DRIVING AND SOMNAMBULIZING
A Guide to the Book of Nehemiah
Driving and Somnambulizing
West Point, NY 13601
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble…”
The Free Bible eBook Series is a simple and definitely fallible (and possibly wrong at times) interpretation of the different books of the Bible. When deciding to share this series it was because of one vision and idea, that average Christians (denomination irrelevant) can share their thoughts about the Bible and like Ecclesiastes states, “they can help each other succeed.” The content of these eBooks should not be taken at face value but compared with your own understanding of the scriptures discussed.
One of the great common day ironies of Christianity is that although our faith may be the most important thing of our lives, it is also the thing we are most hesitant to share. It makes me sad when my few Christian friends and I spend time together with no mention of Christ. It makes me cringe to think that strangers who are Christians will talk about everything under the sun but will hesitate to share the joys of their faith.
This series is crafted with untrained hands but with a heart full of Christ’s love. It may be informative, it may be revealing, and with God’s Grace, it may be enlightening. The goal though is for it to be a conversation piece, a common ground Christians can relate to and share, and a way to ensure no one falls alone.
Nehemiah is a fascinating book about an incredibly devoted man and about a nation finally on the upswing. Leading up to Nehemiah, the Israelites have been through one disaster after another, more or less being scattered across the lands. Nehemiah’s heart was broken for his people and their fall from God’s favor. Nehemiah didn’t settle in despair though. Rather, his sadness fueled a beautiful vision of a united Israel and a rebuilt Jerusalem.
Nehemiah devotes himself wholly to God, and through his strength, he unites and rebuilds a nation. Nehemiah is such an awesome example of what can be accomplished through faith, and how rock steady God is as our support. Nehemiah faced every obstacle possible, but he never gave up hope or faith in God.
After reading Nehemiah, I hope that you can walk away with a better understanding of how steadfast God’s support and love for us is. If we can be like Nehemiah, stay close to God through every obstacle, then we can truly see nations transformed!
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name.”
- Nehemiah 1:10-11
If there is one thing to be said about Nehemiah in these first few chapters, it’s that he had a vision. It wasn’t just an idea, it was a full vision that he wanted to see come to fruition. The basis of that vision was a deep and thirsting passion for God and sorrow for the fall of God’s people. Nehemiah wanted nothing more than to see a return of God’s glory. His prayer in chapter 1 is perhaps one of the most genuine and personable prayers I’ve come across in the Old Testament, and shows just how close he was to God.
“O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome
God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love
With those who love him and obey his commands,
Listen to my prayer! Look down and see me
praying night and day for your people Israel.
I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes,
Even my own family and I have sinned! We have
Sinned terribly by not obeying the commands,
Decrees, and regulations that you gave us through
your servant Moses.
“Please remember what you told your servant
Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you
among the nations. But if you return to me and obey
my commands and live by them, then even if you are
exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back
to the place I have chosen for my name to be
He had such love for God and His people. THAT is the kind of love you need to have a vision. THAT is the kind of love and passion you need to make that vision real.
I think one thing you have to be careful about when you are passionate about a purpose and God’s plan is to be thorough with your preparations. I feel like many times, people get an idea and impulse to do something great for God, but it’s not a vision. A vision is all encompassing, from beginning to the very end. It encompasses the preparations, the beginnings, the main action, and the follow through. That’s what Nehemiah had. He knew he was going to need building materials, so he had the king write him letters to the different governors, specifically Asaph, giving him rights. He knew he would need the help of the people, so he inspired them. He knew there would have to be order to the madness, so he planned how to break down the work.
When you have a fire and passion to do God’s will, forge it into a vision. It takes one man’s vision to change the world.
““What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
- Nehemiah 4:2
The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon.” What a great visual! I would say that is is the perfect metaphor for how vigilant we need to be in our spiritual lives. All at once, carrying on our work to promote God’s kingdom while being ready at any moment for when Satan’s attack comes upon us and God’s plan. Now, I’m sure everyone loves to picture themselves as a powerful warrior in brawny armor and a sharp sword heaving massive weight above their head with one hand while hacking bad guys with the other. I mean it’s a fantastic visual. But how does that realistically translate into goals in our spiritual lives? What is spiritual work? What is a spiritual weapon?
When we talk about doing God’s work, about building his kingdom, there has to be concrete actions that we take that have this spiritual effect. In Nehemiah’s time, it meant to literally rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. Now though, we do a different kind of building. We build the foundations for other people’s faith to grow by witnessing and sharing our testimony with others. We build the structure by encouraging each other to pursue our faith and by fellowship and bible studies and intense interpersonal cooperation in doing God’s will, whether that be blessing others through works or other ways. That is how we build God’s kingdom. By creating an environment where his spirit can flourish and prosper both in ours and in other peoples’ souls.
