Nehemiah 1:1-3:14; 1 Corinthians 7:1-24; Psalm 31:19-24; Proverbs 21:4
Today we begin a new book in the Old Testament. It’s sometimes easy in The One Year Bible to lose track of timelines and historical breaks, as we turn the pages from one book to the next. So, today, I thought I’d give quick overview of where we are in history.
There are 3 “returns” from Exile in Israelite history. After 70 years of captivity, the exiles come out to rebuild the temple in 538 BC, under Zerubbabel. This return lasts 23 years; then there is a 57-year gap (during which the story of Esther takes place) and then the second “return,” in 458 BC, where the people reform and follow God’s ways. This is part of the time of Ezra. However, it’s short lived; it only lasts two years and then we have another 12 years of unrecorded history.
After that time is when we pick up in Nehemiah, in 444 BC, when the wall is rebuilt, the beginning of which we saw in today’s reading (more on that in a minute). This rebuilding lasts 12 years and marks the final stretch of time until Malachi, after which God will remain silent in Israel for 400 years, right up until the pronouncement to Mary about the coming birth of Jesus. As a side note, doesn’t that just put into perspective how alarming and truly surprising the angel’s visit to Mary is? There hasn’t been a prophet or vision or any word from God in 400 years and then an angel appears to her to tell her she’s going to bear the son of God! Pretty crazy stuff. But I digress. Back to Nehemiah!
The beginning of Nehemiah is really amazing. He hears that his people, the remnant, are in “great trouble and shame” and that “the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh. 1:3) and he is so moved by sorrow that the king (to whom he is a servant) notices his burden and asks him about it. When the king hears that Jerusalem lies in ruins, he asks Nehemiah what he wants to do. I love Nehemiah’s boldness and his faith – look at what he does: “So I prayed to the God of heaven and I said to the king…” Did you notice that? When the king asks Nehemiah what he wants, Nehemiah first prays to God and then steps out in boldness to ask if he can rebuild. Nehemiah is a servant in the palace of a powerful king; but he doesn’t let those circumstances stop him. He prays, gets direction from God and then courageously steps out in faith and asks to be released so he can go home and rebuild his beloved city.
King Artaxerxes agrees to this (because “the good hand of my God was upon [Nehemiah],” [Neh. 2:8]) and off Nehemiah goes. He gets the people organized and I love the verses that follow, showing all the family groups (some with fathers and daughters!) who build different portions of the wall. Pretty great stuff!!
I have no neat connection now to transition to the New Testament but there are verses here that deserve some attention. Look at 1 Corinthians 7:10 – “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.” I know it’s unpopular these days to speak out against divorce and remarriage but if we’re going to read the Bible and say it’s God’s word, we have to read the whole Bible, not just the parts that are comfortable and fit neatly into our culture. And these verses really couldn’t be any clearer. God does not want us to get divorced, and if we do get divorced, he wants us to remarry only our original spouse. As Paul says, that’s not me saying that; it’s God’s word. And it’s up to us what we’re going to do with that information.
I’ll leave this post now with a few encouraging words from today’s Psalm: “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you” (Ps. 31:19). How abundant is God’s goodness, indeed!
- Esther McCurry
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