[for the audio of this sermon, click on the above link]
Shamah O Israel, Yahweh Aloheny, Yahweh Ahar
I greet you in the name of our king Artaxerxes ruler of all Persia, all the kingdoms of the world. I was the cupbearer of great Artaxerxes, may he live forever. The cupbearer is a very important servant of the king. You might think of it as being sort of the king’s “food-taster”, I had other responsibilities for the kings security and supervised a staff that was responsible for his security. Artaxerxes took me into his confidence and looked to me for advice.
My name is Nehemiah, I am the son of Hack a liah. My family was brought here from Israel after they were conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonians were then conquered by the Persians, King Cyrus, and we have been in captivity by the Persians since then. When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel he decided to move many of the prominent people and families to Babylon and that is why we have been in captivity here for seventy years. But as Yahweh promised we are now being given the opportunity to move back to Israel and reestablish the land that Yahweh promised to Abraham almost two thousand years ago. Israel had become very evil and had drifted away from Yahweh and because of that Yahweh enabled Nebuchadnezzar to conquer Israel and exile most of the Israelites. It was through Yahweh’s power that Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, the Babylonians were used by Yahweh as a stick to beat us and turn us back to Yahweh and away from our evil practices and evil “gods”.
While we have been captives we have been treated with respect and given much freedom. We have come back to Yahweh as a result of the captivity, and as I said, we are now going back to Israel as He promised. Yahweh has brought us back to Him and we return to Israel as His people, dedicated to Him and to His Word.
When I was in Shushan one of my brethren Ha nan i came to see me. He had just returned from Jerusalem as part of the process of Hebrews returning to Israel. Not all of us intend to return. Like me, many of us have been born here, we have never even seen Jerusalem and have been allowed by the Persians to make good lives here. Many of us have become successful in business, and have become prosperous, started families, our roots are now here. Many like myself, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have been raised to positions of great authority and power, so for many of us it does not make sense to leave what we have gained and established here to return to Israel and to start over again.
As I was saying Hanani came to me after he returned from Jerusalem and what he told me was very troubling. He said: “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down and its gates are burned with fire.” (Neh 1: 3)
Please understand what this means, you simply cannot have a city that has no walls and gates. There are many threats, armies can simply march in and take whatever they want, our food, clothing, animals, all the things we depend on to live. There are many groups of bandits and marauders who will do the same thing. These walls protect us and our families. Our wives and children can be easily kidnapped and sold into slavery. If we expected to return to Jerusalem and successfully reestablish our lives, reestablish the society that Yahweh intends for us, we needed to have protection.
I did not know things were in such terrible condition. “…when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.” I will tell you some of my prayer: “…Lord God of heaven, O great and awesome God, You who keep Your covenant and mercy with those who love you and observe Your commandments, please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that you may hear the prayer of your servant which I pray before you now, day and night, for the children of Israel your servants and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You… We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. Remember, I pray, the word that You commanded your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to Me, and keep My commandments and do them, though some of you were cast out to the farthest part of the heavens, yet I will gather them from there and bring them to the place which I have chosen as a dwelling for My name. Now these are Your servants and Your people, whom you have redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name: and let Your servant prosper this day; I pray and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Neh 1: 5-11)
Since I was the King’s cup-bearer and had great influence with the king, I felt that Yahweh was guiding me to go to the king and ask him for his help. I took wine to the king, let’s face it, it’s not a bad thing to do something to loosen the king up before you ask him for his help. I had a very sad expression on my face and the king asked me why, this wasn’t what I was usually like. “I became dreadfully afraid and said to the king, ‘May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?’
The King understood completely why I was so upset and concerned. I asked him if he would give me letters so that I could travel to Israel and that the governors of the provinces, on the way, would provide for us and give us protection. The king also gave me “a letter for Asaph the keeper of the king’s forests, that he must give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel which pertains to the temple, [and] for the city wall…”(Neh 2: 8) Artaxerxes also assigned some of his army officers and horsemen to go with us to Israel for protection and guidance.
When we got there it was as bad as I had been told. To make matters worse there were men in Israel, Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem the Arab who found out that we were coming and weren’t happy about our plans to rebuild the defenses of the city. These men were governors of the regions around Jerusalem and were perfectly happy with the way things were, they saw me as a threat to their rule and they did everything they could to keep us from restoring the walls and gates of Jerusalem.
After they saw that we were serious and making progress on our work they decided that they were going to do more than laugh at us, that they were going to attack us and drive us back to Persia so things could be the way they were. They saw us as a threat and decided they were going to remove the threat, us, before it became serious.
The workers were becoming tired and there was still much work to do, so much debris had to be removed so that we could start rebuilding the walls. We had to continue to work on the walls, that would be the only way we could assure that we would be safe. But in the meantime, we had to station men armed with swords, spears and armor behind the men who were doing the work. The men doing the work also had weapons near to them so that if there was an attack they would stop working and fight to defend the city. Well Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem didn’t attack us, but they tried another way. They tried to get me to come down to meet with them, they were accusing me of rebellion against Artaxerxes and were going to report to the king that I was trying to start a rebellion against him. They even paid Shemaiah to try to convince me that he had a prophecy from Yahweh that I was in danger and that he was going to protect me. He actually intended to kill me if I went with him.
Finally after 52 days and all sorts of conspiracies the wall was finished. It was time to give glory to Yahweh, to give thanksgiving and to celebrate. I as governor of Jerusalem had done my job to rebuild the walls and give the people returning to Jerusalem protection and a chance to rebuild our society and prosper in the land that Yahweh had promised to our father Abraham. Now our priest and scribe Ezra was called before the people to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So he did, standing on a platform above all the people of Jerusalem and from the first hour until the sixth hour of the day, every day for seven days he read to the people. They were all attentive and remained six hours to hear God’s Laws. When Ezra began reading the people would lift up their hands and shout Amin, Amin. At the same time we celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and we feasted for seven days. On the 24th day of that month everyone gathered together and made a public confession of sins. We all joined together and confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness and the Levites ended by standing up and said: “Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them, and you preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You… (Neh 9: 6)
Finally on the last day, led by all of the priesthood, we renewed the covenant made with God and took an oath that we would observe all the commandments of the Lord, our Lord and His ordinances and statutes. We would not marry with those who are not of Israel, we would not work on the Sabbath, that we would give our money and food to support the work of the house of our God.
Now God has sent His Son as He had promised from the beginning. We are not saved under the Law, but in the grace of Jesus. God delivered us and helped us to rebuild Jerusalem, now He has delivered all mankind through His Son Jesus. We now trust Him who died for our sins and gives us eternal life. Just as Yahweh did for us when He returned us to Jerusalem, so all of us who are in Jesus will be returned to the resurrection in the New Jerusalem.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin