For the Love of God, Volume 2/January 14
From Gospel Translations
Genesis 15; Matthew 14; Nehemiah 4; Acts 14
THE DRAMA OF NEHEMIAH 4 ABOUNDS with lessons and illustrations of various truths. But we must not forget that what to us is a dramatic narrative was to those experiencing it days of brutally hard work, high tension, genuine fear, insecurity, rising faith, dirt and grime. Nevertheless, some lessons transcend the ages:
(1) Among the hardest things to endure is derisory contempt. That is what Nehemiah and the Jews faced from Sanballat, Tobiah, and the rest (4:1-3). The Judeo-Christian heritage of Western nations was until recent decades so strong that many Christians were shielded from such scorn. No more. We had better get used to what our brothers and sisters in Christ in other lands and centuries handle better than we.
(2) Although God sometimes works through spectacular and supernatural means, he commonly works through ordinary people who take responsibility for themselves and seek to act faithfully even in difficult circumstances. So the Jews “prayed to [their] God and posted a guard day and night” (4:9). They armed themselves and divided their number between fighters and builders, but were also exhorted to, “Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for . . . your homes” (4:14). Jews living near the enemy heard of the plots to demolish the building project and reported it to Nehemiah, who took appropriate action— but God gets the credit for frustrating the plot (4:15).
(3) Practical implications flow from this outlook. (a) It presupposes a Godcentered outlook that avoids naturalism. If God is God, if he has graciously made himself known in the great moments of redemptive history and in visions and words faithfully transmitted by prophets he has raised up, why should we not also think of this God as operating in the so-called “natural” course of events? Otherwise we have retreated to some myopic vision in which God works only in the spectacular and the miraculous, but otherwise is absent or asleep or uncaring. The God described in the Bible is never so small or distant. (b) That is why God can be trusted. Nehemiah is not resorting to mere psychological puffery, nor to shameless religious rhetoric. His faith is properly grounded in the God who is always active and who is working out his redemptive-historical purposes in the ending of the exile and the rebuilding of Jerusalem—just as today our faith is properly grounded in the God who is always active and who is working out his redemptive-historical purposes in the calling and transformation of the elect and the building and purifying of his church.