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Overcoming Problems in God's Work: Handling Victory Part 2 (Neh. 7:2-73)

Notes & Transcripts

Intro

I was really heartbroken this week. I was reading about a pastor at a megachurch in the South. He and his wife and two kids moved to Georgia to start a church. They started with nothing, but they remained faithful and saw God do a mighty work as so many came to Christ. The church was thriving. Then, earlier this summer, it was revealed that he had committed adultery. He resigned and now looking for a job doing sales or something. I am sure he did not wake up one morning and decide to shipwreck his life. But what did happen to him was that he did not handle victory well. Listen beloved, we need to know how to handle victory well. It is a matter of life and death.

We are finally finishing up the first half of the book of Nehemiah, which deals with doing God’s work. Last time we saw that through Nehemiah’s leadership and the hand of God, they finally built the wall! Victory! If there ever was a time for him to relax and slow down, it would be now. But not Nehemiah. He realized that he needs to be careful not just in handling opposition to failure, but also handling victories as well, because sometimes it will not be your failures that can lead to your downfall, but your victories. Sometimes it is the very things you were praying about that were answered, which because they were not protected and guarded, leads you to failure. How do you handle a victory? We said first of all,

I. With every great work, give glory to God (Neh. 6:15-16).

With every victory we have ultimately, all the credit goes to God. It is great to pray that in our lives, we pray for a God-thing. God loves to get all the glory! Nehemiah in Neh. 6:15 does give the glory to God as a token phrase (like you hear at an award show). God had birthed a burden in his heart, broke his heart with the burden, helped him persevere as he waited for God’s timing, answered prayer with the King, encouraged him when he arrived among opposition, gave him confidence and courage to rally God’s people, encouraged him in the midst of ridicule, the halfway hurdle, gave him boldness to confront sin and helped him focus among distractions.

So it is not unusual for the soul who has been dependent on God in everything to grant Him the glory when God accomplishes a great work. The more you abide with the Lord, invite him to every aspect of your life, the more you will see His fingerprints over everything. If God does a dozen things with every good work, we may see only two things. However, the more we have been with the Lord in the small things, the more we see Him working in the bigger things. Secondly we said:

II. Guard great victories, because they can be followed by great failure (Neh. 6:17-7:3)

How do you guard your victories? We said first of all, it requires us to:

a) Avoid compromise (Neh. 6:17-19)

Tobiah is the last enemy standing. We will hear about him until the end of the book. Why is that? The reason is intermarriage. He married a Jewish woman and then his son also married a Jewish woman. His son’s father-in-law actually worked on part of the wall (Neh. 3:4). Unfortunately what broke Nehemiah’s heart was that family connections took precedence over spiritual connections and thus, these people compromised the work of God by flirting with the Enemy. If you want to handle your victory well, avoid small compromises.

Secondly,

b) Decide on priorities (Neh. 7:1)

Nehemiah stands firm against the people’s compromise. He then shows us his priorities. He makes sure there are guards to protect them. Then he assigns worship leaders and the Levites, teachers of the Word. The wall means nothing if the people inside are not built up. Let’s start singing again! Let’s get our lives and our hearts right before God. Having our priorities right helps us handle victory. Now thirdly:

c) Develop Character (Neh. 7:2-3)

The third thing that comes from this that godly character matters to God. Look at Neh. 7:2-3. The wall is up, the doors are hung, and now Nehemiah needs someone to help him lead the city government and its people. I think by this point Nehemiah has realized he has very few people he can trust. In Neh. 6:10ff we found out that Shemaiah and other prophets were not to be trusted. In the last section, Tobiah was secretly paying off nobles and was getting all the news from his relatives. So he needs some leaders. So what would you look for? Experience? People person? Ability to lead? All good points, but Nehemiah is looking for character here. D.L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark” and I think Bill Hybels said, “Character is what you are when no one is looking.”

