DEVELOPING VISION FOR TRANSFORMATION, REV DR JOHN KWASI FOSU

Studies on Nehemiah 1:1-4, 10

Introduction

Having studied the introductory material on the book of Nehemiah, this material begins our verse-by-verse studies of the book. The first chapter of the book gives a detailed account of how Nehemiah developed a passion to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem. Though in a foreign land, when Nehemiah heard about the situation of his homeland, he took appropriate steps to solve the problem.

Steps to developing a transformational vision

In developing a vision for transformation and particularly learning from the example of Nehemiah, Nehemiah 1 invites us, first to know who we are and determine to make impacts wherever we find ourselves. Nehemiah 1 invites us, second, to be abreast with the current state of affairs or information by asking questions, and third, to retreat in fasting and prayer thereby seeking divine strength. For relevant applications, these themes are studies together with contextually relevant applications.

  1. Nehemiah introduced (Nehemiah 1:1, 10) – Determine to make impacts wherever we are

The book of Nehemiah is introduced in Nehemiah 1:1 as the words of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah. This description could mean, either he wrote the book, or that the story records his life and words but someone else actually recorded it.

Not much is known about Nehemiah apart from what is written in this book. The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Nothing is known about his father Hachaliah. Nehemiah was identified as an important person in many ways. He had the strategic responsibility of being the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11). The Persian king readily made him governor of Judea (10:1). Thus, just like Daniel and Esther, he was a Jew who became prominent in the diaspora. He was in the citadel of Susa.

Relevant implications

Studying Nehemiah’s background identifies two implications. First, not much is known about Nehemiah’s background. However, in looking at his father’s name, it is most probable that Nehemiah did not hail from a prominent family. In developing a vision for transformation, it is important to remind ourselves that what matters most is where God is leading us and not where we are coming from. God is always interested in our availability and not our qualifications. Most importantly God qualifies the called.

Second, being a cupbearer in a nation of his captivity implies that he was loved by the people and he knew what it is to survive in a diaspora. It is most probable that he passed the challenging test of integration.

2. Desire to see God’s work and God’s people prosper – Ask questions to develop a vision

While in a diaspora, Nehemiah received a visit from one of his brothers, Hanani and other men who came from Judah with him. Nehemiah demonstrated his concern by asking these men about the welfare of the Jews who had returned from captivity to Jerusalem. Answering this question led to a discussion that informed Nehemiah about the problems in Judah, which in turn introduces the theme of the book. The visitors told Nehemiah that the remnants of the people in Jerusalem were facing severe problems and so they were in distress and reproach. The wall of the city of Jerusalem was broken down and the gates burned with fire.

The Babylonians had done this when they overthrew the city (2 Kings 25:8-10; 2 Chronicles 36:19; Jeremiah 52:12-14). Ancient cities needed walls for protection from enemies. A city with a broken wall, therefore, symbolized a city in defeat and desolation (Nehemiah 2:17). It was this information that deeply grieved Nehemiah and thus saw it to be an opportune time of restoration and rebuilding the nation.

Relevant implications

Forming an essential part of our desire to see God’s work and people prosper is asking questions and being abreast with what is happening today.  Many problems confront God’s people in contemporary times namely worldliness, neglect of God’s work, increasing rates of divorce and remarriage, perversion of church organization and work, immoral entertainment, humanism, family problems, lack of dedicated leaders, profanity, smoking, alcoholism and negligence in spreading the gospel. Whereas some of God’s people are doing well to solve some of these problems, others have their walls completely broken down and the gates have been burned. In this light, asking questions and being informed serve as our creative attempt to develop visions for transformation.

3. Seek divine strength through repentance, fasting and prayer – Draw strength from God

Upon hearing the condition of God’s people, Nehemiah wept and mourned, fasted, and prayed to God. He did that for “many days,” and not just a few minutes. It is important to emphasize here that fasting was Nehemiah’s means of expressing sorrow and grief, associated with a prayer to God (Cf. Ezra 8:21; 9:3ff; 10:1ff).

