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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).

Scary creatures are appearing in neighbor’s yards. Ghosts made out of white sheets inhabit one yard entirely. Oversize black cats and hairy tarantula’s occupy sidewalks with a look that dares one not to come any closer. Life- size dolls imitating real-life humans  erected to cause anyone near to fear being the next victim. Then, there are the “normal” evil characters such as witches, vampires, and monsters that impose fright no matter the time of year. And why??? Why is scaring people fun?! I really don’t get it. I really don’t like it. There is only one place all of this scary stuff could have originated – the devil himself.

It doesn’t have to be the time approaching Halloween or the day of Halloween for Satan to use his mastery of deception to try and scare the people of God away from their callings. One such example comes straight out of the book of Nehemiah. The Jews, God’s people, who bravely came back to Jerusalem after being in captivity to the Babylonians for 70 years, were given the job of rebuilding their homeland, their place of worship, their own homes, and the wall of protection around their city, Jerusalem. This task was more than the Jews could handle, so God ordained Nehemiah (also a Jew), who was serving as the cup-bearer to the king, to orchestrate and see the building process through especially in regards to the rebuilding of the wall (Nehemiah 2).  The men, women, and children were ridiculed day and night for their hard work by neighboring evil men. The opposition was fierce, exhausting, and relentless. The Jews’ strength was gone. So much so, they wanted to quit. Prayer to God kept them going (Nehemiah 4). Just when the wall was near completion, the enemies voiced their threats once again. A message was sent to Nehemiah, “‘Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.'”( Nehemiah 6:2). Nehemiah recognized immediately this was not a “peace treaty” request, but a scheme meant for harm. I wonder if it was the name of the plain that initially gave the threat away – “Ono”!? Their enemy never tired; the message was sent four times. On the fifth time another letter was included that was filled with lies. Nehemiah admonished the Jews by reporting the enemies “were trying to frighten us” hoping the work on the wall would cease (Nehemiah 6:9). Furthermore, another attempt to get Nehemiah from collaborating with the Jews occurred when Nehemiah went to visit a man shut in his home. The man warned Nehemiah that men are coming to kill him, so he wanted Nehemiah to go to the temple where only the Levites had the right to enter. Nehemiah discerned that this man was not of the Lord, but quite the opposite, “He had been hired to intimidate me so that I would commit a sin by doing this, and then they would give me a bad name to discredit me” (Nehemiah 6:13). The Message translation of the same verse: “He had been hired to scare me off—trick me—a layman, into desecrating The Temple and ruining my good reputation so they could accuse me.” Nehemiah didn’t bite the bait. His knees may have buckled in his boots, but he kept fighting…kept praying…and kept rebuilding. The crazy, great thing – the wall was rebuilt in record time! In just 52 days the work was accomplished. The ridicule, the threats, the intended harm, the intimidation and the frightening words only hurried the people of God to fulfill their God given calling! And guess who ended up being afraid?? “When all our enemies heard about this (the rebuilt wall), all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God” (Nehemiah 6:16). Now that is what you call a healthy dose of fear!

Voices of ridicule, words that mock, and intimidating lies may be hurled your way. Know this my friend – You are doing the work of the Lord. Pray as Nehemiah did: “Now strengthen my hands”.  When all said and done, it will be your enemies who will be shaking in their boots!

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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