Arrested Development

A foundation for the Temple was started, but after two years it came to a stop and remained at a standstill for seventeen years. Ezra 4:24~ (ESV) Like many, Israel needs some motivation when we get stuck from time to time. They’d convinced themselves they were alright. Haggai 1:2~Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord. (ESV) Haggai 1:7-9 ~Thus says the Lord of hosts: iConsider your ways…that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified…You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because my house lies in ruins…(ESV)

God says to the people set your priorities in the correct order that the Lord would bless our lives. Blessing flows in God’s order. Urged on by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, work resumed and the Temple was finished in 516 BC. This was a great achievement, but it didn’t represent a turning of the people hearts toward God. They were going and doing but still holding the wrong motivation, they were still self-centered and insincere in their faith. As we begin 21-Days, I want to challenge each of us to not just go through the motions, let this season of prayer and fasting build a new you. Going and Doing — Troubling, Arrested.

Arrested development. Some of us look grown up but aren’t. We walk around with suits, briefcases, car keys, and annuities. But inside, we are five. Ten. Twelve. Sixteen. We stopped growing, up. To help us better grasp the time we get to Nehemiah’s day, the Jews had been free to return to their homeland for about a hundred years. Many had gone back, but the great majority chose to stay in their new adoptive country, where life was easier. Not surprising, since life in exile was much more promising in nearly every way. Also, the earliest Jewish captives had been brought here some 160 years earlier (605 BC), so the ties to Judah were weak at best. Sometimes in making the best of a bad situation we can turn our rehab center into a home. As we look at the two different types of Jews, the ones who held a desire to return had maintained a stronger observance to the Law and Jewish culture. They were more devout and, like Jews of today going back to Israel, had something inside that was drawing them home.

Interestingly enough, Nehemiah himself doesn’t seem to have been inclined to return. Nehemiah 1:1~The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the citadel, (ESV) Hachaliah’s name means The Lord has comforted, likely a noble class family, his son Nehemiah will become cupbearer to Artaxerxes, who ruled from 464-423 BC. This king was the son of Xerxes, stepson of Queen Esther. Perhaps was Esther’s influence a generation earlier which may have made Nehemiah’s lofty position attainable. He lived and worked in Shushan, the king’s winter palace.

As cupbearer to the king, Nehemiah carried great responsibility. His life was also constantly at stake since he tested the king’s wine to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. One day a group of men, including his brother, returned from an expedition to Judah Nehemiah 7:2. Nehemiah trusts the integrity of Hanani’s report by his response. Jerusalem had never been fully repaired since the first pilgrims had returned and rebuilt the Temple. They suffered from arrested development. Similarly, Nehemiah seems to have been arrested, and it should not have disturbed him so greatly, but God. Apparently, God chose this moment to touch his heart with the seriousness of it all. Arrested Nehemiah could go no further.

In our world, city walls may seem like an insignificant thing; but in the ancient world, they symbolized safety and protection from enemies. Just as various cultures regard different forms of dress as adequate and appropriate to hide nakedness, so walls were a symbol of how a city was clothed. Without them, the inhabitants were vulnerable, exposed. Listen to Nehemiah’s Reaction 1:4-5~…I sat down and wept…mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love (חֶסֶד checed) with those who love him and keep his commandments, Nehemiah’s 1:6-7 let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night…(ESV) Nehemiah has brought back to the Lord’s remembrance covenantal love. 


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