Lord's Day Evening Meditations February 16, 2003

Nehemiah 1:15

Nehemiah

The book of Nehemiah follows on the story of Ezra, and just as Ezra contained much that related to us now, so Nehemiah does likewise, and even more so. Firstly, we'll consider the time element of this book. We find that Ezra went up to Jerusalem "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king." Ezra 7:7. The story of Nehemiah begins "in the twentieth year (of Artaxerxes)" (Neh. 1:1; 2:1), that is, 13 years later. The next book in time order after Nehemiah is not Esther or Job; it is Malachi. His prophecy takes place about 20 - 25 years after Nehemiah. This places Nehemiah in the "last times" of the Old Testament. According to Zechariah, it was a "day of small things." Zech. 4:10. If it was small in the days of Ezra, it was smaller in the days of Nehemiah, smaller still in the days of Malachi, and very small at the beginning of the New Testament, as we can see in Luke 1. However, the Lord has always kept Himself a remnant; He still does, and our concern should be to be part of that remnant.

The Apostle John, who was the last inspired writer of the New Testament, wrote, "Little children, it is the last time (hour)." 1 John 2:18. By this we know that all the characteristics of the last days were already present before the last of the apostles passed off the scene. An "hour" in Scripture sometimes refers to a span of time having all the same basic characteristics (see John 5:25 for an "hour" that has lasted about 2000 years). We are still in that "last time (hour)" now, but closer to the end of it than any of our brethren have ever been. As with the time of Nehemiah, our time is one of special trouble and difficulty. But that need not discourage us for it is also one of special privilege and blessing. Let us be encouraged to take up the responsibilities, to meet the trials, and to await the blessings.

We've considered Nehemiah's time; now, let's consider Nehemiah himself. Before him, Zerubbabel had been descended from the royal line of David. Ezra had been descended from the priestly line of Aaron. Haggai and Zechariah were gifted prophets, receiving communications directly from the Lord. Nehemiah had none of these particular gifts or advantages; he was just an ordinary person like ourselves. But there are two things that really stand out in Nehemiah:

1) he had a remarkable zeal for the Lord, as we will see further on, and

2) he loved the people of God.

This love for the people of God comes out clearly in this chapter. Hanani and other men of Judah arrived from Judea and Nehemiah asked them about the welfare of Jerusalem. The news was bad news. "The remnant that are left are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire." v. 3. We see the effect this report had on Nehemiah in verse 4: he wept, mourned, fasted, and prayed. Why? His personal circumstances were all comfortable and prosperous; why should he feel so badly about those people so far away, who after all, were suffering the consequences of their own faults and failures? Well, they were God's people, and he loved them, and felt for them in their troubles.

In the New Testament we see the Apostle Paul with a similar love for the Lord's people. He said to Barnabas, "Let us go again and visit our brethren and see how they do." Acts 15:36. He wrote to the Philippians, "That I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state." Phil. 2:19. The opposite of that is, "For all seek their own (interests - Fr.), not the things which are Jesus Christ's." Phil. 2:21. Sometimes young ones wonder if they are truly saved or not. John wrote, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." 1 John 3:14. Love for other believers is part of the new nature that we receive when we accept Christ for our Saviour.

This love is not only in word; it expresses itself in deeds. Let me give you a very simple example. You came here tonight to hear the Word, and I trust that you will be helped and blessed by it. But there is more. On a cold night like tonight it would have been much easier to remain at home and relax in comfort. But each one who has come is a help and an encouragement to each of the others. It is an expression of love to spend time with one another over the Word. Remember also, that after you are saved you are no longer an independent unit; you are a member of the body of Christ, and every member needs every other member. The expression and practice of this important truth is found in the local assembly. Considering also the difficulties and discouragements of the "last time" in which we are found, how we need the love and concern of our brethren! These were the things which stirred in the heart of Nehemiah for his brethren, the Jewish people.

The report that Nehemiah received was, "The remnant that are left are in great affliction and reproach." In the French translation, the word used for "remnant" gives the thought of our English term, "left-overs," or "scraps." That gives us an idea of the condition in which they were and of the estimation in which they were held. Both faithfulness and unfaithfulness can bring "affliction and reproach" on us. Faithfulness to the Lord excites the enemy who will speak evil of us or reproach us. "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed." The opposite of that is, "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters." Read 1 Pet. 3:12 - 17 and 4:14 - 16. If we are guilty of wrongdoing, then we rightly deserve the reproach that our unfaithfulness will bring upon us. Seeing that we will be reproached one way or another, let it be for faithfulness to the Lord. That will bring glory to His name. The remnant at Jerusalem were suffering more for their unfaithfulness than for anything else.

The report that Nehemiah heard said that "The wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire." In those days, walls and gates were an all-important defense for a city; the enemy could not enter and the people inside were safe. When Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem, he destroyed the wall and burned the gates. Now, over 100 years later, nothing had been done to repair the damage and so Jerusalem was without defense; the city was helpless to control anyone from coming in or going out.

Those city walls are an important symbol for the assembly. They represent the maintenance of separation from the world and from evil. The gates speak of godly care in reception and discipline. How important it is to have the wall and the gates in good repair! Nehemiah felt the state of his people and of his city and he wanted to do something about it. It is amazing to see the heart of Nehemiah in verse 4. He loved that people, and another thing that made Jerusalem so precious to his heart was the fact that it was the place that God had chosen to set His name there (see the end of v. 9). We will speak more about this later on.

As we said before, the true love of God is not only words. Nehemiah wanted to do something about it, but the first thing he did was that he set himself to pray. Notice how his prayer began: "I beseech Thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God " Is that how you address God in prayer? It was right for Nehemiah to address God that way, but it isn't the way we are to address Him. Nehemiah knew nothing about the cross of Calvary, or about a new life and new relationship to God in Christ. "My Father and your Father My God and your God," (John 20:17) expresses our relationship to Him now. Today we can be very intimate with God as our Father, and with the Lord Jesus as our Saviour. Intimacy speaks of nearness, and He wants us to live very near Him. But we must never be familiar, that is, putting ourselves on the same level as He is. Let us ever draw near to our loving God, but ever also maintain the reverence that we owe to Him. S.L.