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About this series
Keep Pressing Ahead
How to Make it Through Anything
There are times in our lives when we simply get to the point that we say, "I can't take it anymore!" This depression is just too dark. This marriage is just too hard. The job I lost, the family member I buried, the junk I'm going through. And deep, down inside your heart you say, "I quit. I'm done." And though you may go through the motions on the outside, you've just had it. Your mind says, "I've got to trust God," but your heart says, "I've heard it all before and it's not working for me." You begin to drift - from people and from God. This series, drawn from Nehemiah, will help you overcome adversity and keep you pressing ahead no matter what.More from this series
We’re going to talk about difficult, or sometimes even what seems like impossible, circumstances. And you can see from Nehemiah chapter 7, the response – the New Testament parallel, this isn’t new, is that it’s James chapter 1.
Someone says things are going wrong. If there’s one passage that comes to my mind, it’s James 1 – very first book of the New Testament written. It was written by Jesus’ half brother. These Jewish Christians had come to Christ, and they were persecuted, and they were fleeing.
And so, they’re leaving jobs, they’re leaving their homes, often their families have disowned them. And James would write, by the Spirit of God, “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials.” And that phrase, “various trials,” has the idea of external circumstances. And then, he gives the reason, “Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” – and that’s our word: hupomeno. Keep pressing ahead.
And then, “Let endurance have its perfecting” – or “maturing” – “result, that you might be perfect” – or “mature” – “lacking in nothing.” God is going to use it, is what he is saying. And we usually quote it to there, but the very next verse says, “But if any of you lack wisdom” – in other words, you don’t know how to keep pressing ahead. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”
In fact, the idea is that even if our circumstances are difficult because we messed up, we can come to God and say, Father, please help me. I don’t know how to get out of this. I don’t know what I ought to do. He says, “I long to teach you, and give you insight and wisdom about what to do.”
And what we’re going to see is, Nehemiah is going to model for us: how do you respond to negative circumstances? The kind, especially, that you have zero control over.
Let’s understand Nehemiah’s difficult circumstance. Let’s get an idea of what he’s going through. And to do that, you have to go back a little bit.
Jewish history – if you would open your Old Testament, and as I’m doing, I’m reading through the whole Bible this year, and if you get to 1 and 2 Chronicles, and 1 and 2 Kings, you get the story of all these kings. And, as you know, it was separated – Judah is following God for a season, and the tribes of Israel, they begin to fade away. And the problem with all of them is, they disobey God, they start worshipping idols, and they start detestable practices beyond even what the pagans were doing. Followers of Yahweh are actually offering their kids in the fire to false gods.
And so, God, in His judgment, promised, and He sends them into exile. They’ve been in Babylon for seventy years. Well, Isaiah made a prophecy, a hundred and fifty years before it happened, named names, and he said, “There will be a king that I’m going to raise up, named Cyrus, and he will declare an edict that all My people should go back, and rebuild Jerusalem.”
And as we read the annals of history, we find that that’s exactly what happens. God raises this man up; that’s exactly his name. He pays for it; he even takes all the things that were in the treasury, and the things that were taken out of the Temple of God, and he sends it back with them.
And there’s a prince of Judah named Zerubbabel, and so he heads back, and you can see – I think it’s 538 BC. And so, he heads back with a group of people, and they rebuild the Temple, and it’s not nearly like the great, big one that Solomon had. But they get going, and then it stops, and it starts, and it stops, and it starts.
And then, there was a priest and a teacher of the Law, named Ezra, and about seventy years, seventy-five years or so later, he goes back with another group of people. And a different king says, “Well, you can go” – and I just read it this morning, and they paid his way.
So, God is orchestrating this to get His program back on. Exactly what He wants done.
And then, you have twelve years later, you have Nehemiah. And he’s a businessman. Some might even call him a “politician.” And he knows that, We’ve got to rebuild the walls. And we’ve heard his story. And so, the first six chapters are all about rebuilding these walls: “Let us arise and build,” all kinds of problems.
