Sunday, July 26, 2015

NEHEMIAH+—An Illustrated Summary of Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible by G. Campbell Morgan

"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).

Nehemiah 1:2 "I asked them about the Jews...and Jerusalem." An interval of about 12 years occurred between the beginning of spiritual reformation under Ezra and the coming of Nehemiah. This book continues to tell what happened to the Jewish remnant that returned to their homeland under Zerubbabel almost 90 years ago from their Babylonian Captivity. Many of the Jewish people decided to stay in the land of their captivity. Nehemiah's family were among them and Nehemiah had a prominent position in the capital city under King Artaxerxes, but he had a keen interest in the welfare of his fellow Jews in Jerusalem. When his brother Hanani and other men came up to the capital from that area, he asked them about the conditions there and was deeply distressed with the news he heard. Most searing in his mind was the vulnerability and shame of the people with the walls and gates still smashed and burned from when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem under King Nebuchadnezzar almost 150 years ago. Nehemiah carried his burden to God in prayer. Without reserve he acknowledged the sin of his people, identifying himself closely with them. He then pleaded the promises of God for his people's well-being, and asked the Lord to give him favor in the eyes of his employer, the king. In his heart formed a resolve to do more than pity if the door of opportunity opened. All this is patriotism on the highest level. Nehemiah recognized his nation's special relationship to God, identified with her sorrows and her sins, and determined to help her as best he could, trusting God to make a way.

Nehemiah 2:4-5 "Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king..." That prayer was like an arrow shot up from Nehemiah's heart just before he took advantage of the opportunity God was now providing through the king. Prayer is always practical, for it reaches and apprehends the actual and final forces, and demands action in harmony with its desires. Having sought the help of God, Nehemiah spoke with perfect honesty when the opportunity came. In the presence of the king, Nehemiah was unable to hid his sadness over his brother Israelites' condition in Jerusalem. He had not been naturally or habitually a sad man, as he himself declares, which leads some to assume he was hoping his sorrow would make Artaxerxes curious, but that strains the narrative since Nehemiah confesses he was filled with fear when the king detected his sorrow. Kings do not tend to employ negative people. God helped his courage to overcome his fear, so he told the king the cause of his grief and boldly asked to be allowed to go help his brethren. The king asked specific questions and Nehemiah was prepared with sensible answers. In answer to his fervent prayers, Nehemiah  was given permission to go and was soon on his way to Jerusalem. In all our endeavors, prayer is to be our first and principal line of activity, but more is necessary. God expects our cooperation. He will touch the hearts of kings and presidents, but we must make our venture with our reason and good sense for the accomplishment of all that we ask of Him.

Nehemiah 3:2 "Next to them." This phrase or its equivalent ("next to him") runs through the first half of the chapter, occurring no fewer than 15 times. Then another pair of phrases, "after them" or "after him," occur 16 times to the end. By this linking of groups of workers, the labor on the wall and gates of Jerusalem began. Nehemiah's description is orderly and proceeds around the entire enclosure of the city, including all the gates and connecting parts of the wall. Beginning at the Sheep Gate, which was near the Temple and through which the sacrifices passed, he tells about the team at the Fish Gate in the merchant quarter, the Old Gate in the ancient part of the city, and then the Valley Gate, Refuse Gate, Fountain Gate, Water Gate, Horse Gate, East Gate, and finally the Inspection Gate until linking back to the Sheep Gate. The unifying fact was the wall. All the workers were inspired by their shared determination to see it completed. To make that happen, the work was systematically divided. Each group was united in the effort to do the particular portion allotted to them. All the groups depended on one another for their individual efforts to be effective, so were united in the goal of completing the wall. This is a striking picture of unity and diversity working together. There was no sense of separation. Each person worked "next to" or "after" a fellow worker, and so a complete union of workers and work was realized.