I would suggest to you that character means everything. It is worth more than your college education, career, your circle of friends, your countenance and everything else. Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”[1] Abraham Lincoln said the same thing when he said, “Character is like a tree and reputation is its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” [2]

If you are single, it should be #1 non-negotiable item on your list for a mate as well as for yourself. You may see someone manifest their character in big moments, but true character is made in the small moments. It is the day-to-day choice to obey God, whether you feel like it or not, whether the situations are favorable or not, whether people like you or not, avoiding compromise and deciding on what’s important, which makes character. Continued obedience in the same direction is what makes character. The world values ability and looks and education, but God values character. Here we see what a good character looks like.

1. Faithfulness (Neh. 7:2)

Hanani was Nehemiah’s literal brother (Neh. 1:2). Remember him? He was the one who told Nehemiah about the problem in the first place. Hananiah was a governor “of the castle charge.” This “was a fortress in the temple area, guarding the north wall of the city, which was especially vulnerable to attack.”[3]

Nehemiah says the reasons he picked Hananiah was because he was faithful and God-fearing. Faithfulness is “doing what you said you would do.” Dr. Bob Jones, Sr., often said, “The greatest ability is dependability.”[4] Can you be depended on? Paul says, “It is required of stewards that they be trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2). Pastor Steve Cole in Arizona provides four ways to develop faithfulness:[5]

A) Recognize and define the responsibilities that God has given you to do. If you are a husband and/or a father, you have to provide basic needs of your family. If you are part of a church body, you are responsible to serve God in some capacity. It is hard to be faithful if you are foggy about what you should be doing.

B) Start with and don’t neglect the small things. Pay your bills on time. Keep your appointments. Jesus said, if you are faithful in the little things, you will be entrusted with more (Luke 16:10).

C) Keep your relational priorities straight. This means your time with Jesus, your time with family, your accountability relationships and your relationship to others in the body of Christ. 

D) Learn to use your time more effectively. This is huge. I need to write down my priorities down. Are you spending excessive amounts of time on the internet, video games and television? We all have the same number of hours entrusted with us and a good sign of faithfulness is how we use it.

2. Fear of God (Neh. 7:2)

The fear of God is the dread of displeasing Him. It is not to be afraid of God, but your desire to please Him takes precedence over everything else. We have talked about it a lot in the previous weeks, so I am not going to belabor the point. It comes out of knowledge of God. The more you know Him, the more you want to please Him. Solomon says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7). Wisdom is the ability to make the most God-honoring decision in any situation. Anyone need that? I certainly do! The way it starts is to ask God to give you such a dread in hurting Him with the choices of your life. This is the fear of God. But it is interesting that he connects faithfulness and fear of God together. I believe the more you fear God, the more faithful you will be, because you will have wisdom to make the best choices in every situation.

3. Watchfulness (Neh. 7:3)

So character is built by faithfulness, fear of God and lastly, watchfulness. Knowing these guys feared God and were faithful, they were asked assigned the job of watchfulness (and to delegate it to others). What he is saying here is that they need to be vigilant. Lazy guards are no guards at all. The Hebrew is tricky here. But I think he means to be on watch, even in the hottest part of the day, right in the afternoon, around lunch time, when we can tend to be lax, we need to be on guard. Remember some people had worked on the wall near their homes (Neh. 3:10, 23, 28-30). Now Nehemiah wants them to realize that they need to protect what was accomplished.

I think the lesson here is that unless we protect what was accomplished for the Lord, the Enemy will come and take over. This is why Paul said, “After you done everything, stand” (Eph. 6:11). This is why so many schools which were once started on godly principles are now as secular as secular can be. Look at all the churches now once so solid in preaching the Gospel, now fill their pulpits with people preaching “another gospel.” Beloved, we are simply one generation away from destruction, and so need to be watchful. Living hope can easily be dead hope!

