A Gem from Nehemiah (10-22-17)

The year was 445 B.C. and the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins. The ruling empire during this period was Persia, but they were not the kingdom that had destroyed Jerusalem with fire. This travesty had been executed 141 years earlier (586 B.C.) by the Babylonian empire, and the obliterated temple was an agonizing reminder to the Jewish nation of the tragic consequences that result from idolatry. The city that had once stood tall and proud before the world as Jehovah God’s holy city was now described by the weeping prophet as a city whose “splendor has departed. Her princes have become like deer that find no pasture, that flee without strength before the pursuer…the adversaries saw her and mocked at her downfall” (Lamentations 1:6, 7b, emphasis mine). The despair and disillusion captivated by Jeremiah’s inspired words were shared by all the Jews whose eyes beheld the fallen Jerusalem. It was an unequivocal confirmation that Jehovah God’s presence was no longer in His once holy city. This dreadful realization lingered in the minds of the survivors whom remained in the city until the arrival of Nehemiah in 445 B.C. Holy Writ reveals that Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani, explained to him that “the survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire” (Nehemiah 1:3). Because Nehemiah was living in the Persian capital of Shushan (also known as Susa) as the cup bearer to King Artaxerxes, it is unsurprising that these troublesome words pierced his heart very deeply (Nehemiah 1:4). Hearing of how the city tarried in devastation (leaving her exposed to her enemies) and that his fellow countrymen lacked all eagerness to begin rebuilding the wall, undeniably heightened Nehemiah’s woes and frustration of being a captive of the Persian empire. This godly man wept bitterly for his nation and his people, but also from the feeling of helplessness he experienced due to his Persian chains. This sentiment of helplessness is indeed a horrible and heavy emotion. Knowing about a loved one’s predicament and being unable to do anything to help that loved one can become an unmerciful torture to the soul. If allowed to fester upon the heart, it can drive a man to madness that stems from self-guilt. Sadly, in some cases this profound depression can lead a person to their death. Indeed, sorrow bred from guilt can be dangerously consuming if allowed to penetrate too deeply into the conscience of man. The apostle Paul was very aware of this threat and for this reason interceded for the penitent sinner of Corinth urging the church “you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2nd Corinthians 2:7-8, emphasis mine). It is wise to recall that this was the same man whom Paul had commanded the Corinthians to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1st Corinthians 1:5, emphasis mine). The apostle’s desire of salvation for this man became threatened by the unforgiving and unsympathetic attitude of the Corinthians. They, without a doubt, did not understand that the apostle’s purpose was so “that his spirit may be saved.” Before Nehemiah’s return to Judah, the remaining Jews had been prey to this same sense of worthlessness before God. They, too, misunderstood the purpose of God’s allowance for this desolation to take place. Thus, they were being “swallowed up with too much sorrow.” This type of sorrow exhibited in both illustrations illuminates a precious gem of a lesson. Observe that both were guilty of an avidly practiced sin, and were punished as a result of it. The Divine chastisement was necessary so that “afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11b, emphasis mine). This discipline brought forth shame and guilt displayed by heavy sorrow. The complication that arose was that their sorrow was not balanced by comfort. Hence the hopelessness born of grief and shame (produced by their guilt) began consuming them into oblivion and not producing the “peaceable fruit of righteousness.” It is in these words where the hidden emerald is found. Although their sorrow was a product of their disobedience, this same sorrow also produced “repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2nd Corinthians 7:10, emphasis mine). Let us return to the bitter tears of Nehemiah as an aid to understand Paul’s claim. Holy Scripture manifests that Nehemiah not only wept and mourned for his people, but he was also “fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Nehemiah 1:4, emphasis mine). The unpleasant news he received from Hanani made this man turn to God in one of the most heartfelt and beautiful prayers recorded by the Holy Spirit. Nehemiah decides to “confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned (Nehemiah 1:6b, emphasis mine). It is with these words that we receive clarity to Paul’s promulgation of “godly sorrow.” In concordance with the Hebrew writer’s synopsis of the true purpose for chastisement, Nehemiah validates by example that the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” is repentance born from godly sorrow. A person who is truly sorry for his misdeeds will stop engaging in them. However, this must begin with the person changing their mind in connection to how they perceive their actions. Like Nehemiah and the Corinthian man, one must first acknowledge that the action is unacceptable before God and ask for forgiveness. Many commonly do so, but then fall into the snare of believing that they are “not worthy” of change. For this reason, it is important for those “who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, emphasis mine). This is the meaning of “comforting” the penitent sinner. This is the gem we must procure in obtaining. Consider the fact that after Nehemiah confessed before God the sins of Israel, he returned to Judah with the intent of rebuilding Jerusalem with his countrymen (Nehemiah 2:5). The metaphor that can be taken from this is truly fantastic, especially since this magnificent feat was achieved once he restored their broken spirits (Nehemiah 2:17-18). Indeed, it teaches us the power found in comforting an ailing, penitent spirit.

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