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CHAPTER XVI.

NEHEMIAH.

RESTORATION FROM BACKSLIDING, OR FAITHFUL SERVICE IN A TIME OF GENERAL

UNFAITHFULNESS.

Keynote: 1 Cor. iii. 8-15.

THE book off Nehemiah gives us the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Like Ezra, it shows us in type, a picture of restoration from backsliding, and of individual faithfulness in a time of general unfaithfulness. The city of Jerusalem had been ravaged and destroyed by the King of the Chaldees, and, as we read Neh. i. 3, "the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, and the gates thereof were burned with fire."

While dwelling in the palace of King Artaxerxes, the heart of Nehemiah was stirred up by the account he received of the desolate condition of his beloved city, and he cried to the Lord to grant him His favor, and to incline the heart of the king to permit him to return unto 251 Judah, and unto the city of his fathers' sepulchres, that he might rebuild its walls, i. 1-11. The king granted the request, and Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, and went out by night to view the wall. He found it was indeed as it had been reported to him, and he went to the elders of the city and said unto them, "Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire; come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach." Then he told them how the hand of the Lord was on him for this work; and, stirred by his words, they said, "Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work," ii. 12-18.

The temple having been built, in Ezra, and God's dwelling-place having been thus provided for, the people now can turn their thoughts to their city. Inward restoration always paves the way and prepares the heart for outward restoration; and this rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem seems to me to typify the outward work and service of the Christian, in whose heart the Lord dwells. Jerusalem may be taken as a figure of the Church, and the building of her walls and gates, as symbolizing that building up of the Church now, of which the Apostle speaks when he says, "Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying (building up) of the Church," 1 Cor. xiv. 12. "And He gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry; for 252 the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ," Eph. iv. 11, 12.

In chapter iii. we have a detailed account of the work that was done, and the names of the men who did it. This is another sample page out of the Lord's book of records, similar to the one we noticed in Ezra. How precious to see Him thus taking note of each man, and of all the details of each man's work. Men may pass over lightly the work which their brethren do for the Lord, and may even think their own work not worth remembering; but the Lord never forgets the smallest thing. How little did Jehoiada the son of Paseah, and Meshullam the son of Besodeiah, as they "laid the beams of the old gate, and set up the doors thereof, and the locks thereof, and the bars thereof," amid the sneers and assaults of their enemies, think that the record of their work was to go down to untold millions; and that, wherever the Bible should go, there would it be told as a memorial of them, iii. 6. But "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love which ye have showed to His name," and the weakest laborer may be sure that he is honorably mentioned in that blessed book of records, which is kept in the Lord's own house on high.

It is very striking also to notice how often it is said that they built "every one over against his own house," and even "over against his chamber. See iii, 10, 23, 28, 29, 30. This teaches us the comforting truth, that we never need seek far for an acceptable service, or for one that will be valuable to our Lord; for if each one of us 253 will but build over against our own house, or, if we possess but a chamber, over against that, the work of one will join on to the work of another, and the result will be a completed wall around the whole city. As we read in vi. 15, "So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days."

But although thus successfully finished, the work had been carried on through great difficulties, for a disappointed enemy beset them on every side. At first they came with sneers, saying, "What do these feeble Jews? will they fortify themselves? will they sacrifice? will they make an end in a day? will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned? . . . . Even that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall" iv. 2, 3. And so likewise will our enemy seek to discourage us, when he sees us entering into the Lord's service with earnest hearts. He will come whispering in our hearts his sneers, and doubts, and mocking questions, "What do these feeble Christians? will such as they be able to accomplish anything? Even that which they build, shall it not after all come to naught?" But we must meet all such taunts as Nehemiah did, not with angry replies, nor even with arguments to prove our own strength and capability, but by simply committing our cause to the Lord, and leaving it with Him to deal with our enemy; "Hear, oh our God, for we are despised, and turn their reproach upon their own head," iv. 3-5. And we must only build 254 on all the more resolutely, having as they had a "mind to the work."

Sneers and taunts having failed, their enemies assailed the faithful builders in another way. For it came to pass that when they "heard that the walls of Jerusalem were made up, and that the breaches began to be stopped, then they were very wroth, and conspired, all of them together, to come and fight against Jerusalem, and to hinder it." If the enemy of our souls fails to discourage us by his sneers, then he assaults us with outward difficulties and oppositions, and with his fiery darts of temptation. But, as it was with Israel, the only effect must be to cause us to "make our prayer unto our God," and to set a watch against him day and night, iv. 7-9. Their adversaries thought to surprise them, saying, "They shall not know, neither see, till we come in the midst among them and slay them, and cause the work to cease," iv. 11. But Nehemiah set a watch, and armed his people with armor, so that "every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held the weapon," iv. 16-18, and he said, "Be ye not afraid of them; remember the Lord which is great and terrible; and fight." "In what place therefore ye hear the sound of the trumpet, resort ye thither unto us: our God shall fight for us."

