Devotion Text

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 

July 3, 2020

Ps37- 2020-07-03

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: 

    Psalm 37

    Of David.

    1 Fret not yourself because of evildoers;

        be not envious of wrongdoers!

    2 For they will soon fade like the grass

        and wither like the green herb.

    3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;

        dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

    4 Delight yourself in the Lord,

        and he will give you the desires of your heart.

    5 Commit your way to the Lord;

        trust in him, and he will act.

    6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

        and your justice as the noonday.

    7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

        fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,

        over the man who carries out evil devices!

    8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!

        Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

    9 For the evildoers shall be cut off,

        but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

    10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;

    though you look carefully at his place, he will not be   

    there.

    11 But the meek shall inherit the land

        and delight themselves in abundant peace.

    12 The wicked plots against the righteous

        and gnashes his teeth at him,

    13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked,

        for he sees that his day is coming.

    14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows

        to bring down the poor and needy,

        to slay those whose way is upright;

    15 their sword shall enter their own heart,

        and their bows shall be broken.

    16 Better is the little that the righteous has

        than the abundance of many wicked.

    17 For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,

        but the Lord upholds the righteous.

    18 The Lord knows the days of the blameless,

        and their heritage will remain forever;

    19 they are not put to shame in evil times;

        in the days of famine they have abundance.

    20 But the wicked will perish;

        the enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures;

        they vanish—like smoke they vanish away.

    21 The wicked borrows but does not pay back,

        but the righteous is generous and gives;

    22 for those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land,

        but those cursed by him shall be cut off.

    23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,

        when he delights in his way;

    24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,

        for the Lord upholds his hand.

    25 I have been young, and now am old,

        yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken

        or his children begging for bread.

    26 He is ever lending generously,

        and his children become a blessing.

    27 Turn away from evil and do good;

        so shall you dwell forever.

    28 For the Lord loves justice;

        he will not forsake his saints.

        They are preserved forever,

        but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.

    29 The righteous shall inherit the land

        and dwell upon it forever.

    30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,

        and his tongue speaks justice.

    31 The law of his God is in his heart;

        his steps do not slip.

    32 The wicked watches for the righteous

        and seeks to put him to death.

    33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power

        or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

    34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,

        and he will exalt you to inherit the land;

        you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

    35 I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,

        spreading himself like a green laurel tree.

    36 But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;

        though I sought him, he could not be found.

    37 Mark the blameless and behold the upright,

        for there is a future for the man of peace.

    38 But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed;

        the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

    39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;

        he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.

    40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;

        he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,

        because they take refuge in him.

    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 2, 2020

Nehemiah 3- 2020-07-02

Journal

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Commentary:

Nehemiah 3

3:1–2 Confirmation of the community’s earlier commitment to the project (2:18: “Let us arise and build”) is supplied by the report here that Eliashib the high priest and his confederates “arose and built” (3:1) the Sheep Gate. This may well have been of particular interest to the priests along with the stretch of wall between the towers of “Hananel” and “the Hundred” (cf. 12:39) because of their probable association with the temple complex (2:8) in the northeast of the city. It is possible that the dedication and purification of the walls mentioned in 12:27–30 is to be identified with the “consecration” of the building work here (3:1), though a separate process of sanctification for repairs to the sacred precincts cannot be ruled out. […]

3:3–32 The Fish Gate—built by the sons of Hassenaah (3:3)—was likely located in the northwest corner of the city and marks the point at which the focus of the work shifted from the late preexilic wall to the earlier one. While the Tekoites are represented in the work party, the list makes a point of noting the Tekoan nobles’ lack of support and loyalty “to their lord(s)” (3:5). Whether or not their lack of support for Nehemiah’s initiative reflects Tekoa’s proximity to Qedar (and an allegiance to Geshem), this incidental note confirms that not all of those who might have been expected to contribute did so. […] Among those engaged in repair work beyond the Broad Wall in the direction of the Tower of the Ovens were two responsible for the two subdistricts of Jerusalem, Rephaiah son of Hur (3:9) and Shallum son of Hallohesh (3:12). The specific mention of the latter’s daughters simultaneously discloses Shallum’s lack of sons and celebrates the commitment of his daughters to share their father’s responsibilities.

