Christ in All the Scriptures
by A.M. Hodgkin
- III. Christ in the Historical Books
12. Nehemiah --
- An interval of about twelve years had passed since the reforms of Ezra, when Nehemiah obtained leave of King Artaxerxes, to whom he bore the office of cup-bearer, to go up to Jerusalem. His spirit had been stirred by the news of the desolate condition of the city with its broken walls [ch. 1]. Nehemiah found it even as he had heard, and he gathered the elders together and told them of the good hand of his God upon him, and they said, ''Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work'' [ch. 2].
The Key-note of this book again is Restoration. It is practically a continuation of the Book of Ezra. In that [book] we saw the Temple rebuilt; in this the walls [of the city]. The restoration began at the heart of things and spread outwards. When the heart is right with God, and established as His dwelling-place, the outward work of His service in the world can go forward. This whole book is full of lessons for the servant of Christ. It begins with Nehemiah's confession to God, in which he humbles himself on account of the condition of his people. Both beforehand in Shushan, and on the spot in Jerusalem, he makes himself acquainted with the details of the need. Throughout, we find him a man of prayer. But he is not only that, he is a born statesman, and brings his natural powers into God's service. He sees the power of co-operation, and he inspires a feeble people to accomplish a great work.
- Hearty Service. [Chapter 3]
- In building the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah began at the Sheep Gate, and portioned out a complete circuit of the city. Frequently, we read that ''every man built over against his own house'' (see 3:10,23,28,29). Priests and rulers, goldsmiths and apothecaries, and merchants worked side by side, brothers working together, and Shullum, the ruler of half Jerusalem, helped by his daughters. Several of the builders seem, cautiously, first to have undertaken one bit, and then having accomplished that, as their enthusiasm grew, to have volunteered for another. Such was Meremoth, the son of Urijah (3:4,21), and Meshullam, the son of Berechiah, who repaired a piece of the wall, besides that over against his own chamber (3:4,30), and Nehemiah, the son of Azbuk, whose work is described in three pieces (3:16). ''Baruch, the son of Zabbai, earnestly repaired the other piece, from the turning of the wall unto the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest'' (3:20). We are told who set up the various gates, with the locks and the bars thereof. No detail of work done for His glory is overlooked by God, and He delights to place on record the humblest service.
- But the descendants of the Samaritans who had harassed Zerubbabel, were indefatigable in their efforts to hinder Nehemiah. First they mocked them: ''What do these feeble Jews? that which they build, if a fox go up, he shall even break down their stone wall.'' ''Hear, O our God; for we are despised,'' was Nehemiah's prayer. ''So built we the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto the half thereof: for the people had a mind to work'' (4:1-6).
Mockery having failed, the enemy conspired to fight against Jerusalem. But Nehemiah says: ''We made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch day and night'' [4:7-9].
- Watch, as if on that alone,
- Hung the issue of the day;
- Pray, that grace may be sent down:
- Watch and pray.
- Nehemiah armed the builders, and gave orders that in what place they heard the sound of the trumpet, they were to resort thither to defend the city. [4:10-23]
Then the enemy tried stratagem, and four times sent a message to Nehemiah, asking him to meet them in the plain of Ono. Four times, he sent the same reply, ''I am doing a great work: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?'' [ch. 6]. If we have a good answer, there is no need to vary it. Then, they accused them of rebellion, and sought to weaken their hands and make them afraid, but Nehemiah replied to Tobiah: ''There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart.'' And as a last resort, one bade him take refuge in the Temple, ''for they will come to slay thee.'' ''Should such a man as I flee?'' was Nehemiah's steadfast reply. ''So the wall was finished in fifty and two days'' (6:15).
Our soul's enemies still use wiles and threats and plots, similar to all of these, if by any means they can hinder or discourage us from doing God's work; and we need, like Nehemiah, to remember Who has commissioned us, and make our prayer unto Him, to disregard all suggestions that would weaken our hands.
- Our Great High Priest. [Chapter 7]
- The register of those who first came from Babylon under Zerubbabel is again repeated here [cp. Ezra 2:1-64]. And there were some of the priests who sought their register in the genealogy, but it could not be found., ''therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. And the Tirshatha (Governor) said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim'' (Neh 7:63-65).
[Footnote: Urim and Thummim, ''Lights and Perfections.'' In Hebrew, when two nouns occur together in this form, one is to be understood as an adjective, making it especially emphatic. Thus, this should be translated ''perfect light,'' for the plural form here is the Hebrew ''plural of majesty.'' See also the related note in the chapter on the book of Deuteronomy.]
- We have here one of those instances in the Old Testament when the Face of Christ suddenly shines upon us in the most unexpected and unlikely [of] places. Merely a register and a few priests who could not find their place in it. But it makes our hearts thrill with the consciousness that we have a great High Priest-- even Jesus-- who has the Urim and Thummim, who is the ''Perfect Light,'' to whom all hearts are open [Heb 4:13], who can settle the question unhesitatingly as to our right to communion with God, answering to the eating of the most holy things, and as to our worthiness to act as His priests in blessing to others. Unclean, unworthy, polluted as we know we are, He has, by His own blood, entered in once for all into the Holy Place, having obtained eternal redemption for us (Heb 9:12, R.V.). And if we trust in His one sacrifice for sins for ever, we also may draw nigh and have communion with Him, not once a year, or once a month, or once a week, merely, but day by day.
