care of them, and for forty years they never lacked a thing. Their shoes didn't wear out, and their feet were never swollen.
  22. You let them conquer kings and take their land, including King Sihon of Heshbon and King Og of Bashan.
  23. You brought them into the land that you had promised their ancestors, and you blessed their nation with people that outnumbered the stars in the sky.
  24. Then their descendants conquered the land. You helped them defeat the kings and nations and treat their enemies however they wished.
  25. They captured strong cities and rich farmland; they took furnished houses, as well as cisterns, vineyards, olive orchards, and numerous fruit trees. They ate till they were satisfied, and they celebrated your abundant blessings.
  26. In spite of this, they rebelled and disobeyed your laws. They killed your prophets, who warned them to turn back to you, and they cursed your name.
  27. So you handed them over to their enemies, who treated them terribly. But in their sufferings, they begged you to help. From heaven you listened to their prayers and because of your great mercy, you sent leaders to rescue them.
  28. But when they were at peace, they would turn against you, and you would hand them over to their enemies. Then they would beg for help, and because you are merciful, you rescued them over and over again.
  29. You warned them to turn back and discover true life by obeying your laws. But they stubbornly refused and continued to sin.
  30. For years, you were patient, and your Spirit warned them with messages spoken by your prophets. Still they refused to listen, and you handed them over to their enemies.
  31. But you are merciful and kind, and so you never forgot them or let them be destroyed.
  32. Our God, you are powerful, fearsome, and faithful, always true to your word. So please keep in mind the terrible sufferings of our people, kings, leaders, priests, and prophets, from the time Assyria ruled until this very day.
  33. You have always been fair when you punished us for our sins.
  34. Our kings, leaders, and priests have never obeyed your commands or heeded your warnings.
  35. You blessed them with a kingdom and with an abundance of rich, fertile land, but they refused to worship you or turn from their evil.
  36. Now we are slaves in this fruitful land you gave to our ancestors.
  37. Its plentiful harvest is taken by kings you placed over us because of our sins. Our suffering is unbearable, because they do as they wish to us and our livestock.
  38. And so, a firm agreement was made that had the official approval of the leaders, the Levites, and priests.

    In my reflections on chapter 8 I commented on the role of reading God's word in our obedience and service to God. This was definitely the case with the Israelites on this occasion. They had not, as a community, heard the reading of God's word since the days of Joshua, and had drifted away from God and found themselves to be in exile in Babylon. Then in returning to their homeland they were still slaves to the Babylonian king. Now, Ezra had returned them to the public reading of God's word. As is recorded in chapter 8, they again gathered for the reading of scripture following the completion of rebuilding the wall. And in this chapter we read how this reading brought them to fast and mourn their sin, and to confess their sin, and make a written statement of their commitment to again be obedient to God's laws.

    In the course of their confession, they acknowledged God's goodness in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt and safely taking the people through the wilderness to claim a new land of their own. They acknowledged how God had driven out the people living in this new land so the Israelites could take possession. Then they confessed the sin of turning away from God, flinging His "law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who warned them to turn them back." (9:26) As a result, God  "handed them over to their enemies, who oppressed them." (9:27) Finally, they acknowledged, "Here we are today, slaves in the land You gave our ancestors so that they could enjoy its fruit and its goodness. Here we are--slaves in it!" (9:36) But they were ready to remedy the situation, and the remedy was not rebellion against those to whom they were enslaved. It was a return to the God of their ancestors.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 8

