The First Step – Reflecting on Nehemiah 2:17-18

I’m finished reading Nehemiah: A Pastoral and Exegetical Commentary, but am behind in sharing the few quotes that stood out to me. Many of the quotes that did so are longer, but this one, not so much:

God often uses his messengers and his word to shine a light on matters in our lives that are unacceptable to God and yet have become accepted by us. Jerusalem is “desolate.” Perhaps they have grown accustomed to the disgrace. The first step in changing a situation is to honestly assess the situation. Only then will one recognize the need for the change.

Nehemiah: A Pastoral and Exegetical Commentary, p.43

What in your life have you gotten used to and stopping resisting? What sin seems a losing battle? What conversation, situation or relationship do you avoid messing with, settling instead for the status quo? Sometimes all it takes is for fresh eyes to point out our precarious position, to point us back to God, to help us reflect on his love and care for his people. In this case, it was the perspective of a leader committed to bringing God glory, removing the reproach that had become “the new normal”.

In chapter 2, Nehemiah helps the people see their condition. It’s not that they didn’t already know what Jerusalem was like, the desperate state it had fallen into. But they needed someone to point the way forward. They needed encouragement, even exhortation, that was grounded in God’s glory and promises. They needed to be confronted with how their ambivalence and acceptance of the situation dishonored God and prolonged the situation.

I’m coming to realize, more and more, when the day-to-day looms so large that it begins to choke out our vision of God, we need the Spirit’s voice spoken through brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot and must not walk this life alone, separate from other believers. We need the gospel applied in our lives daily, and we need all the different gifts, voices and perspectives that come from God’s covenant community.

The Conscience, As Illustrated by Ezra and Nehemiah

I’m currently reading Nehemiah: A Pastoral and Exegetical Commentary, as part of Introduction to Old Testament I (SBTS). Really enjoying it so far. It strikes a good balance between textual matters and application in the life of the church.

In Chapter 2, in the section concerning 2:7-8a, I ran upon this section, that made me stop and think:

Nehemiah basically makes two requests. The first request is for letters ensuring his safe passage to Judah. As noted in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, Judeans faced stiff resistance and oppression from their enemies (see Ezra 4-6; Neh 4). Obviously, Nehemiah knows of the dangers and asks the king for help. It may be of interest to note that about thirteen years earlier Ezra refused to ask the king for an escort to travel from Persia to Judah because he had told the king, “The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him” (Ezra 8:22b). Brown’s comments are helpful for thinking about the differences between Ezra and Nehemiah:

Everybody is different and there is nothing monochrome about God’s servants. Thirteen years earlier Ezra had refused the offer of Persian soldiers to accompany his people on their way back to Judah, believing the “gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him.” But Nehemiah maintained that because the gracious hand of God was upon him, the king granted his request for protection. One man’s commitment to God precluded the escort; the other welcomed it. Ezra regarded soldiers as a lack of confidence in God’s power; Nehemiah viewed them as evidence of God’s superlative goodness…We must not rigidly stereotype believers into identical patterns of spirituality.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah sought to honor God in what they did, and God blessed both of them for it. Depending on the Lord and acting in a way that brings him glory must be the preeminent goal. God will bless the efforts of such individuals regardless of the various paths they take to accomplish it.

Nehemiah, T.J.Betts, pp. 33-34

That reminds me of the classic set of verses in Proverbs (26:4-5), Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. So which is it? Faced with a fool, are we to answer or stay quiet? Yes! Wisdom and humility make all the difference. Or, jumping to Romans 14:4, Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Some things are going to be one way and one way only. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me, says Jesus in John 14:6. But Nehemiah, though Dr. Betts, provides a helpful reminder that with much of life, including a faithful walk before God, humility is still necessary, our way of “getting the job done” may not be the only way, or even the best way, and that God’s glory should be determinative. And, I’m inclined to believe the Spirit has something to say, too.