Nehemiah is one of my favorite Old Testament books, and Be Determined (Nehemiah): Standing Firm in the Face of Opposition by Warren W. Wiersbe was a good companion on this read-through.
Nehemiah was a captive Israelite in Persia (formerly Babylon). Most of Judah had been deported to Babylon in God’s judgment after years of worshiping idols, committing injustices against their neighbors, and more.
After 70 years, as Jeremiah had prophesied, many of the Israelites were allowed to go back to Judah. Ezra and the people with him had rebuilt the temple and reestablished their worship practices.
Several years later, Nehemiah was still in Persia (formerly Babylon) as the king’s cupbearer. When one of his friends comes back from Jerusalem, Nehemiah asks how things are going there. The answer: not good. Its wall, a city’s main defense then, was broken down and its gates burned.
Nehemiah was so troubled, he “sat down and wept and mourned for days” (1:4). He prayed, confessing the nation’s sins and reminding God of His promise to gather His people back together again. He prayed for favor in the sight of the king and then asked the king for permission to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city wall and gates.
The king not only granted permission, but supplied materials and an escort. According to Wiersbe, it would have taken about 55 days to travel between Susa and Jerusalem. Before Nehemiah said anything to anyone else, he quietly inspected the area by night. Then he told the people his plan, how “the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work” (1:18).
From the outset, the project had enemies, especially Sanballat and Tobiah. First they jeered and mocked, then they “tattled” to the king that the Jews were really trying to start a rebellion. They they tried to distract Nehemiah, and even plotted against his life. When they tried to lure Nehemiah away, plotting to do him harm, he replied, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (6:3).
One of the main features of Nehemiah is his prayer life. He took the whole problem to the Lord in prayer at the beginning. He shot up quick prayers when he was about to speak to the king and when problems came up. He prayed against his enemies and trusted God to take care of them, while also preparing the workers to defend themselves if need be.
God helped the people to build the wall in just 52 days. The Ezra came and read the law of God while the Levites “gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (8:8). The people mourned over all the ways they had failed. But Nehemiah encouraged them that this was a time to celebrate God’s mercies. “This day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). The people reestablished their covenant to obey God’s Word. They dedicated the wall to God with singing.
Nehemiah had to go back to the king for a bit, and when he got back, some things had slipped–things the people had just promised to do before he left. This spoke to me that it’s important not just to make a decision to obey God, but to implement plans to carry it out. For years I’ve heard laments that people make good decisions at camp or during revival services or special meetings, but then when life goes back to “normal,” they go back to their old ways. I think that’s because the decision is not the culmination of their conviction: it is just the beginning.
Nehemiah reminded the people that some of their practices were what got them into trouble and exile in the first place. Then he initiated reforms to help them do right.
Here are some of the quotes from Wiersbe’s commentary that stood out to me:
Like large doors, great life-changing events can swing on very small hinges (p. 20).
Nehemiah is a good example of how believers should relate to unsaved officials as they seek to do the work of God. Nehemiah respected the king and sought to work within the lines of authority that existed in the empire. He didn’t say, “I have a commission from the Lord to go to Jerusalem, and I’m going whether you like it or not!” When it comes to matters of conscience, we must always obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), but even then, we must show respect (see Romans 13 and 1Peter 2:11-25) (pp. 34-35).
Satan wanted to use these problems as weapons to destroy the work, but God used them as tools to build His people (p. 59).
He was a leader who served and a servant who led (p. 68).
But the joy that comes from the Lord is real and lasting and enriches our lives. God doesn’t give us joy instead of sorrow, or joy in spite of sorrow, but joy in the midst of sorrow. It is not substitution but transformation (p. 115).
Nehemiah is an example of someone whose heart is in the right place, who was concerned for others and for God’s glory, who took everything to Him and prayer and depended on Him, and then put feet to his prayers. He was willing to travel far and work hard and face opposition to get the job done God had given him to do. He had initiative, but he couldn’t do the work alone: he was able to inspire others with his vision. “One person can make a big difference in this world, if that person knows God and really trusts in Him” (p. 31).
hi Barbara. one of the things i enjoyed when focusing on finding ebook bargains was to see the array of writings Wiersbe has produced over the years. i’m grateful for those who light the way for us who love God’s Word, who are able to share a bit of illumination when we’re a bit confused.
I’ve gotten most of his through Kindle sales. He’s such a prolific writer!
Some really wonderful quotes from this book that you’ve highlighted, Barbara. I especially like that last one. Roomie and I had been reading OT books in the order of Jewish Scriptures and we’d finished Ezra and Nehemiah a bit ago, so these insights are fresh as I recall the book.
It still puzzles me that he didn’t put Ezra and Nehemiah together in his commentary. But I enjoyed it nonetheless.
I so appreciate Warren Wiersbe’s commentary, Barbara!
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