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In Nehemiah 11 and 12 we are given a record of those who went back to live in Jerusalem after the captivity.  Jerusalem was the Holy City of God.  The temple was there and all of those who attended it.  Let’s consider who was there:

Nehemiah 11:1 – The leaders and the chosen were living in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:2 – The willing were living in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:10 – The priests were living in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 11:15 – The Levites were living in Jerusalem.

One would think more people would have wanted to live here given the overwhelming number of high quality, godly men who resided within the city.   But, no, many did not and there were several reasons for that.

Firstly, people know that the closer to God and His people they get, the more responsible they are for their own actions and attitudes.  Therefore, many choose to keep their distance in order to keep their comfort and pet sins close and God farther away.  I think we can all relate to this kind of avoidance whether we have done it or seen others do it.

Not only that, but Jerusalem was hated by their neighboring communities.  Many times, the closer we get to Christ, the more we are hated by the world.  He said it would be so.  Many people who are happy to profess belief are simply not willing to suffer for his namesake.  It was true of these people and it’s true today.  Only those who are sold out and wholehearted will follow God wherever he leads with absolute reckless abandon.

Lastly, Jerusalem wasn’t a place to sell wares and get rich.  It did not have the advantages of a good trading city so those who were trying to make money in business wouldn’t have wanted to be in Jerusalem if they could help it.  Men often look out for number one rather than placing the priority of their lives in their spiritual journey and responsibility.

Still, Jerusalem had some pretty great men manning it.  Because primarily those with position and integrity dwelt in Jerusalem, that in itself should have been a draw for others to relocate to this city.  Those that were not encouraged to move were at least inspired to encourage.  Nehemiah 11:2 says, “And the people blessed all the men who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.” While they may not have been willing to sacrifice comfort and safety for the Lord’s work, they did admire those who were.

Then again, it may have been more of a, “You go so I don’t have to,” kind of encouragement.  These people knew that their leaders were drawing names to determine who would move because there weren’t enough people in the city.  The more men who volunteered to move meant the less who had to be randomly chosen.

Chapter 12 begins by listing by name the priests and Levites who came back from exile first.  It tells us that some were in charge of songs of thanksgiving, some as priests, some overseeing praise and thanks, and some standing guard at the gates.

Jerusalem was a great city of God complete with spiritual warriors, watchers, and pray-ers.  They would not have had to cast lots if it hadn’t been wanting for workers, though.  Such is God’s Kingdom.  The harvest is plentiful, but he workers are few.  May we be ever willing to go wherever he calls and make a home wherever he blesses.


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After finishing the project to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, the people of God spent a considerable amount of time praying, fasting, confessing, repenting, worshiping God, and looking intently at God’s law.  They were thankful for his mercy and providence and ashamed of their disobedience.  God used Nehemiah – the great, godly leader he had called to help them – to spur them on to rebuild not only their city and their homes, but also their very own lives.

After their time of reflection and repentance, the leaders drew up and signed a covenant with God.  The people all took an oath of commitment to carry out the terms of these promises.  They also risked a curse if they would fail to obey.  Matthew Henry notes that, “Every oath has in it a conditional curse upon the soul, which makes it a strong bond upon the soul; for our own tongues, if false and lying tongues, will fail, and fail heavily , upon ourselves.”  In other words, if we would make a promise to God or man, we best be prepared to do all within our own power to keep it.

With all this consequence for failing to keep such a pact, why did these people seem so forward to sign up?

The answer is that these people had been failing.  They had been in sin.  They had been exiled, enslaved, and their home had been devastated, destroyed, and left desolate. Yet God had burdened a man named Nehemiah to come and help them.  God had brought them back to rebuild and re-establish themselves.  Now, they recognize both their guilt and his grace and they feel obliged to make these promises and strive to keep them.  Here is a group of people who truly want to be right with God.  These are God’s people.

So, what was it that they bound themselves to do?

The people promised not to intermarry with foreigners as they had been doing, they promised to observe the year of jubilee and forgive all debts in the seventh year, they promised to tithe all they had to God first and to give him the very best of their possessions to use in his house.