They get these walls done, and we come into chapter 7: The walls are done. The gates are dropped. They look at this great, big, open area that hasn’t been used for plus or minus a hundred years as a real city, and it’s empty. And there are not any houses, and they’re supposed to repair the Temple, and they don’t have any resources. So, it was a hundred-year deal. It was just circumstances. Nehemiah did exactly what God wanted him to do. The walls are rebuilt. The people are now going, “Okay, now what?”
Let’s discover how Nehemiah faces his very interesting and difficult circumstance. Now, open, if you will, to chapter 7. Again, if you’re like me – I never grew up reading the Bible, so go to Psalms, open about the middle, and go left. Hit Job, and keep going left, and you’ll find Nehemiah.
Now, this is one of those chapters, if you happen to be reading through the Bible, you read the first few verses, it’s kind of interesting. And then, you turn the page, and you say, “This is going to be a very quick read, because I’m not reading all those lists.” Right?
Pick it up with me in chapter 7, “After the wall had been rebuilt and I set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites” – remember Levites? They work at the Temple. Singers – they work at the Temple. They “were appointed.”
Verse 2, “I put in charge of Jerusalem Hanani” – that’s his brother – “along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel” – the citadel is a corner; it’s a fortress. So, it’s a military installation – “because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most. I said to them, ‘The gates of Jerusalem are not to be opened until the sun is hot.’” So, it’s later in the day. Normally, it would be open at dawn.
“While the gatekeepers are still on duty, have the doors shut and bar them.” So, in other words, “We’re going to open the gates late, and we’re going to shut them early.” “Also appoint the residents of Jerusalem as guards, some in their posts and then some at their own houses.”
Now, we get in verse 4 here, the circumstances. “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not been yet rebuilt. So God put into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials, the common people for registration by families.”
So, here’s this big, open city; the walls are finally done. Everyone is looking at one another. There are no houses in here. “What are we going to do?” The goal is that the Temple begins to function. We have houses; we have a city. Now, after a hundred years you have Jews, and non-Jews, and half-Jews, and it’s like this whole thing needs to get aligned to fulfill God’s purposes. God’s purposes – He was going to take this nation, like a piece of coal, and shape it, and by their laws, and how they live. And He would exalt them in such a way that even Gentile nations would see, there is only one, true God.
And so, they are supposed to get this thing back on track, and there are no houses. There are not very many people. In fact, if you count them up – it’s a pretty good-sized city – there are only forty-nine thousand people. They live in all these different towns.
And so, Nehemiah has this idea and he calls a meeting. He gets all the leaders together, and all the people, “These are the people of the province who came from the captivity of the exiles with Nebuchadnezzar.” Ezra 2 has the same story. And he has the genealogies, and he finds this scroll of all the people who came back from Babylon to resettle.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this is the part where I get pretty bored. In fact, let’s meditate. “The descendants of Parosh: 2,172; of Shephatiah” – or however you say his name – “372.”
Can you imagine just going through all those? To us, this is meaningless. But look at the structure of it. Notice the genealogies. He starts with the men of Israel. Skip down, verse 26: the men of Bethlehem. Skip down, now he talks about the priests, in verse 39. Verse 43 – now he says there are the Levites. Verse 44 – there are singers. Verse 45 – there are gatekeepers. Verse 46 – the Temple servants. There are servants of Solomon.
And then, notice, he shifts. He actually gave us eighteen different family clans, or units, and we’ll talk about why he’s doing this. And then, he shifts, and begins to talk about where people came from. And he’s going to identify about twenty different villages. He says, “The following came from the towns of Tel Melah,” and then he lists all these towns.
And then, skip down to verse 64. And as people are going through the records, and he’s – see, what he’s trying to figure out, “Who is going to live here? How do we get this started? How do we fund getting this temple going? How do we get the Jewish state aligned? What are we going to do?” And so, he finds this genealogical record, and he says, “Well, who actually came back?” And then, he evaluates all the roles, all the people, from what towns.
