Chapter 7

Good Soldiers

From the booklet Ezra and Nehemiah—Building God’s Temple

Nehemiah was a man of great faith and strong emotion. God called him to repair the walls in Jerusalem. He was violently opposed in this phase of the work. Through faith, he was able to do the work and fight a war to protect that work at the same time. Nehemiah was a competent leader. He motivated the people to complete the walls in just 52 days!

The history from Nehemiah is essential for us today. Throughout man’s dismal history, God’s work has always been violently attacked. This should not surprise us. Satan the devil has always wanted to destroy God’s people and the work. The daily reality that the pcg must live with is that we are in a war until Jesus Christ returns (2 Timothy 2:3).

Every “good” soldier must keep a sharp focus while in a battle. Some battles we must enter are going to be difficult. We are going to face enemies, at times, many enemies. Some of the people in Nehemiah’s time grew weary of working and fighting. They looked at their enemies and became dismayed. They looked at the difficulties with constructing the walls and became negative. They wanted to give up. Nehemiah turned these people to God. He moved them to see that God was behind their work. God was their strength. He would fight their battles for them.

God expects us to apply the lessons from Nehemiah to our time. We must not allow ourselves to become negative about the work God has given us to do. We cannot fear our enemies. If we focus on our enemies, we could also lose faith. God expects us to be like Nehemiah. We need to turn to God for the strength to do the work. We must let God win our battles for us.

Jew Disloyal to Jew

Like Ezra, Nehemiah also effectively judged the Jews of his time. When Nehemiah came on the scene, the nation was struggling for its very existence. Not all of the problems Nehemiah faced came from outside of the nation. He had to deal with some serious internal crises as well. There came a time when Jew was being disloyal to Jew.

“And there was a great cry of the people and of their wives against their brethren the Jews. For there were that said, We, our sons, and our daughters, are many: therefore we take up corn for them, that we may eat, and live. Some also there were that said, We have mortgaged our lands, vineyards, and houses, that we might buy corn, because of the dearth. There were also that said, We have borrowed money for the king’s tribute, and that upon our lands and vineyards. Yet now our flesh is as the flesh of our brethren, our children as their children: and, lo, we bring into bondage our sons and our daughters to be servants, and some of our daughters are brought unto bondage already: neither is it in our power to redeem them; for other men have our lands and vineyards” (Nehemiah 5:1-5). The poorer people of the land made a great outcry to Nehemiah. They were suffering under deplorable conditions.

Realize that nearly all of the people that had returned from Babylon were living in Jerusalem while the walls were being rebuilt. Remember that Nehemiah organized the people so that some were workers and others were defenders. At this same time, there were also great rains which were causing a famine in the land (Ezra 10:9).

With the enemy attacks, in essence, the people were under siege. Food was scarce. To make matters even worse, the poorer people were being seriously abused by the wealthier Jews. The rich Jews were using them and their sons and daughters to harvest what little corn existed for themselves. The poor had a difficult enough time finding food for their own families. The less fortunate Jews also had to borrow money from the wealthier Jews to pay taxes imposed on them by the pagan king. Things became so bad that some people even mortgaged their lands and sold their children into slavery so that they could make ends meet. The rich were sinning greatly against their own people. They were also taking unfair advantage of the people through usury.

Selling Brethren into Slavery

Nehemiah became very angry at this turmoil within the nation. “And I was very angry when I heard their cry and these words. Then I consulted with myself, and I rebuked the nobles, and the rulers, and said unto them, Ye exact usury, every one of his brother. And I set a great assembly against them. And I said unto them, We after our ability have redeemed our brethren the Jews, which were sold unto the heathen; and will ye even sell your brethren? or shall they be sold unto us? Then held they their peace, and found nothing to answer” (Nehemiah 5:6-8). Nehemiah severely corrected the Jewish nobles, rulers and wealthy people.