What did they commit to God?  Family; money; food; assets; only…everything.

That is the kind of commitment we must make to Our Lord if we would seek to truly repent and follow him.  WE are the ever failing, exiled from the garden, living in the  broken world we call home, sinners.  When we recognize the things he has done for us in sending a Savior to rebuild and recenter our very lives around the truth and His righteousness, we cannot help but to commit our everything to the building of His house and His kingdom.  If that is not our attitude and desire, we have not yet seen him and we do not yet know him. Therefore, let us repeat the words of these restored sinners and do as they committed to do saying, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” ~Nehemiah 10:39b

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After God’s people had spent a considerable amount of time hearing his law and glorifying him through praise, worship, and feasting as they were commanded, they begin  a time of confession and repentance in Nehemiah chapter 9.  This is the function of God’s law.  It is meant show us our sin and lead us to Christ through our recognition of guilt and need.  Psalm 19:7 says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”

Previously, they had been instructed not to weep or mourn, rather to celebrate.  Now they are commanded to mourn their sin.  First, they change their clothes.  The people put on sackcloth and mark their heads with dirt and ashes to show that they are mourning.  They begin to fast as a sacrificial proof that they are sorry and reliant upon forgiveness and provision from God.

Most times we would mourn first and later celebrate forgiveness and favor.  They celebrated first and then mourned.  God had it that way that they might be all the more aware of his goodness and mercy to them, as well as obedience to his order and command about how to carry out all things in his time and in his way.

The people of God were also commanded to separate from all foreigners during this time of confession and repentance.  Likely, this was because they had previously been commanded to be separate, not intermarry with those who follow foreign gods, etc., and had disobeyed, but such is a wise practice for other practical reasons as well.  Any of us who seek to genuinely bare all, bore our rightful blame, and confess intimately to God must always be wise about who is among us when we do so.  Let us not forget that there are those who seek only to gossip, destroy, and bring dishonor upon God himself when they hear about the failings of his people.

After God’s people had separated from those who weren’t of him, they began to confess their own sins as well as the sins of their fathers.  They read the law for a quarter of the day and offered confession and worship a quarter of the day.  Half the day would amount to six hours.  Six hours time they spent in the presence of God seeking forgiveness and favor knowing they did not deserve it, yet relying upon his great mercy.  When is the last time your church did that?

The people cried out to God in prayer and praise offering adoration and thanksgiving for the many great wonders God had done for them and their people.  They made it a point to remember who God really was and talk about his goodness to them in the past.  They spoke of his promises kept, his deliverance, his signs and wonders, his law, his providence, his forgiveness, his slowness to anger, his mercy, his leading, and his faithfulness even despite their own great sin.

Then, they made it a point to remember who they really were and they confessed all their sins, faults, and failings.  They spoke of their presumptuousness, their stiff-necks, their disobedience, their ignorance of his miracles and goodness toward them, their idolatry, their blaspheme, and their broken promises.

Matthew Henry says this, “They abused God’s prophets, slew them because they testified against them to turn them to God, so returning the greatest injury for the greatest kindness.  They abused his favors.  After they had rest, they did evil again.  They were not wrought upon either by their troubles or their deliverances out of trouble.  Neither fear not love would hold them to their duty.”  

At the end of the day, the bottom line was clear.  God had been altogether faithful to them and they had been altogether unfaithful to him.  They knew it and they admitted it.  They confessed it and they repented of their sin.  They made a covenant stating their desire and intention from that day forward to obey God and not turn away again.

Notice that it was not just the leaders who did this.  It was the whole assembly and all the people who belonged to God.

Christians, these this is a true picture of what a heart full of godly sorrow looks like.  These are the things one will do when he is serious about repentance and getting his heart and life right with God after sin.  He will carry out plans God’s way and in God’s time.  He will change his disposition to a somber, sober seriousness.  He will separate from all that would entangle him.  He will spend a considerable amount of time looking at God’s expectations; his law; his Word in order to recognize his own responsibilities.  He will duly confess his sin and repent.  He will make every effort to right his wrongs and promise to not sin in the same ways again.  He will surround himself with accountability and have others join together with him in his efforts to change.  He will leave spoken and written proof in the presence of God and many witnesses of his future intentions.  These are the things a man does when he is serious about correcting his failure against God and man and avoiding sin.



