Art on the Trail at Great Plains Nature Center with friends
Enjoy our friends’ new wide open spaces
Delano District Fall Fest
Your 7 (or 14) Days?
Well, we can’t seem to get away from the race situation in our nation, can we? In my personal life I cannot escape it either, as it is even a heavy topic in some classes I’ve been taking.
Within a span of a few weeks, we’ve experienced hurricanes and a mass shooting. We’re watching diverse opinions as players take a knee. White supremacists are marching again. I’m dumbfounded by soap ads. And I’m not sure much of what we’re doing is affecting real change in hearts.
So, asking myself at the same time, how are we doing?
These are just a few areas that give us concrete ways to be part of the solution. I am typing them for myself, too. We do not need to work on listening to thoughts that already line up with our personal biases. What does take work is listening to other viewpoints and choosing not to get defensive.
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”
“‘Can [those feeble Jews] bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?'”
Last time we continued deeper into Sanballat’s mockery of the rebuilding Jews, listening in as he taunted their commitment and sacrifice. Today he brings up past disgrace and ridicules their ability to renew it.
The first word from today’s section we’ll focus on is chayah – to live, make alive, nourish (from chavah – to declare, show to live). It is used in Sanballat’s rhetorical question for whether the Jews can bring stones back to life. Imagine him standing before these committed men (and women) taunting their ability to nourish stones. It is just too much like the enemy with Jesus in the wilderness. In a time when He was subjecting Himself to human hunger and loneliness, the enemy attacks. Can He turn something dead into something nourishing? And, in this case, will He use His authority out of line with His Father’s will?
The reason the stones were burned and in a heap of rubble was due to the Jews’ own disobedience. That’s why the taunt is a low blow. Have you ever been there? Finally able to pick up your work tools and join with God and the people He’s put in your life to rebuild, only to be reminded the reason you need to is past sin?
Don’t fall for the taunts. Our God is a God Who specializes in bringing stones to life. Heck, He can even make rocks cry out and mountains and hills burst into song if He has the mind to. If the Creator of all is calling you to nourish something dead back to life, obey and watch Him work.
Our nation is in need of some hope right now. So much devastation, heartbreak even this very week. I can’t think of a better Hope than knowing there is One Who sees all, knows our pain & past sin, and is ready and willing to show His ability to breathe life into something dead. May we as His people pick up whatever work tool we have been given and join Him.
Let’s roll the next phrase into one focus. These dead stones Sanballat is mocking are said to be out of a heap (aremah – rubble) of rubbish (aphar – dust, ashes). Even further he goes. Not just stones, obliterated stones. Rubble as insignificant as dust and ashes. Completely incapable of being used to rebuild. Even (hem – used emphatically) burned (saraph – utterly kindled, undertaker).
Well, Sanballat makes sure his ridicule hits the mark. But even ashes are no match for the Jews’ Yahweh. When Jesus – Yahweh walking around on the dust of His created earth with skin on – announced His ministry in his hometown, He used Isaiah 61 to declare it before the people listening.
Let’s hear it today with a fresh heart:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins,
repairing cities destroyed long ago.
They will revive them,
though they have been deserted for many generations.”
Good news to the poor and freedom for those captive. Comfort for brokenhearted and favor for those who mourn. Ancient ruins rebuilt and praise instead of despair. Beauty for ashes.
What a Savior! Such a Healer and Restorer. And any temporary, earthly evidence of the above will only be ultimately fulfilled in the future. When He makes all things new.
Let’s praise Him today.
“…Will [those feeble Jews] restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day?”
Last time we looked in as Sanballat renewed his mockery toward the rebuilding Jews. Today we press in on some more of his taunting. The first accusation slung at the rebuilders is whether they can restore (azab – commit self, fortify) their wall. This could be a good time to remember why a city wall was so important for these times. Our Jews lived in a savage world. We do as well, but we have things like the United Nations and treaties and rules of engagement.
Our Jewish rebuilders did not. To have Jerusalem unprotected not only invited enemies to attack, it made God’s people seem as though their God was absent. With the eyes of other nations on Yahweh’s Jerusalem, no wall made Him seem weak.
So Sanballat mocking the rebuilders of Jerusalem with the taunt that they may not commit themselves to such a huge task as fortifying the city wall, he is attacking the God they serve as well. This is never a good idea. Yahweh may be a good Father, insisting His children learn from disobedience. But those same children are the apple of His eye, and messing with them is messing with Him.
