Nehemiah 1:1-4, “The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah, And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year as I was in Shushan the palace, That Hanani one of my brethren came, he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said unto me, ‘The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.’ And it came to pass, when I heard these words that I sat down and wept and mourned certain days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.” Someone asked me, not one of God’s children, how do you know what to speak of in the meeting? Do you have a line or an order of a certain subject in mind? It was a little difficult to explain because sometimes we have a subject in mind but it closes up on us and we know we aren’t supposed to speak on it. Then other thoughts line up and are fresh and we feel that’s the Lord’s anointing. There’s just a feeling when we know this is what the Lord wants me to speak about.
This book is one I enjoyed very much and we read Nehemiah heard the sad story of the children of Israel and we see from his reaction, he was a man of care and a man of prayer and a man of action. That’s what made him so effective because he cared for God’s people, cared for the kingdom and prayed about it and put himself into the prayer and God used him so wonderfully. He was responsive to God’s leading. He said in this prayer, “I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love Him and observe His commandments.” It shows he had a wonderful understanding of the mind and will of God.
Sometimes people think the mercy of God enables us to continue to do what we want to do, but they’re wrong. There are certain things that are necessary for us to enjoy the mercy of God. A number of years ago in New Zealand, a young man walked into a shop and gunned down a young lady without mercy. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. His mother came out from England and pleaded that her son would be shown mercy and the judge replied, “He doesn’t deserve mercy.” And she replied to him, “If he deserved it, it wouldn’t be mercy.” But the Minister of Justice had a point to make because that young man never repented of the deed he did; he was proud and boasted about what he did. That Minister had some grounds to say what he did. Maybe if he had repented there would have been grounds for mercy but he didn’t deserve mercy.
A number of years ago there was a lady who made a decision for a course she was going to take in life and came to us and told us. We told her because of her decision it would be a wrong step to take; it was contrary to scripture and the teachings of Jesus. And if she did that she would not long be able to take part in fellowship. She went ahead and did what she said and we had pointed it out to her in the scriptures and told her it was wrong. After a few weeks she came and said, “I would like to come back in fellowship,” but we said, “You have put yourself in the position where it’s impossible.” And she said to us, “Where is the mercy you talk about?” She wanted mercy so she could continue living in the way she wanted to live but she didn’t qualify because she made her choice; taken a step outside and was continuing that we saw mercy couldn’t be her portion. Fortunately, after a number of years she was made free and a year or two before her death she came with tears, sorry that her choice had been a terrible blunder; and she pleaded. Now she was free and she had repented of the wrong choice. We need mercy because of our human nature and we do wrong things but if there’s an overriding desire to do the will of God, the mercy of God is there.
God had suffered His people for so long – 2nd Book of Chronicles – He sent His messengers but indeed there was no remedy because they didn’t want to do His will and didn’t show that they loved Him. So Nehemiah prayed and this 1st chapter is made up of his prayer, and he put himself in the place where God could use him and we read in the 2nd chapter he was in the presence of the king. He was in a very secure position in the king’s honour, responsible, yet he was willing to put himself at risk in being willing to be associated with God’s despised people and be a help. The king saw he was sad and sorry, “Then the king said unto me, ‘For what dost thou make request?’ So I prayed to the God of heaven.” I like that picture of Nehemiah praying in the presence of the king. It shows he was a man of prayer not only in the secret place, which is important, but standing in the presence of an earthly king he could enter into the presence of a heavenly king. How often are we conscious of the fact in our daily duties we have spent time in the presence of God? Sometimes I have, maybe while cooking I have been aware I have been feeding my soul; but not often enough do we feed our souls.
So he went to Jerusalem and looked around. “And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me save the beast that I rode upon.” Then verses 18-19, “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for this good work. But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian heard it they laughed us to scorn and despised us.” There was a time when he remained silent, didn’t tell what was in his heart to do because it wasn’t the right time. But later on he spoke the right words at the right time and the effect was almost electrifying. Sometimes we say right words but we say them at the wrong time and they don’t have a good effect at all; they don’t have the wisdom. That’s what Nehemiah did.
