Series: Thru the Bible
Message: Our strength is found in God’s Joy
Our strength is found in God’s Joy
“(1) When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall and no breach remained in it (even though up to that time I had not positioned doors in the gates), (2) Sanballat and Geshem sent word to me saying,
“Come on! Let’s set up a time to meet together at Kephirim in the plain of Ono.”
Now they intended to do me harm. (3) So I sent messengers to them saying,
“I am engaged in an important work, and I am unable to come down. Why should the work come to a halt when I leave it to come down to you?”
(4) They contacted me four times in this way, and I responded the same way each time.
(5) The fifth time that Sanballat sent his assistant to me in this way, he had an open letter in his hand. (6) Written in it were the following words:
“Among the nations it is rumored (and Geshem has substantiated this) that you and the Jews have intentions of revolting, and for this reason you are building the wall. Furthermore, according to these rumors you are going to become their king. (7) You have also established prophets to announce in Jerusalem on your behalf, ‘We have a king in Judah!’ Now the king is going to hear about these rumors. So come on! Let’s talk about this.”
(8) I sent word back to him,
“We are not engaged in these activities you are describing. All of this is a figment of your imagination.”
(9) All of them were wanting to scare us, supposing,
“Their hands will grow slack from the work, and it won’t get done.”
So now, strengthen my hands!
(10) Then I went to the house of Shema-iah son of Delaiah, the son of Mehe-tabel. He was confined to his home. He said,
“Let’s set up a time to meet in the house of God, within the temple. Let’s close the doors of the temple, for they are coming to kill you. It will surely be at night that they will come to kill you.”
(11) But I replied,
“Should a man like me run away? Would someone like me flee to the temple in order to save his life? I will not go!”
(12) I recognized the fact that God had not sent him, for he had spoken the prophecy against me as a hired agent of Tobiah and Sanballat. (13) He had been hired to scare me so that I would do this and thereby sin. They would thus bring reproach on me and I would be discredited.”
The sin spoken of here may have had something to do with cowardice, though I am not certain that cowardice was understood as a sin under the Old Covenant in situations such as this. No, most likely the sin would have been where he would have been retreating to since the tabernacle courtyard would not be a secure location, so this was most likely in reference to the tabernacle of meeting. Nehemiah was not a priest and therefore had no right to enter that place. The only problem with this interpretation is that the temple doors were not necessarily that secure. They were not made of solid metal but were made of cypress and olive wood overlaid with gold.
“(14) Remember, O my God, Tobiah and Sanballat in light of these actions of theirs – also Noadiah the prophetess and the other prophets who were trying to scare me!
(15) So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in just fifty-two days.
(16) When all our enemies heard and all the nations who were around us saw this, they were greatly disheartened. They knew that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.
(17) In those days the aristocrats of Judah repeatedly sent letters to Tobiah, and responses from Tobiah were repeatedly coming to them.
(18) For many in Judah had sworn allegiance to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecan-iah son of Arah. His son Jonathan had married the daughter of Meshullam son of Berechiah. (19) They were telling me about his good deeds and then taking back to him the things I said. Tobiah, on the other hand, sent letters in order to scare me.”
This reveals a divided people. These aristocrats or nobles were of Judah and so were presumably the same nobles who had been extracting interest against loans to their fellow Jews and had taken some of them as slaves to work off their debts. This was dealt with in chapter 5, and those guilty seemed to show some remorse by quickly agreeing to let them go, forgive their debts and given them back their lands. Yet, here some of these nobel’s appear to be in the back pocket of Tobiah an official of the trans-euphrates who worked for King Artaxerxes.
Furthermore, there was a connection between these people and an eminent person who worked with Nehemiah on the wall – namely, Berechiah.
Tobiah was the son-in-law of Shechaniah who himself was a son of Arah. According to Ezra, the house of Arah had come up with Zerubbabel from the captivity. Tobiah’s son Jonathan was husband to Berechiah’s granddaughter.