Now what is the weapon? It is actually quite fitting that the people of Jerusalem carried swords with them, for the Bible tells us that the Word “is like a double edged sword, piercing both flesh and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12). When we work with one hand and hold our weapon with the other, it means we need to be vigilant in our study and understanding of God’s Word to us. It is our one real weapon against Sin and Satan. The scriptures are promises from God, absolute truth, and that is the most powerful weapon of all. But if you don’t know the Word, how can you use the weapon? It’s like leaving your sword in the house when you go to battle. When you finally come to that place where the enemy is gazing into your eyes about to engage you, you don’t want to be left to realize that you were never prepared, that although you had the sword, you rarely took it outside to use and practice with. You just kind of looked at it now and then and stared at it blankly. Don’t let that be what happens with you and God’s word.
“As far as possible, we have bought back our fellow Jews who were sold to the Gentiles. Now you are selling your own people, only for them to be sold back to us!”
- Nehemiah 5:8
Though this chapter of this guide covers Nehemiah 5-7, it focuses mostly on chapter 5. Chapter 7 is simply a listing of exiles returned to Israel, and chapter 6 describes the efforts of outsiders to intimidate Nehemiah. Chapter 5 though really catches my attention and focus. You see, sometimes, it seems like the words vile and authority are synonymous, especially when it comes to positions of authority in government, the workplace, and sadly enough, even the church. We see in Chapter 5, Nehemiah is disgusted with the vile hearts of the powerful so full of greed and power lust. Their brothers and sisters and family, and here its literally family not just spiritual family, are so desperate and hard pressed that they must sell each other into slavery! And where does the pressure come from other than from their very own wealthy family members. It’s sickening. Israel has a glorious dream of restoration and sanctity for God, yet that beautiful dream is disgustingly compromised by the people who could be doing the most good!
I feel the lesson from this chapter is obvious. Don’t be a spiritual slave driver. Don’t oppress your brothers and sisters in Christ. Don’t sell them back into slavery under sin with your accusing and slanderous words, your cold heart or cold shoulder, your upturned nose or your downturned smile. And that’s just the lesson for us normal people under the authority of others. The lesson for the powerful, stop building churches to raise money and not warriors and champions of lost souls. Stop condemning people and enslaving their minds to obsessing over their sins. Doing that is just like charging interest on your relatives like what was happening in chapter 5. By constantly condemning you are ensuring that person will always have more guilt they need to atone for, more than they had to begin with because you are charging their guilt with interest. In doing so you know they will always return, and you will always be supported by a church of slaves to guilt rather than a church bursting at the seams with love and salvation.
The lessons from this chapter can be applied to so many situations in our lives where we are entrusted with authority. You should be constantly checking yourself and your actions with the Word of God, and ensure that you aren’t a slave driver; that you aren’t vile.
“Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God.”
- Nehemiah 8:18
Chapter 8 gives us an interesting look at the Law of the ancient Israelis and their practice of it. As Ezra reads the law to all the people, they intently listen, soak it in, and let it emotionally affect them. Later they return to the law to study it even more scrupulously, and find that God is speaking to them through the law and revealing a truth that they hadn’t known before. They are to build shelters a certain way for the upcoming festival that they are preparing for. This is the key here. Instead of second guessing it, or defaulting to doing what the law says next time they have a festival, the Israelis immediately act according to God’s Law.
This is an important lesson that we all need to learn. How many times have you read the Bible and felt God speaking to you, revealing a new truth you didn’t know before and you are compelled to apply it to your life….but then hesitate. I wish I could count how many times I have done this! We second guess ourselves, put it off, and a million other excuses. But no excuse will do. Action is the fruit of belief and belief is the fruit of action. If we are truly in a mutual relationship with Christ, we will act upon our belief in his divine and inspired truths that he gives us. And as we act out of faith, we will find our belief blossom and grow as well. It’s a perpetual cycle of continued growth in the spirit, but it all starts with you taking that first step. Be a person of action.
“Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness.”
- Nehemiah 9:19
ehemiah 9 shows us what it means to remember. To remember his grace, his presence, his justice, and his punishments. This chapter reminds us that there is a fine balance we must keep in our relationship with God between remembering his and our pasts, and living a life of action fulfilling his will. I’ve argued in writing before that one of the worst traps we can fall into as Christians is dwelling on our past mistakes and sins. When we focus on our faults, it puts us in a stagnant state, a place where we are incapable of carrying on the Great Commission. Giving our past the appropriate amount of reflection does a few things for us though.
