4. How Godly Leaders Battle DiscouragementRelated Media
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart…
How do godly leaders battle discouragement? Jesus was weary unto death (Matt 26:38). Elijah prayed that he would die (1 Kings 19:4). Even Moses asked that God would take him (Num 11:15).
It is impossible to live life and not encounter discouragements. Chapter 4 could be called the discouragement chapter. Nehemiah encounters many discouragements while leading the rebuilding project of the Jerusalem wall.
In fact, after the wall was half way done, all the discouragements and attacks got worse (v. 6-8). Sanballat and Tobiah corralled an army to attack the Jews while they were working, but by God’s grace, Nehemiah inspired the Israelites to defend themselves and to continue working on the wall. In this chapter, we will see thirteen principles about how a godly leader battles discouragement.
Big Question: What discouragements did Nehemiah experience in chapter 4? Also, what can we learn about battling discouragement from his responses?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Knowing Their Enemy and His Tactics
When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!”
What is the first thing we notice about the enemy’s attacks in this chapter? We see that Sanballat became “angry” and greatly “incensed” when he heard about the rebuilding project (v.1). While the Jews were dormant, content to have their walls broken down and open for attack, Sanballat was not agitated. However, when they started rebuilding the walls, the attacks began. It started with criticism, and later Sanballat and the Samaritans tried to start a war to make Israel stop building.
Yes, we can be sure that it is no different with our spiritual lives. We also have an enemy of our souls, who becomes very angry when we are doing the will of God, and he will stop at nothing to make us quit. Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 2:11: “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” Certainly, we must know our enemy’s tactics as well. As long as we are content to be on the sidelines, content to sit in the pews, the enemy is often content to leave us alone.
I have talked to many Christians who said that when they started to read their Bible more, it was then that everything started going wrong in their lives, which actually made them not want to read their Bible. In fact, I heard the story of one seminary student who was studying to be a missionary, and while in school, his children started to have demonic nightmares. After these dreams persisted for a while, he set an appointment with the dean of the school. During the meeting, he shared that he knew this was an attack of Satan, and he realized that it would probably get worse when he went on the mission field. The dean replied, “Yes, you are possibly right.” Then the student proceeded to tell the dean that he had decided to drop out of school because he wanted to protect his family.
Yes, Nehemiah and the Israelites could have quit when their enemy became angry, and the coming attacks probably would have stopped. However, quitting wouldn’t have made them safer. It is the person who is unfaithful who is in the most danger. Satan’s desire is to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 10:10). The safest place is always in the will of God.
Similarly, we should expect attacks to increase while faithfully doing God’s will. Did we not see this in the life of Christ? While he was preparing for ministry in the wilderness, Satan came and tempted him to make him stop. After beginning his ministry, he received constant attacks from the Pharisees who he called children of their father, the devil (John 8:41). Eventually, the Pharisees, with the help of the Sadducees, murdered Christ. Christ’s attacks increased as he progressed in his ministry.
We should not be unaware of Satan’s tactics as well. When he hears that you are rebuilding the image of God in your life and others, there will be attacks. As we seek to serve the Lord and do his will, they will increase. We should not be surprised when this happens because our serving makes the enemy angry.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen or experienced the increase of spiritual attacks while doing the will of God?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Bringing It to the Lord in Prayer
Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
In Nehemiah 4:2-3, we saw that not only did Sanballat criticize the Jews but so did Tobiah. Tobiah mocked their effort and said that even if “a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” They mocked and ridiculed the Jews.
How does Nehemiah respond in verse 4? He didn’t stop building the wall, nor did he wallow in the criticism. It is very easy to let criticism affect us in such a way that we get discouraged, stop, or slowdown in completing the work that God has called us to. However, Nehemiah did not do any of that, he responded by bringing the criticism to God in prayer. Look at what he said:
Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
Application Question: Why is it important to bring criticism and discouragements to God first in prayer?
1. It is important so that we can discern if the criticism is of God or not.
Sometimes, criticism may actually reflect the opinion of God even if given in the wrong manner. We, in fact, may need to reevaluate. Other times, we may need to disregard the criticism. Therefore, before we react, we should pray about it and submit it to God, so we can better discern.
2. It is important because it will help deliver us from the common response of returning the criticism or getting angry.
Fights can only happen if two sides are involved. Many times, we’ll receive a harsh comment and instead of bringing it to God, we’ll bring it right back to the person who gave it. And the next thing you know, we are in a fight. Prayer brings God into our perspective and helps keep us from responding negatively.
In fact, Nehemiah didn’t initially respond to Sanballat at all; he just asked God to fight their battles for them. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 12:19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
Nehemiah prayed that God would defend Israel and do what is just. But, there is more that we can learn from this prayer.
Application Question: What are some negative ways that people often respond to criticism? How do you normally respond to it?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement through Corporate Prayer
Hear us, O our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
It is clear from the fact that Nehemiah uses the pronouns “we” and “us” in verse 4, that when he heard the criticism, he probably gathered the leaders of Israel and began to pray corporately. When Christ was weary unto death, he called his disciples to pray (Matt 26:38). Similarly, when the apostles were commanded by the leaders of Israel to no longer speak in the name of Christ, they called a prayer meeting. Acts 4:23-24 describes this:
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
Many times instead of finding people to pray with, we just find people to complain to and instead of removing the discouragement, it actually increases it. The friends we talk to often encourage the negativity, instead of encouraging corporate prayer and faith.
Who do you go to for prayer when you are discouraged?
Application Question: Who do you share your discouragements with? How often do you use corporate prayer as a remedy for discouragement? How effective is it?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Praying the Will of God
Certainly, we must notice how Nehemiah prayed. He prayed essentially that God would fight against the Samaritans; he prayed a curse. This is very different from what Christ taught in Matthew 5:44. We are called to love our enemies, to bless, and to not curse them. This doesn’t sound like a blessing prayer to me. How should we reconcile this with Christ’s teachings? Was Nehemiah wrong in praying this prayer?
Interpretation Question: How should we explain the fact that Nehemiah prayed a curse upon the Samaritans? How should we reconcile this with the teachings of the New Testament?
I don’t think Nehemiah was wrong because he was praying in conjunction with the Scripture revealed to Israel. In Deuteronomy, God made a covenant with Israel that they were to follow him, and as they followed him, God would give them the land of Canaan and defeat their enemies. Consider Deuteronomy 28:7: “The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.”
When the Israelites were disobedient, they would be defeated by their enemies, and when they were obedient, God would fight for them.
This is exactly what happened with Joshua when he led Israel to conquer the Canaanites. The Jews, at this time, were under the Mosaic Covenant, and therefore, Nehemiah was praying in accordance with that covenant.
With that said, we are no longer under the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant in Christ. Moses is not our mediator; Christ is (cf. Rom 7:4, 1 Cor 9:20-21) and he taught us to pray blessing over our enemies and not curses (Matt 5:44). We should pray for their salvation, for them to be led into repentance and righteousness. However, there is a place for trusting a holy and just God to do what is right in his time. Vengeance is the Lord’s, and he will repay (Romans 12:19).
I have met Christians who actually pray curses over those who oppose them, which only adds to their discouragement and frustration and never allows them to have peace. Christ prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Christ knew that they were ignorant and blinded by the enemy (2 Cor 4:4), and therefore, he prayed for their forgiveness.
One of the things we can take from Nehemiah’s prayer is that he prayed according to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. We should do the same in order to overcome discouragement. This will give us peace and remove discouragement.
Jesus when confronting the cross and persecution prayed, “Lord not my will but your will be done” (Lk 22:42), and while on the cross, he prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors. Similarly, Paul taught that we should pray for the salvation of everyone including unjust leaders (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-4). Certainly, we should pray for the salvation of those who persecute us or that they may know Christ more. We should pray in accordance with God’s will as revealed in Scripture, even as Nehemiah did, in order to battle discouragement.
Application Question: Why is it important to pray for our enemies? How does it affect us?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Continuing to Work with All Their Heart
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
We must notice the other way that Nehemiah and the Israelites responded to the criticism. First, he prayed to God, but secondly, he and the Israelites continued to work with “all their heart.” This is a very important way for believers to respond as well.
Satan often uses criticism, problems, or difficulties to discourage believers and to make them quit. However, instead of quitting, the Israelites responded by “working with all their heart.” They were fully devoted to doing God’s will and worked with all their energy to complete the wall. In fact, in the face of criticism, they worked until it was half way done (v. 6).
Consider what Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12-15. Timothy may have been in similar circumstances. The implication from the context is that he was receiving criticism because of his youth. He was young for Greek standards, and this may have made it harder for him to minister to those who were older. Paul said this:
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.
1 Timothy 4:12-15
Even in the face of criticism, Paul told Timothy to be an “example,” to “devote” himself, to be “diligent,” and to give himself “wholly” to the work of God, so that his progress would be made known to all. Timothy was essentially called to work with all his heart, even in the face of criticism. In the same way, the Israelites worked heartily until it was half way done. We must do the same. Instead of quitting or slowing down in God’s work, which is the enemy’s desire, we must work with all our hearts in order to glorify God.
Application Question: In what ways does the enemy try to make you stop or slow down in doing God’s work by bringing discouragement? How can we practice being more devoted to the ministry God has given us even when facing discouragement?
- Remember that we are ultimately seeking to please God (cf. Col 3:23).
- Remember the grace of God that is available to us (cf. 2 Cor 12:9).
- Remember the people we are serving (cf. Phil 2:3-4).
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Being on Guard against Attack
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
We see here that, because the completion of the wall was advancing, the enemies of the Jews decided to take the next step and bring an army against them. How did the Jews respond?
The Jews prayed again, but they also posted guards to watch for any attacks. Nehemiah heard the rumor and responded by protecting the Israelites and their work through posting guards day and night.
Similarly, as believers in a spiritual battle, we also must be on guard and protect ourselves from constant attacks. In the Old Testament, Israel battled against the Hittites, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Samaritans, etc. However, our battle is not against flesh and blood, but it is a spiritual battle against powers, principalities, and rulers of the darkness (cf. Eph 6:10-12). How do we guard ourselves?
We do this primarily by guarding our hearts and minds since we know that our enemy is always attacking as well. Listen to what Solomon said: “Above all else, Guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
Solomon said that our heart, which is our mind, will, and emotions, affects everything. It affects our worship, our service, our relationships, our leisure, etc. Therefore, it is the place that the enemy focuses his attacks, and therefore, it must be guarded, especially against discouragement.
Application Question: How should we practice guarding our hearts so we do not succumb to discouragement and attacks from the devil? What types of attacks on our heart should we be aware of?
1. We must guard our hearts against anxiety or fear.
Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of man brings depression.” Our enemy is constantly trying to bring worries about the future, worries about relationships, worries about deadlines, etc., because he realizes where there is anxiety, soon comes depression. When depression comes, the work stops, or it is not done well. Scripture also says that worry chokes the Word of God and makes it unfruitful (cf. Matt 13:22). Anxiety or fear will keep us from being fruitful in our understanding of the Lord and ministry to him.
Similarly, in Proverbs 29:25, Solomon said, “the fear of man is a snare” or it can be translated “a trap.” Many people are ensnared by what people say or think about them; their family’s opinion or the opinion of friends or employers ensnare them and discourage them from moving forward in God’s plan. Nehemiah discerned that the initial criticism was not of God, and we must do that as well. Many Christians are ensnared by the fear of man.
2. We must guard our hearts against sexual temptation.
Paul said, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18). It is interesting that in 1 Peter 5:9, we are called to resist the devil, but when it comes to lust, Paul said, “Run away.” It is a very potent attack that Satan uses to ensnare Christians and keep them from progressing spiritually. Sexual immorality is extremely dangerous. It destroys people’s minds, bodies, and relationships. It traps Christians and keeps them from progressing in the Lord. Scripture says that it is the “pure in heart that will see God” and the pure in heart alone (Matt 5:8). It is for this reason that it is a common snare of the devil. We must at all cost guard against sexual immorality.
3. We must guard our hearts against idolatry.
We were made to worship, and therefore, idolatry is a common sin of our hearts. Some have called the human heart an “idol factory.” If we don’t worship God, we will worship something else. First Corinthians 10:14 says, “Therefore, my dear friends, flee from idolatry.”
Satan will try to bring an idol to take our focus off God and his work. It can be a relationship; it can be a job; it can be a hobby; it can be school; it can be entertainment; etc. He will even use good things like family or ministry to come between us and our worship of God.
Listen again to what Solomon said: “Above all else, guard your heart for out of it flows the issues of life” (Prov 4:23).
This must be our priority if we are going to battle discouragement. We must guard our hearts so that we can complete whatever God has called us to do. We certainly see this with Nehemiah and the Israelites as they later had a weapon in one hand and a brick in the other while building (v. 17). We must build and guard at the same time because Satan is always trying to stop the work. Defense is one of the best protections from discouragement.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to guard your heart from Satan’s attacks? In what ways does he commonly attack your heart and bring discouragement?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Being Balanced with Faith and Works
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
Application Question: Are there any other practical truths we can learn from Nehemiah’s praying and then posting a guard to protect his people (v. 9)?
I think this reminds us of our responsibility to be balanced. Sometimes, people only pray in a difficult situation but never do their part to remedy it themselves. Sometimes, they will even claim to be walking in faith by doing this. However, faith always has corresponding works (cf. James 2:17). If we are praying for a spouse, we must put ourselves in a position to meet a potential spouse. If we are praying for future steps, we must be active in looking at doors. Certainly, there are times of waiting on the Lord, but many times, even then, God has called us to be active in our waiting.
Nehemiah trusted God to protect them, but he also knew they had to do their part. This will help remove many discouragements as we both trust God and, at the same time, do our part. Put it in God’s hands through prayer, but actively work to solve the problem. Listen to what Paul said:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Paul said to work out our salvation, our process of becoming like Jesus, because God is working in us to will and do of his good purpose.
Our responsibility and God’s sovereignty is a mystery that somehow works together in perfect harmony; however, we have a tendency to tip to one side or another. One person works but doesn’t rely on God. Another relies on God but doesn’t work. I think we see a proper balance with Nehemiah; he called the people to pray, but he also called them to guard themselves. They trusted God but at the same time did their part.
It has been said, “Pray as though it all depends on God but work as though it all depends on you.” There is a lot of truth in this. We must seek proper balance.
Keeping a proper balance will help us battle discouragement. How is God calling you to trust him and, at the same time, do your part? This could apply to situations such as finding a spouse, getting a job, reconciling some conflict, or discerning what’s next in the future. We must trust God and actively do our part. This will help keep us from discouragement.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen people who say they are walking by “faith” but are not willing to do their part? How do we keep a balance between faith and works?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Being Aware of Weeds amongst the Wheat
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
In verses 10-12, we see several different discouragements that happen back to back. The tribe of Judah came to Nehemiah with a discouragement saying that the laborers were giving out and there was too much rubble. This would have been especially discouraging since the tribe of Judah was the noble tribe from which David came and the prophesied messiah would eventually come.
One of the things we know about the tribe of Judah, as seen later in the book, is that they were compromised. They were working with Tobiah, the enemy. Nehemiah 6:17-19 says this:
Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
We see that the wealthy in Judah had actually partnered with Tobiah. They were loyal to him through marriage. We will also see in chapter 13:15-17 that the nobles in Judah were more worried about making money than doing the will of God. They will eventually start desecrating the Sabbath in order to make a profit.
Application Question: How can we apply Judah’s compromise with the enemy to the church and to our lives?
Similarly, one of the greatest tactics of the enemy is attacking from within the body of Christ instead of from without. Attacks from the enemy often come through those who claim to follow the same Lord. The enemy will even raise up leaders from within the church to hinder the work of God.
The man or woman of God must be aware of this or he or she will become very discouraged while doing God’s work. It could be a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a friend, or a family member who unknowingly is not speaking the will of God. It is for this reason that the man or woman of God must clearly discern the voice of God among the many voices.
How do we see this in Scripture?
We see this reality in the Parable of the Weeds (Matt 13:37-40) where Jesus described how Satan has planted weeds amongst the wheat. The false will always be among the true. Jesus taught his disciples this so that they would be prepared and kept from discouragement, and we must understand this as well. Listen to Christ’s interpretation of this parable in Matthew 13:37-40:
He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. ”As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.
In the context of teaching about the kingdom of heaven, Christ thought it would be very important for the disciples to be aware of this. Christians often think the church should be “heaven on earth,” but no, the current state of the kingdom of God is “weeds” amongst the “wheat.” This is true because we have an enemy who is trying to stop the harvest.
No doubt, this knowledge would be important for Nehemiah to understand as well, especially as the leaders of Judah kept giving him discouraging messages. We must know the enemy’s tactic of placing weeds amongst the wheat. It will help keep us from being surprised and subsequently defeated.
Application Question: Why is it important to understand the state of the kingdom as weeds and wheat in order to protect us from discouragement? How have you experienced this or seen others become discouraged in the church because of it?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Understanding the Tactic of the Evil Day
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
Observation Question: What were the different discouragements against Nehemiah and the Jews in Nehemiah 4:1-12, and especially verses 10-12?
When we look at all the different discouragements from v. 1-12, we will see that the enemy was attacking the Jews with a great assault. First, we saw the criticism from the Samaritans (v. 1-3), then we saw them gathering for war (v. 8). Now, we see the nobles of Judah probably intentionally trying to discourage Israel, the Samaritans’ threats, and also the discouragement of the Jews who lived near them (v. 10-12).
Is there anything we can learn from this barrage of discouragements in verses 10-12?
Yes, I believe so. Our enemy commonly brings an “all-out assault” with the intention of discouraging and making believers give up. I think Paul refers to this when talking about spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6. Look at what he says: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).
Paul says that we need to be ready because at times the enemy will bring a “day of evil,” a season of evil. There will be seasons when the enemy brings an “all-out” attack on us. It may show up in problems at work or school, family issues, a sickness, or all of the above. In these seasons, it is very easy to have the same feelings shared by the Jews as they were anxious and ready to give up. Ten times they cried out to Nehemiah, “They will attack us.” The enemy’s tactic made them anxious.
These are common words and feelings in the “day of evil.” We, no doubt, see this tactic and response with Job. In the season that God allowed the enemy to attack him, he lost his children, his wealth, his health, and even his friends turned against him. All he had left was a critical wife. This was an all-out assault and even Job cried out, “I curse the day I was born” (Job 3:1). He didn’t want to live anymore.
Have you ever gotten to the point where you just wanted to give up, you just wanted to throw in the towel? Moses felt that way and so did Elijah. This is a common response to the day of evil, and Nehemiah 4 is a good picture of this.
This is an important tactic to understand; otherwise, you will be more inclined towards frustration and giving up. You could become angry with God and with others if you do not understand the nature of Satan’s tactics. He brings the day of evil for the purpose of discouraging you and making you quit.
It is good to remember that God only calls for us “to stand” in the day of evil. Ephesians 6:13 says, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
Essentially, God says, “Stand! Don’t quit and don’t give up! Persevere!” It is in this season that the words of James should be a great comfort to us, “But let patience [perseverance] have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (1:4, KJV). In this season God will build us up and mature us through perseverance. As with Job, sometimes God’s primary purpose in the season is for us to faithfully persevere while trusting in him. Romans 5:3-4 says this: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
In battling discouragement, I think it is important to recognize the season of all-out assault, the day of evil. We are in a literal war, and we must be aware of this tactic of the enemy meant to discourage us and make us quit. Like Nehemiah, we must stand our ground and trust God in the day of evil (cf. Neh 4:14).
Application Question: Have you ever experienced this type of spiritual warfare where attack after attack tried to discourage you? How did you respond?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Focusing on the Lord
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.
Observation Question: How did Nehemiah encourage the people in the face of war, threats from the enemy, and the worries of his people (v. 10-11)?
Nehemiah responded to all-out assault by helping Israel refocus on God. He stood up and called them to “Remember the Lord.” Remember the promises in his Word; remember his great and awesome exploits in the past.
If we are going to stand in the day of evil, we also must renew our focus on God. Is this not what David did when fighting Goliath? Listen to what he said:
David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.
1 Samuel 17:45-46
When the armies of Israel were cringing at the site of this giant, David saw God and said, “This day the Lord will hand you over to me.” David focused on God and, therefore, was not discouraged like the rest of Israel.
Don’t we also see this with Israel entering the land of Canaan? Eight of the ten spies only saw the giants in the land and, therefore, discouraged Israel from entering. However, Joshua and Caleb said this: “It is a great land and the Lord will hand it over to us” (Numbers 14:7-8, paraphrase). The fundamental difference between the two spies and the eight is their view point. The two saw God, and the rest saw only the giants.
In Nehemiah’s scenario, the tribe of Judah was discouraged and felt it was impossible to finish because they only saw the rubble (v. 10). It was too much of a task. The Jews only saw the army. Ten times they said, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” However, Nehemiah saw God. “Remember the Lord,” he said. One cannot but think of the story of Peter’s wife being crucified as we consider Nehemiah’s response to the army. When Peter’s wife was going to be crucified, tradition says that Peter cried out to his wife, “Remember the Lord.” He called her to focus on Christ in the midst of their trial.
The author of Hebrews taught the same thing as he spoke to the Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (cf. Heb 10:32-33). In chapter 12, he encouraged them to fix their eyes on Jesus. Look at what he said:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
The author of Hebrews told them to consider Christ so that they would not grow weary and lose heart. Like Nehemiah, Peter and his wife, and the Hebrew Christians, we must focus on God in the face of discouragements.
What are you focusing on in the midst of your trials? If you find yourself angry, frustrated, and worried then you are probably focusing on the size of the task and the detractors instead of focusing on God. Isaiah 26:3 said, “You keep him at perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you” (ESV).
Nehemiah called the Israelites to “Remember the Lord.” We must do the same thing for ourselves, and we must also remind those who we are leading to do the same. As leaders, we must call them to regain their focus on God through his Word, prayer, and fellowship with the saints, so that they may stand and not faint.
Application Question: How can we refocus on God in the midst of difficulties?
1. We must have godly accountability who constantly calls us to refocus.
We each need a Nehemiah, somebody who continually calls us to refocus on God. This could come by being in a Bible-preaching church where the messages constantly challenge us to get right with God. Sometimes it comes through personal relationships with mature Christians who are willing to invest in our lives. We need accountability to help us refocus.
2. We must have consistent spiritual disciplines.
Being in the Word of God, prayer, worship, and fellowship will always refocus us on God. Those who are undisciplined will find the giants in their lives too big, and this will discourage them and make them want to give up.
Application Question: How do you refocus on God in the midst of your trials? Who is your Nehemiah?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragements by Taking Times of Rest and Retreat
Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows…When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work.
Nehemiah 4:13, 15
After hearing about the Samaritan plot, it is clear from verse 15 that some of the Jews stopped working for a short time in order to focus on the oncoming attack. We may have seasons like that in serving the Lord where we need to solely “focus” on our spiritual battle as well. There is a Greek proverb that says, “You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.”
In the same way, many of us stay “bent” all the time, which eventually wears us out and causes us to succumb to discouragement. We are always serving, always building, and always studying, but at times, we need to rest so that we can later build more effectively. For some, this may come through a time of fasting, further training in ministry, extended time studying the Bible and in prayer, or simply just resting and spending time with family so they can one day go back and build more effectively.
Many essentially lead themselves into discouragement because they don’t practice proper rest and retreat. It is good to remember that when Elijah was depressed and ready to die in 1 Kings 19, God brought him food and allowed him to rest. The Lord led him to a cave where he spoke to him in a small voice, and then the Lord gave him Elisha to wash his feet—to help with the burden. Elijah needed a time of physical restoration and spiritual restoration. In what ways is God calling you to find rest and retreat so you can later build more effectively?
“You will break the bow if you keep it always bent.”
Application Question: In what ways have you found yourself prone to depression and discouragement for lack of proper eating, sleeping, and rest? In what ways do you find rest and retreat in order to protect yourself from discouragement?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Developing Supportive Relationships
Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”
In verses 19 and 20, we see that everybody was spread out while working, making them more vulnerable to attack. However, Nehemiah realized that if they were attacked, they would need each other’s support. Therefore, in the event of an attack, the trumpet would be blown, and everybody would gather to the area of the battle to fight together.
It should be the same way in our lives. We were never meant to carry the burden of ministry, fighting in spiritual warfare, or serving our families and the Lord alone. When there is an attack, we need to sound the alarm and seek help.
Application Question: How should we practice this principle of developing supportive relationships in our lives, in order to battle discouragement?
1. We must be willing to be vulnerable with others.
One of the problems with many in the church is that they keep everything hidden. If families have financial problems, they tell their children, “Shhh… Let’s keep this to ourselves.” If the husband and wife are struggling in their relationship, they come to church and put on a smile like there is nothing wrong. People would rather act as if everything is okay instead of sounding the alarm and getting help. By allowing pride to keep them from being vulnerable, they ultimately allow the enemy to attack them and wound them severely, if not destroy them.
If we are going to develop supportive relationships in order to fight discouragement, we must be willing to share our problems with others. We must learn to be vulnerable. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
2. We must be willing to support others.
Many Christians are just concerned about themselves. In the event of an attack on Israel, those who were doing their job and not under attack would flee their seemingly secure positions to help others. They carried the burdens of others. Many Christians are too consumed with their own work to carry the burdens of others. However, this is exactly what Scripture calls us to do. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Carry one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ means to pick up somebody else’s pain. It means to touch their dirty feet as Christ did (John 13). We all must be willing to do this if we are going to have supportive relationships where we not only receive but also help others when they are in trouble.
Are you willing to support others when they succumb to depression, lust, sickness or family discord?
David had Jonathan when he was down. God brought Elisha to Elijah when he struggled with depression in 1 Kings 19. Christ had the three apostles: James, John, and Peter, and then the nine. Who do you have? Who do you support and who supports you?
Application Question: Who do you support and who supports you when down or under attack?
Godly Leaders Battle Discouragement by Sacrificially Serving Others
So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out. At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.
We must also notice that Nehemiah confronted the potential attack by making every man guard the base at night and work during the day. These men served the community by working “double duty.” Listen again to what he said:
At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and workmen by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.
He confronted the potential attack by finding a few good men, including himself, to serve the community as guards. They worked so hard that they never even took off their clothes (v. 23). These men refreshed and served the community.
I think there is a lesson in this about battling discouragement. We should often battle discouragement by serving others.
Those who are depressed often become the most selfish people in the world. There is a tendency to isolate oneself and separate from others. However, Nehemiah and these men became selfless; they served the community as guards. They served so diligently they never even got to change their clothes. They sacrificed to serve others.
In the same way, serving others is one of the best ways to battle discouragement. Listen to what Solomon said: “those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).
Jesus said something similar in John 13:17 to the disciples about washing one another’s feet. He said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
This seems a little strange. You would think he would say “washing others feet” blesses the people receiving it, but no, he said that the givers would be blessed.
Yes, in the same way, there is tremendous value in battling discouragement through serving others. The men of Israel were ready to give up; there was too much rubble, too much work. They were frightened because they could be attacked at any moment, and they battled this by zealously serving the others in the community. Yes, they blessed others but the greatest blessing went to the people serving. Those who refresh others will be refreshed.
Who are you serving zealously? What community has God called you to serve so zealously and sacrificially that you lose sleep and some comforts in order to bless them? Yes, this does not only bless them, but it will bless you.
Listen to the blessings that God declares will go to those who serve others sacrificially in Isaiah 58:6-12:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
Isaiah says that those who loose the chains of injustice, untie the cords of the yoke, set the oppressed free, share their food with others, provide the poor with shelter, and care for their own family will have tremendous blessings (v. 6-7). Their light will break forth, which no doubt refers to righteousness. They will be healed (v. 8). Doors will open for them as their righteousness goes before them (v. 8). God will protect them as their “rear guard.” God will answer their prayers (v. 9). God will guide them and satisfy their needs even in desperate situations (v.11). They will be refreshed like a well-watered garden, and they will be given the opportunity to help more people (v. 12).
The blessings that come to those who serve are tremendous, and it is one of the ways we should battle discouragement. Yes, there is a tendency to pull away and isolate ourselves, but that goes against biblical and practical wisdom. Divine refreshment comes to those who sacrificially serve others. Yes, there is a need for balance in having times of service and times of rest. But when our service necessitates great labor, we can trust God will provide and give more grace (James 4:6).
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced blessing, refreshment, strength, etc., while serving others? How can we tell when it is time for us to rest or when we should extend ourselves in service to others?
How do godly leaders battle discouragement?
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by knowing their enemy and his tactics.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by bringing it first to the Lord in prayer.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by corporate prayer.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by praying the Lord’s will, as revealed in Scripture.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by continuing to serve with all their hearts.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by guarding their hearts from the enemy.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by being balanced with faith and works.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by being aware that there are weeds amongst the wheat.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by understanding the tactic of the evil day.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by focusing on the Lord.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by at times taking rest and retreat.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by finding supportive relationships.
- Godly leaders battle discouragement by sacrificially serving others.
Related Topics: Leadership
1. Characteristics of Godly LeadersRelated Media
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven…
What are characteristics of godly leaders?
Second Timothy 3:17 says that Scripture is given to equip the man of God for “all righteousness.” All righteousness includes things like marriage, being a good employee, and even being a great leader. The Bible is full of stories about leadership but none may be as instructive as the book of Nehemiah.
Nehemiah, who was a cupbearer for the king of Persia, gained favor with the king to leave his post and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He inspired the Israelites to rebuild the walls and also to restore the worship of God. He was a tremendous leader.
The story behind the rebuilding of the walls is that Israel had rebelled against God during the times of the kings, and God judged them by exiling them to Babylon for over 140 years (586 BC-445 BC). After seventy years in exile, bands of Israelites started to return to Israel. In fact, there were three returns. The first was led by Zerubbabel—a descendant of David who rebuilt the temple in Israel. The second was led by Ezra—the priest who brought an initial spiritual revival in Israel. The third return was led by Nehemiah, as told here.
Nehemiah began to rebuild both the walls and the spiritual lives of the people, as he became their governor. As we look at Nehemiah, we will learn a lot about godly leadership.
