Lesson 1 Study Notes

  • And so again, I am grateful and thankful to be with you today and to share with you this particular Bible webinar. be looking at Nehemiah the Builder. And as I have forestated, those of you who have followed my preaching in recent weeks will recognize this character. It was a part of the Tales from the Scripps series that I conducted over the last few months. But I wanted to look a bit more specifically at that character. I wanted to delve and dig into the background of Nehemiah, perhaps point


out some items that I didn't have an opportunity to do within the context of the preached word. I so look forward to this midweek Bible webinar because it affords me the opportunity to unearth and to turn over some items in the text and in the story that may not be appropriate or applicable in a preaching context. And so, as always, it is my hope and my prayer that either something said and or done over the course of these productive and be a benefit to you. With that said, let's get started with our lesson of the day.


Now, this is lesson one. Beloved, I want to follow a similar approach and format that I used in my previous Bible study concerning Adam and Eve. And that was during the first week. I will examine the narrative and simply retell the story. I find that today we have a growing population in our churches that are unfamiliar with the biblical narrative or the Bible story. Sunday School, BTU, other Christian education initiatives like Vacation Bible School are not nearly as popular as they have been in the past. And as a consequence,


there's a limited number of people who come who already know the Bible story and not to make the assumption that you already know the story. Perhaps you've had glimpses of it in the past, or you had a brief encounter with it in the past. And so, part of my aim is to make sure that you have a sturdy understanding of these biblical stories because they inform so much of what we believe and so much of our practices in the faith community. They're


more than merely entertaining or even inspiring, and they do both. They entertain our mind, they inspire our hearts, but they also serve as the foundation and the basis for so many of the things that we believe and that we practice as children of God in general and as Christians in particular. So this is lesson one, and I will be telling the story. I'll be focusing on telling the story of Nehemiah. Lesson two takes a look at the doctrines and beliefs that are a derivative of this particular


story. And then in lesson three, we'll look at a application of the story in terms of where we are today and how we use the lessons that we discuss and examine in lesson two, how do we use those lessons in our daily lives. And then lesson four will return and take a similar approach, but the difference is where lesson three looks at the beliefs and the practices of lesson two and how they are applicable to our current lives. Lesson four looks at how we might use these teachings,


these practices, these beliefs, as tools for our future to enhance and improve our lot and our quality of life. And so we'll be looking at Nehemiah over the next several weeks. But the first week, we're going to look at the story. The second week, we're going to look at common practices and beliefs


that are a derivative of the story. Three, we're going to look at how that story applies to us today. And then four, how that story, the lessons and the beliefs, the practices as a tool to enhance and improve our lives in the future. So that's our format. It is the format that we've used in the past. It is the format that we will be using in this series of lessons as well. And of course, we'll be putting this together and making this available in our Bishop's Bible Study platform that you'll have access to. So you don't have to wait until Wednesday. If you want to get a sneak preview


of what's coming, you'll be able to do so around the first part of the week. Now we'll come together on Wednesday and look at it as a class and as a ministry. But for those of you who are anxious and want to get perhaps just a bit of a head start, these lessons available prior to our midweek coming together. So, let's take a look at lesson one. And of course, this is my depiction of Nehemiah in its proper and appropriate historical context.


Now, I'm not just arbitrarily or randomly selecting a point of departure, but I want Saul, who was the king of Israel following a period of the judges. That period of the judges follows of the time of Moses and the time of Moses follows the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So we have Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Then we have a migration of the people into Egypt. Then we have their movement out of Egypt. That is followed by the entry into the promised land, Canaan.


And that period is punctuated with judges like Gideon and Samson and Deborah, who presided over God's people. And then of course, the people settled into a more stationary status. They weren't nearly as nomadic or moved around


as much as they had in the past. And with that settlement came the adoption of Jerusalem as its capital. Saul begins as king, he is followed by David, David is followed by Solomon. And then of course Solomon, when he dies,


his kingdom divides between a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom. And Rehoboam and Jeroboam emerged as the leaders of those twin nations or those twin kingdoms. The northern kingdom would fall to Assyria in the seventh century.


And in the fifth century, the southern kingdom of Judah and Benjamin would fall to the Babylonians at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar. Well, finally for a 70-year period, they remained in Babylon.


I'll talk about that in just a moment. But then they returned in the city that they had grown to love, lieth and waste and ruin and damaged and had been injured. And it is here where this Nehemiah, who had escaped the lot of so many of the other Judahites who had been taken off into Babylon for a period of 70 years, not so with Nehemiah. Nehemiah circumvented or he escaped that fate and became a cup bearer


to the king. And so he was in a neighboring nation or country that was Persia. Now, eventually it would be Persia that would take over the Babylonian empire, but during the time of Nehemiah, Artaxerxes is the king. And as you see here on the screen, Nehemiah becomes a part of his bureaucratic cabinet and he becomes the cupbearer to the king, and it's his job to taste the wine, watch this, and to taste the food to protect and prevent any efforts to poison the king would have to have gone through Nehemiah because it was his job to be the official taster of the food and wine prior to it being served to the king so that any conspiratorial efforts to do away with the king would fall under the responsibility of Nehemiah.


