Nehemiah—an Exemplary Jew
Mr. Leslie S. Rainey, the editor’s uncle, continues his perceptive and practical studies on the Jew. Mr. Rainey serves the Lord in Nairobi, Kenya, East Africa.
The man who rebuilt Jerusalem in the days of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, has become an example to Jews of the dispersion in their return and revival in the Fatherland. The book of Nehemiah is post-exilic and is a spiritual classic on the work of God and His workers. It tells how, after many frustrations, wearing months of toil and testings, the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem were rebuilt by the repatriated Jewish remnant under the good hand of God. The spiritual lessons so graphically portrayed in the book are essential if we are to build successfully in the things of God. To the nation of Israel Nehemiah was a man of a pioneer spirit who put his shoulder to the wheel and lived to see the ship of Jewish hope set sail. Until this hour he is a model in the rebirth and rebuilding of the modern State of Israel as the nation develops and defends the land and its people by means of trowel and sword.
Nehemiah and Service
The personality of Nehemiah is that of sterling integrity, intense earnestness, practical godliness, and indefatigable service in relation to his city and its citizens. He was one of the noblest patriots in Jewish history. One day while Nehemiah was in his influential position as cupbearer before Artaxerxes Longimanus and Queen Dampsia in the royal residence at Shushan, his brother and a band of loyal Jews brought him such a pitiful report concerning the condition of Jerusalem and its community in Judea that he was bowed in grief and godly concern. He learned the walls were still unbuilt, the temple and its service was neglected, Ezra was no longer governor, the people were in great affliction and reproach, the Arabs were surrounding the Holy City, Sanballat and his allies were determined to drive them into the sea, and priests and people were alike going back to heathenish ways. So exercised before God was Nehemiah that position and personal gain were forgotten and his heart and soul cried out to God for his national home and its refugees. Like Moses he wanted to be with the people of God. His zeal and patriotic spirit are exemplified in the way he listened, his desire to see for himself, and the manner in which he shunned not to act upon the providential leadings of his God. His deep feelings towards his people and their Chosen City won for him permission to return to the city of Jerusalem.
Someone has said that Nehemiah was a man of prayer, pains and perseverance. No time was lost ere he set out on the long three-month journey. After a period of inspection (2:11-16) and effective campaigning (2:17, 18), he put heart and courage into his fellow workers and they were all stirred to action. In spite of the opposition of the enemy the people were organized and the work of building up the walls began. As the virile leader of a people who knew how to work Nehemiah taught them that all should share in the rebuilding of the city of God, men and women, peasants and nobels. Their task was to build and battle, develop and defend, to work and war, by day and night, even till the stars appeared. There was no place for the idle or the shiftless; to compromise would be a crime. The work must go on in persistence and endurance, in determination and unswerving devotion toward the goal of national security and economic independence. What a lesson for the worker of God today. If we are to see revival or progress in the work of the Spirit of God there must be men with a burden like Nehemiah. There must be the recognition of the enemy’s malice and subtle machinations against the servant of God. There must be death to self and an active spiritual participation in prayer, partnership with others, and dependence on the power that God alone can supply.
Nehemiah and The Bible
Another remarkable feature about this successful servant of God was the place of the Scriptures in his day. Any type of national reform is of little value apart from the Word of God. All our problems, personal, ecclesiastical or national, come from departure from the Book of books, the Bible. In the stirring times of Nehemiah the people were summoned to hear the Law of God. Chapter 8 records the doings of a week (v.18), and what a fruitful week it was. The people asked for the Word of God and under the ministry of His servants they received it, which led to great searchings of heart and soul and to genuine revival. The Word of God is the basis of all spiritual understanding, and the people heard it clearly read and expounded to them during that memorable week. Their conviction on hearing it produced sorrow, which changed to joy as they faithfully observed its teaching. Truly in the keeping of God’s commands there is revival and great reward.
In the life of the modern Israeli the Bible is very prominent. This was strikingly illustrated in the recent annual Bible Conference and also the International Bible Quiz. Another interesting feature in the life of the Jew in Israel is the privilege of listening to the Word of God over the radio by means of scholars who make practical comments. They want to be known again as the ‘People of a Book.’
Archaelogy continues to corroborate the historical value and accuracy of the Bible. How greatly is the Land enjoyed when the Bible is believed, meditated upon, and it is recognized that out of Israel under the providence of God, the Jew has given to the world the incomparable blessing of the Messiah and the soul-thrilling message of the Bible. Oh! that in our modern age a spiritual Nehemiah would be raised up amongst the sons of Jacob, to give to them the spiritual import of the Bible instead of its mere historical and intellectual data.