I say godly leadership because godly leaders have character and they commonly tackle God-sized problems. This work was beyond Nehemiah’s power, and it virtually seemed impossible to complete.
God’s leaders are always confronting impossible problems. Moses had to set Israel free from the slavery of Egypt; he had to cross the Red Sea with the angry Egyptians following right behind him. Here in this text, Nehemiah was over 800 miles away from the problem.1 Israel was in ruins, and the people were being harassed by their neighbors. He had an impossible problem. However, he did not only confront it but also was successful.
God wants to develop leaders today in his church to help rebuild nations, churches, families, and individuals who have fallen away from God or never known him. In ancient societies, walls were very important because they protected the people from the attack of looters and other enemies.
In the same way, for many Christians, their walls have been broken down by allowing sin to infiltrate them both individually and corporately. Many churches and Christian organizations have been affected by doctrinal liberalism. Many young Christians have started to look and walk like the world. There is a need to rebuild the walls in order to protect God’s people.
This is what Galatians says about a brother in sin: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Godly leadership brings one in contact with the sinful and the broken in order to help rebuild, but it also exposes one’s life to dangers and temptations. We see this with Nehemiah as he was confronted by many detractors because he sought to help Israel. In this text, we will see many characteristics of godly leadership.
Big Question: What characteristics of godly leadership do we find in chapter 1?
Godly Leaders Are Concerned and Responsive to Problems
Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king; he tasted the king’s food and lived in the king’s palace. Even though the position doesn’t sound very impressive, it was. One scholar said that the cupbearer “was often chosen for his personal beauty and attractions, and in ancient oriental courts was always a person of rank and importance. From the confidential nature of his duties and his frequent access to the royal presence, he possessed great influence.”2
Certainly, this was an easy position for a person to be unconcerned about the situation in Israel. Nehemiah was completely taken care of.
He first shows his concern by asking questions of Hanani, his brother, who had just come from Judah. Godly leaders are concerned and informed. However, it is one thing to be concerned and to gather information, and it’s another thing to be responsive. He immediately wept and began to pray for the nation.
His response was very similar to that of Christ when he saw the large crowds in Matthew 9. This is what Matthew said:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Christ was concerned about the needs of the people and so was Nehemiah. They both responded in prayer.
Application Question: Why is it so easy to not be concerned about the spiritual temperature of others or the problems of others?
There are many reasons:
- People are unconcerned sometimes simply because of apathy. It is easy to care only about ourselves and not about others, especially when the problem doesn’t affect us.
- People are unconcerned sometimes because they feel like they cannot help. The problem is too big. We say to ourselves we cannot do anything about it.
- People are unconcerned sometimes because they fear responsibility. The more we know; the more we are responsible for. Solomon said with knowledge comes more pain (Ecc 1:18).
- People are unconcerned sometimes because they are too busy with other things.
- People are unconcerned sometimes because they suffer from the “bystander effect.” This means we say to ourselves that somebody else will take care of it.
Nehemiah was wealthy and living in the house of the king of Persia. He had many reasons to not care about or get involved with the problems in Israel. Yet, when his brother came back from Israel, he asked how things were going there because he cared. But not only did he care enough to ask questions, he also cared enough to get involved.
The Danger of Knowing but Not Responding
Even worse than the uninformed are those who know but are not willing to get involved and serve. Let me tell you the story about a man whom God judged for not responding to his knowledge. His name is Eli. Look at what 1 Samuel 3:11-13 says:
And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.
See, Eli knew about his sons’ sins. They were sleeping with the women who came to the temple and not properly leading Israel into worship. For that reason God judged him. He knew, but he failed to restrain them. What areas are we neglecting? Is it family? Is it problems in the church or work? Is it our devotional lives? Is it our private thought patterns that are ungodly?
Ignorance is not always bliss. God cares about our homes, our churches, and our friends. And, we are responsible to minister to them as well. He cares about every area of leadership he gives us. Romans 13:1b says, “for there is no authority except that which God has established.” Therefore, whatever area of influence God has given us, he requires us to be good stewards in it.
Listen to what God told Ezekiel about his knowledge and his responsibility to it:
When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood.
Essentially, he says, “Ezekiel, if I tell you to warn and you do not, I will hold their blood on your hands.” God told Ezekiel that he was responsible.
Godly leaders are concerned, and they are willing to get involved. They are not apathetic as so much of the church is. They are not too busy, and they do not say, “Somebody else will do it.” Nehemiah was willing to ask questions and get involved.
In what ways is God calling you to get involved? Maybe he is calling you to serve by responding to a need in your church with the children’s ministry or to develop a ministry to reach the college students. He may be calling you to get involved in your community with a project. Maybe, the first step he would have you take is simply asking a question so you can become more informed.
Application Questions: For what area(s) is God burdening your heart? How can you take steps in order to be more informed and ready to serve?
Godly Leaders Are Constant in Prayer
Then I said: “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.
What do we see next? Certainly, we can’t miss the fact that Nehemiah began to pray for Israel.
Nehemiah faced a big problem, one that seemed impossible to fix. His nation had been in reproach for over 140 years, and he was 800 miles away from the problem. However, even though the problem seemed impossible to fix, he immediately brought it to God. Listen to his prayer: “Then I said: ‘O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments’” (Nehemiah 1:5).
What problems are you facing that are too big and overwhelming? Are there any problems that you have not yet brought to God? We all face problems that seem unsolvable like trafficking, abortion, corruption in the government, sin in the church, sin in our own lives, etc. We might be tempted to look at the problem and not even bring it to God.
Nehemiah responds to this impossible problem by praying and fasting night and day (Neh 1:4). He constantly brings the situation to God. This is a characteristic of a godly leader.
One of the things that Scripture commonly does is let us in on the prayer life of those God used greatly. Moses was constantly praying for Israel, asking God to remove his wrath from them (Exodus 32:10-14). Daniel is shown as a man who prays three times a day (Daniel 6:10): morning, noon, and night. When the king’s wise men wanted to bring a charge against him, they knew to trap him during his prayer time.
God also has chosen to show us Christ’s prayer life in Scripture. He was always sneaking away to meet with God (Mark 1:35). He went to the mountain to pray alone, and his disciples got up in the morning to look for him.
Godly leaders are prayer warriors who constantly bring their seemingly impossible problems to the Lord. They pray to the Lord about their superiors, those they lead, and their families. They are a blessing to whatever community they serve because of their commitment to prayer. Consider what Paul commanded in 1 Timothy 2:1-3:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.
Paul calls for us to pray for “everyone” with all kinds of prayers. This type of lifestyle pleases God.
Similarly, Nehemiah was constant in prayer, even for people who were far away from him. He heard about the problems in Israel and interceded, and, no doubt, God was pleased.
Application Question: What are the benefits of bringing such big problems first to God?
- A benefit of bringing our problems first to God is that it makes us wait. Sometimes we are prone to act too quickly, but it is almost always best to first spend time in prayer.
- A benefit of bringing our problems first to God is that it gives us a proper perspective. Praying first puts things in perspective as problems get smaller in view of the “great and awesome God” (v.5). I believe that is why the Lord’s Prayer starts with God and his kingdom before it gets to our request—“give us our daily bread.”
- A benefit of bringing our problems first to God is that it brings the resources of God into our situation: his wisdom, his power, his comfort, etc.
- A benefit of bringing our problems first to God is that it quiets our hearts. Philippians 4:6-7 promises the peace of God to those who pray and give thanks in everything.
- A benefit of bringing our problems first to God is that it activates our faith. Prayer is an act of trusting in God, and therefore, it allows us to trust God more in the situation. It helps our belief.
Application Question: What situation or person is God calling you to intercede for as Nehemiah did?
Godly Leaders Can Identify with Others’ Failures
let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you.
What other characteristics of a godly leader can we see as we look at Nehemiah’s prayer?
Nehemiah’s considering himself a sinner just like the rest of the nation of Israel should stand out in verse 6. He says, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you.”
Many leaders only see other people’s failures and never see their own, which affects how they minister to and lead others. This is what we saw with the leadership style of the Pharisees. One Pharisee cried out, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Lk 18:11-12). The Pharisee could not see his own sin, and therefore, could never minister to not only the tax collector, but also the robber, the evil doer, and the adulterer. For this reason, these leaders often become very judgmental and self-righteous, especially in the area of discipline. However, godly leaders can identify sin in their own lives, and it helps them deal with others graciously even in discipline.
A godly leader can say, “I have lusted,” “I have hated,” “I have lied.” “I have at times struggled with pride, apathy, and lack of self-discipline.” “The same root that causes murder, rape, bribery, and other injustices are all in me.” This kind of leader can minister to people because he sees his own sin and can empathize.
Interpretation Question: How do we see this trait of identifying with others’ sins in other ministers throughout Scripture?
In a sense, we see this with Christ. He became a man for this very purpose. He may not have sinned, but he was tempted and felt the weakness of man so he could relate to us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says this:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Do we not see this in other great leaders? Paul called himself the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15), the least of all God’s people (Eph 3:8), and the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9). He also said in Romans 7 that the things he would do, he did not do, and things he would not do, he did; “who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v. 24). That passage alone makes it easier to read and digest Paul’s writings because it says that he can understand and relate to us.
We saw this in the prophet Isaiah. He was a man who had struggles, and yet he was called to lead and minister to others. Hear his response to God. Isaiah 6:5 says, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
Peter, the leader of the apostles, said to Christ at his calling, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). Peter had a strong awareness of his sin, just as Nehemiah did, which made him a more than suitable candidate for ministry. He would be able to identify with those he was seeking to save.
Christ taught this awareness of sin was needed to do any type of effective ministry. In Matthew 7:1-5, he taught that in order to pluck the speck out of somebody else’s eye, we must first take the log out of our own eye. In order to minister to people and help them be free from sin, we must be aware of our sin and constantly repenting of it. A person who is unaware of his great sinfulness will only harm people in ministry. The Pharisees harmed people and put yokes on their necks that they themselves could not bear. A godly leader has a strong awareness of his own sin, and it enables him to empathize with his flock and better minister to them.
Application Question: How can we develop a greater sense of our own sin so we can better identify with the sins and failings of others?
- We must develop a greater awareness of God by spending more time with him. Isaiah saw God which clearly revealed his sins and the sin of others (Isaiah 6:1-5).
- We must expose ourselves to the Word of God more. James compared studying the Word of God to a mirror which shows our faults so we can correct them. He said:
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.
- We must develop healthy accountability relationships with people who will challenge us when we are in sin.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another man’s countenance.” We must have relationships that challenge and sharpen us. Certainly, we see this with David while he was living in unrepentant sin with Bathsheba. It was the prophet Nathan who confronted his sin and helped bring him to repentance. We need these types of relationships to help us stay humble and aware of our sin.
A lack of time with God through prayer, a lack of time in the Word, and a lack of accountability relationships will create prideful and self-righteous leaders who do not understand the people they are leading. Godly leaders have the ability to identify with their people even in their failures.
Application Questions: Why is it important for a leader to be able to see his own sin and identify with the failings of others? Give examples or experiences which demonstrate its importance.
Godly Leaders Are Motivated and Strengthened by the Promises of God
Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.
Observation Question: What characteristics of a godly leader can we discern from verses 8 and 9?
Nehemiah quotes from Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 which says that God would scatter Israel if they were unfaithful and that he would restore the nation from their exile if they returned to him. Essentially, Nehemiah was saying, “God, I believe you will restore us because your Word says so.” Look at Deuteronomy 30:1-3:
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the LORD your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the LORD your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
Nehemiah was both motivated and strengthened by the promises of God. These promises, no doubt, gave him the encouragement and confidence to eventually become the leader of Israel. If they returned to God, Scripture promised that God would bless the nation.
In fact, we see this same faith in many leaders in the Bible. Listen to what Paul said about Abraham in Romans:
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
When God told Abraham he was going to have a child at a hundred years old, he was strengthened by the promise of God. In the same way, godly leaders find encouragement to pray, to act, and to persevere because of the promises of God.
Remember what Paul told Timothy: “Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18).
Timothy was to fight based on the prophecies or promises given from God. Godly leaders know the promises of God and fight based on them. God has given us many promises to hold onto in Scripture.
Application Question: What are some promises God has given us in Scripture in order to strengthen and motivate us, especially while serving in roles of leadership?
Look at some of these:
Galatians 6:9 says this: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” God promises that in our labor for good we will reap a harvest if we remain faithful.
Matthew 5:10-12 says this:
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
God promises heavenly reward when we are persecuted for righteousness sake.
Matthew 5:6 says this: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” God promises that if we really hunger to be used by God and to be a blessing to others, we will be filled with that righteousness. The question only is whether we really hunger for it.
Godly leaders are strengthened and many times motivated by the promises of God. They take hope from them, no matter the discouragements that come their way.
Application Question: In what ways have you found encouragement in the promises of God while facing a trial or an opportunity to lead? What specific Scriptures or promises of God have you found most helpful in your spiritual life?
Godly Leaders Are Assertive
O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to the king.
Nehemiah did not just pray. He volunteered. Listen to what he said in v. 11: “Give your servant success.” Leaders not only pray but they are willing to volunteer. After praying for his nation for some extended amount of time, he asked God for favor with the king in order to be used in the restoration of Israel.
What do you feel God is calling you to volunteer for? How do you feel he wants you to step up and meet the needs of others?
One of the greatest problems with leadership is apathy. We often don’t care enough about a problem or a situation. When a person is truly passionate, assertiveness is a normal response. When you are invested in something, it is normal to be assertive.
Application Question: How do we develop this assertiveness that Nehemiah had in his leadership?
One thing that must jump out to us in this scenario is how this petition to be successful (to be used) came at the end of a prayer and intimacy with God.
Intimacy Precedes Service
It is interesting to see that intimacy often precedes a willing heart and sometimes even a call from God. We see this with Isaiah. Look again at his story in Isaiah 6:5-8.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Isaiah was praying, confessing his sin before God, and spending time in God’s presence which led to his volunteering for his future ministry as a prophet to Israel. It began first with prayer and time with God; then it led to volunteering. Intimacy with God preceded service.
Similarly, in Matthew 9:39, Christ called the disciples to pray for laborers to go into the harvest, and, in Matthew 10 he sent them out into the fields to minister. Often prayer and intimacy come right before a willing heart and a call to serve.
What has God given you a heart to pray for? Nehemiah prayed for Israel and then was called. Similarly, Isaiah prayed for his nation, confessing their sins, and God called him to be part of the solution. The disciples prayed for the harvest and then were sent into the field.
Godly leaders are assertive. They want to get involved.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced intimacy with God leading to a call or assertiveness as a leader?
Godly Leaders Learn to Wait on God
The words of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa… In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before.
Nehemiah 1:1; Nehemiah 2:1
Interpretation Question: What can we learn about godly leadership from the fact that Nehemiah started praying in December (Kislev; 1:1) but approached the king about Israel in April (Nisan; 2:1)?
Godly leaders are patient in waiting on God. It is clear from the text that Nehemiah heard about the problem around November-December (Kislev) and nothing happened until March-April (Nisan).3 He waited and prayed for four months to be used before God provided an opportunity to talk to the king.
It is very possible to get in front of God. I almost wonder if that is what happened with Joseph as he shared his dream to his dad and brothers about them bowing down before him (Gen 37). It was not his time, and it only made his jealous brothers even angrier with him. Consequently, though the vision was true, he suffered for his unwise sharing.
Interpretation Question: What other godly leaders in the Scripture had to wait on God to be used?
- Abraham had to wait on God. It was twenty-five years before he received the son God promised. In addition, he had to wait hundreds of years before his people inherited the promised land (Gen 15:13). And it further took 2,000 years before the promised “seed” which blessed all nations came.
- Moses had to wait to be used by God. He acted hastily in the court of Egypt and killed an Egyptian who was fighting an Israelite (Acts 7:24-26). He then went into the wilderness for forty years as a shepherd before God called him to lead Israel (Acts 7:30).
- Joseph had to wait to be used. He had a vision, and then waited many years as a slave and a prisoner before God fulfilled the vision.
- David had to wait on God to become king. He went from being a shepherd to a general, but soon after, he was hunted by Saul the king of Israel. It took years before the promise was fulfilled.
- Paul had to wait. Many scholars believe it was around fourteen years after he received his initial call that he was sent to the Gentiles with Barnabas in Acts 13 (cf. Gal 2:1).
In the same way, godly leaders must learn to patiently wait on the Lord. In our societies leaders are known for initiative, but biblical leaders are also identified by waiting. There is a season to plow and a season to harvest.
Nehemiah waited some four months before God opened an opportunity. For many of us “A-type” personalities, the waiting seasons are the worst seasons. However, Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It is when we wait on God and stop our striving that he reveals himself.
Many of us have to learn to wait on God. Some of us may be waiting for a vision for what is next, waiting for a godly spouse, waiting to be delivered from a difficult trial. Yes, there is a time to be active, but there is also a time to wait, and we must discern the times. A flower dies if it blooms in winter.
Certainly, we can see that though Nehemiah waited, he was not inactive. He spent day and night in prayer for those four months (Neh 1:6).
This is the normal process for somebody who God is preparing to lead. He sends them into a waiting season, and in this waiting season, he prepares them for greater leadership. Even Christ waited for some thirty years and then forty days in the wilderness before he began his ministry. We should be prepared for this as well. We must learn to wait on God.
Application Question: In what ways has God been teaching you to wait on him? What makes this a difficult lesson to learn?
What are characteristics of a godly leader?
Here, we see Nehemiah who will confront a problem that has been going on for over 140 years. It, no doubt, seemed impossible, but nevertheless, he sought the Lord who would soon begin to open doors to serve Israel.
What impossible situation is God calling you to pray about and get involved in? What burdens has he given you?
- Godly leaders are concerned and responsive to problems.
- Godly leaders are constant in prayer.
- Godly leaders can identify with the failures of others.
- Godly leaders are strengthened by the promises of God.
- Godly leaders are assertive.
- Godly leaders learn to wait on God.
1 Guzik, D. (n.d.). Nehemiah Overview - David Guzik Commentary on the Bible. Retrieved January 11, 2015, from http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/view.cgi?bk=15&ch=1
2 Swindoll, Charles (1998-12-03). Hand Me Another Brick (p. 9). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
3 Getz, Gene (1995-06-22). Men of Character: Nehemiah (Kindle Locations 472-473). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Related Topics: Leadership
6. How Godly Leaders Handle Prosperity and PromotionRelated Media
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land. Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people. Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
How should godly leaders handle prosperity and promotion?
When we look at Christendom, we often find two extremes on the issue of wealth. We have those who look at Christ’s commands to leave all and follow him. They see a poor savior, disciples who gave up their jobs and careers to follow Christ, and they would advocate living on the bare necessities. In fact, in the middle ages, Christians were encouraged to take a vow of poverty and enter the monastery as they followed Christ.
Today, we also have the other extreme in the prosperity gospel. They would look at God’s covenant with Israel in the Old Testament where God promised them wealth and health if they were obedient, and sickness, poverty, and curses if they sinned. They would say that because Christ took our curse, we all are called to be rich, wealthy, and healthy. Both of these views are wrong. However, as we look at Nehemiah, we find a balanced model of how Christians should handle prosperity and promotion.
In the book of Nehemiah, Israel had previously been judged by God and was no longer really a nation. They had been taken as captives to Babylon and scattered to other nations. During the days of Nehemiah, only a small remnant who had returned from captivity was dwelling in the land, and they didn’t even have walls around the capital city, leaving them open for constant attacks.
Nehemiah left his job as cupbearer to the king of Persia to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and bring revival in Israel. He does this under distress and attack from both outside and inside. At this point in the narrative, the wall is not finished, but Nehemiah takes a moment in his diary to talk about his time as governor. At some point while serving Israel, he was promoted to governor for at least 12 years (cf. Neh 5:14), and he shares how he handled the promotion and the new prosperity.
This is very important to us, not only because of the doctrinal division amongst Christians on the believer’s relationship to wealth, but also because of the dangers of wealth. Listen to these two quotes:
Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish historian, once wrote, “Adversity is hard on a man; but for one man who can stand prosperity, there are a hundred that will stand adversity.”1
Charles Swindoll said something similar:
Few people can live in the lap of luxury and maintain their spiritual, emotional, and moral equilibrium. Sudden elevation often disturbs balance, which leads to pride and a sense of self-sufficiency—and then, a fall. It’s ironic, but more of us can hang tough through a demotion than through a promotion. And it is at this level a godly leader shows himself or herself strong. The right kind of leaders, when promoted, know how to handle the honor.2
The question we must ask ourselves is, “Are we prepared to handle promotion and prosperity?” Prosperity has destroyed many in the church. Scripture demonstrates this truth very clearly. We saw this in the history of Israel. Before Israel entered the promised land, which was dripping with milk and honey, God said this through Moses:
When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
This is the very thing that happened to Israel. It was when they were not being persecuted, when they were not in war; in fact, it was at the height of their prosperity that they fell away from God the farthest. We saw this with Solomon. Solomon was the wisest king ever and probably one of the wealthiest; however, when there was prosperity and peace all around, he began to worship the gods of his wives and led Israel away from God. It was because of Solomon that the kingdom of Israel divided.
Solomon fell in prosperity and so did his father, David. When things were going well in Israel, David counted his army with pride and God judged him for it (2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21). He also used his power to take another man’s wife. He misused his prosperity.
Well, how then should we handle prosperity? The wisest man on the earth failed the test of prosperity. The man after God’s own heart failed it before that. How do we escape its dangers?
Often in churches, we teach a great deal on trials and God’s redemptive purposes in them, but we don’t hear much about how to properly handle success and wealth. Scripture talks often about the dangers of wealth and prosperity. With money specifically, Christ speaks about it more than heaven and hell.
What are Nehemiah’s secrets to being right towards God, even in the midst of success and promotion? How can we protect ourselves from the dangers that come with wealth and prosperity? In this study, we will see eight leadership principles about handling prosperity and promotion.
Big Question: How did Nehemiah respond to his promotion as governor of Israel? What can we learn about how a godly leader handles prosperity and promotion?
Godly Leaders Must Consider Accepting Prosperity and Promotion as from the Lord
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years
Before we consider how to protect ourselves from the dangers, it must first be said that Christians must be willing to consider accepting prosperity and promotion as from the Lord. Again, we see that Nehemiah came to Israel with the best intentions to honor God by helping Israel rebuild the wall; however, when presented with the opportunity to become governor, he didn’t turn it down. He accepted it.
Often in the church, Christians tend to not seek the Lord for success, promotion, or leadership positions, whether in school, work, or government. Sometimes, it’s even looked at as “unspiritual” or “worldly” to pursue or accept such things.
However, it must be understood that Scripture teaches that promotion is a gift from God. Consider what Asaph said in Psalm 75:5-6:
Do not lift your horns against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck.’” No one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.
Asaph said that exaltation comes from the Lord. The word “exalt” means to “increase.” Increase comes from God; it is not a bad thing. Often times in conservative, Bible preaching churches, we hit hard on the “prosperity camps” and for good reason. However, there is some truth to the view, though it has been taken to an unbiblical extreme.
I believe Scripture would support the fact that it is OK and good for Christians to seek the Lord for promotion—to seek the Lord for success—for the purpose of spreading his kingdom and his fame. One person in Scripture prayed an extremely, dangerous prayer to be blessed and prospered by God and his name was Jabez. Does anybody remember Jabez? Let’s listen to his prayer:
Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.” And God granted his request.
1 Chronicles 4:10
Jabez prayed for God to enlarge his territory, for God to expand his influence. We even see something similar in the messiah’s prayer as predicted in the Psalms. Look at what God said to Jesus: ‘“You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession” (Psalm 2:7-8).
He said to the messiah, “Ask for the nations and I will give it to you.” I heard this about the founder of the Navigators which is a Christian organization that focuses on Bible memory: the founder prayed to God with his hand on the globe, asking to be used, and now that ministry spans the entire globe.
I would say that part of the reason so many churches and Christians are so ineffective is because their prayers, and therefore, their faith is so small. They are not willing to pray dangerous prayers for God to use and expand their territory. “God open the doors for this church.” “Lord give me the youth. I want to be used in a special way to reach the youth of my nation.” “Lord give me Korea; use me to expand your kingdom here in a special way.” The book of James says this: “You have not because you ask not” (4:2).
Let us remember that in the same way God exalted Nehemiah, God exalted Joseph to second in command in Egypt so he could save many souls (Gen 50:20). He exalted Daniel to demonstrate the glory of God in the idolatrous kingdom of Babylon. Proverbs says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2 KJV).
The world is looking for righteous people to reign, to be in authority, and to serve. The first thing we must learn from Nehemiah is our need to consider accepting promotion and prosperity, which also implies a challenge to broaden our prayers and our faith.
Now with this said, let me add a disclaimer. Satan can promote people as well. Satan showed up to Jesus in Matthew 4:8-9 and said, “I will give you the nations if you bow down to me” (paraphrase). The enemy often offers promotion in order to fulfill his ungodly agenda, and therefore, we must be careful. Promotion that causes us to neglect serving God, our family, and the church is not of God.
Listen, God made you a part of his body, and you have a very specific role as a part of it. We must consider the church and our role in it. I’m leery of jobs that will keep one out of worship or demand so much that one can’t faithfully serve God.
Moreover, promotion that causes a person to neglect his family is also not of God. Many godly men have turned down promotion or exaltation because it would take them away from their children and their wives. Too many marriages and families are destroyed at the altar of promotion.
Nehemiah teaches us that godly leaders must consider the possibility of accepting a promotion. Nehemiah, Daniel, Joseph, and David were promoted so that they could have more impact for God’s kingdom. And, therefore, we must consider it as well.
Next, we will consider how to handle it when God does bring us prosperity and promotion.
Application Question: In what ways are you seeking for the Lord to expand your territory and ministry so you can affect more people? Are you afraid to pray these types of prayers? Why or why not?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Often Give Up Their Privileges to Not Hinder the Work of God
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year—twelve years—neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor….Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
Nehemiah 5:14, 16
What do we learn next from Nehemiah?
Promotion often comes with many perks that could destroy a person. What types of perks? It often means allowances: greater money, benefits, and sometimes even more privacy. Often those in leadership have an amount of freedom that those not in management do not have. How did Nehemiah handle the privileges given to him?
We see that Nehemiah chose to not take advantage of some of his rights, such as the food allotment (v. 14) and the right to purchase land (v.16). The people were in poverty, and he could have easily purchased great amounts of land which wouldn’t have been a sin. However, he gave up his rights to do this.
Interpretation Question: Why did Nehemiah choose to not take advantage of the rights of food and property when it was not wrong to do so?
It seems that he chose to relinquish his rights in order to not hinder his ministry. We see something similar in the life of Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9, he says that he chose to give up his right to receive pay from the church (v.12). Why? Certainly, Jesus taught he who preaches the gospel should live by the gospel (1 Cor 9:14). And similarly, the rest of Scripture teaches that pastors have a right to be paid (1 Tim 5:17). Listen to the reason Paul gives:
If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:12
He gave up his right so that it would not hinder his ministry. In Greek culture, there were many paid “orators” and many of them were greedy, doing it just to get money and not caring about the people. He chose to not take any chances of being associated with the “hirelings” and potentially hinder the gospel of Christ.
No doubt, Nehemiah did not want to hinder his opportunity to serve through taking advantage of his privileges, which included the food allowance and the opportunity to purchase property. The previous governors had overburdened the people (v. 15), and he did not want to be associated with them. How could he feast off their taxes when everybody else was poor? How could he buy up their land while they were going bankrupt? Would not using his privileges cause people to question his motives and possibly bring dishonor to God? He would have been perceived as a hireling instead of a good shepherd.
In the same way, God might want you to give up some rights in order to not hinder your ministry in serving him. Romans 14:21 says this: “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”
See many, especially young Christians, only ask themselves, “Is this wrong?” “Is it wrong for me to drink alcohol?” “Is it OK for me to smoke?” “Is it wrong for me to kiss my girlfriend?” It may not necessarily be wrong, but one may need to ask more questions.
Application Question: What are some good questions to ask in considering our privileges and freedoms?
1. “Could this potentially harm others or my ministry?”
Many things are not bad in themselves, but we must weigh their value based on how they could potentially affect others. Again, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Romans 14:21).
2. “Will this edify me and others?”
See some things that we do are not clearly sin, but they may not be good either. They don’t help us or others. We need to choose what is “best” and not simply what is “OK” or “good.” Paul said, ‘“Everything is permissible’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Is it constructive? Will it help me and others?
3. “Could this potentially master me or make me addicted?”
Consider what Paul says again: ‘“Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
One of the many dangers that comes with prosperity is the possibility of being mastered or overcome by them. Many things that are not sin such as: riches, alcohol, cigarettes, Facebook, popularity, approval, video games, movies, Internet, etc., have the possibility of mastering us and making us sin against God.
We live in a wealthy society that has many privileges that others do not have. But, we also live in a society of addictions, in part because of these privileges. In the U.S., people are seeking insurance to cover addictions to video games. I had a student fail out of his freshman year of college because he was playing video games all day. The wealth we have is not sin; the privileges we have access to are not wrong. But we must ask ourselves, “Could this cause harm? Will this edify me or others? Could this privilege master me?” Most people don’t ask themselves these questions.
Many Christians are unprofitable for the kingdom because they are addicted to their phones, addicted to the Internet, addicted to money, and for many the resulting consequences are neglecting God and even sometimes family. Yes, privileges have the ability of mastering us, and we must be careful of this possibility. Addiction is simply another form of idolatry—it is sin. It’s a form of mastery, and only God should be our master.
When I was single, I wouldn’t own the Internet, and I wouldn’t own cable either because I was afraid of being mastered by them. I am compulsive. Whatever I do, I’m typically consumed with and passionate about. Because of that, as a young Christian, I had to choose to let go of some privileges that I wasn’t prepared to be disciplined with.
No doubt, when Nehemiah looked at all the food that was allotted to him as governor, he felt like it would not be beneficial. It was not wrong. Certainly, he had earned it, but he probably realized that it was not beneficial. It could hinder his ministry.
Feasting and buying up property while everybody was poor would have probably hindered his leadership as well. I have seen many people who don’t want to come to church because the pastor is “flaunting” the finest clothes and the nicest car, and, even though this pastor may not be in sin, it opened a door for the enemy to accuse him.
