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The daunting task of rebuilding the wall was ostensibly before the Israelites. The audacious opposition from neighboring enemies prevailed against the Israelites. God’s people, the ones called for His Name’s sake, faced an endeavor larger than their abilities, harder than their strength, more hopeless than their possibilities, more relentless than their energy, and more despairing than their will.

Does this new year find you with a new battle, or maybe one that has been tormenting you at your heels for months or years? Can you identify with the Israelites? Does it seem as if you do not have the capabilities, resources, help, willpower, guts, or right perspective to overcome? Does your courage seem lost in the rubble and destruction of your past?

HELP IS ON THE WAY!

Nehemiah (a Jew), while still in Babylon, heard of his people trying to survive in the aftermath of a burned down, broken down city: “‘[survivors]are in great trouble and disgrace'” (Nehemiah 1:3). With a broken and heavy heart, Nehemiah requested the king’s permission to help his own people through the dark time. The pagan king miraculously granted Nehemiah permission to leave his position of cupbearer and return temporarily to his hometown. King Artaxerxes not only let Nehemiah go, but sent him out in the most elite style! This is one of my favorite parts of the story! Just so we get the picture and profoundness and punch and phenomenal of this unprecedented moment, the following are different translations for Nehemiah 2:9:

“Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.” ESV
“The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.” NIV
“The king even sent along a cavalry escort.” The Message
“Now the king had sent with me officers of the army and horsemen.” NASB
“Now the king had sent captains of the army and horsemen with me.” KJV

Truly surreal. We hear the word “surreal” thrown around in the media especially during interviews where the interviewee just won a game, match, reality contest, or when something out of the ordinary occurs. It is a moment in time when what just happened or is happening seems unreal or dreamlike. For me, the time that captured the meaning of the word “surreal” was at my oldest daughter’s wedding. She was engaged to the man God ordained for her, and we were blessed beyond measure for the two of them to spend the rest of their lives together. We had planned every detail of the wedding months ahead of time, but when all the guests arrived and lavished the outdoor venue with their attention onto my daughter, the radiant bride, I felt as if I were in a dream. The reality or acceptance that we had the wedding of my firstborn literally took a year for me to comprehend. Makes me wonder what Nehemiah must have felt as he was traveling with the king’s cavalry as his escort, riding in pomp and splendor with the king’s stamp of authority! He brought with him the best the world could offer to the men, women, and families who fiercely needed a rescuer – someone who could see beyond their mess and do something about it. Just a few short months before his royal ride, he was at home in Babylon weeping, fasting, and begging God on behalf of his relatives. He prayed, “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant…” (Neh. 1: 6). When the time was right for Nehemiah to inquire of the king about leaving and helping the remnant of Jews, he was just hoping to live through it! Now he sits atop the back of one of the king’s horses with the king’s military men surrounding him! God heard and answered Nehemiah’s humble prayers in only the way He can do. Reminds me of Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Sounds like a surreal experience to me! Don’t give up praying! Keep seeking God for yourself or for a loved one or friend. God hears your prayers and is “delighted” in you (Psalm 18:19).

So…without announcing in a grand way his arrival, Nehemiah instead quietly investigates Jerusalem, specifically the destruction of the wall which was in utter ruin and useless to protect. Then, he gathers a group of men and explains why he is there and how “the good hand of [his] God was upon [him]” (Neh. 2:8). It wasn’t about him. It never was. Nehemiah didn’t risk his life for anyone’s sake except the Lord’s. He gave glory to his God and proclaimed what God had done through the king. He had worldly authority and could have taken advantage of his luxuries, but he chose to represent his heavenly Authority and glorify the King of kings.

One by one the men worked under the leadership of Nehemiah to repair and rebuild the protecting wall around Jerusalem. They were working as fast as they could, and at the same time standing guard from the onslaughts and mockery of the nearby neighbors. The Jews hadn’t worked this hard or come together as one in a long time. This was a turning point for everyone. They had a bold leader, determination in their hearts, and able bodies to accomplish what would be a defining task that would mark the Israelites as once again a separate nation. The enemy then dug deep in his bag of tricks to do anything in his little power to emotionally defeat God’s people from prospering. Called them names. Mocked their obedience. Ridiculed their efforts. Belittled their supplies. Accused their abilities. Plotted against them. It almost worked. It almost worked. Satan’s name calling against you, Satan’s mockery, ridicule, belittling, accusations, and plotting are nothing but a bunch of lies. His work is meant to destroy you and keep you from fulfilling God’s purpose and plan for your very life and life of your family. Pray mighty warrior, pray! Enlist other close warriors to pray on your behalf. This is war.

