Month: July 2020

July 17, 2020

Ps62- 2020-07-17

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 62

    To the choirmaster: according to Jeduthun. A Psalm of David.

    1 For God alone my soul waits in silence;

        from him comes my salvation.

    2 He alone is my rock and my salvation,

        my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

    3 How long will all of you attack a man

        to batter him,

        like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

    4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.

        They take pleasure in falsehood.

    They bless with their mouths,

        but inwardly they curse. Selah

    5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

        for my hope is from him.

    6 He only is my rock and my salvation,

        my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

    7 On God rests my salvation and my glory;

        my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

    8 Trust in him at all times, O people;

        pour out your heart before him;

        God is a refuge for us. Selah

    9 Those of low estate are but a breath;

        those of high estate are a delusion;

    in the balances they go up;

        they are together lighter than a breath.

    10 Put no trust in extortion;

        set no vain hopes on robbery;

        if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

    11 Once God has spoken;

        twice have I heard this:

        that power belongs to God,

    12     and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.

        For you will render to a man

           according to his work.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

July 16, 2020

Nehemiah 8- 2020-07-16

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 8

8:1–8 Having described in great detail the diversity and distribution of the returnees in Neh 7, the narrative moves quickly to affirm in 8:1 the unity of (“all”) the people and the singularity of their purpose…it is the people who prompt Ezra to produce the Torah and the people who also feature most prominently in Neh 8:1–12…the Torah is not merely the “law of Moses” commanded by the God of Israel (as at Ezra 7:6), but also the law that “YHWH had commanded Israel.” The inclusiveness of the gathering is further emphasized by the mention of both “men and women” (Neh 8:3) and indeed “all who could understand,” a notion whose inclusiveness of children in 10:28 would seem to imply the presence of the latter here too. That this audience in its entirety (again, “all”) was especially attentive is explicitly emphasized by the narrator—and perhaps implicitly too by the note of how long Ezra read (six hours). […]

That the Torah will be not merely venerated but taught becomes clear as the narrative shifts its attention from liturgy to pedagogy in 8:7–8. In light of the involvement of Levites later in the passage (8:9, 11, 13) and the specific identification of some here as Levites elsewhere (e.g., Jeshua, Bani, and others in 9:4–5), it seems likely that Levites were employed to assist the crowds in understanding what they heard, presumably by circulating among them in some fashion. The technique of the “tutors” includes reading the text themselves, but extends also to some type of interpretation. […] The insistence that the teaching of Torah too is being done now, as it was then, is yet another confirmation of the importance of continuity with the past.

8:9–12 As in Ezra 10, the emotional response of the gathering expresses itself in “weeping,” a visible sign of mourning and emotional distress comparable (if not identical) to that found in 2 Kgs 22:11, where Josiah is convicted by the hearing of the law, as seems to be the case here. While such a report reaffirms both the power of the law and the tenderheartedness of the people, the admonitions first in Neh 8:9 and then twice in 8:10–11 (“do not be grieved”) suggest a popular response quite out of keeping with the spirit that the leaders wished to cultivate on a day that was “holy” (three times in 8:9–11). The choice of the first day of the seventh month, announced already in 8:2, was evidently far from accidental, with Rosh Hashanah, the first day of the New Year, being a traditional day of “holy gathering” (Lev 23:24). […]

8:13–18 That the community has been captivated by their engagement with Torah is suggested by the narrator’s insistence that the very next day, a now more restricted group of laymen—the unnamed heads of the ancestral houses—together with the priests and Levites, take the further initiative of gathering around Ezra the scribe to “study” (8:13) the words of Torah. […]

While Neh 8:18 (“they kept the festival seven days”; NRSV) implies that the community proceeded to observe Sukkot more or less immediately, 8:16’s focus is on where it was observed, namely, in both private homes and public spaces in Jerusalem, including within—and perhaps in proximity to—the temple. […] the final verse captures neatly the dynamics of the chapter as a whole. On one hand, the “he” (singular) who is noted as reading (Neh 8:18) can only be Ezra, whose six-hour recitation of Torah was the starting point from which all else flowed. On the other hand, the mention of the now solemn assembly (“they”) with which the observance concludes reflects the fundamental part played by the people themselves in responding to the Torah read by Ezra, but given by God. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 47-49.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 8:1-12