There is a fine line between watchfulness and compromise. The reason why compromise happens is because we are not watchful. It all comes down to a character issue. If Tobiah’s wife and family had been watchful in not having any relationship with Tobiah, the compromise that now resulted into the next generation, would have been avoided. Here are some things we need to guard:

a) Our heart (Prov. 4:23) Guard carefully what you allow in your life that will ultimately impact your heart and soul. Watch out for sharing intimate moments with people who are not your spouse.

b) False doctrine. Paul tells the church in Corinth that Satan comes like an angel of light, disguising himself as “servants of righteousness,” preaching a false gospel (2 Cor. 11:14-15). I have seen churches and people destroyed because this was not taken seriously.

c) Our private time. Guard your times when you are alone, tired, overwhelmed or bored.

d)Recreation and Media. Check with pluggedinonline.com or christiananswers.net before renting or watching a movie. Use an internet filter for your computers.

The point here is that we need to guard our victory times because it can be followed by great failure. But keeping our priorities straight (keep worship and the Word central), avoiding any small hints of compromise, and keep working on our character (like faithfulness, a growing fear of God and being ever so watchful) will help us. All of us know what it is to put our guards down when things are going well. Let us decide now and pray, “Lord help us protect what you have accomplished.” 

So how do you handle victory? You give glory to God, you guard your victories and lastly,

III. Commit to Community (Neh. 7:4-73)

Look what else Nehemiah does here. In Neh. 7:4, we find out that there are not a lot of people living inside Jerusalem itself. They must have lived in the surrounding areas. Perhaps due to the devastation and rubble and the lack of a good wall, or whatever reason, the population was small in the city. It has been over 90 years since the first group returned. Now that the wall was up, Nehemiah needed people to live there again. There is no purpose for a wall when there are no people, or very few people, to live within it, though some did return to their town according to Neh. 7:6.

So with a divine initiative, Nehemiah decides to gather everyone together and check the census in Neh. 7:5. He is trying to find out who’s who and where they were living (by clans). Then he would be able to ask each clan to consider coming back to the city of God again. This list is almost identical to the list in Ezra 2. The work had already been done earlier for Nehemiah by Ezra or someone else.

I am not going to read the names and numbers here, but let’s look at how it is organized. Remember this is the list of people who came back the first time. They were exiled in 586 BC. 70 years later, they came back. Neh. 7:7 lists 12 leaders from the first trip (the name Nehemiah is not the same Nehemiah here, nor the Mordecai the same as the one in Esther). The list includes Zerubbabel and Jeshua. You can read about them in the book of Haggai and Zechariah, if you are curious.

Then in Neh. 7:8-26, we have the names of clans (families) and the number of each family who returned from the land. In Neh. 7:27-38, the number of people are listed according to location. Next, he lists the Temple personnel: priests (Neh. 7:39-42), Levites (Neh. 7:43), temple singers (one of 18 references in this book; Neh. 7:44), gatekeepers (Neh. 7:45), the temple servants (Neh. 7:46-60). There are a lot of foreign names here in the servant list, implying these people were descendants of non-Jews taken when David conquered them to serve the Levites. They probably did menial tasks around the temple.[6] Solomon himself apparently hired some folk back in his day and their descendants here were numbered as well.  

I learned something new here as far as the difference between priests and Levites. Remember that the Levites were one of the first appointed after the wall was built (Neh. 7:1). According to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, the term Levites “includes the priests, in a broad sense, for the sons of Aaron belonged to the tribe of Levi. For practical purposes, however, the Levites were those of the tribe other than the priests. The Levites also functioned in the service of the tabernacle, though they had a subordinate position.”[7] In other words, if you were born in the tribe of Levi, you did not automatically become a priest, you could have other jobs in God’s house, whether it was the Tabernacle or the Temple. However, the priests were the ones up front and getting the glory. The Levites helped with moving the furniture, and by Nehemiah’s time, treasurers and collecting tithes (Neh. 10:37-39). But the lines are not as distinct, however, between priests and Levites, because some of them were also explaining God’s Word to people (Neh. 8:7-8).

But I find it interesting here that the number of Levites listed (74) in Neh. 7:43 is so small in comparison to the priests in Neh. 7:39-42. It makes you wonder when the people returned, if the Levites did not want to come back to Jerusalem in fear of doing the mundane work they were used to doing? Perhaps they found better jobs or more comfort back in Babylon and Persia? We are not sure.