We had a problem in one of our fields in India where a man was saying things he shouldn’t say; and aren’t we all guilty of that? But after the meeting he would make some cutting remark and I said to him one day, “Please don’t say such things,” and he said, “If it’s in my heart I have to say it.” I said, “The Bible says it’s a fool that says and a wise man keeps it until afterwards.” Nehemiah was sensitive to the feelings of God and knew when to say and what to say at the right time. Chapter 3 we have a picture of them building and repairing the wall of Jerusalem. Verse 12, “And next unto him repaired Shallum the son of Halohesh, the ruler of the half part of Jerusalem, he and his daughters.” I like that little picture: Most of those doing the repairing were the men, but here was this man’s daughters doing their part. I do admire our sister workers in our field for their willingness to do what they can do, and sometimes it’s not very congenial.
In India, if a girl remains unmarried there’s a stigma, but so many are willing for that and spend their lives for the gospel. I told you about Ratna who died at the age of 30 years and had spent 6 years in the work. For a number of years she and her mother were hindered but a rich relative came and kidnapped her to take her away to marry his son. Ratna was only 16 years of age and had spoken to us about the work. But she came back and said to us, “I escaped and I don’t want to be married but just have a part in telling the gospel story; that’s my desire.” She could have chosen a secure life and everything would have been there but she chose rather to give her life for the gospel story, then only 6 years later she died. I went to a village which 2 of our sisters had opened up; traveled along the main road by bus, then you had to walk some miles and you would think yourself lucky if you could get a ride on a tractor or whatever to take you to their village. But these 2 sisters sometimes would stay all night; they were willing to rough it just so they could reach these people. They were willing to take the gospel to remote places and they never complained. Now a nice little church has been established in that village today because of the efforts of those sisters.
Just recently, our sisters have gone into an area where they have a population of 30 million people, and most are illiterate. Someone was looking at a photo at my Uncle’s place in New Zealand and they said, “Look at all those workers, why don’t they send some over here with our population of 4 million people.” New Zealand has so many workers that they are nearly falling over one another. We have a huge field in India with vast areas that have not yet been touched; and our 2 sisters have gone into this state because of the contacts we had. They were busy learning the language and very enthusiastic; they feel it’s just the Lord’s time. We are grateful for their pioneering spirit so that this state could be opened up and we look forward to the day when some souls will be won out.
Then verse 20, “After him Baruch the son of Zabbaai earnestly repaired the other piece, from the turning of the wall unto the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest.” Something a little extra is written about this man. The Bible we use in India says he repaired with zeal, and that could have a wonderful effect on others. Some didn’t put their necks to the yoke but this man did a little extra in his testimony because he was doing it with zeal. Doesn’t a person who is serving God with zeal have a wonderful effect? I think of an older brother Walter Frank; and the last visit I went home he was getting near 100 years of age and living in a nursing home. He didn’t know I was coming, but he was sitting at his table reading his Bible and he looked up to me as I walked into his room, and said, “Bill, I was just reading about the lamp that was never to go out.” And I thought to myself, that zeal and love is still there. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about their zeal – it provoked many. That’s what zeal does but it has to be balanced.
I was thinking of a king in II Kings 10:16, “Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.” Then verse 30-31, “And the Lord said unto Jehu, ‘Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes and has done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in Mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.’ But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam which made Israel to sin.” Isn’t it sad, he was so zealous in executing that which was right but when it came to his relationship with God he didn’t have the same zeal? We can condemn the wrong we see in others but what about what’s in ourselves? So Jehu’s testimony was spoiled.
So as they were repairing the wall, the enemy was present and tried to stop and hinder the work but they made their prayer to God and set a watch against them day and night. Sometimes we feel when we pray that’s all we can do; but there are times we have to do our part. 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care upon Him: for He careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Casting all our cares doesn’t give us the license to be careless. We heard a story in South America about a lady who heard the gospel and made her choice. Well, she heard about Convention but her husband was against her going and said she couldn’t go. She prayed that the door would open, but he still said no. So she got a little suitcase ready with her clothes and things; and then the last day came and the last train that would take her to Convention, blew its whistle, when he said, “You can go, though you wouldn’t have time.” But immediately she got up and went to Convention. She prayed and did her part; and as a result she was able to go. Then there was another way the enemy was at work, “So little strength.” Sometimes we feel like that with so much in our lives that has to be dealt with. Maybe we get discouraged thinking how can we ever finish. That’s what the enemy likes to see.