Relevant implications

There is one thing knowing about a problem and there is another thing showing deep concern thereby seeking to help the situation. This is demonstrated through prayer and fasting. Prayer and fasting are ways of going to God for strength and help. Grieving and complaining over a situation does not solve the problem unless one goes further in taking appropriate steps to overcome the problems.

Conclusion

God has a plan for us. Developing transformative vision serves as the starting point of walking in God’s design for our lives. Reading Nehemiah 1:1-4 informs us of the need to make impacts wherever we are, develop Godward vision and take appropriate steps to solve problems we encounter. In all these, Nehemiah made prayer and fasting his utmost priority to draw strength to carry out his vision.

Overview and outline of the book of Nehemiah, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

This material looks at the general overview of the book of Nehemiah. By so doing, the general features that include the major characters, key words and division of the book. It is anticipated that this background study will enable us get a balance perspective.

Significant features

The book of Nehemiah covers a period of about 12 years from 445 – 433 BC (1:1 and 13:6).  The key words and important emphasis are political and spiritual restoration.  Nehemiah 1:4 – 11, 2:17, 5:14, and 6:15 constitute key verses of the book.  Key characters are Nehemiah, Artaxerxes, and Ezra.  Chapter 6 is the key chapter.  It is about the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. 

Divisions of Nehemiah

A basic outline divides the book of Nehemiah in 2 parts. First is the reconstruction of the walls, chapters 1 – 7.  Second is the Nehemiah chapters 8 – 13. These chapters have to do with the restoration of the people.

Overview 

The walls of Jerusalem were almost rebuilt after 464 BC when Artaxerxes the 1st began his rule in Persia.  Then, Nehemiah heard that opposition led to their 2nd destruction and he felt intense sorrow (1:3 – 4).  Hearing the situation, Nehemiah spent 4 months in prayer.  Since no one was to be sad in the king’s presence, Nehemiah was afraid when the king noted his sadness (2:1 – 2).  However, this provided an opportunity to request a leave of absence from the king’s service in order to go to Jerusalem.  Nehemiah was given permission to go and was given access to building materials for the project.

The people at Jerusalem shared Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls.  In chapters 4 – 6, opposition arose from the enemies on the outside and from certain Jews on the inside.  Being a man of prayer and wisdom, Nehemiah led the people through the difficult days.  In only 52 days of work, the walls of Jerusalem were completed (6:15).  There was still much work necessary in strengthening the walls and in rebuilding the city itself.  Nehemiah organized the city and a militia to defend it.    

It is a mistake to think that Nehemiah was only interested in a physical restoration of the nation.  In Nehemiah  8:1 – 18, we see that he was deeply committed to teaching the nation to live according to the Law of God.  Ezra read from the Law (the Scriptures) and explained its meaning to the thousands who gathered.  Genuine revival occurred based on the Word of God.  Genuine revival brings about changed behavior.  These chapters record not only the confession of sin (9:2 – 3) but also a change in living (10:30 – 39).

When Nehemiah left Jerusalem, much of his influence also left.  During his absence, certain sins were tolerated in national life.  Nehemiah returned 12 years later (13:7 – 11, 23 – 25) and he dealt with the offenders.  With the reforms of Nehemiah, the Old Testament closes.  After this, there is no inspired record for over 400 years.  The next Word from God will be the angel Gabriel announcing the coming birth of John the Baptist.  The book of Nehemiah closes the history of the nation of Israel.

Conclusion

In many ways, the time of Ezra and Nehemiah could be related to ours. God’s people had been in disobedience, which led to the Babylonian captivity. For some leaders had begun the work of restoring the people to God’s service. However, there were still many problems and the people continued to fall into sin. The ministries of Ezra and Nehemiah were to provide transformational leadership to continue the restoration and to challenge the people to spiritual faithfulness.

