Whom God Comforts

Nehemiah had a burden for Jerusalem, a city he had never seen, destroyed for sin he was not involved in; yet, he had a burden in the spirit to respond to God’s promise, and see its walls and gates rebuilt.

Having arrived in Jerusalem, under the cover of night (Neh. 2:12), he inspects the walls and gates of God’s city. Ruins.

How do you inspire a people to rebuild in the sight of such destruction? As Nehemiah records, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall” (Neh. 4:10).

Reality had set in. Enemies were conspiring and attacking (Neh. 4:11). The hope that inspired seemed at an end:

“You see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lies in waste, and it’s gates are burned with fire. Come and let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer be a reproach” … “So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build’” (Neh. 2:17-18).

Nehemiah, while enemies pressed in, urged the people to stand, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome, and fight for your brethren, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your houses (Neh. 4:14).

Nothing had changed in their circumstance, except the presence of the enemies outside began to press in. The same wreckage that greeted them at the beginning of their toil was the same wreckage at the enemy’s arrival.

The wreckage that Nehemiah stood over initially inspired them see what could be; but with the scheme of the enemy now more real, the wreckage became evidence of what would not be.

Remember the Lord Nehemiah proclaims!

Never answer lies. Never answer ridicule. Pray and get to God’s work (Eph. 6:16):

“Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night” (Neh. 4:9).

Would the job be easy because Nehemiah was dedicated to the task? No. Enemies pressed in, discouragement set in, but he pressed on. See what is, and get going in the work of God. Tough message, but this is a lesson from the life of Nehemiah.

Criticism, discouragement, and open hostility is easy to come by in this day and age. As we continue to walk in faith before the Lord, voices will make their presence known: they are watching and waiting for weakness to be revealed. Yet, at times, we are our own source of criticism, and discouragement – don’t do that!

Still, the wreckage in our lives seems too overwhelming to clean up, and rebuild. Hear to the voice of the enemy:

“What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they fortify themselves? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they complete it in a day? Will they revive the stones from the heaps of rubbish – stones that are burned? (Neh. 4:2).

When the enemy calls you feeble, remember that not one feeble departed Egypt with the camp of God (Ps. 105:37). Will you offer sacrifice? Yes, a sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15). Will the burned stones live again? Yes, “You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house – a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Messiah Yeshua/Jesus” (I Pet. 2:5).

Glory to God!

When the discouragement, and overwhelming stress of this age begins to dislodge the peace of God set in you, remember the promise of Messiah. He would send the Holy Spirit to comfort you (Jn. 14:16).

Why is the lesson of Nehemiah so important for us today? His is a story of comfort, even in the midst of great distress. And his message is נְחֶמְיָה, “Nehemiah,” literally meaning, “Whom God comforts.”

You are His revived work, His revived wreckage, His revived stones, not your own. Rejoice.

Be well. Shalom.

Bearing a Cup

Nehemiah, a cupbearer to king Artaxerzes in Shushan, receives a report regarding the condition of the remnant in Jerusalem. They, and the city of God, are in great distress: walls and gates torn down (Neh. 1:3).

Nehemiah begins to weep, mourn, and pray for the covenant people of God. He repents of their sins, weeping as if he was personally responsible for Jerusalem’s destruction (Neh. 1:6). He begins to carry a burden for God’s people, and a land he has never seen.

Nehemiah carried this burden for Jerusalem, God’s burden, for several months: four to be exact. In those four long months he waited, prayed, and did his duty before the opportunity to be God’s instrument was set.

Where was he when God began to use him? He was performing his duty to king Artaxerxes: serving wine.

From there, in his ordinary daily task, Nehemiah, in all outward appearances an unqualified cupbearer, would lead thousands of God’s people across thousands of rugged, dangerous miles to rebuild the Temple of God in Jerusalem.

“The king asked me, “What is your request?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it seems good in your sight, send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried that I may rebuild it” (Neh. 2:4-5).