So we begin this story with Nehemiah not being like Daniel, not being like Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego. I'll talk about them in just a second. But Nehemiah actually becomes a refugee and he takes up a life in Shushan in the kingdom of Persia. And there he has a comfortable life. He has a convenient life. He has a life of literal ease because the hardest part of his job was tasting food and drinking wine to make sure that the king that Nehemiah has an opportunity. Watch where I'm going, beloved.


He has this opportunity to hear from foreign diplomats and individuals who are visiting the Persian throne. And in doing so, they bring news, they bring updates on what is going on in the other parts of the world. And one of the things that Nehemiah learns is because of these visiting diplomats and ambassadors and officials from other kingdoms who had gone through Jerusalem on their way to Shushan, on their way to Persia.


They bring dismal news of what's going on back in Jerusalem. And they have a three-part description. They say that the walls of the temple have been torn down, that the gates have been consumed with fire, and perhaps most importantly, that the temple, the sacred house of God


in the city of Jerusalem, lieth in waste. And it becomes extremely difficult, beloved, for Nehemiah to remain settled and satisfied and happy with a life of comfort in Persia when he knows the plight and the difficulty of his people back in Jerusalem. And according to the book of Nehemiah, this disdain, this depression, this reaction, this response to hearing how bad things are back home eventually show up on the face of Nehemiah. Those conditions that were taking place back in Jerusalem, I've already listed them.


Let me list them again. The temple, lieth in waste. It had been damaged severely, seemingly, watch this, beyond repair. The walls that had protected the city had been torn down, leaving it vulnerable to invasion by people other than the Babylonians who had invaded


the city of Jerusalem initially. The gates that were designed to protect and to keep the people behind the gates had been consumed with fire. So there was no protection. There was this vast vulnerability on the part of the city of Jerusalem and perhaps most importantly, the place that represented God, the house of the Lord, had suffered damage. And having been removed from God for such a lengthy period of time, they had no regard, they had no respect, they had no affection, they had no allegiance, they had no loyalty to God or his house because they had been removed


Lord and the Lord's house for such a long period of time. So these were severe conditions that operated and functioned and were going on in the city of Jerusalem. Now it is Artaxerxes who you see pictured here on the screen. He is the king. He is holding court.


There is Shushan. He is on the Persian throne. You can see in the bottom left portion of the screen, is a representation of the figure of Nehemiah. Look at how studied the king is as he is observing Nehemiah, and he can tell that something is wrong with Nehemiah.


Now, you want the cup bearer always to be happy, because if he's not happy, how great and good a job can he do protecting you from potential poison if he himself is not happy? And maybe his scowl, maybe his fallen countenance, maybe his expression of doom may have sent a signal


to the king that all was not well with his food, or all was not well with his wine. And so, King Artaxerxes was anxious to repair whatever was wrong with Nehemiah, because he needed a happy Nehemiah. He needed a healthy Nehemiah to serve him as cupbearer to the king. And so he inquires to Nehemiah, what is it that has you so perplexed? What is it that has you so down in your spirit? And of course, here on the screen, Nehemiah confesses that he now knows what his home is going through, how the walls have been


torn down, how the gates have been consumed with fire, how the temple and the city lieth in waste, and it is hard for him to be happy in the court of the king when so much that is wrong is going on back in Jerusalem. And when he shares this with the king, the king becomes sympathetic and he allows, watch where I'm going beloved because this is so very important.


He allows Nehemiah to take leave of his court there in Shushan, Persia, and he allows Nehemiah to return for an untold period of time to Jerusalem, so that Nehemiah could help rebuild the city, rebuild their faith,


and rebuild the house of God. But this is so very, very important. I need you to get this in terms of the story. Artaxerxes the king doesn't simply release Nehemiah and allow him to return. As you see here on the screen,


he actually writes out a passport of sorts, and he gives him a letter from the king saying that this Nehemiah who holds this letter is under the authority and the protection of King Artaxerxes. Now, this is very, very important beloved because there was


a vast amount of distance and miles that Nehemiah would have to travel to get from Shushan, where he and King Artaxerxes was, back to Jerusalem, which is where Nehemiah wanted to go because that city so desperately needed his help. And in traveling between Persia and Jerusalem,


Nehemiah could come upon robbers and thieves, unsavory characters, criminals who would do him hurt and harm? Ah, but because he had a letter from the king. The letter from the king suggested that whatever you do to Nehemiah, you're doing it to me.


And whatever harm and hurt and injury you perform against Nehemiah, it is not Nehemiah who will retaliate and repay you for your misdeed, it is I the King. You will have to answer to the King for whatever you do to Nehemiah.


Now, this is powerful and I know this is not my week to talk about what it is that we believe and what are the spiritual benefits that we get from this story, but I can't miss this point and I can't just gloss over it. This is a metaphor, beloved. This is a symbol here, because just as the king gave protection to Nehemiah so that he would have a safe journey from Persia to Jerusalem,


God gives us a letter. That letter is called the Holy Ghost. And we house the Holy Ghost in our hearts and in our hands so that whatever adversary, whatever antagonist we might come up against, that antagonist will not have to pay an answer to us.