[…] Others with leadership responsibility elsewhere (Nehemiah over Beth Zur [3:16]; Hashabiah and Binnui over half districts of Keilah [3:17–18]; Ezer over Mizpah [3:19])—some of whom were apparently Levites (3:17)—also make repairs on behalf of “their district” (3:17). The proximity of the work to the house of the high priest Eliashib (3:20–21)—already involved near the temple enclosure (3:1–2)—may well explain the involvement of the priests (3:22), whose number may have included Meremoth (Ezra 8:33). Others continue the pattern of working on the wall in the vicinity of their own houses (Neh 3:23). […] Whether the Tekoans who carried out the work on the next section (3:27) were the same as those already mentioned (3:5), it is not impossible that the extra investment by the Tekoans was motivated by a desire to make up for the absence of their nobles. [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) 37-38.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 3:1-32

1 Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hananel. 2 And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built.

3 The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 4 And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam the son of Berechiah, son of Meshezabel repaired. And next to them Zadok the son of Baana repaired. 5 And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.

6 Joiada the son of Paseah and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah repaired the Gate of Yeshanah. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 7 And next to them repaired Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, the men of Gibeon and of Mizpah, the seat of the governor of the province Beyond the River. 8 Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall. 9 Next to them Rephaiah the son of Hur, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired. 10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house. And next to him Hattush the son of Hashabneiah repaired. 11 Malchijah the son of Harim and Hasshub the son of Pahath-moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens. 12 Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.

13 Hanun and the inhabitants of Zanoah repaired the Valley Gate. They rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars, and repaired a thousand cubits of the wall, as far as the Dung Gate.

14 Malchijah the son of Rechab, ruler of the district of Beth-haccherem, repaired the Dung Gate. He rebuilt it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars.

15 And Shallum the son of Col-hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah, repaired the Fountain Gate. He rebuilt it and covered it and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. And he built the wall of the Pool of Shelah of the king’s garden, as far as the stairs that go down from the city of David. 16 After him Nehemiah the son of Azbuk, ruler of half the district of Beth-zur, repaired to a point opposite the tombs of David, as far as the artificial pool, and as far as the house of the mighty men. 17 After him the Levites repaired: Rehum the son of Bani. Next to him Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, repaired for his district. 18 After him their brothers repaired: Bavvai the son of Henadad, ruler of half the district of Keilah. 19 Next to him Ezer the son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section opposite the ascent to the armory at the buttress. 20 After him Baruch the son of Zabbai repaired another section from the buttress to the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest. 21 After him Meremoth the son of Uriah, son of Hakkoz repaired another section from the door of the house of Eliashib to the end of the house of Eliashib. 22 After him the priests, the men of the surrounding area, repaired. 23 After them Benjamin and Hasshub repaired opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah repaired beside his own house. 24 After him Binnui the son of Henadad repaired another section, from the house of Azariah to the buttress and to the corner. 25 Palal the son of Uzai repaired opposite the buttress and the tower projecting from the upper house of the king at the court of the guard. After him Pedaiah the son of Parosh 26 and the temple servants living on Ophel repaired to a point opposite the Water Gate on the east and the projecting tower. 27 After him the Tekoites repaired another section opposite the great projecting tower as far as the wall of Ophel.

28 Above the Horse Gate the priests repaired, each one opposite his own house. 29 After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house. After him Shemaiah the son of Shecaniah, the keeper of the East Gate, repaired. 30 After him Hananiah the son of Shelemiah and Hanun the sixth son of Zalaph repaired another section. After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber. 31 After him Malchijah, one of the goldsmiths, repaired as far as the house of the temple servants and of the merchants, opposite the Muster Gate, and to the upper chamber of the corner. 32 And between the upper chamber of the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and the merchants repaired.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 3:5

  • What can we learn from the Tekoite nobles, who “would not stoop to serve their Lord” in the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem?
  • How does the nobles’ behavior contrast with the description in the rest of the chapter?