Nehemiah and The Sabbath
A further picture of the life of Nehemiah is seen in his observance of the Sabbath. To Nehemiah the breach of the sabbath was a reproach and shame, and his soul was stirred with holy zeal to honour God on that day. During his time it was disregarded by both Jews and foreigners, and in both country and city (13:16, 17). It reflected the moral and spiritual trend of the nation. In true Nehemian style he was quick to act, impartial, energetic and forceful. It was no time for prayer, but action (vv. 14, 22, 29, 31). The Sabbath was to the Jew a sign of their separation to God as a sanctified people, and a token of their obedience, a test of their faithfulness. To fail in keeping the Sabbath was to fail in all else.
In living and dwelling among Jews it is easy to recognize their religious convictions by the way they spend their Sabbath. In the days of Nehemiah the Sabbath had been made the occasion of a fair and market outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Nehemiah, like many Jews now resident in Jerusalem, did not spare but in righteous zeal reasoned with the leaders of Judah (17); he shut the gates of the city and appointed guards to prevent burdens being carried (19); he threatened to lay hands on the sellers if they persisted (21); and he made the Levites cleanse and sanctify themselves that they might keep the day worthily (22).
The attitude and action of Nehemiah is reflected on the part of some in the modern State of Israel. In that part of the world the Sabbath is becoming more and more a problem. As never before the Zealots of the extreme Orthodox group are out to make all peoples conform to a rigid Sabbath. Well do we remember having our car stoned for riding on the main road just as the sun was sinking on a Friday evening ushering in another Sabbath. It is not uncommon even now to see several hundred Sabbath demonstrators on a Saturday morning swarm into the Jerusalem-Joppa road in a futile attempt to stop Sabbath traffic by forming a human barrier. Whilst the Sabbath means so much to the Jews of the dispersion and the State of Israel, how tragic that the nation even until this hour does not understand its spiritual meaning. God has given not only the Sabbath but the Lord’s Day, and how necessary it is for bodily, mental and spiritual welfare.
As we consider this choice man of God and some lessons from his book, may it be our desire as never before to live for God’s approval and the advancement of His kingdom until the Lord comes.
Marking Answers to Prayer
The Psalmist states that he loves Jehovah because He hath heard his voice and supplications. Now, this cannot be the case with us except we mark the hand of God, and except we observe that He hath heard our supplications and that He hath answered our prayers. The Psalmist had marked the hand of God, and He says, “I love Jehovah, because He hath heard my voice.”
Very few of God’s dear children are aware how much this marking of the hand of God, with regard to answers to prayer, has to do with increased love to their heavenly Father. We are so apt to leave unnoticed the hand of God, and to pass over what God has been pleased to do in answer to our prayer.
I would particularly advise all, but especially the younger believers, to use a memorandum book in which they may note down on the one side the requests which they bring before God. There are certain matters which God has laid on our hearts, and we should note them down. It would be helpful to us to write: At such-and-such a time I began to pray for such-and-such a thing; and then to continue to pray with regard to this matter. If we do so we will find that sooner or later the prayer will be answered; and then let us mark on the opposite side that it has at such a time pleased God to answer that prayer.
After some time read over the memorandum book and you will find how, again and again, it has pleased God to answer your prayers, and perhaps regarding matters about which you little expected the answer to come; and soon you will find the wondrous effect of this on your heart in increasing your love and gratitude to our heavenly Father. The more careful you are in marking what you ask and what God has given, the more distinctly you will be able to trace how, again and again, it pleased God to answer your prayers; and more, you will be drawn out to God in love and gratitude. You will find precisely as the Psalmist found it when He says: “I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications.”
We ought to love God, even though we have not answers to our prayers; but all this will greatly increase our love; and it is not only once, but, if we mark the hand of God, we shall soon find that we have scores and hundreds of answers to prayer. And thus we shall be led to love Him more and more for all He has done. And, as we mark how we have been helped, and how gracious and bountiful our Father has been, and how He takes pleasure in listening to the supplications of His children, the heart will be filled increasingly with love and gratitude to Him.
Another effect of all this on the Psalmist we find in the second verse: “Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live.” The more evidence we have of His power and of His willingness to help us, the more our hearts should be determined to call upon the Lord. The more our prayers have been answered, the more we should be stirred up with new determination to ask yet greater things. We should be encouraged to come again and again in order that He may incline His ear unto us.
Is this, my beloved friends, the case with us? Are those two points found in us, and can we say with the Psalmist: “I love Jehovah, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications”? And do our hearts say: “Because He hath inclined His ear unto me, therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live”? Verily it should be so with us if we are believers.