    Nehemiah 08 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. On the first day of the seventh month, the people came together in the open area in front of the Water Gate. Then they asked Ezra, who was a teacher of the Law of Moses, to read to them from this Law that the LORD had given his people. Ezra the priest came with the Law and stood before the crowd of men, women, and the children who were old enough to understand.
  2. (SEE 8:1)
  3. From early morning till noon, he read the Law of Moses to them, and they listened carefully.
  4. Ezra stood on a high wooden platform that had been built for this occasion. Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah were standing to his right, while Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash Baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam were standing to his left.
  5. Ezra was up on the high platform, where he could be seen by everyone, and when he opened the book, they all stood up.
  6. Ezra praised the great LORD God, and the people shouted, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed with their faces to the ground and worshiped the LORD.
  7. After this, the Levites Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah went among the people, explaining the meaning of what Ezra had read.
  8. (SEE 8:7)
  9. The people started crying when God's Law was read to them. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher, and the Levites who had been teaching the people all said, "This is a special day for the LORD your God. So don't be sad and don't cry!"
  10. Nehemiah told the people, "Enjoy your good food and wine and share some with those who didn't have anything to bring. Don't be sad! This is a special day for the LORD, and he will make you happy and strong."
  11. The Levites encouraged the people by saying, "This is a sacred day, so don't worry or mourn!"
  12. When the people returned to their homes, they celebrated by eating and drinking and by sharing their food with those in need, because they had understood what had been read to them.
  13. On the second day of the seventh month, the leaders of all the family groups came together with the priests and the Levites, so Ezra could teach them the Law
  14. that the LORD had given to Moses. They learned from the Law that the people of Israel were to live in shelters when they celebrated the festival in the seventh month of the year.
  15. They also learned that they were to go into the woods and gather branches of leafy trees such as olives, myrtles, and palms for making these shelters.
  16. So the people gathered branches and made shelters on the flat roofs of their houses, in their yards, in the courtyard of the temple, and in the open areas around the Water Gate and Ephraim Gate.
  17. Everyone who had returned from Babylonia built shelters. They lived in them and joyfully celebrated the Festival of Shelters for the first time since the days of Joshua son of Nun.
  18. On each of the first seven days of the festival, Ezra read to the people from God's Law. Then on the eighth day, everyone gathered for worship, just as the Law had said they must.

    Thus far, Nehemiah has focused on physical restoration of Jerusalem. But a spiritual restoration had begun, led by Ezra, 14 years prior to Nehemiah's arrival in Jerusalem. This spiritual restoration had likely paved the way for Nehemiah's work. Now that the rebuilding of the city wall was completed, attention could be returned to Ezra's spiritual restoration of the people. For this purpose, the people gathered in the city square and had Ezra read to them from the law of Moses. Standing on a high platform where he could be seen by several thousand people, "Ezra opened the book in full view of all the people, since he was elevated above everyone." (8:5)  As Ezra, a scribe, read from the law, Levites standing on the platform with him explained it to the people. It was an emotional experience for the people and the Levites encouraged the people not to weep, but to rejoice.

    The chosen reading was providential, for they read a passage which told of Moses commanding the Israelites to observe the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles.  They were just two weeks from the date on which this festival was to be observed so they immediately began preparation for it. The observance of this festival by this group of returned exiles was the first celebration of its kind since the "days of Joshua." (8:17) This gives a clue as to why they had gone into exile. They had turned away from God's word, and had done so soon after taking possession of the land God had given them.

    Unless we regularly read and meditate on God's word, we will not remain faithful to Him. Regular reading of God's word, along with prayer, are our lines of communication with Him. They are the means by which we relate to Him and through which we build a relationship with Him. These spiritual disciplines must be in place if we are faithful to obey and serve God. Man has a strong inclination to attempt to build a relationship with God through service alone, but such attempts lead to empty, self-serving activity. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 7