But the lesson here is that there is no great work of God without committing to the community of God. These are not just a list of forgotten names which we cannot pronounce. It is a declaration of a godly community’s spiritual commitment.[8] This is not even really about the people, but that of God’s faithfulness in bringing His people back to the land. God is setting up the next step in His plan of redemption, because He himself will be born in a manger outside this city in about 500 years. And despite all of the rebellion and idolatry and God’s 70 year discipline, He kept His promises and now these people were the evidence of that. God is continuing His work! Nehemiah wants everyone to come back together, link arms and invest in this community by living in the city again and bring back the worship of Yahweh.  These people had left Babylon, some sacrificed a lot to come back to Jerusalem. The city is not what it used to be and it takes a lot of faith to believe that it will thrive again and that they could rebuild again. But Nehemiah is gathering the people to call them back into true community again.

However, being in their community had some requirements. Some lessons come out of here for us as well in regards to what it means to commit to the community of God. I want to share two requirements I see here and I will phrase them as questions:

a) Do I belong? (Neh. 7:4-65)

Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean “Do I fit in?” or “Do I get along with people or do they like me?” But I mean, “Do I belong to Jesus Christ as His child?” In Nehemiah’s day, you had to be Jewish. Look at Neh. 7:61-62. Some could not prove that they were Jews. Their faith was interconnected with their race, because God’s plan was for a nation to represent Him at a location. They were supposed to be a light to the nations. Everyone was supposed to come to Israel to find God. So these people here, who could not prove their genealogy, were probably treated as outsiders. But in the New Testament, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Be my lights everywhere! It was not about race anymore at any location. Instead, it was about races coming to know God through His Son Jesus at every location!

But the requirements for priesthood were even more strict. Look also at Neh. 7:63-65. If you were a priest, you had to come from the tribe of Levi. Apparently Barzillai (Neh. 7:63) helped David when he was running from Absalom (2 Sam. 17:27; 19:32). His daughter married a priest. The priest ended up taking Barzillai’s name instead of his own. This could be because priests had no land inheritance (Num. 18:20), so this priest must have changed his name to get some land. They must have gotten away with this for a while, that is, until now. Well, his descendants show up saying they are priests and it’s revealed they do not qualify. In fact, the governor (one of the leaders) told them they could not even enjoy the leftover food that priests were given the privilege to eat after the sacrifice.

This was a difficult situation for them. Now there was a system to figure out situations that were not so clear. High priests kept in their garments small stones, almost like pebbles or precious stones, which they used to determine the will of God. These stones were called Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30; 1 Sam. 14:37-42; Num. 27:21). One commentator notes that, “Few details are given about how they were used. Passages such as 1 Sam 23:9–12 and 30:7–8 indicate that the question asked required a yes or no answer; thus the priest would use Urim and Thummim to obtain an indication of God’s will.”[9] So they are told to wait for a high priest who is qualified to use this system to possibly get another chance in defending themselves.

But the principle we get from this is the most important one in belonging to a community. Do I know if I belong to the family of God? Warren Wiersbe asks, “If I had to prove my genealogy in order to get into God’s city, could I do it?”[10] The Lord is keeping a book called the Lamb’s book of life, and whosever name is not found there, will be thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15). Do I know..that I know..that I know…that there was a time in my life that I confessed my sins and received God’s forgiveness and embraced Jesus as my Savior and Lord so that if I died today or if Jesus came back, I will go to Heaven? Am I in the Lamb’s book of life? Heb. 9:27 says that is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment. John 1:12 says if we have received him, to them He gives them the right to be called the children of God. God does not have grandchildren, but only children. Make sure you belong!