Nehemiah was working extremely hard to build the walls to protect the people from vicious enemies. Yet the people had become treacherous to each other. Indications are that Nehemiah and other wealthy Jews had bought some of the people out of slavery in Babylon (verse 8). He could hardly fathom that some of the people were committing a great evil by selling their own brethren back into slavery. He rebuked them sharply for this grave sin. When Nehemiah reprimanded the people, no one answered. They were convicted of their terrible sin against their own people.

How does this apply to the pcg today? Are we very careful not to abuse our own brethren? There are times that we are not as careful as we should be. We should always avoid taking advantage of each other financially. All of us should be cautious in loaning or borrowing money. The ministry must help protect the flock from these kinds of problems.

Another sin that we need to be constantly on guard against is gossip. Because we are so scattered, people do spend a lot of time in fellowship on the telephone. If these conversations drift into a discussion of other people and their problems, we should learn to stop that immediately. What right do any of us have to discuss the problems of other people?

God condemns gossip throughout the Bible. “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16). This verse shows that reputation-damaging gossip is as wicked as murder. Study in detail the following proverbs: Proverbs 11:13; 18:8; 20:19; 26:20, 22. They vividly describe the evils associated with gossip. In a similar vein, we must also be on guard against being condemning and critical of each other. Do we have the right to judge, criticize or put down another one of God’s people? Let’s all work hard to stop this abuse of the brethren.

Fearing God Stops Exploits

Why did the Jews exploit their own brethren? Why did they exact unfair usury? Why do we sometimes fall into gossip? Because we don’t fear God enough. Nehemiah taught this fact to the people. “Also I said, It is not good that ye do: ought ye not to walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the heathen our enemies?” (Nehemiah 5:9). If we truly fear God, we will work hard not to sin against our brothers. Verses 10-13 show that Nehemiah commanded the people to stop exacting usury. It appears that some of Nehemiah’s own relatives were involved in those crimes. He made the nobles and priests promise to restore the lands, vineyards, oliveyards, money and corn to the people. Nehemiah stated in verse 13 that anyone who would not comply with the oath would be cursed.

As a ruler, Nehemiah set a perfect example in not taking advantage of the people. He refused to exploit them. “Moreover from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year even unto the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that is, twelve years, I and my brethren have not eaten the bread of the governor. But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God” (verses 14-15). Nehemiah could have lawfully accepted provisions and money due him as governor. He did not even take this from the people. He showed all of the other nobles that he was willing to make a sacrifice for the work.

Nehemiah provided for his needs out of his own resources. As cupbearer, God had richly blessed him. He did not need a salary, so he did not take one. Nehemiah also made sure that his servants or assistants did not take advantage of the people. He did this out of fear of God. Nehemiah focused all of his attention on the work, not on providing for his own need or wants.

Rich Attitude of Service

The other nobles and priests who had come to Jerusalem became more focused on gaining material wealth and property than on the work. “Yea, also I continued in the work of this wall, neither bought we any land: and all my servants were gathered thither unto the work. Moreover there were at my table an hundred and fifty of the Jews and rulers, beside those that came unto us from among the heathen that are about us. Now that which was prepared for me daily was one ox and six choice sheep; also fowls were prepared for me, and once in ten days store of all sorts of wine: yet for all this required not I the bread of the governor, because the bondage was heavy upon this people. Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done for this people” (verses 16-19). Nehemiah had a rich attitude of service. He was not interested in personal gain. In fact, he continually fed 150 Jewish rulers at his own table. He shared all of his provisions with the people. He set a sterling example of giving.

Nehemiah saw the oppressive conditions that the people were living under. He could not in good conscience take food or money that the people needed for themselves. Verse 19 shows that Nehemiah totally relied upon God to look after his own needs.

We need to recognize that people coming into the pcg from the Laodicean groups are spiritually impoverished. We must serve their great spiritual need. The Laodicean doctrinal changes have greatly diminished their well-spring of the Holy Spirit. We have a grave responsibility to be patient with them. When members come to us out of the Laodicean groups, we should patiently give them some time to reorient their standards. We could be guilty of abusing new pcg members if we self-righteously criticize their spiritual problems. We must remember that God gives repentance (Romans 2:4). God’s Holy Spirit will lead our new members to recapture high standards in everything. We all need to work at fearing God more. Let’s make sure we follow Nehemiah’s example of being focused on the work. Let’s not exploit each other.