    Nehemiah 07 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. After the wall had been rebuilt and the gates hung, then the temple guards, the singers, and the other Levites were assigned their work.
  2. I put my brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem, along with Hananiah, the commander of the fortress, because Hananiah could be trusted, and he respected God more than most people did.
  3. I said to them, "Don't let the gates to the city be opened until the sun has been up for a while. And make sure that they are closed and barred before the guards go off duty at sunset. Choose people from Jerusalem to stand guard at different places around the wall and others to stand guard near their own houses."
  4. Although Jerusalem covered a large area, not many people lived there, and no new houses had been built.
  5. So God gave me the idea to bring together the people, their leaders, and officials and to check the family records of those who had returned from captivity in Babylonia, after having been taken there by King Nebuchadnezzar. About this same time, I found records of those who had been the first to return to Jerusalem from Babylon Province. By reading these records, I learned that they settled in their own hometowns,
  6. (SEE 7:5)
  7. and that they had come with Zerubbabel, Joshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, and Baanah.
  8. Here is how many had returned from each family group: 2,172 from Parosh; 372 from Shephatiah; 652 from Arah; 2,818 from Pahath Moab, who were all descendants of Jeshua and Joab; 1,254 from Elam; 845 from Zattu; 760 from Zaccai; 648 from Binnui; 628 from Bebai; 2,322 from Azgad; 667 from Adonikam; 2,067 from Bigvai; 655 from Adin; 98 from Ater, also known as Hezekiah; 328 from Hashum; 324 from Bezai; 112 from Hariph; and 95 from Gibeon.
  9. (SEE 7:8)
  10. (SEE 7:8)
  11. (SEE 7:8)
  12. (SEE 7:8)
  13. (SEE 7:8)
  14. (SEE 7:8)
  15. (SEE 7:8)
  16. (SEE 7:8)
  17. (SEE 7:8)
  18. (SEE 7:8)
  19. (SEE 7:8)
  20. (SEE 7:8)
  21. (SEE 7:8)
  22. (SEE 7:8)
  23. (SEE 7:8)
  24. (SEE 7:8)
  25. (SEE 7:8)
  26. Here is how many people returned whose ancestors had come from the following towns: 188 from Bethlehem and Netophah; 128 from Anathoth; 42 from Beth-Azmaveth; 743 from Kiriath-Jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth; 621 from Ramah and Geba; 122 from Michmas; 123 from Bethel and Ai; 52 from Nebo; 1,254 from Elam; 320 from Harim; 345 from Jericho; 721 from Lod, Hadid, and Ono; and 3,930 from Senaah.
  27. (SEE 7:26)
  28. (SEE 7:26)
  29. (SEE 7:26)
  30. (SEE 7:26)
  31. (SEE 7:26)
  32. (SEE 7:26)
  33. (SEE 7:26)
  34. (SEE 7:26)
  35. (SEE 7:26)
  36. (SEE 7:26)
  37. (SEE 7:26)
  38. (SEE 7:26)
  39. Here is how many returned from each family of priests: 973 descendants of Jeshua from Jedaiah; 1,052 from Immer; 1,247 from Pashhur; and 1,017 from Harim.
  40. (SEE 7:39)
  41. (SEE 7:39)
  42. (SEE 7:39)
  43. Here is how many returned from the families of Levites: 74 descendants of Hodevah from the families of Jeshua and Kadmiel; 148 descendants of Asaph from the temple musicians; and 138 descendants of Shallum, Ater, Talmon, Akkub, Hatita, and Shobai from the temple guards.
  44. (SEE 7:43)
  45. (SEE 7:43)
  46. Here are the names of the families of temple workers whose descendants returned: Ziha, Hasupha, Tabbaoth, Keros, Sia, Padon, Lebana, Hagaba, Shalmai, Hanan, Giddel, Gahar, Reaiah, Rezin, Nekoda, Gazzam, Uzza, Paseah, Besai, Meunim, Nephushesim, Bakbuk, Hakupha, Harhur, Bazlith, Mehida, Harsha, Barkos, Sisera, Temah, Neziah, and Hatipha.
  47. (SEE 7:46)
  48. (SEE 7:46)
  49. (SEE 7:46)
  50. (SEE 7:46)
  51. (SEE 7:46)
  52. (SEE 7:46)
  53. (SEE 7:46)
  54. (SEE 7:46)
  55. (SEE 7:46)
  56. (SEE 7:46)
  57. Here are the names of Solomon's servants whose descendants returned: Sotai, Sophereth, Perida, Jaala, Darkon, Giddel, Shephatiah, Hattil, Pochereth Hazzebaim, and Amon.
  58. (SEE 7:57)
  59. (SEE 7:57)
  60. A total of 392 descendants of temple workers and of Solomon's servants returned.
  61. There were 642 who returned from the families of Delaiah, Tobiah, and Nekoda, though they could not prove they were Israelites. They had lived in the Babylonian towns of Tel-Melah, Tel-Harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer.
  62. (SEE 7:61)
  63. The families of Hobaiah, Hakkoz, and Barzillai could not prove they were priests. The ancestor of the family of Barzillai had married the daughter of Barzillai from Gilead and had taken his wife's family name. But the records of these three families could not be found, and none of them were allowed to serve as priests.
  64. (SEE 7:63)
  65. In fact, the governor told them, "You cannot eat the food offered to God until he lets us know if you really are priests."
  66. There were 42,360 who returned, in addition to 7,337 servants, and 245 musicians. Altogether, they brought with them 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.
  67. (SEE 7:66)
  68. (SEE 7:66)
  69. (SEE 7:66)
  70. Many people gave gifts to help pay for the materials to rebuild the temple. The governor himself gave 17 pounds of gold, 50 bowls to be used in the temple, and 530 robes for the priests. Family leaders gave 337 pounds of gold and 3,215 pounds of silver. The rest of the people gave 337 pounds of gold, 2,923 pounds of silver, and 67 robes for the priests.
  71. (SEE 7:70)
  72. (SEE 7:70)
  73. And so, by the seventh month, priests, Levites, temple guards, musicians, workers, and many of the ordinary people had settled in the towns of Judah.

