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The Nehemiah Mandate

The Nehemiah Mandate – By Caleb Camp

 

 I don’t know about you, but I’ve experienced a lot of brokenness in my life.  Much of that brokenness occurred before I became a follower of Jesus… but, if I’m honest, not all of it.

All of it, however, was the result of compromise.  Whether that compromise was the result of somebody else’s bad decisions, or my own.  The problem with compromise, is that unless you address it and correct it, it will continue to produce bad fruit in your life, and could eventually even lead to your destruction.

Just think about a dam for a moment.  If a crack appears in a dam, and water is pouring through it, it has been compromised.  Now, that compromise hasn’t completely destroyed the dam, but if left unattended, it will grow bigger and bigger, until the dam and everything underneath it is destroyed.  This is a great picture of how compromise impacts us.

I would venture to say, that all sin cycles that we humans struggle with, have their root in compromise.  One thing I know for sure, is that if you don’t deal with it, you will continue to make decisions in your life that will leave you compromised, and most likely will also compromise somebody else.

This is not what we’re called to as followers of Jesus, nor as His church.  But, when I look around at the western church today, I see so much compromise.  People are choosing self and things of the flesh, rather than choosing the to deny themselves and take up their cross.  People are changing the meaning of scripture to accommodate new cultural norms that go against God’s word.  People, instead of dealing with the compromise head on, either blame others for the problem, or use worldly systems to try to overcome them….like politics.

I believe, the story of Nehemiah has some great lessons for us about recognizing compromise and dealing with it, and that is what I want to share with you today.  In fact, I think there is a mandate from God to follow the pattern of Nehemiah.  This is God’s call to His people, to deal with our junk and get His house in order.

So, let’s pick up the story in Nehemiah 1:1-3 NLT – “In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was at the fortress of Susa. 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”

Alright, let’s get a little background (From David Guzik’s commentary on Nehemiah 1-2):  The Book of Nehemiah in the Bible takes place roughly 1000 years after Moses and 400 years before Jesus.  Israel had been destroyed by the Babylonians and 2-3 million Jewish people had been exiled.  About 70 years after the exile, if they wanted to, the Jews were allowed to move back.  Only about 50,000 did.

In the book of Ezra, we know that The Temple was rebuilt and a spiritual foundation had been re-laid.  They had tried several times to rebuild the walls, but had been prevented by their enemies and were unsuccessful.  The story of Nehemiah takes place 15 years after Ezra, which was 100 years after the first captives returned to Israel and 150 years after the walls had been destroyed.

They are in great trouble and disgrace – “The bad state of the people and the bad state of the city walls were connected. A city without walls was a city completely open and vulnerable to its enemies. An unwalled city was always a backwater town, with nothing valuable in it. The temple could never be made beautiful, because anything valuable would be taken easily.” – David Guzik

So nearly 150 years earlier, the walls came down.  Nehemiah is hearing that they are still down, this is news to him.  They didn’t have the internet…news traveled slowly!  So how did he respond?  Let’s pick it up in verse 4

Nehemiah 1:4 NLT – “4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.

The news was a huge blow to him.  He had to sit down, and then he mourned, fasted and prayed for days.  Let’s keep reading in verse 5:

Nehemiah 1:5-11 NLT – “5 Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses. 8 “Please remember what you told your servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.’ 10 “The people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”

He starts by asks for God to forgive his people, because they had sinned against God.  He also asked God to forgive his family, and himself.  Think about this for a minute…the walls had been down for 150 years, not by his doing or his sin.  But instead of pointing the finger at the Babylonians, or God himself, or political climates or politicians, he humbles himself and takes responsibility.

He prayed, and he confessed!  This reminds me of 2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT – “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.”

The promise of 2 Chronicles is that if “My people”….that means the people of God…turn from their wickedness.  The way I see this prayed out most of the time as that we pray for the forgiveness of others who’ve turned our country, our schools, our churches, etc. etc. into something they shouldn’t be.  But we are supposed to start here (finger pointing at my chest)!  And this is what Nehemiah did!  Why?  Because he was broken.

Now here I want to point out two kinds of brokenness: 1) brokenness because of sin…meaning we or somebody else sinned and the result was trauma, pain and brokenness. 2) brokenness over sin…meaning the realization of the far-reaching impact of sin, which is usually followed by confession and repentance.

Here’s the thing, we can’t really deal with compromise until we have allowed it to break us…if it just annoys us, that won’t be enough motivation to address it…we have to be broken.

Then Nehemiah finishes chapter 1 with a some information: “In those days I was the king’s cup-bearer.”

Now on to Nehemiah 2:1-5 NLT – “Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan, during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” Then I was terrified, 3 but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.” 4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”  With a prayer to the God of heaven, 5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”

Kislev to Nisan meant four months of prayer, fasting and brokenness before he finally makes a request from the King…but it was risky.  It was forbidden to be sad in the presence of the King, but with prayer and wisdom from God, Nehemiah boldly made a request from the king…let me go take care of my hometown.

He requested time off, safe passage, and resources from the King, and found the favor he had earnestly prayed for.  But notice, Nehemiah decides to be the solution to a compromise he didn’t cause.  It was time to quit letting it slide, and get something done.

Let’s summarize the rest of the story and see what happened!

Nehemiah arrives in Jerusalem and quietly takes inventory.  He goes out in the middle of the night and surveys the damage to get a full understanding of how big the compromise was…how much destruction had been allowed.

