“And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. Therefore the king said to me, ‘Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.’
So I became dreadfully afraid, and said to the king,’ May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’"
The entire book of Nehemiah, that is, the true story of one man, is both wonderful and terrible. Encouraging and discouraging. Look at it again and you will read of some experiences he had that will either move you to tears or cause you to rejoice. In its pages you will see the conflict between good and evil, the place where light intercepts darkness and banishes it from the kingdom. Darkness can never overpower light, it can only take back those things the light no longer shines on, but the choice to no longer illuminate belongs to the light, never the darkness.
I encourage you to read it again, but for now, I want to bring your attention to these few verses written for us in the second chapter, where we’ll be looking at the first three verses.
Jerusalem, the city of the great king, had been overrun by the army of one man and not because that man had the power and the military might to take it. On the contrary, he had been allowed by the Great King to do just as he had done in taking Jerusalem. Darkness can never overpower the light, the Light had simply not shone upon Jerusalem and darkness took its place, but the choice was that of the Light.
Jerusalem, an entire city that had been built for one reason and only one reason, although there are other things taking place behind her walls, they are secondary to the reason for the city’s existence. Jerusalem was built so that men might worship their God and that they might do it freely, knowing that the walls would keep their enemies away.
Picture this with me and consider that this whole city had one reason for being on earth and that all activity inside those walls was centered around and on that one reason. Family time, commerce; be it in the marketplace or in the fields, schooling, marriage, and so on, it all had to do with the temple. Not because of the magnificence of the building, but because of Him who dwelled there. Jerusalem was made for worship.
It was a church and by that I mean to say that here in Jerusalem were thousands of people who were “chosen” and “called” and living separated from the world, they were “sanctified.” In every conceivable form and fashion, we have in Jerusalem a picture of the church as it is meant to be.
But here in our story, that isn’t the case. Jerusalem had been destroyed, not completely, but enough so that it’s mission is, to say the least, hindered. But, as with all of God’s dealings with man, there is a remnant. There are still a few people there. Worship has ceased, the Light has withdrawn and darkness has been allowed to flow into those places; the people were, as we see in chapter one, “distressed and in reproach.”
Before there was life, His life, and from that there was grace, peace and joy. We can know that there was grace there and we can know this by reading Nehemiah’s prayer concerning Jerusalem in chapter one of the book that bears his name.
“…and I will gather them” written for us in Nehemiah 1 and spoken again in Luke 13:34, where we hear Jesus saying;
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing.”
Notice in the Spirit breathed account of Nehemiah’s prayer especially those words written in verse 10, we read:
“Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your great power, and by Your strong hand.”
Let’s magnify these words and in so doing “magnify the Lord.” Look at them again and allow each one to parade slowly across your minds eye. I’ll paraphrase;
“Now, (today, right this very minute) these are (not “will be” or “should be”) Your servants and Your people (they are His present possession, they belong to Him in spite of their sin), whom You have redeemed (not “might redeem”, not “couldn’t redeem because of their sin, they are redeemed) by Your great power and Your strong hand.”
Remembering that He is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) and as we all know, His (strong) hand was fastened to a tree to redeem us, if you will hear it, these words of Nehemiah will cause you to worship Him.
We err if and when we believe, as we were told that “they” (Israel) lived in the, as we call it, the Dispensation of Law while we live in the Dispensation of Grace. In order to continue to believe this we have to also affirm that God is a respecter of persons and that we enjoy some freedoms of Grace that Israel did not know. Without belaboring this point, though volumes could be written about it, let me only say this; the law was borne by grace. He could have left this planet and never said a word, but being “full of grace and truth” He gave the law. The law was given to bring us to Christ, who is the personification of grace.
Here in Nehemiah’s prayer we can hear His heart from behind the veil in those words “Yet, I will gather them from there” and only grace can do that.
To continue, notice that the city lies in waste and specifically “its gates are burned with fire.” There was nothing to slow the advance of the enemy; those that opposed God and His people had easy access to the place of worship, the city of the Great King and they spoiled the city and took the people as slaves.
Unfortunately, we have an awful tendency to eulogize or idolize men like Nehemiah when we see the tenderness and tears of this man. We’ll do well to realize that although he is weeping, (and so intense are the feelings he’s having that he risks his very life to do it in front of the king, which, under their law would bring a quick execution,) courageous, but still just a man.
