Nehemiah and Authentic Fellowship–Part 3a: Defense

Part 3a:  Defense   Nehemiah 3:1-32
 
In last week’s blog, I addressed the first two principles of authentic fellowship and how we should rely on God for protection from the evils of the world system. Today, I’ll discuss the last two principles of knowing the oppositions of people and knowing the assignments of people.  
 
Although the overwhelming majority of Nehemiah 3 includes a detailed list of those who faithfully joined the prophet in rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, Nehemiah 3:5 contains a noticeable exception which emphasizes the importance of knowing the oppositions of people.  The latter part of the verse says:  “but their nobles did not support the work of their masters” (NASB).  In context, “their” refers to a segment of the Tekoite population. For whatever reason, Tekoite nobles, unlike their masters, refused to help Nehemiah do God’s work.
 
Both the position of the verse and numerous translations help underscore the subversive but predictable nature of the nobles.  First, notice how this record of rebellion is almost hidden without a careful reading of the remaining 31 verses of Nehemiah 3.  In a similar way, church leaders should consistently pray for discernment to identify and address members’ subtle and subversive opposition to vision of the church (Matthew 28:16-20).  Here, however, we must distinguish between members’ legitimate desire to understand the process of implementing tasks and illegitimate excuses that lead to spiritual hypocrisy (James 1:22-25).  
 
Two other translations of the ending of Nehemiah 3:5 also speak to the nobles’ subversive and stubborn opposition.  The NKJV reads “but their nobles did not put their shoulders to the work of their Lord” (emphasis added) 1 and the ESV reads “but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord (emphasis added).2  
 
Lange offers insight about some reasons for the nobles’ inactivity: “The fashionable part of Jerusalem was in virtual league with the enemies of God. Some of these were constrained (as Eliashib) by circumstances to take part in the work of rebuilding the Holy City, but others (as these Tekoite nobles) resolutely kept aloof.” 3 
While this is certainly plausible, I believe there’s also a spiritual component.  The “their Lord” refers to the nobles’ masters not Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  In a greater sense, however, their ultimate rebellion stemmed from a rejection of Nehemiah’s office as a prophet: one who speaks the word of God.  So while people have different reasons for not committing to and doing the work of ministry, church leaders must remember that our modern day “nobles” have problems with the authority and application of God’s Word, not with us personally.  
 
Despite the presence of subversive rebellion within the church, the good news is that it’s often outweighed by a majority of those who are not–which leads to our fourth principle about authentic fellowship:  knowing the assignments of people.  
 
Nehemiah and his inner circle identified specific needs and delegated specific assignments for faithful workers.   In fact, there are ten references to strategic gate repairs: sheep gate (Nehemiah 3:1), fish gate (Nehemiah 3:3), old gate (Nehemiah 3:6), valley gate (Nehemiah 3:13), refuse or dung gate (Nehemiah 3:14), fountain gate (Nehemiah 3:15), water  gate (Nehemiah 3:26), horse gate (Nehemiah 3:28), east gate (Nehemiah 3:29), and inspection gate (Nehemiah 3:31).
 
Yet, there’s something more here than a need for physical protection from mortal enemies.  Wiersbe provides convincing evidence that “There is a definite spiritual lesson in each of these gates.”4  In other words, the gates also symbolized God’s spiritual protection of  and anointed covering for His people to fulfill their ministries. We see evidence of this in Psalms 147:1-20.  In addition, Nehemiah 7:1-4 speaks to the most powerful correlation of physical and spiritual protection because after rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls, gatekeepers (residents) were assigned to guard, and when necessary, shut the gates.
 
In a similar way, authentic fellowship involves church leaders not only delegating the work of the Lord but also defending the walls and gates of the church from those who wish it harm either through subversive tactics like the Tekoite nobles or clear and present danger from Satan (1 Peter 5:8).
 
1  The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
2  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. Print.
3  Lange, John Peter et al. A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Nehemiah. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008. Print.
4  Wiersbe, Warren W. Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993. Print.  

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