Monday, September 29, 2014

Life in the [Stand] Fast Lane

Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates.  So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono.
But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them:  “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come.  Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?” 
Four times they sent the same message, and each time I gave the same reply.  The fifth time, Sanballat’s servant came with an open letter in his hand, and this is what it said:
“There is a rumor among the surrounding nations, and Geshem tells me it is true, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel and that is why you are building the wall.  According to his reports, you plan to be their king.  He also reports that you have appointed prophets in Jerusalem to proclaim about you, ‘Look! There is a king in Judah!’  “You can be very sure that this report will get back to the king, so I suggest that you come and talk it over with me.”
I replied, “There is no truth in any part of your story.  You are making up the whole thing.”  They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work.  So I continued the work with even greater determination.
Later I went to visit Shemaiah son of Delaiah and grandson of Mehetabel, who was confined to his home.  He said, “Let us meet together inside the Temple of God and bolt the doors shut.  Your enemies are coming to kill you tonight.”
But I replied, “Should someone in my position run from danger?  Should someone in my position enter the Temple to save his life?  No, I won’t do it!”  
I realized that God had not spoken to him, but that he had uttered this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him.  They were hoping to intimidate me and make me sin.  Then they would be able to accuse and discredit me.   Remember, O my God, all the evil things that Tobiah and Sanballat have done.  And remember Noadiah the prophet and all the prophets like her who have tried to intimidate me.
So on October 2 the wall was finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun.  When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated.  They realized this work had been done with the help of our God.  During those fifty-two days, many letters went back and forth between Tobiah and the nobles of Judah.  For many in Judah had sworn allegiance to him because his father-in-law was Shecaniah son of Arah, and his son Jehohanan was married to the daughter of Meshullam son of Berekiah.  They kept telling me about Tobiah’s good deeds, and then they told him everything I said.  And Tobiah kept sending threatening letters to intimidate me.  Nehemiah 6:1-19 (NLT)
You might remember from Bible stories of Exodus how Joshua led the nation of Israel to possess the Promised Land.  But Joshua could not conquer the Phonecian cities of Tyre and Sidon. (Josh. 13:3-4)

Tyre and Sidon were founded long before the Israelites entered the land of CanaanBoth cities were known for their maritime exploits and as centers of tradeAbout 870 B.C., Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of the Phoenician king, bringing Baal worship to Israel’s court.[1]

Sidon is a hotbed of terrorist fanatics (Hezbollah and Al Qaeda).  There is much hatred there for Americans and Jews.  As such, American missionaries, along with journalists are often targeted for attacks. 

It is an uneasy time in which we live; there were bombing attacks this week in Syria against al-Qaeda-linked Khorasan and ISIS groups and the Nusra Front.  There are live beheadings on CNN, and all the news heads warn of the frightening things going on, and how we had better be on the alert; be afraid, very afraid. 

Scripture, on the other hand maintains composure, and even says, “Thank you, Lord” even under the severest of hardships. 

How do you reconcile those two?  How do you look at the state of things in this world and come up balanced?  Consider:
the nervousness of constant war
a flattened economy
crime on the rise
Teen suicides on the rise
taxes through the roof
Pension plans blowing up
…and on, and on, and on.

Life in the fast lane is frightening.  But our study of Nehemiah’s journal shows us someone living in what looks like the fast lane; it just happens to be the [stand] fast lane!

The Story

Nehemiah did experience some really difficult times from the opening of the book to this point. 

As a servant of Artaxerxes the Persian king, Nehemiah was the cupbearer who asked to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls.  It was frightening to be a lowly servant asking a powerful king to change his former edict to let the walls lay in rubble.

As a traveler making a 1,000 mile journey, there were many dangers to face – sickness, bands of thieves, desertion or mutiny by those sent to protect him.

As a new arrival back in Jerusalem Nehemiah found hostility from the local governors.

When the wall was being rebuilt there were problems from within his own people, grumbling from the poor who were being oppressed by the rich.

In our text this morning we notice that even after the wall was completed, Sanballat and Tobiah were still after him.  This time they used rumor and lies about Nehemiah’s intent and character.  When that failed they resorted to a plot of intrigue to lure Nehemiah to a location away from the safety of Jerusalem…the plain of Ono.  
Of course Nehemiah said “Oh NO!” to that!

Nehemiah’s Steadfastness

Four times Sanballat and Geshem sent letters of invitation to diplomatic negotiation.  Four times Nehemiah answered the same way:  “I am working on God’s big project here.  You will have to wait.”  There is something admirable about a man who can remember his priorities!

The story is told of young Charles Darwin that one day he was eagerly holding one rare beetle in his right fist, another in his left and then suddenly he caught sight of a third beetle that he simply knew he must have for his collection.  What to do?

In a flash he put one of the beetles in his mouth for safekeeping and reached for the third beetle with his now free hand.  But the mouth-imprisoned beetle squirted acid down Darwin's throat, so that in a fit of coughing he lost all three beetles.[2]  

Remembering your priorities is always to be tempered with remembering to keep the larger picture in perspective.

The fifth attempt to disrupt Nehemiah’s work was an unsealed letter – open for even the messenger to read – it used rumor and even a bald-faced lie that Nehemiah was planning a revolt against the Persian Empire.  Nehemiah answered in that time-honored fashion – He said, “Y’all are nuts!”

One final attempt was the religious ploy – they paid Shemaiah, who had a reputation of being a prophet of God, to pretend he was looking out for Nehemiah’s neck – instead he was luring him into a murderous trap. 

Nehemiah left that prophet behind like a bad-hair day.

The Question

Heroes of the faith like Nehemiah always bring up questions.  The one looming before the house this morning has to do with how in the world Nehemiah knew the skullduggery those clowns were planning.  And, more importantly, as I follow Christ each day, how can I act with the same kind of discernment I see in Nehemiah?

If you check out Nehemiah’s response to Shemaiah’s invitation you can see the key to his pattern of discernment – Nehemiah leaned on the Word of God.

When Shemaiah said, Go in the temple, Nehemiah recalled that going into the temple for safety was only in certain circumstances – this didn’t qualify.  In addition, fleeing in the face of an ungodly plot was so contradictory to the way God’s servants had acted throughout history. 

Shemaiah claimed to be a prophet, but he was suggesting remedies for Nehemiah’s difficult situations that went decidedly against God’s ways. 

Nehemiah knew how God felt about such prophets:
But any prophet who falsely claims to speak in my name or who speaks in the name of another god must die.’   Deuteronomy 18:20 (NLT)

Therein is the teaching for us as well.  If you really want to know how to follow God, seek His Word every day…
·        memorize it
·         meditate on it
·        make it your heart’s stuff! 

Then, when courses of action are suggested to you, you will know how not to sin against Him. 

This thing about discerning God’s will baffles the world.  When Nehemiah was the subject of gossip and rumor, threats and plots, he told his enemies to hit the road – then he went right on waiting on the Lord, working on the wall, praying and waiting for God to act.  Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem were put to shame.

This is the difference when Hezbollah or Al Qaeda terrorists threaten.  This is the difference when the economy crumbles, or the doctor says the “c” word.  This is the difference for people who have peace in the middle of a dark day, in the midst of a storm – this is the difference in people who are living an everyday close relationship with the God Who is in charge of everything He made. 

When the storms come, your God gives you the peace that passes understanding on the inside to make the fast lane your [stand] fast lane! 

That’s what He does!

[1] Scott Langston, Holman Bible Dictionary
[2] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 26.

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