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After the people of God have heard the law read aloud to them in the public square, their natural reaction is weeping and mourning.  Why?

The Jews had been in captivity for quite a long time.  Now, they had finally returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt their city walls, and gathered together for the reestablishment of their community and customs.  During their captivity, they had had no opportunity to practice the feasts or ceremonies commanded by God.  They had no access to the Word of God and, at this point in time, many of these returning exiles had never even heard God’s law for themselves.

In Nehemiah chapter 8, we find Ezra the scribe reading God’s law to them right in the middle of the street for a number of hours.  Subsequently, the people, not having known what was expected of them and realizing at the hearing of the law how much they had failed, forgotten, and bore the guilt of began to unanimously grieve over their guilty position before God.

This is precisely what the law of God is made to do.  When we hear God’s perfect law, our conscience ought to accuse every one of us as guilty and in need of grace.  The Bible says that the law of God is perfect, converting the soul.  The function of the law is not to make us feel comfortable, but to break our hearts over our own sin, lead us to repentance, and cause us to yearn for God’s grace and forgiveness.  The law is the teacher which leads us to Christ.

These people had a conscience.  They heard the law, recognized themselves as guilty before a holy God, and that made them rightly unwell.  They grieved over their sin and saw their own need for repentance and forgiveness.

When the people begin this weeping and grieving, something interesting happens.  Their leaders instruct them to be joyful and forbid them to continue grieving.  They command the people to eat, drink, and rejoice because they understood God’s Word.

Many religious people think that pretending to be perfect is the proper way to honor God.  God’s Word teaches us just the opposite.  It is when we humble ourselves and admit our own sin that God is truly glorified in our lives.

So the people are called to change their faces from mourning to joy.  The reason was because their joy in God was their strength.  God wanted his people strong.  He wanted them to rejoice because it was time for a feast.  Mourning was not appropriate.  The Feast of Booths was about to begin.

The Feast of Booths was a time that the Jews were called to remember their time in wilderness, give thanks, and live in temporary shelters for seven days.  The reason for the shelters was to keep them from growing comfortable, fat, and happy in their houses after harvest.  God wanted them to remember their time in the desert, how he had provided all their needs, and how they must never stop trusting and relying upon Him for all things no matter how blessed they currently are.  This was a time of great joy, feasting, and thanksgiving for the goodness, faithfulness, and provision of God toward his people.  No one ought to mope and cry when blessing is abundant and harvest is at hand.  They were called to feast.

At the end of the feast was a solemn assembly.

God wants us to remember how good he really is to us.  It is in the best times that we tend to forget how much we need the Lord.  That is why this feast was performed at harvest.  God wanted to ensure that his people understood their desperate need for him in all things.  Let us remember that we, too, are exiles on a journey toward the promised land.  Let us never forget how God takes care of us through all of our wilderness journeys and the water he provides in the deserts of life.  Let us be joyful as we remember his faithfulness to us.  “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” ~Nehemiah 8:10



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Once the Jews have finished rebuilding and securing the wall of their city under the direction of Nehemiah and Nehemiah has taken a count of all who were there, we find out what their priorities really were.

The very first thing the people of God do once they are protected and counted is gather together and hear God’s Word.  Both community and God’s perfect law are so important to these people that they make these two things their number 1 priorities.

“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate.  And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.  So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.  And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand.  And the ears of all the people were attentive tot he Book of the Law.” ~Nehemiah 8:1-8

Not only do they make listening and learning God’s law together their first priorities, they literally stay and listen the entire morning attentively.

These people were gathered in the public square, in the street, all morning listening to God’s law.  They weren’t falling asleep.  They weren’t checking their watches.  They weren’t watching Youtube on their iphones while Ezra read God’s Word to them.  They were respectfully, attentively listening and learning what God’s expectations of them were.

They stood up in respect for God’s Word.  They answered “Amen, Amen,” lifted up their hands, bowed their heads, and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.  This was serious business and they treated it so.