Sanballat them moves on to mock the Jews’ sacrificial service in Temple. He taunts, “Will they themselves offer sacrifices (zabach – to slay/slaughter)?” Oh, Sanballat. Not good. The sacred privilege of allowing the people to come before a holy God and ask for forgiveness is nothing to ridicule.
Shall we talk about leadership here? Because this word for sacrifice – to slay or slaughter – can be a convenient way for humans to lead as well. Not in obedience to a perfect God, but as a way to gain control. How often do we resort to slaughtering with words our fellow human beings in an attempt to find a scapegoat? The very definition of a scapegoat infers a slaying of sorts. Someone taking all the blame so we need not take any.
This is not how our Sacrificing God calls us to servant lead. He took on the role of Ultimate Scapegoat so we never need look for another. He was slaughtered so we don’t have to be. He was slayed by the hands of people so it is never necessary for us to look for fellow human beings to keep on slaying. It is finished.
Speaking of finished, this is the subject of Sanballat’s final mock in this section. Before his people and his army he taunts, “Will these feeble Jews finish in a day?” Finish is kalah – complete, accomplish, spent. And his timeline is ridiculous: in a day. He knows that is impossible yet ridicules their ability.
We know only One could accomplish it all. Only One could complete the Task in a day. Only One spent all He had for the sake of His creation.
Until everything on this broken planet is made right, all other leaders will fall short. Bowing down to the Most High Authority – Who didn’t spare even His Own Self to show His love – makes it possible to love and forgive and give and sacrifice until He is finally and forever King of all.
Until then we still bow.
“…and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he [Sanballat] said, ‘What are those feeble Jews doing?'”
Last time we were reunited with Sanballat, a nearby governor who had likely been utilizing the Jews’ situation in Jerusalem to his advantage. Without walls of protection, a strong sense of identity, or an acting governor, the people were susceptible to poor influence. So when the people united, came together with a sense of mission, and rebuilt, he wanted to do anything in his power to stop it. So he resorted to mockery.
And he did it in the presence of (paneh) – before the face of -his associates (brothers, fellow countrymen – ach) and the Samaritan army (chel – fortress, rampart, wall). Let’s talk about paneh – before the face of. Many other cultures are what sociologists call “shame based.” A chief motivation of such a culture’s people will be to avoid losing face or shaming themselves/family/country. What Sanballat is doing is deliberately making the rebuilding Jews lose face in front of his countrymen and army. Laughing that his army or wall is strong and theirs may never be built.
Honestly? It makes my blood boil. I don’t believe that shame and ridicule and mockery is ever the answer. I think we’re lying if we say we’ve never partaken. We are all guilty. But, oh God, may we be quick to repent.
Sanballat begins his mockery with mah – what? how? We have seen this before from Sanballat (& Tobiah & Geshem) when their jeering asked, “What are you yourself trying to do?” Do you remember what Nehemiah replied?
“Me myself? Nothing. But Yahweh? He Himself among our communal efforts will accomplish this. ”
But let’s take this taunt another step further since we’re talking about leaders and governors. What do you think can become of a people who do not take care of those who are weak or feeble? The sick or poor or those fleeing persecution? The immigrants or orphaned or those still fighting for basic human dignity? The unborn, the premature, the elderly or expecting? Do we think it will not eventually affect us all? Do we think such a people can stand for long?
We, too, live in a troubled time. I may not have many political answers. (None, in fact.) But I can tell you what we as citizens of a Heavenly Kingdom are called to do: Bow down to our ultimate King. And when authorities on earth contradict the Authority, we peacefully submit to the Highest One.
Oh friends, if we don’t come together and listen to each other, we will not stand for long. If we don’t care for those under attack, we cannot assume we will never be attacked. If we don’t critically think through where our ultimate hope lies, we cannot hope to stand firm against pretensions setting themselves up against the knowledge of God.
God help us. May we come together so You & Your rule are famous.
“When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews…”
Last time we looked in on our Refiner as He uses fire to prove our faith sure. Not to puff us up but to help us bow down.
Today we move on in our narrative, remembering the Samaritan Governor, Sanballat. We’ve already seen him, along with Tobiah the Ammonite official, disturbed when Nehemiah came to seek the beauty of Jerusalem. We have also watched these two nearby leaders mock Nehemiah and his crew as they prepared to rebuild. So it is not a shock to see Sanballat in our narrative again once he hears the men have begun to work.