 

1 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. 2 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. 3 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 to the Book of the Law. 4 And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. 6 And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. 8 They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 8:1-6

  • Reflect on the significance and rightness of the scene of “all the people gathered as one man,” standing for 6 hours with their ears “attentive to the Book of the Law” as the first order of business after completing the wall.

Nehemiah 8:7-12

  • What can I learn from the people’s response to the message of God’s word?
  • Reflect on the words of Nehemiah to the people: “For the joy of the Lord is your strength.” To what extent am I experiencing strength that comes from the joy of the Lord?

Prayer 

July 15, 2020

Nehemiah 7- 2020-07-15

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 7

Bible Text: Nehemiah 7:4-73

4 The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt.

5 Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it:

6 These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. 7 They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah.

The number of the men of the people of Israel: 8 the sons of Parosh, 2,172. 9 The sons of Shephatiah, 372. 10 The sons of Arah, 652. 11 The sons of Pahath-moab, namely the sons of Jeshua and Joab, 2,818. 12 The sons of Elam, 1,254. 13 The sons of Zattu, 845.   14 The sons of Zaccai, 760. 15 The sons of Binnui, 648. 16 The sons of Bebai, 628. 17 The sons of Azgad, 2,322. 18 The sons of Adonikam, 667. 19 The sons of Bigvai, 2,067. 20 The sons of Adin, 655. 21 The sons of Ater, namely of Hezekiah, 98. 22 The sons of Hashum, 328. 23 The sons of Bezai, 324. 24 The sons of Hariph, 112. 25 The sons of Gibeon, 95. 26 The men of Bethlehem and Netophah, 188. 27 The men of Anathoth, 128. 28 The men of Beth-azmaveth, 42. 29 The men of Kiriath-jearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, 743. 30 The men of Ramah and Geba, 621. 31 The men of Michmas, 122. 32 The men of Bethel and Ai, 123. 33 The men of the other Nebo, 52. 34 The sons of the other Elam, 1,254. 35 The sons of Harim, 320. 36 The sons of Jericho, 345. 37 The sons of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 721. 38 The sons of Senaah, 3,930.

39 The priests: the sons of Jedaiah, namely the house of Jeshua, 973. 40 The sons of Immer, 1,052. 41 The sons of Pashhur, 1,247. 42 The sons of Harim, 1,017.

43 The Levites: the sons of Jeshua, namely of Kadmiel of the sons of Hodevah, 74. 44 The singers: the sons of Asaph, 148. 45 The gatekeepers: the sons of Shallum, the sons of Ater, the sons of Talmon, the sons of Akkub, the sons of Hatita, the sons of Shobai, 138.

46 The temple servants: the sons of Ziha, the sons of Hasupha, the sons of Tabbaoth, 47 the sons of Keros, the sons of Sia, the sons of Padon, 48 the sons of Lebana, the sons of Hagaba, the sons of Shalmai, 49 the sons of Hanan, the sons of Giddel, the sons of Gahar, 50 the sons of Reaiah, the sons of Rezin, the sons of Nekoda, 51 the sons of Gazzam, the sons of Uzza, the sons of Paseah, 52 the sons of Besai, the sons of Meunim, the sons of Nephushesim, 53 the sons of Bakbuk, the sons of Hakupha, the sons of Harhur, 54 the sons of Bazlith, the sons of Mehida, the sons of Harsha, 55 the sons of Barkos, the sons of Sisera, the sons of Temah, 56 the sons of Neziah, the sons of Hatipha.

57 The sons of Solomon’s servants: the sons of Sotai, the sons of Sophereth, the sons of Perida, 58 the sons of Jaala, the sons of Darkon, the sons of Giddel, 59 the sons of Shephatiah, the sons of Hattil, the sons of Pochereth-hazzebaim, the sons of Amon.