That is why Paul gave up his right to receive money while serving in Corinth and many other privileges. And that is why Nehemiah did as well.
In what ways has God called you to give up your privileges that may come with prosperity or promotion? Are you addicted to anything? Are there some things you are doing with your freedom that are causing or could cause others to stumble? If so, God may be calling you to give up those things.
This is an important discipline that must come with prosperity. We must give up our rights in some areas in order to not hinder our growth or ministry.
Application Question: What privileges or rights do you have to be careful of in order to be most effective in your ministry?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Avoid Abusing Their Authority and also Be Willing to Bring Reform
But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
What do we see next? It seems clear that when Nehemiah took over as governor, he entered a big mess. The previous governors took advantage of the people for their own benefit. They overtaxed them so they could make more money. The assistants “lorded” over the people, meaning they were abusive. This sounds a lot like the modern politics in many governments. The people in leadership are often corrupt and abusive.
This is not only common amongst the world, but it also happens to believers who are successful as well. We saw this with King Solomon. He abused his leadership by overtaxing the people (cf. 1 Kings 12:4), which contributed to his great wealth. He abused his authority by taking many wives; he had a thousand wives and concubines combined (cf. 1 Kings 11:3).
Often in leadership, there are many doors for promiscuity. We see this with our successful athletes, businessmen, and politicians. King Solomon, though a godly, wise man, abused his authority and success. Sadly, this even happens to those in the pulpit. One survey of pastors said that around 40% admitted to having had an affair.3
A person in leadership will always battle temptations to abuse their authority. To compound these temptations, a culture of abuse—a culture of corruption—often creates negative pressure to continue these compromises.
I remember working at a company where my boss would take vacation time and tell the employees to tell anyone who asked about him, that he was just out of the office. Therefore, he could have a day off without using his vacation. Each of our leaders would cover for one another so that they could enjoy extra vacation time. This became a corrupt culture, and, in order to set myself apart, I had to let them know I wouldn’t be part of it.
As a godly leader, when God promotes you, don’t be surprised if he calls you to take a stand and maybe even implement changes to the previous administration. Leadership does not always mean character. Often our leaders are people with major character flaws and many times God raises up new, godly leaders to bring change. We saw this with God raising up David when Saul became corrupt.
Nehemiah took the position and chose to not lead in the same way the previous leadership did. No doubt, this probably made him unpopular with the nobles and those serving in government beside him. All the assistants from the previous governors would have made less money, and then, probably, would have pressed Nehemiah to conform.
For many Christian students who enter the work force, they are often surprised to find a culture of sin including drunkenness and sexual immorality. Many work cultures not only tend to spend time in drunkenness but also in visiting with escorts. Many work cultures will frequent the bars and the brothels in the late hours. Sadly, in these cultures, cheating on one’s spouse has become the norm and is considered acceptable.
As one who has worked on college campuses, I can say with confidence that academic cheating is an epidemic. There is very little integrity on our college campuses. What do you think happens when graduates, who commonly cheated in college, go to the work force? When one is unfaithful with little, he will be unfaithful with much.
Don’t be surprised when God promotes you or you take a new job, only to find there is a need for reform. You will have to be willing to take a stand and say, “I’m not doing that” or “It won’t be done that way anymore.” This won’t make you popular. In fact, it will cause persecution, and it may cost you your job. But this is what you will have to do in order to be faithful to God.
A common temptation that comes with success is the tendency to abuse one’s authority. Nehemiah chose not to. Where others have failed, Nehemiah stood. He instead chose to clean up the government in Israel. God may choose to exalt you for the purpose of cleaning up the culture at a law firm, a business, a school, a church, or some other type of ministry. Oh yes, even churches commonly have an abusive culture as well, and it happens way too often. Some pastors seek to be the “King” of their church instead of its servant. It shouldn’t be this way.
In prosperity and promotion, we must be disciplined with our privileges, even letting some go. We also must not abuse our authority.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen abuses of authority and privileges in the work place? How can Christians remain faithful in an ungodly work culture?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Fear God
But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.
Observation Question: Why did Nehemiah not misuse his privileges like the previous governors (v. 15)?
The text says that he didn’t misuse his power because he feared God. The reason many will fall while in leadership is because they fear man more than God.
We saw this with Saul who was previously exalted from nothing to being the king of Israel. God told Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and to even kill their animals. However, when the prophet Samuel showed up, he said, “Why do I hear the noise of sheep?” (1 Samuel 15:14, paraphrase). Saul replied, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them” (1 Samuel 15:24).
Why did Saul fail as a leader? He failed because he feared people more than God. Scripture says the “fear of man is a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).
It was the same with the priest Aaron while in the wilderness with Israel. Moses was up on the mountain with God receiving the Ten Commandments, and in the valley, the people pressured Aaron to build a golden calf, and so he did (Ex 32). Aaron sinned because he feared man more than God.
Many, because of desire to be promoted or to have favor with a boss, peers, or friends, will sin because they fear man more than God. King Solomon probably experienced this as well, since he said it was a trap or a snare. Be careful of it.
A Christian leader will often be confronted with these temptations to fear man more than God and to love the world and the things of the world more than God. What made Nehemiah successful was his great fear and reverence of God. Listen to what Jesus told his disciples:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to fear God?
To fear God means to reverence him, to stand in awe of God’s greatness and power, but it also means much more than that. It means to fear his judgment. Scripture says our God is a consuming fire (cf. Heb 12:29). It says in Hebrews 12:6, “The Lord disciplines those he loves.” He struck Ananias and Sapphira for lying in Acts 5. He brought sickness and death to those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. First John 5:16 talks about the sin unto death. Oh yes, it is a dangerous thing for a child of God to live in rebellion.
Many people only have a conception of God’s love, and they know nothing of fearing God’s wrath. His wrath is an outpouring of his love; he loves us too much to allow us to live in outright rebellion.
Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Many people don’t live godly lives, especially when the temptation of prosperity comes because they don’t fear him. I think sometimes our churches have handicapped our congregations by focusing only on God’s love, his forgiveness, and missing his holiness and his wrath.
Do you fear God? It will keep you out of much sin.
Application Question: How does the fear of God affect you? How do we develop a healthy fear of God?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Be Fully Devoted to the Work of God
But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work
What else did Nehemiah do to protect himself from the dangers that come with prosperity?
Nehemiah devoted himself to doing the work of God—he served God and the people. He focused his attention on what God had called him to do—building the wall. Often in prosperity, we are tempted to serve ourselves instead of God. People commonly become career or success focused, instead of God and others focused.
Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
Make the most of every opportunity, why? Because the days are evil, there is a tendency to fall into sin and neglect God. Nehemiah practiced this. Instead of getting involved with the sins of the previous administration, he made the most of his opportunity. He got busy. Staying busy serving God will be a protection from the tendency to sin, whether in prosperity or in trial.
Prosperity, though it comes with many temptations, should be a time of great zeal for the Lord. God prospers us so that we can have more influence for his name. He gives us a job, a leadership position, an opportunity to increase our knowledge through schooling, all for the purpose of serving him more. Listen to what Paul said: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
What has God called you to do in the current situation he has placed you? What is the work he wants you to be fully devoted to?
Nehemiah was building a wall to protect the people of Israel. Sometimes God places us at a school, a job, or a ministry to build a wall around others through constant prayer. Sometimes the work he has called us to is to build ourselves up. Sometimes he gives us extra time—extra freedom—so it can be used to study his Word, pray, and grow through serving. What is the work God is calling you to be fully devoted to?
Application Question: What opportunities for his kingdom has God placed before you? How can you make the most of it and be fully devoted in your service?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Be Generous and Hospitable
Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations. Each day one ox, six choice sheep and some poultry were prepared for me, and every ten days an abundant supply of wine of all kinds. In spite of all this, I never demanded the food allotted to the governor, because the demands were heavy on these people.
What else should we practice in order to protect ourselves when God opens the door for prosperity or promotion? Consider what Nehemiah 5:17 says: “Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations.”
One thing that must stand out, along with this, is that Nehemiah said he didn’t use the governor’s food allowance (v. 18) and, yet, still fed 150 Jews and officials, plus those from the surrounding nations. How did he do this? He must have paid for it out of his own pocket. He generously served others.
This is another discipline we must practice while in prosperity. Nehemiah protected himself from abusing his prosperity by being extremely generous. He fed 150 plus people out of his own pocket every day. That gives us an idea of how much God prospered him as the governor of Israel. Instead of using his prosperity to serve himself, he served others. Nehemiah was a channel of God’s blessing instead of a reservoir.
Similarly, we protect ourselves from the temptations that come with prosperity by sharing and being generous as well. In fact, Scripture commands those who have wealth to share. Look at what Paul says:
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
Being generous is one of the ways that we must deal with prosperity. Paul told Timothy to tell the rich to be generous and willing to share so that they may be rewarded in heaven. It should be noted that Paul says this right after telling Timothy how the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil and how many have fallen away from the faith because of it. First Timothy 6:9-10 says,
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
What’s the remedy for this ever present temptation of loving money and wealth?
One of the remedies is to give it away—to be generous. When money and prosperity has its grip on you, sharing will help remedy it and do wonders for your spiritual life. Jesus similarly told the rich man to sell his possessions and give the money to the poor (Matt 19). Being generous will help protect us from the temptations and traps of prosperity.
It should also be noted that when Paul told Timothy the character of those selected for eldership in the church, he says that they must be “hospitable” in 1 Timothy 3:2. “Hospitable” means “a lover of strangers.” Godly leaders should be characterized by loving people, not just family and friends, but even people they have just recently met.
He essentially says to Timothy, “You can tell if these potential elders can handle promotion by their practice of hospitality—if they are a lover of strangers.”
Do you love strangers? Do you open your home and offer your resources to others? If you are faithful with little, you will be faithful with much. This will protect you from many temptations.
Most Christians live like the world when they experience increase. God gives them a raise, and what do they do? They say, “All for me! I’m going to get a new car, a bigger house, and buy the newest computer and the newest phone!” They don’t realize that God gives to us so that we can be a channel of his blessings to others. We are already commanded in Matthew 6:19-20 to not store up riches on the earth. For that reason, our homes and possessions should look drastically different from the world since we have a command to not store up. Why store it up only to leave it behind? We should use our wealth to build God’s kingdom.
Are you practicing generosity? It will prepare you for promotion, and it will also help to keep you holy when God does promote you.
Application Question: In what ways does being generous protect us from the temptations of loving money and abusing our prosperity? How has the practice of hospitality been a blessing to you? In what ways is God calling you to be more generous?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Pray
Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
Probably, the greatest protection one can have to stay faithful in prosperity and promotion is a vibrant prayer life. We see the cry of Nehemiah’s heart while serving as governor. He, no doubt, lived in prayer in order to both be protected and to be successful in his ministry.
Again, prayer is a major theme of the book. Nehemiah prays eleven times throughout the book, and here, he prays again. Prayer is an act of dependence upon God. Wealth has a tendency to make us trust in our riches instead of God. Prayer is the opposite. To pray is to recognize our weakness and need for God.
In fact, it must be noted, that wealth and prosperity are often a deterrent to prayer. Most people pray when things are bad and forget to pray when things are good. Some even forget God all together. This is a natural, sinful, human tendency. However, we see this was not true of Nehemiah. Even while wealthy, he was living in dependence upon God, as he lived in prayer. It must be the same for us.
The practice of prayer will help keep us from pride, independence, and many of the temptations that come with promotion. We never see Nehemiah asking for prayer, but we can have no doubt that his spiritual brother, Ezra, and others were constantly lifting him up. We should ask for prayer while in leadership. As leaders, we will be the target of many attacks, and we need divine protection and strength during those attacks.
This was also a characteristic of Paul’s life; he was constantly praying. At the beginning of most of his letters, he detailed how he prayed for the congregation (cf. Rom 1:9, Col 1:3, Phil 1:3-4). However, we also see him commonly ask for prayer as well (cf. Col 4:3-4, Eph 6:19-20). As godly leaders, we must similarly live in prayer and constantly ask for prayer.
Application Question: Why is prayer so important? How do you try to maintain a vibrant prayer life? How often do you ask for prayer?
In Prosperity and Promotion, Godly Leaders Must Pursue the Favor and Reward of God
Remember me with favor, O my God, for all I have done for these people.
Finally, one of the protections against the temptations of prosperity is seeking the reward of God. No doubt, Nehemiah was not primarily looking for earthly reward in Nehemiah 5:15, but he was probably looking for reward in heaven.
The Mosaic Law did promise that those who were obedient would receive great blessing on the earth (cf. Deut 28). They would receive either a blessing or a curse based on their faithfulness to God. Therefore, he probably did feel that God would bless him on the earth, but Jews also had an understanding of heaven and heavenly reward. Hebrews 11:8-10 says this:
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
As the church, our promises are not primarily earthly but heavenly. Most of the New Testament promises are spiritual, including every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph 1:3). Jesus said, “Don’t store up riches on earth but riches in heaven” (Matt 6:19, paraphrase). He gave this as a motivation for holiness and service on the earth. He gave the motivation of treasures in heaven.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Christ said when we store up riches in heaven that is where our hearts will be. Nehemiah’s heart was not on the earth. It wasn’t about a new house, a new chariot, a new farm, a new promotion, etc. His focus and primary concern was the reward in heaven and that enabled him to handle prosperity well. He cried out to God to “remember” him.
Many Christians can’t handle promotion because their heart is secular and worldly. It is all about what they can have here; it is about their comfort here. It is about being recognized here and not in heaven. That’s why they don’t handle promotions well, and for that matter, they don’t handle trials well either. When your heart is in heaven, it will allow for you to receive grace to live faithfully here on earth.
Nehemiah said, “Lord remember me.” This is one of the things that protected Nehemiah. His focus was on the favor of God and not man or money. This will protect us as well from the dangers of prosperity.
Application Question: How can we live a life with an eye towards storing up reward in heaven? What does that mean and look like? Is it selfish to pursue heavenly rewards?
How should we deal with prosperity and promotion? We learn many things from looking at Nehemiah who was promoted to the position of governor while serving Israel.
- Godly leaders must be willing to consider accepting opportunities for prosperity and promotion.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must at times give up their rights in order to not hinder the work of God.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must avoid abusing their authority and also be willing to bring reform.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must fear God.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must be fully devoted to the work of the Lord.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must be generous and hospitable.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must pray.
- In prosperity and promotion, godly leaders must seek the favor and reward of God.
1 Swindoll, Charles (1998-12-03). Hand Me Another Brick (p. 98). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
2 Swindoll, Charles (1998-12-03). Hand Me Another Brick (p. 98). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
3 “40% of Pastors Admit to Having Extramarital Affair!” retrieved 12/31/14, from
Related Topics: Leadership
7. Recognizing the Tactics of the EnemyRelated Media
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates— Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter…
What are common tactics that the enemy uses to hinder the work of God?
In this story, the Jews have been living in Israel without walls around the city of Jerusalem. Because they rebelled against God during the reign of the kings, the Lord judged them and sent them to exile in Babylon. After 70 years in exile, small remnants started to return to the land of Israel. In chapter 1, the Lord stirred Nehemiah, a man serving under the king of Persia, to come back to Jerusalem and inspire the remnant to rebuild the wall of the capital city and to help restore the worship of Israel.
In chapter 6, Nehemiah had completed the walls but had not added the gates. Because of the progress and the certainty of completion, the attacks of the enemy increased.
From the beginning of this restoration project, Nehemiah and the Israelites had enemies trying to stop the work. Sanballat and other Samaritans had been trying to discourage Israel. In chapter 2, they became angry and incensed that somebody had come to “promote the welfare of the Israelites” (2:10). In chapter 4, when Israel began to build, they mocked them saying that even if a fox went on the wall it would fall (4:10). However, when they saw that the building of the wall was progressing, they decided to secretly form an army and come against Israel (Neh 4:8). When Nehemiah heard about this, he warned Israel and set up guards to fight in case of invasion. The building continued as they worked with a brick in one hand and a weapon in the other (Neh 4:17), and now all that remained was adding the gates (6:1).
Because of this, the enemies of Israel make one last major assault, specifically targeting Nehemiah. If they can stop Nehemiah, they can discourage the people and finally stop this work. This is important for us to see and consider.
The contents of this chapter, I believe, apply specifically to the spiritual warfare of a believer and especially to leaders. In Ephesians 6, we are called to prepare for this warfare. Paul said, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13).
Some commentators have said we always live in “the evil day,” the time between Christ’s first and second coming in which we are always under the attack of Satan. However, Paul is clearly referring to times when the enemy increases assaults for the purpose of discouraging God’s people and hindering his work. He said “when the day of evil comes.” We mentioned this briefly in chapter 4.
I think we get a picture of the evil day when Satan attacks Job. He loses his family, his wealth, and his health, all in a very short time period. There is an all-out attack on Job that he must stand against. Similarly, here in chapter 6, we see many different types of attacks that the enemy brings against Nehemiah. Nehemiah is going through an “evil day,” an evil season of assault on his life and ministry.
We also are called to do the work of the Lord. You may be a student, a teacher, a businessman, or a mom, but you should not be mistaken, you are doing the Lord’s work. Nehemiah’s building of the wall wasn’t preaching the gospel, but it was something that everybody eventually realized was “accomplished by God” (Neh 6:16). It was a work of the Lord. In the same way, when we are doing the will of the Lord, wherever he has called us, we are working for him and, therefore, will incur the attacks of the enemy in various forms.
How do we prepare for the attacks, and how do we defeat these attacks?
Yes, we must put on the armor of God, which is primarily a righteous life. But along with that, we must be aware of the enemy’s tactics. Satan wants to immobilize us and keep us from progressing in our spiritual lives, and therefore, he will come with many different attacks. He wants to keep us from building and completing the work that God has called us to. Because our enemy is both wise and relentless, we must be aware of his tricks and schemes. Second Corinthians 2:11 says this: “in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.”
One of the reasons many Christians become immobilized and ineffective in their callings is because they are unaware of the enemy’s tactics. We will see many of these tactics as we study this text. This will be especially important for those in leadership roles just as Nehemiah was. If Satan had one bullet, he would take out the leader because it would affect more people.
Big Question: What were the attacks on Nehemiah in chapter 6? How does our enemy similarly attack our lives, those in leadership, and God’s work through his people?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Deception
When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates—Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?”
In verse 2, Tobiah contacted Nehemiah to ask him to meet at a neutral site. The implication is that the enemies of Judah were seeking peace and wanted a meeting in order to accomplish this.
Nehemiah, the governor of Israel, realized it was probably politically wise for him to make peace. In fact, as we see at the end of the chapter, many Jewish nobles were putting pressure on him to make peace (v. 16-19). It would not be a good political move to ignore the pleas of the enemy to have a meeting.
However, the text says that Nehemiah discerned that they were trying to hurt him (v. 2), and Nehemiah, in response, said that he was doing a great project and could not go down (v. 3).
How did Nehemiah protect himself against the attacks of the enemy?
First, he did it by discerning the lies of the enemy. This is important for believers as well. Consider what Jesus said about Satan:
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Jesus spoke this to the Pharisees who were also trying to set him up so they could kill him. He told them that they were of their father the devil, who was a liar and the father of lies.
This is important for us to understand because Satan is always trying to deceive us as well. He lies to many Christians about their identity. He lies about their future. He lies about how they should think and what they should wear.
Many Christians struggle with great insecurities and fears because they have been listening to the lies of the devil. He makes them insecure about their body, their wealth, the car they drive, and the job they have. He says they must have this and that to be successful and accepted.
We have a whole society built on lies. We have lies about what is beautiful, lies about what it means to be successful, lies about God, lies about creation, etc. Scripture says the evil one is the prince of this world (John 14:30).
Why does he lie?
He lies because he ultimately wants to harm us and keep us from walking in the calling that God has for us. These lies sometimes come from people who love us, sometimes it may come from our family, sometimes it comes from our churches or friends. Certainly, it comes from the media that we entertain ourselves with.
This is important for us to understand as leaders, not only because the enemy will attack us with lies, but also, because we will be constantly ministering to people who have been lied to. They have accepted the lies of the enemy and are stuck in a spiritual trap (cf. 2 Tim 2:26). We will have to identify the lie and impart the truth of God’s Word to minister to them. Like Nehemiah, we must be able to identify the lies of the devil.
Application Question: How can we develop discernment like Nehemiah so we won’t be deceived by the enemy and also so we can better minister to others?
1. Discernment comes from knowing the Word of God.
Listen to what Hebrews says:
Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
The writer of Hebrews is describing the church as spiritual infants because they lived on “milk” and not the solid food of the Word. He said that the believers had not matured because they did not constantly “use” Scripture and therefore struggled with distinguishing between good and evil, just like an infant.
In the context of Hebrews, they were being tempted to go back to the Jewish law, and he writes to show them that the New Covenant is so much better. Christ is better than Moses; Christ is better than angels; Christ is better than the High Priest. They couldn’t discern this because of their lack of spiritual maturity and therefore were being drawn back into the Old Covenant.
With that said, numerous Christians are like this because they don’t constantly use the Word of God. They use it on Sundays when somebody preaches it and maybe they read it on occasion, but they don’t know how to apply it because they don’t constantly use it. Therefore, they lack discernment and are prone to be deceived by Satan’s lies.
They have no discernment in their dating relationships. They have no discernment about how to respond when mistreated. They can’t discern what’s best for their future or their career because they haven’t developed a mature understanding of the Word of God. This opens the door for many deceptions from the enemy.
In the context of spiritual warfare, Paul calls for believers to put on the belt of truth, which is probably referring to the truths of Scripture. Ephesians 6:14 says, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”
In ancient armor, it was the belt that held all the other pieces together. Therefore, in knowing the Word of God—God’s truth—one will be protected from many of the enemy’s attacks. This is true primarily because one wouldn’t be fooled by many of the enemy’s lies.
Are you keeping on the belt of truth? By constant use of it, you will be able to discern the lies of the devil.
What else will help us gain discernment?
2. Discernment comes from understanding human nature.
Consider what was said about Christ in John 2:23-25:
Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.
This text says many people believed in Christ but that he did not entrust himself to them because he knew all men. In verse 25, the apostle John is telling us why Christ did not entrust himself to them. The reason was not based on his “omniscience” but his “doctrine of man.” He said it was because Christ knew what was in a man.
Jesus understood that even though the crowds were following him, the heart of man is deceitfully wicked. He knew people were following him for food and for healing but not really for who he was. He knew that men were prone to run after a person who did something sensational, though they were not truly committed. Christ didn’t entrust himself to these crowds because he understood the nature of man.
This is something that we need to understand as well to develop discernment. We need to understand the nature of man, the fickleness of man. Certainly, we learn this from looking at our own hearts and how we are tossed to and fro in our passions and our dreams. The person who seeks to understand himself will have a great understanding of man. But, it is also developed through studying the nature of man in Scripture. Men are like sheep that are constantly prone to go astray (cf. Isaiah 53:6). Man is prone to rebel against God and the things of God (cf. Rom 8:7).
This may seem cynical, but it is true. Christ didn’t commit to the crowds because he knew the nature of man. We are prone to go astray. I have no doubt that Nehemiah’s understanding of the Scriptural teachings about mankind, as well as his personal experience, gave him great discernment as he contemplated Tobiah and Sanballat’s request. I think he understood the nature of man, like Jesus did, and as we should as well.
If we better understood the nature of man, it would keep us from disappointment when friends, family, or church members fail us. This understanding would also help us put our hope all the more in God.
While in seminary, I asked my professor how he kept from discouragement when people in his congregation fell away from God or when friends he served with in ministry stumbled into sin. I asked how he stayed strong. At that time, the church where I was youth pastoring was going through a split, and I was very discouraged. He responded with this, “I have a strong theology of sin.” Essentially, he said, “I understand man’s sin nature, and I also understand Satan and temptation. This helps me minister to people and not become discouraged.” He understood man.
If we are going to have discernment like Nehemiah, we need to start to develop a doctrine of man as well.
3. Discernment comes from prayer.
This is what Paul prayed, for the church of Philippi:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.
He prays for their love to abound in knowledge and depth of insight, so that they could discern what was best. The word “discern” is used of a metallurgist testing a metal to see if it was real. God wants us to have wisdom to test and see what is genuine and what is best. This comes through prayer.
Many Christians have an unwise, undiscerning love, which gets them in all kinds of trouble. They love lots of things which actually keep them from what is best. Paul is teaching that we need discernment with our love. “Following our heart” can actually get us in a lot of trouble. We often see people on TV say, “Just follow your heart.” I want to say, “No! Don’t follow your heart.” Get wisdom for your heart, and one of the ways we do this is by praying for wisdom (cf. James 1:5, Phil 1:9-10).
Many Christians commonly fall to the lies of the devil because they lack discernment.
Are you a discerning Christian? Are you seeking to grow in discernment? We need it because we have an enemy who, from the beginning, has used the weapon of deception. We need it to protect ourselves and also to help minister to those who are trapped in some deception of the enemy.
Application Question: What are some common lies that trip up Christians in their spiritual life and keep them from progressing in the work God has called them to? What lies does Satan commonly use to trip you up?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Persistence
so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.
Next, Tobiah sent four requests to meet with Nehemiah and each time Nehemiah turned him down. The enemy in this narrative demonstrated tremendous persistence. It seems like he was trying to wear Nehemiah down so that he would eventually give in.
Interpretation Question: Can you think of other times the enemy used persistence in Scripture?
We see this all the time in the attacks of the enemy.
1. The enemy used persistence in the story of Samson and Delilah.
Do you remember? It said that she constantly harassed him, seeking the secret of his strength, and he eventually gave in. Look at the text below:
Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.” With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death. So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”
She nagged and nagged and nagged until he relented and gave her the secret to his power. Satan is persistent in his attacks.
2. The enemy used persistence in the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.
Genesis 39:5 says that “day after day” she kept asking him to lie with her. The enemy was persistent in seeking to draw Joseph into adultery.
3. The enemy used persistence in the story of Christ being tempted by Satan in the wilderness.
In Matthew 4, when Satan tempted Jesus, he came to him three times with three different temptations until he eventually left Jesus alone.
4. The enemy used persistence in Peter’s temptation to deny Christ.
Several people approached Peter and said, “Weren’t you following Christ?” and with each question there was a temptation to deny Christ. In response, Peter denied him three times.
We have all experienced this, whether it was with lust, depression, anxiety, foul language, or some conflict. Satan is persistent and the purpose of being persistent in warfare is to wear down the other side into compromise and eventually giving up.
This persistence is also used to create deeper strongholds of sin. The more we compromise with the world, the more we give into a particular sin, the greater and deeper its roots become and the harder it becomes to break it and follow Christ.
Satan uses persistence. We see this as Tobiah sends a letter four times to Nehemiah. The hope is that Nehemiah would be worn down, which would open the door to harm him.
How does Nehemiah reply to the four attacks?
He gave them the same answer each time. I am busy with a great work; I cannot come down. He made a stand and would not compromise. In the same way, when the enemy attacks us, God’s desire for us is to stand and not give in.
Application Question: What can we learn from Nehemiah’s reply about how to stand against persistent temptation?
We can stand against Satan’s persistence by realizing the magnitude of the work God has given us. If you don’t realize the magnitude of God’s work and plan for your life, it will be easy to compromise.
Paul taught Timothy something with similar ramifications. Listen to what he said: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer” (2 Timothy 2:3-4).
Paul told Timothy that he should consider himself a soldier for Christ. In understanding this, he should keep himself from becoming entangled with the things of this world. Practically, when our soldiers go to battle, they are fighting not just to protect themselves, but to protect what is behind them. A soldier fights for something greater than himself. He fights because the cause is more important than his life, his family, his country, and his home. And, ultimately, the attacker is not really after the soldier, he is trying to destroy or gain what the soldier protects.
Similarly, Satan’s attacks on us aren’t so much about us. The attacks are primarily about the kingdom of God and the things God is concerned about. It was the same with Nehemiah. Tobiah and Sanballat were not really after Nehemiah. They were after Nehemiah’s work.
That’s why Satan’s attacks are so persistent. He attacks all day long through the TV, the Internet, music, through teachings in the classroom, family, friends, etc., and by these attacks many lose their God-given convictions and give up ground to the enemy. They give up ground on what a biblical marriage is, between a man and woman. They give up ground on the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture. Satan constantly says, “Did God really say?” “Is this really true?” He persistently attacks the inerrancy of Scripture, just as he has done from the beginning of time with Adam and Eve.
Like Nehemiah, we must know that what we are fighting for is too big to compromise. It’s too great of a work. Compromise in sin will not only affect us, but it affects friends, family, our church, and even the lost. You must realize how important your battle is and what you are fighting for. If you don’t, you will be prone to compromise. Scripture says, “Where there is no revelation [no vision], people cast off restraint” (Prov 29:18).
When a person doesn’t realize God’s purpose for his life, he will constantly accept the lies of the devil or give up when attacked. This is because he doesn’t realize how important his battle is.
Nehemiah said, “I am carrying on a great project. I cannot come down.” If we are going to stand against the tactics of the devil, we must not only have discernment but we must realize how important our battle is.
Application Question: What are some of the ways you have experienced the enemy’s persistence? How can we better understand how great our work is so we will not be prone to compromise or be deceived?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Slander and Gossip
Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written: “It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together.” I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.” They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
We see that the enemy also attacked Nehemiah through slander. Initially, he sent four personal messages to Nehemiah, but on the last one, he sent an open letter. Typically, when sending a letter to a government official, it would be a closed letter so that no one else could see the contents. However, Sanballat sought to pressure Nehemiah to respond to this meeting by slandering his name. Therefore, this open letter would not only have been read before Nehemiah but, probably, all along the way till it reached Nehemiah.
Sanballat lied about Nehemiah by saying he was trying to become king (v. 6-7). If this had gotten back to Artaxerxes, it could have potentially meant Nehemiah’s life, as Persian kings were known for quickly getting rid of any resistance.
