"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
January 21, 2009
Last week I wrote about Nehemiah and the Jews rebuilding the wall and burned gates in Jerusalem. This week I'd like to continue on with the story.
A little history: Judah's collapse as a nation and their deportation to Babylon had occurred earlier in three distinct stages. In stage one, Judah's young nobility, including Daniel (the one thrown into the den of lions), were taken into exile. In stage two, there were 11,000 more exiled, including Ezekiel. In stage three, the rest of Judah, except for Jeremiah and the poorest of the people, were carried off likewise. About two years after the Babylonian empire was defeated and replaced by the Persian empire, the Jewish restoration back to Judah began. The Jewish people had been exiled from Jerusalem for seventy years and were finally being brought back to their homeland.
Nehemiah was living in the palace in Shushan, serving as a cupbearer to Artaxerxes, king of Persia, when his brother and some men from Judah arrived. After questioning them about the exiled Jews and the condition of Jerusalem, his heart was broken. Nehemiah began fasting and praying for his people. He was serving wine to the king, when the king asked why he was so sad. Nehemiah was given permission to return to his home country in order to oversee the rebuilding of the walls and gates. After his arrival, he told no one why he was there until after he inspected the damage. He gathered the priests, officials, and Jewish people together and gave them hope and encouragement. They responded by saying, "Let us build." Different families and groups took specific sections of the wall and also the various gates, and began the repair work.
You would think after God giving Nehemiah favor with the king, then the Jewish people in Jerusalem rallying so enthusiastically to repair the walls and gates, that everything would go smoothly and they wouldn't encounter any obstacles. But that was not to be. These people had already endured so much hardship and heartbreak from being exiled from their home country for so many years, that it seems as if things would finally turn around and go perfectly for them. But that didn't happen either.
Upon hearing about the work going on in Jerusalem, there were three men who began stirring up trouble. Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem began to mock and ridicule the workers saying, "What is this you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?"
Nehemiah answered them by saying, "The God of heaven will give us success. We His servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it."
Sanballat became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria said, "What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifice? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble -- burned as they are?"
Tobiah, who was by his side, said, "What they are building, even if a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!"
But Nehemiah responded by praying. "Hear us, O God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from Your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders."
At times, Christians mistakingly believe that if they are doing God's work or are doing what's right, that they will never encounter difficulties or problems. They think if everything goes smoothly, then they must be doing the right thing and be in God's will. But if something should go wrong, then they begin thinking that they must have somehow missed God, or that they are somehow in error. Questions and doubt begin filling their mind and causes doubt.
But the truth is, most of us will face problems and hard times, even when we're doing what's right and are in God's will. If we are praying and seeking God, He will give us peace regarding the direction we should go and open up doors for us. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to be smooth sailing from there on out. We may very likely have to deal with obstacles.
In Nehemiah's case, the obstacles were men trying to discourage them by mocking and ridiculing their efforts. When someone speaks out against what we're doing, often our automatic response is to be become angry. We try to defend our decisions and actions, and often do so by becoming defensive and upset. But that was not Nehemiah's response. Instead of refuting those men's taunts and defending their work, he began to pray and asked God to take care of it. If we would follow his example, and pray and allow God to take care of those who may cause us to be frustrated or upset, we would find that His ways are much better and more efficient than ours.
Nehemiah 4:6 says, "So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart."
When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod (apparently word spread quickly, and the troublemakers gathered a group of people to take their side), heard that the repairs to Jerusalem's walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.
It amazes me at times how much time and effort people will put into trying to keep things stirred up. I've worked with people who are so interested in keeping their nose in everyone else's business and keeping things stirred up, they will neglect their own work in order to do so. If they find out a tidbit of information, they'll hurry and get on the phone and call others so that they will be the first one to be able to gossip and share what they know, or think they know. And they always want others to be in cahoots with them and take their side in things.
Human nature hasn't changed in the last few thousands of years. This is pretty much what Sanballat and Tobiah were doing. They were trying to get things stirred up and others to take their side against the work that the Jews were doing. They were too cowardly to do this all by themselves, so apparently went to other groups whom they knew would take their side, and fight against those in Jerusalem.
But the workers responded by praying, and posted a guard day and night to watch for their enemies.
Meanwhile, their strength was giving out and they were becoming tired. There was so much rubble that it was interfering in the rebuilding of the wall.
Their enemies had also threatened by saying, "Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to their work."
Nehemiah stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. Then he stood up and said, "Don't be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes."
Their enemies heard that they were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it. Nehemiah and all the workers returned to their own work assigned to them. From that day on, half of the men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows, and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried material did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. The trumpeters stood by Nehemiah.
Nehemiah had told the people, "The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. Whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!"
God is notorious for fighting for His people.
In Exodus 14, Moses was leading the people out of Egypt, and Pharaoh and his men were in hot pursuit. The Israelites became fearful and Moses began speaking to them in order to calm their fears and encourage them. He told them in verse 14, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."
Upon reaching Canaan, the Israelites became frightened once again when the spies came back and reported that the men were as giants, and that the cities were fortified with walls. In Deuteronomy 1:29, 30 Moses is reminding them of that and said, "Then said I to you, 'Do not be terrified or afraid of them. The Lord your God, who goes before you, He will fight for you, according to all that He did for you in Egypt before your very eyes.'"
In Joshua 23, Joshua is old in years and is giving his farewell address. In verses 9 and 10 he tells the people, "The Lord has driven out great and strong nations from before you; and as for you, no man has been able to withstand you to this day. One man of you shall put to flight a thousand; for it is the Lord your God who fights for you, as He promised you."