So Tobiah had a continual stream of insider information being sent to him and means of corresponding with them all. His intel was lacking though since he clearly did not grasp the character and motivation behind Nehemiah’s actions – the he was a man of integrity who was devoted to God and loved his people.
“(1) When the wall had been rebuilt and I had positioned the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, (2) I then put in charge over Jerusalem my brother Hanani and Hananiah the chief of the citadel, for he was a faithful man and feared God more than many do.
(3) I said to them,
“The gates of Jerusalem must not be opened in the early morning, until those who are standing guard close the doors and lock them. Position residents of Jerusalem as guards, some at their guard stations and some near their homes.”
(4) Now the city was spread out and large, and there were not a lot of people in it.
At that time houses had not been rebuilt.”
“(5) My God placed it on my heart to gather the leaders, the officials, and the ordinary people so they could be enrolled on the basis of genealogy.
I found the genealogical records of those who had formerly returned.
Here is what I found written in that record:
(6) These are the people of the province who returned from the captivity of the exiles, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and to Judah, each to his own city.
(7) They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, and Baanah.
The number of Israelite men was as follows:”
Now the list here is the same list as we read in Ezra 2. So precise are the two lists that I am giving myself, and not to mention you all, a break from having to read it aloud. Now, that is NOT to say that there are not differences and there the explanations for them are too numerous to cover, but I believe the most plausible is that the list of Ezra was compiled while still in Babylon and was comprised of those who intended to go. The wording in Ezra 2:1 was,
“(1) These are the people of the province who were going up, from the captives of the exile whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced into exile in Babylon.”
Whereas the wording here in Nehemiah 7:6 is,
“(6) These are the people of the province who returned from the captivity of the exiles, whom King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had forced into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and to Judah, each to his own city.”
My only reservation with this is that Nehemiah was supposedly reading from the list made by Ezra, so this suggested means of reconciling the two lists would require that someone in Ezra’s day either made a new list upon arrival or amended the original list to include those who actually came.
The one thing that gives me great comfort that the discrepancy is not of any real import is that they both were compiled within the lifetime of both men and that if these numbers constituted a true discrepancy, they would have amended them if they had been in error OR the second would not have been retained and made a public and historical record. As such, a logical reason for the few differences must exist and must not have seemed in any way to either Ezra nor Nehemiah to be of concern regarding accuracy.
The greater issue is the fact that such a list of names is mentioned twice in scripture at all. This says something very special.
As I told you when we were in Ezra, these names represent only about 2% of the Jewish people who had been given the right to return to Jerusalem. Because they had settled in the land, made homes and did the best they could to make the most of a bad situation – they became satisfied and content where they were and this was sinful!
Now you may find that at odds with something I taught two weeks ago on Sunday and the passage in Hebrews I quoted which told us who are under the New Covenant to “be content with such things as we have”. If that is God’s command under the New, then how could it be at variance with what was right under the old?
Well if you remember, Hebrews 13:5 is referring to our contentment IN CHRIST. That we are not to seek contentment in the world or in the things we own, but in Christ alone!
In effect that is the same reason it was wrong for the Israelites of Ezra and Nehemiah’s time to BECONTENT in Babylon. Their entire focus was upon what was comfortable and convenient for them.
In Babylon they already had homes, a family, a means of living. To uproot from this and return to their family homesteads in Jerusalem which lay in ruins was to upend and unsettle their comfortable lives. Yet, God had given that land to them by promise and in His mercy was allowing them to return again and they chose to stay in enemy territory because it was comfortable and convenient.
Let me encourage you with the fact that the enemy will always seek to make things easier and more comfortable for you – just outside of God’s will. If you buy the American lie, that it is a human right to exist for the pursuit of one’s own prosperity, dreams and happiness, you will be easy prey!
The men and women who returned, nearly all did so out of a sense of pride in the land God had given them, out of a sense of respect to the patriarchs of their faith and out of a sense of honor for their God.
