Responsive Reading: Nehemiah 4:1-14
Key Verse(s): Nehemiah 4:14
Background Scripture: Ezra 3:1-13; 4:1-5; Nehemiah 2:11-20
Typically, when one rebuilds, they have to rebuild (or restore) what has already been torn down and or been destroyed. I think of some of the worst natural disasters that we have had in recent years and how they have left desolation in their path. Families end up losing precious things, their homes, and memories in those old homes – it’s saddening. Yet, most of those who go through these disasters, while being somber, have a light of hope in their eyes. These survivors often say that they will rebuild and they will rebuild with improvements in mind in order to be better.
The rebuild – I look around at our society and I feel there is a great need of rebuilding that needs to be done. Now, I want you to understand that I am not talking about the rebuilding of buildings or highways. No, I am talking about the other things that I see in our society that need to be fixed. Hatred and wickedness continues to abound as our morals continue to crumble and fall apart. Some believe that everything is just fine, yet, I would tell you that we cannot be so blind to the cracks in and still forming in the foundation of our society!
Are we truly that blind to the poor conditions in our society? Are we truly that blind to the constant collapsing pillars of morality in our society? Greed has led to the price of living being sky high. The constant violence we say as blood is shed and lives are lost makes you wonder why we do not care. Improvement is needed. Repairs and restoration are required, and I believe that now is the time — it is time to build for the better.
Live in Desolation or Rebuild
This past week, we saw that there was another senseless shooting that took place at a hospital in Tulsa. This shooting followed up a couple of other mass killings in recent weeks with one being at an elementary school in Texas and another being at a supermarket in Buffalo. These killings follow up a long line of senseless mass killings with no changes being made to prevent these killings from continuing to happen.
After these recent mass killings we heard the same talking points with the very same question being asked yet again: “Why does this keep happening?” I have an answer to this question.
Many that go about answering this question always seem to find a way to step around the true answer but I will not step around the truth. The truth of the matter is that these mass killings and other acts of hatred and wickedness continue to happen because we as a society tolerate these things happening. We have been tolerating such acts of wickedness and hatred to happen well before these mass shootings of recent times.
I feel I must ask, what does this say about us as a society if we continue to tolerate these acts of hatred and wickedness? I would suggest that because we continue to tolerate these acts of wickedness and hatred that we don’t truly love one another. This is a tragedy because those who are of faith in Christ seem to be the ones tolerating it the most. The pillar of our faith rests on loving the Lord and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40).
In order for us to love one another, we have to first love ourselves. If we love ourselves, then we would recognize our own faults, not tolerate those faults, and make the proper fixes in order to improve ourselves and be better. When we love ourselves in this manner, we will not tolerate such acts of hatred and wickedness that will harm and affect us to also harm and affect all of those around us.
In scripture, we have seen what happens when wickedness is tolerated in a society and justice is essentially nonexistent. In the books of the kings and prophets, we saw that when wickedness abounded in Israel, the northern kingdom, the kingdom collapsed as it was conquered by the Assyrians. When wickedness abounded in Judah, the southern kingdom, they were conquered by the Babylonians and they lost everything (2 Kgs. 25:1-21); Jerusalem and its walls were set aflame and the temple was utterly destroyed.
In their defeat, the Jews were carried away to Babylon in exile. Again, I tell you that I often wonder how close we are to losing everything because of our tolerance of hatred and wickedness. Israel and Judah were conquered from the outside, but our society is seemingly being set aflame from the inside.
A choice to make
There is a choice that we have to make and I believe that the time is now for us to choose. The Jews found they had this same choice to make when they somberly returned from their exile in Babylon to a desolated Jerusalem. Though their return was a somber one, there was a new opportunity given to the Jews thanks to the Lord’s mercy.
The returning Jews were given the opportunity to either live in desolation or to rebuild. Now, when I say rebuild, I want you to understand that I am not just referring to the buildings and walls that had been left in waste and needed to be restored. The Jews also needed to rebuild themselves as a people because they had been a people that tolerated and was carried away in wickedness. So, would they repeat their past mistakes or would they grow from them and be better?