    All that remained to be done to complete the wall rebuilding project following the accounts of chapter 6 were to set in place the doors in the gates. Chapter 7 opens with the completion of this final task. Nehemiah then appointed officials over the city placing his brother Hanani in charge of the city and Hananiah as commander of the fortress. Security against enemies was still an issue so the gates to the city were opened for only a brief period each day. Some of the citizens who were involved in rebuilding the walls were now assigned to guard duty.

    Rebuilding the walls was only the beginning of restoration for the city. As of yet, few people were living in the city and "no houses had been built yet." (7:4) To repopulate the city, Nehemiah went to the register of those who had returned from exile. The remainder of the chapter contains a listing of this register. Most of these people were living in towns outside of Jerusalem. We will see later in Nehemiah a casting of lots to select people from these towns to live in Jerusalem. This whole plan Nehemiah credited to God who "put it into my mind." (7:5)

    God is not the source of every thought we have, but if we are praying and seeking His guidance in everything, we should at least consider the possibility that plans that come to our minds are from God. If we allow this consideration, it is only proper that we seriously pursue such thoughts. First to seek further guidance from God that they are from Him, and if we are convinced they are, to put them into action. To do otherwise would be disobedience. One might wonder, "but what if I'm mistaken and the plan isn't really from God?" I would rather pursue the potential plans from God, even if mistaken, than to fail to act and miss out on His plans.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 6

    Nehemiah 06 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and our other enemies learned that I had completely rebuilt the wall. All I lacked was hanging the doors in the gates.
  2. Then Sanballat and Geshem sent a message, asking me to meet with them in one of the villages in Ono Valley. I knew they were planning to harm me in some way.
  3. So I sent messengers to tell them, "My work is too important to stop now and go there. I can't afford to slow down the work just to visit with you."
  4. They invited me four times, but each time I refused to go.
  5. Finally, Sanballat sent an official to me with an unsealed letter,
  6. which said: A rumor is going around among the nations that you and the other Jews are rebuilding the wall and planning to rebel, because you want to be their king. And Geshem says it's true!
  7. You even have prophets in Jerusalem, claiming you are now the king of Judah. You know the Persian king will hear about this, so let's get together and talk it over.
  8. I sent a message back to Sanballat, saying, "None of this is true! You are making it all up."
  9. Our enemies were trying to frighten us and to keep us from our work. But I asked God to give me strength.
  10. One day I went to visit Shemaiah. He was looking very worried, and he said, "Let's hurry to the holy place of the temple and hide there. We will lock the temple doors, because your enemies are planning to kill you tonight."
  11. I answered, "Why should someone like me have to run and hide in the temple to save my life? I won't go!"
  12. Suddenly I realized that God had not given Shemaiah this message. But Tobiah and Sanballat had paid him to trick me
  13. and to frighten me into doing something wrong, because they wanted to ruin my good name.
  14. Then I asked God to punish Tobiah and Sanballat for what they had done. I prayed that God would punish the prophet Noadiah and the other prophets who, together with her, had tried to frighten me.
  15. On the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, the wall was completely rebuilt. It had taken fifty-two days.
  16. When our enemies in the surrounding nations learned that the work was finished, they felt helpless, because they knew that our God had helped us rebuild the wall.
  17. All this time the Jewish leaders and Tobiah had been writing letters back and forth.
  18. Many people in Judah were loyal to Tobiah for two reasons: Shecaniah son of Arah was his father-in-law, and Tobiah's son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah.
  19. The people would always tell me about the good things Tobiah had done, and then they would tell Tobiah everything I had said. So Tobiah kept sending letters, trying to frighten me.

