LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE BOOKS OF EZRA AND NEHEMIAH
#1: TWO MEN WITH A MESSAGE.
In the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, God had a job He wanted to do through his people - the rebuilding of the city and the temple. The work began hardily but quickly came to a halt and there was a great disappointment. God then sent two men (Haggai and Zechariah) with a most precious message of instruction and encouragement, and the work restarted and finished in record time. Fast-forward 2400 years or so. God's people had begun to rebuild what had been broken down through the dark ages. However, the rebuilding effort quickly stopped as there was a great disappointment. Soon after this time, God would send two men (primarily) with a most precious message that would encourage and enable the people to finish the work (the cleansing of the sanctuary) and usher in the most cataclysmic event in history - the second coming of Christ. In 1888, the latter rain and the loud cry began to shed their precious saving presence with all the resources needed to prepare a people for translation. Unfortunately, that is where the comparison loses traction. In Nehemiah's time the temple was finished while we continue to wait. In both cases, God was ready to finish the work through His people, but in our case, we would not have it. "We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ's sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action" (Evangelism, 696). That was written in 1901. The good news is, God will finally have a people that will accept the counsel to the church of Laodicea and usher in the return of Christ that He so longingly desires and deserves! May that day be soon, for His sake!
#2: HISTORICAL ACCURACY MATTERS.
It would be hard to read through Ezra and Nehemiah without noticing that there are a lot of detailed accounts of the workers and their job locations, genealogies, etc. Does the history of the rebuilding effort really matter? What about the chronicling of the historical narrative of 1888? Oh, indeed it does. Ron Duffield has done an excellent job of showing how there were two streams of data that flowed from the 1888 era, which vary greatly. One stream is polluted with misinformation as to the message and the character of the men whom the Lord used so mightily (Jones and Waggoner), while at the same time glorifying the hearty response of acceptance of the doctrine of righteousness by faith. The other stream runs pure with the truth that the messengers, far from perfect as they were, had been ordained by God and that the message was unfortunately largely rejected and spurned. I have been asked by people; "if the message is so powerful, why spend time rehearsing the history and the rejection? Why not just preach the concepts?" I would answer it this way. It is for the same reasons that the history of Israel was repeated so often in the Bible. It is so that we may learn from the past, accept the fact that we were a part of that corporately, and repent and receive the victory that Christ longs to give. Also, if you believe in the Spirit of prophecy, three hundred non-repeated endorsements are enough to make anyone take notice and want to study more!
# 3 CORPORATE SOLIDARITY
The corporate solidarity concept comes to us over and over in both Ezra and Nehemiah, especially in their prayers (Ezra 9 and Nehemiah 9). Many of the prayers look back at those gone before and seem to be one with the present. When we speak of corporate solidarity, we mean accounting oneself as part of a communal whole. That could be as part of a family, a church, a nation, or the human race as it is used with both Adam and Christ (Romans 5). The corporate concept does not lessen or undermine our individual responsibility in any way. Joel Kaminski in his book, Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible puts it this way: "There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the corporate ideas contained within the Hebrew Bible may provide certain key elements to new theological constructs that would take greater account of the importance of the way in which the individual has communal responsibilities. Such a theology is very necessary at a time when it is becoming apparent that many contemporary problems are communal and even global in nature."
GLEANING FROM THE DEPTHS OF EZRA AND NEHEMIAH
In Ezra seven, we see that fidelity is rewarded as the people continue the work in spite of their feelings (fears), and in chapter ten, one man's prayer leads to many prayers, which is followed by hearty repentance. In Nehemiah we find the importance of prayer, strategy, courage, cooperation, unity, dedication, delegation and sacrifice – people that were not wall builders were building the wall. What does a man and his two daughters, a goldsmith and a perfume maker have in common? They were all wall builders! Chapter four shows us that nothing good happens without opposition and slander. We saw there also Nehemiah's imprecatory prayer, which might sound a bit rough at first, but is clearly very God centered when seen in its context. "And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before you: for they have provoked you to anger before the builders" (Nehemiah 4:5). Notice the focus is not on Nehemiah but on the provocation aimed at God Himself. The thought is not so much about an unwillingness to forgive but a respect for the true representation of the character of God before the builders, and by extension, the world.
We find also in Nehemiah that "building and battle" go together, as well as "wall and war". Chapter five gives us the imagery of enslaved and powerless people who could not be redeemed. Here Nehemiah steps in as a type of Christ who sets the captives free and redeems the race. Chapter six gives us a picture of wisdom, discernment and victory, while chapter eight highlights praise, prayer, and the primacy of the word of God. Throughout the narrative here, we see that spirituality is not isolated or in a vacuum. For success to occur it involves a succession starting with spirituality, leading to sound strategy followed by sustained effort – all spurred on by the Spirit of God. Surely there are many spiritual gems awaiting us this upcoming quarter!