Friday, June 17, 2016

Do YOU Know What's in the Book of Nehemiah?

The 16th book of the Bible is Nehemiah, so named because the main character is Nehemiah (his name means “Jehovah comforts”). Fourteen years after Ezra came back to Jerusalem with a group of the returning exiles, Nehemiah brought another bunch back and restored the walls and the civil authority. Originally, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah were in one volume. Scholars are divided on the authorship, some say Ezra, some say Nehemiah, some say both. The majority believe Nehemiah was the author.

Read Chapter 1 and notice that it ends with Nehemiah stating that he was cupbearer to the king. This says a lot. He had a position of great trust. He would taste the king’s drink to guard against poisoning. Since anyone could be coerced by having his family threatened, the cupbearer was usually a eunuch.
Notice again verse 6: “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying”. This is an example of the Hebrew letter "ayin" and its meaning of eyes. Frankly, I see no reason for Nehemiah to mention eyes since he is asking the Lord to “hear” the prayer, and yet, since this is the 16th book and related to the 16th letter which means eye, then it makes perfect sense. Additionally, this chapter has the word servant (ebed) no fewer than 8 times in reference to Nehemiah, Moses and the people. (See Crossing the Scriptures for more links between the Hebrew letters and the books of the Bible.)

In Chapter 2 Nehemiah brings the wine to the King Artaxerxes who notices how sad Nehemiah’s face is. “What is it you want?” the king asks him. Now look closely at verse 4 and what do you see? Nehemiah prays before answering. He prays to the God of Heaven then asks the king to send him to Jerusalem so he can rebuild it. He also asks for letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates so he can have safe passage and a letter to the keeper of the king’s forest so he can have timber for building. Verse 8 says “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests.” God uses unbelievers like Artaxerxes and look, Nehemiah got what he asked for and more, for the king also sent army officers and cavalry with him. Unfortunately this whole thing didn’t go well with the officials. They were disturbed that someone was coming to “promote the welfare of the Israelites”, because the rebuilding would eliminate Samaria as the political center of Judea. These officials, Sanballat and Tobiah, mocked and ridiculed Nehemiah, but Nehemiah had faith. He says in verse 20: “The God of heaven will give us success.”

The next few chapters are a pretty clear reading of events. As the Jews worked on rebuilding the walls of the city, they had to work with one hand and hold a weapon in the other. There was quite a bit of opposition to the building, but the work got done in 52 days. Their enemies “were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (6:16)

Chapter 7 gives a list of the exiles who returned, then in chapter 8 Ezra reads the Law of Moses to the people. The people were used to speaking Aramaic and not Hebrew so the Levites had quite a time instructing the people in the law and making it clear.

The Israelites confess their sins and make some promises. Ten, in fact. 
1. Not to intermarry
2. Not to buy on the Sabbath or any holy day
3. Not to work the land on the 7th year
4. To cancel debts
5. To give a third of a shekel each year for the service of the house of God
6. To contribute wood to burn on the altar
7. To bring the firstfruits each year
8. To bring the firstborn to the priests
9. To bring to the storerooms the first of the produce
10. To tithe.

There’s a big party and dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, but then there’s trouble once more as the Israelites get off track. They never seem to learn and they break their promise not to work on the Sabbath and then they marry foreign women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab, thus breaking the promise not to intermarry as well. If you read chapter 13 you’ll see how angry Nehemiah gets. Read 13: 15 – 18:

15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”

Here’s Zechariah’s reaction: 19 – 22:

19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.

But there’s more: 23 – 31:

 23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”
 28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.
 29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.
 30 So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits.
 Remember me with favor, my God.
He even drove away one man who married Sanballat’s daughter; Sanballat was the ruler mentioned at the beginning of the book.
Now look closely at the ending of the book of Nehemiah. The final words are: “Remember me” which in Hebrew is “Zakrah Li” This is an anagram (change the letters around) for “LiZechariah” which means “to Zechariah” (hard to tell in English, but you’d see it clearly if I could put the Hebrew letters here). Why is that important? It's a clue. The book of Zechariah is exactly 22 books later in the Bible, but linked with Nehemiah in this way: If you’re looking for it, and if you know Hebrew, you can find Nehemiah’s name in the first chapter of Zechariah. (Hint: it’s in verse 17.) "Zechariah" means “God has remembered.” Nehemiah ended stating “remember me” and Zechariah begins with “God has remembered”. Very cool.  

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