God put the Book of Nehemiah on my heart in early 2023. I’ve been sharing the story in segments with you ever since. Let me do a quick re-cap for you so you can appreciate the momentum that is building and why Nehemiah and the Jewish remnant were Strong, Sacred and Armed. (see past posts here. scroll to bottom left for ‘older entries.”)
Nehemiah was a Jewish cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes. He petitioned the King to rebuild the broken wall surrounding Jerusalem and the Temple (the Sacred) after hearing about the remnant of Jews who had returned their after their Babylonian exile. With the Kings permission, full backing, and a “Governor of Judea” title bestowed, he set out on his mission. The Jewish people embraced the rebuilding project but the surrounding provinces gave them hell.
The names of the protagonists in the stories may change but our conflicted human relationships do not. The enemies of Israel in those days are still Israel’s enemies today. In Nehemiah’s day, Sanballat was the governor of Samaria, which is the region of Palestine we now call the “West Bank.” Tobiah was the representative of a country that was then known as Ammon, now called Jordan. Later in Chapter 4:7, we read about the opposition of the “Arabs, Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod.” Where is Ashdod today? The Gaza Strip. Those leaders were extremely angry that the Jews were back rebuilding and reinforcing their walls and gates surrounding their temple, their sacred site, where YHWH dwelled. The enemies of God despised their piety and their prosperity.
They started out by ridiculing them. It began as a war of words. When they saw that their criticisms, mockery and put-downs were ineffective they grew angrier, and resolved to use violence. The planned to create confusion and uncertainty among the Jews by carrying out surprise terrorist attacks on the city.
” But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (4:7-9)
Often the enemies of God start with words—but if the hate speech doesn’t work, it escalates to violence.
The rebuilding project would escalate too, but all along the way, Nehemiah responds both spiritually and pragmatically. He led his people in prayer and then posted a guard. Then the Jews who lived outside the city came to Nehemiah and reported they overheard the enemies saying “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” (vs. 11-12)
Now we’re talking pre-meditated murder so Nehemiah had to up his game. He “stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.” He also told them to “fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (vs. 13-14) He also divided his men up. “Half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side while he worked.” (vs. 16-17)
As believers in God, Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem had a power in their lives that their enemies knew nothing about. They had invisible resources in times of danger. Their great and awesome God would stand with them in the crisis. Remembering that God was with them, they experienced a resurgence of courage and were confident that God himself would fight for them. This was no small skirmish. Historian, Josephus, recorded that “the Jews’ enemies surrounded them on all sides and they slew many of the Jews.”
On News Year’s Day this year, the Lord gave me a word for 2023, “It’s time to rebuild the sacred on the one hand, with a weapon in the other. I feel compelled to build up the sacred in our lives and gear up for battle. Lew and I are putting systems into place and readying ourselves. What do you think? What are you sensing in your soul? Is God speaking something different to you?
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