It was not easy, it was not comfortable and it was not safe – but it was honoring of God and their forefathers. This made their actions righteous, and God has said, that the memorial of the righteous is blessed!
Thus, we not only have an account of these peoples names in scripture – we have them twice!
When in Hebrew literature – especially poetry, something is said twice it is to draw attention to it and cause you to take note. When it is said three times it becomes an emphatic statement to be diligently attended to.
So these people’s names have been recorded in scripture by inspiration of the Holy Spirit Himself in order to draw attention to them, in remembrance and honor and so that those of all future generations might take note!
Now let’s skip on down to verse 70 which is where the two accounts are recorded somewhat differently, but which do not constitute an error.
“(8) the descendants of Parosh, 2,172;
(9) the descendants of Shephatiah, 372;
(10) the descendants of Arah, 652;
(11) the descendants of Pahath-Moab (from the line of Jeshua and Joab), 2,818;
(12) the descendants of Elam, 1,254;
(13) the descendants of Zattu, 845;
(14) the descendants of Zaccai, 760;
(15) the descendants of Binnui, 648;
(16) the descendants of Bebai, 628;
(17) the descendants of Azgad, 2,322;
(18) the descendants of Adonikam, 667;
(19) the descendants of Bigvai, 2,067;
(20) the descendants of Adin, 655;
(21) the descendants of Ater (through Hezekiah), 98;
(22) the descendants of Hashum, 328;
(23) the descendants of Bezai, 324;
(24) the descendants of Harif, 112;
(25) the descendants of Gibeon, 95;
(26) The men of Bethlehem and Netophah, 188;
(27) the men of Anathoth, 128;
(28) the men of the family of Azmaveth, 42;
(29) the men of Kiriath Jearim, Kephirah, and Beeroth, 743;
(30) the men of Ramah and Geba, 621;
(31) the men of Micmash, 122;
(32) the men of Bethel and Ai, 123;
(33) the men of the other Nebo, 52;
(34) the descendants of the other Elam, 1,254;
(35) the descendants of Harim, 320;
(36) the descendants of Jericho, 345;
(37) the descendants of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, 721;
(38) the descendants of Senaah, 3,930;
(39) The priests: the descendants of Jedaiah (through the family of Jeshua), 973;
(40) the descendants of Immer, 1,052;
(41) the descendants of Pashhur, 1,247;
(42) the descendants of Harim, 1,017.
(43) The Levites: the descendants of Jeshua (through Kadmiel, through the line of Hodaviah), 74.
(44) The singers: the descendants of Asaph, 148.
(45) The gatekeepers: the descendants of Shallum, the descendants of Ater, the descendants of Talmon, the descendants of Akkub, the descendants of Hatita, and the descendants of Shobai, 138.
(46) The temple servants: the descendants of Ziha, the descendants of Hasupha, the descendants of Tabbaoth, (47) the descendants of Keros, the descendants of Sia, the descendants of Padon, (48) the descendants of Lebanah, the descendants of Hagabah, the descendants of Shalmai,
(49) the descendants of Hanan, the descendants of Giddel, the descendants of Gahar, (50) the descendants of Reaiah, the descendants of Rezin, the descendants of Nekoda,
(51) the descendants of Gazzam, the descendants of Uzzah, the descendants of Paseah, (52) the descendants of Besai, the descendants of Meunim, the descendants of Nephussim, (53) the descendants of Bakbuk, the descendants of Hakupha, the descendants of Harhur, (54) the descendants of Bazluth, the descendants of Mehida, the descendants of Harsha, (55) the descendants of Barkos, the descendants of Sisera, the descendants of Temah, (56) the descendants of Neziah, the descendants of Hatipha.