The first word to describe Sanballlat upon hearing the news is angry – kaas – provoked to anger, indignant, vexed. Something I appreciate about our God is how He doesn’t seem interested in having me learn about a section of the Word without showing me a section of the Word. Anger is something with which I deeply struggle, and I have felt provoked to it, indignant and vexed this very week. Fortunately, the emotion itself is not unlike our glorious God. I’m grateful He doesn’t look upon injustice or violence or sin with a look of calm indifference. It matters deeply to Him – both the victim of injustice and the perpetrator running from their purpose.
However, pettiness will never describe our Yahweh. And it’s the political situation in which Sanballat is invested that is provoking him to anger. He will lose whatever influence he has over Jerusalem with this new governor and a more fortified identity and city for the Jews. So he is provoked to anger.
The second word in our verse to describe Sanballat is incensed, in Hebrew charah – kindled with anger, to blaze up. When do you blaze up? What really triggers your anger and grows it? Speaking of grows, the Hebrew for greatly is rabah – to mulitply, bring in abundance.
As He grows us, what will blaze up our anger will more reflect His heart. His Spirit in us will be incensed at what is obviously not part of His beautiful design for Creation: abandoned children, lonely widows, addiction, war, suffering, supremacy. We are not Him and cannot feel it all in perfect righteousness. But He will be faithful to grow us more and more into His image.
The broken side of this being incensed comes out of our mouths. As James says, the tongue is set on fire by hell. What can blaze me up and multiply throughout my life are things like gossip, superiority, shame and blame. I can take on any of those things or fall under the weight of them. And trust me, it can multiply throughout my life. Yours too? Let’s learn to stop it in His strength before we get to the final verb for Sanballat.
All of this comes full circle for our Samaritan Governor and he once again mocks or ridicules the rebuilders. Ridicule is laag – to scoff, mock, as if imitating a foreigner: to speak unintelligibly/stammer. Sometimes when we don’t know what to do with our hurt and fear and anger, the result is mocking whoever seems to be provoking it. It happens in a split second for me and in those moments I can’t wait for glory to be done with it forever.
How about you? Does your anger or hurt ever spill into ridicule toward another? Or, God help us, look like mocking those who speak a different language in order to feel superior? Let’s have a healthy fear of God when He reminds us such words will multiply throughout our lives. And let’s praise Him that Jesus took it all: all that mockery and ridicule for sinners like us. We don’t have to live in shame or superiority. We can simply praise the One Who took it on the chin for us and ask Him to make us more like Him.
Because He is our only Salvation – day by day.
“Next to him, Malkijah, one of the goldsmiths, made repairs as far as the house of the temple servants and the merchants, opposite the Inspection Gate, and as far as the room above the corner; and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs.”
Last time we leaned in on our God – the Ultimate Authority – bending down in kindness to His children. His perfectly just rules balanced with His perfect mercy. Today we see the final rebuilders listed in chapter 3.
In my Bible, chapter 3 is preceded with a heading “Builders of the Wall.” You may remember we began with the Sheep Gate as we walked through the list of people who threw in on this rebuilding effort. Such diversity, so much we can learn from this section. Today we see the narrative literally come full circle. The builders listed worked all the way up to Sheep Gate.
Seems like a good time to remember that Hebrew word for sheep: tson – flock, lamb. There were no expectations from shepherds that their sheep would know exactly what to do to keep themselves safe. They require a shepherd. So do we. And He is far from begrudging toward us.
The first rebuilder listed is Malkijah, a goldsmith (tsorephi) from the word tsaraph: refine, test, tried, pure. The primary ancient way of refining gold hasn’t changed in our day: a goldsmith heats the liquefied metal and skims off the impurities that rise to the surface.
Our Shepherd-God does that, too, doesn’t He? He allows various trials in our lives that force us to rely on Him and His strength. To remove what’s unnecessary in order to purify our lives. What will make His image in us shine ever more clearly.
Malkijah repaired a long section, opposite the Inspection Gate. Also called Muster Gate, the Hebrew word is Miphqad – appointed place, designated spot. I like that this comes on the heels of being refined. We are not undergoing the process of purification just for purification’s sake. It is so we can do what is necessary in our appointed places. For the sake of those who need to see Him more clearly. To serve those in need of hope. To display His infinite worth.
May we be found faithful.