The second question to ask about committing to a community is:

b) What am I giving? (Neh. 7:66-73)

Look at Neh. 7:66-69. We can deduce some things about their economic condition here. First of all, there were some wealthy people here. This is due to the mention of male and female servants of over 7,000 people. Also, for the most part, the wealthy rode camels and horses, the poor rode donkeys and mules. The singers mentioned here means personal musicians of the wealthy who provided entertainment to them.[11]

So far the wealthy people have been shed a bad light in the book. If you remember, there were nobles who refused to work (Neh. 3:5), some of them exploited the poor (Neh. 5) and some of them were closely tied to Tobiah, the enemy (Neh. 6:17). But here we see some of them gave graciously to the work of God. Not only the rich, others gave as well according to Neh. 7:72.  Commentator James Boice says, “It is difficult to evaluate the true purchasing power of sums of ancient money, but if the notes in the New International Version are correct (they represent only the best judgment of scholars), the families of Israel gave gold and silver worth, in today’s currency, more than $5 million.”[12]

If you are going to commit to community, it will require sacrifice and giving. It can be financial. Tim Stafford in a Christianity Today article a few years ago said that the people who gave most to God’s work, came from two groups: The poor, who made less than $20,000 a year and the rich, who made over $100,000 a year. Middle class Americans, who made between $40,000 and $100,000 gave the least.”[13] We may be giving, but necessarily sacrificing!

But not only financially, but of your time, resources and gifts that God has given you. It will require you to give to God’s work, even when you have children to take care of and are tired from work. This is ministry! Ministry is giving when you feel like keeping. It is serving when you feel like being served. So think about what we can give to each other and those we are trying to reach. Think about who you can invite over for a meal? Or who can you call or reach out to?

I was really touched by this. If you think about it, these people have yet to really establish themselves in the city and it would have been wise to perhaps hold back and see how their financial situation would develop and stabilize and life became normal in the land before actually giving. However, here they gave by faith. If you want to be able to handle a victory well, learn not to think about yourself. Stop being a consumer and thinking about what you are getting out of church! What am I giving? Where am I serving? Learn how to invest in community by giving.

Conclusion

As I close, two thoughts come to mind. First of all, it is really difficult to handle victory well. But the greatest joy comes not from enjoying your personal victories, but coming together to celebrate large victory. So one of the best ways to deal with your victory is to commit to community and work toward large victories! I see Nehemiah’s heart here doing just that, by not leaving after his leadership in helping to build the wall, but staying to bring the people together. This is the major victory! 

Secondly, God takes note of our service to Him. If you ever went to watch a good movie, when do you actually get up and leave? Probably soon as you see the credits rolling. Maybe we might stay to see the cast names. But very few of us if any, will be curious to know who were the stuntmen, construction guys, travel coordinator or set directors. But we know that there are thousands of people involved! But do you know who always sits to watch the credits of our work for God? It is the Lord Jesus. If there ever was anyone who knows how to handle victory well, it is He! With every person healed, every demon cast out, every sermon preached, every miracle performed, He kept going. Even there on the cross, where the worst of man’s hatred was performed, He persevered and turned it around as the greatest demonstration of grace and love this world has ever seen! I look to Him and want to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). Now His Spirit in us is helping us to be as He was, to serve, with all that we are, until He returns for us saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21).


----

[1]As quoted in Marriage Partnership, Vol. 13, no.3 from http://www.preachingtoday.com  accessed September 2, 2009.

[2]As quoted in Lincoln’s Own Stories, Christianity Today, Vol. 41, no. 8 from http://www.preachingtoday.com  accessed September 2, 2009.

[3]Wiersbe, Neh. 7:1

[4]Ibid.

[5]Stephen Cole, “Counting for God” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/120802M.pdf  accessed August 22, 2009.

[6]Breneman, 81.

[7]Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Map on lining papers.1757 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988).

[8]Brown, 126.

[9]Mervin Breneman, 84.

[10]Wiersbe, Neh. 7:4

[11]Larson and Dahlen, 23.

[12]Boice, 84.

[13]Tim Stafford, The Anatomy of a Giver: American Christians Nation's Most Generous Givers, but Aren't Exactly Sacrificing, Christianity Today, 05/19/97.

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