Surely the New Testament counterpart of all this is to be found in such words as "Watch and pray lest ye enter into temptation;" "Fight the good fight of faith:" "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." "Finally, 255 my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints."

I am aware that those who teach a life of perfect rest and peace, are sometimes supposed to mean that there are no more assaults from our enemy in such a life. But this is so manifestly a misunderstanding, that it hardly seems necessary to say anything about it. And yet it is so difficult to explain just what we do mean, that I do not wonder we are misunderstood. For it is one of those marvellous paradoxes, in which two apparently irreconcilable things exist at the same moment, and perfectly harmonize. Peace and war, rest and labor, are one here. We fight, but it is the fight of faith, not of effort, for 256 "our God fights for us," and therefore we are at perfect peace. We work, but it is not we who work, but God who worketh in us and through us, and therefore we rest. But to understand this, it must be experienced. We work as the instrument works in the hand of the skilful workman. We fight as the baby fights, who hides its head in its mother's bosom.

"The dove hath neither claw nor sting,

Nor weapon for the fight;

She owes her safety to the wing,

Her victory to flight;

The Bridegroom opes His arms of love,

And in them folds the panting dove."

As the result of these faithful labors on the part of Nehemiah and the people, the wall was at last finished, and the Lord according to His promise that He "will bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noonday," if we but commit our way unto Him, and trust Him fully, made even the very enemies who had begun by mocking them, confess that the work they had so much despised, was after all of God. "And it came to pass that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were round about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was wrought of God," vi. 16.

In chapter viii. we find that the immediate and blessed result of the work of restoration, which had been accomplished, 257 was to bring the people to a renewed acquaintance with the law of the Lord. It had been many years since Ezra had come up to Jerusalem, for the express purpose of instructing Israel in His statutes and judgments. But the condition of things in which he found them, had unfitted them for hearing or understanding it. They were such as Paul describes in Heb. v. 12, "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again, which be the first principles of the oracles of God: and are become such as have need of milk and not of strong meat." During times of captivity and of unfaithfulness, the law of the Lord is lost sight of, and indeed, cannot even be understood. But when the soul is again restored to communion, and the presence of the Lord is afresh realized in our midst, then the Divine law becomes most precious. In truth, I think its preciousness is felt then as never before. And to my mind this chapter in Nehemiah gives us in picture a truer apprehension of the sweetness of the will of God, and of what it means to have that will perfectly done in our lives, than almost any other chapter in the Bible.

The eagerness with which "all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water-gate," to hear the reading of the book of the law, is a picture of that "hungering and thirsting after righteousness," which comes to every soul that has been drawn near to the Lord. Since we have found Him so precious Himself, we begin to realize that His 258 will must be precious also, and we begin to long to know it.

From morning until midday they stood and listened to the reading, "both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding," while Ezra "read the law distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." And we are told that "the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law." During the years of their captivity, this law had been but a vaguely remembered tradition among them, and it is no wonder that it should come to them now like a fresh and wondrous revelation.

Their first impulse as they listened was to grieve. "For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law." Doubtless their grief had two causes, regret at their neglect of so wonderful a law, and fright at the discovery of their own great distance from its perfect righteousness. And so also, to souls in the present day, the fresh discovery of the will of God may perhaps at first cause tears and fright, as they see how great is their want of conformity to its blessed requirements. But in our case, as in theirs, if we only saw it aright, this very Will is our cause of deepest rejoicing. For Nehemiah said to the people, "This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not nor weep. . . . Go your way, eat the fat and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy unto our Lord; neither be ye sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the 259 people, saying, Hold your peace for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way, to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them," viii. 1-11.

A strange cause for mirth, some would say; even among those who profess to know and love the Lord, whose will they so dread. But to my mind the greatest cause of rejoicing that our poor world can have, lies just in this, that God has chosen to give to us His holy, and blessed, and lovely law, and has taught us to say, "Thy will be done." Without the will of God, this world would indeed be a place of concentrated misery. But the presence and accomplishment of His will, transforms it into an outer court of heaven.

And did we but know our God and His love, I am sure we, too, as they did, "would make great mirth," as soon as we understood the words that are declared unto us.