    As the wall project neared completion, Nehemiah's archenemy, Sanballat, stepped up efforts to stop it. Though the project was all but completed, lacking only that the doors be set in the gates, Sanballat evidently thought there was a psychological advantage to be gained by stopping it even though it lacked very little to be completed. And he was right to think this for as soon as it was completely finished and word of its completion was heard by enemies of the Jews, "all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God." (6:16) It no doubt had an equal positive effect on the Jews.

    In an effort to stop the project before final completion, Sanballat attempted to assassinate Nehemiah. This he did by sending a messenger to Nehemiah requesting a meeting in the villages of the Ono Valley, a day's journey from Jerusalem. Nehemiah suspected an attempt to drawn him away and kill him, so he refused saying, "I am doing a great work and cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?" (6:3)  This exchange was repeated three more times and Nehemiah refused each time with the same reply. In a fifth attempt to drawn Nehemiah away, Sanballat stepped up the effort with intimidation. He told Nehemiah of supposed rumors stating that he was leading a rebellion against the king with the intention of becoming king of Judah. Furthermore, Sanballat posed as Nehemiah's friend, again requesting a meeting to "confer together." Nehemiah again refused a meeting telling Sanballat there was nothing to the rumors. He then told his fellow Jews that it was all an effort to intimidate them.

    Finally, Sanballat used someone on the inside, living in Jerusalem, who he had hired. This man, Shemaiah, pretended to be a prophet and had Nehemiah come to his house, telling him of a supposed plot to kill him that very night. To avoid the plot he suggest Nehemiah flee with him to the temple. But there was a problem with this plan that Nehemiah saw through immediately. No one was allowed in the temple except the priests. Luring Nehemiah into it would cause him to "sin, and get a bad reputation, in order that they could discredit" him. (6:13) Again, Nehemiah refused to be tricked.

    Despite these distractions, the wall was completed in 52 days.  Although Judah's enemies were "intimidated and lost their confidence" by this feat, Sanballat wasn't through in his efforts to defeat the Jews. He had relatives living in Judah and continued to work through them to gain a foothold. We will hear again from this man later in Nehemiah.

    Being "in the center of God's will," as some like to refer to doing what God leads us to do, is not all smooth sailing. When we mistakenly think that it will be, we are at risk of being defeated by our main archenemy, Satan, and whoever he uses for his purposes. Remaining faithful throughout requires continual prayer to discern God's guidance and receive His wisdom. Otherwise we can easily be enticed into traps that will derail us in our efforts to do what God gives us to do.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 5

    Nehemiah 05 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Some of the men and their wives complained about the Jews in power
  2. and said, "We have large families, and it takes a lot of grain merely to keep them alive."
  3. Others said, "During the famine we even had to mortgage our fields, vineyards, and homes to them in order to buy grain."
  4. Then others said, "We had to borrow money from those in power to pay the government tax on our fields and vineyards.
  5. We are Jews just as they are, and our children are as good as theirs. But we still have to sell our children as slaves, and some of our daughters have already been raped. We are completely helpless; our fields and vineyards have even been taken from us."
  6. When I heard their complaints and their charges, I became very angry.
  7. So I thought it over and said to the leaders and officials, "How can you charge your own people interest?" Then I called a public meeting and accused the leaders
  8. by saying, "We have tried to buy back all of our people who were sold into exile. But here you are, selling more of them for us to buy back!" The officials and leaders did not say a word, because they knew this was true.
  9. I continued, "What you have done is wrong! We must honor our God by the way we live, so the Gentiles can't find fault with us.
  10. My relatives, my friends, and I are also lending money and grain, but we must no longer demand payment in return.
  11. Now give back the fields, vineyards, olive orchards, and houses you have taken and also the interest you have been paid."
  12. The leaders answered, "We will do whatever you say and return their property, without asking to be repaid." So I made the leaders promise in front of the priests to give back the property.
  13. Then I emptied my pockets and said, "If you don't keep your promise, that's what God will do to you. He will empty out everything you own, even taking away your houses." The people answered, "We will keep our promise." Then they praised the LORD and did as they had promised.
  14. I was governor of Judah from the twentieth year that Artaxerxes was king until the thirty-second year. And during these entire twelve years, my relatives and I refused to accept the food that I was allowed.
  15. Each governor before me had been a burden to the people by making them pay for his food and wine and by demanding forty silver coins a day. Even their officials had been a burden to the people. But I respected God, and I didn't think it was right to be so hard on them.
  16. I spent all my time getting the wall rebuilt and did not buy any property. Everyone working for me did the same thing.
  17. I usually fed a hundred fifty of our own Jewish people and their leaders, as well as foreign visitors from surrounding lands.
  18. Each day one ox, six of the best sheep, and lots of chickens were prepared. Then every ten days, a large supply of wine was brought in. I knew what a heavy burden this would have been for the people, and so I did not ask for my food allowance as governor.
  19. I pray that God will bless me for everything I have done for my people.