Similarly with believers, when Satan is trying to stop the work of God, slander and gossip are common tactics. The very name “devil” means “slanderer” or “accuser.” That is what he does, he slanders God; he slanders people. He speaks slander to anyone who will listen. He will even slander us to our own ears—offering an array of condemnation. Consider the heavenly description of Satan in Revelation 12:10:
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
Interpretation Question: In what ways do we see Satan’s slander throughout Scripture?
1. Satan slandered Job before God.
In the book of Job, he told God that Job only followed him because God blessed him. He said, “Touch his family, his riches, his body and you’ll see that he doesn’t love you.” He slandered Job before God.
2. Satan slandered God before Eve.
In the Garden of Eden, Satan said, “you will not die but you will become like God.” Satan slandered God before Eve, implying that God was keeping the best from her and Adam.
3. Satan slandered Jesus through the Pharisees.
Christ was slandered and accused by the Pharisees. They trumped up many false witnesses against him to lie about him.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward.
Satan commonly uses slander. He brings discord and problems to individual Christians and the church by bringing false accusations. That is the devil’s character; he is a slanderer.
Application Question: Why does the enemy use slander?
1. Slander is meant to discourage the Christian.
Listen to what Nehemiah said: “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’” (Nehemiah 6:9).
A discouraged, depressed Christian isn’t very productive in serving the kingdom of God. Often they become so focused on their problems that it weakens their hands in serving the Lord. Therefore, Satan works relentlessly to weaken and discourage the Christian, especially through slander.
2. Slander is meant to change the focus of the Christian.
Many times in seeking to defend our own reputation, we will find ourselves drawn away from focusing on God and the work of God. Satan slanders in order to distract the Christian.
3. Slander is meant to bring division.
Solomon said, “a whisperer separates friends” (Prov 16:28). The enemy will divide the church through slander, as he sends his whisperers around the church.
Observation Question: How does Nehemiah respond to the slander? How should we respond to gossip and slander?
1. Confront slander by telling the truth.
Nehemiah 6:8 says, “I sent him this reply: ‘Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.’”
Nehemiah resisted the devil with the truth. He simply told them it was not true. Many times we cannot do much more than that.
2. Confront slander by trusting in God.
We see this by the fact that Nehemiah prays and puts the situation in God’s hands. Nehemiah 6:9 says, “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’ But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.’”
It should be said that at times, in entrusting things to God, it might be best to just remain silent and not defend ourselves. Because rumors are false, many times the truth will become evident. There were times when Christ was accused falsely, but instead of defending himself, he chose to remain silent and entrusted the situation to God. Consider Matthew 26:61-63:
This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.
Certainly, we should confront lies with truth, but sometimes, in trusting God, we should allow him to be our defense (cf. Rom 12:19).
3. Confront slander by living a life that is above reproach.
The lies about Nehemiah seemed to have had very little traction. This was because Nehemiah was a man who was above reproach in the way he lived. As governor of Israel, he brought reform to the previous administration’s corruptness; he never even used his food allotment but instead paid out of his own pocket to meet his needs and others’ (cf. Neh 5:14-18). He had a reputation for being upright.
It becomes hard for anyone to lie about you if you consistently live a life that is above reproach. We see nothing in this text about the Jews or the king of Persia responding to this gossip, and we can have no doubt that it was because of Nehemiah’s chaste and holy behavior.
Listen to what Peter commanded of the Christians being persecuted in the Roman Empire: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Let this be true of us as well.
Application Question: Why does the enemy use slander in the lives of believers? Have you experienced slander or gossip? How did you handle the situation?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Infiltration through False Teaching
One day I went to the house of Shemaiah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehetabel, who was shut in at his home. He said, “Let us meet in the house of God, inside the temple, and let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you—by night they are coming to kill you.” But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.
The next tactic of the enemy was to intimidate Nehemiah through false teaching. In this scenario, Tobiah and Sanballat hired a prophet named Shemaiah to deceive Nehemiah. His intent was to get Nehemiah to protect himself from the enemy by hiding in the temple (v. 10).
It seems that Shemaiah was trying to give the illusion of a “prophet utterance.” When we see the prophet “shut in at his home,” he probably was acting out the prophecy. This was common for prophets in the Old Testament. For example, we see Isaiah prophesy naked against Egypt and Cush to demonstrate how Assyria would conquer them, take them captive, and lead them naked in order to shame them (Isaiah 20). We also see that Hosea was called to marry a prostitute to represent how Israel was adulterous in her relationship with God (Hosea 1).
Shemaiah said, “let us close the temple doors, because men are coming to kill you, by night they are coming to kill you” (v. 10). This utterance seemed to be written in the form of a poetic couplet in order to trick Nehemiah into sin.1 However, Nehemiah realized that this prophet had been sent by Sanballat to make him commit sin and to give him a bad name.
This is important because one of the common tactics Satan uses to try to lure people away from God and their callings is through false teaching and false prophets. Listen to what Christ said:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Jesus said to beware of false prophets. They are deceptive; they come to us in sheep’s clothing. However, they are really wolves trying to destroy. We will be able to recognize them by their fruits.
The enemy has led many astray through his false teachers. In fact, Paul said this:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Paul said that these people are in the church masquerading as servants of righteousness. This is still happening today, and we must be aware of it. Consider what Paul taught Timothy about the last days:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 4:1-2
Paul said that false teachers and false teachings will be common in the last days. Essentially a new cult of Christianity pops up every day, and many people from the church are often led into them. If this will continue to increase in these last days, how much do Christians need discernment more than previous generations?
Interpretation Question: How did Nehemiah know this was a false prophecy? How can we know?
1. He tested it by Scripture.
Nehemiah knew this was a false prophesy because he knew it would be sin for him to enter into the temple and close the doors. The fact that the prophet talked about closing the door indicates that the prophet was calling him to enter the Holy Place, which was only for priests (Num 18:7).2 For him to enter would have been sin and possibly led to his death.
He, no doubt, tested this prophecy by knowing Scripture. God would never tell him to enter a forbidden area of the temple. A king in the Old Testament actually entered the Holy place to offer a sacrifice and God struck him with leprosy (cf. 2 Chr 26:19).
The best protection from false teachers and false doctrine is through diligent study of the Word of God. Listen to the story of the Bereans:
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
We need Christians who are diligent in the study of the Bible and test everything that comes out of the teacher’s mouth. God is calling all of us to be “noble” Christians.
2. He knew his identity.
Nehemiah said, “Should a man like me hide?” Nehemiah knew his identity as governor, but more than that, as a servant of God and the people of Israel. In serving God and man, he could not sin against them.
In the New Testament, this reality is also true of us. Part of the reason many of us fall to the deceptions of Satan is because we really don’t know who we are in Christ. When people don’t know their identity, then they will run around trying to find it in everything.
You will find your identity in wealth, education, relationships, or even sin, if you don’t know who you are in Christ.
For example, Christ taught his disciples about their identity as children of God in order that they would not struggle with fear and worry about future provisions. Listen to what he says:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Jesus essentially said, “The world runs after what they will eat, drink or wear, but you have a Father who takes care of you. Stop living for food, drink and clothing. The world does that, but you don’t have to because your Father will provide.” Knowing your identity will help free us from the lies of the enemy.
One of the ways we will be kept from the myriads of false teachings that will continue to increase as we get closer to the end times is by knowing the Word of God. Nehemiah knew it would be sin to enter the holy place in the temple. It was only for priests. But Nehemiah also knew his identity as a leader of Israel and servant of God. Knowing who we are will protect us from much of Satan’s tactics.
Application Question: In what ways has knowing your identity in Christ helped set you free from various sins and temptations?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Psychological Warfare
I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me. Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me…. Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
Nehemiah 6:12-14, 19
We have already dealt with this a little previously, but since it happens twice in this passage, I think it needs a separate point. One of the enemy’s primary tactics against Nehemiah was psychological warfare, more specifically, fear. We just read it in Nehemiah 6:13-14 and again in verse 19. In bringing a false prophet, Tobiah and Sanballat were ultimately trying to make Nehemiah intimidated or it can be translated frightened, which would have led him to sin. Tobiah also tried to intimidate him through the sending of letters (v. 19).
It’s important to see the enemy’s intent of bringing fear behind the tactic of false teaching and the letters because it was also the same intent behind the tactic of slander. Nehemiah 6:9 said, “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”‘
Behind the tactic of slander, false teaching, and the letters, the enemy was ultimately trying to make Nehemiah afraid. Satan also constantly tries to do that with us. He is always trying to promote fear, anxiety, and worry in those who follow God. In fact, Peter compares Satan to a roaring lion seeking whomever he may devour. First Peter 5:8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
Why does a lion roar? The roar is strategic to paralyze his prey with fear, so he can attack and devour it. In the same way, Satan commonly uses fear to try to devour believers.
Tobiah and Sanballat were trying to use fear to immobilize and paralyze Nehemiah. They tried to frighten him with gossip, which could have led to the king of Persia’s wrath. The enemy tried to attack him with the threat of killing him. The enemy was trying to use fear to hinder the work of God. Our enemy, Satan, uses fear for similar purposes with us.
Interpretation Question: Why does Satan use fear as a tactic with believers and leaders specifically?
1. Satan uses fear to stop believers from doing God’s work.
We see this in the Parable of the Talents. Matthew 25:24-25 says,
“Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”
In Matthew 25, the person with one talent never used his talent. His reason was fear; he was afraid. We see this same excuse all the time with believers. They are afraid of failure; they are afraid of success; they are insecure about their abilities. Many are paralyzed and kept from doing God’s work because of fear. They won’t serve in the leadership of a ministry; they won’t evangelize; they won’t pray. Fear keeps them from doing the work of God.
In fact, we commonly see this tendency with many God called for service. We saw this with Moses and Gideon. Both struggled with fear when God called them to serve. Similarly, many Christians are paralyzed by some type of fear which limits their usefulness. The enemy uses psychological warfare.
2. Satan uses fear to hinder the work of God in believers.
We see this in the Parable of the Sowers. Matthew 13:22 says, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”
The worries of this life (fear) kept the Word from ever producing fruit in the thorny ground. The Word of God is ineffective in many Christians because of the thorn of worry. Maybe they hear the Word and agree with it, but their fears keep the Word of God from producing fruit. They are worried about the future, about the past, about family, about career, etc. These worries hinder the work of God in them. It chokes the power of the Word of God.
3. Satan uses fear to lead believers into sin.
That was the enemy’s plan with Nehemiah. He was tempting Nehemiah to fear with the hope that he would run into the temple and sin against God, weakening the people and causing them to doubt his leadership.
It’s the same thing in our daily lives. A person’s fear and insecurities will often lead them to sin. Abraham was afraid of losing his life because of his beautiful wife, so he lied to Pharaoh and said she was his sister. Abraham was afraid to not have a child, so he married a second wife, Hagar, and sinned against God. Fear led him into sin, and it is the same for us.
4. Satan uses fear to lead a believer into discouragement.
Nehemiah 6:9 says, “They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.’”
Tobiah’s and Sanballat’s desire was to make Nehemiah too weak to complete the work. Similarly, as mentioned before, a discouraged, depressed Christian won’t be very productive in serving the kingdom of God. Their fear weakens their hands in the work. Proverbs 12:25 says, “Anxiety in the heart of a man brings depression.” Because of this, Satan works hard in sowing seeds of fear to weaken and discourage the Christian.
Application Question: How do we combat the tactic of fear?
1. In order to defeat fear, we must recognize that fear is not of God.
Listen to what Paul told Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Paul tells Timothy, God has not given you that spirit of fear. He is calling Timothy to recognize that his insecurities, probably in ministry, were not from God. Paul said to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing” (4:6). We should not accept fear as from God. Certainly, there are healthy fears, such as the fear of the Lord, but fear that keeps us from serving God or trusting him is not from the Lord. In fact, Paul commands us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Col 3:15).
2. In order to defeat fear, we must recognize our resources in God.
Paul did not simply tell Timothy to reject fear, he also gave him reasons. Look again at what he said: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Paul said, “Timothy you don’t need to be afraid because God has given you power for whatever task he has called you to. He has given you love for people who are difficult. He has given you discipline to get the task done. Timothy, there is no reason to be afraid. Look at the resources God has given you.” God has given us these resources as well: power, love, and self-discipline.
3. In order to defeat fear, we must pray.
In two of the times that Nehemiah was tempted to be afraid, both the open letter and the false prophet, how did he respond? He prayed.
They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.” But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”
Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.
Aren’t we encouraged to battle fear similarly in the New Testament? Remember what Paul told the Philippians:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We combat it by: (a) choosing not to fear, (b) choosing to pray about everything, and by (c) giving thanks in everything.
This is the reason so many are crippled by fear and kept from doing the work God has called them to do. They have chosen to be anxious, chosen to be afraid. They have chosen to not pray about everything. And finally, most Christians don’t give thanks in everything. They complain, they get mad, they get angry, and therefore, the enemy still wins the victory. The promise of peace only comes to those who practice all these disciplines. Nehemiah battled fear through prayer and we must as well.
Do you realize you have an enemy just like Nehemiah?
There are events that are happening to you and your family through which the enemy wants to immobilize you with fear; he wants to cripple you with worries. However, God wants you to have peace so that you can continue serving him. Do you recognize the enemy’s tactics?
Application Question: What are common fears that the enemy attacks you with? How do these fears immobilize or affect you? How is God calling you to get free from these fears in order to better serve him?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Attacking Immediately after Victory
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
It says in verse 15 that the wall was completed in fifty-two days and all the surrounding nations were afraid because they realized God had helped. You might expect an end to the memoirs of Nehemiah or a “They lived happily ever after” because the wall was completed, but that doesn’t happen. The enemy attacked again immediately.
The next attack came through the nobles of Judah, who would have been very influential, as Judah was the royal line. They were bound to Tobiah through marriage and were sharing everything Nehemiah said with him. At the same time, they continually spoke good words about Tobiah. However, these good words were ingenuous, as Tobiah kept sending intimidating letters to Nehemiah (v. 19).
Attacking immediately after a victory is a common tactic of Satan. We get a picture of Satan’s opportunistic nature in Luke 2:13, right after Satan’s temptation of Jesus. Look at what it says: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 2:13).
The devil is always looking for an opportune time. Though Jesus had won the victory, Satan was still looking and ready to attack. I think a good picture of attacking after victory is seen with Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16:15-23. Jesus said, “Who do men say that I am?” and Peter responded, “The Christ, the Son of God.” Christ blessed him and said, “Blessed are you for man has not revealed this to you but my Father in heaven” and he also said, “On this rock I will build my church.”
Peter had been blessed by God; this was a great victory. Maybe, Peter felt really special after Christ’s blessing. However, only minutes later, he would stumble greatly. Christ told the disciples that he would be crucified and raised from the dead. Peter immediately rebuked Jesus saying that he would not die. Christ responded by saying, “Get behind me Satan for you are an offense to me.” Right after Peter’s victory, the enemy found a door to speak through him.
Similarly, in 1 Kings 18, Elijah had a tremendous victory over the priests of Baal, as God sent fire down on the altar, and Elijah had all the priests killed. However, in 1 Kings 19, Queen Jezebel promised to, likewise, kill Elijah, and he ran for his life. He became depressed and even asked for God to take his life. Right after his greatest victory came his greatest defeat.
Satan is always looking for an opportune time and typically that comes very shortly after a victory. Many Christians go to the mountain top only to stumble quickly down to the valley. This is a common tactic of the enemy.
As one who worked with youth over seven years, I saw this many times. The students would go to a retreat and get on fire for God, and it was right after the high that they would come stumbling down. It was right after the mountain top experience that they had a valley experience. They would have a major fight with a friend or family member, stumble on the Internet, start dealing with depression, etc. It was common.
Satan likes to attack right after a victory. Many couples stumble into an argument right after leaving a Spirit-filled service. Many are tempted right after getting out of their devotions and going to work. Satan attacks right after a victory. I think part of the reason this is common is because it is right after a victory that we have a tendency to let down our guard and relax.
Scottish minister Andrew A. Bonar said this, “Let us be as watchful after the victory as before the battle.”3 We must be as watchful after the victory as before the battle, especially because we know our enemy’s tactics.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced the enemy’s tactic of attacking right after a victory or spiritual high? How can we more wisely protect ourselves from this tactic?
The Enemy’s Tactic of Infiltration through Compromise
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. Also, in those days the nobles of Judah were sending many letters to Tobiah, and replies from Tobiah kept coming to them. For many in Judah were under oath to him, since he was son-in-law to Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah. Moreover, they kept reporting to me his good deeds and then telling him what I said. And Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.
The last tactic the enemy used against Nehemiah was infiltration through compromise. As mentioned, the nobles of Judah were under oath to Tobiah through marriage. Like other Samaritans, Tobiah was ethnically mixed. He was part Jewish and part Ammonite (cf. Neh 2:9). His name in Hebrew meant “God is good.” He had married a daughter of Judah, and the tribe of Judah had great influence in Israel.
It is obvious that the nobles were compromising. This is not only seen in the fact that they gave their daughter to someone from the surrounding nations, which was forbidden by God, but also in that they were praising Tobiah who had been antagonistic to Israel from the beginning. Proverbs 28:4 says this: “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them.”
I think we see this in the church all the time, especially amongst our youth. It’s common to find them pumping certain music stars that teach anti-God messages. They will be watching shows that dishonor God’s design for man and woman or teach other forms of corrupt living. But not only do they watch and listen, they praise it. They boast about it. They honor those who dishonor God. Those who forsake the law praise the wicked.
Of all the attacks Nehemiah shared, compromise was probably the most dangerous because he doesn’t share a resolution. It just says that the nobles kept reporting the good Tobiah had done and sharing what Nehemiah said. In fact, Nehemiah later shares that this compromise was still happening many years after the completion of the wall, even after all the reform in chapters 8-12. When we get to Nehemiah 13:7, we see that Tobiah had moved into the temple. Israel had given a room in the temple to a person who was not a priest which was clearly forbidden.
In addition, in chapter 13, the Israelites again started to marry foreign women, which was also forbidden by God. It was the same compromise Solomon committed, which eventually led Israel away from God and into judgment.
Compromise is one of the enemy’s most dangerous tactics; it commonly destroys individual Christians, churches, and Christian organizations. It’s like a weed that is hard to pluck out. It can stay rooted for years, causing havoc amongst an otherwise healthy harvest.
Interpretation Question: Why does the enemy work so hard to bring compromise amongst believers?
1. Compromise spreads very fast like yeast.
Look at what Paul says: “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (1 Corinthians 5:6).
Compromise and sin quickly spread throughout a congregation or ministry. It will open the door for more sin and deeper strongholds in a person’s life and a community’s life. Paul said that it must be removed because it will spread.
2. Compromise removes the blessing of God.
David said this: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers” (Psalm 1:1).
David said that those who compromise lose the blessing of God on their lives. Only the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked is blessed.
What is the counsel of the wicked? It is anything that proclaims the opposite of God’s revelation. This includes things we read, watch, listen to, or meditate on. James says that friendship with the world is enmity with God (4:4).
Many Christians miss the blessing of God on their lives because of compromise.
3. Compromise hinders intimacy of God.
Consider what Paul said about being yoked with unbelievers:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?… ”Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” ”I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14, 17-18
Now this Scripture is often used for not marrying unbelievers, but its applications are much deeper than that. Paul gives a promise to those who separate from the world, “I will be a Father to you, you will be my sons and daughters” (v.18).
This seems like a weird promise since he is writing to Christians. Paul is writing to the Corinthian church. What does he mean by the promise, “I will be a Father to you”? It is a promise of intimacy with God. Many Christians lack the intimacy God wants to give them because of compromise. They say, “God where are you; I can’t hear your voice?” They find their time in the Word and worship as dull. The problem may be that they are compromised and, therefore, can’t hear the voice of the Father or truly experience his love. Paul says that we must separate from the world in order to have this promise.
Compromise spreads quickly. It removes the blessing of God and hinders intimacy with him. One of Satan’s greatest tactics is infiltration through compromise. Many Christians’ lives have been destroyed by a little compromise. Churches have been destroyed by compromise. They compromise their teaching because the doctrine is unpopular in the culture. Christian universities have been destroyed when they have allowed liberalism to creep in; they compromised the gospel by focusing on grants, money from the government, and the approval of the world.
Even today, there are many Tobiahs in the house of God, and we often have welcomed them in to our demise. Nehemiah clearly ends the chapter saying, “The problems are not yet over. The enemy is still attacking.”
In what ways are we compromising? A little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Cor 5:6). Sin will keep spreading. Satan only needs a little room to destroy a harvest—to make a Christian or a Christian community ineffective.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen compromise harm Christians and Christian communities? What temptations to compromise does the enemy constantly attack you with?
As godly leaders we must be aware of our enemy’s tactics both to protect ourselves and also our communities. What are Satan’s tactics to stop the work of God?
- The enemy’s tactic of deception: He is a liar and the father of lies.
- The enemy’s tactic of persistence: He wants to wear believers down with his attacks and temptations.
- The enemy’s tactic of slander and gossip: He will slander God, slander others, and he will slander us.
- The enemy’s tactic of psychological warfare: He works through fear and discouragement.
- The enemy’s tactic of infiltration through false teaching: We must know the Word and our identity to not be deceived.
- The enemy’s tactic of attacking right after a victory: We must be as alert after victory, as before.
- The enemy’s tactic of infiltration through compromise: This might be the most dangerous tactic. It spreads; it removes the blessing of God and hinders intimacy with him.
1 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 108). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
2 Getz, Gene (1995-06-22). Men of Character: Nehemiah (Kindle Location 2841). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
3 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined. “Be” Commentary Series (77). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Related Topics: Leadership
8. The Priorities of Godly LeadersRelated Media
After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed. I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do. I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.” Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there: These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah)…
What are the priorities of godly leaders?
If you go through the cities of Europe, you will find many great cathedrals; however, the problem with these cathedrals is that nobody worships there anymore—all the people are gone. Similarly, Nehemiah had rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem in fifty-two days, but only a few people were living in the city (v. 4). Therefore, he began to labor to rebuild and to restore the people. This labor is detailed here in chapter 7 and throughout the rest of the book.
If we are going to build up the people of God, what steps must we take? Many of our churches and Christian communities are just shells of what they used to be. They began with revival and were used to ignite the communities they were in, but now many of them are simply surviving. They are on life support. Many of our Christian schools started off with a mission to send out pastors and missionaries, but now they are secular. If many of us looked at our individual lives, we would see times where we loved God more and were more passionate for him.
How do we rebuild the community we serve and also our own spiritual lives? If we are going to rebuild, it must start out with a renewed focus. It must start out with a change in priorities. I think we see something of this in this chapter.
What are the first things that Nehemiah did in seeking to rebuild the nation of Israel after the completion of the wall? His first actions show us his priorities and, therefore, what our priorities should be in seeking to rebuild our communities, our churches, and our lives. When the first things are first everything else falls into place. Here in this text we will see six priorities of godly leadership in building up a people for God.
Big Question: What are Nehemiah’s priorities after the completion of the wall and how can we apply these truths to build up the body of Christ and our spiritual lives?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Worship
After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed.
The first thing that Nehemiah did after the rebuilding of the wall is appoint gatekeepers, singers, and Levites. Why did he do this?
It seems very clear that Nehemiah does this in order to set up the worship of Israel. The Levites were called to maintain the temple, which probably had been neglected while the Israelites were just trying to survive without walls, and they were called to teach the people Scripture.
Nehemiah established the singers to lead Israel’s praise. Even the gatekeepers played a role in the worship of Israel. Now it is good to remember the walls that had been rebuilt weren’t around Israel, but only around Jerusalem, the capital city, where the worship was supposed to happen. Therefore, people from all over Israel and even other nations would go through the gates of Jerusalem to worship God. In fact, certain gates were particularly important for worship such as the Sheep Gate. This was not just for random sheep but for sheep that were to be sacrificed at the temple.
When Nehemiah appointed the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites, he was reestablishing the worship of Israel. That was his first priority. In fact, it should be noted that Israel had struggled with worship, especially while they were exiled in Babylon. Listen to what the Jews in Babylon wrote:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?
It was hard for them to sing while they were outside the land and being harassed by foreigners, and no doubt, they still struggled while they were back in Jerusalem without walls, similarly being harassed and attacked by their neighbors. Therefore, Nehemiah reestablished the worship of Israel starting with the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers.
In addition, this was also a problem with the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2. Jesus said to them:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
They were doing many good things but neglecting the main thing. They were doing good works, testing false apostles, persevering through hardship; they hated the practice of the Nicolaitans (v. 6) and yet had lost their first love. Consider what Christ said to them:
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and caring for our neighbor is second. To neglect loving and worshiping God breaks the greatest commandment and invites his judgment. He threatened to remove their lampstand, which meant their ability to be a witness in their community and maybe even destruction. Many churches are no longer effective for Christ because they put some issue, some good cause before him. Their worship is dead, and therefore, their ministry died as well. Worship must be first.
The church should be concerned about many good and worthy causes: feeding the poor, abortion, trafficking, evangelism, missions, etc. However, none of these should come before worship. Worshiping God and seeking his face must be the focus of the church (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). When anything else takes that place in the life of the church, we have lost our first love and are in danger of being disciplined by God.
If we lose our first love, if we neglect the worship of God as the priority of our lives and our communities, then God is just in disciplining us and removing our lampstand. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). We shouldn’t even neglect worship for the sake of ministry. Like Mary, we must daily rush to sit at the feet of Jesus, for it is the one thing needed that will not be taken from us (Luke 10:42).
How do we restore our first love, our worship? Christ said to the Ephesian church that they should remember the height from which they had fallen. Then repent and do the works they did at first (cf. Rev 2:5). We should remember when God was our first love, our delight, and then do what we did then. Were we faithfully reading the Bible, attending a small group, or serving? Then we should do that in order to put God first and restore our worship.
When Nehemiah rebuilt the walls, the first thing he established was worship. As godly leaders, we must always point people back to the Word of God, to corporate worship with the saints, and to seeking the Lord for that must be the priority of every believer.
In what ways has worship ceased to be your priority? What is taking the place of your first love? Is it work, family, hobbies, or ministry? Let us repent and turn our focus back to Christ.
Nehemiah appointed the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers probably because worship had been neglected. The people put their circumstances, their survival, their careers, their families, etc., in front of God, and therefore, worship became a lesser priority.
Is worship your priority? Or are you neglecting God and putting something else first in your life?
Application Question: What are your major distractions from prioritizing the worship of God? How can we help ourselves or those whom we minister to, to re-prioritize worship?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Raising up Leaders
I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.
Observation Question: What were the characteristics of Hanani and Hananiah, the two men appointed to leadership by Nehemiah?
The next thing Nehemiah did, after reestablishing the worship of Israel, was choose leadership for Israel. Nehemiah realized he could not lead Israel alone—he needed help. Therefore, he set up two leaders in Jerusalem: Hanani, his brother, and Hananiah.
Obviously, Nehemiah knew Hanani to be a man of God. In chapter 1, Hanani alerted Nehemiah to the problems in Israel, prompting him to go back and initiate the rebuilding of the walls. Hanani was a man with the same heart as Nehemiah.
He also selected Hananiah. Hananiah was the “commander of the citadel.” This means he was a military leader who protected the Persian palace, but more than that, he was a man of “integrity” or it can be translated “faithful” as in the KJV. Nehemiah also said he feared God more than most men.
Here I think we learn something about the characteristics of those we should consider selecting for leadership positions, those we should mentor for future leadership, and also who we should be. It is good to remember that when Christ came to build up the nation of Israel, he also selected future leaders—the apostles. He trained them throughout his three years of ministry.
Similarly, we are called to make disciples (Matt 28:19-20) and to specifically train up others to serve in the church (cf. Heb 10:24-25, Eph 4:12-16).
The priority of every godly leader should be mentorship and training others for future leadership. But also this should challenge us to make sure we have the qualities of one whom God could raise up into leadership.
Application Question: What can we learn about potential leaders, those we should mentor and raise up, by the characteristics of the men Nehemiah chose?
1. Potential leaders must be faithful.
Hananiah was a man of integrity or faithfulness. Certainly, the same was true about Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani. He was the one who told Nehemiah about the problems in Israel after returning from a visit. Then he followed Nehemiah back to Israel and served with him. No doubt, he was a faithful man.
When Paul was concerned about raising future leaders for the church, he told Timothy to find “reliable men” or it can be translated “faithful men” to train so they could teach others. He said, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).
To have integrity means to be honest or to adhere “to moral and ethical principles.”1 Hananiah and Hanani were people Nehemiah could trust; they were people who followed through with their commitments. Similarly, when God is seeking for someone to use, he finds somebody who is faithful. Christ said this in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
The person who is faithful with the little God has given him, will be faithful over much. We see these faithful qualities in the requirements for pastors. They must run their household well and their children must be obedient (1 Tim 3:4-5, Titus 1:6). If a husband cannot faithfully oversee the people in his house (little), then he cannot faithfully oversee the people in a church (much). Paul said that they must be hospitable, which means a lover of strangers (1 Tim 3:2). If they care for those they do not know by taking them into their home and providing for them, then they will faithfully care for strangers in the house of God.
This is what Scripture says: if one is faithful with little, then he will be faithful over much. But if one is not faithful with little, then he will be unfaithful with much.
I think one of the faithful things we must look for in future leadership is a consistent and disciplined devotional life. This seems like something little, but it is immensely important. David said he learned that the person who “meditated day and night” on God’s law prospered in everything he did (Psalm 1:2-3). If we want to raise up successful leaders, they must be people who are faithful in their devotional lives.
This little thing called meditating on the Bible day and night will make an effective leader. Those who are not faithful in this will not be effective and probably shouldn’t be in spiritual leadership at all. If a person is unfaithful in little, they will be unfaithful in much.
I have no doubt when Nehemiah looked at Hananiah, he saw a man who loved the Word of God, faithfully shepherded a believing family, and attended temple. He worked with integrity and honored God in all he did. That’s probably why he called him faithful and selected him for leadership. And, no doubt, with Hanani it was the same.
Are you faithful with the little things such as: your devotional life, your care of family and friendships, your work, your studies, etc.? God looks at the little things when selecting leadership. He finds the one who faithfully shepherds his little flock of sheep and raises him up to lead Israel. Are you faithful with little?