The Fight Against Rumors

Nehemiah always used great shrewdness when dealing with enemies. Judah’s adversaries never got the upper hand when Nehemiah was their governor. “Now it came to pass, when Sanballat, and Tobiah, and Geshem the Arabian, and the rest of our enemies, heard that I had builded the wall, and that there was no breach left therein; (though at that time I had not set up the doors upon the gates;) That Sanballat and Geshem sent unto me, saying, Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But they thought to do me mischief” (Nehemiah 6:1-2). The Jews’ enemies never gave up trying to destroy them. Sanballat and Tobiah were their chief enemies. They were always scheming against Nehemiah. He never trusted them. Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arabian could not believe that Nehemiah was getting the job done. They wanted to stop the reconstruction of the walls before the doors were set in the city gates. Sanballat and the others devised a plan to deceive Nehemiah into believing that they wanted to be at peace with him. They tried to draw him to a meeting in some far away village. The Jews in the State of Israel today need to heed their own biblical history!

Nehemiah never allowed these men to distract him from his job. “And I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort; and I answered them after the same manner. Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; Wherein was written, It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words. And thou hast also appointed prophets to preach of thee at Jerusalem, saying, There is a king in Judah: and now shall it be reported to the king according to these words. Come now therefore, and let us take counsel together. Then I sent unto him, saying, There are no such things done as thou sayest, but thou feignest them out of thine own heart” (verses 3-8). Sanballat, Tobiah and others continually hassled Nehemiah.

Nehemiah said, why should I leave a great work and come talk to you? Now, he’s talking about priorities, isn’t he? He was saying, Look, I have a work of God to do, and I’m not going to waste my time. Wasting time is always a temptation. I have to watch myself, even on the phone, or I can waste a lot of time. I don’t want to be unsociable or curt, but I don’t want to waste time, either. There are so many temptations to get us away from God’s work. Are we into what we should be doing? Are we really doing what’s important?

These verses show that Nehemiah was sent letters at least five times (verse 5). They worked hard to intimidate him. Nehemiah was not easily scared. He told them that he had a “great work” to do. He did not have time for their foolishness.

We have such a short amount of time to do the work—perhaps more than Nehemiah’s 52 days, but we don’t have much time to get the job done. The lion has roared! We need great urgency in this work! People need to see that urgency in the lives of our ministers and wives, so they can be stirred up more to get ready for what is ahead.

The adversaries would not give up. They started rumors that Nehemiah and the Jews were planning to rebel against Babylon. They were spreading the vicious lie that Nehemiah wanted to be king and rule in Jerusalem. They let Nehemiah know that they were going to take this information all the way to the top—to the king in Babylon! Nehemiah fought a great fight against these rumors. He let these men know there was no substance to these claims. These rumors were only true in their wicked imaginations.

Avoid the Rumor Connection

How much time do we invest in listening to rumors? The Worldwide Church of God doctrinal disaster and corrupt leadership have fed upon the rumor mill. We all must be careful not to get caught up in the rumor information connection. If we do, we could waste a lot of time and money on telephone calls.

From time to time, rumors are even spread about our Philadelphia Church of God headquarters. Some enjoy spreading lies about imagined internal struggles or politics here in Edmond. Please remember that the headquarters staff functions as a team. Although we all are imperfect human beings, we do strive to work well together. All of us recognize that we are here to support God the Father and Jesus Christ in their work. Sometimes it is very funny to hear from the field about what is going on at headquarters! Don’t let rumors eat up your time and money.

Nehemiah understood that Sanballat and Tobiah’s only plan was to stop the building of the walls. They wanted to weaken the work. “For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands” (verse 9). Nehemiah did not allow these men to draw him into a fight over personalities. These men were enemies of the work. As always, Nehemiah looked to God for help. He prayed for God to strengthen his hands. Nehemiah let God fight this battle.