Once he knows what needs to be done, he approaches the city officials and lays out his solution to the compromise, and they say, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”

Everybody gets involved in this massive rebuild project and things are moving quickly…but just like always, the enemy is never happy when the people of God start to get their house in order.  Sanballat and Tobiah weren’t happy, and the fiery darts start flying.

Nehemiah 4:2-3 NLT – ““What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”

These are some of the enemy’s best tools against those who are trying to deal with compromise.  Ridicule and doubt casting! “You really think you can do this? It’s too much trouble and when you’re done it won’t be any good any way…it’s not worth it!”

Have you ever heard that voice being cast at you when you were trying to do the right thing?  When you were trying to defeat sin in your life and shore up the walls?  He uses the same tactic every time!

Nehemiah pushes through though and before long, Nehemiah 4:6 NLT – “6 At last the wall was completed to half its height around the entire city, for the people had worked with enthusiasm.”

So, Sanballat, Tobiah and several others decide they are going to attack and physically stop the progress!

But Nehemiah devised a plan! Nehemiah 4:16-18, 23 NLT – “16 But from then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. 18 All the builders had a sword belted to their side.” “23 During this time, none of us—not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me—ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.”

I want you to picture this!  They continued the work, with half of the workers working with only one hand…one hand on the work, and one hand on their weapon, while another worker stood behind them to protect them.  This is tedious work…not easy with two hands, let alone with one.  And they didn’t stop working to bathe and change clothes either!

My friends, the work of dealing with compromise is never going to be easy.  It may bloody our knuckles and leave us dirty and stinky in the process…but oh is it worth it!  It is also never meant to be done alone.  We need people standing by us, standing guard for us while we shore up the wall!  No matter how hard, or how large the obstacle appears, we must press on toward the goal!

Their enemy didn’t forget, and tried a new approach…one that we’re familiar with too…distraction and deception!

Nehemiah 6:1-4 NLT – “Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. 2 So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, 3 so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” 4 Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.”

Wow!  Isn’t it crazy how uncreative the enemy is?  He’s still doing this kind of thing.  “Hey, stop what you’re doing, come over here and do this instead.”

If the enemy can distract us from what’s right, he can destroy us!  But look at Nehemiah’s response…I love it!  “I’m engaged in a great work.”  In other words, “I’m doing the Lord’s work here, I’m engaged in something great!” He’s referring to dealing with compromise!

So, the enemy keeps at it and they start making up stories about the Jews, and specifically Nehemiah himself…telling falsehoods.  And again, I love his response in verse 8:

Nehemiah 6:8 NLT – “I replied, “There is no truth in any part of your story. You are making up the whole thing.”

Again, age old tactics.  If the enemy can’t get us to believe his lies, he’ll try to get others to believe lies about us!  Let me tell you, I have seen this with my own eyes and it’s not fun!  It’s difficult, but still, not very creative.

As the enemy begins to stir up the lies, they pay Nehemiah’s friend to set him up, verse Nehemiah 6:10 NLT – “Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut. Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.”

Oh look, another common weapon of the enemy…fear! But Nehemiah knew his identity and he knew his authority:

Nehemiah 6:11-13 NLT – “11 But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger? Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life? No, I won’t do it!” 12 I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin. Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me.”

What a response! Brothers and sisters, do you know the position you’re in?  Do you know that you are seated in the heavenlies with Jesus?  Do you know that Jesus has given you authority? Then why should we hide?  Why should we cower away from dealing with things?  Why should people of our position run from danger?

Here’s the result, Nehemiah 6:15 NLT – “So on October 2 the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun.”

This is huge!  150 years of compromise and ruin, restored in 52 days!  This better excite you!  Sometimes we see the sin, we see the problem, we see the compromise and we think, “I’ve messed up too much…it will take too long to fix this…it’s not worth it.”  That is exactly the perspective the enemy of our soul wants us to take!  But God’s perspective is:

Matthew 19:26 NLT – “26 “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”

150 years is 54,750 days…that’s how long the walls were down.  With God, Nehemiah orchestrated their restoration in 52 days!!!  That’s .09% of the time they were down.  It’s never too late for restoration!

And what happens when we engage is this great work…the work of dealing with our sin, our issues, or compromises?  Back to Nehemiah 6:16 NLT – “16 When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized this work had been done with the help of our God.”

All the enemy’s tactics backfired and they themselves became frightened and humiliated!  And the house of the Lord was restored!

 

Nehemiah 9:1-2 NLT – “On October 31 the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors.”

I tell you what…when a leader takes responsibility for their own junk, and leads by example, the outcome is amazing!

So, to close up, let’s bring it in…right here now (again pointing my finger at my chest).  Paul says, that we are the Temple!  In fact, he says it two ways.  In 1 Corinthians 3:16 he says that we, meaning the collective members of the body of Christ, are the temple.  And then in 1 Corinthians 6:19, he says that individually our bodies are the temple.

Let me ask you a question… Are there any places around the temple, where compromise has torn down the walls?

It could be compromise created by somebody else’s choices…did somebody do something that caused you trauma or great harm and you’ve been struggling with it ever since?

Maybe you made some poor choices yourself, and the enemy has been taunting you, lying to you and keeping you distracted so that you can’t deal with the compromise.

Maybe you see compromise in the big C church.

What can we do?

  1. Ask God to break us! Until we’re broken we won’t take it serious enough to deal with it!
  2. Fast and Pray
  3. Repent! For ourselves and our generations.
  4. Count the cost and make a plan
  5. Recruit some help
  6. And get busy!

Today’s the day…don’t let the walls remain crumbled any longer.  It’s time to start the rebuilding process.  I know it looks hard, and it will be!  “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”