Christ is a great High Priest-- not by genealogy from Aaron, but ''after the order of Mechizedek,'' who was ''without genealogy'' (Heb 7:3, R.V.). Melchizedek's genealogy was, no doubt, omitted to fit him all the more to be a type of Him who had no earthly father. God has called all believers in Christ to be Priests unto Him, and our right to priesthood depends upon whether we have been born again and have our names written, not in an earthly register, but in the Lamb's Book of Life. He has, moreover, provided for our fitness in the present tenses of John's Epistle. First, ''The blood cleanseth,'' so that there need never be any cloud between our souls and God. Second, ''The anointing abideth,'' so that there need never be any lack of supply of His Spirit for service. [1John 1:7; 2:27]
- Ezra's Preaching. [Chapter 8]
- The immediate result of the work of restoration was a great hunger for God's Word. The people gathered themselves together as one man unto Ezra before the Water Gate, and begged him to bring forth the Book of the Law of Moses. Here Ezra, perhaps an old man now, comes forward again, and we see him and Nehemiah uniting in God's service. We are given a striking picture of Ezra's preaching. Already we have seen him as a reformer, and as a man of prayer, and now all his skill in the Law of the Lord comes out as he stands on that pulpit of wood-- ''made for the purpose''-- with thirteen of the leaders of the people standing beside him, and all the people thronging round. He opened the roll of the book, and having prayed, read the Law distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused the people to understand it. Hour after hour, and subsequently day after day, they listened, men and women and children, ''all that could understand.''
Such preaching stirred Jerusalem as Savonarola's preaching stirred Florence. The people wept as they found how far short they had come of God's will. But Ezra and Nehemiah and the Levites stilled the people, and told them not to weep, and from the context and what follows, we gather that their weeping was turned into joy through yielding to God's will and accepting its claim upon their lives. ''And the people went their way... to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them'' (8:12). ''Great peace have they that love Thy Law'' [Psa 119:165].
The Children of Israel sealed themselves under a solemn covenant to keep the Law, specially with regard to marriages with the heathen, to keeping the Sabbath, and to maintaining the worship of God. [ch. 9 and 10]
The dedication of the walls was a joyful occasion, for ''God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced; so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off'' (12:43).
- Backsliding Once More. [Chapter 13]
- Once more, twelve years have rolled away, and Nehemiah, who had been back at the Court of Shushan for a time, returned to Jerusalem, to find all the terms of the covenant broken and the Law disregarded. With a firm hand, he dealt with these abuses. Again the Law of Moses was brought out, and it was found written that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever. Yet Eliashib, the priest, because he was allied unto Tobiah the Ammonite, had actually given over a chamber in the Temple to this enemy of the Lord. Nehemiah turned him out immediately. We need, in these days, to be careful that we do not let the ties of relationship weaken the straightforwardness of our testimony for the Lord.
Again, Nehemiah contended with the rulers because he found that the service of the House of the Lord was neglected. Next, he found wholesale disregard of the Sabbath. The utter disregard of God's Day is one of the evidences of the backslidden condition of the Church in our own time. It is rapidly growing upon our land, and, together with disobedience to parents, is a sign of the perilous times of these last days, when ''Men shall be lovers of their own selves... lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God'' (2Tim 3:1-4).
- ''The Speech of Ashdod.''
- Lastly, Nehemiah found that, again, the Jews had married among the heathen, with the result that their children spoke half in the speech of Ashdod, and half in the Jews' language [13:23-31]. God has distinctly commanded that Christians shall marry ''only in the Lord'' [1Cor 7:39], and that they shall ''not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers'' [2Cor 6:14]. When they disobey God's distinct command in this, and marry those who are not Christians, it always brings sorrow. How often the argument is used that the Christian husband or wife will be able to win the loved one to the Lord's side, but it is not to be expected that God will grant His blessing upon an act of disobedience, and the result that usually follows is that the Christian is drawn, it may be almost imperceptibly, to love the things of the world, and is found-- together with the children of such a marriage-- speaking ''half in the speech of Ashdod,'' and unable to speak as a citizen of the heavenly city. The spirit of compromise with the world mars the testimony for Christ of many a home which ought to be a witness for Him.
In all these breaches of the Law, Nehemiah ''contended with the Jews''; whether they were nobles or rulers or the common people, he dealt with them in the most summary manner, and did not rest till all was put right. This was no want [ie., no lack] of love on his part, for he was willing to spend and be spent for his people. It is an evidence of true love to deal faithfully with false teaching, and wrong-doing of any kind. The Church of Christ would be in a purer state today, if her leaders had had the courage to deal with disregard of God's Law in the same spirit as Nehemiah dealt with it.