I believe we share this same choice today both individually and as a society. Will we live in desolation or will we choose to rebuild – that is to ask will we grow and be better people? God blesses each of us with a brand new opportunity each and everyday we grace this world to be a better person today than we were yesterday. Yet, I must ask, do we love ourselves enough to take advantage of this blessing and opportunity in order to grow and be better as a person and people?
Choosing to Improve
In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we will see that the Jews chose to take advantage of this blessing. It would have been insane for them to continue to do what led them to being conquered in the first place! So, I would suggest that they had to love and humble themselves in order to see the error of their ways and make the proper change.
A mindset change
In the book of Ezra, the rebuild began with the Jews having a change of mindset; they desired to return back to worshiping God (Ezr. 3:1-6). We are shown that they first built an altar and offered up burnt offerings to the Lord (Ezr. 3:2). The Jews then reinstated the holy feasts that they had stopped having in the past to show that they remembered all that the Lord had done for them (Ezr. 3:4-5).
We see their mindset change even further when they decided to rebuild the temple. Again, some of us will think of the restoration of a physical building but I believe this reconstruction also represented their change of heart (mindset). You see, the temple was a place for worship and spiritual growth. So, in their return to Jerusalem, the Jews were signaling that the days of wickedness and hatred were behind them as they sought to be better.
Now, something I do want to point out to you is that the choice to rebuild and improve would not be an easy task for them to carry out. We will see that rebuilding was met with much adversity for the Jews! As we know ourselves, improvement and growth – the desire to be better – is always met with adversity and is very difficult.
Why is improvement so difficult? We can certainly make it difficult on ourselves but there is someone else who will make improvement difficult for us as well. As you have heard me say before, this one would much rather you stay in desolation than out of it. This one desires for hatred and wickedness to abound so that not only do you remain in the pit of despair but others as well! So, progress is always met with adversity because this one loves for us to be “stuck in the mud”.
Fearful of improving
The Jews were first met with the adversity of fear. Scripture tells us that the Jews were fearful of the people from the countries surrounding them (Ezr. 3:3); these people were their adversaries. You see, they feared what their adversaries would think, say, or do about them being back in Jerusalem with a change of heart.
I believe, again, that all of us are probably familiar with this feeling of fear. Whether we admit it or not, we fear what others think or will say about what we do, especially when it comes to making changes to be better. Should we let the fear of what others will think or say keep us from taking action, especially when that action will be to our betterment? Absolutely not, however, some of us certainly let others hold us back from being better.
We cannot let what others may think or say keep us from growing and progressing forward! The Jews, though they were fearful of their adversaries, this verse shows us that they pushed ahead and set the altar on its bases and offered up sacrifice anyway. When we desire to make improvements and grow, we should not let our fear of what others think, say, or do, paralyze us. We should push forward and be steadfast in our faith in God.
Complacency in growing
As the Jews began to lay the foundation of the second temple, the adversaries the Jews feared came knocking on the door. These adversaries, I want you to understand, saw the Jews trying to improve themselves and they did everything they possibly could to trouble the Jews and prevent them from building the temple (Ezr. 4:4).
For a period of time, those adversaries created enough fuss and prevented any progress being made on the rebuild. Again, progress – growth – as we know, is often met with adversaries that will create so much fuss for the purpose of preventing any progress from happening! Though the adversaries were successful in preventing the rebuild for a short period of time, scripture shows us that through their steadfast faith, the temple was successfully restored.
However, by the time of Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem, the rebuilding was left uncompleted as the walls were still in rubble. The brief joy in completing the rebuild of the temple had given way to complacency. Complacency, I want you to understand, is one of the greatest threats to growth and improvement.
