words :: books :: ideas

Friday, August 08, 2008

Not the Shortest Man in the Bible

Nope. That was Peter, who slept on his watch. Nor am I referring to Bildad the “Shoe-height.” I’m talking about “Knee-high-emiah” [thanks, Adventures in Odyssey]. Enough with the corny jokes . . .

In the past months, I have become an admirer of Nehemiah. He exemplifies many commendable character traits.

The first aspect of Nehemiah that I notice is his passionate concern. When he hears about the state of Jerusalem’s walls, he immediately weeps, mourns, fasts, and prays for days (1:4). At the end of the book, his passion is again demonstrated. With zeal, he rebukes the Jews for their sin. “I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God . . .” (13:25).

When Nehemiah sees a problem, he does not passively say, “Someone should fix that,” hoping for the best; Nehemiah recognizes a change needs to happen and whole-heartedly seeks to bring about that change. He takes the initiative and leads his people in diligently repairing their city.

Though he could use his proactive leadership as an avenue to gain honor, Nehemiah displays great humility, especially in chapter four. The Jews’ enemies plot to attack Jerusalem as the construction goes on. Nehemiah, however, stations armed guards in the weak places in the wall. In verse 14, he exhorts the people not to be afraid, but to “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.” When the Israelites’ enemies give up their scheme, Nehemiah does not credit his own planning, or even the people who were guarding the work. Instead, he writes, “God had frustrated their plan” (4:15). Although prepared for anything, Nehemiah does not put his trust in the sword; rather, he puts his trust in the Lord. “Our God,” he exclaims, “will fight for us” (4:20).

Continually, he gives the glory to God rather than claim it for himself. This attitude of personal humility points others to recognize God’s mighty deeds. When the wall is completed in a mere 52 days, all the nations around are humbled and realize that “this work has been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16).

In addition to being humble, Nehemiah behaves righteously. Intending to harm him, the wicked Sanballat and Geshem urge Nehemiah to come to them. [At first, I did not see anything wrong with Nehemiah meeting with these enemies—other than his comprehension that they want to hurt him. Upon consideration, however, I think this may be an instance like that described in James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”] Nehemiah replies through messengers, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” (6:3). His enemies insist four times he to come to them, but on each occasion, he refuses. A fifth time they send Nehemiah an open letter filled with slander. They falsely claim he is planning a rebellion and tell him to take counsel with them. Wisely, Nehemiah refutes their assertion through a messenger and perseveres in his great work.

Shortly thereafter, a prophet attempts to scare him into sin by stating it will save Nehemiah’s life. When encouraged to transgress, he says, “No!” God gives Nehemiah special insight enabling him to later write, “I understood and saw that God had not sent him [the prophet who wanted Nehemiah to commit iniquity], but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (6:12).

The greatest characteristic of Nehemiah I admire is his prayer life. Because there is much I want to say regarding his prayers, however, I will leave that for a separate post.

Read Part 2

No comments: