Title: TAKING PROBLEMS BY THE THROAT
Text: Nehemiah 13: 1-31
Ludwig van Beethoven is a well-known name to musicians. The man knew music like a wood worker knows wood. At the age of five he was playing the violin. At thirteen he was on his way to becoming an accomplished organist. In his early twenties he made his public debut as a concert pianist, playing his own concerto major.
Now the sad part of the story…Ludwig had a horrible father who exploited his music abilities for his own profit. In one of his tirades, several blows to the ears left his son’s hearing damaged, until he eventually became totally deaf. But Beethoven had an indomitable drive to compose music…the music that he could hear in his head. That indomitable spirit was summed up in a letter that he wrote in 1801: “I will take fate by the throat.” The more silent his world became, the more he pounded out music from his fingers…nine symphonies, five concertos, countless overtures, minuets, chamber pieces, and sonatas. He didn’t let his handicap silence the love of his heart.
Nehemiah is another who refused to let problems conquer him. Our final study in this series will show once again Nehemiah took problems by the throat whenever he encountered them. Thus far we have seen him push back enemies, while at the same time produce a glorious spirit of revival among a people who labored intensely at rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. In this final chapter we will see that indomitable spirit more clearly as he grapples four more problems by the throat. Read Text.
1. Nehemiah’s time in Jerusalem was amazingly fruitful, but he was honor-bound to return to King Artaxerxes. Neh. 2:6 He was away for some time before he asked permission to return. 13:6 Like little kids when Momma leaves the room, it didn’t take very long for trouble to brew. What does it take, personally, to live righteously when there’s no leader around to keep us in line? Is it possible? What value have you found in a mentor / accountability partner in this area?
2. The first problem Nehemiah encountered upon his return was that a priest offered part of the temple as a private hotel suite for one of Jerusalem’s worst enemies. 13:4-5 What do you remember of Tobiah? (He had opposed the rebuilding project from the beginning.) Is it any less important to guard compromising companionships as an adult than it is for our children?
Insight: While Nehemiah was away, this man wormed his way not just behind the walls of the city, but inside the most sacred…the temple. And the high priest, Eliashib, allowed it. When spiritual leadership becomes a companion with evil, look out for judgment to follow. James 3:1
3. What action did Nehemiah take to remedy this problem? 13:7-9 (He did some serious spring-cleaning.) Ps. 69:9 What was the cleaning of the rooms all about?
Insight: This was not just a matter of cleaning out someone else’s mess. It involved a ceremony prescribed by God of cleansing sin from the very place that was to represent holiness. This would have been an embarrassing procedure before the eyes of all Jerusalem that their spiritual leaders had compromised with the evil.
4. Do you think there were some there that day that thought Nehemiah was overreacting?
Insight: Undoubtedly, but serious times call for swift and decisive actions. For Israel’s sake, it’s a good thing that Nehemiah wasn’t interested in winning any popularity contests. His only interest was in cleaning out the evil that was already affecting their ability to hear and obey the Word of the Lord.
5. Where there’s compromise in one sin, sometimes you will find more. Nehemiah did some more probing and found more grime. What was it? 13:10-11 (Neglect of the tithe that supported the priests that they vowed to do in 10:37.) 1 Tim. 5:17-18
6. What was restoring them to their post all about?
Insight: Because their support had stopped, the Levites had all gone back to their farms…there was nothing but silence where once there had been ministry.
7. Nehemiah grabbed this problem by the throat with confrontation. Do you avoid confrontation when you shouldn’t? How does this passage encourage you not to avoid it?
Insight: Nehemiah teaches us that there’s a time to pray and there’s a time to take problems by the throat. Knowing when and how to do both is critical to keep problems in check. Avoidance of confrontation only leads to more problems, as it runs wild, unchecked.
8. It didn’t take long for the Israelites to forget another promise they made in the covenant just months earlier (10:31), when Nehemiah encountered the third problem in this chapter. What was it? 13:15-16 (Secularizing the Sabbath.) Does it bother you when people don’t keep their promises? Should we be any less convicted when we don’t keep our promises to God?
Insight: The Israelites could hear a bargain a mile away, and stopped short of nothing in order to capitalize on it…yet they were stone deaf to God’s commands concerning the Sabbath.
9. How did Nehemiah take this problem by the throat? 13:17-22
Insight: Even the traders were anxious to resume their bartering with the Israelites. They pitched their tent outside the closed gates, anxious to begin early the next day. But Nehemiah knew that if sin pitched it’s tent just outside the gate, it wouldn’t be long before it entered inside, so he forced them to leave altogether. So should we when we recognize sin camping outside our gates. Ps. 82:1-2; Matt. 11:12
10. The final problem that Nehemiah dealt with was undoubtedly the most difficult to deal with - intermarriages. What was the danger of this that prompted him to deal so harshly with them? 13:23-25
Insight: This action led not only to the mixing of blood, but of languages and beliefs. The result was that a generation of children was growing up who could not speak or understand the language of the Scriptures. This problem threatened to wipe out Israel’s ability to hear the voice of the Lord through the Scriptures.
11. The greater the problem, the greater the intensity with which Nehemiah responded. Does anyone’s Bible have a footnote for the words “cursed” and “pulled out their hair”?
Insight: When he cursed them, it doesn’t mean that he used profanity. It means “to treat with contempt; to revile.” The Hebrew word for “pulled out their hair” means “to make slick or polished” and is used mainly in reference in plucking out part of the beard. Israel’s situation was becoming desperate, so Nehemiah responded with desperate measures. Ezra 7:26; Ps. 15:1-4
Nehemiah followed four basic steps as he dealt with Israel’s problems. He faced the sin head on. He condemned it severely. He worked toward a permanent correction. He followed the situation up with prayer.
Perhaps the Lord has brought us here tonight to give us some insights on how we can grab our own problems by the neck
1. Dealing with problems begins with honest observation. We cannot solve a problem we can’t identify. Facing the truth about ourselves and our compromising alliances, areas of selfishness, or failures to keep our word must be dealt with, no matter how painful.
2. Correcting what we honestly identify demands fearless conviction. Fear can keep you from confronting problems, yet we must for the Lord’s sake. Josh. 24:15
3. Confrontation and fearless conviction must be tempered. Nehemiah always seemed to be dealing with major problems, but he didn’t become bitter or spiteful. His constant prayers and focus on the Lord kept him from becoming a harsh, condemning critic. It also gave him the tempering power that only comes from God.
What area of tonight’s lesson hit closest to home for your needs?