    One would think that 70 years of exile in a foreign land would have taught obedience for God's laws to the Israelites. But some among them, evidently those who had been insulated from the difficulties by their positions of power, were motivated more by personal gain than by obedience to God.  These individuals were increasing their wealth by taking advantage of the positions of power to prey on their fellow countrymen. The Jews living in Judea at that time were hit financially from several directions. First, they were depressed financially from the loss of property to their conquerors. In addition, they were in the midst of a famine, so food was in short supply plus they were working on the wall and unable to work their fields. Furthermore, they were burdened with a tax to the ruling king. Their fellow countrymen who were in positions of power, the nobles and officials, had loaned them money to help but charged interest which was forbidden under the Mosaic law. Plus they had helped enslave the daughters of those who had no other means of paying their debts. It was practices such as these that gotten them into exile in the first place.

    These circumstances brought an outcry from those suffering under these burdens. It threatened to stop progress in the rebuilding efforts in addition to the threat of God's judgment for these actions. When Nehemiah learned of these conditions he responded in his typical fashion.  He first took time to "seriously considering the matter." (5:7) This no doubt took considerable restraint on his part since he "became extremely angry" when he heard the complaints of the people. (5:6) But Nehemiah was not an impulsive man. "Seriously considering the matter" likely meant for him spending time in prayer seeking God's guidance and wisdom. Having done this, he addressed the situation head-on. First, he confronted the nobles and officials who were guilty of these usury practices, exploiting their leadership positions. He accused them of selling their countrymen into slavery after Nehemiah and others had bought their freedom. Furthermore, he told them, "What you are doing isn't right. Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God and not invite the reproach of our foreign enemies?" (5:9)

    The guilty parties responded to Nehemiah's charges by saying, "We will return these things and require nothing more from them. We will do as you say." (5:12) This was good, but Nehemiah went a step further, summoning the priests to have the guilty parties swear an oath before them. Then he invoked God's judgment on them if they didn't keep their promises. Nehemiah's actions and the positive response of the guilty parties restored the goodwill of the people and the desire to continue their rebuilding tasks.

    The chapter concludes with an aside from Nehemiah pointing out that the king had appointed him governor of Judah and telling how, in that position, he had devoted himself to the construction of the wall and to furthering the welfare of the people. I believe it is noteworthy that Nehemiah, God's "man of the hour" at this point in time, worked cooperatively with the ruling king rather than in opposition. Though he was not a godly king and though he held the Jews in subservience, God was using him at that time for His purposes to judge His people. Therefore, God's role for Nehemiah was to submit to the king while working within the system to restore the Jews to their homeland.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reflections on Nehemiah 4