Nehemiah 3:6-12

  • Reflect upon the fact that the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall was done by men and women of all backgrounds, even goldsmiths, priests, merchants, and perfume-makers. How does this capture the essence of the local church? 
  • For all but a few, the task of rebuilding the wall was unfamiliar work, outside of their normal range of skills. What does this reveal about what it takes to build God’s kingdom?  How willing and available am I to doing whatever task is necessary to further God’s kingdom regardless of whether I feel comfortable doing such tasks, or whether it’s something I am already good at?

Prayer 

July 1, 2020

Nehemiah 2- 2020-07-01

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 2

Bible Text: Nehemiah 2:11-20

11 So I went to Jerusalem and was there three days. 12 Then I arose in the night, I and a few men with me. And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. There was no animal with me but the one on which I rode. 13 I went out by night by the Valley Gate to the Dragon Spring and to the Dung Gate, and I inspected the walls of Jerusalem that were broken down and its gates that had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I went on to the Fountain Gate and to the King’s Pool, but there was no room for the animal that was under me to pass. 15 Then I went up in the night by the valley and inspected the wall, and I turned back and entered by the Valley Gate, and so returned. 16 And the officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, and I had not yet told the Jews, the priests, the nobles, the officials, and the rest who were to do the work.

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 2:11-16

  • What can we learn about the kind of person Nehemiah was by the way he sets out at night to personally inspect the entire wall?

Nehemiah 2:17-20

  • How does Nehemiah describe the situation that the people have been used to for about 140 years? What are some troubling realities I have become accustomed to that I need to redefine as unacceptable?
  • Think about the beautiful response of the people, “Let us rise up and build,” and the words “So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” What does this passage show about the nature of “good work”? What good work has God given me to do, and what has been my response to it?

Prayer 

June 30, 2020

Nehemiah 2- 2020-06-30

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 2

2:1–8 Whether Nehemiah awaits his turn to attend to the king, or perhaps awaits the return of the king himself from the royal winter residence in Babylon, some four months pass before an opportune time arises for Nehemiah to disclose his concern to the king. Such an opportunity is afforded him due to his role as “cupbearer” (1:11), a position whose duties may well have included sampling the royal cup to prevent the poisoning of the royal person, but whose influence apparently extended far beyond this. Nehemiah reports (2:1–2) that his sadness—whether heartfelt or artful—contrasted sharply with his usual demeanor, thereby piquing the curiosity of the king and prompting royal concern. Nehemiah’s anxiety at this point (“I was very much afraid”; 2:2) may relate to the dangers of displaying anything other than a cheerful disposition in the Persian court (cf. Dan 1). However, Nehemiah’s apprehension may well be prompted by the prospect of voicing a concern that is, on one hand deeply personal, yet on the other, directly related to Persian imperial interests and policy vis-à-vis Jerusalem (Ezra 4:21).

[…] Before Nehemiah makes his request, he first notes his prayer to the God of heaven—most probably itself a request and if so perhaps similar in spirit (and also brevity) to the one he had been praying in the months previous (Neh 1:11): “Give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man!” (NRSV).

[…] Nehemiah’s ability to draw directly from the resources of the Persian crown (i.e., the king’s forest; Neh 2:8) may reflect his position within the court or perhaps the perceived strategic importance of the work. Nehemiah does, however, share with the book of Ezra not only the phrase the “good hand of my God” (e.g., Ezra 7:9; 8:18), but also the understanding of this divine agency as the sole motive force behind the Persian crown’s authorization of the return(s) (7:6).