Essential themes in the book of Nehemiah, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

In our previous studies, we learnt that the book of Nehemiah was written to show the work of God through a godly leader, Nehemiah.  This study material aims at highlighting some essential themes one encounters upon reading Nehemiah. Among others, these themes include leadership, vision, prayer, resilience and spiritual warfare, and spiritual renewal. It is important to first study these themes in the book of Nehemiah to gain a detailed perspective on the entire book.  

Leadership

Leadership is the first and most important theme to discover upon reading the book of Nehemiah. For Nehemiah demonstrated excellent leadership. Nehemiah was ready to obey God’s call to lead.  Some successful leadership traits identified in the book of Nehemiah includes careful planning, teamwork, problem solving, and courage to get the work done (Nehemiah 2:11-21). Nehemiah, therefore, combined tremendous faith with hard work needed for good leadership. He demonstrates what it means to be a godly leader. Leadership is not just about gaining recognition and holding a position of power. It is about assuming responsibility that demands planning, hard work, courage, and perseverance.

Vision

The theme of developing godly vision and for thus accomplishing it comes out clearly as we read Nehemiah. Although the early Jewish returnees had completed the Temple in 515 B.C., yet the city walls were broken. Among other things these walls were significant in that they represented power, protection, and beauty to the city of Jerusalem. The walls were also needed to protect the Temple from attack and thus for continuous worship. As Nehemiah heard about the condition of the wall, God put the desire to rebuild the walls in his heart, giving him a vision for the work (Nehemiah 2:17-21). Reading Nehemiah should therefore, orient us to ask, are there broken “walls” in our societies and churches that need to be built today? Visions are borne out of the recognition of deep needs around us and in our world.

Prayer  

Prayer can transform people and societies. Reading the book Nehemiah reveals that as Nehemiah was called by God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he prayed for forgiveness, favour, strength, wisdom and for protection. Nehemiah presented everything to God in prayer as a way of responding to problems (Nehemiah 4:4,9; 5:19; 6:14). In this perspective, prayer serves as God’s mighty force in solving problems today. The example of Nehemiah reveals that prayer and action go hand in hand. For that reason, prayer serves as a means in which God guides our preparations for achieving our goals, teamwork, and hard work.

Resilience and strategic warfare

The book of Nehemiah reveals how leaders and for that matter all seeking transformation are to resist oppositions and to behave in difficult times. Having begun the work, Nehemiah encountered opposition in the form of scorn, slander, and threats from enemies. He was also confronted by fear, conflict, and discouragement from his own workers. Yet these problems did not stop Nehemiah from completing the work. To accomplish any difficult task, one must be ready to overcome difficulties. For there are no victory without troubles and no testimony without growing through test. Demonstrating resilience means that we are to face difficulties squarely and press on to finish the task.

Spiritual renewal

To Nehemiah, rebuilding the wall was not complete until the spiritual lives of the people were rebuilt. For this reason, Ezra instructed the people in God’s Word so they could recognize the sin in their lives and thus took steps to deal with it (Nehemiah 8:1-12). It is not enough for one to admit his or her sin. Instead, spiritual renewal must result in transformative lives. God requires our complete devotion of heart and minds (Nehemiah 13:14, 22, 29, 31). In other words, God wants to be in the center of our hearts.

Reflections and Conclusion

Reflecting through the themes in the book of Nehemiah as presented in this material, the idea of what it means to lead comes to mind. In this case, Nehemiah demonstrates what it means to combine zealous human efforts through detailed planning and hard work with God’s divine empowering and wisdom. For Nehemiah intermittently affirmed the hand of God upon his life for the task ahead of him. Notwithstanding, he assumed his human responsibility of careful planning, hard work and resisting the enemy. Worth noting here is that these themes, as surveyed, are essential aids in our journey of transformation.