In our society, we suffer individually and collectively a great deal from complacency as some are happy with the way things are. Yet, nobody and nothing is perfect and growth (change) is always necessary. So, our desire for growth must exceed any complacency that we may have. Nehemiah’s desire to complete the rebuild far exceeded the complacency of others and he was ready to push ahead!
Tactics of adversaries to prevent growth
Yet, the overcoming of complacency was met, again, by the same adversaries. Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab laughed at the mere plan of the walls being rebuilt and they despised Nehemiah and the Jews (Neh. 2:19). Again, we have seen it for ourselves that adversaries of progress will always laugh at the mere idea of progress.
When the Jews began to lay the stones to rebuild the wall, these same adversaries heard of it and they mocked and joked about the progress. The adversaries said, “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall (Neh. 4:3).”
‘Progress can’t be done, it will fail – you will fail’, is what the adversaries of progress love to shout! Again, we have seen such mocking over progress in our society since before you and I were ever born!
I think back to the fight against slavery. I think back to the civil rights movements when the Birmingham church was bombed. I think about how many pioneers for peace have been assassinated and murdered by wickedness and hatred because they dreamed and sought what was just! I think about how people who seek for the fair treatment of others are mocked and laughed at today! Do we let these adversaries stop us or do we push forward?
The Jews, we will see, did not let the mockery of their adversaries hinder them from rebuilding. Now, when the adversaries realized that their mocking did not work and the Jews were serious about completing their work, they became angry. Scripture shows us that in this anger, the adversaries conspired to attack Jerusalem. The desire to attack Jerusalem was for the purpose of creating confusion and killing the Jews (Neh. 4:7-8).
This, again, sadly sounds very familiar to me. What are we to do when the adversaries act in such a way? Do we give up? In our key verse, we will see that Nehemiah called on the people to not be afraid but to remember the Lord and fight! Faith, genuine faith, does not give up – it does not sit still! Genuine faith continues to push ahead regardless of the adversaries!
Being Steadfast and Pushing Ahead
We would not be here today if the faith of others was a faith that gives up in the face of adversity! So, what do we do when someone laughs at us for trying to improve and be better? What do we do when we want better for our society but adversaries do nothing but create mass confusion for the purpose of stopping progress?
Steadfast in the face of adversity
We have already seen that the answer to these questions is to keep pushing forward. When the Jews were fearful of what the adversaries would think, say, or do about them setting up the altar, we saw the Jews push forward and set the altar up anyway. You see, they were being steadfast in their renewed faith in the Lord.
In the face of adversity, especially when you are trying to grow and improve, you should always be steadfast in your faith in God. Follow what the Jews did in this moment in time when they sought to rebuild and be better. When the adversaries mocked Nehemiah and the Jews for his conviction to complete the rebuild, Nehemiah and the Jews did not respond with fear – they prayed! After praying to the Lord, they then pushed forward and continued to rebuild (Neh. 4:4-6).
To stand against adversity, we must, again, move firmly and fully convicted in our faith so that we can overcome those that would stand against us. So, when you are fearful of making improvements because of what someone else may think or say, be firm in your faith, trust in God, and push ahead. When those around you may mock you for choosing to grow – let them mock while you remain prayerful and continue to push forward.
I tell you today that when you stand firm in your efforts to grow, you will indeed grow and be better – you will be blessed. Jesus, I want you to hear, said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:10).” Let your adversaries continue to do what they are going to do, but you, remain firm in your faith in God!
There are many that are pushing for progress – that is for growth and for a better place. Again, this progress has been met with a lot of adversity, but I share a word of encouragement to these peacemakers – do not be discouraged, you will be blessed in your efforts. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matt. 5:9).”
The Lord loves justice and what is right. I believe that God loves to see us fighting to improve ourselves. Not only does the Lord love to see us trying to improve ourselves but He loves to see us work to edify one another. You see, it is never a bad thing to desire to improve for the better. I truly believe that the Lord will bless us when it comes to the work of improvement – edification – and I certainly believe that now is the time for us to rebuild and be better.