And then, notice, they hit a little snag: “They searched for their family records” – verse 64 – “but they couldn’t find them and so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. The governor, therefore, ordered them not to eat any of the meat sacrificed.” So, he’s beginning to find out who is there: “What’s their role? What are we going to do?”
And then, skip down to verse 66, “The whole company numbered 42,360.” And then, besides that, there are another 7,000 or so men, servants, and maidservants. And then, there are 245 men and women who were singers. And then, he literally is getting very specific. Notice, there are 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels, and close to 7,000 donkeys. Then, notice he goes on, in verse 70, and he’s – I’m giving you the overview. He says, “Some of the heads of the families contributed to the work. And the governor gave to the treasury” – he talks about a thousand drachmas of gold. He’s the governor. And then, it talks about, then the heads of the families give, and then the rest of the people give, and a number of things occur.
Now, here’s what I want you to get: What is his difficult circumstance? If we were just taking what happened?
Number one, he has security issues. Tobiah, Sanballat, the enemies – they’re on the outside. And so, he’s got security issues, and the people aren’t safe. And people don’t function well when they feel very threatened. And we’ll find out what he does.
Not only does he have security issues – it’s not safe – but he’s got people issues. He doesn’t have enough people. Anybody ever been in a place where you don’t have enough staff, don’t have enough resources, not enough people?
Not only that, he’s got housing issues. He’s got major housing issues. His is not interest rates. His is: they don’t have houses. At all!
He’s got financial issues. So he’s got an assignment, but doesn’t have the funds. Anybody here have any of those issues?
Or, finally, he’s got momentum issues. After a hundred years – stop, start, stop, start, stop, start – it’s really hard to get a group going. Now, all I want to ask you is, which one of those do you most identify with, in your world right now? Lack of resources? People issues? Financial issues? Housing issues? Momentum? Have you ever tried to break an addiction, or tried to get your family moving in a positive direction, and for three days you do pretty well, and then – phssh?
And then, you stop, start, stop, start, fail. And then, there are times where you just feel like, Why try this one more time? It “never works.” You know that’s not true, but that’s the way it feels.
All I wanted to do is paint a picture for you in this very unusual chapter, that it is very difficult, and he has circumstances that he didn’t ask for. He just took a step of faith. He’s just doing what God wants him to do. But he has people, finances, momentum, housing, and multiple issues that he’s got to solve. So, let’s see what he does. How did Nehemiah respond to his circumstances?
Number one, he improvised. You say, “Well, where do you get that?” Well, did you notice, in verse 1, that there were these singers, and Levites, and priests, and guards, and what their job was, was to either do ministry at the Temple, or guard the Temple. Where does he put them? He puts them to guard outside the wall.
“Look, they were guards over here. We’re going to take them from the Temple, and what we need to do is, we need safety more than anything else.” And so, he puts them on the outside.
He improvised what their role was, and then, notice, he improvised on the timing. Normally, “Well, we have to open at dawn, and we have to close at dusk, because that’s how cities work.” He said, “Not this city; not right now. We open all day – we can’t guard that long. We’re going to wait until the sun gets hot, and we’re going to close it down before the guards go off.”
In your life, you’ve got to start thinking outside the box. God will actually use difficult circumstances to have you do things, start things, and think in ways that you would never do on your own.
The second thing he does is, he delegates. Look at verses 2 and 3. He realizes that his role was to come rally the people. He’s a business guy; he’s got a leadership gift. He gets the people together. The walls are built; the gates are done, and he realizes, “My role needs to change, and I need to give my focus to something else now.”
And so, he says to his brother Hanani, “I’ll tell you what, you be in charge of administration of Jerusalem. And then, Hananiah, you know what? You fear God more than most. I’ve been watching you, as we’ve rebuilt this wall, and you fear God, and you’re a man of integrity. You take the citadel. So, you take the administrative task; you take the military task. And by the way, tell the people: Stand guards. Here are their roles: in front of their house, or these places.”