60 All the temple servants and the sons of Solomon’s servants were 392.

61 The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: 62 the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. 63 Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). 64 These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. 65 The governor told them that they were not to partake of the most holy food until a priest with Urim and Thummim should arise.

66 The whole assembly together was 42,360, 67 besides their male and female servants, of whom there were 7,337. And they had 245 singers, male and female. 68 Their horses were 736, their mules 245, 69 their camels 435, and their donkeys 6,720.

70 Now some of the heads of fathers’ houses gave to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 darics of gold, 50 basins, 30 priests’ garments and 500 minas of silver. 71 And some of the heads of fathers’ houses gave into the treasury of the work 20,000 darics of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. 72 And what the rest of the people gave was 20,000 darics of gold, 2,000 minas of silver, and 67 priests’ garments.

73 So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel, lived in their towns.

And when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 7:4-6

  • Nehemiah needed to enroll the people by genealogy, because although the walls were completed in such amazing fashion, there remained the task of populating the city in order to restore it to a functioning state. This required further sacrifices by people, because to live in a desolate city, even if it now had the protection of a strong wall and gates, was not convenient or comfortable.  Reflect on what this shows about building God’s work and about his community.

Nehemiah 7:64-65

  • Taking into account the importance of the genealogy documents, what can I conclude about these people who could not find documents of their family records?
  • In what ways do I need to steward well my spiritual genealogy?

Prayer 

July 14, 2020

Nehemiah 7- 2020-07-14

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 7

7:1–4 Given their appearance in 7:45, it is most probable that the gatekeepers (7:1) mentioned by Nehemiah were normally associated with the temple and here stationed along with the other cultic guilds (singers and Levites) on a temporary watch. Perhaps more permanent is Nehemiah’s appointment of his own brother, Hanani, who having lamented Jerusalem’s ruined walls (1:2–3), now takes charge of the city around which they have been rebuilt (7:2a). Also mentioned by Nehemiah is the elevation of a certain Hananiah as commander of the citadel, though not on the basis of kinship nor even his particular military experience or expertise. Though the latter may well be presumed, Nehemiah makes a point of explaining Hananiah’s appointment first and foremost on account of his virtuous character and his “fear[ing] God more than many.” Having castigated some for lacking such a trait (5:9) and reaffirmed his own fear of God (5:15), it is perhaps understandable that Nehemiah would appoint someone who shares a quality that he himself so prizes.

Whether uttered by Hananiah or Nehemiah himself, the instructions found in 7:3 make most sense if they are understood as warning against the opening of the gates not “until” (NRSV) but rather “while” the sun is hot. That this is most probable is confirmed by ancient testimony that city gates were often vulnerable in the heat of the day, at which time potentially lethargic guards should thus be encouraged to “shut and bar the doors” (7:3). The further precaution of enlisting the general populace at particular strategic points and near their own houses—in whose defense they might be expected to be especially energetic—is a further measure of the continuing anxieties regarding the defense of the city and leads understandably to Nehemiah’s subsequent observation that the city’s people were few and its houses rather too far between (7:4).

7:5 While, as we will see, Neh 11 will deal more directly and explicitly with the repopulation of the city, the gathering of the people by Nehemiah for the purposes of a census (7:5) is not unintelligible as a preparatory step to this repopulation. Thus it may well be that the list that follows (7:6–73a) did belong properly to the Nehemiah memoir. In the present form of the book, in which the census list is immediately followed by the corporate reading of Torah (Neh 8), Nehemiah’s reflection that God had “put it into my mind” (lit., “heart,”; so also 2:12) now appears as the divine impetus to a covenantal convocation rather than the city’s repopulation. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 46-47.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 6:15-7:3

15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. 17 Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. 18 For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. 19 Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid.

