Thursday, October 25, 2018

Perseverance



“For they all were trying to make us afraid, saying, “Their hands will be weakened in the work, and it will not be done.” Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” – Nehemiah 6:9
There’s a beautiful story in Nehemiah about perseverance, continuing in a work despite all difficulty.  Yet, if we read it too quickly, we just might miss it because the story itself is as entertaining as any screen production! 
The scene begins with Nehemiah, the Prophet.  He has been in captivity for years and is serving as King Artaxerxes cup bearer.  Being cupbearer was not a title anyone would choose.  His duty was to taste everything the King ate so that if it was poisoned, he would die instead of the king. Obviously in a world of national enemies, the King knew not to get too fond of Nehemiah.
But Nehemiah had heard that the Jews that had escaped captivity were trying to live in Judah because the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and even burned.  They were without food, being attacked and having their food stolen, having to place their own children into slavery to survive!  Without a wall to protect them they were in constant fear of their enemies. As is the case even in modern days, Jews were hated.
Nehemiah’s heart was grieved for them, which I happen to believe this was part of God’s encouraging him to act.  So, he prayed first, and acted second (there’s a whole lot to be said about that!).  He went before King Artaxerxes and asked that he be sent to rebuild back the wall, and that the King would use his power to have the neighboring lands provide building supplies.
While supplies were sent out of reverence to the King, many of the governors surrounding Jerusalem were not happy about the rebuilding of the wall.  Two such were Tobiah and Sanballat.  They knew this would better the wellbeing of the children of Israel and cut off their stealing of the supplies from the Jews.
Nehemiah begins to rebuild the wall with the volunteers he could get from the Jews and is continually mocked with statements like “Whatever they build, if even a fox goes up on it, he will break down their stone wall.” (Nehemiah 4:3). But Nehemiah persevered!  Sometimes you have to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers and just pursue God’s plan.
Tobiah and Sanballat could not stand the thought of them completing the wall, and fortifying Jerusalem as a city once again.  So, they sent a message to Nehemiah trying to trick him to leave the city and come to them.  Obviously, their intent was to lure him away and kill him.  Note, it’s often the leader the enemy will go after as this is the fastest way to stop the work. 
But Nehemiah was given wisdom to understand what was behind their plan.  He sent them a message saying “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?” (Nehemiah 6:3) and continued to work.
Five times they tried to lure him away from his work – FIVE.  But the final time they sent a messenger to him with a note in hand telling him that it had been reported to the nations that the Jews planned to rebel, and that Nehemiah had hired prophets to say that “There is a king in Judah!” which would bring a breach of trust between him and King Artaxerxes. 
Nehemiah sends back yet another message in the same hands saying “No such things as you say are being done, but you invent them in your own heart.”
Ok, now things are getting serious! He’s called his enemies out! He’s called them liars.  If you’ve ever been in a conflict you know this is an escalation point!
Nehemiah’s team wants to have him stay in the temple, a holy place that would be less likely to be invaded to harm him.  Yet, Nehemiah sees the work at hand, and knows it must be done.  He continues to lead despite adversity and even a death threat.  He understands that their threats were meant to slow their work, or even stop it.  Nehemiah perseveres!
In 52 days an entire wall was rebuilt around Jerusalem.  It was 2 ½ miles long, 39 feet tall, and 8.2 feet thick!  There were 34 watchtowers, and seven main gates. No bull dozers, no cranes, no massive transports of large concrete blocks.  It was built by hand by men who pursued a plan with a leader that was continually leading, continually pursuing the goal.
That wall was built in 52 days, and to date it has been attached 52 times. It was destroyed once after Nehemiah built it, and in 1535 was rebuilt by Sultan Suleiman I, and it took four years.  Being completed in 1541, it still stands today.
Had Nehemiah not persevered, what would have become of the Jews?  An entire race could have been destroyed.  But Nehemiah, praying first, knew God was on His side.  Acting second, He knew God would strengthen Him and not see Him fail.  And in the end, Nehemiah rejected praise for His work and pointed all the glory to God.  Ah, that’s when you know you’ve really done a great job – when you can see that God’s hand was with you and you succeeded.  It’s a double whammy – you did good work, and you pleased God.
Friends, don’t give up on what you’ve been called to do.  Leaders, do not abandon your post!  PERSEVERE!
So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days.  And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.” – Nehemiah 6:15-16

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