Through Zerubbabel and Nehemiah we see the tenuous nature of life in the province Beyond the River. Both of them had received royal decrees allowing them to undertake their work – Zerubbabel rebuilding the temple and Nehemiah the city walls. But the royal army was far away, the inhabitants of the region that Assyria had settled there had a two-century head start on establishing order, and they did have a point about Jerusalem’s history of rebellion against foreign kings.
Remember in Ezra 4, that from Artaxerxes’ letter we learn that his concern wasn’t peace in the region or prosperity for its residents; his concern was tribute for the royal treasury. This was typical: neither Assyria, nor Babylon, nor Persia cared about local affairs, so long as problems didn’t foment rebellion or invite foreign invasion.
This is why Jerusalem’s walls were needed in the first place. Cities were a place of refuge against raiding parties that the Persian army wasn’t going to do anything about. They were also a mark of pride, of identity, for their inhabitants. Ezra served an important role for the Jews, but he also served the king’s purposes: if Ezra keeps the peace, the king won’t have to. The favor granted to Nehemiah was much more substantial: he simply wanted to provide safety and security for his kinsman. But as we saw yesterday, “the good hand of [his] God” was upon him.
Today’s reading follows this good hand of God through substantial trials. In chapter 4, Sanballat and Tobiah discourage and threaten the work, and in chapter 6 they attempt to remove the head. In between, Nehemiah takes up the cause of those who are being enslaved and exploited by their Jewish brothers.
And through all this movement, a wall is being built, and a detailed record is being kept. Listen for Nehemiah’s observations, as well as a revelation of his greater concern.
Our verse for this week is Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Nehemiah 4 through 6. Now let’s read it!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.