You need to ask this question in difficult circumstances: Who might God have all around me that He’s prepared them to help me in what I’m going through? When life gets hard, what do you and I tend to do? How am I going to do this? All the weight is on me. Everything changed. I can’t do this. It’s too much. It’s too overwhelming. I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough resources.
What did Nehemiah do? He stopped and said, “There’s Hanani; there’s Hananiah. There are the people. These people had this role, and we had this time.” And he stepped back and said, “It’s a new game plan.”
Some of you, God brought you today, and I believe – and I prayed earlier – that even as I talk, and the Spirit of God works, He’s going to take your specific, negative, difficult, painful circumstance, and bring an idea to your mind that you didn’t have before you walked in here.
And third, notice, he listened. I love that line in verse 4, at the end, and then in 5. He says – what? He says, “Then God put in my heart...”
Now, the premise is, you’re walking with God. The premise is, you’re saying, “This is difficult. This is painful. I don’t know what to do. God, will You show me?” This is sort of the, “If any man lacks wisdom – if any woman lacks wisdom…” If you don’t know what to do, here’s a great prayer, “O God! I don’t know what to do! Will You show me?”
And so, he listens. And he’s just – think what it was like. He goes to his little room, and sometimes we make these biblical stories, so out there. He’s just a regular guy, and there are times he’s sitting there, and he’s going, “I don’t know what to do, and I can’t act like I don’t know what I’m doing. Everyone is looking to me, and I don’t know what to do. We don’t have any people, don’t have any money, don’t have any houses. And all the bad guys are on the outside; they want to kill us. Other than that, things are going great. Why did I ever leave my good job in Persia?” Right? Any of you feel like that today?
And then, all of a sudden, he said, “God put this thing on my heart. Hmmm…the genealogical records. What’s happened is, you know what? The people don’t get it. They’re afraid, and all they’re thinking about is their security, and their stuff. If I could get the records out, then I’ll show all the people where we came from, where we’ve been.”
And so, God gives him this idea. And this idea becomes the platform God uses to change how people think, and, later, how they behave.
Notice, then, he asks the right questions. You’ve got this big, open space, and he basically says to the people – he has a big meeting, right? He pulls them together, and he says, “Who are we? We’re not a ragtag group of people that are in this empty city without a purpose. We are – what? We’re the people of God! Where did we come from? Well, we came from a lineage from all the way back to Adam. We’re in David’s line. We’re in Solomon’s line. God has a purpose. He made all these promises to this nation. God always keeps His promises. He made these promises to David. He made these promises about the land to Abraham. And, by the way, look at the miracles! The miracles when Zerubbabel went, the miracles when Ezra went, the miracles when I went. We’ve got these foreign kings paying our way!”
And then, by the way, he says, “Well, who do we have?” Notice his focus. He doesn’t focus on what he doesn’t have. He focuses on what he does have. And so, he said, “Wow, I wonder what we ought to do. We got men of Israel; we got men of Bethlehem. Hmmm. Let’s see, we got priests – what do they do? Oh, that’s right, they do stuff in the Temple. Levites – what do they do? They help with the Temple. Singers – what do they do? They sing in the Temple. Temple servants – that’s pretty obvious. Servants of Solomon.”
And all of a sudden, he helps the people understand, “Your lineage, your heritage, the promises of God, the miracle-working God. There have been all these dots, not for hundreds, but thousands of years, that have led you to this point. And your circumstances may be this empty city, but the God of the universe has a plan for you, His people, and His program, and you are the next dot. And He’s going to provide what you need.”
Was the goal of God that you would be comfortable, and financially secure, and everything would go great? Or does God have a purpose for His people, in this time in history, and that’s where you’re at? Why are you here? What do you have, not, what do you lack? See how those questions – he asks those right questions, and he begins to answer those questions. And then, he asks the big one: “So, what are we called to do? What’s the game plan?”