When we face situations that look impossible, we can have assurance that God will fight for us. When things look difficult and it seems as if there's no hope or no way out, God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He can do more to change a situation in just a split second, than we ourselves can do in many years of fretting and working to try and bring about a resolution. All He has to do is speak the word and the sick and diseased can be healed, broken hearts can be mended, financial ruin can be reversed, careers and opportunities can open up, the barren woman can conceive a child, and family relationships can be restored.
When Satan sets traps in our way, intending to ensnare us and trying his best to destroy our lives, God can defeat his every tactic. John 10:10 says that, "The thief (Satan) does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy...." No matter how tempting or how enticing the things that Satan places in our path may look, we can be assured that no good will come of it. He never has our best interest at heart, and only wants us to fail and turn from our faith in God. And he will do whatever he possibly can in order to get our eyes and attention off God, and onto our problems and difficulties. Satan is not our "friend" and he'll tell every lie he can think of in order to convince us otherwise. He only wants to steal from us, kill and destroy.
But God sent His Son, Jesus, for the totally opposite reason. The second half of verse 10 says, "I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." God wants us to have abundant life. What a blessing!
So when you face adverse circumstances and you feel that no one cares or that you're all alone, know that God is right there beside you, fighting for you. His eyes are always upon you. No enemy that we face is greater than He is; and God can do the impossible.
Just as God was fighting on behalf of Nehemiah and the Jewish people, who were rebuilding the wall and gates of Jerusalem, He's fighting on our behalf. Just as He frustrated and made the enemies plots and schemes come to no avail, He can do the same for us. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever; and cannot and will not change. So have courage and stand strong in your faith. Our adversary, the devil, may walk about as a roaring lion, seeking for those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5:8); but "Greater is He (God) that is in you, then he (Satan) that is in the world." (1 John 4:4)
God is fighting for us -- and He's all we need!
I'd miscounted last week. I wrote about the seven trumpets, but had only read about six. This is where the Revelation gets very confusing very fast. Between the sixth and seventh trumpets, John saw quite a few things that are, to put it mildly, confusing. It gets even more confusing later.
Revelation 11:15 says, "The seventh angel sounded and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!" This verse reminds me a lot of The Declaration of Independence. From other verses around it, I think God is declaring his ownership of the world, but will come and take possession later. The verse just before it, Revelation 11:14 says, "The second woe is past; behold, the third woe is coming quickly." And Christ taking possession of Earth can't be a woe.
The seventh trumpet is a very critical time. Revelation 10:7 says, "but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel when he is about to sound the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets." I'm not sure exactly which prophecies this refers to, but I worry that it means the Rapture won't take place till the seventh trumpet sounds. Hopefully is it much simpler than that. Hopefully, it refers to the two prophets who will come to Jerusalem and reveal God's secrets. Either way, it is a very critical and important event for the whole world.
Much of chapter 11 describes two prophets who will come to Jerusalem and preach to all the people there. They will preach for 42 months (three and a half years). They will protect themselves with supernatural power and perform miracles and bring plagues. Eventually, they will be killed, but will come back to life a few days later.
Foil-Wrapped Steak Supper
1 round steak
6 carrots -- peeled and cut into bite size pieces
1 pkg. dry onion soup mix
1 small onion, quartered
1 stick butter
2 stalks celery, cut into bite size pieces
3 potatoes, peeled and quartered
Heat oven to 450. Place steak in center of large piece of aluminum foil. Sprinkle with soup mix; cover with vegetables. Slice the stick butter into 1 tablespoon slices and cover vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Fold foil over and seal securely. Bake 1 hour.
**I set a cookie sheet underneath, in case of leaks. I also double the foil.
Congratulations to Jon's nephew and wife, Kevyn and Kandis, on the birth of their son on January 14th. Kevyn, who is in the Army Reserves, has been in Afghanistan since last May, but was able to come home for two weeks. He will be leaving again on Saturday to finish out his term in Afghanistan. Hopefully, he will be back home for good in May. Keep him and his family in your prayers during the upcoming months.
This is the year for births in our family. One of my nieces and her husband are expecting a boy on May 4th, and another nephew and wife are expecting a boy in mid-May.
Twenty-one years ago, my sister Shirley was expecting her third child. She and my brother-in-law had gone for an ultrasound, and for some reason had to take their five year old son with them. After the doctor's appointment, they were in the van heading home. They didn't want to know the sex of the baby, preferring to wait and find out at the birth. But they asked Mark if he thought the baby was a boy or a girl. He told them that it was a boy. How did he know that? "The baby didn't have a bow in its hair." Guess what?! He was right -- the baby was a boy.
They were planning on Steven being their last baby; three boys were enough. When he was born, Shirley had surgery to supposedly prevent pregnancy. She called me a few months later crying. She was expecting a fourth baby. That wasn't supposed to happen! Her two youngest ones were going to be thirteen months apart in age. But that time, they finally got their girl! When the kids were babies and toddlers, it was almost like having twins. Whenever one of them wanted Shirley, the other one would too. She would try to get one of them to let their dad hold them; nope, they both wanted mommy. Hard to believe those little babies are all grown up now. Steven will be twenty-one in April and Tonya (who's the youngest niece/nephew in our family) will be twenty in May.
1988 was also the year for births for our family. Three of my sisters all had babies within four months of each other; Shirley had Steven in April, Linda had Philip in June, and Janie gave birth to Jared in July. Now these young men are all in college. Amazing how quickly time flies!
If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else's, we'd grab ours back.
We love you!
Loretta & Jon