Message Begins at 19:30
A Time to Build? Or a Time to Tear Down?
Planting Date Palms: Nehemiah #2
January 31, 2021
To see the reality of duality of the opposing spiritual hands at work in our world, I invite you to fly on the wall status at my home when my children have friends over at the same time. You will notice adolescent female hands rising up to build a fort made of pillows, blankets, couches, couch cushions and kitchen tables. And the moment they finish, you will observe adolescent male hands conspiring to tear it down.
Nothing is new under the sun. It happened 2000 years ago when the hands of Jewish peasant from Galilee pointed and said “I will destroy this temple and rebuild it in three days” while opposing hands conspired to tear him down and destroy him permanently.
It happened 245 years ago when one set of hands grabbed a pen and wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” while another set of hands across the pond conspired to destroy them.
It happened 6 years ago when a local pastor put his hands back on the plow to plant spiritual date palms while another group of hands conspired to bring the work down before it even got started.
And it happened with Nehemiah.
The moment he lifted up his hands and said “let us arise and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,” opposing hands conspired to tear it down and destroy it.
So the question for us is this: which hand masters us: the one that tears down? Or the ONE to arise and build?
(1) In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, (2) so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” I was very much afraid, (3) but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” (4) The king said to me, “What is it you want?” Then I prayed to the God of heaven, (5) and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.” (6) Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time. (7) I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? (8) And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. (9) So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. (10) When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
1. Opposition as a sign I'm doing something wrong vs Opposition as a sign I'm acting on the burden God has given me? (2:10)**
As news of the work increased, so did opposition
2:10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.
4:7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.
6:1 When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it
For us, some opposition is required for spiritual maturity
Paul, for example, rebuked and opposed Peter, who was more influential in the early church at that time, for not wanting to be seen associating with Gentiles.
But also for us, some opposition is designed by the evil one to throw a wet blanket on your burden
“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Mt. 4:3)
Greatest battle you will face in planting your spiritual date palms is fear. She has slain many followers of Jesus before they ever put their hand to the plow.
2. Act without opportunity vs Wait for the Word (2:1-2; 2:7-9)
“Waiting” meant God gave him a season of patience for what lay ahead (2:1)
Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the king; an occupation that required swift and decisive action. He was the last line of defense for assassination attempts on the King’s life. Yet; God forced him to “wait” for four months between Kislev and Nisan.
“Waiting” meant praying for a season without ceasing (2:2)
Kings didn’t like sadness from their servants in their presence. They wanted joy. This was a breach of protocol; thus the reason for the kings inquiry. Nehemiah bore his burden for 4 months and shared it only with God. But he couldn’t keep it down.
“Waiting” meant planning (2:7-9)
(1) Best plans are built on great faith. No way Nehemiah could have fit the bill for the rebuilding. So he asked the very person, who was both an unbeliever and could have taken his life, to pay for it.
(2) It didn’t stop there; Nehemiah was a Jew heading right in the middle of Arab territory. Without the kings protection and letters, he had no shot to survive. So he asked him.
(1) God develops our patience through our prayer life in the season before he calls us to move;
(2) Praying without ceasing doesn’t mean praying at every moment for months on end. Instead, it means praying until you get an answer and God gives you an opportunity.
(3) We can go to elaborate extremes – prayer without a plan or trusting in the plan, not God.
3. Order my steps by my plan vs Order my steps according to the One who has gone before me (2:3-6)
God went before Nehemiah to soften the King’s heart (2:3—5)
(1) The King himself had already halted construction;
(2) The King of the Medes and Persians (i.e., Artaxerxes) were unchangeable
God softened his heart because Nehemiah prayed. Friends, family and enemies may reject our appeals but they are absolutely powerless against our prayers.
God went before Nehemiah by providing Saints in high places (6)
(1) Three important biblical books were written during the rebuilding period:
(a) Nehemiah – Rebuilt the Walls;
(b) Ezra – Gathered the Books of the Bible;
(c) Esther – Queen of the Medes and Persians who saved the Jews;
(2) The unsung heroine here is the Queen of the Jews and Medes and Persians whose time had not come; The King didn’t even know of her Jewish origin; But God did.
Walk forward with your burden and you will find God has saints in high places. They will appear and then exit stage right. And you will know why farther along in the journey.
4. Hope for the change you want to see vs Be the change you want to see (2:3)
Nehemiah was in Persia in the first place because Israel went into Captivity for not loving God or their Neighbor (2:3)
(1) Xerxes was no fan of Jerusalem. He halted construction on the walls;
(2) Nehemiah doesn’t mention “Jerusalem” by name because he knew that about him;
(3) Instead, he refers to Jerusalem as “the city where my ancestors are buried.”
Part of planting date palms to stop hoping the world will change and start planting them by being the change you want to see in the world. Xerxes is in heaven today because the “good hand of God” came upon him through the integrity and witness of Nehemiah.