Summer is over for sure, and many of our kids are back to school. We’re back to reading through books of the Bible. I’m taking a plunge into an Old Testament book, something that makes me nervous. For some strange reason, I find New Testament books so much easier to figure out.
So, this is the beginning of reading through Nehemiah!
LSA has come through a tumultuous two years, and is still trying to cope with the pandemic and all its restrictions and fears. It hasn’t been easy and we still wonder what the future holds for our church. Our new lead pastor, Brian McGuffin begins this week. I can’t imagine what it’s like coming to a new city and church in the Covid-19 era. How does he meet the congregation? How does he remember who each one is since we are all wearing masks? Finding a new house also isn’t easy during pandemic times. Pray for Brian and his family as they make this huge transition from Manitoba to Windsor.
Nehemiah also faced a difficult time. We’re going to take a quick look at the history behind this book to see the issues Nehemiah faced. I’m using information I’ve gained from reading Charles Swindoll’s book, Hand Me Another Brick. I think we can learn a lot about how to face 2020 and 2021 ourselves from looking at the Book of Nehemiah.
Jewish history begins with Abraham about 2000 years BC. The country of Israel became well known under kings Saul, David and Solomon about 1000 years later. However, when Solomon died, Israel split apart in a civil war; the northern tribes were called Israel and the south was known as Judah. This was an extremely chaotic time, and then in 722 BC, the Assyrians invaded. The northern kingdom ceased to exist, and some of the people fled south.
Judah existed for about 300 years, but in 586 BC, Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar invaded and took the people captive.
“The king took home to Babylon all the articles, large and small, used in the Temple of God, and the treasures from both the Lord’s Temple and from the palace of the king and his officials. 19 Then his army burned the Temple of God, tore down the walls of Jerusalem, burned all the palaces, and completely destroyed everything of value. 20 The few who survived were taken as exiles to Babylon, and they became servants to the king and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power.” (2 Chronicles 36:18-20 NLT)
Under Nebuchadnezzar and his sons, the Israelites lived as they had before in Egypt as slaves. Then a new rising power took over and defeated Babylon – the Medes and Persia. King Cyrus of Persia decided that the Jews should be allowed to return to Israel.
The first group went back under the leadership of Zerubbabel as their commanding officer. About 80 years later, the second group went back under Ezra as their commander-in-chief. Cyrus died and King Artaxerxes took over. Nehemiah led the third group back 13 years after Ezra. Remember this is a country that had been destroyed by Babylon. They had to rebuild houses and get an economy going again. Ezra’s group rebuilt the temple and we read about that in the Book of Ezra that comes right before the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. But the city of Jerusalem is still in a mess and the walls of the city are non-existent – just piles of rubble – so there is no security or safety in that city.
So, who is Nehemiah? He is the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. That gave him a close connection to the king. He was trusted to taste the wine and any food that the king was served to make sure the king was safe from any attempts to poison him. That would mean that any time the king or his family were eating, Nehemiah was present. But, one day, Nehemiah was struck by some information that threw him for a loop. Some friends of his had returned from Israel and in their conversation, Nehemiah asked them how things were going in Jerusalem.
“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.”
4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 1: 1 – 4 NLT)
Have you ever been struck by a situation that needs fixing? Perhaps in looking after your home, you have left something until one day, you realize, ‘I have to do something about this right now’. Or perhaps you’ve sensed a relationship you have seems to be slipping away, and then something happens that makes you figure out you need to confront the situation and see if it can be fixed. You can’t let it slide any longer, or it may end. Or you’ve heard your kids complaining about something at school, and then one day you realize you should likely get in touch with the teacher to find out what is really going on.
At LSA we have spent time healing from the division in our congregation two years ago. Anger and bitterness began to die down. New people were coming to the church. Hope for the future resurrected. Then Covid hit! The Search Team had been looking for a new lead pastor for close to a year, and was in contact with Brian early in 2020, but how do you interview and get to know a possible new pastor when the country is locked down? We haven’t met as a congregation since the middle of March.
It reminds me a little of Nehemiah’s situation. Israel was in captivity and hope seemed lost. Then King Cyrus said they could go back and resurrect the country of Israel. People were trying to do that, but things were still a mess in Jerusalem. It wasn’t all bad – the temple had been rebuilt. Then God laid on Nehemiah’s heart the situation in Jerusalem. Nehemiah had a good job in King Artaxerxes’ court. He could have just stayed there and enjoyed life. But that day when his friends were telling him about Jerusalem, he suddenly realized he needed to get involved. God does that! We can be sailing along through life, when God plants an idea in our minds. We need to listen.
Right now, LSA is at the edge of a new beginning. Our new lead pastor is arriving. We are cautiously and carefully emerging from severe Covid-19 restrictions. Like Nehemiah did, start praying and thinking about how God wants you to step up and help get LSA going again. There are so many ways you can volunteer in a church. It doesn’t even have to actually be in the building.
Pray! What does God want you to do? Pray!
Our song for today is Take My Life and Let It Be, sung by Chris Tomlin. It was originally written by Frances Havergal in 1874.