Bible Focus: Nehemiah 1-6
Hanani, one of my brothers, arrived with men from Judah, and I questioned them about Jerusalem and the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile. They said to me, “The remnant in the province, who survived the exile, are in great trouble and disgrace. Jerusalem’s wall has been broken down, and its gates have been burned.” When I heard these words, I sat down and wept. I mourned for a number of days, fasting and praying before the God of the heavens.Nehemiah 1:2-4 CSB
I recently took a road trip to my hometown of Macon, Georgia. The last time I stepped foot in Macon was in 2005, and the last time I actually lived in Macon was in the summer of 1989. Visiting Macon brought back so many memories. I traveled the streets where I once rode my bicycle and learned how to drive. I cruised through the neighborhood where I once played in the yards, swam in the neighborhood pool, and hiked in the woods behind the subdivision. I visited the private school where I once played in the band and cheered on the home team. I also dropped by my old church, which looked almost the same as I remembered it. I once knew every nook and cranny in that place.
But there’s one thing that isn’t present in any of those memories: a mobile phone. They weren’t around in those days. I walked, ran, hiked, cycled, and drove all over Macon, Bibb County, and beyond with no mobile link to the world–and I thought nothing of it. These days, I’m rarely away from my phone except when I go out my door for my neighborhood run. I definitely wouldn’t get into a car today without my phone.
I think one reason we keep our phones close is because we feel safer with that constant connection. We hesitate to lay aside our phones because we might encounter trouble and need to reach someone–or maybe someone we love might encounter trouble and need to reach us. And the wireless industry isn’t the only thing that thrives on our desire for safety. Government, healthcare, insurance, finance, and many other industries are fueled by our constant wish for protection.
But while none of those industries are necessarily wrong, none of them can promise us all the protection we seek. A catastrophe of sufficient magnitude will even render them useless. In the end, God is the only one who is always accessible and who can keep us safe forever.
The Babylonians controlled Judea for about seventy years. They captured Jerusalem and deported tens of thousands of Jews to Babylon. But then the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon, and they allowed the Jews to return to Judea.
Many of the Jewish exiles chose to return, but when they arrived in Jerusalem, they saw with their own eyes the devastation that the Babylonians had wrought on the city. Jerusalem had been ransacked, demolished, and burned. What was once a proud city had been turned into a charred heap of rubble.
Nehemiah was one of the Jewish exiles. He lived in Susa and worked as a cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes. When Nehemiah heard eyewitness reports about how badly Jerusalem was destroyed, he wept–and prayed. Nehemiah’s distress led to a pivotal conversation in which he asked the king for permission to return.
During the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was set before him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had never been sad in his presence, so the king said to me, “Why do you look so sad, when you aren’t sick? This is nothing but sadness of heart.”Nehemiah 2:1-5 CSB
I was overwhelmed with fear and replied to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should I not be sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
Then the king asked me, “What is your request?”
So I prayed to the God of the heavens and answered the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah and to the city where my ancestors are buried, so that I may rebuild it.”
After King Artaxerxes granted his request, Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem and surveyed the extensive damage to the wall and the gates. He gathered the Jewish leaders and urged them to rebuild the wall, telling them how God had led him there with the king’s support. So the Jews began working hard to rebuild the wall.
However, the non-Jewish leaders living in the area opposed the rebuilding of the wall. At first, they merely mocked the builders and accused them of rebelling against the king. But as the wall reached half its height, the opposition became more serious. They gathered forces and threatened to attack the Jewish builders without warning.
Nehemiah responded to their threats by organizing the defense of the worksites. He made sure the builders had weapons and kept watch against their enemies. But Nehemiah also urged the builders to remember how great and awesome God was, and to remember that God would fight for them. As a result of their vigilance, they frustrated their enemies’ plans of attack. The builders kept working, and the wall was completed in record time.
The wall was completed in fifty-two days, on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul. When all our enemies heard this, all the surrounding nations were intimidated and lost their confidence, for they realized that this task had been accomplished by our God.Nehemiah 6:15-16 CSB
Nehemiah faced great fears and many challenges, but they didn’t stop him from praying to God and taking the steps that God wanted him to take. Even as he strove to rebuild the protection of Jerusalem’s wall, he recognized that God was their greatest protector.
Here’s the good news. If we are trusting in Jesus and obeying him, then we are in the safest place we can be. We will still have to deal with trouble and danger as long as we live in this world. However, God’s protection lasts far beyond this world, and in his salvation we will forever be safe.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen.–the apostle Paul
(2 Timothy 4:18 CSB)
Featured image from K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash.
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