Nehemiah is a pretty crazy book. We start with a man in captivity who has risen through the ranks to be in a position of great influence—cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia. His brother comes to visit and tells him about the conditions of the remnant of Jews in Jerusalem. It breaks Nehemiah.
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. Neh 1:4
After much prayer, the Lord places a vision in his heart along with step 1 of a plan. He waits until the right time and asks King Artaxerxes if he may return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city wall. The plot thickens when you read Ezra 4 and remember that King Artaxerxes himself agreed that Jerusalem was a “place of rebellion and sedition” and had ordered all work to be stopped on the city. In other words, he himself banned the building of the walls. But, Nehemiah had favor with the king and not only was the order reversed, King Artaxerxes provided Nehemiah with his blessing, supplies and military escort to rebuild the wall.
What comes next is a textbook example of powerful leadership. Nehemiah gathers, encourages and leads the Jewish exiles into the impossible. The rebuild the walls, set the gates and repopulate the city in 52 days. Feasting occurs. Celebrations and then this epic twelve hour worship session. More here. The people repent and pledge before the Lord that they will change. New rules are created to insure that they do not forsake the House of the Lord and forget their heritage.
Then Nehemiah returns to King Artaxerxes—because he still is in captivity—and everything unravels.
One of the greatest enemies to the rebuilding (Tobiah) had been given a room in the temple, the Levites (priests) had to leave the temple to return to work in their fields because no one was tithing, the Sabbath was being ignored with foreign commerce and one of the biggest pledges they had made—not to marry non-Jews—had occurred to the point where, “half of their children could not speak the language of Judah.” (Neh 13:24)
How did they get here? Again?
The Lord had done the impossible for them. They celebrated. They repented. They promised. And they forgot.
Tim Mackie with The Bible Project puts it this way: “What God’s covenant people truly needed wasn’t just a temple building or a new city wall. They needed new hearts that could truly respond to God’s love and grace with a grateful devotion.”
Kelly Minter follows that with, “Doing your best can’t change your heart; only through Jesus Christ do we receive a new heart and spirit.
Doing. Your. Best.
It’s a recipe for failure. It wasn’t just the Jews of Jerusalem during Nehemiah’s day. It was those before and those after. It is everyone who falls into the cycle that includes forgetting. We are so blessed that we don’t have to rely upon others to break that cycle. It just takes us and the power of calling on the name of Jesus. He permanently broke the cycle that we often try to restart.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. John 15:7
So, how do we keep from restarting the cycle? It starts by remembering. Remember the goodness of the Lord. Remember to create a clean place in your heart for Him. Remember to allow Him to fill you so completely that you do not provide a space for the things that He hates. Then, with His presence filling us, stop allowing our desires to lead us. Instead, be led by God’s Word.
So again I ask, does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? Gal 3:5
All we have to do is ask and believe that His Word is true.
So, who is with me today? Are you ready to stop the cycle? I am.