Nehemiah is just like you and me. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” and Nehemiah is no exception. Left to himself, being born in sin and prone to sin, he would have thought only of himself and likely rejoiced that he didn’t live in a burned out, broken down city. But, here we see a man weeping because of all this.
Just as we see one Man weeping over Jerusalem yet again, but this Son of Man isn’t weeping for Himself, He is weeping beneath the weight of sorrow because His creation is suffering; they are completely blind to the affects of their own sin.
Nehemiah was expressing, not his own heart, but the heart of the Savior. His own heart is just like ours. Apart from Him, Jesus, we would still be the self centered “I’m the captain of my ship” men that we’ve always been.
“The gates are burned with fire” is, to say the least, thought provoking. One thought I’d like to bring up for your consideration is the use of the word “fire.” Fire, by its nature does one thing and only one thing, it devours. Man has had to learn to harness its destructive nature in numerous ways. The same flame that lights a burning building can also illuminate a room when it sits on a candle. The same flame that can kill a person can also be used to prepare a meal for the man.
The use of fire depends on the one who commands it. One man, an arsonist, can light a house on fire or that same man can light a fire in the fireplace of his home to warm his family. The benefits of fire are determined by the heart of each man. One benefits from the insurance check and the other benefits when his hands are redeemed from the cold and his family is blessed.
But, here we have “fire” started by an enemy. They had set fire to the gates. They couldn’t, of course, set fire to the walls. They could only find the place that would be fuel for them and that was the wooden gates.
In the scriptures, “fire” is symbolic of many things. Again, its use depends on the heart of the one who commands it. Fire speaks of wrath, illumination or purification, to name just a few.
There was a time when all men were under God’s wrath and justice, (because of His holiness,) had ordered our execution. The “fire” of His wrath was on our shoulders and we lived in fear of Him, and not in a good way.
But, we know that He “poured out His wrath on His Son” that is, that the death we undeniably deserved, He took upon Himself on the wooden cross of Calvary.
So what does this have to do with me? What does this have to do with us today? More than we realize, I’m sure, but I can at least share with you some of the thoughts I’ve been having on the subject?
The enemy of God and of man has been granted access to the place of worship. The god of this world has been using men to exert his will by doing what he’s always done and that is to find that one place he can enter (a gate) and that will always be when he can use God’s own words and motives against us. Eve can tell you more about this and her experience with this tactic is recorded for us in Genesis.
The gates are on fire. The one who hung on the “wooden gates” of Calvary is represented as someone other than who He truly is and it is this point of entry, this misunderstanding God’s word that allows the enemy easy access to so many of our churches. So much so that the emphasis of many churches is on the creature, rather than the Creator and rather than worship Him, we are worshipping “self.”
The enemy will use this to his advantage.
So, my question is where is Nehemiah? Where are those men who share the heart of the Savior and weep for their brothers and sisters who no longer exalt the God of Heaven and earth, but instead have been taken captive by teachings that minimize grace and maximize “self effort?”
Where are the men who see the state of “Jerusalem” for what it is and long to return and rebuild? Men who can no longer abide beneath the oppressing weight of a perversion of grace that doesn’t “free men to worship” but instead, it enslaves them.
Where are the men who are not content to stay on the job, as Nehemiah could have as cupbearer to the king, but instead have the heart to leave it all behind and deliberately walk into a burning city, overrun by adversity and in spite of all odds have a heart that will not rest until the people are worshipping again?
Where is Nehemiah?
Where are the men who will say that: Even though we’ve had our days of “wandering around the mountain”, just as Israel did and they did it in fear of God there came that day, the Daystar, when we were called to “come up here” and by the grace of the God we feared, we went up the mountain of Calvary and there beheld the wrath of God, which we deserved, being poured out on Him, and now realize that He is to be feared, but in a way that sets men free?
Where are the brothers who will say; that although we’ve had our days when the fire would have fallen justly upon our sin laden souls, it now comes, not as wrath, but for purification and revelation, just as the three Hebrew men learned that He, the Son of Man, is seen when we are in the fire?
Tobiah, one of Nehemiah’s fiercest antagonists was also a Jew; one of God’s chosen people. Just as there are in our day those men who will do as Tobiah did and be “deeply disturbed that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel.”
Nehemiah's God hasn't changed, He is still the same God - we have changed. There are no Nehemiah's anymore. But you already knew that.... This is another very well-penned article that makes one think, pray and worship the God whose eyes search the earth to and fro for just one more Nehemiah....Sad, isn't it?