That’s what happened with the spies who went out to the land of Canaan and those men came back and said, “We can’t do it; they are too strong for us.” But Joshua and Caleb said, “We can, God isn’t with them, he is with us,” and that was the secret of their victory, wasn’t it? The enemy would like us to see what is around and against us. Those 10 looked at the enemy and compared their strength; but Joshua and Caleb saw the same strong hills and compared it with the strength of God and said, “We can do it.”
Then verse 11 – an ambush in an unexpected way and the work would stop. This is the way the enemy would like to paralyse us with fear; but if we are prepared we will get victory. We know David got some wonderful victories – 1 Samuel chapters 24 and 25 – speak of 2 wonderful victories when he could have taken the life of Saul but he knew it wasn’t his place; vengeance belonged to God. But in the 25th chapter, he was nearly defeated when Nabal gave an unexpected reply and was churlish towards David but it wasn’t until the wonderful lady (Abigail) spoke to him with soothing words that helped him to get the victory. The enemy may come to us when we go from here – good to be prepared.
A number of years ago there was a cargo ship which sailed from the North Island to the South Island carrying timber; and the weather report was good with calm seas. But they didn’t lash down the cargo as they should have; and in the morning they saw the timber and bodies of the crew washed up on the shore. What had happened? There was no storm but the report was that miles out at sea there had been an earthquake between New Zealand and South America which caused waves to rise up right into the path of this ship and turn it over. It was so unexpected; they took liberties because they thought their sailing was going to be smooth. Sometimes we don’t see the unexpected that may come and we can be caught unawares. So they finished this great work.
There was another way in which the enemy did get in and we read in the 13th chapter about some marriages that weren’t scriptural, and about Tobiah. The sanctification was broken down and Nehemiah had to deal with that and God’s people had to be sanctified again. It’s one of the dangers of today in the kingdom of God. Sanctification: God’s people have always been a separated people. In II Chronicles chapter 20 when they went out to face the enemy and Jehoshaphat prayed; they praised the beauty of holiness. Wasn’t that a wonderful way to go out? There’s a sanctity amongst God’s people that’s very beautiful and the world has nothing to compare with it. We don’t want to be like the world with their morals and their way of speech. It’s the beauty of sanctification in God’s people. Jesus didn’t pray for a nice people, but, ‘keep them from the world, that they would be a sanctified and separated people.’ We aren’t expected to live in isolation.
There was a young man in New Zealand and there was an article in the paper about him how he decided to build a home way out in the bush somewhere; and he wanted his family to be pure and untainted. But the whole thing was a failure. Jesus never prayed for that but for His people to be a sanctified people. The very thing that took them back into captivity was the lack of sanctification. I often tell this story because it illustrates something important. A number of years ago in America, I was at a Convention just down the road from a place called Hollywood, in the same State of California. There was a man – a reporter, and a photographer lady who asked for permission to come out and report. So the brothers in charge thought it would be good if these people came and saw for themselves. Well the lady photographer was taking photographs and I happened to be passing the place where she had gathered some of our young folk to take a photo, and she said, “Now I know where the beautiful young people of America can be found.” It wasn’t the beauty of Hollywood friends, but she saw the beauty of sanctification. Here were God’s sanctified people; the beauty of America in that Convention ground – and the beauty of Western Australia is to be found here. That’s why Satan would use every means available to take away this sanctification. That’s what Balaam prophesied with those wonderful words, “Let me die the death of the righteous among the nations.” His sole aim was to break down that barrier. I am glad for men like Nehemiah who cared for the kingdom, who prayed for the kingdom, and worked for the kingdom and may this be our portion.