Nehemiah 4:9 "We prayed to our God and set a guard." That is the recipe for success to those who are called to work for God in the face of danger. As the wall got higher, opposition from the local enemies of the Jews passed from mockery to anger mixed with contempt. Nehemiah was aware of the menace that attitude held for the work he had in hand, so he lifted his heart in prayer to God. An illuminating sentence in his vigorous first-person narrative at this point is that "the people had a mind to work" (verse 6). Nehemiah had so inspired the people that the work went forward until the wall was raised to half its height. At this point the opposition became more fierce, and a determined attempt was made by conspiracy to halt its progress. That is when Nehemiah and the people prayed together and set a guard. They were characterized neither by foolish independence from God nor foolhardy neglect of human responsibility and precaution. Everything was done to insure a two-fold attitude of complete faith in God and determined personal effort. That is how God's workers experience success.

Nehemiah 5:7 "I consulted with myself and contended with the nobles." A new difficulty now presented itself from within. The rich men among the people exacted usury from their poorer brethren to the extent of oppressing and impoverishing them. Perhaps nowhere does the nobility of Nehemiah's character shine out more clearly than here. There is a fine touch in his highlighted declaration that he consulted with himself and contended with nobles who were not acting nobly. Nehemiah's consultation with himself resulted in his determination to set an example of self-denial by not even taking provisions that were his right as the king's appointed governor over the Jewish people. His high example produced immediate results: all the nobles gave back what they took in usury, and made a solemn pledge to go easy on the people from then on. Now the people were relieved from their unnecessary financial burdens and filled with joy. Everyone went forward in their work with new enthusiasm, finishing the wall in record time. Only from the position of personal holiness is a man or woman able to deal effectively with wrong in others. Contending with those who are violating principles of justice is of no avail without first consulting with self. It is also true that consultation with self that produces right personal action is not enough. No man or woman has the right to be satisfied with his or her own moral state without regard for others. In the interest of those who are being wronged, he or she must be prepared and willing to contend with those who are inflicting the wrong.

Nehemiah 6:15 "So the wall was finished." The word "so" invites us to consider how that dangerous and difficult work was accomplished. First and foremost, the work was of God. That wall now became a visible symbol of God's protection over the people of Israel. The remnant would be kept safe in that area until the Messiah or Christ would appear. Jerusalem's wall was the material expression of that isolation and security. When we turn from the divine purpose for that wall to the human agents who built it, we find the project was driven by the patriotism and high devotion of one man. Nehemiah was able to weld the people into a unity of heart and purpose through his godly influence and skilled leadership. He and his people were characterized by caution and courage that persisted passionately against all opposing forces. The enemies of the work sought to prevent it by all means, ranging from contempt to conspiracies and subtlety. Against every method, Nehemiah and his helpers remained resolute. Nothing turned them aside until the massive wall was finished in an astonishing 52 days. Such strength against opposition came from their clear sense of the greatness of their task. That is how God's work is done. The Lord leads, guides, and compels circumstances to aid His workers, and they respond by knitting their hearts to His will and refusing anything from without or within to hinder them.

Nehemiah 7:2 "He was a faithful man and feared God more than most men do." That is how Nehemiah described the man he placed in authority over the city of Jerusalem after the wall was completed, but it also is an apt description of Nehemiah himself. All the safety arrangements he made for the city, recorded in this chapter, were characterized by statesmanlike caution. The walls and gates were now sound and strong, but the city itself, apart from the Temple, needed rebuilding. Through all the country round about were enemies, so the partially restored city remained vulnerable. Therefore Nehemiah established wise plans for the city gates to be opened only in broad daylight when everyone was about, and closed all other times, with specific arrangements for the guards. No greater mistake can be made regarding the work of God in difficult places than a lack of caution. Carelessness is never a sign of faith or courage. True bravery prepares for the possibility of attack. The man most responsible for building the wall to completion, sword in hand while doing so, did not imagine that the swinging of gates on their new hinges meant there could be a relaxation of watchfulness. Nehemiah wanted what was built to last, and that is why he picked a governor characterized by faithfulness and the fear of God, which are two sides of the same coin. Fidelity to duty is the outcome of the fear of God, and the fear of God always produces faithfulness. Nothing is sufficiently strong to produce lasting fidelity other than this holy and loving fear. If a man is unfaithful in his appointed task while declaring his loyalty to God, "he is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4). The secret of the courage that is cautious and the caution that is courageous is a healthy fear of God.