This exchange was potentially deadly for Nehemiah, as to displease the king would result in immediate death. By God’s grace, the king approved of Nehemiah’s request.

Did you catch the words of a cupbearer? “That I may rebuild it?”

He wept for, and was sent to a land, a city, and a promise he had never seen. This city, even in its distress, was more real than the glory of the kings court and Sushan itself. It is the city of God.

Nehemiah did not create the problem. He did not tear down the walls or destroy the Temple. Yet, he had a burden to rebuild Jerusalem as a testimony to the Lord’s glory.

How did he do this?

The Lord set in Nehemiah’s heart a burden, the Lord’s own burden, to restore the Jewish people to the Promised Land. What exalted place of influence did Nehemiah hold? He was a simple cupbearer at the side of a heathen king.

His influence was in the place the Lord set him, not where he would have set himself.

It can be entirely too easy to see your everyday, ordinary circumstance and believe that you are unimportant in the Lord’s plan. Faithfully be about your business, which in Him, is actually His business; carry His burden, and when the time is at hand, He will use you in a way previously unimaginable to you only moments before.

Nehemiah’s burden was to build the Temple where Yeshua/Jesus would one day set His feet, and teach the Word of God. Glory to God!

Be well. Shalom.

The Lord is There

The Lord is There

Jewish exiles in Babylon sit alongside the River Chebar weeping. As I’ve touched on previously, their captors demanded a song of Zion (Ps. 37:3). Grief stricken, they lament,

“Oh! How can we sing the song of the Lord, in this unrecognizable land? (Ps. 137:4, personal translation).

For all their singing and performance before the Lord and the people in Jerusalem, these Levitical singers could not see past their condition and circumstance in exile. Overcome by captivity, they hang their harps among the willows, unable to raise their voice in praise, remembrance, or hope (Ps. 137:1-2).

What could have happened had they raised their voices? If they praised in their circumstance?

Ezekiel answers this question.

In Ezekiel 1:1, we find him, this cohen (priest), sitting “among the exiles by the river Chebar.” While the singers wept and mourned, the heavens were opened to Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1).

From that same place, rather than joining with mourning singers, Ezekiel has visions of God Himself; and a vision of heavenly creatures that confound even today (Ezek. 1:4-28). We leave that vision for another time, and move on to the purpose.

Ezekiel would prophesy not only of the woes leading to exile, but also of the journey to restoration. His vision would take him from the presence of those weeping in captivity, to the purification of judgment, to the joy of deliverance.

Understand, Ezekiel had a far less pleasant experience than those who sat and mourned – even in obedience. It would have been far more desirable to sit, mourn, and do nothing, than to lie down for 390 days for Israel, and 40 days for Judah, respectively, eat filthy bread, and shave the outward sign of righteousness and wisdom, your beard.

The early record of Ezekiel’s call is absurd from a human perspective; but the absurdity of those early God ordained maneuvers makes way for the message of cleansing and restoration (Ezek. 36:25-27), and resurrection of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1-14; cf. Ro. 11:15).

While the singers were focused on their circumstance, Ezekiel was focused on the Lord. He was faith-ing in the direction of the unseen Lord, looking past the circumstance, to see hope realized (Heb. 11:1).

At the beginning of his call, Ezekiel was sitting beside the River Chebar, in exile; but at the end of his vision he saw the River of Life flowing (Ezek. 47:1), from a city called, “Adonai shamah,” “the Lord is there,” (Ezek. 48:35).

Not much changed in Ezekiel’s circumstance during his life, but he did not hang his harp and give up. He kept the Lord at the center of his view, and the Lord allowed him to see the same city hoped for by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all who came before, and those of us still waiting (Heb. 11:10).

Whatever your exile might be, whatever the river you sit beside, raise your voice, not with the mourners, but with the heavenly choir singing His praise; and heaven will ever be before you.

“Adonai shamah,” “the Lord is there!”

Be well. Shalom.