7 1 Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, 2 I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. 3 And I said to them, “Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun is hot. And while they are still standing guard, let them shut and bar the doors. Appoint guards from among the inhabitants of Jerusalem, some at their guard posts and some in front of their own homes.”

 

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 6:15-16

  • The wall, which had remained rubble for 140 years, ends up being completed in 52 days. Reflect on all it took to finish the wall in such a short time, and consider the power of the people of God uniting around a God-honoring vision. What is the vision around which I have united with others?
  • What kind of impact does the wall’s completion have on others? What lesson does this teach about what the church can do when it is carrying out its mission?

Nehemiah 7:2

  • What were the qualities Nehemiah considered when deciding to appoint someone over Jerusalem? How might faithfulness and fearing God be related?

Prayer 

July 13, 2020

Ps61- 2020-07-13

  • Journal
  • Bible Text:

    Psalm 61

    To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

    1 Hear my cry, O God,

        listen to my prayer;

    2 from the end of the earth I call to you

        when my heart is faint.

      Lead me to the rock

        that is higher than I,

    3 for you have been my refuge,

        a strong tower against the enemy.

    4 Let me dwell in your tent forever!

        Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah

    5 For you, O God, have heard my vows;

        you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

    6 Prolong the life of the king;

        may his years endure to all generations!

    7 May he be enthroned forever before God;

        appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

    8 So will I ever sing praises to your name,

        as I perform my vows day after day.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

July 10, 2020

Ps56- 2020-07-10

  • Journal
  • Bible Text:

    Psalm 56

    To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths.

    A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

    1 Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;

        all day long an attacker oppresses me;

    2 my enemies trample on me all day long,

        for many attack me proudly.

    3 When I am afraid,

        I put my trust in you.

    4 In God, whose word I praise,

        in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

        What can flesh do to me?

    5 All day long they injure my cause;

        all their thoughts are against me for evil.

    6 They stir up strife, they lurk;

        they watch my steps,

        as they have waited for my life.

    7 For their crime will they escape?

        In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

    8 You have kept count of my tossings;

        put my tears in your bottle.

        Are they not in your book?

    9 Then my enemies will turn back

        in the day when I call.

        This I know, that God is for me.

    10 In God, whose word I praise,

        in the Lord, whose word I praise,

    11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.

        What can man do to me?

    12 I must perform my vows to you, O God;

        I will render thank offerings to you.

    13 For you have delivered my soul from death,

        yes, my feet from falling,

        that I may walk before God

    in the light of life.

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

July 9, 2020

Nehemiah 6- 2020-07-09

Journal

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Commentary:

Nehemiah 6

 

6:1–7 […] News of Nehemiah’s virtual completion of the wall apparently prompts Sanballat and Geshem to request a meeting with Nehemiah outside Jerusalem (6:2). Whatever the full story may have been, Nehemiah is clearly of the conviction that his enemies’ strategy now includes the tactical deployment of deception and that Sanballat and Geshem’s desire for a meeting is less innocuous than it might seem (6:2). […]

The possible existence and probable effectiveness of rumors that Judah was rebuilding for the purposes of rebelling are of course suggested, as we have already seen, by the correspondence included in Ezra (4:6–24). Whether possible Davidic ancestry left Nehemiah particularly vulnerable to the more personally damaging allegations of coopting royal prophecy is unclear, but it does not seem improbable that prophets based in Jerusalem at this time may have been prophesying in much the same way that Haggai (2:20–23) and Zechariah (6:9–14) had done in the early days of the return. Indeed, whatever the historical sequence, Nehemiah’s self-presentation in dealing with the debt crisis (Neh 5) does little to dampen messianic enthusiasm.

6:8–9 […] Aware of the danger of allowing himself to be intimidated by false prophets/prophecies designed to cause his “hands to drop from the work,” Nehemiah reports yet another of his prayers, in which the request for God to “strengthen my hands” suggests a tighter integration of the prayer into the narrative horizon of the chapter than is the case with the prayer at the end of the last chapter (5:19) or the one toward the end of this one (6:14).