This is the moment Nehemiah gave the pep talk of a lifetime. As the Israelites were at the point of giving up, not having the last bit of strength to keep going, Nehemiah gathered the men together and charged them with these words: “Don’t be afraid of the enemy! Remember the Lord, who is great and glorious, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes!” (NLT).

Don’t be afraid!

Remember the Lord!

And fight!

Nehemiah’s testimony: “So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out” (Neh. 4:21).

May this too be your testimony, my testimony. That we will continue to do “good works which God has prepared in advance for us to do,” (Eph. 2 10) and that we will “hold out the word of life” (Phil. 2:16) knowing that God “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:8).

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The rainbow has new meaning to me. When a rainbow appears in the sky, typically people of all ages tend to marvel at the sight. Thebow & arrow rainbow for me has always been a beautiful, mysterious gift as I received the opportunity to witness one or even a double rainbow at one appearing. I would observe and admire the beauty and size of a rainbow and reflect on the biblical meaning that God promised He would never again flood the whole earth (Genesis 9:15).

I discovered a new meaning to the rainbow as I studied Psalm 21. The Psalmist, King David, wrote of his deliverance from his enemies as God brought victory to him. King David praised God for granting him blessings, splendor, majesty, and gladness. King David understood the truth that when his enemies attacked him, they were attacking God. “Though they plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed; for You will make them turn their backs when You aim at them with a drawn bow” (Psalm 21:11&12 NIV). The KJV of verse 12 states, “Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back, when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.” To further study the terminology of “bow” from the two verses in Psalm 21, my study Bible directed me to Genesis 9:13. As I turned to Genesis 9, I realized it is the account where God makes the covenant between Himself and the earth that whenever He sets the rainbow in the clouds, “never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Gen. 9:15). In the Hebrew the word rainbow is literally “bow”. According to my Zondervan NIV Study Bible, the “rainbow probably represents the bow with which God shoots the arrows of his lightning bolts toward the earth”. I had never heard that before- that the shape of the rainbow represents a “bow” like a bow and arrow. I then discovered Psalm 18. King David once again praises God for deliverance from his enemies including that of Saul. King David begins the Psalm by telling God he loves Him, and that when he was close to death, he cried out to God and God heard him. King David writes what happened next. “The earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because He was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him – the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them. The valleys of the sea were exposed and the foundations of the earth laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of breath from your nostrils. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my  foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because He delighted in me” (Psalm 18:7-19 NIV).

King David thought he was about to be killed by his enemies. He was at the threshold of death, then cried out to the LORD. He knew beyond a shadow of doubt God had heard him, for what followed next was only Him! The earthquake, smoke, fire, heavens parting, angles, His voice, hailstones,  and lightning all pointed to only God of the universe. Then, David saw Him shoot arrows and scatter his enemies!

For at least a month, I pondered this new meaning of the rainbow with the Lord. My old meaning of viewing the rainbow as a mystical beauty in the sky was shattered. I came to the conclusion that the rainbow represents God’s bow, and that He is really wanting to destroy the earth because of the evil, but the rainbow meant that He is restraining Himself.  It was if God was withholding his anger. I thought of the rainbow as something negative – a bad sign ,so to speak, instead of something beautiful. I conversed with the Lord about this and asked Him to reveal to me what I should believe about the rainbow.

Then, totally unexpectedly, God revealed His thoughts! I was staying overnight at friend’s home, when after my morning shower, on the foggy mirror I noticed someone previously had written the word “LOVE”. Having 3 teenage girls myself, I knew what that stood for…someone had written whom he/she loved after a shower when the mirror had fogged up. My friend has lots of house guests staying periodically, so there is no telling who would have written it. So, I looked for the name of the person under the word “LOVE” to see whom this person was “in love with”. I could not find any other words under the word “LOVE”. Hum…interesting I thought. Then, my eyes went above the word “LOVE”. To my astonishment, a rainbow had been drawn above the word “LOVE”. I was literally taken aback. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew at that second that God had wanted me to see this picture that most likely one of  my friend’s grandchildren had drawn. God wanted me to know that He sets the rainbow in the sky to show His LOVE for us. Yes, He is relenting, but it is out of LOVE.

Jesus is coming back for us. Look at this amazing picture of the One who is coming: “I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder. “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown,and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest” (Revelation 6:1).

Oh Lord, sharpen your sword, bend and string Your bow. Prepare Your deadly weapons, make ready your flaming arrows (Taken from Psalm 7:12-13).

Jennifer Johnson

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"To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen." -Revelations 1:5b-6

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