“… in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Rom. 2.1)—strong words that should cause us to examine our own hearts and lives and to remember that it’s the goodness of God that leads us and others to repentance.
The book of Esther takes place sometime between the time the Jews began to return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel and the second return under Ezra. It’s quite an interesting book. Though the name of God is not mentioned at all in the book, He’s seen everywhere, and is in control of the events of this book in a grand way!—as He is in all the events of history and the world.
The book starts out with a party and what a party it is—7 days, free flowing wine, everyone is invited (the men, at least!), golden goblets, entertainment … wine, women (probably the entertainment) and song, as the saying goes.
Finally, the drunken king decides to show off his wife and she refuses to come. The men were faced with a problem. If word got around that the queen didn’t obey the king, all the women would refuse to obey their husbands! So, at the other men’s urging, she lost her position as queen. Continue reading →
A lack of willingness to accept and believe the truth can start an individual or a society as a whole on a downward spiral of sin. But sadly, it’s not a lack of truth, rather a suppressing of the truth, not that most people don’t know the truth, but because they just don’t want to hear it.
Well, here we are finishing up the book of Nehemiah. Do you realize we have finished well over half of the Old Testament, 16 books in total and a good portion of Psalms and Proverbs? We’ve finished the four gospels and the book of Acts, the historical books of the New Testament.
Now we are starting the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament, beginning with the book of Romans and tomorrow we’ll start the book of Esther in the Old Testament. It’s exciting to see the progress we’re making.
If you have gotten behind, jump back in here with Romans. It’s an incredible book with so much to teach us, as does all the Bible. 2 Timothy 3.16-17 says:
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
As I read chapter 10 and all that the people covenanted to do, I was wondering how often we stop to think about and praise God for the fact that we are now under grace! It’s not that it was wrong for them to make a covenant. It was what they were expected to do under the law.
Paul said the law was “… our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3.24). The law, which was impossible to keep completely, pointed to the fact that we can’t be saved by our own righteousness and law keeping and helped us see our need for a Savior.
Jesus Christ who was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4.15), was the only one who kept the law perfectly. When we accept Him as our Savior we take part in a “Great Exchange.” We exchange our sinful failure to keep the law for His perfect righteousness (Heb. 4.15).
2 Corinthians 5.21:
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
How do you respond when you come face to face with your own sin? Nehemiah 8.10b, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” The wretchedness of our sin should cause us to rejoice in the amazing grace of God!
God was at work. He had prepared Ezra with a great knowledge of the Scriptures and Nehemiah as a great leader with the energy and gifts to accomplish the rebuilding of the walls. What a great example of how God gifts people differently and then brings them together to accomplish His work. Ezra, a great man of God, had been back in Jerusalem for twelve years, but it wasn’t until Nehemiah came that the Feast of Booths was reinstated, the walls were rebuilt and other things began to happen. Continue reading →
Chapter 6 reminds me of so much of what goes on in politics and the media today. As soon as someone starts to do something significant for God, influential people want to meet with him or her and, often, interview them for TV or some other media. Sadly, many have learned the hard way that the media doesn’t really want to rejoice with them because they’re doing something worthwhile. In fact, most have learned that what they say and do gets twisted and misreported. And all it does is serve as a distraction from what’s really important.
When flattery or the enticement of national coverage or rubbing elbows with dignitaries doesn’t work, the enemy will often attack from within—sometimes using people close to that person. How many times have we read the phrase “unnamed sources say …”
Another way the enemy attempts to bring down servants of God is by taking advantage of our own sinful desires, often through an immoral sexual encounter. Sexual encounters don’t always start with something obviously sexual or immoral. Often they happen between two co-workers or even people who work together in ministry.
I thought it was interesting that one of the people mentioned in verse 14 was a woman, the prophetess Noahdiah! Even though nothing sexual is mentioned, what if Nehemiah had listened to her and begun to develop a relationship with her? How many times has someone said, “We’re just friends” only to fall into temptation as the “friendship” develops? We need to be so careful of both the perception of something inappropriate and the temptations that we all face. Continue reading →
Nehemiah and the people continued to rebuild the wall, but not without opposition. Nehemiah’s response was the same one we should have when we encounter problems. Chapter 4, verses 8-9:
“… and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.”
Nehemiah and the people prayed, did what they believed God wanted them to, and left the rest in the hands of God!
Chapter 5 changes focus and talks about problems among the people themselves. Some of the Jews had taken advantage of the hard economic times and had charged high rates of interest and even taken as some of the other Jews as slaves to repay their debts. This was forbidden by the law. God takes a very serious view of this kind of behavior and Nehemiah dealt with it accordingly. Verses 11-13: Continue reading →
Jesus taught His disciples, and by extension us, to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” Do you pray that way? If so, is it sincere or merely words? Whose kingdom are you really committed to, yours of His?
“… refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt” (Heb. 11.24-26).
Nehemiah had a rather cushy job as cupbearer to the king (aside from the fact that if someone tried to poison the king he would drink it first!). But because of his job, he would have been a trusted friend to the king. He lived in the palace with many of its perks and benefits, but it didn’t stop him from grieving for and being concerned about the well-being of his people.
And he wasn’t just concerned, he was willing to do something about the situation—to give up his comfortable position and take a dangerous journey, go to a city that was largely unprotected, and undertake an enormous project.
What if …?
What if God called you to the mission field? Or to quit your job and work for Him full time? Or to accept a job with less financial benefits so you’re available to serve Him more? Would you be willing? Continue reading →
59 years had passed since the completion of the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel. In these passages, the second group of former captives have returned under the leadership of Ezra. He has learned that the Jews who were already there, including many of the leaders, have taken pagan wives. This was strictly forbidden by the Law, had repeatedly led the people into idolatry, and had caused the nation to be taken into captivity. Yet, they had gone back to the same practices!
John MacArthur points out in his Daily Bible notes that even though there was a decision made that these wives as a whole were to be “put away”—that is divorced—each marriage was examined individually, probably to learn whether the wives had become believers. He also notes that other gentile women like Ruth and Rahab who had embraced faith in God were accepted and even included in the lineage of Christ.
So what about today? Can we divorce an unbelieving spouse? Matthew Henry in his commentary says, “As to being unequally yoked with unbelievers, such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and ought not to be made; but now they are not null, as they were before the gospel did away the separation between Jews and Gentiles.” Continue reading →
As you can well imagine, most of the returning Jews who had lived and been born in a pagan culture had little understanding of God’s law. But chapter 7 verse 6 says:
“This Ezra came up from Babylon; and he was a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given.”
Ezra had faithfully studied and meditated on the laws and precepts of God in spite of the culture around him. And because of his faithful preparation, he was instrumental in teaching the people who returned to Jerusalem from the captivity and was greatly used by God!
Do you suppose he ever wondered, “Why am I spending all this time reading and studying and memorizing?” John MacArthur says in his Daily Bible that, according to tradition, Ezra had God’s law memorized. That would have been at least the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—memorized! God has always supernaturally protected His Word and always had a remnant of men and women faithful to seek to understand and apply it. Continue reading →
The people who had come back enthusiastic and ready to rebuild the temple, had met some resistance and gradually quit doing God’s work and, instead, got busy with their own lives.
God used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir and rebuke the people about their priorities. In Haggai 1, God said:
“‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’ Thus says the Lord God of Hosts, ‘Consider your ways! Go up to the mountain, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,’ says the Lord” (Hag. 1.5-8).
What about you? Do you need to consider your ways? Are your priorities God’s priorities? Have you gotten “too busy” to be concerned about the things of God? Could God be using circumstances to get your attention?