6:10–14 […] How Nehemiah’s observation that “the prophecy he spoke was about/concerning me” led him to the conclusion that Shemaiah had not been sent by God becomes clear when we remember that back in 6:7 the false prophecies were also “about” Nehemiah. Although this subsequent false prophecy (i.e., the governor is in mortal danger) is different in detail from the first (i.e., the governor has royal ambitions), their common focus on the person of Nehemiah evidently allowed him to perceive that God had not sent Shemaiah. […]

In facing down the false prophets and prophecies ranged against him in Neh 6, Nehemiah recognizes that the real weapon of his enemies—the real danger posed by the false prophets—is the fear that they might induce in him. Moreover, if Nehemiah were to have responded fearfully to the false prophets by either scaling down the work on the wall or fleeing to the temple, 6:13 suggests that he would have seen himself as compromised in the eyes of the people.

[…] As in 4:4, though with slightly less venom, Nehemiah prays for the divine remembrance of the community’s opponents “according to these things that they did,” yet the increasingly personal nature of their campaign here in Neh 6 appears to be reflected in the special place that Nehemiah reserves in his prayer for Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to “make me afraid.” […]

6:15–19 […] However, such considerations are of little interest to Nehemiah, who prefers to note that the news of the wall’s completion—and perhaps the speed of it—strikes the very fear in his enemies’ hearts (6:16) that they had been hoping to induce in him. Instead of his reputation being tarnished by a tactical retreat (6:13), Nehemiah reports that it is his enemies’ own self-confidence that dropped perceptibly. Interestingly, on Nehemiah’s view, this psychological setback for his opponents arose not as a result of their perception of the increased security of the community or the self-confidence derived from such an accomplishment—but rather their growing awareness that “this work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16), an appellation that serves to reinforce Nehemiah’s insistent claim on God’s identification with his community,but also his radical exclusion of his opponents in theological terms.[1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 44-46.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 6:1-14

1 Now when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built the wall and that there was no breach left in it (although up to that time I had not set up the doors in the gates), 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come and let us meet together at Hakkephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they intended to do me harm. 3 And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” 4 And they sent to me four times in this way, and I answered them in the same manner. 5 In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter in his hand. 6 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. 7 And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” 8 Then I sent to him, saying, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” 9 For they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.” But now, O God, strengthen my hands.

10 Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah, son of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home, he said, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple. Let us close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. They are coming to kill you by night.” 11 But I said, “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live? I will not go in.” 12 And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 For this purpose he was hired, that I should be afraid and act in this way and sin, and so they could give me a bad name in order to taunt me. 14 Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, according to these things that they did, and also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who wanted to make me afraid.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 6:1-4

  • Nehemiah refuses Sanballat’s invitation to meet by saying that “I am doing a great work.” What is the “great work” I have been called to carry out? 
  • What are some distractions or fears that cause me to be drawn away from being faithful in carrying out this great work?
  • From the fact that the invitation comes four times, what can I learn about temptations and distractions and how I need to respond to them?

Nehemiah 6:9-14

  • What enabled Nehemiah to possess such discernment to not be tricked by Sanballat’s letter (vv. 5-9) or the prophet’s suggestion?
  • Notice Nehemiah’s prayer in vs. 14. To what extent would such prayers have helped Nehemiah to stay focused on his task?  Are there some negative things I need to simply entrust to God through prayer so that I can stay unencumbered in my pursuit of my God-given mission?

Prayer 

July 8, 2020

Nehemiah 5- 2020-07-08

Journal

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Commentary:

Nehemiah 5

5:1–5 […] Nehemiah 5:2–5 appears to report separate complaints, but the increasing specificity of their presentation contributes to the cumulative rhetorical effect on the reader. Thus the articulation of the basic problem, an existential need for food for families (5:2), gives way to complaints regarding the consequent need to mortgage family holdings in order to meet the twin demands of feeding the family (5:3) and paying the crown (5:4). […] the final complaint that, having lost financial control of their land, members of the community had to resort to the still more desperate (and certainly more emotive) measure of indenturing their children (5:5) without having the means of eventually freeing them. If Pentateuchal traditions contain provisions for the transfer of land and indeed for debt servitude as a means of staving off the extinction of families (e.g., Lev 25; Deut 15:1–18, esp. 15:12), it is clear that at this crucial juncture, the prospering of some at the expense of others by means of such practices was seen to pose a credible threat to the sense of community cohesion required by Nehemiah’s project.

