Architectural spaces have unique audio qualities. Each space has particular frequencies it amplifies and others it absorbs. When a pipe organ is installed in a given room, it must be voiced in the space to perform correctly – each note of each rank speaking clearly and so as to be heard properly: no notes should be “missing”, no single notes should stand out above the rest. The instrument must be tuned to the room so that it responds according to its design. Bill Frith spent more time on that aspect of setup Saturday evening than all the rest put together.
The same is true of the space – it can be tuned architecturally so it responds to instruments and voices in a pleasing way. Window treatments can be changed, furniture moved, corners modified to change the sound characteristics of the space. Our hearts can likewise be tuned to respond to different things. What is it that gets our juices flowing? that gets us on task and engaged and responding to what is happening? Is it things of a material and temporal sort that excite us? or is it that which has eternal consequences?
Nehemiah had a heart tuned by God to respond to God’s priorities, God’s symphony. As different portions of God’s music struck Nehemiah’s heart, he responded in different ways – with a sorrowing heart, a praying heart, a sensitive heart, and a strong heart.
A. sorrowing heart v.2
cupbearer – must be absolutely trustworthy; access not only to inside political track, also to king’s affections. King trusted Nehemiah with his life, depending on him for protection from palace plots and intrigues. Would be watched as well as listened to – anything amiss or afoot?
first heard the news in December; now it is following April. Through all this time, no outward evidence of Nehemiah’s inner grief and turmoil. Nehemiah had not let it show in his face what was going on in his heart – distress over the plight of relatives in Jerusalem, sorrow over shameful condition of the city, grief because the one place on earth intimately identified with Yahweh such a poor testimony.
on this day, his guard down, the king saw; sorrow of heart finally broke through and showed in his face. Immediately at risk – king misinterprets, thinks his own life in danger, end of road for cupbearer. Bigger deal for Nehemiah: no opportunity to influence king regarding Jerusalem, do something to help his brothers.
Think Fast!!! Respond so as to put king’s mind genuinely at ease, set stage for further discussion. Initial explanation put in terms Artaxerxes would understand: tradition and family heritage. Even pagan king could relate to Nehemiah’s sorrowing heart: the place where ancestors were buried not properly cared for.
B. praying heart v.4
King apparently satisfied with Nehemiah – verbal and non-verbal response restored confidence in his trustworthiness, loyalty to Artaxerxes. So, …conversation continues, probably catching Nehemiah off guard.
Nehemiah probably planning to choose a time when king appeared in a good mood, feeling generous, open to requests; then he would make his move. Instead, king makes first move, asking what it was Nehemiah desired.
Nehemiah only had few seconds to pull together all the praying and pondering and planning of the last 4 months. Time for no more than quick, mental sentence prayer – “Lord, give me success” – and then a heart that continued praying while his mind formed reply to the king.
Nehemiah had a good mind – already developed a plan, had grasp of what would be needed from administrative perspective to achieve goal
leave to go to Jerusalem v.5a
permission to rebuild the city v.5b
timeframe for task v.6
passport for travel v.7
authorization for supplies v.8
Nehemiah’s prayerful planning, ongoing praying heart, prayer for help at a crucial moment brought him success AND enabled him to recognize source of success – “the good hand of my God upon me”. Not his position, power of persuasion; not generosity of pagan king and queen; result solely of God sovereignly working through human agents to bring about his plan.
C. sensitive heart v.12
Nehemiah’s trip to Jerusalem much different from Ezra’s – understatement of v.9b seem to indicate a basically uneventful journey. Could have made journey in as little as 30 days, military escort, provided with a horse. Compares with Ezra’s 4-month journey.
scoped out the situation in the city for three days, certainly not unnoticed by residents. How do you hide a military escort? Did not require that Nehemiah divulge his entire reasons for being there. In fact, clear from verse 12 that he behaved very discreetly.
on third night, under cover of darkness, taking few men, Nehemiah inspected walls to determine magnitude of task facing him. It was something he could not not do; compelled to proceed with plan he had in mind.
Convinced that compulsion, burden on his heart, came from God: my God had put in my heart to do; my God had put in my heart to do. Nehemiah’s heart sensitively tuned to hear the voice of God, recognize whose voice it was, understand the message he was being given.
The compulsion that drove Nehemiah was his love for God, the one he called “my God” 3x:
response of the king v.8
reason for his nighttime ride v.12
encouragement to begin the project v.18
Was that love for God that kept his heart in tune, sensitive to God’s leading and directing.
D. strong heart v.10, 18-20
huge task – 10 gates, large sections of the wall breached, rubble in the way both inside and outside; not something the faint of heart would even attempt
welcoming committee there to meet him (figuratively speaking): Sanballat, Tobiah, and later Geshem (v.19) – representative of three people-groups who were ancient enemies of Israel
Sanballat – Moabite
Tobiah – Ammonite (with Sanballat, Lot’s sons by incestuous relationship)
Geshem – Arabian (descendant of Ishmael)
were determined to make trouble, prevent the city from being rebuilt; would do all in their power to hinder any project Nehemiah might undertake. Began with verbal abuse – ridicule and scorn, mocking the idea that Jewish people could actually repair damage to city. Followed by threat – charge of treason and implying intent to try persuading king to rethink permission given to Nehemiah.
required a strong heart to persevere in face of such opposition and difficulty of the task; would need continual strengthening by God to maintain course. Nehemiah’s strong heart was adequate to stir people to commitment – not grudging “OK, let’s do it, if we must” but accompanied by excitement, enthusiasm for what it would mean for Jerusalem.
report of God’s faithfulness and Artaxerxes’ support that generated such enthusiasm for the work. Tangible evidence that they had some hope of success, would actually be able to accomplish the task.
Short term: daunting task – VBS. God has been faithful to us, time and again providing encouragement, providing for needs. God has also provided support for us for VBS – MPBC missions team. With God’s help and the help of the team we will be able to plan, prepare and conduct a VBS ministry here that will be honoring to God.
Long term: more daunting task – building up Christ’s church here in White Rock. God has been faithful, Christ promised he would build his church, he will give us hearts like Nehemiah – ones committed to his work in his church. It is near the cross, joined to Christ, where our hearts will stay tuned to God, sensitive to his leading. It is at the foot of the cross, in fellowship with Christ, where we find the strength and courage to do the work God has entrusted to us. It is to the foot of the cross, and dependence on Christ, where we must lead those whom the Lord sends to us, those who need to hear truth about their sin and a Savior who is able to forgive. May God keep us Near the Cross!