I confess I feel more deeply than I can express, the grievous wrong that is done to our Heavenly Father, by the evident dread His own children have of His blessed will. If they, who profess to know Him and trust Him, feel so about it, we cannot wonder that the world looks upon the will of God as something to be feared and resisted more than anything else, and we need not question why they are driven away from Him. If His own children regard Him as a tyrant, what can His enemies be expected to think? It is indeed most grievous, 260 that Satan should have so veiled the loveliness of the will of God from the eyes of many Christians, that, instead of clinging to it as their chiefest good, they should so often shrink from it in fear and sorrow. Yet it is a fact which cannot be ignored, and which I would gladly meet and overcome, were it possible.

For the will of God is always and under all circumstances good and best. He is love, and His will can be nothing but love. He is full of wisdom, and His will must always be wise. He is omnipotent, and His will is baffled by nothing that can oppose. He is just, and His will must be truly and perfectly just. The truth is, when I think of who and what our God is, I am amazed that it ever entered into the head of any one of us to fear or combat His will. We do not know what we are doing, when we indulge in such feelings. The idea that our Father, who loves us, can want anything but our best and truest happiness is inconceivable. His will for us must be all that is best, and sweetest, and most satisfying, and surely we can trust ourselves to it without a single shrinking or fearing thought.

And when once we have opened our ears to listen to this will, we shall find, as the children of Israel did, that "His commands are not grievous," as perhaps we may have feared they would be; but that peace, and rest, and even "very great gladness" follow quickly in the keeping of His law. For the very second day of their reading, "they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded Moses, that the children of Israel 261 should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month," viii. 14. This feast of tabernacles was a feast of joy. It was the celebration of their rest and possession of the land, after their journey through the wilderness. And thus they, who had expected perhaps commands which might cause them sorrow, found instead that their first duty was to joy and gladness. Not since the days of Joshua, had they known such joy!

It is indeed true, as some one says, that "God's will on earth is always joy, always tranquility;" and so every soul finds it, whose surrender is absolute and unconditional. "Great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them."

The result of this reading of the law, was great searching of heart among the Israelites, and in chapter ix. they tell their experience, and make their confession unto the Lord, and agree together solemnly to dedicate themselves unto Him, ix. 38. Chap. x. 1-27 gives us a roll of the names of "those that sealed" themselves unto this covenant, another blessed list, in which it is an everlasting glory to have been enrolled. And this list is, I believe, only a sample of the long and ever-increasing one, where are written the names of all who since then, have "sealed themselves" to be wholly the Lord's.

The terms of their consecration are given us in x. 28-39, ending with the significant words, "and we will not forsake the house of our God." All depends upon this. As long as the dwelling-place of the Lord is in the midst of any people, or in any heart, holiness of life will 262 necessarily follow. And sin, if it comes, will nearly always result from the heart having first forsaken the Lord's dwelling-place.

In chaps. xi. and xii. there is given us another list of those who "willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem;" and also of those who "praised and gave thanks" at the "dedication of the wall of Jerusalem." See xii. 27-42. They could not sing while in captivity in Babylon, as we read in Ps. cxxxvii. 1-4. "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, there we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song: and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" But now that their captivity had been turned, their mouths were filled with singing, as it had not been since the days of David and Asaph of old. We even read that they "sang loud," and that they "rejoiced with great joy; so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off." The soul in captivity cannot sing, but when the "Lord turns again the captivity of Zion," then are our "mouths filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing." The praises of His people are acceptable to the Lord, and this record of those who here praised and gave thanks is therefore very significant.

The result of this joy, was a renewed and still deeper consecration. Again the book of the law was brought out, and read in the audience of the people, and it was 263 found written therein, "that the Ammonite and the Mo abite should not come into the congregation of God for- ever," xiii. 1. At once Israel set themselves to obey this command, and separated from themselves "all the mixed multitude," 1-3. And it was discovered that this evil had crept even into the very inner courts of God's house; for the "stuff of Tobiah," the Ammonite, had filled the chambers of the temple, where aforetime they had kept the meat offerings and the frankincense. But this was now cast forth, and the clambers cleansed, and restored to their proper use, xiii. 4-9. So deep-seated was this evil of fellowship with those from whom the Lord had commanded entire separation, that even the priest, who had the oversight of the chamber in the house of the Lord, was "allied with Tobiah," and had been left undisturbed in his alliance, vs. 4, 7. But all hidden and even unsuspected sins are brought to light, when the law of the Lord is yielded to in simple obedience; and the soul is then enabled to cleanse its innermost chambers of all the "stuff" belonging to the enemy, and to present the heart to the Lord, for His use only.