2. Potential leaders must fear God.
It also says Hananiah feared God more than others. That’s pretty interesting because “the fear of God” is not something we typically think of as being quantified or added up. But the reality is that some fear God more than others.
Interpretation Question: What does it mean to fear God?
- To fear God means to revere him—to understand and stand in awe of his characteristics—his perfections.
To fear God essentially means to worship him. Hananiah was a man who loved to worship. That’s the same characteristic we saw in David, the one God exalted to be king of Israel. He was the primary writer of the book of Psalms, the worship hymnal of Israel. He loved to sing praises to the Lord and honor him. It was David who said, “one day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Psalm 84:10). When God selects a leader, he finds somebody who loves to worship and adore him.
Do you love to worship God? When we look for leaders, we must find people who love to worship and dwell in God’s presence. People who are apathetic towards worship are not fit for leadership.
- To fear God means to fear his wrath and discipline.
Scripture says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). It can also be translated chastens and scourges as in the KJV. To chasten is to rebuke and to scourge is to whip. The people whom God selects for leadership are afraid of God’s discipline—his spankings.
Jonah told God, “No” and God sent a storm in his life. He would have drowned in the sea if it wasn’t for being swallowed by a big fish. God disciplines his children. He killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the church and the Holy Spirit (Acts 5). Some of the members of the Corinthian church were sick, weak, and some had died because they dishonored the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:29-30). God is a God of wrath who is angry at sin all day (Psalm 7:11). When God selects a leader, he finds somebody who fears him.
Solomon said the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10). Fearing the Lord is important because it enables people to make wise decisions. Because we want wise decision makers in leadership, we must find people who fear God.
A lot of people lack wisdom because they do not fear God. They look at God as their buddy who is simply there to forgive their sins and answer their prayers. There is no fear of a holy God who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). And this is the very reason so many believers live such foolish and wasteful lives.
In fact, what makes this lack of fear so much worse is that it endangers other people. When Jonah was in sin, it almost killed a bunch of bystanders on a boat with him going to Tarshish (Jonah 2). When David, full of pride, counted the people of Israel, it led to the death of thousands in the nation (2 Sam 24). When Solomon stopped fearing God, it brought the judgment of God leading to a divided kingdom. A leader who does not fear God will lead his people into judgment.
When we look for a leader or someone to disciple, we must find a person who has a genuine fear of God, which makes him live a life of holiness.
Application Question: Why is a lack of the fear of God so common among Christians?
One of the reasons Christians lack fear is because we have so much anemic, feel good preaching in the church these days. There is no reason to fear God. A pastor at one of the biggest churches in the U.S. said on TV that he did not preach on sin anymore because his people were already discouraged, and preaching on sin would only make it worse—they needed encouragement.
Listen, if we do not preach on sin, then we are not teaching the Bible and, therefore, are raising up people who do not fear the Lord and consequently live unwise lives.
Godly leaders must be faithful, and they must fear God. They must be people of character. This is the type of person we must seek to place in leadership. This is the type of person we must mentor for leadership, and the type of person we must become.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to grow in integrity, faithfulness, and the fear of him? In what ways do you feel God is calling you to help raise up future leaders in the church?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Protecting the People of God
I said to them, “The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot. While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have them shut the doors and bar them. Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses.
After establishing leadership, Nehemiah focused on the protection of the people by establishing rules for the gates and walls. In those days the gates were typically open at sunrise and closed at sunset2; however, Nehemiah established even stricter regulations. He said they should only be open when the sun was hot. Derek Kidner said this phrase referred “to the morning and evening routine, directing that the gates should be opened late and closed early.”3 Instead of opening at six am, maybe they were opened between ten to noon when the sun was hot. This made sure the people were not asleep when the gates opened. This also probably meant when the sun was going down, no longer hot, that the gates were closed and locked. This meant everybody was still awake when the gates were closed and, therefore, were less vulnerable to attack. Then, he appointed residents throughout Jerusalem to guard the walls at strategic posts and near their houses. Nehemiah’s priority was to protect the people of God, and he went to great extremes to do this.
When we look at Nehemiah’s priority of protecting the people of God, we, no doubt, see God’s priority. Jesus said he was the good shepherd and that when the wolf comes, good shepherds give their lives for the sheep (John 10:11). The good shepherd would always watch the sheep and protect them with his life. As godly leaders, we must aim to do the same.
Application Question: How can we practically apply watching and protecting the people of God to our lives? How can we protect God’s people?
1. We must watch and protect the people of God by prayer.
Listen to what God said through Isaiah:
I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
Here, God set watchman to pray over Jerusalem for the restoration of it and that it may be holy. A watchman typically sat at a strategic place on the wall of the city to alert everybody when an enemy approached. However, the watchmen God set up were primarily called to pray when they saw threats coming towards Jerusalem and ultimately for the nation’s prosperity. I believe God still has people praying for Israel until he restores the nation and fulfills his covenants with her.
Similarly, God has called us to be watchmen over his church by being alert and devoted to prayer. Listen to these texts:
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
We are to be alert watchmen, as we care for the church of God. We should keep our eyes open for any potential threats. If there is division, sickness, weariness, false teaching, etc., we should pray. We should give thanks when there are blessings: open doors, unity, fruitfulness, etc. We should, with all kinds of prayers and requests, keep on praying for Christ’s church. These prayers are not only for our local congregation but for “all the saints.” We must be alert and intercede for the entire body of Christ.
God seeks to find men and women who will covenant with him in this type of ministry. Remember what he said to Ezekiel: “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).
Often God can’t find people who are willing to guard and protect others from destruction. Are you willing to stand in the gap and pray for the people of God? This ministry of protecting God’s people through prayer is for everybody, but it is especially for leaders.
1. We watch and protect the people of God by being alert and sounding the alarm when we see the enemy.
Alertness was mentioned in the last point on prayer, but it will be given more attention here. First Peter 5:8 says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
Christians and Christian leaders, specifically, must be alert to the work of the devil amongst God’s people. No doubt, we saw a good picture of this with Christ and Peter right before Peter’s denial. The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail” (Luke 22:32, paraphrase). Christ was alert and sensitive to the plan of the evil one and warned his disciple.
Certainly, we should be alert to the plans and activities of the evil one in other people’s lives as well. We should be sensitive to any type of decay in their spiritual lives. Have they stopped attending small group or church? Have their conversations changed? Are they hanging around the wrong people, making wrong decisions? It is there we can trust that the evil one is at work. It is there we must aim not only our prayers but also our attention as we warn, rebuke, and encourage so they may be protected.
John the Baptist told the tax collectors to stop stealing and to make right whatever wrongs they committed. He told the wealthy to share their wealth, and he told the Pharisees to repent (Luke 3). He was a watchman over Israel, warning the people and calling them to repent.
Are you willing to be watchful over the church of God? In the same way Nehemiah set watchman over Israel and God set prayer warriors to watch over Israel, we must be willing to take part in this ministry for the church. The church has an enemy called the devil, and his only desire is to steal, kill, and destroy (cf. John 10:10). It is for this reason we must be alert and warn those in danger.
2. We watch and protect people by being aware of the enemy’s tactics.
It must be remembered that if we are going to be watchful, we must be aware of the enemy’s tactics (2 Cor 2:11), as mentioned in the previous chapter. We can be sure that is why Nehemiah set specific regulations in Jerusalem. He knew the enemy would attack at certain times and in certain ways. We must, therefore, be aware of our enemy’s tactics as well.
Interpretation Question: What are some of the enemy’s tactics we can discern from Nehemiah’s regulations on the gates?
- The enemy likes to attack while people are resting.
Nehemiah told them they must not open the gate until the sun was hot. Again, this probably meant sometime around ten to noon. The people were more vulnerable early in the morning while they were asleep. Therefore, Nehemiah had the gates opened later in the day to decrease their vulnerability to a surprise attack.
Certainly, Satan also likes to attack when Christians are resting. We should be aware of our times of leisure. It is then the enemy likes to attack. He will attack with loneliness, depression, discouragement, lust, anger, etc. It is in our leisure time that addictions are often developed. We are vulnerable at our times of leisure, when we are resting. It is then we often let down our guard and are more susceptible to attack.
As mentioned in chapter 6, the enemy also likes to attack right after a victory. After a victory we typically let down our guard to rest. After finishing some great project, some great work, or after a time of spiritual renewal, those will be strategic times for the enemy to attack. We should be aware of this and, therefore, be especially alert. Satan is a cunning enemy. He has tempted man for thousands of years, and because of this, he understands human nature. He understands the vulnerability of man at times of rests—during our leisure or after a victory. We must watch ourselves and also our people at these times.
- The enemy likes to attack at night.
Enemies commonly attacked while it was dark, and therefore, Nehemiah closed the gates when the sun was no longer hot. Again, the night is often a time of relaxation when a person’s inhibitions naturally lower, making us more susceptible to temptation and sin. Certainly, Satan understands how strategic night time is as well. Listen to what Paul said:
You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
1 Thessalonians 5:5-8
Paul described the world as those who belong to the night. They typically get drunk at night, are less self-controlled at night, and fall into various other temptations. But, Christians should not be characterized by the night but by the day. They should live self-controlled, godly lives. As Christians, we should always be on guard, but at certain times, we should be more alert and one of those is at night.
When do people typically fall to lust on the Internet? At night. When do conversations on the phone with one’s girlfriend or boyfriend go astray? At night. When do people have a tendency to get drunk or break the law? At night. Even when people accused Peter and the apostles of drunkenness on the day of Pentecost, he said, “It’s only nine in the morning!” meaning that nobody gets drunk this early (Acts 2:15). It was clearly understood those type of activities typically happened at night.
Let us be on guard during the day, but let us especially be on guard in the night hours. Being on guard includes getting a good night’s sleep. I would say Satan often wins the battle at night simply by people not getting proper rest. They stay up late, typically neglecting their times of prayer or devotion, and then start off the next day too tired to meet with God. Through a pattern of being undisciplined and frivolous at night, the enemy keeps the gates open to cause havoc in people’s lives. Yes, let us guard the night. Nehemiah’s strategy certainly applies to us as well.
- The enemy likes to attack the family.
Nehemiah tells them to post guards right by their homes to protect the wall by their houses. This way they would have guards to sound the alarm and alert the city in case of attack. Attacking enemies would often neglect the front gate and try to enter through the side. Listen to what Nehemiah says: “Also appoint residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some near their own houses” (Nehemiah 7:3).
This is significant because our enemy, Satan, also likes to attack our homes. The family is the basic unit of the church and society. When God wanted to start a kingdom, he started it with a husband and wife (a family) in the Garden of Eden. Because of this, Satan realizes if he can destroy the family, he can destroy the foundation of both the church and society. It is a very strategic target. When sin came into the world, one of the consequences was the battle of the sexes. The woman would try to control the husband and the husband would try to dominate her (cf. Gen 3:16).
From that faulty relationship, we later saw the first murder. Cain, the son of Adam, killed his brother, Abel. And this battle in the family continued throughout the rest of Scripture. In fact, the Scripture is a story of dysfunctional families.
Abraham broke the marriage order and married two wives who battled with one another. Isaac, the son of Abraham, favored the oldest son, Esau, and created jealousy with the younger son, Jacob. Jacob cheated the older brother, Esau, out of his inheritance. Jacob, the grandson of the polygamist Abraham, committed the same sin by marrying multiple wives and, similarly, had great marital strife.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, had ten older brothers who sold him into slavery. David, the king of Israel, had a son who raped his daughter Tamar. Absalom, the older brother of Tamar, killed the brother who raped his sister. Absalom, the son of David, eventually overthrew his father’s kingdom.
One of the major themes in the narrative of the Bible is how Satan continually attacked the family, and it is no different today. Not only does Satan commonly attack while people are resting and when it’s dark, he loves to attack the home—our families.
Therefore, we must guard and protect our families. We must especially protect our children from the godlessness taught through TV, music, and the Internet. Satan often destroys homes through the media. We must guard our homes by saturating them with prayer, the study of Scripture, and being involved in a Bible preaching church. We must not be unaware of Satan’s tactics.
When God sent John the Baptist to prepare Israel for Christ’s coming, one of his jobs was to restore the family. He was called to turn the fathers back to the sons and the sons back to the fathers (Mal 4:6). This must be one of our priorities as well, as we seek to build up the people of God. Godly leaders must protect the family, as that is one of the enemy’s primary targets.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen Satan use the tactic of attacking during times of rest (times of leisure and after victories) and at night in your spiritual life or others? In what ways do you feel God is calling you to better protect yourself and others from the works of the enemy?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Discerning God’s Voice
So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.
One of the common themes seen throughout Nehemiah’s memoirs is his discernment of the voice of God. He said in verse 5, “So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families.” He said something similar in Nehemiah 2:12 as he surveyed the broken down walls of Jerusalem. He said, “I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.” Nehemiah was a man who sought to discern the voice of God.
This is an essential priority for every godly leader. They must be committed to discerning God’s voice if they are going to effectively lead the people of God. This is important because God is the head of the church, and we are simply his under-shepherds. Some leaders abuse their leadership because they think they are the head. However, godly leaders prioritize discerning the voice of God so they can lead people according to God’s will. We see this in Nehemiah, as he discerned God’s voice and assembled the families for registration.
Application Question: How do we discern God’s voice?
1. We discern God’s voice by knowing the Word of God.
Throughout the book it is very clear that part of the way Nehemiah discerned God’s voice was by knowing Scripture. When he prayed in chapter 1, he talked about how God promised to scatter Israel for their disobedience and to restore them if they were obedient (v. 8, 9). In that prayer, he was praying the promises in Deuteronomy 30:1-5, which are reaffirmed in many other Old Testament passages. He knew it was God’s will to restore Israel’s fortunes if they repented.
When he rebuked the nobles in chapter 5, he rebuked them because they broke the law (5:9). The Jews were not allowed to charge one another interest on loans (cf. Exodus 22:25). Even in this text, as he felt led to create a census, it seems also prompted by his knowledge of Scripture.
The census was something very important. In the book of Joshua, the tribes of Israel were each given a part of the promised land (chapters 14-17). The census was necessary to establish the family rights. This was especially important for the Levites and priests who didn’t receive an allotment of the land but instead worked at the temple in Jerusalem and lived off the offerings of the people. The census or genealogy was needed to prove what tribe a person was from so they could receive their allotment and to determine the priests and Levites for service at the temple.
Again, Nehemiah’s actions show that he was a man who thoroughly knew the Scripture. In fact, at the end of the book, he rebuked Israel for intermarriage with the pagans and also for letting Tobiah, an Ammonite, live in the temple. This was another departure from God’s law. Nehemiah was clearly a man who knew God’s law and was zealous in keeping it.
In the same way, if we are going to know God’s voice, we must know Scripture. Many times the Scripture tells us exactly what to do, and at other times, it gives us principles to make wise decisions. When we live in the Word of God, we, like Nehemiah, often will discern exactly what God’s will is. David said, “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word gives us direction.
2. We discern God’s voice by putting him first.
Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all thy ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
Nehemiah was a man who prioritized God and, therefore, heard his voice. When we make God our priority, when we acknowledge him in every way, he will also show us what paths to take.
When putting God first, you will not only find that God directs you, but he will also commonly use you to give direction to others. When they are seeking direction for their path, you will find that God gives you words of wisdom to help them discern which path to take.
As godly leaders we must know God’s voice in order to continually build others up and help them walk in God’s best for their lives.
3. We discern God’s voice by not being conformed to the world culture.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Many people can’t discern the will of God because the voice of the world is in their mind. They know what culture would tell them to do, what friends and family would tell them to do, but they can’t hear the voice of God. We must continually get rid of sin and the lies of the world culture to be able to test and approve what God’s will is. God’s will is often the opposite of culture, since Satan is the ruler of this world (cf. John 12:31, 2 Cor 4:4).
Application Question: What is God currently putting in your heart as you continually seek his face? In what ways does the culture of the world often hinder us from hearing the voice of God?
Godly Leaders Prioritize the Assurance of the People of God
Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt. So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there
Interpretation Question: What was the significance of the genealogical records for Nehemiah and the Israelites?
Again, Israel rebuilt the walls, but the city itself needed to be rebuilt. It was large and spacious but had only a few people in it. God put into Nehemiah’s heart to have a registration by families of those living in Israel.
This was important to establish who was Jewish, as there were some privileges in worship that only Jews could enjoy. In fact, some priests could not minister because their records were lost. They had to wait until a priest could seek the Lord through the Urim Thummim (cf. Neh 7:63-65). It was also important to establish what tribes they were from because of certain land rights. God gave parts of the land to certain tribes as an enduring inheritance. We see that they had their own towns in Nehemiah 7:73:
The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns. When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns.
The registration was also important to establish the line of the messiah. We see genealogies used in Matthew and Luke to establish the lineage of Christ.
In fact, this list of names Nehemiah used is almost the exact list found in Ezra 2, which documented the initial people who came back to Israel from Babylon. There are slight differences, but this is probably because the list was updated, as the people were registered. Some have speculated that the “minor discrepancies are possibly due to Ezra listing those who intended to depart [from Babylon to Israel], while Nehemiah listed those who actually arrived.”4
The fact we see two lists repeated in Scripture shows how special these people and their names were. They were the faithful families who came back to Israel to worship. The list marks them as such. God did not need the list, for he knew who were his. However, the Jewish people needed to know. They needed the genealogies to prove they were part of God’s chosen people in order to enjoy the rights given them.
It is good to remember that being Jewish, especially in the Old Covenant, was special. Listen to what Paul said:
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
It was through this nation God was going to reach the world; they were to be lights to the Gentiles.
Application Question: How can we as Christians apply the need for the people to have an official census to prove they were Jewish and the tribe they were from?
Similar to Old Testament Israel, the church is now the people of God, and he has called us to be lights to the world (cf. 1 Peter 2:9-10). We can be assured that God knows who are his and that he knows us by name. John 10:3 says, “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” However, like the Jews needing to take the census to prove their lineage in order to enjoy their privileges, we also need to know that we are God’s. We need to have assurance of salvation.
God knew who were his and this Jewish census wasn’t important for God. It was important for the people so they could have the rights to their land, to work in the temple as priests, or to enjoy certain elements of worship only allowed for the Jew.
Scripture teaches a similar principle about our salvation. God knows who are truly saved, but we must know as well. Therefore Scripture teaches the necessity of believers having assurance of salvation. Second Peter 1:10 says, “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure.”
Though we don’t have a genealogical list, we still have the command to make our election sure and to test whether Christ is in us (cf. 2 Cor 13:5). This is the doctrine of assurance of salvation.
Are you sure you are saved? It is the most important thing you can be sure about in your life. How can we be sure?
Well, after accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the primary test for our salvation is growing in righteousness. Peter calls all believers to make their election sure in 2 Peter 1:10 but tells us how in the previous verses:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall
2 Peter 1:5 -10
Peter says make every effort to add to your faith goodness, to goodness knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. Peter essentially commands them to grow and says if you are not growing in these things you might not be saved. Make your election sure by growing. We are not saved by growing in righteousness but bearing these fruits proves our election. They prove we are in the Lamb’s Book of Life—registered citizens of heaven (cf. Rev 21:27).
John the Baptist and Paul taught similar things. Listen to what they said:
Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.
One of the things that was common in Peter’s teaching, John the Baptist’s teaching, and Paul’s was the necessity of proving one’s salvation by good deeds. Listen, nobody is saved by works, but works are necessary to prove one’s salvation. If we are without the necessary fruits, then we might not be saved. I think this is a fair application to the Jews needing to prove their Jewishness in order to enjoy the rights that came with it.
Many of the rights and blessings that come in Christ can only be taken by those who have assurance they are saved, and this assurance is more than just a confession. Listen to what Christ said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
These people had some type of faith because they called him Lord and served him on the earth. However, they never bore fruit; they continued to practice sin as a lifestyle and that is why Christ said, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers!” They were never truly saved.
Christ knew them because he knows all things, but he didn’t know them personally. Are you making your election sure? I worry about Christians who stay in the church twenty years but never grow. They may simply be stagnant, but if so, they lose assurance of whether they are truly saved since they aren’t growing.
God wants his children to have assurance. They are his and that proof will be evident if they are truly saved. They will grow in love for God, love for his Word, love for others, peace, patience, faith, endurance, good works, etc. All these will prove the reality of their faith.
In Israel, a Jewish person without a genealogy would miss out on many of the privileges of his Jewishness, and I think Christians do as well. They miss the joy and the assurance that comes from knowing they are children of God and also significant protection from the evil one.
One of Satan’s primary attacks is on the Christian’s assurance of salvation. He works hard to cause those who are truly born again to doubt their salvation. That is why Paul commands believers to put on the “helmet of salvation” in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:17). The “helmet of salvation” is assurance. In spiritual warfare, Satan often aims for the head. If true Christians doubt their salvation, they will not be very productive for the kingdom. They probably won’t evangelize and serve others. They will be too worried about their own salvation to be concerned with others.
For people with false professions, Satan instead assures them that their faith is true. He promotes a false assurance. Therefore, we must make our election sure. We must test ourselves to see if we are in the faith (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:5).
This was a priority of Nehemiah with Israel, and it should be with us as well. We must know we are his and we must help those we disciple know. Assurance is important in order to walk in the full blessings of God.
Are we on the list (cf. Rev 21:27)? Have we been born again into the family of God? Does our continual progress in the faith prove this to be true or are we stagnant and living in rebellion towards God?
Are you making your election sure? Do you have assurance of your salvation?
Application Question: Do you ever struggle with assurance of salvation? What are some other texts that teach us how we can have assurance of salvation (cf. 1 John 5:13, Matthew 5:3-10)?
Godly Leaders Prioritize Giving
It also seems that Nehemiah reestablished the worship, not only by setting up the gates, the Levites and the singers, but by working on the temple. It says the leaders gave to the temple work at the end of the chapter. Look at what it says:
Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. The governor gave to the treasury 1,000 drachmas of gold, 50 bowls and 530 garments for priests. Some of the heads of the families gave to the treasury for the work 20,000 drachmas of gold and 2,200 minas of silver. The total given by the rest of the people was 20,000 drachmas of gold, 2,000 minas of silver and 67 garments for priests.
Some scholars estimated that the nobles gave over 5 million dollars in today’s currency.5 No doubt, this was partially at Nehemiah’s urging, as he reestablished the worship of Israel.
Certainly, Scripture teaches that one of the priorities of a godly leader should be giving—supporting the work of the Lord financially—and encouraging others to do so as well. Paul also urged the Corinthians to give in support of the church in Jerusalem. He encouraged them with the many promises of God to those who are faithful givers. Let us hear these promises:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
The promise to a giver is “all grace” in verse 8. This grace shows up in God providing for all our needs, but it also shows up in us abounding in every good work.
Giving is a priority for a leader because God promises to meet the needs of his people and also open the door for more righteousness in accordance to our giving. Some people may be anemic in their serving, evangelism, intercession, knowledge of Scripture, etc., and it could all be attributed to a lack of giving. God promises we will abound in righteousness if we are cheerful givers.
Consider what Paul said to the Philippians whom he was thanking for their financial support: “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account” (Phil 4:17). Paul says, “I want you to give because I want you to be credited.” No doubt, this meant receiving riches in heaven and also grace on earth.
Are you a giver? This is the priority of godly leadership. When rebuilding the lives of others, we must train them to give for this opens the door for “all grace” in their lives.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced “all grace” from God in response to faithful giving? In what ways has God been challenging you to grow in your giving (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:7)?
What are the priorities of a godly leader? How do we build up the people of God? As we look at the first things Nehemiah did after rebuilding the wall, we learn something about the godly leader’s priorities in building up the people of God and also his or her own life.
- Godly leaders prioritize worship.
- Godly leaders prioritize raising up leaders.
- Godly leaders prioritize protecting the people of God.
- Godly leaders prioritize discerning the voice of God.
- Godly leaders prioritize the assurance of the people of God.
- Godly leaders prioritize giving.
2 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 668). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
3 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 112). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
4 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 669). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
5 Boice, J. M. (2005). Nehemiah: an expositional commentary (p. 84). Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks.
Related Topics: Leadership
9. When Revival ContinuesRelated Media
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…
What are characteristics of revival in worship?
In Nehemiah 3, we saw God revive the hearts of the people to start rebuilding the walls. They worked while mocked and attacked, and yet they still completed the wall in fifty-two days as seen in chapter 6.
In chapters 7-13, we see the continuation of this revival in the people. Previously, God had revived their hearts to rebuild ruins that had been there for over 140 years (586 BC-445 BC). But here in chapter 8, God revives, not just their hearts, but their worship.
This began in Nehemiah 7:1. After finishing the wall, the first thing Nehemiah did was establish gatekeepers, singers, and Levites. By establishing them, Nehemiah was showing the priority of worship. Even the gatekeepers had a role to play in worship, as all the Israelites and Gentiles would come to the city through the gates to worship the Lord. In fact, certain gates were specifically for worship like the Sheep Gate. It was there that the sacrificial sheep would be led through to be offered to God.
The implication of Nehemiah establishing gatekeepers, singers, and Levites is the fact that the Israelites were no longer worshiping or no longer worshiping as they should have been. Maybe in their trials and difficulties, they had forgotten or turned away from God. Therefore, their worship needed to be restored.
At times, we also have lost our worship in the midst of trials, in the midst of busyness, and sometimes in the midst of personal sin. Many of our churches and Christian communities are dying spiritually. The majority of our churches are decreasing in numbers and barely surviving. Many of them have a great number of older people but very few young people. The majority of our youth, when they get to college, fall away from the faith. In addition, the majority of our historically Christian universities have become secular.
The church is in a crisis. Many of our spiritual lives are in a state of crisis. How do we restore our worship? How can we experience revival?
In this text, we see characteristics of revival in worship as Israel is restored to the worshiping nation it was always meant to be. As we go through this study, we must ask ourselves this question, “Am I experiencing the characteristics of revival in my own personal worship and in my church?” Also, we should ask, “How can I as a leader help bring revival in my community?”
Big Question: What are characteristics of the revival in Israel? How can we begin to experience revival in our lives and in our church communities?
In Revival, God Restores Unity amongst the People of God
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
The first thing that we notice is how the people assembled as “one man.” There was no division amongst the people. We talked about this in Nehemiah 3 as Nehemiah motivated the people to work together to rebuild the wall. But even in chapter 3, they were not completely unified. We saw how some of the nobles would not submit to their supervisors (cf. 3:5). However, here they gathered as “one man.”
This is true of every great revival. When God revives the people of God, it spans gender, race, socio-economic status, and theological differences. The people of God come together to pray, to study the Word, and to serve together, and in the midst of this, God moves. This is exactly what David said about unity in Psalm 133:
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Wherever people are unified, God blesses. How should we respond to this?
We must respond to this individually by forgiving anybody who has hurt us, especially in the body of Christ, and seeking reconciliation. Corporately as churches, we must seek to unify with other parts of Christ’s body so that the body of Christ can be more effective.
Where there is unity, there is God’s blessing. And where there is division, the enemy is in the midst (cf. Eph 4:26-27). Therefore, we must labor together to keep the unity of the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:3).
Application Question: How can the churches labor for unity both within their own local congregation and with other congregations? How should the church handle theological differences?
In Revival, God Restores Devoted Teachers of the Word of God to Leadership
All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 7
The next thing that we see is Ezra and the Levites teaching the law to the people. Ezra was called a scribe and a priest, as seen in Nehemiah 8:1-2. As a scribe, he meticulously copied the Scripture, and as a priest, he studied and taught it. Listen to what Ezra 7:10 said about him: “For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
Ezra had devoted his life to studying, copying, and teaching the Scripture. After the second group of Jews returned to Israel from the exile, God had previously used Ezra to turn Israel back to the Word of God and repentance in the book of Ezra (chapters 9, 10). However, it is clear that the initial revival didn’t last, and God again called Ezra to help revive Israel.
Again, Ezra was not alone; thirteen helpers were on the platform with him (v. 4) who may have been priests.1 And then, another thirteen Levites taught the Scripture as well. Nehemiah 8:7 says this:
“The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read
We see that these Levites were used in making the Scripture “clear and giving the meaning so that people could understand what was being read.” There is some dispute over what this means. The NASB translates it differently. It says, “translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
No doubt, many of the Jews while living in Babylon for over 140 years had lost their Hebrew language and were now speaking Aramaic.2 Therefore, the Levites might have had to translate the passages first into Aramaic and then explain the meaning. Also, it is good to remember that even ancient Hebrew probably went through many changes. At that point, it had been 1000 years since Moses wrote the law. Even if we studied the original KJV, which is only around 400 years old, we would see that there are many words we don’t use anymore. Therefore, the Levites might have had to explain archaic words, even to those who spoke Hebrew.
Whatever it means, we can assume there was some amount of translating. This might have been done in smaller groups led by the Levites after Ezra read to the entire congregation. But the part we will focus on is the “giving the meaning” so that people could understand.
Ezra and the Levites were called to teach the Word of God and to stir up the people’s love and affection for God’s Word. However, it must be noted that this is nothing new; this has happened in every revival. When God brings a revival, he raises up people who have been devoted to the studying and teaching of God’s Word.
God did the same thing with John the Baptist. He was raised by a priestly family in the wilderness, and, when God chose to turn Israel back to himself before the coming of the messiah, he called for a man who knew the Word and would preach it. He showed up in the Gospels preaching repentance and turning Israel back to God.
Was this not true of Joshua as well? Joshua was called to lead Israel in the conquering of the Canaanites. You would think that as a military general, he would need to focus his study on the doctrine of war or military tactics. But no, God called him to make his focus the Word, and, when he did that, he would prosper. Look at what God said:
Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
When God said, “Do not let the Book of the Law depart from your mouth,” he was calling Joshua not just to meditate but to teach. He was to meditate on it and teach the Word of God, and God would prosper him and make him successful. We are all called to be teachers of the Scripture in some form or another, as we make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20).
Hear what God said in 2 Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
He searches for people who are fully committed to him so he can show himself great on their behalf, show his strength in them. What does a person look like who is fully committed to him? They are people of his Word, like Joshua, like David, and like John the Baptist. He looks for people who are devoted to his Word so he can use them greatly for his kingdom.