2:11–16 […] Just as Ezra sees the beautification of the temple as being “put by God in the hearts” of the Persian kings (Ezra 7:27), so too Nehemiah understands his plans as those that “my God had put in my heart” (Neh 2:12). The prospect of opposition to these divinely inspired plans—a prospect that 2:19–20 shows to be a very real one—is perhaps the most obvious explanation for Nehemiah’s insistence that what God had told him “I told no one” (2:12). Indeed, one suspects that Nehemiah’s reemphasizing of the completeness of his discretion—cataloged in some detail in 2:16b and celebrated in 2:16a—reflects his awareness of the potential damage that might be done if advance notice of his plans reached the opposition before they could be fully formed and communicated within the community.

2:17–18 […] Having seen the situation for himself, Nehemiah’s articulation of both the problem and the solution in the same terms used by the visitors to Susa (2:17; cf. “trouble/bad situation,” “gates burned,” “disgrace” in 1:3) must have been intentional. In addition to confirming and identifying with the community’s own understanding of its plight (“you see the trouble we are in”; 2:17), Nehemiah reinforces his charismatic authority to lead by sharing his earlier awareness (2:8) of “the hand of God for good” upon him—manifest not only (but presumably not least) in the royal interest in and approval of Nehemiah’s plans (2:18).

Nehemiah’s report of the collective response of the people, “Come let us begin building!”—itself an enthusiastic endorsement of Nehemiah’s approach—is followed by his own summary of their commitment. Nehemiah presumably sees it as no accident that his report of “God’s good hand” upon him leads to the people’s “strengthening of their hands for good”—a turn of phrase that elsewhere has the connotation of enablement (Ezra 6:22) and determination (Neh 6:9).

2:19–20 […] Their opponents’ question, “Are you rebelling against the king?,” seems an allusion to earlier allegations of rebellion (Ezra 4) and a very thinly veiled one at that. However, Nehemiah’s reporting of their hectoring tone (“they mocked and ridiculed us”) and especially his response (Neh 2:20) suggests he has seen through their bluff—armed as he is with the knowledge of Artaxerxes’s own approval of Nehemiah’s activities in the province. That this approval has been forthcoming from the earthly king is credited by Nehemiah to “the God of heaven,” the same God who answered Nehemiah’s prayers and is the ultimate guarantor of the project’s success.[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) 34-36.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 2:1-10

1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” 6 And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. 7 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, 8 and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

9 Then I came to the governors of the province Beyond the River and gave them the king’s letters. Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen. 10 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant heard this, it displeased them greatly that someone had come to seek the welfare of the people of Israel.

Go Deeper:

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 2:1-9

  • What can I learn from the fact that it is four months after Nehemiah first heard about and started fasting and praying about Jerusalem’s condition that he finally receives an opportunity to present his request to the king?
  • Nehemiah was a man of prayer and a man of practical action. Why is it that these two traits are often thought to be at odds with each other?  How can I grow to be more like Nehemiah?

Prayer 

June 29, 2020

Ps32- 2020-06-29

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 32

    Psalm 32

    A Maskil of David.

    1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

        whose sin is covered.

    2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,

        and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

    3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away

        through my groaning all day long.

    4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

        my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

    5 I acknowledged my sin to you,

        and I did not cover my iniquity;

    I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

        and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

    6 Therefore let everyone who is godly

        offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;

    surely in the rush of great waters,

        they shall not reach him.

    7 You are a hiding place for me;

        you preserve me from trouble;

        you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

    8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

        I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

    9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,

        which must be curbed with bit and bridle,

        or it will not stay near you.

    10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,

        but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.

    11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,

        and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

    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 

June 26, 2020

Ps30- 2020-06-26

  • Journal
  • Bible Text: Psalm 30

    A Psalm of David. A song at the dedication of the temple.

    1 I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up

        and have not let my foes rejoice over me.

    2 O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,

        and you have healed me.

    3 O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;

        you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

    4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,

        and give thanks to his holy name.

    5 For his anger is but for a moment,

        and his favor is for a lifetime.