5:6–13 […] Nehemiah’s accusation against the nobles and officials concentrates not on the lending itself but on the charging of interest on what was being lent. […]

Yet, if Nehemiah does have particular or indeed even general legal traditions in mind, he begins instead by explaining how the abuse of the debt-servitude system is undermining the efforts of the community as a whole, not least because the community had been redeeming (cf. Lev 25) those indentured to Gentiles. […] His condemnation of the offenders in no uncertain terms (“what you are doing is not right”), his invocation of “the fear of our God,” […]

Nehemiah records not only the nobles’ and officials’ agreement to his orders in Neh 5:12, but also his efforts to ensure that these practices are not repeated. First, cultic sanction is invoked by the witnessing of the leaders’ oath by the priests, summoned for the purpose and perhaps included themselves, but Nehemiah also goes on to insist that noncompliance will be met with excommunication (5:13), much as Ezra does in response to the intermarriage crisis (Ezra 10:8). Whatever the origins of Nehemiah’s “coat-shaking” exercise, its resemblance to the object lessons of prophets such as Ezekiel and Jeremiah suggests a general familiarity with such practices. Whether Nehemiah’s final words in Neh 5:13 indicate that the congregation literally followed his symbolic lead or simply followed through on what they had agreed (“amen”), his mention of the praise of the people affirms a happy ending to his intervention, much as it marks such moments elsewhere in Ezra-Nehemiah (Ezra 3:10–11; Neh 12:24). […]

5:14–19 […] Nehemiah’s mention of the food allowance to which he and his coterie were entitled (5:14) clearly facilitates his identification—in principle at least, if not in actual practice (5:18)—with those who have less food than they might have had (5:2). That Nehemiah has already presented his abstaining from usury as exemplary fits well with his favorable comparison here of his own personal restraint with what we are left to assume was the typically exploitative behavior of those who preceded him in his post (5:15). This personal restraint is motivated by the same “fear of God” (5:15) that Nehemiah exhorted the community’s leaders to display in abandoning their ignoble pursuit of interest (5:9), suggesting the importance (to Nehemiah and his intended readers) of presenting this reform as theologically motivated. […] [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 41-43.

Bible Text: Nehemiah 5:1-19

1 Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” 3 There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” 4 And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”

6 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. 7 I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, “You are exacting interest, each from his brother.” And I held a great assembly against them 8 and said to them, “We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!” They were silent and could not find a word to say. 9 So I said, “The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? 10 Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. 11 Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.” 12 Then they said, “We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say.” And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. 13 I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, “So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said “Amen” and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.

14 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. 15 The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. 16 I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. 17 Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. 18 Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. 19 Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 5:1-11

  • What can I learn about Nehemiah’s character and values from how he calls a great assembly with the nobles and officials to deal with their injustice to the poor among them?

Nehemiah 5:12-13

  • What can I learn about human nature from Nehemiah summoning the priests and making the nobles “swear to do as they had promised” and then adding a curse on top of everything else?
  • Reflect on the rightness of the words: “the people did as they had promised.”

Nehemiah 5:14-16

  • What can I learn from Nehemiah, who did not insist on his new rights as governor but “persevered in the work on this wall”? What enabled him to do so?

