Guests: Brant Berglin and Dave Thomas
Relevant Verses: Nehemiah 1-2
Leading Question: Is it always clear when circumstances are bad enough to require a man of action – like Nehemiah – to bring about God’s will?
The Prayers of a Man of Action. Two aspects of Nehemiah’s inner and personal life come to light the first time we meet him in Scripture: a) His deep emotion over the dismal conditions in his home city, Jerusalem; b) His heart-felt prayer, a prayer of confession of sin and a cry for help. A closer look at both can be helpful. And all of this moaning and praying took place over a four-month period after he had gotten the report of the dismal situation in Jerusalem.
Question: If Nehemiah was such an important official in the Persian court, how was it that he allowed himself to show his emotions when “on the job”? (Neh. 1:1-4)
Question: To what extent is Nehemiah’s prayer a model for us in times of deep distress?
Comment: Several features stand out in Nehemiah’s prayer (1:4-11). First, he includes himself with the sinners among God’s people (1:6 – 7). Second, he lets the Lord know that he is fully aware of the “threatened” results of apostasy (1:8). But third, he reminds the Lord of the divine promises to restore his people (1:9-11)
The King’s Cupbearer Goes to Work. Nehemiah must have had very good relations with the king, for Artaxerxes not only granted him a leave, but also appointed him governor over the Jews in Jerusalem. Furthermore, he granted Nehemiah an armed guard and letters of introduction to Asaph, “the keeper of the king’s forest” (2:8), so that he could receive the needed materials for rebuilding the city.
Nehemiah’s approach differed markedly from that of Ezra, for Ezra said that he was “ashamed” to ask the king for protection (Ezra 8:21-23). By contrast, the fearless Nehemiah asked for everything – and got it!
Nehemiah was only on site three days before he took a night tour of the city’s perimeter and discovered just how bad the situation was. Remarkably he didn’t tell anyone of his plans. Only when he had a clear picture of the need, did he call the people together to lay out the plan.
Nehemiah 2:17-21 encapsulates the challenge and the plan. Nehemiah tersely described to the people the great need, but also noted that “the hand of my God had been gracious upon me.” He also told them of the king’s support. According to the biblical record, the reaction of the people was immediate and spontaneous. Realizing that the city walls had been in ruins since 487/486, some 140 years, they exclaimed: “Let us start building!” (Neh. 2:18)
Question: In light of the striking contrasts between Ezra and Nehemiah, could one perhaps speak of “salvation by temperament”? And given his firm approach to the people, one thinks of a quote from Goethe: “The man of action is always ruthless. No one has a conscience but an observer.”
Question: How does Nehemiah’s approach to issues and conflicts compare to that of Jesus?
Contrasting Ellen White quotes on the work of Ezra and Nehemiah. The work of Ezra and Nehemiah provide a good opportunity to show how the text of Scripture offers an author (e.g. Ellen White) the opportunity to illustrate opposite (but both positive) Christian virtues:
Dependence on God, Ezra does not ask for help
In this matter, Ezra and his companions saw an opportunity to magnify the name of God before the heathen. Faith in the power of the living God would be strengthened if the Israelites themselves should now reveal implicit faith in their divine Leader. They therefore determined to put their trust wholly in Him. They would ask for no guard of soldiers. They would give the heathen no occasion to ascribe to the strength of man the glory that belongs to God alone. They could not afford to arouse in the minds of their heathen friends one doubt as to the sincerity of their dependence on [615/616] God as His people. Strength would be gained, not through wealth, not through the power and influence of idolatrous men, but through the favor of God. Only by keeping the law of the Lord before them, and striving to obey it, would they be protected. – PK 615.2
Dependence on God, Nehemiah asks for help
His request to the king had been so favorably received that Nehemiah was encouraged to ask for still further assistance. To give dignity and authority to his mission, as well as to provide protection on the journey, he asked for and secured a military escort. He obtained royal letters to the governors of the provinces beyond the Euphrates, the territory through which he must pass on his way to Judea; and he obtained, also, a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest in the mountains of Lebanon, directing him to furnish such timber as would be needed. That there might be no occasion for complaint that he had exceeded his commission, Nehemiah was careful to have the authority and privileges accorded him, clearly defined. – PK 633.2
Question: Are critics of Scripture (and of Ellen White) too quick to condemn practices that are quite normal in the practice of devotional writers?