Introducing the book of Nehemiah: Inspired to transform lives and communities, by Rev Dr John Kwasi Fosu

Introduction

Amazing Grace Baptist Church, Hamburg welcomes you to 2021, especially as we embark on the theme of divine transformation. In this year, it is anticipated that the members of the church will be strengthened in their hearts, minds, emotions and actions to the transformation God wants us to be. In the light of this theme and for our weekly bible studies we seek to study the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. In addition to surveying the content of the book, we will explore its major themes such as prayer, leadership, hard work and discipline, vision and planning and provision of God.

The main purpose of this lesson material is to look at the general overview of the book through surveying its background information such as its authorship and date, purpose and historical background. Most importantly, these studies would be looked at from the perspective of lives and communities.

Historical background of Nehemiah

Under King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took most of the inhabitants into Exile in 586 BC. In 2 Kings 24:14, King Nebuchadnezzar, “… carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left.” Gloomy as it was, God promised them future restoration. For inherent within the nature of God is that God gives hope to God’s people in that God does not abandon them nor leave them without hope (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

In the light of God’s restoration plan, in 539 BC the Persians and Medes, led by Cyrus the Great, defeated the Babylonians and ended the Exile. In the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah, God’s people returned to the Land of Promise in three distinct groups in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. The first was under the leadership of Zerubbabel. In this group, the exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and restore the sacrificial system (Ezra 1-6). Under the second group, led by the scribe Ezra, the people returned to Jerusalem to start a spiritual and social renewal among God’s people. Ezra purposed to rebuild the religious life of the community by teaching them the Torah (Ezra 7-10). Nehemiah was called by God to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls of the city (Nehemiah 1-6) under the third wave of the returnees. Along with the scribe Ezra, Nehemiah, they rebuilt the spiritual life of God’s people (Nehemiah 7-13).

The Author and date of the book of Nehemiah

Some scholars have claimed that the inspired writer of the book was Ezra because Ezra and Nehemiah as Old Testament books were historically put together (as evidenced in the Septuagint and Vulgate). However, as the title of the name of the book suggests, it is most probable that Nehemiah is the author of this book (1:1).  Further, the fact that the first-person pronoun, I was predominantly used in the book supports Nehemiah’s authorship.

Who then was this Nehemiah?

The name Nehemiah means the Lord comforts. Reading the book of Nehemiah shows that Nehemiah was found serving in Susa, the winter residence of the Persian kings. Though Nehemiah is an Israelite, he served in a position of great trust and responsibility. In Nehemiah 1:11c, we read that Nehemiah serves as the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. His job is to ensure that the king’s wine is not poisoned, but safe to drink. In this case, Nehemiah had full access to the king. Upon learning that the walls of Jerusalem are broken down and that God’s people are vulnerable, Nehemiah asks and receives permission from King Artaxerxes to travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls of the city. The cupbearer to the king then became a builder of the wall, and in the process, rebuilds God’s people into a nation. What a great life of transformation!

Obvious in the book of Nehemiah is the beautiful balance in the life of Nehemiah.  He balanced a zealous human effort and detailed planning with God’s divine empowering.  Living and ministering with Nehemiah during this same period was Ezra.  Besides, Malachi preached during this time. 

Date of the book of Nehemiah

The date of writing would be around 440 – 423 BC during the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia. 

Purpose of the book of Nehemiah

The book was written to show the work of God through a godly leader, Nehemiah.  Nehemiah leads the 3rd and last group of exiles back to their homeland.  The book records the building, fortifying, and re-establishing of the city of Jerusalem and its people. 

Conclusion and application

This record of events in the book of Nehemiah demonstrates that one person can accomplish much when he/she is empowered, encouraged, and called by God. Reading Nehemiah as diaspora Christians should challenge and orient us to the task of returning to our homelands, if in persons are not possible, then in terms of mobilizing resources for building our homelands. Hopefully, studying the book of Nehemiah will lend us the needed support and insight for developing vision and leadership, and inspiring confidence to transform lives and communities.