Prayer 

July 7, 2020

Nehemiah 4- 2020-07-07

Journal

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Commentary:

NEHEMIAH 4

4:1–3[…] Sanballat’s earlier allegations of rebellion, easily dismissed by Nehemiah (2:19–20), now give way to a vitriolic questioning of the returnees’ ability to complete the job. […] Sanballat scornfully calls into question either their own unrealistic expectations or their ability to expedite matters—or both. Finally, he queries the wisdom of salvaging burnt and thereby weakened stones for the rebuilding. Tobiah’s own contemptuous contribution likewise focuses on the work on the wall itself, by suggesting that its fragility would be exposed by a scampering fox—a creature known to haunt the stones of ruined cities (Lam 5:18), but hardly sizeable enough to dislodge them in normal circumstances.

4:4–5 Unlike Neh 2, this explosion of mockery and criticism is merely reported by Nehemiah rather than addressed to him, so it is perhaps not surprising that his response is not to his enemies (as in Neh 2) but instead to his God. That his prayer lacks any introduction (e.g., “and we said”) strengthens the assumption that it has been inserted into the narrative by Nehemiah himself, but within the narrative as it stands it also contributes to the impression of both extemporaneity and spontaneity. Nehemiah’s awareness that news of their progress had caused their enemies to despise (בזה/bzh) them (2:19) leads naturally now to a plea that God would hear their prayer “for we are despised” (4:3). The plea for God to “hear” is of course common currency in psalmic prayers of petition generally (Ps 27:7; 30:10) while prayers for deliverance from an enemy (Ps 44; 74; 77) and those of an imprecatory spirit (Ps 137; 109:6–19) are also well represented among the Psalms. […]

4:6–9 Nehemiah resumes his account with a progress report on the wall, emphasizing the completion of the circuit (“all the wall”) up to half its projected height. Given that it was the community’s lack of capacity to reconstruct the wall that was the object of their enemies’ mockery, Nehemiah’s progress report here confirms that his prayer that God would turn their enemies’ taunts back on them (4:5) has been answered—thanks in no small part, he notes, to the commitment of the people who “had a mind to work” (4:6). Nehemiah furnishes further evidence that the opposition continues to mount as the wall climbs higher by once again reporting the reaction to the repair of the wall and more specifically to the progressive “closing of the gaps.” […] Here as earlier (4:1) there is great anger, but instead of mockery, Nehemiah now reports a plot to “fight/make war” in or against Jerusalem and cause confusion (4:2). […] As before (4:4–5), the response reported by Nehemiah includes an appeal to “our God” (4:9), and while the prayer itself is not included, it is—as before—offered up by the community (“we prayed”) rather than merely by the leader. Just as Nehemiah himself had combined prayer with practical action in the throne room of Artaxerxes (2:4–5) so here prayer is accompanied by the very pragmatic posting of a protective guard round the clock (4:9).

4:10–13 […] That this campaign of (mis)information threatens to further undermine the builders’ efforts is confirmed by Nehemiah’s report of the reaction of those living in the vicinity of their “enemies” and thus most susceptible to such rumors: “They said to us repeatedly [lit., ‘ten times’] from everywhere [i.e., various outlying regions]: ‘Return to us!’ ” (4:12). With Jerusalem inevitably destined to bear the brunt of any attack, it is only natural that families would want their loved ones home and out of harm’s way. Nehemiah’s response is, however, to rally the people, either in areas that were particularly vulnerable or more likely in a single space that was particularly visible, mobilizing and arming the “people” in their relevant families to literally stand in the breach (4:13).

4:14–15 Nehemiah preserves here only an excerpt from what may well have been a longer speech, clearly designed to bolster sagging spirits. […] Nehemiah does not suggest here that the God they are to remember will fight their battle for them; rather, he encourages the returnees to “fight for” each other—with the mention of brothers, sons, daughters, wives, and houses presumably offering a catalog of things most worth fighting for. […] Nehemiah heeds his own advice, remembering YHWH by attributing the frustration of the enemies’ plot to God himself—though one may doubt whether this particular interpretation of events would have been shared by Sanballat and his allies, as Nehemiah perhaps innocently suggests (4:15). While the success of Nehemiah’s tactic is signaled by the return of the people to their work on the wall (4:15b), he was evidently persuaded that sufficient threat remained to assign half of his own men to an armed security detail to provide reassurance to the workers on one hand and a visible deterrent and capacity for rapid tactical response to any attack on the other.

