1 – Nehemiah 7:1-2 (ESV) Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, 2 I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many.
RAF: Those who do not fear God, certainly will not fear man. Thus trustworthiness is tied to the fear of God. If they are not honest and reliable because they understand the relationship of such things to their God, then there is nothing to prevent them from being unreliable at all. Fear of the Law sure won’t do it. And as our society demonstrates day after day, the further men move away from any sense of personal responsibility before God, the more violent, dishonest and anti-social their behavior becomes. This is not about living in some cowering fear that doubts God’s love and goodness. It is knowing that God is righteous, that He cannot tolerate sin and must judge it – no matter how deeply He loves anyone. And that to be living in sin will ultimately bring us before the judgment bar of God, irrespective of our sins being found out by men in this life.
2 – Nehemiah 7:73b-8:1 (ESV) And when the seventh month had come, the people of Israel were in their towns. And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.
RAF: Note that it wasn’t Ezra or the leaders who aksed that this be done, but the people themselves. Great things are afoot when the people seek to have God’s Word read and explained and taught and preached to them. When they grow hungry to hear God’s voice and to know His heart and mind. Father, may that zeal ever burn in my own heart, and never never die out.
3 – Nehemiah 9:29-31 (ESV) 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
RAF: Note that in this magnificent prayer, which seeks to recapture the big picture of Israel’s history – God’s patience is manifested IN His persisent discipline, not in the lack of it. Time after time the people were set upon by their enemies, given over to plunderers, suffered famines and other calamaties sent as tokens of God’s chastening love. In His patience He remained faithful not to give them up entirely, but to keep on bringing discipline even when it seemed outwardly not to work. His chastening was not a product of His lack of patience, but of His patience itself. Of His unwillingness to stop shepherding them – irrespective of how obstinate they became. O the love of God that surpasses knowledge.
4 – Nehemiah 10:39 (ESV) “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
RAF: The sum of this agreement made by the people with God on this day is expressed in this last sentence. In other words, they vowed to live as a people who belong to their God, and among whom their God dwells. Thus they will take seriously all He has said and will live as those who live with God in His holy mountain. This is what the Christian life is to be. A life lived in the reality of the presence of God. What some have called living “coram deo” – before the face of God.
5 – The one-word theme of Esther is: PROVIDENCE. Its events occur sometime around 50-60 years after the first exiles returned to Judah from Babylon. So what goes on in this book happens during the same time that Ezra and Nehemiah are engaged in rebuilding Jerusalem. God’s name is absent in its pages, but His fingerprints are to be seen everywhere in it.
6 – Esther 2:15-18 (ESV) 15 When the turn came for Esther the daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai, who had taken her as his own daughter, to go in to the king, she asked for nothing except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who had charge of the women, advised. Now Esther was winning favor in the eyes of all who saw her. 16 And when Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace, in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, 17 the king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins, so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 Then the king gave a great feast for all his officials and servants; it was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity.
RAF: What we do not want to do is over-romanticize this circumstance. Esther went through a very degrading and dehumanizing process. Most of this multitude of women would endure a 12 month process of beautifying – then spend one night with the King sexually, and except for the one chosen Queen, live the rest of their days out in the King’s harem. There, as royal concubines, they would never be allowed to fall in love, marry, bear children, etc. Esther was facing this same fate. This is life for humanity under the rule of sin. Dehumanized, used up for the World’s pleasure, stripped of every dignity, and imprisoned in the trappings of earthly wealth – while the soul rots in anguish. Only Christ can save us from such a fate. Only by His grace, can we rise above it all – and though living in the world, can live so as not to be a part of it any longer. Elevated to be His bride.
7 – Esther 3:1-2 (ESV) After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, and advanced him and set his throne above all the officials who were with him. 2 And all the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage.
RAF: It is astounding to see mention of an Agagite at this point in time. Agag, was the King of the Amalekites. The same Agag Saul spared after God had told him to wipe out the Amalekites. The same Agag that was then responsible for Saul’s having had the kingdom taken away from him for sparing. This man would not exist, if it had not been for Saul’s disobedience those many years ago. And while it seemed as though God’s original plan to destroy the Amalekites went unfulfilled – it would at last come to pass – far far away, and far far later. God is not mocked. His will, will be done.