Nehemiah and Authentic Fellowship–Part 1: the Dilemma

Rebuilding Walls, Filling Gaps, and Rejecting Distractions Part 1:  Dilemma (Nehemiah 1:1-2:10)  

When people speak of Nehemiah, they often think of him rebuilding a wall and persevering through distractions.  Over the next several weeks, I will comment on what occurs before, during, and after the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem and how these lessons parallel our Christian experiences.
More specifically, I’ll discuss how dilemma, diligence, defense, disdain, determination, delegation, dissension, deduction, deception, discernment, and deliverance speak to how we view and respond to challenges within our church and community.
First, the dilemma.  The background text about Nehemiah is best summarized in the following verses and truly helps us grasp the magnitude of his moral, spiritual, and physical dilemmas.
  • Nehemiah 1:1-4 informs us that he is a cupbearer for Artaxerxes, King of Persia, and learns that the post-exile Jews were discouraged and distressed.  Most alarmingly, Nehemiah learns that the Jerusalem wall wasn’t rebuilt after it’s destruction.
  • Nehemiah 1:5-11 describes how he 1) weeps and prays for his and his generation’s forgiveness and 2) reminds God of his covenant and mercy for those who obey Him.
  • Nehemiah 2:1-6 records how he asks King Artaxerxes permission to travel to Judah to oversee rebuilding the city.
  • Nehemiah 2:7-9 tells us about his request for King Artaxerxes to write letters ensuring safe passage to Judah.  Several of Artaxerxes’ captains and horsemen accompany Nehemiah.
  • Nehemiah 2:10 includes the first mention of Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official’s admission they were “deeply disturbed [feeling] that a man had come to seek the well-being of the children of Israel” (NASB).
  • Nehemiah 2:11-18 describes how Nehemiah and a few men’s reconnaissance to Jerusalem where he tells them of plans to rebuild the wall.
  • Nehemiah 2:19-20 concludes with Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab mocking Nehemiah. Collectively, they sow seeds of conspiracy: “What is this thing that you are doing? Will you rebel against the king?” (Nehemiah 2:19 NASB).  
Why do these verses matter?  What’s the extent of Nehemiah’s dilemmas?
First, Nehemiah has a moral dilemma recorded in Nehemiah 1:1-4.  Although Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem after their Babylonian captivity, they hadn’t repaired the wall.  This posed an enormous dilemma for Nehemiah because it jeopardized this people’s security. Richards comments: “ Cities in the ancient world were walled for protection. The walls were also symbols: Unwalled cities merited contempt. Walled cities were seen as significant. Nehemiah could not stand the thought that the city of God should not have walls, and committed himself to rebuild them.” 1
We can imagine Nehemiah’s frustration and conviction about his safety and comfort as King Artaxerxes’ cupbearer while his fellow Jews faced unmeasurable fear and uncertainty.  Their susceptibility to violence and inability to properly defend themselves were a clear and present danger. As believers, we also face moral dilemmas about the personal comforts we experience compared to the compromised experiences of those we hold dear.  Personal comforts and job security are important but we should also help meet other’s needs.
Next, Nehemiah 1:5-11 describe his spiritual dilemma.  He feels a tremendous burden since the physical protection of walls correlate to God’s spiritual protection of former Jewish exiles. I can imagine Nehemiah’s struggle. After all, how can God’s prophet ignore a clarion call for spiritual restoration?  This passion to restore broken or neglected fellowship between our peers and God should be a consistent desire for all of us. Inspired by 1 John 3:17, my former Pastor, Elder George Williamson, often says “If you see a need, God has equipped you to meet it.”
Finally, Nehemiah faces a physical dilemma described in Nehemiah 2:1-20. God truly helps Nehemiah understand the unintended consequences of jeopardizing travelers’ well-being.  Consequently, Nehemiah’s keenly aware of military-minded kings who encourage armies to capture and plunder unsuspecting victims traveling through their province.  We see the profound impact of Artaxerxes writing letters of support for Nehemiah in Nehemiah 2:8. It reminds us that our success ultimately depends on God and not our own ingenuity.
1   Richards, Larry, and Lawrence O. Richards. The Teacher’s Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987. Print.

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