4:16–20 Whether the rulers of the people had ever been fully engaged in the manual labor on the wall (cf. Neh 3), they are now withdrawn from the front line and positioned “behind” the people doing the work (4:16b–17), in all likelihood to protect the fledgling community’s small corps of leaders. Given that they would form the bulk of any fighting force, even the workers themselves are armed—the basket carriers with a stone or other missile in their free hand (4:17) and the builders with swords on hips (4:18) to keep both hands free. Recognizing that “we are separated far from one another on the wall” (4:19 NRSV), Nehemiah’s plan to muster the people by means of the trumpeter at his side draws on time-honored traditions of Israel’s military history (Judg 3:27; 6:34; 7:18) as does his reassurance that “our God will fight for us” (Neh 4:20; cf. Deut 1:30; Josh 10:14).

4:21–23 […] While a system of rotating watches will have allowed a workforce restricted to Jerusalem to “labor by day” having also stood “guard for us by night” (4:22), the more pertinent purpose of the restriction may well have been to prevent the leading figures and their servants from heeding the cries to “return to us!” (4:12), which may well have continued in outlying areas despite Nehemiah’s efforts to quell them. Acknowledging the importance of setting an example, Nehemiah makes a point of noting the visible vigilance of him and his closest colleagues, with sentiments such as “never took off our clothes” and “weapon in our right hand” (4:23) being roughly equivalent to sleeping with one’s boots on and a pistol under the pillow. [1]

[1] Sherpherd, David J. and Christopher J.H. Wright, Ezra and Nehemiah, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018) 38-40.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 4:1-23

 

1 Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. 2 And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building—if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” 4 Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. 5 Do not cover their guilt, and let not their sin be blotted out from your sight, for they have provoked you to anger in the presence of the builders.

6 So we built the wall. And all the wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work.

7 But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. 8 And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. 9 And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.

10 In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” 11 And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” 12 At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” 13 So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14 And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.”

15 When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated their plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work. 16 From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building on the wall. Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built. The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me. 19 And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. 20 In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”

21 So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out. 22 I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night within Jerusalem, that they may be a guard for us by night and may labor by day.” 23 So neither I nor my brothers nor my servants nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us took off our clothes; each kept his weapon at his right hand.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 4:1-6

  • What does Sanballat’s ridicule reveal about the apparent impossibility of the project to rebuild the wall?
  • Reflect on the words: “the people had a mind to work” (the NIV says “the people worked with all their heart”). What lesson does this give regarding how best to respond to scorn and ridicule directed at Christianity?

Nehemiah 4:7-23

  • What lessons can I learn from how Nehemiah responds to the overwhelming set of circumstances, including external threat and internal loss of strength?
  • The people’s view that “there is too much rubble…we will not be able to rebuild the wall” turns out to be an inaccurate reflection of reality. What is God’s message to me from this chapter regarding situations toward which I feel too weary and unable to tackle?

Prayer 

July 6, 2020

Ps46- 2020-07-06

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 46

    To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah.

    According to Alamoth. A Song.

    1 God is our refuge and strength,

        a very present help in trouble.

    2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

        though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

    3 though its waters roar and foam,

        though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

    4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

        the holy habitation of the Most High.

    5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;

        God will help her when morning dawns.

    6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;

        he utters his voice, the earth melts.

    7 The Lord of hosts is with us;

        the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

    8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,

        how he has brought desolations on the earth.

    9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

        he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

        he burns the chariots with fire.

    10 “Be still, and know that I am God.

        I will be exalted among the nations,

        I will be exalted in the earth!”

    11 The Lord of hosts is with us;

        the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

    God

  • [What truths about God’s person, activity or character does the text reveal?]

  • Lessons/ Insights

  • Apply and Obey

    [How does today’s text apply to me? How will I obey or respond to the truths from today’s text?]

  • Prayer 

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