*Yesterday we looked at the Book of Ezra. I said that originally Ezra and Nehemiah were one book. They were later separated by editors. Ezra/Nehemiah look at the exiles upon returning to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon. Ezra was concerned with the restoration of Mosaic law. Nehemiah is going to be primarily focused on rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.
"'Then I said to them, 'You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace...They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work." (Nehemiah 2:17,18b)
Nehemiah was an official at the court of Artaxerxes I. He traveled to Jerusalem around 445BCE to be the governor of Judea. He was credited for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. His efforts met opposition from the very beginning as leaders of the Samaritans and Ammonites opposed him and ridiculed him. The walls were built thanks to an organized system of designated laborers. For instance; "Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate." (Neh. 3:1)
Nehemiah and the people worked despite ridicule from the outside world. The wall was complete with a total of ten gates. In chapter three we are told who built what gate, along with a few details about the gate. We are told that there is a Sheep Gate, a Fish Gate, An Old Gate, a Valley Gate, a Dung Gate, the Fountain gate, Inspection Gate, Horse Gate, Water Gate, and the East Gate. There is a message hidden within these gates for sure.
When I was in Israel I was very interested in these gates. The East Gate is massive. It faces the Mount of Olives. It, of course, faces the East from where our Lord is to return. The wall still surrounds the old city in Jerusalem. If you ever get the chance to take that trip I would highly encourage you to do so. You will never forget it.
"Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their Jewish brothers. Some were saying, 'We and our sons and daughters are numerous; in order for us to eat and stay alive we must get grain.' Others were saying, 'We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.' Still others were saying, 'We have had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and vineyards.'" (Neh. 5:1-4)
The threat from without is now followed by a threat from within. I have discovered that it is usually the threat from within that is perhaps the most threatening. There has apparently been a shortage of food and some folks are struggling. This has led to large scale debt slavery in which folks are having to pledge their children in order to borrow money. The wall may be built, they may be safe again (really?), but they are starving. There has to be some irony in all this. Perhaps there was the thought; "If we can just rebuild that wall, then all our troubles will be over." Perhaps you have heard or said, "If only I had this, then I would live happily ever after." Well, they discovered that the wall did not solve the problems within the wall. Nehemiah addressed this issue and all is well again.
"When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses...He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square...All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen! Amen!' Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground." (Neh. 8:1,3,6)
I don't know what I find most amazing; the fact that the people stayed all morning to listen, or the fact they shouted "Amen!" This is the only place where the word "pulpit" is found in the entire Bible. And that is only in the King James Version. It is also in this passage where we find that as soon as Ezra opened the scroll to read from it (no, he didn't have a Bible to read from) the people stood up. (verse five) In the United Methodist Church (many churches in the UMC) we stand for the reading of the Gospel. I feel this is very important.
Ezra offered a prayer to God recalling all that God had done for the people and the history of the people. Then the people pledge to keep, not only the pentateuchal law (first five books), but interpretations that will amount to new laws. (Yes, there will be thousands of them)
Jerusalem has been resettled, and is now secure with its new wall. New reforms are instituted regarding foreigners, priests, and the Sabbath. Nehemiah even forbade mixed marriages, just as Ezra. Nehemiah, however, really meant business: (Read Neh. 13:23-27)
All is well in the city again. Now, tomorrow (hopefully I'll be able to post) we will look at the very interesting Book called Esther. Yes, there is a book in the Bible titled Esther. Now, it will be much different than any book we have read. From there we will look at the Book of Job, some of the Psalms, the Proverbs and so much more. Hey, the good stuff is yet to come. But, for now let's review. Here's what you need to remember. The people of Israel (North) and the people of Judah (South) were taken into exile (Assyria [Israel]) and (Babylon [Judah]). Many of the people have returned to their homes. Remember, the Bible was not written in chronological order. (Sometimes making it hard to follow) The books that remain in the Old Testament (for the most part) deal with the days just before exile, during exile, or immediately after exile. Keep in mind, also, that the men have been ordered to divorce their foreign wives, sending them away with any children born to these wives. Again, join me tomorrow for the Book of Esther. You will not want to miss it. Have a great day! -Pastor Rick