    Nehemiah 04 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. When Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, heard that we were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, he became angry and started insulting our people.
  2. In front of his friends and the Samaritan army he said, "What is this feeble bunch of Jews trying to do? Are they going to rebuild the wall and offer sacrifices all in one day? Do they think they can make something out of this pile of scorched stones?"
  3. Tobiah from Ammon was standing beside Sanballat and said, "Look at the wall they are building! Why, even a fox could knock over this pile of stones."
  4. But I prayed, "Our God, these people hate us and have wished horrible things for us. Please answer our prayers and make their insults fall on them! Let them be the ones to be dragged away as prisoners of war.
  5. Don't forgive the mean and evil way they have insulted the builders."
  6. The people worked hard, and we built the walls of Jerusalem halfway up again.
  7. But Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people from the city of Ashdod saw the walls going up and the holes being repaired. So they became angry
  8. and decided to stir up trouble, and to fight against the people of Jerusalem.
  9. But we kept on praying to our God, and we also stationed guards day and night.
  10. Meanwhile, the people of Judah were singing a sorrowful song: "So much rubble for us to haul! Worn out and weary, will we ever finish this wall?"
  11. Our enemies were saying, "Before those Jews know what has happened, we will sneak up and kill them and put an end to their work."
  12. On at least ten different occasions, the Jews living near our enemies warned us against attacks from every side,
  13. and so I sent people to guard the wall at its lowest places and where there were still holes in it. I placed them according to families, and they stood guard with swords and spears and with bows and arrows.
  14. Then I looked things over and told the leaders, the officials, and the rest of the people, "Don't be afraid of your enemies! The Lord is great and fearsome. So think of him and fight for your relatives and children, your wives and homes!"
  15. Our enemies found out that we knew about their plot against us, but God kept them from doing what they had planned. So we went back to work on the wall.
  16. From then on, I let half of the young men work while the other half stood guard. They wore armor and had spears and shields, as well as bows and arrows. The leaders helped the workers
  17. who were rebuilding the wall. Everyone who hauled building materials kept one hand free to carry a weapon.
  18. Even the workers who were rebuilding the wall strapped on a sword. The worker who was to blow the signal trumpet stayed with me.
  19. I told the people and their officials and leaders, "Our work is so spread out, that we are a long way from one another.
  20. If you hear the sound of the trumpet, come quickly and gather around me. Our God will help us fight."
  21. Every day from dawn to dark, half of the workers rebuilt the walls, while the rest stood guard with their spears.
  22. I asked the men in charge and their workers to stay inside Jerusalem and stand guard at night. So they guarded the city at night and worked during the day.
  23. I even slept in my work clothes at night; my children, the workers, and the guards slept in theirs as well. And we always kept our weapons close by.

    Rebellion against God and failure to trust Him had led the Israelites into exile in Babylon. Now their efforts to rebuild their lives must also include learning to trust God. Learning to trust God involves situations that are bigger than we are. Situations in which only God can bring a solution. This is what Israel was encountering in these accounts of Nehemiah. God had prepared Nehemiah to lead Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and help to accomplish His plan for them to rebuild their lives in the land He gave them, but if they were to learn trust this plan must include difficulties through which they would see God's deliverance.

    Under Nehemiah's leadership the Israelites were making amazing progress in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Just when hope for success seems a reality, difficulties appear to dampen that hope. In this case it was Sanballat and his cronies who showed up to ridicule the Israelites in their efforts to rebuild the walls and even pose the threat of military force to halt their efforts. These enemies of the Jews said of them, "They won't know or see anything until we're among them and can kill them and stop the work." (4:11)

    But Nehemiah kept reminding the Israelites of the source of their strength, "Our God will fight for us!" (4:20) The task and the opposition seemed too great to overcome, but it was not their strength but God's that would carry them through if they gave it to Him. Nehemiah prayed before the people for God's help and then he gave them a plan. First, they stationed a guard day and night. Those who lived outside Jerusalem no longer went home at night but slept within the walls. People were stationed behind the lowest sections of the wall to hinder the enemy from sneeking into the city and infiltrating their ranks. During the day half the people were on guard while half continued to work. Even those working carried a weapon in one hand or strapped to a belt. Nehemiah had a trumpeter follow him wherever he went to sound an alarm if a threat arose, summoning everyone to oppose the threat.

    So it is in our walk with God. We keep our eyes on Him for guidance. We stay alert for threats to our walk with Him. And we put in action the plan God gives us to overcome the obstacles and to keep up our walk with Him.