Interestingly, this event took place on the first day of the seventh month.  On the Jewish calendar, this day marked the end of the year.  It was called the Feast of Trumpets.  No work was to be done and the people were to be preparing for atonement.  Likewise, we must always look intently at the law and our own hearts before our sins can be atoned for.

The significance of the trumpets were that of alarm.  This particular day was to be followed by 10 days of introspection and repentance.  The sounding of the trumpets also pointed to future judgement.

This was their call to ready themselves.

How do we ready ourselves for future judgement?  We ready ourselves by preparing our hearts the same way these people did.  We cease from self-sufficiency and works-based efforts of religion.  We gather with other believers in community.  We listen and learn God’s perfect law.  We look introspectively at ourselves and repent.  We wait for grace and we keep always in mind the reality of our future judgement.  Doubtless this is why Christ’s return is also signified by the blowing of trumpets (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.)

These actions must be our first priorities.  We must be attentive to do them if we would have a strong community of believers.


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Directly after Nehemiah finished his huge project of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem, he becomes burdened again with another project for the Lord.

“Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy…”~Nehemiah 7:5

Nehemiah recognizes God as being the inspire-er of this project as well.  Once again, we see the marks of a good, godly leader in Nehemiah.  Not only is he always working for the Lord, he is always pointing at God’s leadership and direction in his life.  Nehemiah isn’t just doing things aimlessly, purposelessly, or of his own volition.  He is doing that which God calls him to and giving the credit and glory for his inspiration back to God.  Matthew Henry says, “We have here another good project of Nehemiah’s; for wise and zealous men will be always contriving something or other for the glory of God and the edification of his church.”

Nehemiah’s burden was to take an account of all the people who had returned to the Jewish homeland (Jerusalem and Judah) from the Babylonian captivity.  It was a census of sorts.  Nehemiah wanted to know who he had in the city for a number of reasons.

Every good leader knows that the success of his people is much more dependent upon who he has than on what he has.  It was great that the Jews now had a wall built for protection, but apart from building a strong community no one is ever safe.

Furthermore, a good leader takes an account of his people not only to find out who is with him, but to find out who is not.  Good leaders like Nehemiah don’t just hope and wish for families to find their way back out of exile and wander into the city one day.  Instead, they find out who is missing, why they’re missing, and even search them out and bring them back if at all possible.  Good leaders don’t leave their own people lost in the enemy’s camp.  Because the Jews were allowed to return home, Nehemiah knows that if he finds out who has not made it back, he has a much better chance of finding those families and helping them get back to Jerusalem.

Nehemiah doesn’t go about this undertaking by himself.  He is not a one-man band.  He recognizes his call from God and he, in turn, calls upon other men to help him carry out that call.  The text says that he, “,,,assembled the nobles and the officials and the people…”  While Nehemiah was heading up this project as the leader, he didn’t decide to go door to door and count heads.  He called the people to come to him.  This way, the people shared the responsibility to obey their authority in doing what God was directing and the community worked together to accomplish a common goal.  Making it a group effort made the work load lighter and built camaraderie among men.  Herein lies the strength of a people group.

There is only one superhero among the people of God.  His name is Jesus Christ.  Therefore, when God burdens even great men to do great things in His name, it is never a one-man show. God is in the business of  using his people together in joint efforts to accomplish His will among His people.  That way no one blows up with pride and no one is irrelevant.  Can the hand say to the foot, “I don’t need you?”  Clearly not.

The work Nehemiah accomplished here in taking a genealogical record was not only greatly helpful for he and God’s people in their time, but even still today as it kept the records of the Jewish families intact until the time of Christ.  Because of this project and several others like it, we have a solid bloodline which stems from Adam all the way to Christ.  So, while you and I may think reading a bunch of historical names we can’t pronounce of families we don’t know is quite boring and useless,  genealogies like this one have great purpose in the grand scheme of God’s great plan.  Remember that next time God has you working on a project that seems boring or insignificant.  Or maybe just remember Him…because working for God is never boring or insignificant!



