Remember me, O my God, for good. Nehemiah 13:31
To read this book in one sweep is an exercise in exhilaration. If the Bible is food to us, we are in for a banquet. It delivers nutrition garnished with celebration. Just for fun, the most tantalizing appetizer is found in the exit line, “Remember me, O my God, for good.” Is Nehemiah going out with a bang or a sigh? Is he ready to “sleep with the fathers?” It means to be buried in the family plot. What if the fathers plotted to keep him out because Nehemiah would keep turning over in his grave at the slightest provocation? Such was his passion for God’s honor and the welfare of his nation.
Nehemiah is an intensely personal book, which is why it makes for such a good read. It starts with him serving wine to the king in Babylon. Perhaps the queen at his side whispered that the cupbearer looked heartsick. Indeed, Nehemiah has received bad news from home, which is post-exilic Jerusalem. The holy city lies in ruins and the dispirited survivors lack initiative. God’s grace invades the heart of the king. He sends Nehemiah to his homeland to rebuild the city and the national morale. He throws himself into the role with a vengeance. This makes for high drama and involves a cast of thousands, with distinct cheering and booing sections. In all this Nehemiah vigilantly and consistently plays to an audience of exactly one: God! (Part 1 of 2)
Comment: Do fasten your seatbelts, because I’d like for you to have the blast of reading Nehemiah in one fell swoop. Worse still, I get a real kick out of this guy who didn’t shy away from cursing. The final word in Malachi, the last book in the OT, is “curse.” Roughly 400 years pass until the John the Baptist comes on the scene in the NT. A long “pregnant pause,” if you will – would have believers yearn for monumental revelation. This is how one commentator put it, “God was now preparing to speak His greatest and most powerful Word to mankind: Jesus.” As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Far from throwing Nehemiah under the bus, let’s praise him for three things. 1) As cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes, he was a highly trusted servant in an age of cutthroat politics and dangerous conspiracies. 2) He was rewarded by being sent to distressed Jerusalem, where Nehemiah had the city walls rebuilt in a record 52 days. 3) He took it in stride that harassment was coming at him from all sides, but was horrified to find Jewish leaders thumbing their nose at Yahweh’s express command not to marry foreign women. He minced no words to recall wise Solomon’s ultimate folly of doing just that, at the cost of his kingdom and the breakup of his nation. Do pity the person of my way distant past who thought of me as the epitome of “refined European.” In times of anguish over our nation’s disregard for God’s laws, “Damn it!” has slipped from my lips a few times. “Darn it” is useful for a run in your Nylons. Running to God for forgiveness, keeps the run of despair in check.