(57) The descendants of the servants of Solomon: the descendants of Sotai, the descendants of Sophereth, the descendants of Perida, (58) the descendants of Jaala, the descendants of Darkon, the descendants of Giddel, (59) the descendants of Shephatiah, the descendants of Hattil, the descendants of Pokereth–Hazzebaim, and the descendants of Amon. (60) All the temple servants and the descendants of the servants of Solomon, 392.
(61) These are the ones who came up from Tel Melah, Tel Harsha, Kerub, Addon, and Immer (although they were unable to certify their family connection or their ancestry, as to whether they were really from Israel): (62) the descendants of Delaiah, the descendants of Tobiah, and the descendants of Nekoda, 642.
(63) And from among the priests: the descendants of Hobaiah, the descendants of Hakkoz, and the descendants of Barzillai (who had married a woman from the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by that name).
(64) They searched for their records in the genealogical materials, but none were found. They were therefore excluded from the priesthood. (65) The governor instructed them not to eat any of the sacred food until there was a priest who could consult the Urim and Thummim.
(66) The entire group numbered 42,360. (67) not counting their 7,337 male and female servants.
They also had 245 male and female singers.
(68) They had 736 horses, 245 mules, (69) 435 camels, and 6,720 donkeys.”
Here is another difference, but there is also a clear difference in the people mentioned. In Ezra it does not mention a gift from the governor, but only the heads of families, while Nehemiah mentions the governor and some of the common people. Still there are differences and that is noted.
“(70) Some of the family leaders contributed to the work.
The governor contributed to the treasury 1,000 gold drachmas, 50 bowls, and 530 priestly garments.
(71) Some of the family leaders gave to the project treasury 20,000 gold drachmas and 2,200 silver minas.
(72) What the rest of the people gave amounted to 20,000 gold drachmas, 2,000 silver minas, and 67 priestly garments.
(73) The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all the rest of Israel lived in their cities.
When the seventh month arrived and the Israelites were settled in their cities,”
“(1)all the people gathered together in the plaza which was in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the LORD had commanded Israel.
(2) So Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly which included men and women and all those able to understand what they heard. (This happened on the first day of the seventh month.)
(3) So he read it before the plaza in front of the Water Gate from dawn till noon before the men and women and those children who could understand. All the people were eager to hear the book of the law.
(4) Ezra the scribe stood on a towering wooden platform constructed for this purpose. Standing near him on his right were Mattith-iah, Shema, Ana-iah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Masseiah.
On his left were Peda-iah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam.
(5) Ezra opened the book in plain view of all the people, for he was elevated above all the people. When he opened the book, all the people stood up.
(6) Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people replied “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands.
Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
(7) Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hod-iah, Maase-iah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pela–iah – all of whom were Levites – were teaching the people the law, as the people remained standing.
(8) They read from the book of God’s law, explaining it and imparting insight. Thus the people gained understanding from what was read.
(9) Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priestly scribe, and the Levites who were imparting understanding to the people said to all of them,
“This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.”
For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the law.
(10) He said to them,
“Go and eat delicacies and drink sweet drinks and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared.
For this day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
As I have often told you this appears to be God’s joy – not mans. Their sorrow of heart was understandable, healthy and good. James himself tells New Covenant saints that such is an appropriate response when we have been made aware of our own sins and treasons. However, James also says that when we humble ourselves God will lift us up.
These Israelites were humbling themselves and honoring God. Their hearts were broken over both their past willing and ignorant disloyalty to God. However, since this was a day of feasting, and a day of God’s delight in the heart response of His people, he commands them to share in His joy and so experience a new strength that will not only eclipse their immediate sorry, but allow them to reveal in their connection to God and His pleasure in them. This also offers a strength for living lives which honor God.