When God looks for someone to revive the people of God, he finds someone who is devoted to the Word of God. Here God called Ezra and the Levites, who had been prepared in the quiet place of study, to bless and lead others.
When there is national revival, revival in a local church, or a community, it first starts with individuals. God uses those who have devoted themselves in the secret place to set people free from depression, worry, anxieties, and the bondage of habitual sins. He uses them to motivate others to seek his face. Like with Ezra and the Levites, God is always seeking faithful teachers to help stir up revival.
A Catalyst for Spiritual Decay
It should also be noted that decay in a community, a church or a nation will result from a lack of devoted teachers of God’s Word. Look at what Paul said about the end times:
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
2 Timothy 4:3
In the end times, probably, the majority of the church will have teachers who will not teach the Word. They will not teach sound doctrine, and therefore, the church will fall further away from God. We must be aware of this.
However, when God brings revival, he finds those who are devoted to the study and teaching of God’s Word and he uses them to turn others back to himself.
The Need for Persistence in Revival
Another aspect of this devotion is persistence. As mentioned previously, God had used Ezra to revive Israel earlier after the second return from exile; however, that revival must have quickly fizzled out. A weaker man would have become discouraged and given up. In fact, it must be noted that up to 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month in the United States.3 Many of them got burnt out, got discouraged, and eventually gave up.
However, Ezra had been both on the mountain top in revival and in the valley when there was rebellion. And yet, he was still faithful. We must have this type of resiliency and perseverance if we are going to see revival around us because there will be many discouragements.
Paul said this: “Do not grow weary in well doing for in due season, you will reap if you do not faint” (Galatians 6:10). Let us not give up or get discouraged when we teach people and they do not respond or they backslide. We must be faithful in seasons of plenty and in seasons of lack. God is the one who makes the seed grow (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:6). We are just called to be faithful sowers of the seed.
Are you willing to devote yourself to the study and teaching of Scripture? This is a necessary aspect of revival. God looks for those who are devoted to the study and teaching of his Word, and he uses them mightily to revive his people.
Application Question: What is your daily discipline like in studying Scripture? In what ways is God calling you to be more faithful in your study? Why is persistence so important in bringing revival?
In Revival, God Renews Reverence for the Word of God
Observation Question: In what ways do we see the people’s reverence for the Word of God in Nehemiah 8?
The previous characteristic of revival had to do with the teachers; this one has to do with the people. Throughout this narrative, we see the great reverence that the people had for the Word of God. This is seen in many ways. Listen to Nehemiah 8:1-3:
all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
(1) We see the people’s great reverence in the fact that they approached Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law and teach it to them. It was also seen in how (2) they listened to the Word of God from “daybreak till noon.” This means that they listened to the Scripture being read and taught for about six hours. But more startling than that is the fact that it says (3) “all the people listened attentively to the Book of Law” while standing. Nehemiah 8:5 and 7 say this:
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up… The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.
Now for people who have served in teaching ministry, specifically that of the Word of God, this might be hard to believe. Most would say, “What? Are you kidding me? No, not possible. It’s hard to keep somebody’s attention for thirty minutes. You mean to tell me that these people listened attentively for six hours, while standing!”
This may seem like a shock but this is happening all over the world in places where there is revival. In places like China, it is not uncommon to hear stories of all day worship services with three to six hour sermons. In fact, during much of the Great Reformation, the sermons were at least one hour and usually longer.4
When there is revival happening, people tend to have a tremendous reverence for the Word of God. Later, we see this reverence in how they responded with weeping and rejoicing (v. 9, 12). They obeyed it, as they practiced the Feast of Booths (v. 14-17), and they came back every day for more (v. 18). These people reverenced the Word of God.
Erosion of the People of God
In the same way that we see reverence for the Word of God in revival, we also see a decrease in reverence for the Word of God when moral and spiritual decay has crept in. This is what you will typically see in churches around the world today, not this growing reverence, but a growing disdain. Again, listen to what Paul said about the preaching of the Word of God in the last days:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:2-4
Previously, we looked at these verses and considered the teachers, but now we will consider the congregations. Paul said a time will come (and it has been here a long time) when people will not stand “sound doctrine,” which can be translated “healthy doctrine.” They won’t want to hear it and so they will hire pastors and teachers who itch their ears and make them feel good. These pastors won’t talk about sin, they won’t talk about repentance, and they won’t talk about taking up one’s cross. But they will heap teaching upon the audience that will make them feel good. The pastors will do this because this is what the people want.
We see this not only in Paul’s warning to Timothy, but we see it in his teaching to the church of Thessalonica. Listen to what he said to them: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-20).
This can also be translated “Do not despise prophecies.” Now when we hear the word prophecy, we tend to think of “foretelling”—someone telling the future. However, that is not fully correct. The majority of “prophecy” written by the prophets in the OT was “forthtelling,”—authoritatively preaching the Word of God and calling people back to following the law.
Seventy-five percent of prophecy in the Bible is forthtelling, preaching an authoritative word from God and calling the people to turn from sin. The prophets did this all the time, as they told Israel to stop worshiping idols, to stop partnering with the foreign nations, to stop abusing and neglecting the poor, and to practice the Sabbath.
In the same way, there is a tendency in the church to despise the prophetic preaching of God’s Word and when we do this we put out the “Spirit’s fire.” The Spirit can’t revive us if we despise or neglect his Word. The Spirit is the author of Scripture, and he works through it.
Sadly, we see what was forbidden in this text happening in most churches around the world. In many congregations when the sermon goes over thirty minutes, it incites great anger amongst the congregants. People commonly despise the preaching of the Word of God and, therefore, lose the Spirit’s power.
In a sporting event, when the game goes into overtime, it is an exciting thing. The crowd roars and people start high-fiving. But when the Word of God goes into overtime, people start fidgeting and some even get mad. There is something wrong with our worship when we don’t adore hearing and studying the Word of God.
During the Middle Ages (approximately 500 AD to 1500 AD), before the Reformation, the preaching of the Word of God was all but lost from the church. Charles Terpstra said this in his article “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching”:
Many of the established clergy, bishops, and priests, simply did not preach at all. It is said that the lay people could not expect any preaching from the priests in the local parish. Weeks and even months could go by without their hearing any sermon from the pulpit of their local church.5
Similarly, the primacy of the Word of God is being lost today. No doubt, if we looked at surveys of preaching length over the last hundred years, I am sure we would see a continual decline towards shorter and shorter messages. In many congregations around the world, the sermon has shrunk to a five or ten minute devotional message, while all the other elements of worship are much longer. In many congregations the exposition of the Word of God is nonexistent.
Do I mean to say longer sermons are better than shorter sermons? No, but I do mean to point out the fact that if we don’t want to stay in the Word of God a long time, it says something about our hearts, just as Israel desiring to hear it for six hours said something about their hearts. They really reverenced the Word of God.
Jesus said, “God is seeking those who will worship God in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, paraphrase). This truth is the Word of God; we can’t have worship without the Word.
Interpretation Question: Why is reverence for the Word of God so important?
Remember Jesus prayed this in John 17:17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”
Reverence of the Word of God is important because it is primarily through the Word of God that God sanctifies us. He makes us holy, he changes us into his image, and he gets rid of sin. However, when there is a decrease in the reverence of the Word of God, there will always be a decrease in holiness. People will start to fall away from God because the Word is absent.
It is for this reason that Satan works overtime to undermine the Scripture. In the beginning, one of Satan’s first attacks was on the “Word of God.” He said to Eve, “Did God really say?” He sought to undermine the Word of God, and he does that today through liberal teachings. He whispers to the church, “Did God really say that?” He tries to rob the church of the inerrancy of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, and, consequently, the authority of Scripture.
If people aren’t sure that it’s true or they think that only part of it is true, then why would someone reverence something that is full of errors? Why reverence something that might be a lie? In fact, Matthew 13:19 says that wherever the seed of the Word of God is sown, the evil one shows up to steal it. The enemy works hard to stop the Word of God from taking root in the lives of those who have heard it. This stops them from growing and sometimes from even being saved.
And, therefore, where there is decay in the people’s “reverence” of the Word of God, you will find a falling away from God, since Scripture reveals who God is. But, listen. We don’t just see this in the church at large, but we see this in our individual lives as well.
You can be sure that when there is decay in your time in the Word and in your passion for the Word of God that your sanctification will decay. Where the Word is not exalted, you will find that sin is not lacking.
Do you still revere the Word of God? God said this: “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).
Application Question: How have you seen a general decay in the reverence of the Word amongst God’s people? How is your reverence for the Word of God? How can we increase our reverence for God’s Word both corporately and individually?
In Revival, God Renews Corporate Prayer
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
Verses 1-4 seem to be a summary of Ezra’s ministry, as it describes the gathering of the people and Ezra’s reading. However, verses 5-6 tell us how it happened. He began the reading with prayer, as he praised the Lord. The people responded by lifting their hands and saying, “Amen, Amen” which means “so be it, so be it” or “truly, truly.”
This prayer was not just a formality before the reading of God’s Word. It was genuine cooperate worship and adoration of God. Corporate prayer and worship are a necessary part of revival.
Listen to what Christ taught:
“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
We commonly hear this verse quoted, “For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.” We often apply this to any time people are gathered for fellowship, but the context of this is prayer and the wider context is church discipline. The previous verse says, “if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you” (v. 18).
I think Christ is trying to teach that there is a tremendous power in corporate prayer. It brings the presence of God, which ultimately brings transformation, repentance, and revival. We experience God in a special way in corporate prayer, and it is through corporate prayer that we will see God move in a special way. For those who have truly experienced the benefits of it, they cannot live without it.
They cannot but be in a small group lifting up one another’s prayer requests; they cannot but be part of the church’s prayer ministry for it is there they have experienced him and seen his hand move in amazing ways. It is no wonder that soon after the prayer and the reading of the Word, we see Israel in this text weeping, rejoicing, and following God in obedience. God was there when they brought their prayers before him, and he moved in response.
In fact, we see a promise of revival connected to corporate prayer in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
This is God’s response to Solomon’s prayer for God to bless the temple (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:13-42). God said that when Israel was unified in humble prayer and repentance, he would hear and heal their land. Corporate prayer is necessary for revival.
Do we not see the need for corporate prayer? Do we not see the need to gather together and intercede over the church, government policies, and over our nation? It is there where God’s presence is manifest, and he moves on behalf of his people.
It is no wonder that every revival began with people gathering together to pray. They gathered, prayed, and God moved to restore the land. Even the great revival in Acts began with people waiting on the Lord in prayer. Acts 1:14 says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer.” The small band of disciples prayed and the Spirit of God fell and brought a revival. After Pentecost, the early church continued to gather daily to devote themselves to Scripture and prayer (Acts 2:42). Furthermore, the apostles declared their dependence on it. They would not neglect the discipline of prayer and the Word, not even for social service like caring for widows (Acts 6:4).
Sadly, when we are lacking revival in our own lives and in the church, we are too busy to pray. We are too busy to pray individually and too busy to pray corporately. Therefore, revival tarries both individually and corporately.
How is God calling you to restore or grow in your prayer life? How is God calling you to gather with others to intercede for revival?
Application Question: How is God calling you to protect and cultivate your prayer life both individually and corporately?
In Revival, God Renews Genuine Mourning over Sin
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
As the people listened to the Word of God, they began to weep. Nehemiah rebuked them because this was supposed to be a day of celebration; God had rebuilt their walls and taken away their reproach before their enemies. However, as the Word of God was listened to, people had genuine remorse, which resulted in genuine obedience to God.
In every revival, there have been great waves of repentance. People were cut to the heart over their sins and repented. This is the natural response of somebody who has seen or experienced God. When Isaiah saw God he cried, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (Isaiah 6:3). Isaiah called himself a dead man. That is what “Woe” meant; it was used for dead people. Peter, when he recognized Christ, said, “Away from me Lord, I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).
Because in revival we experience God, genuine mourning and repentance will be involved. Listen to what James said to scattered Jewish Christians in James 4:8-10:
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
As we come near God, he comes near us. Then, we, by necessity, mourn and repent of our sins, and then he lifts us up. He revives us; he strengthens us; he renews us.
However, the opposite of mourning is laughter. When the church or an individual Christian is unhealthy, instead of mourning over sin, they laugh at it. They pump it in their music; they watch it on their TV; they make jokes about it with their friends. An unhealthy church or individual believer enjoys sin instead of mourning and repenting over it.
Are you still mourning over your sin and the sin of your community? Or have you just accepted it or, even worse, are you rejoicing in it, like the world?
In describing the characteristics of those who are part of the kingdom of God, Christ said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). True believers are mourners, and they also receive the comfort of God. He comforts them as he forgives their sin. He comforts them as he turns their church or their community around in revival. He comforts them, ultimately, when he destroys sin and the evil one at his second coming. Oh Lord, comfort your church.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen a lack of mourning over sin in the church, your community, or in your own life? How is God calling you to become a mourner?
In Revival, God Renews Obedience to the Word of God
On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths”—as it is written. So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
Finally, we cannot but notice Israel’s obedience to the Word of God. The heads of all the families came back to Ezra on the second day of the month to give further attention to the words of the law (v. 13). They wanted more of the Word of God. The leaders got into a small group with Ezra and actually rediscovered the Feast of the Booths, which Israel had neglected.
After learning this, the leaders called all the people of Israel to practice this feast. They placed tents on their roofs and in their courtyards and lived in them, as the nation once did in the wilderness. This was a reminder of God’s faithfulness to provide for the nation after leaving Egypt, where they were previously slaves. In fact, Scripture says they did it in such a way that had never been done since the days of Joshua. Israel was obedient to the Word of God. Obedience to Scripture is a necessary part of revival.
Application Question: Why is obedience a common experience in revival?
One of the reasons that obedience is a common characteristic of revival is because obedience is a characteristic of genuine conversion. In the church, we often find extremes in one’s affection for the Word: some people love to hear and respond to the Word, and yet many are extremely apathetic towards it. Christ talks about this tendency in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 7:24-27, he described those who hear and obey the Word, as those who build their house on a strong foundation and the house stands in the storm. But, those who hear and do not obey it are like those who build their house on the sand, and it falls during the storm. When he gives this illustration, he is really describing those who are converted and those who are not. In Matthew 7:21-23, he had previously described those in the church who say “Lord, Lord,” but live a life of disobedience and he says to them, “I never knew you.”
One’s continual response to the Word of God is a picture of one’s salvation. James taught the same thing. He said, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).
What does he mean by one being self-deceived? He is talking about the genuineness of his salvation. He speaks directly to these people in James 2:17 and says, “Don’t you know faith without works is dead?” He says, “Even the demons believe in God” (v.19), but they are not saved.
He spoke to Christians who listened but weren’t responding, and therefore, he challenged the reality of their salvation. Remember even Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist (Mk 6:20), but he didn’t obey the Word of God. Herod wasn’t born again. In fact, he later murdered John the Baptist. Part of the reason why so many churches are dead is because so many listeners don’t practice God’s Word—proving they are not truly born again.
Similarly, the apostle John said, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands (1 John 2:3). When people are obeying God, it proves that they are saved.
In revivals, genuine conversion brings about great repentance and obedience. People start following Christ, and it changes their life. Sadly, most churches are full of people who call him, “Lord,” and yet practice a lifestyle of disobedience (cf. Matt 7:21-23).
With that said, James gives another fruit of obedience. He says, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
God blesses those who do the will of God. That is what we see happening in Nehemiah 8. The Israelites had a celebration of the Feast of Booths that was greater than any feast since the days of Joshua (v. 17). God blessed them because they were obedient. Obedience will characterize corporate revival and also revival in our own lives.
In the days of Nehemiah, Israel had been in rebellion towards God’s Word. They were no longer celebrating the festival and many other commandments. However, when they heard the preaching of God’s Word, they were cut to the heart and responded. They turned away from their sin and practiced what God’s Word said. This has characterized revivals throughout history: people repented—turning away from sin and the things of this world—and submitted to God.
Are we obedient to the Word of God? Do we practice obedience as a lifestyle? Obedience gives us assurance of salvation, but it also brings God’s blessings on his people. Revivals have always been characterized by obedience because it is proof of genuine conversion and it also brings God’s blessing.
Are you practicing obedience? Or are you choosing the world and sin over God?
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to greater obedience? In what ways have you seen his blessing when you were obedient and the removal of his blessings when you were not?
What are characteristics of a revival of worship amongst God’s people or in our individual lives?
- In revival, God restores unity amongst the people of God.
- In revival, God restores devoted teachers of the Word of God to leadership.
- In revival, God restores reverence for the Word of God.
- In revival, God restores corporate prayer.
- In revival, God restores genuine mourning over sin.
- In revival, God restores obedience to the Word of God.
Application Question: As a leader, in what ways is God calling you to help restore revival in your life and in your community?
1 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 115). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
2 Boice, J. M. (2005). Nehemiah: an expositional commentary (p. 93). Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks.
3 Holmes, Leslie. “Up to 1500 Pastors a Month Need to Read this Column” retrieved 11/21/14, from
4Terpstra, Charles. “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching.” retrieved 1/9/15, from
5 Terpstra, Charles. “The Reformation: A Return to the Primacy of Preaching.” retrieved 1/9/15, from
Related Topics: Leadership
10. Characteristics of Acceptable WorshipRelated Media
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God. Standing on the stairs were the Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani—who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.” “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you…
What are characteristics of acceptable worship, worship that God desires and honors?
In Nehemiah 1-6, the focus is the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem, and, in Nehemiah 8-12, the focus is the spiritual revival in Israel. Nehemiah, with the help of Ezra and the Levites, began to rebuild the people of God. In Nehemiah 9, we learn a great deal about worship specifically. On the 24th day of the same month that the Israelites celebrated the feast of booths in Nehemiah 8, the Israelites gathered together for a day of national repentance and worship.
In John 4:23, Jesus said this: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”
The reality that God the Father is seeking worshipers who worship in spirit and truth, implies that there is both a wrong and right way to worship God. In fact, we see the importance of proper worship early on in Scripture. Cain and Abel both brought offerings before the Lord but Cain’s was rejected (Gen 4).
Similarly, we see rejected worship throughout much of Israel’s history. God derailed Israel for their fasting in the book of Isaiah and said that it would not be accepted. He shared their unrighteous complaints and then answered them. In Isaiah 58:3-4 it says:
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Israel noticed that their fasting was unprofitable and they asked, “What good is it?” God rebuked them and said that the type of worship they were offering was unacceptable. How could they be living in quarreling and strife and expect their offering to be accepted by God? God said their voices (i.e. their prayer and worship) would not even be heard by him. In Malachi 1, God rejected the offerings of the priests because they were offering the lame and the blind, instead of offering a lamb without blemish.
Many people in the church have the same dilemma. They recognize that their devotions aren’t profitable, the church services they attend aren’t alive, and they wonder why it is so. Sometimes the problem is that their worship has been rejected by God.
As we consider this reality, we must ask the question, “How can we have a worship that is acceptable to God?” Jesus said God is seeking proper worship; he looks for it.
In this text, we learn characteristics of acceptable worship by looking at the revival that happened in Israel. This is especially important for leaders, as they seek to guide people in a worship that is pleasing to God and edifying for them.
Big Question: What characteristics of acceptable worship can we discern from Nehemiah 9, and how can we apply these characteristics to our spiritual lives?
Acceptable Worship Includes Preparation
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners
We cannot but notice that the Israelites prepared for worship. Clearly, they did not just fall out of bed and head to service, as often happens in church today. Many Christians give no thought to preparation for worship, small group, or even daily devotions. No wonder many people leave these activities saying, “I didn’t get anything out of that.”
Why does this happen? It happens in part because most believers don’t prepare for worship. As demonstrated in the Parable of the Sowers (Matt 13), nothing is wrong with the seed of the Word sown in worship; the problem is with the ground of our hearts. Therefore, as with farming, the ground of our hearts must be cultivated to worship God. An unprepared worship is an unacceptable worship.
Observation Question: How did Israel prepare for worship in verses 1 and 2?
1. They prepared for worship by fasting.
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads.
This meant they neglected eating food for some period of time before they came to worship. Fasting is never given as a command in the New Testament, but it is given as an expectation. Christ said to his disciples, “When you fast, do not look somber like the hypocrites…” (Matt 6:15). Also, when John’s disciples asked why Christ’s disciples didn’t fast, Jesus replied that when he was taken away, they would fast (Matt 9:15). It seems that God expects each of us to fast in some form or another. Fasting is meant to help focus our heart, mind, and spirit on God by neglecting some great priority in our lives. Fasting doesn’t necessarily have to be food; it can be anything that demands a tremendous amount of our time, focus, or energy.
Some of the greatest ways we can fast may be giving up time on the Internet, Facebook, TV, hobbies, etc. Even Scripture condones married couples fasting from the practice of physical intimacy to focus on prayer. Paul said this in 1 Corinthians 7:5, “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” The KJV actually translates it “that ye may give yourself to fasting and prayer.”
There is often a need to fast in order to prepare for worship because our hearts are so prone to be divided, distracted, and hard. For example, for a season of my life, I made a covenant that I wouldn’t do anything before I got into the Word in the morning. This included getting on the Internet, studying, eating, or anything else.
I remember being in seminary and on Saturdays sometimes I would stay in the bed till one pm, not because I was tired, but just because I didn’t want to read the Bible. I had decided to fast from everything else before I spent time in the Word of God and prayer as a discipline. I made that commitment while I was in college, and I stayed with it for many years. I still practice it but just not as legalistically. This is a form of fasting, letting go of something else to focus on God.
Jesus said we should consider fasting with anything that we consider a treasure in our lives. Look at what he said in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus said not to store up treasures on the earth, not because they are sin, but because they have a tendency to steal our hearts away from God. He said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This is something we must consider with such things as our phones, Internet, cable television, hobbies, etc. We must ask ourselves, “What is my treasure?” because it is our treasures that have the ability to quench our worship, as they steal our hearts away from God.
For some, this may mean giving up certain treasures all together. That’s what Christ demanded of the rich man (Matt 19:21). He was called to sell all his riches and follow Christ. For others it may mean to practice rigorous discipline with those treasures in order to protect their hearts. In 1 Corinthians 7:31, Paul said that those who use the things of this world should not be “engrossed in them.”
For some, a fast could be as simple as going to bed early so that they can have time with God in the morning. That would mean neglecting time given to other things in order to prepare one’s mind and body to seek God the next day. This can be a form of fasting.
Application Question: What are some other practical ways we can fast to prepare for worship?
2. They prepared for worship by mourning as they put on sackcloth and dust.
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads.
Again this seems to be something they did before coming to the service; they put on sackcloth, which is a cheap, uncomfortable type of clothing, and put dust on their heads. Obviously, the sackcloth and dust was meant to be a picture of their hearts before God. This practice was associated with mourning and would typically be done at funerals. In this case, the Israelites were mourning over their sins and the neglect of the law.
Essentially, they prepared their hearts for worship by mourning over sin in their personal lives and that of the community. Mourning is not only preparation for worship, it is part of worship. Look at how Isaiah responded when he saw God in Isaiah 6:5: “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’.”
The natural reaction for a person who truly sees God will be mourning. When Peter encountered Christ he fell down and cried, “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). We mourn because our sin and the sin of our communities appear so ugly, as we look at God’s beauty and perfect righteousness. Mourning is a part of worship because it is the natural response of meditating on God, who is perfect.
In fact, Scripture declares that God blesses those who mourn. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). God blesses those who mourn over their own sin and the sin of the world. With Isaiah, God comforted him by forgiving his sin and, soon after, calling him to the ministry of prophet (cf. Isaiah 6).
Application Question: How do we prepare to worship by mourning?
- Mourning comes from genuine contemplation on God.
Isaiah mourned as he saw God. He said, “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (Isaiah 6:5).
It is clear that Israel was contemplating God, even before coming to public worship. They came with hearts that had been looking at God, which revealed their sinful condition. Therefore, they dressed with sackcloth and dust. In the same way, we must prepare our hearts for worship by contemplating God and his holiness.
- Mourning comes from genuine contemplation of the human condition.
Mourning happens not only when we look at God but also by contemplating the human condition in view of God. It means to look at ourselves and society in comparison to God’s character and revealed will. Man was made in the image of God, and therefore, any time we fail to practice God’s commands, we are sinning. Isaiah’s time with God drew him to mourn over his condition and that of his people. It showed him their need for God’s grace. In Nehemiah 8, Israel listened to the Word of God read and taught for six hours and while listening they wept because of their sin (v. 9).
We cannot truly worship God unless we know how much we desperately need him. Contemplation of God and the human condition prepares us to draw near him for his grace and mercy (cf. Heb 4:16). Many are not prepared for worship because they have not properly contemplated the human condition and their need.
I think we see this struggle often in small groups. At the end or beginning of many small groups there is a time of sharing praises and prayer requests. However, often during these times many will have nothing to share. They won’t have a prayer request, and they won’t have any praises. This aspect of worship only comes when we have contemplated God and the human condition. Without this contemplation, many show up before God without any expectation—any faith in him to do something—and without anything really to offer. They come to church or small group not really seeking God for anything or seeking to give God anything, and therefore, many times, they leave without anything. Similarly, Christ said he couldn’t do very many miracles in his hometown because they had so little faith (cf. Matt 13:58). Often, it is the same in our corporate worship.
Contemplation of the human condition will typically bring praise or mourning. Praise, when we see God moving and transforming people. Mourning, as we see how far we fall short. Contemplation of God and the human condition is needed for us to truly worship.
When I was young, I used to show up to church with no preparation; the concept of preparing for worship never dawned on me. I thought only pastors, teachers, and the worship teams prepared. However, I began to realize that what I received from God on Sundays or in a small group was often proportional to my preparation. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). The only people who are hungry are the ones who have contemplated God and their condition, which reveals their needs. And it is those people who God fills during worship. They come to church with an expectation because they recognize their great need and that of their community, and therefore, God satisfies their hunger.
What else did Israel do in preparation for worship?
3. They prepared for worship by separating themselves from all foreigners.
Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners.
Why did Israel separate from the foreigners? They separated, in part, because the foreign nations were leading them into sin. God called the nation of Israel to separate from the Canaanites because of their sexual immorality, false worship, and lack of morals. If they were not living separately, they would be tempted to intermarry, worship their gods, and be drawn into all types of sin. Yes, they were still called to be a light to the nations, but, in order to do that, they needed to be separate from anything that might contaminate (cf. James 1:27). That is why the nation of Israel initially fell under Solomon. Solomon married many foreign wives who influenced him to take their gods, and his stumble brought the judgment of God on Israel and eventually the exile. When Israel separated from the foreigners before worship, it was a protection from temptation and a consecration of themselves to God alone.
In a similar way, God calls the church to be separate from the world (cf. 2 Cor 6:17). He has established it as a necessary aspect of true worship. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” A religion that is not separate is a worship that is not acceptable to God. This must be our necessary practice as well.
A person trying to live for God and walk with the world is a “double-minded man.” James 1:7-8 says that this person will receive nothing from God. We must be single minded because it is the “pure in heart” who will see God (Matt 5:8).
In what ways is God calling you to separate in order to better worship him? In what ways is he calling you to be different from the world in order to have more intimacy with him?
If we are going to worship God, we must prepare through fasting, mourning, and separating, and we must lead others to do the same. An unprepared worship is an unacceptable worship.
Application Question: What are some other practical ways to prepare for daily worship? In what ways is God challenging you to be more prepared to come into his presence?
Acceptable Worship Includes Confession of Sin
The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
The next thing we see is that when the Israelites came together, they stood and confessed their sin and the iniquities of their fathers. Confession is also a necessary aspect of acceptable worship.
Interpretation Question: Why is confession of sin so important in worship?
1. Confession of sin is important for worship because sin hinders the reception of the Word of God.
It must be noticed that this prayer of confession was offered right before hearing the Word of God. Nehemiah 9:2-3 says,
Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day
This was an ideal place because sin always affects our ability to receive God’s Word. Listen to what James 1:21 says: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”
It says get rid of all moral filth and evil and humbly accept the word planted in you. James says getting rid of sin must come before the Word of God is received. For the believers James was ministering to, the Word of God was already present. He said, “accept the word planted in you.” As in the Parable of the Sower (Matt 13), the seed was in the soil, but it was not producing any fruit. Most believers know what God’s Word says; however, it has no effect on their lives. They are not being changed by it. They have not truly accepted the Word planted in them.
How do we remedy this? One of the ways is by confessing our sins and turning away from them. This is necessary for us to truly accept the Word of God. If we have unconfessed sins in our lives, it will choke the Word and keep it from being fruitful. Matthew 13:22 says, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” In the example of the thorny ground, worry and the deceitfulness of wealth choked the Word and made it unfruitful. Worry is sin because it essentially says, “God, I don’t trust you.” Wealth is deceptive because it has a tendency to draw people into trusting it over God and pursuing it over God. It also has a tendency to deceive people into pride (cf. 1 Tim 6:17), once again creating a lack of dependence upon God. Sin chokes the Word of God and makes it unfruitful.
It has been said, “Sin will either keep you out of the Word of God or the Word of God will keep you out of sin.” It’s one or the other. When you find the Word of God decreasing in your life, sin will increase. When the Word of God is increasing in your life, sin, by necessity, will decrease. They always affect one another.
Peter says the exact same thing as James:
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.
1 Peter 2:1-2
We must rid ourselves of malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander in order for us to even crave the milk of the Word of God. If you don’t desire it, you won’t eat it. Part of true worship is confession of sin because it enables us to desire, receive, and produce fruit from the Word of God.
2. Confession of sin is important to worship because it will hinder our prayer life.
Listen to what David said: “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18).
Many people have ineffective worship because they have not confessed and turned away from their sin. This not only quenches the effectiveness of the Word of God but it also quenches the effectiveness of prayer.
Interpretation Question: Why did the Israelites confess the iniquities of their fathers?