But the antagonist will have to answer to the God who gave us this letter of permission in the first place. And so, we can walk around and live our lives with our heads held high, with us being unafraid and unfretful. Why would they refrain from doing so? Because they know that whatever they do, they will have to answer to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords who gave us this letter of protection in the first place. I feel my preaching coming on. So, Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem, but remember I said to you earlier that the people had been detached from God for a period


of 70 years, from 789 down to 589, the 539, a period of nearly 40 years. The people had been in Babylon. They had been in captivity. They had been held hostage. They had not been allowed to speak their own native tongue. They had not been allowed to read their Bibles.


They had not been allowed to worship their gods. Actually, their names had been changed. Here on the screen is a representation of Daniel. And of course, Daniel has his name changed. And when he refuses to abide by the dictates of the king, he is placed in the lion's den.


So this is a representation of Daniel in the lion's den. This is also during the time of Hananiah and Mishael and Azariah, better known to you as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, of Indigo are like Daniel here in Babylon being held captive for a period of 70 years.


And so during this time, they had no relationship with God. They had no relationship with their deity. They had no relationship with their religious institutions. And so when they returned to Jerusalem, not only is the city in disarray, so is their fate.


Now, remember, Nehemiah himself did not experience what Daniel here on the screen experienced or what the three Hebrew boys would experience. Why? Because Nehemiah escaped that lot, and that life, and that fate by ending up in Shushan in the Persian kingdom. But when he returns, the fact that the people, watch this,


had been away from God for 70 years, leaves them destitute and impoverished as it relates to their faith. So, part of the remedy, get this beloved, and part of the solution that Nehemiah has to implement with these people who have been disenfranchised and disassociated from God for a period of 70 years, there has to be a restoration of their faith. And pictured here on the screen is Nehemiah along with Ezra. And while Nehemiah


focused his attention on rebuilding those walls that had been torn down, restoring the gate that had been consumed with fire, and perhaps most importantly, rebuilding the temple, the Lois restoration of the religion of the Judahites, that their faith in God might be restored. So it is the tandem teamwork of Nehemiah and Ezra working together, pooling their resources together. And again, I'm not going to jump and talk about the lessons that we derive from this, but I do want to make mention and reference the fact that they're coming together. The ability of Nehemiah and Ezra to work together was to the benefit of


the people. It wasn't so much that Nehemiah said, I'm the ultimate boss and you're below me, they found common ground. They discovered the ability to work together. Why? Because the cause that they were working on was greater than either one of them individually. I'm going to come back and talk about that next week. That sometimes we are given an opportunity to work on a project, to work on an assignment that is much bigger than who we are. And like Ezra and Nehemiah,


we have to find ways to work with one another as opposed to working against one another. Now, I said that this was not gonna be a teaching lesson and I wasn't gonna go into the beliefs and the doctrines, but there's so much meat on this bone until even as I tell the story, I can't help but sight and lift up


some of the lessons already that we learned from this powerful story of the Old Testament. And so we discover that the walls have been torn down, the gates have been consumed with fire. I think I may have missed something. The walls have been torn down, the gates have been consumed with fire. But miraculously, miraculously, beloved, Nehemiah, in partnership with Ezra, is able to restore those walls, to rebuild the gates of the city,


and to restore the house of God in a miraculous time frame of less than two months. Fifty-two days, he was able to accomplish all of this. Why? Because the book of Nehemiah says that the people had a mind to work, that the people had a mind to work. And there is no secret to what God can do when the people have a mind to work. And I know I'm giving a sneak preview of the lessons that come out of this story, but beloved,


one of the lessons as a church and as a ministry that we learn from this story is that when we put our hearts and our mind to what God has assigned us to do, and we have a mind to work, we have a mind to work, then so many of the things that we would not be able to do because we have a mind to work and our work is in line and synchronized with the will of God. Now, before I leave this lesson, I have to tell this portion of the story as well. And that is when Nehemiah returned, beloved, everybody was not happy that Nehemiah was there leading a team of workers in the restoration and the rebuilding of the city.


And in matter of fact, there are at least two characters that Nehemiah meets with ever so briefly. They are referred to in the story as Sanballat and Tobias. and they extend an invitation to Nehemiah to interrupt the work, to pause the work, and come down off the wall that he's working on and talk to them. There is this marvelous saying and


scriptural verse that we have from the book of Nehemiah, where Nehemiah, in response to their invitation says, why should I halt the work of the Lord and come down to you? Obviously, Nehemiah was aware of their sinister plot and conspiracy and effort to interrupt and even dismantle the work that needed to be done in the city. And so, the Amaya refuses to stop doing what he's


 doing. He refuses to interrupt the work. He refuses to halt the workers that you see here on the wall working so feverishly because he understands the hidden agenda of those who have invited him to come down and talk to them. When you're on assignment, beloved, stay on the wall and don't allow anyone to bring you down from what it is that God has called you to do. down from what it is that God has called you to do.
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