Besides all this, it was found that the rest of the Sabbath was being habitually broken, by tradesmen of different kinds, who "brought all manner of burdens into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day." This, Nehemiah remedied, commanding the gates to be kept shut, and, setting some of his servants at the gates to watch "that there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath day," xiii. 15-22. The Sabbath is a type of the rest of 264 soul, Christ promises to all the wearied and heavy laden who come unto Him; and to break the Sabbath, therefore, symbolizes the breaking of this spiritual rest, by bearing burdens, which we are commanded to lay on the Lord. This is a very important point; for of all the declarations of God's will given us in the Gospel, none is more distinct and positive than this, that His people are to bear no burdens and carry no cares. "Be careful for nothing; "Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." "Cast all your care upon Him, for He careth for you." And I doubt whether we even begin to know the grief that we give to our Lord, by our disobedience to these commands. When we, who are strong, tenderly love any one who is weak and helpless, how it delights our hearts to bear their burdens and do their work for them, and how it grieves us, if they will not permit us the privilege. And this should make us understand the longing of our Lord's heart towards us, His poor weak and helpless little ones, whom He knows to be so unable to care for anything aright for themselves.

A weary missionary lady in Persia went into a church there one Sabbath afternoon, and was obliged to sit down on a mat near the middle of the floor, as there were no other seats. She was very tired with her previous labors that day, and longed for rest; but with no support to her back, it seemed impossible to obtain it. 265 In a moment a broad-backed native woman, noticing her look of extreme weariness, moved quietly up, and, planting her strong shoulders squarely behind her, whispered, "Lean on me." The lady leaned, but not with her whole weight. The fear of oppressing her kind friend, made her feel delicate about abandoning herself to the luxury of the support. But the native woman, with a look of longing love, leaned around and whispered to her in intensest tenderness, "Do you love me? If you love me, you will lean hard!" And then to that poor, weary body came rest, and to the weary spirit also came the sweet words from the Master, saying, "If you love Me, you will lean hard on Me also." Soul and body were rested, and from that time the dear missionary lady kept unbroken the blessed "Sabbath of rest," upon which she then entered.

Child of my love, "lean hard,"

And let Me feel the pressure of thy care;

I know thy burden, child; I shaped it,

Poised it in Mine own hand, made no proportion

In its weight to thine unaided strength:

For even as I laid it on, I said,

"I shall be near, and, while she leans on Me,

This burden shall be mine, not hers.

So shall I keep my child within the circling arms

Of Mine own love." Here lay it down, nor fear

To impose it on a shoulder which upholds

The government of worlds. Yet closer come--

Thou art not near enough, I would embrace thy care

So I might feel My child reposing on My heart.

Thou lovest Me? I know it. Doubt not then,

But, loving Me--lean hard.

266

Finally, the Lord's rest having been restored, a complete separation was made from all the "strange wives," who had either been left when Ezra made the former separation, or who had been married since; and Nehemiah closes his book with the words: "Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests, and the Levites, every one in his business; and for the wood offering at times appointed, and for the first-fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good."

And as Nehemiah dealt faith the Israelites, so, I believe, will the blessed Holy Spirit deal now in faithful and loving rebuke with every soul that returns afresh to the law of the Lord, teaching us and enabling us to "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."

What comfort there is for thee here, beloved Christian. Thou mayest have wandered far from thy Lord, and have been taken captive by cruel enemies. His law may have been lost to thee, and thy heart may have formed many close alliances with strangers. But a path is here opened before thee, by which thou mayest return, and which will lead thee out of all that is contrary to His will. Do not therefore be afraid to face the truth as to thy present spiritual condition; and do not admit the thought that thou hast been carried captive too far and too long for restoration to be possible to thee. For in the swift transitions of our spiritual life, the very time that reveals a failure, may reveal the remedy also, and at once that remedy may be applied, 267 and the soul delivered. And that which took years for the children of Israel, may be accomplished for thee in a Divine moment.

"Who is there therefore among you of all his people? His God be with him and let him go up."


Texts illustrating faithful service in times of unfaithfulness:--Matt. x. 16.  Luke x. 3Heb. xiii. 142 Cor. vi. 14-18Acts xx. 28-31Matt. vi. 24Luke i. 74, 75John xii. 26; xv. 19-21Dan. iii. 12-18, 28, 29Eph. vi. 5, 6Rom. vi. 16Luke v. 11; xix. 12-26; xiv. 33Matt. xix. 27-29; x. 37-39Mark i. 18Ps. xlv. 10, 11.

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