Nehemiah 8:10 "The joy of the Lord is your strength." The material side of Nehemiah's work being completed, the spiritual and moral work of bringing the people back more intelligently under the influence of God's Law went forward. Ezra now appeared upon the scene for a remarkable religious convention. This was hardly something that was forced, for "all the people gathered as one man at the square in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel" (verse 1). There was first a public reading and then apparently a breaking up into groups under the direction of selected Levites since we are told "they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading" (verse 8). That may have involved translation for some of the hearers, but mostly was an exposition or verse-by-verse explanation so everyone understood what they were hearing in a systematic way. Ezra 7:10 tells of Ezra's personal commitment to study the Law, put it into practice, and then teach it. Ezra and his like-minded teachers had a passion for helping all the people know and love God and His Word. The people were moved to tears when they came to understand how they and their ancestors had repeatedly violated the Law and how the hardships they had suffered were just. It was to this state of mind that the highlighted verse about the joy of the Lord was uttered. The joy of the Lord is that which gives Him satisfaction, and that is clearly expressed in His Law. The joy of the Lord is His people's strength because strength comes from obeying His Law, which adds a new dimension to obedience. Notice how the psalmist expressed it: "Your decrees have been the theme of my songs wherever I have lived" (Psalm 119:54). Because God's Word is the method by which He makes known the way of strength, it is His joy. When we discover that, statutes which once filled us with fear become our delight and our song. They are indeed our strength. To quote from the Law of Moses, "The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation" (Exodus 15:2).

Nehemiah 9:5 "Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!" The wall being completed and the Law expounded, the people proceeded to obey the Law by observing two of the fall feasts: the joyful Feast of Tabernacles and something like the solemn Day of Atonement. In all this they were led by the Levites, and this chapter is  occupied with the great prayer of humble confession and adoration they offered. The remarkable thing about it is its emphasis on praise. Observe how it flows. The first section is wholly of praise (verses 5-15): it praises God for who He is in Himself in His majesty (5-6), His founding their people through Abraham (7-8), His deliverance of the people from Egyptian bondage (9-11), and His constant guidance (12-15). The second section contrasts God's grace with the repeated failure of His people (16-31). It is a frank, full, and humble confession of repeated sin, yet the focus is on God's readiness to pardon. The third and final section is a plea for His help and continued goodness in the form of a solemn covenant that the leaders put in writing and signed (32-38). This prayer is a model of the way to approach God in confession. Our hearts are strengthened when we contemplate God's glorious, majestic Person and His continual grace. To see God's glory and grace is to know our sin and be driven to confession and repentance.

Nehemiah 10:39 "We will not forsake the house of our God." This chapter gives more details about the covenant the people made with the Lord following their humble corporate prayer. This covenant was sealed by individuals representing the priests (verses 3-8), the Levites (9-13), and the rulers (14-27); to its terms all the people agreed (28). The terms are set forth in general phrases and in particular applications. Generally the people promised "to walk in God's observe and do all His commandments." Particularly the covenant addressed areas where they and their ancestors had stumbled repeatedly: intermarrying with the surrounding idolatrous peoples, neglecting the Sabbath, and disregarding their tithes for Temple maintenance and other important aspects of community life. Nehemiah knew the supreme importance of the Temple for his people's spiritual life so he concluded the account here by saying, "We will not forsake the house of our God," highlighted above. True worship is paramount because God is so utterly worthy, but it does not in any way enrich God, who is all sufficient. It does, however, enrich us. There is a sense in which God is robbed if we cease to worship Him because whenever we do, we suffer impoverishment in the deepest part of us, and that results in moral breakdown. Therefore, let us always say, "We will not forsake the house of our God."

