For the last two months we have been following the Book of Nehemiah in our weekly Shabbat celebrations. The parallels between those days nearly 2,500 years ago and our times are striking and helpful to us all. Nehemiah was a Jew who rose to a responsible position in the government of King Artaxerxes of Persia. The Jews were captives in Persia but the period of seventy years prophesied by Daniel had been fulfilled. When Nehemiah heard that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were broken and destroyed he was distressed and prayed earnestly to God. As a result of his prayers he found favor with the Persian king and was appointed governor of Judea. Nehemiah was sent with authority to restore Jerusalem, but his work was strongly opposed by other governors of the surrounding lands.
For almost 2,000 years the people of Israel have been scattered among the nations of the world, living as outsiders, but often achieving high positions in government, academia and other important fields. Less than seventy years ago, governmental authority was released through the United Nations and other world powers to authorize the re-creation of a Jewish state in the land of Israel. The Jews have returned again to the land promised to them by God, but this return as in the days of Nehemiah, has not been unopposed. The Book of Nehemiah says his men built the walls using one hand for construction and the other to hold a weapon. This is a good description of the way Israel has developed since the birth of the modern state. Our young adults are simultaneously working to build a strong economy, while defending our borders from attack.
Nehemiah is a good picture of the kind of leader needed in Israel today. He was ready to accept any challenge and adapt to new and unusual requirements in order to get the job done for God. Nehemiah’s faith was anchored in his religious beliefs, but his calling was not religious. God sent him to confront armed enemies and build walls out of bricks and stone. He had climbed the political ladder to an important position close to the pinnacle of power in Persia. But when he asked to be sent to Jerusalem Nehemiah was going to a place he had never seen before to take on a task nothing in his previous career could have prepared him to achieve!
Finally, when the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the city made secure, Ezra the scribe was assigned to read the Book of God’s Law, the Torah, to the people and all the assembled leaders. At the reading of God’s word, great conviction and repentance came upon everyone. They confessed how far their nation had strayed from God’s rule and how the sins of their fathers had brought destruction and captivity upon them. They began to purify their hearts and give to support their priests and the poor. The people made a written covenant with God to walk in His laws and keep His statutes.
God’s kingdom cannot be separated from His laws. God’s law defines the borders of His kingdom and protects all those who dwell lawfully within them. God’s authority in His kingdom flows through the giving and keeping of His commands. Israel was the nation created and chosen by God to be the example of His kingdom to all the nations. When he authorized the reading of God’s laws and put his seal on the covenant to keep them, Nehemiah, the governor was restoring God’s kingdom to the chosen people of Israel who had lost it and paid the price of captivity.
Today, more than 2000 years later, the kingdom of God is again being restored to the re-gathered house of Israel. Messianic Jews recognize Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah, Lord, and King of God’s kingdom. Yeshua’s law is based on the laws given to Israel through Moses on Sinai, but His law is a law of the Spirit and not the letter. Paul, the apostle, was a very religious and zealous Pharisee pursuing and persecuting the early Jewish Messianic believers until he met personally with the risen Lord. After that encounter, Paul became an example of godly freedom, as he understood the law of God’s Spirit and wrote in Romans 8:4, “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Messianic believers in modern Israel, who are battling to proclaim faith in Yeshua and walk in the Spirit of God’s laws, are following in the footsteps of Nehemiah. Through the Lordship of Yeshua and the power of His Spirit the kingdom of God is being restored to the land where it began so long ago. We are incredibly privileged to participate in this unique calling. As Nehemiah once similarly prayed, may God bless the work of our hands and remember us all for good!
-- Peter Tsukahira