Israel confessed the sins of their fathers because they were in part under God’s judgment because of their sins. Look at Exodus 20:4-6:
You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
It says God punishes the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation but shows love to a thousand generations of those who love God. This does not teach that God will judge children for the sins of the fathers, as made clear by other Scriptures (cf. Deut 24:16). However, it does teach that we are affected by both the sins and righteousness of those who came before us. We see this in Adam’s sin as it was passed down generationally. We see it in Christ’s righteousness and how we receive life through his act of righteousness. We see this in the Abrahamic covenant as God promises to bless both Abraham’s physical and spiritual seed, which we are a part of.
Exodus 20 teaches that generational curses get passed down from our fathers as well as generational blessings. The sins of the fathers will often follow the sons for generations, prompting God’s judgment. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Abraham lied about his wife being his sister in Egypt and Gerar (cf. Gen 13, 20) and then Isaac did the same thing (Gen 26). Our shortcomings often get passed from generation to generation bringing God’s judgment on those generations. Although many had returned from the exile, Israel was still suffering from the sin and consequences of previous generations.
It is for this reason that Israel confessed not only their sins but also their fathers’. Their fathers were idolaters and unfaithful to God, and they, the sons and daughters, had done the same thing and reaped the same harvest of discipline.
Application Question: Should Christians still confess the sins of others today? Is there Scriptural support for this?
Scripture clearly teaches that it is good and proper to pray for and confess the sins of others. Even though much of the church has gotten away from this practice, it is clearly a biblical doctrine.
How else do we see this in Scripture? Listen to what Samuel said:
The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”… As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.
1 Samuel 12:19, 23
When Israel sinned by asking for a king, Samuel said he would not sin by ceasing to pray for the people. The context of this praying is for Israel’s forgiveness as seen by their request in verse 19. Similarly, it is a sin for us to not pray for our nation, to not pray for forgiveness and grace over our church.
In addition, we are clearly commanded in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for forgiveness for others’ sins (Matt 6:12). It does not say “forgive my sin,” it says “forgive us ‘our’ sins” (Matt 6:12). Similarly, Jesus prayed for his persecutors, “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do.” We should do the same.
Therefore, we must see that proper worship includes confession of our sin and the sin of others. As a priestly nation, we bring the sins of the world before God and seek his forgiveness and grace (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). We do this both because Scripture teaches us to pray this way and also because we are affected by the sins of others. Abraham’s nephew, Lot, almost died because of the sins of his neighbors in Sodom. In Genesis 18, Abraham petitioned for God’s mercy on the nation.
This is especially important for leaders. Leaders will often need to lead people to repentance over sin and that of their nations and communities.
Application Question: How is God calling you to get rid of any sins so you can more effectively worship him? Are there any national, church, familial, or individual sins you feel impressed to intercede over?
Acceptable Worship Includes Hearing and Responding to the Word of God
While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.
The next thing they did was read from the book of the law for one-fourth of the day. The day is probably referring to daylight hours. Therefore, Israel read from Scripture for three hours, then for another three hours they confessed and worshipped.1 The reading of Scripture was probably intermingled with teaching, as seen in the previous chapter (cf. Neh 8:3, 7).
Hear we see the priority given to the Word of God in this service. It was read for three hours, and after, they responded with more confession of sins and worship to God. This is important to hear because we have a tendency to hear the Word of God on Sunday and then quickly leave and go about our business.
Often in our services, very little time is given to actually reflect and respond to the Word of God in prayer. The preacher preaches and closes in prayer, we sing a quick hymn and the service is over. However, I think it is a very healthy practice to have time to respond to God, right after the Word of God has been given. This was the principle behind the “altar call,” which many churches have discarded. It is wise to take time to meditate and respond to what God has spoken, even if only through an extended time of corporate prayer and worship.
With that said, I think the main principle we should take from this text is the need to hear and respond to the Word of God as a part of our worship. Listen to what James says:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
James commanded the church to not merely listen to the Word of God but to put it into practice. He said the person who simply listens and doesn’t respond is deceived.
What does he mean by deceived? In the context of the book of James, it means to be deceived about their salvation. In James 2:17, he said, “faith without works is dead.” A person who merely listens to the Word of God is not truly born again. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 7:24-29. He said the person who heard his words but didn’t obey them, was like a person who built his house on a foundation of sand, and when the storm came, the house was destroyed (cf. Matt 7:21-23).
James went on to describe hearing the Word and not doing it as a person looking in a mirror and seeing the problems but going away without doing anything about it. This person’s worship is pointless. Yet, many people do this each Sunday and every time they hear or study the Word of God. Their worship is pointless. It doesn’t change their lives at all.
However, James declared the blessing of God on the person who hears the Word and responds. He said: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:25).
This person will be blessed by God. Blessing has to do with approval and favor. When people respond to the Word of God as Israel did, with true confession of sin and worship, it is worship God approves of and blesses. Praise the Lord!
Leaders must continually call their people to hear and respond to God’s Word. Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31). Only those who live and abide in Christ’s words are truly saved. Therefore, leaders must also warn those they lead of the tendency towards self-deception. It is possible to be a hearer and not a doer and be deceived about one’s faith.
Application Question: How can churches similarly give greater honor to the Word of God in our services and also an opportunity to respond? How is God challenging you to be both a hearer and a doer of God’s Word?
Acceptable Worship Includes the Leadership of Righteous Leaders
And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up, and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.” “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.
In this text, it says that the Levites led Israel in the worship of God. In the law, God had commanded that a certain tribe should lead the worship of Israel, the tribe of Levi. Within the tribe of Levi, the priests came from the lineage of Aaron who also led specific acts of worship at the temple. Levites were given commands on how to keep themselves holy in order to approach the Lord and lead in worship (Lev 10). They were commanded to be holy and to lead the people in holiness. If the Levites were not holy, it would have drawn the people away from God instead of towards him. It is the same for our spiritual leaders.
Scripture teaches that leaders cannot positively affect people without having holy lives. Remember what Paul said to Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). If leaders don’t have a right life and right doctrine, they will not save the hearers; they will, in fact, destroy them. Acceptable worship includes righteous leaders.
In fact, the requirements for leaders in the New Testament have nothing to do with race, ethnicity or tribe; the requirements are primarily righteous character traits. Take a look at the requirements for an overseer in 1 Timothy 3:1-3:
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
The qualifications for an overseer are primarily character traits—they are to be above reproach, the husband of one wife (a one-woman man), self-controlled, hospitable (a lover of strangers), etc. They are to be people with godly character. Other than the requirements of them being male and apt to teach, the other requirements are all character traits. Therefore, worship must be led by godly leaders.
When God called someone to write the hymnal of Israel—the Psalms—he called a godly leader named David. Acceptable worship is led by godly leaders. We can have little to no doubt that the Levites leading the worship of Israel were godly as well.
Application Question: Why else is it important for the leaders to be holy and righteous?
Listen to what James 5:16 says: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”
While encouraging the church to bring their sick to the elders for prayer, James said, “the prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective.” When a righteous man or woman prays, the power of God moves.
Similarly, when the leadership of the church is ungodly and unrighteous, then it removes the power and blessing of God. We saw this with Israel while Christ was on the earth. The spiritual leaders of Israel, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, were ungodly. Consequently, they led the people away from God with both their teachings and their actions. Ultimately, this brought the judgment of God.
In the Old Testament, God often rebuked the spiritual leaders of Israel for their corruption and leading Israel astray. Listen to what he said through Jeremiah:
“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the LORD.
Jeremiah 6:13 -15
Jeremiah said the prophets and the priests both practiced sin and that God was going to judge both them and the people. They were still worshiping God, but their worship was not acceptable. The leaders were leading them into sin. A characteristic of acceptable worship is having godly leaders.
Jesus said, “It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:25). It is our leaders who set the ceiling for our development. If a leader is ungodly, then he will hinder the worship and development of a congregation. But, when a leader is righteous and growing, he sets the standard for the congregation’s development.
A characteristic of acceptable worship is the leadership of godly leaders. When the church is under God’s judgment, you will typically find ungodly people in leadership. Isaiah 3:1-7 describes how, when God judges a people, he removes godly leaders and gives them the leaders they deserve. Consider what it says:
See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter. I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them. People will oppress each other—man against man, neighbor against neighbor. The young will rise up against the old, the base against the honorable. A man will seize one of his brothers at his father’s home, and say, “You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!” But in that day he will cry out, “I have no remedy. I have no food or clothing in my house; do not make me the leader of the people.”
Godly leadership is an important aspect of worship and receiving God’s blessing. In this text, the Levites, those chosen by God to prepare themselves uniquely for worship, were called to lead the people in praising God. Similarly, the leadership of the church should be people of character in order to receive and dispense the blessing of God.
This is a reminder for us, as leaders, to cultivate holy lives so we can lead people in righteousness and not bring God’s judgment. But also, it is a reminder for us to help raise up other godly leaders so that people can be led into true worship.
Application Question: In what ways have you seen the leadership of a church or ministry affect its worship either negatively or positively?
Acceptable Worship Includes God-Centered Prayer
After the Israelites had heard the Word of God for ¼ of the day, they confessed and prayed for another ¼ of the day. During this confession, the Levites led them in the longest prayer written in the entire Bible.2 In this prayer, we see characteristics that should be implemented in every prayer as we worship God. Acceptable worship is God-centered, as we will see throughout this prayer.
Interpretation Question: What can we learn about prayer through Israel’s prayer?
1. God-centered prayer primarily exalts and honors God.
As we look at the prayer of the Israelites, we should notice how God-centered it was. Look at the first eight verses of the prayer:
You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. “You are the LORD God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous. “You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea. You sent miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take. “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.
Nehemiah 9:6 -14
One cannot but notice the repetition of “you” in only the first eight verses, referring to God. I counted over twenty in the first eight verses of this prayer. In verses 6-14, the content is primarily about honoring God and remembering his works. This is the same thing Christ taught us to do in the Lord’s Prayer. Remember what he said in Matthew 6:9: ”This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
When Jesus said we should pray “Hallowed be your name,” he was saying that we should prioritize glorifying and worshiping God in our prayers. One’s name in ancient Israel was a reflection of a person’s character. That is what Israel focused on in their prayer. They said, “You alone are Lord…You give life…You sent miraculous signs…You gave them regulations.” The Levites led Israel in exalting God and his works in prayer, and the focus of our prayers should be the same.
Whatever we do first shows our priority. For many our prayer life simply shows how we are the priority of our lives. Our prayers are primarily about ourselves. Listen to what James said: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:3).
James says selfish prayers will not be answered for they care nothing about God and his will. That is the prayer life of many people. Prayer should glorify and exalt God’s name and his characteristics.
2. God-centered prayer remembers God’s works with thanksgiving.
Part of worship is thanksgiving and that is exactly what we see in the longest prayer in the Bible. Israel recounted many of God’s blessings. They declared how God provided for them throughout history by making a covenant with Abraham (9:7), delivering them from Egypt through miraculous signs (10), giving them laws on Mount Sinai (13), etc.
In our prayers, we should also take time to recount God’s faithfulness and his works with thanksgiving. Look at what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In order for us to give thanks in all circumstances, we must contemplate God’s grace in everything that has happened. Prayer should not only glorify God’s name—his characteristics, it should recount his faithful works with thanksgiving.
3. God-centered prayer offers continual confession of sin to God.
In this prayer they confess both the sins of their fathers and also their sins (9:26). But notice that they had already confessed their sins in verse 2. They confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers, and then they read for one-fourth of the day. They then confessed again and spent time in worship. This prayer by the leaders is probably a description of how they confessed their sins for one-fourth of the day. It is clear that the Israelites were continually confessing their sins before God, and this must be true of us as we worship God as well. Look at some of their confession:
“But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs. They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.
Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.
As mentioned before, in viewing God we cannot but see how great our sins are. We saw this with Isaiah when he saw God. He confessed both his sin and that of his people (Isaiah 6).
Similarly, confession is a natural part of worship to God as we are sinners in need of grace. We must not just confess, but we must confess continually because we sin so often and so do those around us.
4. God-centered prayer should often be done corporately.
Nehemiah 9:5 says,
And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.” “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise.”
We see the leaders leading in corporate prayer. They called for everybody to stand and praise God and then led them into corporate prayer. Remember, tremendous power is in this kind of prayer. Christ said, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).
When two or more agree, Jesus says, the Father moves. There is a power in corporate prayer that we should not neglect. We should commonly bring our prayer requests before one another and pray in agreement for God to move.
In 1 Timothy 2, Paul was giving a description of how the house of God should be run (cf. 1 Tim 3:15), and it included corporate prayer. First Timothy 2:1-3 says,
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior
When the body of Christ gathers together, there should be corporate prayer.
5. God-centered prayer is biblical.
Another practical principle we can learn from Israel’s prayer is how biblical it was. It is a biblical prayer recounting the Lord’s past faithfulness and their sin. It recounts God’s works and promises in Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, Kings, etc.
When you look at many of the prayers of Scripture, you will find how biblical they are. When Jonah is in the belly of the whale in Jonah 2, much of what he prayed came from the Psalms. Jesus, while he was being crucified, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” which is Psalm 22. And also, “Into your hands I commit my spirit,” which is Psalm 31.
In prayer we should use the Bible, because when we praying God’s words, we can be confident that we are praying in line with the Spirit and the will of God. Much prayer is awry because it is not in line with the revelation of God’s Word.
Jesus said this: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:14).When Jesus promises to answer every prayer prayed in his name, he was not promising that if we tacked his name on every request that it would be answered. He was talking about praying things that are in line with his character, as revealed in the term “name.” The primary way we do this is by praying what he has said in his Word. Our prayers should be full of the Word of God and full of theology. We see this throughout Israel’s prayer.
Prayer that is full of Scripture and in line with what Scripture says is acceptable worship. Godly leaders must lead their people in God-centered prayer as the Levites did. Selfish prayers will not be answered, but prayers that honor God and seek his will, will be honored.
Application Question: In what ways does looking at the longest prayer in the Bible encourage you in your prayer life? What aspects of this prayer do you commonly neglect?
As we look at Israel and the continual revival happening in the nation, we learn a lot about worship that pleases God. What are aspects of acceptable worship, worship that our God seeks and desires? How can we as leaders, lead our people into acceptable worship?
- Acceptable worship includes preparation. We need to prepare our spiritual sacrifices so that they may be received by God.
- Acceptable worship includes confession. Sin will hinder our worship, and therefore, we must continually confess before God.
- Acceptable worship includes hearing and responding to the Word of God. God blesses those who hear and do his Word.
- Acceptable worship includes righteous leaders. Leadership affects our worship. Our leaders must be godly.
- Acceptable worship includes God-centered prayer. Selfish prayers are not acceptable to God (cf. James 4:3). Prayer is primarily to honor God and to get his will done on the earth.
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to offer worship that is acceptable to him?
1 MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 671). Nashville, TN: Word Pub.
2 Guzik, D. (n.d.). Nehemiah Overview - David Guzik Commentary on the Bible. retrieved 1/9/15, from http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/view.cgi?bk=15&ch=9
Related Topics: Leadership
11. Marks of True RepentanceRelated Media
Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah. Zedekiah… “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord…
What are marks or evidences of true repentance in a Christian’s life—repentance that saves? We have all seen people who claim to follow Christ but are lacking the fruits that prove the reality of their faith.
It is very easy to make a claim or to have a profession of faith, but how does one know if it’s a reality? Christ said in Matthew 7:21-23 that many would come in his name claiming to have a relationship with him but he would reply, “Depart from me you workers of iniquity I never knew you.” They had the talk but not the walk.
In fact, bearing fruit is a very important aspect of our faith. We saw this with John the Baptist’s and Paul’s teaching. Look at what John said when he showed up preaching repentance:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
John the Baptist in commanding repentance did not just say simply “confess” or make a declaration. True repentance always has the corresponding fruits. Paul said the same thing. Consider what he said: “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 26:20).
Paul preached the need to repent, but like John, he also preached the necessity of proving one’s repentance. It is not enough just to confess; confession must be followed by the proper works. Now this is not a works salvation; it is a salvation that works—a salvation that changes us.
In the context of Nehemiah, we must remember that there was a revival happening. In chapter 8, the people listened and responded to Ezra’s reading and teaching of the Word of God. In chapter 9, the people put on sackcloth and ashes and repented of their sins and the sins of their fathers. But in this chapter, they responded by renewing their covenant with God and committing to prove their repentance by their deeds. Listen to what they said in Nehemiah 9:36-10:1:
“But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress. ”In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.” Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah. Zedekiah,
They made a commitment to God by renewing the Mosaic covenant. Eighty-four leaders of the community signed a document—a binding agreement. This document showed the priorities of their commitment to God. Even though we are not a part of Israel, we as Christians should have these same commitments. These same fruits will prove the reality of our repentance and relationship with Christ.
What are marks of true repentance—genuine faith?
Big Question: What commitments did Israel make in this chapter as a fruit of their repentance? How can we practice true repentance in our lives?
True Repentance Includes a Commitment to God’s Word
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand—all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
What is the primary focus of this covenant community as seen in the signed document? The primary focus was to submit to the law of God. Israel had disobeyed God’s covenant, which was given in the Pentateuch. But, in this text, they renewed their commitment to God’s Word. Look at what they said:
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Here Israel committed to follow God’s Word. Jesus taught that practicing God’s Word was a proof of true faith in the Sermon on the Mount. He taught that there were two types of people who listened to his words. One listened and built the foundation of his house on these words, and his house stood in the storm. But, the other did not build his house on Christ’s words, and his house was destroyed. He said this in Matthew 7:24-26:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.
It is very easy for us to look at the Scripture and say with awe, “No one ever spoke like this” as those in John 7:46 did, when listening to Christ, and yet not submit to him. It is also possible for us to pick and choose what we like about the Scriptures instead of submitting to the whole counsel of it.
The apostle John said the same thing as Christ. Listen to what he said: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4). He said obeying God’s commands marks genuine faith and repentance. If we are not committed to God’s Word and following it, we are not truly saved and our repentance is false.
True saving faith and true repentance recognizes Scripture as God’s Word and commits to studying it and submitting to it. This should be the focus of the Christian life, and it is an evidence of true repentance.
Here Israel renewed their covenant to follow the laws of God which demonstrated true repentance. Do we need to renew our covenant to God’s Word as well?
Application Question: What are your thoughts about commitment to knowing and obeying God’s Word as a proof of genuine repentance? Why do so few Christians demonstrate this commitment in their lives? In what ways is God challenging you to both study and obey his Word more?
True Repentance Includes a Commitment to Fearing God
all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.
Not only did they commit to following God’s Word but they also put themselves under a curse if they failed to follow it. In those days when people made covenants, they would often slay an animal and walk through the parts of the animal. By doing this they were saying, “Let this happen to me if I don’t fulfill what I have committed to.” This is what God did in confirming his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. He walked through the cut-up bodies of animals, committing to fulfill his covenant with Abraham.
It is possible these leaders did the same thing. But more than likely, they “bound themselves to a curse” by reading Deuteronomy 27 and 28. God had essentially promised Israel that if they did not obey his words, he would severely discipline them. Look at what he said:
Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left, following other gods and serving them. However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed. The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks. You will be cursed when you come in and cursed when you go out. The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him.
By binding themselves to the curse, they recognized that God was faithful to his words and that he would curse, discipline, and even destroy them for disobedience. Now, under the New Covenant we are not under the curse of the Mosaic Law (cf. Gal 3:13); however, the fear of the Lord should still be a motivating factor in our lives.
Interpretation Question: Where do we see the necessity of fearing the Lord taught in the New Testament?
In contradiction to how some say God was a God of wrath in the Old Testament and a God of grace in the New, he is gracious and wrathful in both. Listen to what Philippians says: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12).
Why should we have fear while working out the completion of our salvation (sanctification, becoming like Christ)? We should fear because God is a God of discipline. Listen to 2 Corinthians 7:1: “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
We must remember our God killed Ananias and Sapphira for lying about their offering in Acts 5. Our God brought sickness and death to some of those who were abusing the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11. Our God is still a God of discipline.
And ultimately, it is good to remember that even though we are not under the law, we are still bound by the spiritual principle of “sowing and reaping” which God oversees. We will reap what we sow, whether in this life or after. Galatians 6:7-8 says,
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
When the Jews were recommitting, they recommitted not only to the Word of God but to fearing the Lord, which should be a sobering motivation for all Christians. Hebrews 12:6 says, “the Lord disciplines those he loves.” Discipline is a major aspect of our sanctification, and we should recognize this everyday as we are confronted with temptation and opportunities to sin.
Do you still fear God? Solomon said it is the beginning of wisdom—the beginning of living a wise life (Proverbs 9:10). Therefore, we must fear him if we are going to live a wise life, which is a holy life.
Application Question: Why should the fear of the Lord be a motivation in the Christian life? How would you describe your fear of God’s discipline? How do we find a balance between the motivation of God’s love (cf. 2 Cor 5:12) and fearing his discipline?
True Repentance Includes a Commitment to Holiness
“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand… “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
Nehemiah 10:28, 30-31
Another focus of the Christian life and evidence of true repentance is the practice of holiness. Where do we see this commitment in Israel? Look at what they committed to:
The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand--all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord. ”We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. ”When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
This holiness was seen in two ways. They would not intermarry with the neighboring nations, and they would not sin against God by buying and selling from the foreigners on the Sabbath.
Israel lived amongst neighboring nations that wanted to interact with them spiritually by drawing them to worship their gods. They wanted to interact with them socially through marriage and the practice of other cultural norms. And they wanted to interact with them economically through trade, which was often done on the Sabbath.
However, God had called Israel to be holy and separate from the neighboring nations primarily so they would not be led into sin. Listen to the command about not marrying in Exodus 34:15-16:
“Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.
The call to not interact or marry with the surrounding nations was never racial but spiritual. They were called to be separate and holy in order to not be drawn into sin with them or to worship their gods. This is what happened with Solomon, who led the kingdom of Israel into God’s judgment.
It’s good to remember that Ruth and Rahab were both Gentiles, and yet they both married into Israel and were put into the lineage of Christ. However, they both were converts to Judaism—they worshiped the God of Israel. Moses also married an Ethiopian woman. Jonah was sent to prophesy to the Gentiles in Nineveh. They were not to be totally separate from the Gentiles but to be separate in the sense that they would not be influenced to sin.
It is no different for us. Second Corinthians 6:14 says to not be “unequally yoked,” and James declares that this practice of not being polluted by the world is a religion God accepts. Listen to what he said: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
A religion our God accepts is one that keeps itself unspotted from the world. You must be careful of the music you listen to, the TV shows you watch, and the friendships you cultivate. We must not adopt the ideals and practices of the world.
Scripture says that in the same way that the neighboring nations were seeking to lead Israel astray, the world does the same with us. Listen to Romans 12:2:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The word “conform” has the connotation of being acted upon. We are being pressed and molded into the image of the world. We are being pressured into having the same passions, the same desires, and the same worldview, rather than that of the inhabitants of the kingdom of God (cf. Matt 5:3-10, Phil 3:19-21).
Scripture also commands us to not love the world, for whoever loves the world, the love of the father is not in him (1 John 2:15). There is a principle in the world system working to draw us away from the love of God.
Yes, our priority must be holiness. Are you living out a life of separation from the world? Or are you trying to love God and love the world as well?
In fact, John says that if we have not committed to holiness and are still living in sin, we are not truly born again. It is a genuine fruit of repentance and if we lack this desire and practice of being holy, then we are not truly saved. Listen to what he says: “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth” (1 John 1:6).
Israel committed to being separate from the nations in order to be holy unto God. We must make this commitment as well. Separation is necessary in order for us to not be influenced by this world, and it is also necessary for us to influence the world (cf. Matt 5:13). We must be different in order to influence the world.
Application Question: How can we reconcile the tension of being in the world and not of the world? In what ways is God challenging you to practice separation?
True Repentance Brings a Commitment to the House of God
Observation Question: In what ways did the people of Israel commit to supporting the temple ministry as seen in Nehemiah 10:32-39?
In the next verses, Nehemiah 10:32-39, we see the house of God mentioned nine times, referring to the restored temple.1 As a fruit of their repentance, the people of God committed to support the ministry of the temple in four different ways.
- The temple tax (Neh. 10:32–33). The annual census of the people twenty years of age and older was accompanied by the collecting of a half-shekel tax to be used to support the ministry of the house of God (Ex. 30:11–16).
- The wood offering (Neh. 10:34). Since the fire on the brazen altar was to be kept burning constantly (Lev. 6:12–13), it required a steady supply of wood; and wood was a precious commodity.
- The firstfruits (Neh. 10:35–37a). The Jews were taught to give God the first and the best, and this is a good example for us to follow today. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9, NIV).
- The tithes (Neh. 10:37b-39). The word tithe means “a tenth.” The Jews were to bring a tenth of their produce to the Lord each year for the support of the Levites (Lev. 27:30–34). The Levites then gave a “tithe of the tithe” to the priests (Num. 18:25–32).2
Application Question: What can we learn from the commitment of the people of Israel to support the work of the temple? How can we apply this?
1. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us of our need to support the work of the Lord with our finances.
Israel committed to give the temple tax, the wood offering, the first fruits, and the tithe. In the New Testament, we are not under the Old Testament tithe or giving system, but we are commanded to practice faithful giving. We learn about New Testament giving in Paul’s command to the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. It says:
Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.
We are called to give “in keeping with our income”; other versions say “as the Lord prospers you.” What makes this harder than the Old Covenant is the fact that many people should be giving way more than 10% because God has prospered them so much. This may be especially true for the Western church, which is very wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world.
Christians are called to not store up riches on this earth (Matthew 6:19), and we are called to be cheerful in giving (2 Corinthians 9:7). Also, we are called to seek to excel in the act of giving in the same way we do in acts of love or mercy. Second Corinthians 8:7says this: “But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
In the practice of grace giving, we are not called to give our 10% and then say we have fulfilled the law. No, we are called to seek to increase our giving at all times, just as we are always trying to love more.
How does this look practically? Personally, every year or at certain times during a year, my wife and I will look at our finances and see how we are doing. We have a fixed giving each year but our priority is always to see if we can increase it. Can we give 5% or 10% more this year or semester based on our income? Or, should we consider lowering it because of new costs?
That’s one way we can apply the practice of grace giving and trying to continually grow in this grace. As Israel committed to support the work of God, we must continually make this commitment as well.
How else can we apply Israel’s commitment to the house of God?
2. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us of our need to give our best to God.
Israel committed to give God their firstfruits. The firstfruits were considered the best and a picture of the future harvest. In what ways can we give God our best?
In Malachi, which was written to Israel during the days of Nehemiah,3 God accused Israel of bringing lambs which were blind and lame, and he rejected them. Look at what God said to Israel in Malachi 1:6-8:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the LORD Almighty. “It is you, O priests, who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ ”You place defiled food on my altar. “But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’ “By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.
Many times we do this with God. We give him the last five minutes of the day and sometimes nothing at all. We give him our left-overs, not our best. We also should give God our firstfruits because he is our King. How can we give our King anything less? Are you giving God your best?
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to give him your best practically? How does this affect your time management, your priorities, and your future goals?
3. Israel’s commitment to the house of God reminds us that we should labor to build up God’s church.
Another application we can take from this is our need to build up God’s church. Today, God does not live in temples built with hands, but he indwells the people of God—the living temple. Listen to what Peter said: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
Similarly, Paul teaches that we are the temple of God both corporately (1 Cor 3:16) and individually (1 Cor 6:19). Therefore, one of the ways we build God’s house is by being committed to the church and serving his people there.
God has uniquely given each believer a spiritual gift for the purpose of building up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:7). Just as each person brought wood, firstfruits, etc., to build up the house of God, we must use our gifts and our time to build up God’s people as well. This is a true fruit of genuine repentance: serving the house of God.
John said this: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). Love always results in service. If anybody does not serve the church—Christ’s body—he has not passed from life to death. They lack a fruit of true repentance.
Application Question: In what ways do you feel called to serve the people of God? What are your spiritual gifts and what sacrifices do you feel called to make in building God’s house?
As we look at the covenant Israel renewed with God in Nehemiah 10, we learn a lot about our spiritual commitments and how we should continually practice them. As seen with New Year’s commitments, many people feel that making them is pointless. “We are just going to break them anyway,” they say. However, commitments are very important to any aspect of society and especially to our spiritual life. We make commitments when we sign a job contract, when we buy a house, and even when we get married. Commitments are important.
Application Question: What can we learn about commitments from Israel in Nehemiah 10?
1. We should not hesitate to make or renew biblical commitments to God. It doesn’t matter if we failed in the past; we can start over at any time.
What commitments is God calling you to make or renew with him today?
2. We should practice sharing our commitments with others in order to have accountability.
It seems that because only eighty-four leaders signed the document, the leaders were not only committing themselves but committing to help Israel keep their commitments. They were the nation’s representatives, and the contract was an accountability system for Israel. It also may be wise for us to share our commitments with spiritual leaders or those we trust so they can help hold us accountable.
Who are your accountability partners? What commitments are they helping you keep with God?
3. We should practice writing down our commitments.
The Jews wrote down their commitments to God and had the leaders sign and seal it (cf. Neh 9:38-10:1). There is something powerful about both verbalizing our commitments and writing them down.
Writing them down helps us clarify them and make sure they are attainable. This is another form of accountability for us. This helps increase our faith as we watch God’s faithfulness in helping us fulfill these commitments. This may be done with a journal or even a contract like Israel’s.
Application Question: In what ways have you found accountability helpful in your spiritual life? Why is it so important?
What are marks of true repentance and, therefore, saving faith? In this chapter, Israel followed up their repentance in chapter 9 with a renewal of the Mosaic covenant. They made many commitments to God, and, in many ways, these should be our commitments today.
- The people of God must be committed to the Word of God. How is God calling you to renew a commitment to studying and practicing his Word?
- The people of God must be committed to the fear of the Lord. Israel put themselves under the curse of the Mosaic law for breaking the covenant. They essentially committed to recognizing and allowing it to motivate them to faithfulness. Does the fear of the Lord motivate you?
- The people of God must be committed to holiness. Israel separated from the neighboring nations and their ways of life. In what ways are you practicing separation?
- The people of God must be committed to building the house of God. The house of God is not the temple anymore but it is our bodies (1 Cor 6:19) and the people of God (I Peter 2:5). We should be committed to serving and seeing God’s kingdom come in our own lives and the lives of others.