Nehemiah 11:2 "The people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem." In this and the next two chapters we find the arrangements for settling the cities throughout Israel, starting with Jerusalem. These are the last pages of Old Testament history. A few details of later conditions are scattered in the writings of the prophets, but nothing more is distinctly historic until, after a lapse of 400 years, we have the events recorded in the New Testament. Not more than about 50,000 people returned to Israel after the Babylonian Captivity, and most of them settled in the surrounding cities, which were not destroyed like Jerusalem was by the Babylonians. Jerusalem, therefore, was a particularly difficult place to return for resettlement. Not only would it attract only the most pioneering of souls, but also it was the center of danger as a target for attack by numerous enemies. It was therefore arranged that the leaders of Israel should dwell in the city, joined by 10 percent of the population, determined by lot, to have enough people there to make Jerusalem a thriving city again. In addition, some of the Israelites volunteered to make Jerusalem their home even though they were not obliged to. Those are the people honored in the highlighted verse, but that statement gives occasion for soul searching. It is an easy thing for those who do not volunteer for places of danger to applaud those who do, but it is not a particularly fine thing to do. Applause of heroism is neither costly nor valuable. It is a good thing that great enterprises do not depend on such people. The heroes are always to be found. Their reward is in their deed, rather than the praise of those who admire but do not help.

Nehemiah 12:43 "The joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar." This chapter tells about the official dedication ceremony of the wall. First there were two great processions in which the appointed singers and musicians praised God in particularly joyful worship. One group proceeded one direction along the wall through the gates with half of the people following, the other went the opposite direction, and everyone met at the Temple. Once there, "they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy"—so much joy, in fact, that "the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar." It was a great day, greater even than those people knew. The spiritual reformers of the nation had sought to bring this remnant, weak and small though it was numerically, back to a deep sense that their relationship to God was the most important aspect of their national life. Their joy that day was the joy of the Lord, and it was indeed their strength. All the material splendor of their monarchy had passed, but in their devotion to the Law and the purposes of God as manifested in the rebuilding of the wall, there was a moral power that surpassed the old days, when in their folly the Israelites clamored for a "king like all the other nations have" (1 Samuel 8:5).

Nehemiah 13:7 "I came to Jerusalem, and understood." After the dedication ceremony when the wall was finished, Nehemiah returned to King Artaxerxes' service, as promised (Nehemiah 2:6). This chapter tells us that 12 years later, he received permission to return. The deeds Nehemiah did when he returned reveal that his perception, strength, resolution, and loyalty to God continued unabated. What he understood as soon as he came back (the highlighted verse) were 4 abuses that he set about at once to correct with characteristic energy, without the slightest hesitation or any sign of weakness. Eliashib the priest had actually given a place within the very Temple to Tobiah, one of the enemies who worked hardest to hinder the building of the wall! Nehemiah flung out the inappropriate occupant and his furniture, and restored the chamber to its proper use.  He found in the second place of severity that the Levites were unable to devote their whole time to Temple service because the tithes were not being properly paid. Nehemiah contended with the nobles and at once corrected that abuse. He found, moreover, that the Sabbath was being violated again, and restored the divine order for that special day. Finally, he found that some of the people fell into the same temptation of making mixed marriages, and with unsparing force dealt with the evil that led to the Babylonian Captivity that flattened the Jerusalem walls in the first place. Nehemiah illustrates that the man or woman who looks at life from God's perspective will truly understand. Such a person does not seek soft and easy methods for dealing with abuses. To be quick in understanding from a healthy fear of God is to be resolute in dealing with all that is contrary to His will.

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