First, it reminds us what mistakes we shouldn’t repeat in the future. Here, we see the Israelites remembering all the times they as a people failed God and turned away from him. This impassions them and for at least a short while, will keep them from repeating those mistakes.
Second, it reminds us of his good grace and reinvigorates our appreciation for the magnitude of what God has actually done for us. In their prayer, the Israelites repeatedly recount a failure of their people, but shortly after declare how gracious God was in the aftermath. “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness.”
This is a perfect example of how our reflections on our past mistakes should work. The Israelites took time to reflect, then immediately got back to God’s work. When we think about our sins, we also are too remind ourselves of what we should avoid, and then rekindle our hope by rediscovering just how gracious and full of compassion God is. We immediately move past the disappointment, invest ourselves in him, then get back into the arena, winning souls for Christ.
“All these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.”
- Nehemiah 10:29
Nehemiah 10-12 is a bit dry. Chapter 10 lists the participants in Israel’s oath to follow the Law of God. All the leaders and all the peoples of this great nation come together and solemnly vow that they will follow the will of the Lord. Chapter 11 simply lists all the new descendants of the city. Chapter 12 lists the priests and leaders in the new city. At the very end of the chapter, there is also a description of the Jerusalem Wall Dedication, basically a ceremony the Israelites had celebrating the completion of their city.
These three chapters really make one thing clear to me: This is a big deal! Finishing up the walls and organizing all of the residents is a big, big deal to the Israelites, and they are dedicated to making their new home last while securely tied into the will of God.
“Remember me with favor, my God.”
- Nehemiah 13:31
Nehemiah doesn’t let anything slide. As always the people of Israel slide into sin and rebellion, but fortunately for them Nehemiah is gifted with seeing everything in black and white. It’s almost humorous how foolish the Israelis are sometimes. I mean they just all swore and signed declarations swearing they will follow all of God’s laws, and then go right back to marrying the women of other nations. Nehemiah’s accusations of them make them seem even more foolish. “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives.” Haha oh foolish Israelis. But wait, oh shoot, I do the same thing!! I mean, haven’t I watched myself and others fall into sin because of certain actions. And even though I know those actions will lead to my fall, I seem to do them anyways. And wait, didn’t Jesus teach me everything I could possibly need to know as far as staying out of sin and following him? I guess it’s not so funny that the Israelis keep falling into sin, because their fall is mine.
I hope the above paragraph helps you relate to the Israelis and there continuous struggle with sin, so that way you can truly appreciate Nehemiah’s boldness. It would be great if we had someone constantly keeping us on the right path. A physical, visible person always swatting us when we misbehaved. I consider the Israelis lucky!! Take Nehemiah’s boldness as a lesson. He sees sin in black and white, and we do too. Nehemiah was just bold enough to act according to his true feelings instead of letting sin guide his actions. We can do the same, and be a guiding light for those who are struggling with sin.
Thank you for reading The Free Bible eBook Series. If you enjoyed this guide, check out the rest of them, share them with a friend, discuss them, and bring life back to Christian conversation. If you disagree with parts of this guide or have questions, let me know! You can contact me at [email protected], I would love to hear from you. In the end, remember one thing: God loves us unconditionally, pay it forward!
As a disclaimer, please remember I am not a professional or credentialed spiritually in anyway. The Free Bible eBook Series is simply my interpretation of what I believe God has taught me through His precious Word. I am a firm believer that God teaches us and reveals to us differently and tailors to us personally. What I understand and believe may not align perfectly with you, which is ok. If any content in this series is seriously concerning, please let me know. I heed Paul’s warnings and don’t want to slip into blasphemy.
Nehemiah is a fascinating book about an incredibly devoted man and about a nation finally on the upswing. Leading up to Nehemiah, the Israelites have been through one disaster after another, more or less being scattered across the lands. Nehemiah’s heart was broken for his people and their fall from God’s favor. Nehemiah didn’t settle in despair though. Rather, his sadness fueled a beautiful vision of a united Israel and a rebuilt Jerusalem. Nehemiah devotes himself wholly to God, and through his strength, he unites and rebuilds a nation. Nehemiah is such an awesome example of what can be accomplished through faith, and how rock steady God is as our support. Nehemiah faced every obstacle possible, but he never gave up hope or faith in God. After reading Nehemiah, I hope that you can walk away with a better understanding of how steadfast God’s support and love for us is. If we can be like Nehemiah, stay close to God through every obstacle, then we can truly see nations transformed!