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to be more committed to him and/or to challenge others through this study on true repentance?
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined (p. 123). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). Be Determined. “Be” Commentary Series (126). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
3 MacArthur, John (2003-08-21). The MacArthur Bible Handbook (Kindle Locations 6969-6970). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Related Topics: Leadership
12. Characteristics of Honored ServantsRelated Media
Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem…
What are qualities of those who will be honored by God for their service to him?
In Nehemiah 11, we see the repopulating of the city of Jerusalem, but not only that, we see those who are honored and commended for taking the leap of faith in moving there. By reminder, chapters 1-6 focused on the rebuilding of the wall. In chapter 7, a census was taken of all the people living in Israel. But in that census there was clearly a problem with the city. Nehemiah 7:4 says, “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.”
They had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, but only a few people were living in the city and the buildings needed to be rebuilt. In chapters 8-10, there was a spiritual revival in Jerusalem; the people met often to hear the Word of God and recommitted to following it.
Nehemiah 11 is especially important because the worship of God was integrally connected to the city of Jerusalem. We must remember that not only did God call Israel to be his priests, but he had called for Jerusalem to be his capital city. It was in Jerusalem that the temple was located, God’s presence dwelled, and people from throughout the world would come to offer sacrifices in worship of the living God. In fact, in Nehemiah 11:1, Jerusalem is called the “holy city.”
In this text, the narrator honors those who sacrificed—left home and land to build up the holy city—by recording their names. They and their families were honored as the record of their names would have been read before the nation of Israel. But these people were also honored when they initially volunteered to serve in Jerusalem. Nehemiah 11:2 says, ”The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”
Similarly, this has applications for God’s church. One day God will honor everyone who has labored to build his church and spread his kingdom on the earth. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4-5:
My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.
Paul said a day is coming in which God will honor those who have served him with a right heart and right motives. Then each person will receive their praise from the Lord. Christ taught that even the giving of a glass of water in his name would receive a reward (Matt 10:42).
In the same way that the narrator honored those who faithfully served in rebuilding and populating Jerusalem, God will one day honor those who faithfully served in the populating of the New Jerusalem, heaven’s capital city (cf. Rev 21:1-2).
With that said, it is important to recognize that not every servant will have the same honor in heaven. Consider what Christ taught:
Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus taught there will be those who are called great in the kingdom of heaven and those who will be called least. Not everybody in the kingdom of heaven will have the same honor.
In Nehemiah 11, we learn something about those who faithfully populated Jerusalem in order to help restore the worship of God in Israel. These people were honored by Israel publicly and, ultimately, by God, as he chose to include their names in his Holy Word. In the same way, God will one day publicly honor all his servants who have faithfully built his kingdom on this earth.
As we study this passage, we must ask, “What are the qualities of those who will be honored for their service to the Lord?” There is coming a day when those who have served God faithfully will be honored before all. God is still looking for people to restore the worship of God around the world and those who take up this call will be honored by him.
Big Question: What were the qualities of those who were honored for repopulating and rebuilding Jerusalem? How can we apply this to those whom God will honor eternally?
Honored Servants Are Willing to Lead by Example
Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem
Interpretation Question: Why did the leaders of the people settle in Jerusalem first, before anybody else?
What initially stands out about the repopulation of Jerusalem is that the leaders settled there first. No doubt, this included Nehemiah, Ezra, and other leaders. This is normal for most capital cities. The leadership dwells in the capital, since all the major decisions typically happen there.
However, this represents more than the fact that they needed to be in Jerusalem—they were setting the example for others to follow. Very shortly after they settled, others were recruited to help in the repopulation process. If Jerusalem was going to be repopulated, the leaders had to lead the way.
Similarly, this is true for the church as well. If worship is going to be restored in our churches, our communities, and our cities, it must begin with spiritual leadership. Consider how Paul challenged the Corinthians. He said: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Paul was willing to set the example for others to follow. Likewise, those who are honored by God will always be those who are willing to be examples. They set the example in their devotional lives, in their work, in their dating relationships, in their marriage, in their finances, etc. They do this so they can say, “Imitate me,” just as Paul did, in order to ultimately help people look more like Christ.
Similarly, Paul told Timothy this: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). He challenged Timothy to set an example for others.
In response to this reality, we must ask ourselves, “Are we willing to be godly examples for others?” This is an essential qualification for those who serve in any ministry. “Do we have a spiritual life that is worthy to be modeled?” “Can we give others a plan on how to faithfully practice their devotional lives?” “Can we demonstrate to others how to practice purity both in our thought life and our relationships?”
Those who lead must set the example, but, not only that, many times those who lead must often give up their rights to better serve others. In order to set the example, Nehemiah and the leaders had to give up their right of living outside of Jerusalem. Yes, it would have been safer, less work, and more comfortable if they would have lived outside of Jerusalem. But, they instead gave up their rights in order to lead others into what was best.
Paul said this: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Surely, eating meat is a freedom and a biblical right, but if someone was offended because of a weak conscience, then he would have stopped rather than allow that person to be hurt by his freedom. This attitude is a must for leaders; they must think of others before themselves (cf. Phil 2:3-4) and, at times, even give up their rights in order to set the example.
Am I free to go to the movies? Am I free to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes? Certainly, Scripture does not clearly forbid such things. However, in my freedom, I must ask, “Could my freedom harm someone who is weaker than me in the faith and has less discipline than me?” This is the type of question people in leadership must ask.
Paul said, “Everything is permissible for me but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Everything is a freedom for me that Scripture doesn’t clearly forbid, but I must ask the right questions before I use my freedom such as: “Will this practice build others up? Will it build me up?” This is what keeps many from being good examples. The only question they ask is, “Is it my right?” or “Can I do this?” When they should ask, “Is this best for others?” and “Will this be best for me?”
Are you willing to be a godly example for others? Nehemiah and the leaders could have stayed outside of Jerusalem where the housing was better and it was safer, but they, instead, chose to set the example for others in order to accomplish God’s work. And they, therefore, were honored because of it.
Application Question: In what specific ways do you feel God is calling you to set the example for others? In what ways has God called you to give up freedoms to set an example?
Honored Servants Are Committed to Seeking God’s Will
Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
Interpretation Question: Why did the Israelites cast lots? What did it represent?
The next step in repopulating Jerusalem was getting one out of ten Israelites to move into the land. How did they select these people? They cast lots, which is a lot like rolling dice. Some have called this a draft, but it is not a draft. It is more than that.
In ancient Israel, the casting of lots was a form of seeking the will of the Lord. In fact, we see the apostles use this form of seeking God’s will in Acts 1, when they chose the replacement for Judas. Look at what they did:
So they proposed two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
They chose the replacement by having all the disciples propose two men who had been with Christ from the beginning of their ministry. After two people were selected, they prayed for God to make his choice clear. God’s will was discerned by the casting of the lot, as it fell on Matthias. This was a common method of seeking God’s will used by Israel.
The Israelites had a very strong understanding of the sovereignty of God. They believed that God was in control of all things. Listen to what Proverbs says: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).
Every time a person throws a dice and it lands on six or three, the Jew would say that is of the Lord. There is no random chance in life; God is in control of all events. In fact, we see this with Job when Satan tested him by bringing poverty and death in his family. Even though we know Satan did it, as revealed in chapter 1, Job said, “God did it.” He cried out, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).
Some today would say, “No, Job, your doctrine is all wrong. Sickness and trials do not come from God. It was Satan alone.” But Scripture teaches that God works all things in conformity with the purpose of his will. Our God is sovereign. Ephesians 1:11 says, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
Paul said our God works out “everything.” Some translations say “all things” according to the purpose of his will. This is a mystery. I don’t claim to fully understand it, but somehow this includes the Fall, sin, Satan, and everything else. Somehow all things fall into God’s sovereign will.
Peter actually told the Jews who killed Christ that they did it according to the foreordained plan of God. Acts 2:23 says, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” Peter essentially said that this was under God’s sovereign control too. The worse thing that ever happened on the earth was part of God’s plan.
Now this is just a side point of showing how these Jews sought the will of God by casting lots. With that said, I am not promoting making decisions by rolling dice. My point is that those who will be honored by God for their service are those who continually seek God’s will, even when it hurts or is uncomfortable. They lay down their plans and their desires and cry out like Christ, “Not my will Lord, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Application Question: How do we seek the Lord’s will so we can faithfully submit to it?
Let it be known that the primary way that we seek God’s will is through studying his Word. David said this: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
David said that when he was seeking direction from the Lord, he realized that all he needed to do was turn the lights on in his life by getting into the Word. Those who live in the Word of God have the lights on. If we are not living in God’s Word, we do so to our own peril. It is impossible to properly navigate this dark world without the light of Scripture.
How does Scripture help us determine God’s will? Scripture either gives clear direction in doing God’s will or it gives us principles to help us make decisions. Even if that principle is something as simple as, “A wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Wise people don’t make decisions on their own about marriage, career, or life without allowing wise, godly people to speak into their life.
Yes, those who will be honored by God for their service are those who seek God’s will, and those who seek God’s will live in his Word. A person who does not live in the Word of God is not even fit to serve in ministry. It is the Word of God that equips the man of God for all righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 3:17). Without God’s Word, they will constantly harm others and themselves.
Just as Israel sought the Lord through casting lots, we must seek the Lord through studying the full revelation of God’s Word, something the Israelites did not have. How much more should we live in it and allow it to guide our decisions? It should guide what career path we go on, who we should marry, and even the kind of car we drive. Scripture gives us principles to help guide the man or woman of God in all those decisions.
These are the kind of servants that will be honored by God. They continually seek the Lord’s will in every aspect of life. Sadly, most Christians are not like this. Listen to what Paul said to the Philippians:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 2:19 -21
That’s how most Christians are. They seek their own interest instead of the interests of Jesus Christ. Paul said that he had no one else like Timothy (who sought the will of Christ), even though he worked with many churches and many Christians. Those who look out for the interests of Christ are still in small supply today. However, these are the ones who will be honored by God.
Application Question: In what ways is the Word of God sufficient to guide the man of God in all righteousness (cf. 2 Tim 3:17)? In what ways has God used his Word to help you make major decisions?
Honored Servants Are Willing to Obey the Lord’s Commands
Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
Interpretation Question: Why does the narrative say the people volunteered to live in Jerusalem? How does this correspond with them being selected by the casting of lots?
The next thing we must notice is that not only did the leaders and the people in this narrative seek the will of the Lord, but they obeyed by volunteering. Now this may seem kind of strange. It says that they cast lots (v.1), and then the people volunteered (v. 2). This is why it’s clearly not a draft. They cast lots to see who God had chosen, but the people still had the ability to say, “No.”
Hypothetically, if a person said, “No,” they would have simply cast the lots again to see who God chose next. However, there was no need to re-cast the lot since each person who God chose volunteered. Therefore, the people commended them for it.
Yes, it is one thing to seek the will of the Lord, but it is another thing to obey the will of the Lord. These people were obedient.
Listen to this: God is always calling people to serve him. He calls them to go to missions. He calls to use them in great ways, but, if they turn him down, God may at times give the opportunity to somebody else.
We saw this with Saul. God called him to be king and to obey God as his vice-regent over Israel. But, Saul disobeyed God and refused to serve him, and therefore, Scripture says, “God sought after another who would obey him” (1 Sam 13:14).
Yes, God calls many to serve him, to serve in working with the children in the church, to share the gospel with friends, but when they choose to be disobedient, many times God will simply call another.
The good thing about God is that he is gracious and merciful. One of the most wonderful verses in Scripture is Jonah 3:1. After Jonah had said “No” and God had disciplined him through a storm, it says: “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time.”
God’s Word came to Jonah a second time, and this time Jonah obeyed. Are you willing to obey the Lord? Those who will be honored by God are those who live lifestyles of obedience.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to serve and build his kingdom? What are common hindrances to doing God’s will?
Honored Servants Are Willing to Sacrifice and Be Uncomfortable
Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.
All these people would have to leave their homes and move to a city that was broken down. Moving to Jerusalem essentially meant moving to the ghetto. The city was filled with ruins (cf. Neh 7:4). It was dangerous and susceptible to attack. Typically an attack would have been on the capital city. It was where the leaders and the wealth were. To move to Jerusalem meant to be uncomfortable.
Similarly, the very reason many people cannot serve the Lord and will not be honored by him is because they aren’t willing to be uncomfortable. They are not willing to step out of their comfort zone to serve and do God’s will.
Listen, any time God calls us, he calls us to step out of our comfort zone. He is not calling us to do something we could do in our own power, but something that could only be done through him. Therefore, following God always leads us out of our comfort.
It is no surprise then to see in Scripture so many people make excuses when they were called. Moses said, “I can’t speak.” Gideon said “I’m from the smallest tribe.” If God calls, he calls us to do something God-sized and outside of our ability.
In what ways is God calling you to sacrifice and to leave your comfort zone? I have no doubt that God is calling many to leave their home country and go to a place with a different language, culture, and standard of living. He may even call some of us to sacrifice our lives for him, as he did with Peter and the majority of the apostles. But even though there is a call, we still must be willing to submit to it. We must be willing, like the Israelites, to volunteer.
In Luke 9:57-58, one would-be disciple approached Christ and said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Christ responded, “Foxes, have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Essentially, Christ said, “Are you sure? Are you sure you can handle the cost of following me? It will mean being a wanderer in the world I created.”
We hear nothing from this man who zealously raised his hand and said, “I’ll go.” It seems the cost was too much. Similarly, many do the same thing today at the opportunity to follow Christ in ministry. The cost is too much. Giving up dreams, retirement, and security is not in their plans. They vehemently declare, “I cannot,” and therefore, they cannot serve the Lord in ministry and won’t be honored by him.
What is God calling you to sacrifice? In what way is he calling you to be uncomfortable in order to do his will and build his kingdom?
In this text, the leaders and those who volunteered all would be leaving the comfort of their homes to serve the Lord in a broken down city that needed to be rebuilt. However, it was God’s will for their lives and the best place they could be. And because they obeyed, they were honored by the people and ultimately by God.
Application Question: In what ways has God led you into uncomfortable situations to grow your faith and build his kingdom? Are there any ways that you feel God is calling you to be uncomfortable and trust him now to do his work?
Honored Servants Are Committed to Building God’s House
From the priests: Jedaiah; the son of Joiarib; Jakin; Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, supervisor in the house of God… and their associates, who carried on work for the temple …Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God; Mattaniah son of Mica, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer
Nehemiah 11:10, 12, 16-17
What else can we learn about the people who volunteered to serve the Lord by populating Jerusalem? It is clear that the majority of them focused their attention on serving the temple. The priests, Levites, and the temple workers are named next in the narrative (Neh 11:10–24), and obviously their ministry was focused on the temple. However, it must be remembered that not only did they focus on the temple, but apparently, so did everybody else. Remember what the last verse of Nehemiah 10 said:
The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the singers stay. “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
As part of the revival, they promised to not neglect the house of God. It was to be a permanent focus of their life and ministry, whether they lived in Jerusalem or not.
In the same way, those who serve the Lord today and will be honored by him must focus their attention on the temple, the church. Today, God’s temple is not a building as in the Old Covenant—it is a people. First Corinthians 3:16 says this: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” And Scripture also says that God has given each person a spiritual gift to serve in his temple (1 Corinthians 12:7). God’s plan to change the world is through a people using their spiritual gifts to serve God, one another, and the world.
Therefore, no matter where God calls you to serve, if he calls you to serve as a doctor, a lawyer, a professor, or a teacher, you still have a call from God to serve in his temple, which is the church. Even though God has given you a ministry in the world, he wants you to reach the world by being involved with your local church.
In talking specifically about serving the church, Paul taught that each man will receive a reward for his faithful service to her. Listen to what he said:
For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building... If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
1 Corinthians 3:9, 12-14
After describing the people of God as God’s building, he says that each one of us will be rewarded based on the way we build up the church. If we give our time, if we are willing to invest, as represented by costly stones, we will be rewarded. But if we give God our scraps—service with wrong motives or a lack of service—as represented by wood, hay, and straw, we will not be rewarded—we will not be honored.
Scripture clearly teaches that those who will be honored by God are those who have served faithfully in building up God’s temple. In fact, they are consumed with God’s temple (cf. John 2:17, Rom 12:11, 1 Cor 15:58). This is a characteristic of those God honors.
Our tendency as Christians is to have our job, attend our church, care for our family, but not use our gifts to serve the church. Most Christians don’t feel a need to. However, the people who were honored in this narrative all were focused on serving the house of God, and previously, in chapter 10, all of Israel swore not to neglect it.
How has God called you to serve the church? Are you giving him your best or are you neglecting God’s work? Just as God honored these volunteers who sacrificed and served the temple, he also will honor those who have volunteered to faithfully serve God’s church with eternal rewards.
Application Question: What are your spiritual gifts? In what ways do you feel God has called you to serve the church? How can we balance serving God in the church with all our other responsibilities?
Honored Servants Are Willing to Serve without Receiving Glory Here on Earth
The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 able men. From the descendants of Benjamin: Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, supervisor in the house of God, and their associates, who carried on work for the temple—822 men
Nehemiah 11:6 -12
It is important to note that many of the people who served were unnamed. We see this throughout the text:
The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 able men. From the descendants of Benjamin: Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men.
Many of the people who settled in Jerusalem are unnamed in this narrative. There were priests, Levites, descendants of certain tribes, etc., but the names of most of the people were not mentioned. There were 468 men from Perez, 928 people from Benjamin, etc., who volunteered to serve the Lord.
It is like that in every church and ministry. Some names are often in lights—the pastor, the worship leaders, and the elders. However, there are many people whose names are never mentioned but who are just as important, if not more important than those whose names everybody knows.
Listen to how Paul talks about these people in describing the church as a body in 1 Corinthians 12. He describes the head, the arm, and the feet—all parts that are visible. But he then says the parts that seem “to be weaker are indispensable.” More important than a leg, an arm, or a face is the heart or the liver. The body cannot function without these, and, when they shut down, the body shuts down. First Corinthians 12:21-23 says this:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.
1 Corinthians 12:21-23
In the same way, each ministry has hidden parts that may not receive great honor here on earth, but, in heaven, they will be exalted. These often are women who never preach a sermon, but they labor in prayer for the preaching and in service of the people with needs in the church. They are the heart, the liver, and other internal organs. Without them, the whole body would shut down. They might not get applause here on earth, but we can have no doubt that they will receive great applause in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 19:30). In heaven there will be great surprises. No doubt, many times the people we think will be exalted will not be, and those who have been overlooked will be. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them” (Hebrews 6:10).
He will not forget those who are unnamed, for he sees their hard work, and they will be greatly rewarded.
No doubt, many of these unnamed people served without ever needing applause or a thank you. Christ actually taught this as a necessary quality of all his disciples. He said this:
Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’
In describing a servant serving his master, he said, “Would the master thank the servant for doing what he was told?” The answer to the rhetorical question was, “No.” He was a servant doing what he was supposed to do. He says in the same way, we should be like that servant. We are servants who should serve without a need for applause or thanksgiving. We are simply doing our duty.
Are you willing to serve without ever being named, without ever receiving applause or earthly recognition?
God is looking for people who are willing to serve whether they receive recognition or not. It is no surprise that when God often called people in Scripture, he often found the people who were not looking for acclaim or applause. He often called the reluctant leaders to serve and do great things.
Moses said, “No, not me.” Gideon said, “No, I’m last in my father’s house.” These people were not looking to be great or honored. They were just people willing to obey God. God takes those not looking for acclaim or applause, and he makes them great. This is how God works. The people in Babel were trying to make a name for themselves, trying to make themselves great, and God brought them low (cf. Gen 11:4-8). But with Abraham, he found a man not looking to make a name for himself and said to him, “I will make your name great” (Gen 12:2). When David wanted to build God a house, God said to him, “I will build a house for you” (2 Sam 7:27).
God opposes the proud but exalts the humble (James 4:6). This is a characteristic of those who are exalted. They are the humble who ultimately want to honor and glorify God. Because of this, God exalts them.
Application: Why is it important to be able to serve God without earthly recognition? How can we develop the type of humility that doesn’t need to be seen or heard?
Honored Servants Are Committed to Respecting and Serving the Authorities
Next, we also must notice that the singers and others, though following God, were also serving the king of Persia. We see this in Nehemiah 11:23-24. It says:
The singers were under the king’s orders, which regulated their daily activity. Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, one of the descendants of Zerah son of Judah, was the king’s agent in all affairs relating to the people.
How did this happen? In the book of Ezra, when King Darius had initially ordered the building of the temple, the people of Israel were commanded to give the elders daily support for the rebuilding and maintenance of the temple. He also commanded that “sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven be offered and that the people pray for the well-being of the king.” Ezra 6:8-10 says this:
Moreover, I hereby decree what you are to do for these elders of the Jews in the construction of this house of God: The expenses of these men are to be fully paid out of the royal treasury, from the revenues of Trans-Euphrates, so that the work will not stop. Whatever is needed—young bulls, rams, male lambs for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, and wheat, salt, wine and oil, as requested by the priests in Jerusalem—must be given them daily without fail, so that they may offer sacrifices pleasing to the God of heaven and pray for the well-being of the king and his sons.
Therefore, the singers not only were submitting to God in their worship and prayers, but they were also honoring the king of Persia.
In addition, Pethahiah, who was the “king’s agent” (v. 24), probably advised the king on Israel’s affairs.1
Now in many nations, there is a separation of church and state, which is a different model of government than in Israel and most of the ancient world. However, Scripture still commands Christians to honor and submit to those in authority (cf. Rom 13:1-7) and also to pray for them. First Timothy 2:1-3 says this:
I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior
In fact, while Israel was in Babylon, they also were commanded by God to pray for, not only the king, but the whole pagan nation. Look at what he told the Jews to do: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Peter said it this way: “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Peter 2:17).
Similar to those who were honored in Israel, Christians must still seek to be good citizens, good employees, and good neighbors. We are commanded to honor those in authority, to pray for the king, and to pray for godliness and holiness in our nation.
Serving the Lord does not mean to neglect the government or our community. It is very much a Christian’s job to be involved with the affairs of the state and nation.
In fact, I was listening to a former governor in the United States who is an ordained Southern Baptist pastor. In an interview, someone asked him if he regretted leaving the ministry, and how he felt about those who looked down on him for working in politics. His response was along the lines of:
I never got out of ministry. This is what Romans 13:4 says about those serving in government: ”For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” I am still serving God in a very important ministry.
Scripture calls the rulers of government, God’s servants—his ministers. Yes, one can still serve the Lord as a governor or a president. God selected David to serve in leadership as the king of Israel. He promoted Joseph to vice-president of Egypt. He also exalted Daniel to what we might call the “Senate” in Babylon. These people served the Lord, but they honored the king and blessed their nation through their good works.
Serving the Lord does not mean we are only to think about heaven and spiritual things. No, we must still be very much concerned with our state, our nation, our community, and our job. This includes voting; it includes seeking the prosperity of the nation in serving in the school systems, businesses, etc. It also includes seeking to promote righteousness in areas like serving the poor, working for human rights, etc.
This is important because for many Christians serving God means to not care about practical things such as one’s community or nation, but Scripture calls us to honor the king, to pray daily for those in leadership, and to care for the poor (cf. 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Tim 2:1-3, James 1:27).
Sometimes while serving God, he may also call us to serve in the government in order to better serve the world and promote Christian values. Are you willing to allow God to use you in government, education, health care, politics, social work, etc.?
The singers and Pethahiah served the Lord but also served the government. These people were honored by Israel and by God. We must be willing to do the same.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to be a better citizen including such areas as studies, business, social justice, voting, etc.? Why are Christians so prone to neglect these practical aspects of the Christian life for more “spiritual endeavors”?
What are necessary qualities of those who will be honored for their service to the Lord?
- Honored servants are willing to lead by example.
- Honored servants are committed to seeking God’s will.
- Honored servants are willing to obey the Lord’s commands.
- Honored servants are willing to sacrifice and be uncomfortable.
- Honored servants are committed to building God’s house.
- Honored servants are willing to serve without receiving glory here on the earth.
- Honored servants are committed to respecting and serving the government.
Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to develop the qualities of a servant who will be honored by God? What areas do you struggle with the most?
1 Kidner, D. (1979). Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 12, p. 132). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Related Topics: Leadership
Appendix 3: Walking the Romans RoadRelated Media
How can a person be saved? From what is he saved? How can someone have eternal life? Scripture teaches that after death each person will spend eternity either in heaven or hell. How can a person go to heaven?
Paul said this to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 3:14-15
One of the reasons God gave us Scripture is to make us wise for salvation. This means that without it nobody can know how to be saved.
Well then, how can a people be saved and what are they being saved from? A common method of sharing the good news of salvation is through the Romans Road. One of the great themes, not only of the Bible, but specifically of the book of Romans is salvation. In Romans, the author, Paul, clearly details the steps we must take in order to be saved.
How can we be saved? What steps must we take?
Step One: We Must Accept that We Are Sinners
Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What does it mean to sin? The word sin means “to miss the mark.” The mark we missed is looking like God. When God created mankind in the Genesis narrative, he created man in the “image of God” (1:27). The “image of God” means many things, but probably, most importantly it means we were made to be holy just as he is holy. Man was made moral. We were meant to reflect God’s holiness in every way: the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we act. And any time we miss the mark in these areas, we commit sin.
Furthermore, we do not only sin when we commit a sinful act such as: lying, stealing, or cheating; again, we sin anytime we have a wrong heart motive. The greatest commandments in Scripture are to “Love God with all our heart, mind, and soul and to love others as ourselves” (Matt 22:36-40, paraphrase). Whenever we don’t love God supremely and love others as ourselves, we sin and fall short of the glory of God. For this reason, man is always in a state of sinning. Sadly, even if our actions are good, our heart is bad. I have never loved God with my whole heart, mind, and soul and neither has anybody else. Therefore, we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We have all missed the mark of God’s holiness and we must accept this.
What’s the next step?
Step Two: We Must Understand We Are under the Judgment of God
Why are we under the judgment of God? It is because of our sins. Scripture teaches God is not only a loving God, but he is a just God. And his justice requires judgment for each of our sins. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.”
A wage is something we earn. Every time we sin, we earn the wage of death. What is death? Death really means separation. In physical death, the body is separated from the spirit, but in spiritual death, man is separated from God. Man currently lives in a state of spiritual death (cf. Eph 2:1-3). We do not love God, obey him, or know him as we should. Therefore, man is in a state of death.
Moreover, one day at our physical death, if we have not been saved, we will spend eternity separated from God in a very real hell. In hell, we will pay the wage for each of our sins. Therefore, in hell people will experience various degrees of punishment (cf. Lk 12:47-48). This places man in a very dangerous predicament—unholy and therefore under the judgment of God.
How should we respond to this? This leads us to our third step.
Step Three: We Must Recognize God Has Invited All to Accept His Free Gift of Salvation
Romans 6:23 does not stop at the wages of sin being death. It says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Because God loved everybody on the earth, he offered the free gift of eternal life, which anyone can receive through Jesus Christ.
Because it is a gift, it cannot be earned. We cannot work for it. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Going to church, being baptized, giving to the poor, or doing any other righteous work does not save. Salvation is a gift that must be received from God. It is a gift that has been prepared by his effort alone.
How do we receive this free gift?
Step Four: We Must Believe Jesus Christ Died for Our Sins and Rose from the Dead
If we are going to receive this free gift, we must believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Because God loved us, cared for us, and didn’t want us to be separated from him eternally, he sent his Son to die for our sins. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Similarly, John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God so loved us that he gave his only Son for our sins.
Jesus Christ was a real, historical person who lived 2,000 years ago. He was born of a virgin. He lived a perfect life. He was put to death by the Romans and the Jews. And he rose again on the third day. In his death, he took our sins and God’s wrath for them and gave us his perfect righteousness so we could be accepted by God. Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” God did all this so we could be saved from his wrath.
Christ’s death satisfied the just anger of God over our sins. When God saw Jesus on the cross, he saw us and our sins and therefore judged Jesus. And now, when God sees those who are saved, he sees his righteous Son and accepts us. In salvation, we have become the righteousness of God.
If we are going to be saved, if we are going to receive this free gift of salvation, we must believe in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for our sins (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-5, Rom 10:9-10). Do you believe?
Step Five: We Must Confess Christ as Lord of Our Lives
Romans 10:9-10 says,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
Not only must we believe, but we must confess Christ as Lord of our lives. It is one thing to believe in Christ but another thing to follow Christ. Simple belief does not save. Christ must be our Lord. James said this: “Even the demons believe and shudder” (James 2:19) but the demons are not saved—Christ is not their Lord.
Another aspect of making Christ Lord is repentance. Repentance really means a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. Before we met Christ, we were living our own life and following our own sinful desires. But when we get saved, our mind and direction change. We start to follow Christ as Lord.
How do we make this commitment to the lordship of Christ so we can be saved? Paul said we must confess with our mouth “Jesus is Lord” as we believe in him. Romans 10:13 says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
If you admit that you are a sinner and understand you are under God’s wrath because of them; if you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died on the cross for your sins, and rose from the dead for your salvation; if you are ready to turn from your sin and cling to Christ as Lord, you can be saved.
If this is your heart, then you can pray this prayer and commit to following Christ as your Lord.
Dear heavenly Father, I confess I am a sinner and have fallen short of your glory, what you made me for. I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins and rose from the dead so I can have eternal life. I am turning away from my sin and accepting you as my Lord and Savior. Come into my life and change me. Thank you for your gift of salvation.
Scripture teaches that if you truly accepted Christ as your Lord, then you are a new creation. Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” God has forgiven your sins (1 John 1:9), he has given you his Holy Spirit (Rom 8:15), and he is going to disciple you and make you into the image of his Son (cf. Rom 8:29). He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5), and he will complete the work he has begun in your life (Phil 1:6). In heaven, angels and saints are rejoicing because of your commitment to Christ (Lk 15:7).
Praise God for his great salvation! May God keep you in his hand, empower you through the Holy Spirit, train you through mature believers, and use you to build his kingdom! “The one who calls you is faithful, he will do it” (1 Thess 5:24). God bless you!