We Should Not Flee Enemies

Not all of Nehemiah’s associates looked to God for protection. Some did become afraid of the enemies’ threats. “Afterward I came unto the house of Shemaiah the son of Delaiah the son of Mehetabeel, who was shut up; and he said, Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple, and let us shut the doors of the temple: for they will come to slay thee; yea, in the night will they come to slay thee” (verse 10). On the surface, Shemaiah appeared to be in a panic. He displayed great fear for his life and for Nehemiah’s. He wanted Nehemiah to hide in the temple with him. Nehemiah’s response is most inspiring. “And I said, Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in” (verse 11). “Should such a man as I flee?” This was the response of a true and faithful leader. God had commissioned Nehemiah to do a job. God had blessed him and furthered his efforts continually. Nehemiah also knew God would fight this new battle for him. To flee would show a great lack of faith in God’s almighty power! Nehemiah knew God would not allow his life to be taken unless it was His will. Nehemiah concentrated on the job at hand and allowed God to protect him. Oh, how we all need to do the same!

The Bible is clear on the fact that the pcg is going to be surrounded by enemies. We need to set our hearts now to not be afraid or flee from the fights ahead of us. Should such people as we flee? We are God’s special treasure (Malachi 3:17). We have a great job to do for God. Whom should we fear?

The Enemies Within

As it turns out, Shemaiah and others were traitors. They only pretended to be afraid. “And, lo, I perceived that God had not sent him; but that he pronounced this prophecy against me: for Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin, and that they might have matter for an evil report, that they might reproach me. My God, think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and on the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear. So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God” (Nehemiah 6:12-16). Tobiah and Sanballat had actually hired Shemaiah to make Nehemiah afraid. Verses 17-19 show that even many of the nobles were in league with Tobiah and Sanballat. There were treacherous enemies within this struggling nation.

God used Nehemiah to defeat all of their plans. The wicked men could not stop the completion of the walls. This incredible project was completed in an unbelievable 52 days. When the walls were completed, all the enemies of the nation were completely downcast. Finally, Sanballat and his henchmen recognized that Nehemiah was doing the work of Almighty God. What encouragement for us! Who can ever fight God and win?

The Return to Shushan

Study chapter 7 for yourself. Nehemiah had to return to the Shushan palace as he promised (Nehemiah 2:6). He placed his brother, Hanani, and Hananiah, one of his marshals in the palace, in charge in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 7:1-2). These men were given the rule of Jerusalem because they were faithful men. These two men feared God above people (verse 2). These are the kind of men who need to be in God’s leadership and ministry. Above all else, we need to be faithful to God’s truth and courageous around enemies. Fearing God will give us great courage. In this chapter, God also inspired Nehemiah to record the genealogies of the people who returned to Jerusalem from captivity (verses 6-73).

Chapter 8 gives the fantastic story of Ezra reading the law to the people on the Feast of Trumpets. At that time, the people were very eager to hear God’s law taught to them. “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8:5-6). The people showed deep respect for God and His law. When Ezra opened the book of the law, they stood up. With one voice they praised God. In unison they lifted up their hands and bowed their heads. The people humbled themselves before God’s supreme majesty. They all recognized that they were a people richly blessed because of God’s great law.

This attitude would save the nations of Israel! If only our people would heed God’s law.

God’s Joy—Your Strength

Verses 7 through 9 show that Ezra and other priests taught the people well. “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (verse 8). They gave the people the true meaning of what had been written. The people were so moved by their preaching that they wept, not out of joy, but mourning. Ezra and the Levites encouraged the people to be joyful. They proclaimed, “This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep” (verse 9). Ezra persuaded the people to be happy on this high holy day. He exclaimed, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (verse 10).

Those of us who have come together as the pcg should also have a very deep respect and worship for God. We have been richly blessed with a deep understanding of His law. Being a Philadelphian means that we are always striving to keep God’s law more perfectly. No Laodicean group has a full understanding of God’s law anymore. And, as time passes, they are losing even more of the understanding they still have. Do we have a greater appreciation for God’s law? We all should be eager to have more understanding of God’s law!