The Expositor’s Bible had this to say about this passage,
“By the expression “the joy of the Lord” it seems clear that Nehemiah and his associates meant a joy which may be experienced by men through their fellowship with God. The phrase could be used for the gladness of God Himself; as we speak of the righteousness of God or the love of God, so we might speak of His joy in reference to His own infinite life and consciousness. But in the case before us the drift of the passage directs our thoughts to the moods and feelings of men. The Jews are giving way to grief, and they are rebuked for so doing and encouraged to rejoice. In this situation some thoughts favourable to joy on their part are naturally suitable. Accordingly they are called to enter into a pure and lofty gladness in which they are assured they will find their strength.
This “joy of the Lord,” then, is the joy that springs up in our hearts by means of our relation to God. It is a God-given gladness, and it is found in communion with God. Nevertheless the other “joy of the Lord” is not to be left out of account when we think of the gladness which comes to us from God, for the highest joy is possible to us just because it is first experienced by God. There could be no joy in communion with a morose divinity. The service of Moloch must have been a terror, a perfect agony to his most loyal devotees. The feelings of a worshipper will always be reflections from what he thinks he perceives in the countenance of his god. They will be gloomy if the god is a sombre personage, and cheerful if he is a glad being. Now the revelation of God in the Bible is the unveiling with growing clearness of a countenance of unspeakable love and beauty and gladness. He is made known to us as “the blessed God”-the happy God. Then the joy of His children is the overflow of His own deep gladness streaming down to them. This is the “joy in the presence of the angels” which, springing from the great heart of God, makes the happiness of returning penitents, so that they share in their Father’s delight, as the prodigal shares in the home festivities when the fatted calf is killed. This same communication of gladness is seen in the life of our Lord, not only during those early sunny days in Galilee when His ministry opened under a cloudless sky, but even amid the darkness of the last hours at Jerusalem, for in His final discourse Jesus prayed that His joy might be in His disciples in order that their joy might be full.”
I like an observation that Guzik makes here and that is obedience is always in our grasp and our emotions ARE well within our control. Such thoughts run directly opposed to modern thinking. In today’s world we believe our emotions are ALWAYS valid and that they are NOT in our control. They dictate to us and we only do ourselves harm when we suppress them.
While there are in fact times when suppressing your emotions would be harmful in the long run, there are many more times when it is not only appropriate, but right to do so!
An example which springs immediately to mind is Ezekiel who was told to not mourn for his wife who was to die.
Ezekiel 24:15-18, “(15) The LORD’s message came to me: (16) “Son of man, realize that I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you with a jolt, but you must not mourn or weep or shed tears. (17) Groan to moan for the dead, but do not perform mourning rites. Bind on your turban and put your sandals on your feet. Do not cover your lip and do not eat food brought by others.” (18) So I spoke to the people in the morning, and my wife died in the evening. In the morning I acted just as I was commanded.”
Here is Guzik’s comment,
The people felt sad, because they were aware of their own sin. But they could walk in joy because God was doing a great work. Our emotions are not beyond our control; we can do God’s will even when we don’t feel like it.
“(11) Then the Levites quieted all the people saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy. Do not grieve.”
(12) So all the people departed to eat and drink and to share their food with others and to enjoy tremendous joy, for they had gained insight in the matters that had been made known to them.
(13) On the second day of the month the family leaders met with Ezra the scribe, together with all the people, the priests, and the Levites, to consider the words of the law.
(14) They discovered written in the law that the LORD had commanded through Moses that the Israelites should live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month, (15) and that they should make a proclamation and disseminate this message in all their cities and in Jerusalem:
“Go to the hill country and bring back olive branches and branches of wild olive trees, myrtle trees, date palms, and other leafy trees to construct temporary shelters, as it is written.”
(16) So the people went out and brought these things back and constructed temporary shelters for themselves, each on his roof and in his courtyard and in the courtyards of the temple of God and in the plaza of the Water Gate and the plaza of the Ephraim Gate.
(17) So all the assembly which had returned from the exile constructed temporary shelters and lived in them.
The Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day.
Everyone experienced very great joy.
(18) Ezra read in the book of the law of God day by day, from the first day to the last. They observed the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day they held an assembly as was required.”