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In less than two months, the wall Nehemiah had began with the Jews was completed.  Despite at least six attempts to stop the project, Nehemiah’s colleague-enemies found themselves ashamed at their inability to frustrate God’s plans for Nehemiah and his people.  Matthew Henry notes that, “Christian fortitude will be sharpened by opposition.  Every temptation to draw us from duty should quicken us so much the more to duty.”  In other words, true believers do not give up and give in when others plot and scheme against them.  Instead they press in harder, trust God more, and faithfully continue to obey God’s instructions in their lives.  This is the mark of a faithful believer.

Notice how the enemies of Nehemiah’s building project reacted when he completed his mission.  In verse 16, the text says they were afraid, ashamed, and convinced that God was with the Jews.  Just seeing the success of Nehemiah and God’s people was enough to cause these guys to think less of themselves.  Still, instead of making amends and trying to reconcile with those they had been so deceitfully false, they just keep trying to bring Nehemiah down.

When the wall was finished the opposition to building stopped, but these enemies still did not stop trying to intimidate Nehemiah.  Likewise, our enemy will stop at nothing to continually discourage us from living into our calling, even and especially after we experience great success in our obedience to God.  Consider what they do now.

In verse 17, even despite their fear and discouragement at Nehemiah’s success and the fact that they knew it was God’s work that had been completed, the crooked leaders who needlessly despised Nehemiah hatch a new plan.  They begin to correspond with the nobles in Nehemiah’s jurisdiction.  Now Nehemiah has to deal with traitors sharing information with the enemy about him and his work as well as be subject to “overhearing” exaggerated accolades about how wonderful these deceitful men are.

Tobiah was one of the neighboring governors who sought to destroy Nehemiah.  He was related by marriage to these Jewish nobles which provided a perfect pathway for these gossipy, intimidation-intended reports to be circulated throughout Jerusalem.  They doubtless twisted Nehemiah’s true words, truncated his good deeds, mixed lies with some truth to make it believable and then circulated the false letters and reports about him.

Here we see yet another old standby used by Satan.  If he cannot intimidate or discourage God’s chosen vessel from obedience to God, he will do all he can to use the people around that vessel to be false, to make miserable, to slander and discredit, call good evil and evil good, and try to instill fear.

While it must have indeed been irritating and particularly vexing to have people within his own camp speaking so deceitfully and purposefully trying to discourage him, there is no sign that it rattled Nehemiah.  Nehemiah wasn’t into their petty popularity contests and he wasn’t intimidated by them.  Remember, this guy works for the king.  It’s only insecure leaders who lust after power and control that are intimidated by this kind of nonsense.  Nehemiah wasn’t because he already had authority from none other than the king— as do we when we work for the Lord.

Nehemiah simply continues on his mission.  After he completes the wall, the first thing he does is appoint leaders.  A good leader always recognizes the urgency to appoint good leaders and delegate responsibility wisely.  Show me a man who goes out to accomplish work for God and I’ll show you a man who recognizes the urgent necessity of starting out with good leaders.
Nehemiah understood this necessity and chose men whose good character he knew well.  Chapter 7:2-3 tells us he chose two men and gave them charge over Jerusalem because they were more faithful and God-fearing than others.  That is how a good leader chooses leaders.  It isn’t who runs a better campaign, who is most popular, or who is his bff.  A good leader chooses leaders by how wise, experienced, and godly they are and he does it firstly, not lastly.

Nehemiah not only proves his wisdom in choosing good leaders first, he also proves his lack of false ambition by delegating others to lead.  Nehemiah was continually accused of wanting control and power to oppress, but clearly we see that those claims of his enemies were unwarranted had no merit.  Nehemiah knows he gave his word to return to the king when he was finished with this project so he is setting this city up for the time when he leaves.

He gives a couple instructions to his gatekeepers.  The gates were only to be open in the daytime, and the guards were to secure the gates at all times.  Nehemiah knew the wall wouldn’t protect them if the gates weren’t secure.  Again, he is constantly looking out for the protection and well-being of his people.  That’s just what good leaders do. That’s what Jesus does, and it’s what we must do if we have leadership in any capacity over God’s people.  He who does not care to protect those whom he leads is simply not fit for the job.



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