We need to have a stand-up attitude when it comes to Malachi’s Message, the Philadelphia Trumpet magazine and the many booklets published by the pcg. We have been given exalted revelation. All of us should be lifting up our hands, bowing our heads and saying, “Amen, Amen.”

We must also come to realize that the “joy of the Lord” is our strength. As we have stated so many times in this booklet, there are difficulties ahead, but if we maintain God’s joy in our lives, we will be very strong. God’s joy is our strength.

How do we keep the “joy of the Lord” in our lives? “And they found written in the law which the Lord had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written” (verses 14-15). The people were quick to obey God. They heard what was written in the law—then they did it! Obedience preserves God’s joy in us.

Study verses 14 and 15 carefully. There is deep meaning behind them. Notice that the people were to gather olive branches. An olive tree is a biblical symbol for God’s Holy Spirit. The joy of the Lord comes into our lives through God’s Spirit. God promises to give us more of His Spirit if we obey Him (Acts 5:32). We will always have the “joy of the Lord” in our lives if we are obeying God’s law.

Deep Repentance

Study Nehemiah 9 through 12 on your own. These chapters describe how Ezra and Nehemiah organized the temple worship and the people geographically. Remember that Ezra had corrected the people for interracial marriage (Ezra 10). It appears that not everyone immediately complied. Nehemiah 9 includes the account of others who later also repented of this national sin. This chapter records the very moving, repentant prayer of the people. The people did deeply repent of some serious sins. If only our people could learn from their own history! The nations of Israel could be saved from a disastrous end if they repented of their sins like these people did anciently.

Chapter 10 is a list of princes, priests and Levites who entered into a national covenant with God to stop their backsliding into interracial marriage and other sins. Verses 33-39 show how the priests kept the people focused on the work by having them bring their tithes and a continual wood offering to the temple. God’s altar fires were kept burning through these wood offerings.

All Philadelphians have a place in the work. Not every one of us can be in the ministry. But everyone can bring a type of wood offering to keep God’s altar fires burning. Tithes and offerings are important, but there are other sacrifices that can be made as well. Every member can give the sacrifice of fasting and prayer.

Chapter 11 describes the lottery used to decide which people would live in Jerusalem and chapter 12 is a listing of priests that came to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel.

Restoring Faithful Men

Nehemiah had been governor over Jerusalem for 12 years. As we stated above, he did return to the Shushan palace as he promised. It is not known exactly how long Nehemiah remained in Shushan. The Bible does not tell us how, but he was then able to regain the governorship over Jerusalem. When he returned, he had to do some serious housecleaning.

Eliashib, a priest in charge of the temple chambers, had formed an alliance with Tobiah (Nehemiah 13:4). He actually allowed Tobiah to live within the temple. “And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests. But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king: And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense” (Nehemiah 13:5-9). The alliance between Eliashib and Tobiah infuriated Nehemiah. The Levites who were performing the temple service were being short-changed. Their provisions were going to Tobiah. Nehemiah was grieved sore over this situation. He immediately went to work and kicked Tobiah and his possessions out of the temple. He commanded that the temple chambers also be cleansed. He replenished the temple treasuries and restored the Levites to their proper positions in the temple (verses 10-14). Nehemiah restored faithful men to their offices.

Isn’t this exactly what God has done with the pcg? When Mr. Armstrong died, the temple, or Church, began to be abused by some unfaithful men. But God has now restored the temple responsibilities to some faithful men. The ministry serving the Philadelphia Church of God is made up of men that are faithful to God’s doctrines.

At the end of this book, Nehemiah prayed to God, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (verses 31). If you read and study this entire booklet, there should be no doubt in your mind that both Ezra and Nehemiah accomplished much good for God. Do we realize that the good they established did not die with them? If we do our part to use the lessons from these books, their good will live on in us. If we remain truly Philadelphian, when our work is finished, we can also honestly pray, “Remember us, oh our God, for good”!