Nehemiah 5:1-13

            Nehemiah was a faithful follower of God who had been taken into exile to Babylon.  But, through his initiative, Nehemiah laid plans to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the broken down wall which surrounded the city.  Once Nehemiah arrived and arranged for work teams to busy themselves on the wall, he discovered there was much more to rebuild than just a physical wall.  A wall of separation existed between fellow Jews based on economics.  The poor were being taken advantage of as their fellow Jews were exacting usury from them.
 
            Nehemiah’s response is instructive for us.  He did not ignore the situation and only focus on the wall.  He firmly and squarely addressed the problem, and was downright angry about the circumstance of Jewish families essentially living in a state of slavery.  Nehemiah was clear, concise, and direct about the nature of the problem.  He threw himself into being part of the solution instead of only complaining about what was happening.  Nehemiah did not over-involve others in the process of handling the conflict, but handled the issue by taking counsel with himself.  Finally, he attacked the problem without alienating others, and held people accountable for their actions and their promises.
 
            Packed into these few paragraphs of Scripture is a sort of case study of how to engage significant problems and conflict.  This is a section of the Bible not to quickly read over, but to ponder, examine, and absorb Nehemiah’s dealing with the situation.  We all need some guidance and direction when it comes to confronting the problems that surround us.  Let this story serve us well in addressing the issues in our lives.
 

 

            Holy God, you have a special concern for those who are poor and needy.  Enable me to live and speak wisely into the crucial needs which exist around me, so that Christ might be exalted through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Nehemiah 9:26-31

            Much of the Old Testament is a rhythm of God’s judgment and grace.  The storyline often goes something like this:  God makes promises.  God commands.  People get stubborn.  People disobey.  People refuse to listen.  God responds with judgment.  God gives grace and fulfills his promises.  People enjoy.  People get stubborn.  The cycle begins again….  The promise of God always involves judgment and grace.  Proclaiming only a message of judgment without grace brings despair, death, and hell; there is no hope.  Only speaking of grace apart from judgment is oxymoronic – it doesn’t exist because there is no need for grace if there is no judgment; grace is an undeserved mercy given freely by God in the face of our sinful selves.
 
            Nehemiah chapter nine is a beautiful prayer of confession.  Having heard the Word of God proclaimed, the people did not remain obstinate; they realized exile occurred because of their own stubborn refusal to listen to God, and they repented.  The Jews acknowledged their checkered past of ignoring the prophets God sent, and they bellied-up and took ownership of their own sin.  And God was faithful.  Even though the city of Jerusalem had been overtaken and the people sent into exile, God brought them back and the broken wall was rebuilt.
 
            It is never too late to turn from a past filled with poor decisions, broken relationships, and spiritual disobedience.  The time of confession is available, and the time is now.  God’s grace always trumps our dubious past.  The appropriate response to today’s lectionary is to spend some time in confession to God.  This chapter, along with Nehemiah chapter one, are good places to begin with understanding just what to say to God.  Confession ought always to conclude with accepting the grace available to us in Christ.  Today is a new day.  Let it be a new life with the love of Jesus implanted in your heart.
 

 

            Holy and loving God, your grace is measureless and free.  Today I turn from my stubborn refusal to walk in your ways, and receive the wonderful gift of new life through Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me.  Amen.

Nehemiah 8:1-12

            Under the leadership of Nehemiah, many of the Israelite exiles returned to Jerusalem from captivity.  Nehemiah did an incredible work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem so that the people were safe once again.  But that was only the physical dimension of the massive rebuilding effort; the people needed to be spiritually restored, as well.  The priest and scribe, Ezra, was at the forefront of a great revival.  At the center of the Jewish renewal was the Law of God.  The people gathered in order to hear Ezra read God’s Word to them from early morning to midday.  While Ezra read the Book of the Law, other priests were among the throng of people and helped them to understand it while they listened.  As the ESV puts it, these priests “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.”
 
            The people clearly needed help in making sense of God’s Word.  And as they understood the meaning of what was read, they wept and repented and dedicated themselves afresh to faithful living before their God. The need for all of God’s people to make sense of the Bible is no less true today.  The path to living intelligent and informed Christian lives will come by having clear insight into God’s Word so that we may walk with clarity and confidence, knowing the will of God in all things.
 
            A craving to know the revealed words of God is at the heart of any church revitalization.  An ardent desire to understand the Bible will be at the center of spiritual revival in our own time and place.  A longing for knowledge of the Scriptures is imperative to contemporary renewal.  Committing ourselves to a daily regimen of Scripture-reading is most necessary to a healthy spiritual life.  Teachers who help bring God’s Word to light are a great gift to the Body of Christ.
            O God, raise an entire generation of people who seek to know you and your Word.  Set apart gifted men and women for your service so that there will be teachers who help others make sense of what you want us to do.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.