      Weeping may tarry for the night,

        but joy comes with the morning.

    6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,

        “I shall never be moved.”

    7 By your favor, O Lord,

        you made my mountain stand strong;

      you hid your face;

        I was dismayed.

    8 To you, O Lord, I cry,

        and to the Lord I plead for mercy:

    9 “What profit is there in my death,

        if I go down to the pit?

      Will the dust praise you?

        Will it tell of your faithfulness?

    10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!

        O Lord, be my helper!”

    11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;

        you have loosed my sackcloth

        and clothed me with gladness,

    12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.

        O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

    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 

June 25, 2020

Nehemiah 1- 2020-06-25

Journal

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Commentary: Nehemiah 1

1:1–4 […] Nehemiah’s concern for “the remnant” resonates with Ezra’s prayer (Ezra 9:8, 13, 15) without differentiating between those who had returned to the land and those who had never been exiled in the first place. While the people and the province as a whole are not forgotten, Nehemiah’s query clearly and significantly connects the fate of the people to the state of Jerusalem (Neh 1:2). Judging from their response (1:3), it seems clear that Nehemiah’s fellow Jews also closely connect the physical state of Jerusalem with the situation and reputation of the remnant: the “shame” of the latter is directly related to the shattered physical fabric of the city’s walls and gates […] Like Ezra, Nehemiah adopts a sitting posture (Neh 1:4; Ezra 9:3, 4, 15) and weeps (Neh 1:4; Ezra 10:1) in keeping with the practice of mourning (Neh 1:4; Ezra 10:6) while also embracing fasting (Neh 1:4; Ezra 8:23; 9:5; 10:6) and persistent prayer before the God of heaven (Ezra 1:2; 5:11–12; 6:9–10; 7:12, 21, 23).

1:5–11 As in Ezra 9, the description of appropriate and presumably heartfelt piety here gives way to a prayer of confession and petition (1:5–11). The prayer opens by invoking again the “God of heaven” (1:5) but now in decidedly Deuteronomic terms: “a great and terrible God” (Deut 7:21), “who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (7:9). […]

The exhortation for God to “remember” (Neh 1:8–9) the Mosaic covenant (1:5) is clearly paralleled (or indeed undergirded) by Lev 26:42, 45 and other priestly texts (e.g., Ezek 16:61–63). […] Finally and typically Deuteronomic too is the understanding of Jerusalem as the place where God chooses to make his name dwell (Neh 1:9; Deut 12:11), even if in Neh 1:10, the echoes of “redeemed” and “strong hand” also suggest an awareness of the language of the exodus tradition (Exod 13:9, 13, 15, 16). Having confessed and “reminded” God of the conditions of restoration, the petitioner finally reiterates his request for divine attentiveness (“let your ear hear”) to the supplications of God’s “servants” (who fear God’s “name”) and more specifically to Nehemiah’s request for “success” in soliciting a reversal of the previously obstructive policy (cf. Ezra 4:17–22) of the king of Persia. [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) 33-34.

Bible Text:

Nehemiah 1:1-11

1  The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah.

Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”

4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. 5 And I said, “O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 6 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Israel your servants, confessing the sins of the people of Israel, which we have sinned against you. Even I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against you and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules that you commanded your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, 9 but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.’ 10 They are your servants and your people, whom you have redeemed by your great power and by your strong hand. 11 O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.”

Now I was cupbearer to the king.

Go Deeper

Questions to help us go deeper

Nehemiah 1:3-5

  • What was Nehemiah’s reaction to the news he received?
  • What is my typical reaction when I am confronted with facts that cause me concern or that burden my heart?
  • What are some notable elements of Nehemiah’s prayer?
  • Nehemiah refers to God as “the great and awesome God.” How can Nehemiah view God this way given what has happened to Jerusalem?  Are there some ways in which my view of God shifts with the ups and downs of my personal life, or when some effort at serving God does not go well?

Prayer 

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