Day 265 (Sept. 22): Dedication of Jerusalem’s wall, offerings for temple, Nehemiah leaves and evil waltzes in, Nehemiah returns and restores Jerusalem, unworthy sacrifices, warning to the priests

100 Days to go!  And, just 2 days until we hit the NT!

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 12:27-13:6

Nehemiah 5:14-19

Nehemiah 13:7-31

Malachi 1-2:9

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 12:27-43): The wall is so incredibly important to Jerusalem because it protects them (and notably the temple and treasures from enemies), makes it easier to break away from ruling kingdoms and not pay their “taxes” or whatever they are called and it would better control who comes into their city — keeping those out who may defile them.  Is this right?  Are there any other reasons that a wall is so important?

A. I don’t get the impression that Judah wanted a wall so they could revolt against the king: that was certainly not Nehemiah’s plan, but other than that you have it right.  In the ancient world, a city wasn’t really considered a city without a wall: the “regulation” that came with the wall (what goes in, what goes out) was central to this idea of a city.

Q. (13:15-18): Keeping the Sabbath holy and a day of rest is obviously a very important law for God.  If it’s so important, why is it deflated in the NT?

A. Oh, let’s not spoil that when we’re so close.  Patience.

Q. (13:19): I have heard that the Sabbath back then was actually on Saturday.  Is this right?  If so, how has it ended up on Sunday?

A. You are correct, it is Saturday.  Here’s what I responded when asked this very question in our section on the 10 Commandments way back Exodus 20 (Day 38, Feb 7th):

Observant Jews and Seventh Day Adventists will tell you that the Sabbath is Saturday.  Sunday is seen as the first day of the week, following the Sabbath.  So we should think of Sunday as “Day 1” in the Creation story.  This is significant when it comes to the story of Jesus and His resurrection.  Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday, and the implications of that are significant: the resurrection intentionally spoke of a new creation story: everything was new in light of what Christ had done.  Two factors played a role in the loss of Saturday as the formal Sabbath of Christians: Christians began to gather on Sundays (called the first day of the week in the NT) to commemorate the resurrection, and because Christians came to see themselves as free from the requirements of the Law, they were not obligated to take the Sabbath on Saturdays.  Thus, most Christians would, I think, tell you that the Sabbath was Sunday if you asked.  As we discussed yesterday [Day 37], there is value in taking a day of rest for the purpose of connection with family and God, but we are NOT required to, and we are certainly NOT required to do so on Saturday.

Q. (13:19-21): Back then, religion, at times, had control of the government.  There is irrefutable evidence that the U.S. forefathers’ heavily put their religion into laws and forming this country.  That has pretty much been completely replaced by a politically-correct, religious-free attitude or equality for all religions.  I wonder if it would ever change back.  Do you know of any research to compare the well-being of society during times when Christianity has controlled a society?

A. First, the separation of Church and State (i.e. religion and government) is a modern, Enlightenment concept that would have baffled people from prior centuries, but it is standard practice now.  I will leave it up to you to decide if we are better off with these two “camps” divided (I personally think the barrier is silly and artificial, but anyway…).  As to your question, I rather doubt there would be any way to empirically test it, simply because there have been so many stripes of Christianity throughout the centuries.  I would point out, however, that I do not think that it is in the best interest of our society to keep pushing for less and less religious influence.  The natural state of man is slavery (i.e. control by someone or something else), but it is only in the Gospel that man can find true freedom.  That is why the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western Society were so crucial to the establishment of the freedoms we enjo — we moved away from our natural state by God’s grace, and the flourishing of the entire Western world was the result.  But what happens when we remove the foundation?  The building collapses, and we return to our natural state: control of the many by the few in power (i.e. slavery).  I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like the direction we’re headed.

Q. (13:25): I am surprised that Nehemiah beat and pulled the hair of offenders.  I wonder what kept them people from fighting back?  Maybe he had other palace officials with him.  Why would people want to submit to someone who is so oppressing?

A. Nehemiah was in charge: that’s why.  If they turned on him, they would be out.

Q. (Malachi 1:2-5): This does not sound like a loving God.  Why would He make an entire nation a forever enemy?  I hope you can explain this because I am bummed about it and confused.

A. I agree it sounds harsh, but like all nations, Edom can take solace in the light of the Gospel: all nations are redeemed by God’s work in Christ, even the enemies of God’s chosen people (whether in ancient times or today).  Praise God for His great mercy!

O. (1:8-9): I love this!  I have been thinking about giving my best lately.  My Kindergartner came home from school all excited about finding things for a charity drive to give to Haiti orphans.  She was looking for toys that she didn’t want.  I explained to her that that was fine.  If they are in good shape and she doesn’t want them, then giving them away is a great idea.  But, I also told her that God expects us to give our best.  I asked her about some pop beads that she enjoys playing with from time to time.  I told her that I could just imagine a group of girls sitting in a circle playing with them.  I think she got the picture.  She put them in her school bag to donate.  Giving to the orphans is giving to God.

Day 261 (Sept. 18): Community effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, half of construction force stand guard because of enemies opposing rebuilding, Nehemiah orders nobles and officials to pay back interest they charge to their relatives for loans made because of famine, Nehemiah foils Tobiah’s and Sanballat’s plan to defeat him, builders complete wall and stand guard

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 3-7:3

Questions & Observations

Q. Ezra was on the forefront of our readings, but then Nehemiah came into the picture and we don’t hear anything from Ezra anymore.  Any idea what happened to him?

A. Well, we moved into a new book, didn’t we?  Just kidding.  Ezra is around, and will be mentioned again, but this is Nehemiah telling his own story, especially as it relates to the repairs of the wall.  Ezra’s concern has been much more with the Temple and the priests, while Nehemiah is doing a bit more nuts and bolts type repairs.

Q. (Nehemiah 3:1-32): I don’t think we need to remember who built what section of the wall.  But, I do think the community effort is important to notice.  Then, about the building materials themselves, do you have any idea what their bolts were made out of?  I guess they well knew how to work with metal.  And the wall was made of sun-dried clay bricks?

A. Most likely they used rock from the local quarries (some of which have been discovered outside of Jerusalem), that was carried in by hand or on simple carts.  As to the bolts, they were most likely made of iron, possibly with bronze mixed in, and forged by local blacksmiths.

Q. (4:1-23): Where were Sanballat and Tobiah living?

A. Most likely they did not live in Jerusalem.  They had to be informed of the repairs if they could see them in the city itself.  The implication that Tobiah was corresponding with the elders of the Jews would also indicate to me he did not live within the city; otherwise he would just go speak to them directly.

O. (6:1-14): Oh, what drama!

Day 259 (Sept. 16): Enemies of Judah notify King Artaxerxes of Jerusalem’s wall being rebuilt, Artaxerxes orders the building to stop, Ezra arrives in Jerusalem, Artaxerxes supports Ezra, Ezra praises God, list of exiles who go to Jerusalem with Ezra, Ezra inventories Israelites and requests Levites, Israelites fast for God’s favor for protection in their journeys, Israelites arrive and sacrifice burnt offerings

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ezra 4:7-23

Ezra 7-8:36

Questions & Observations

Q. (Ezra 4:7): Xerxes and Artaxerxes are two different kings, right?  But, they both ruled over Persia.  Was there anyone ruling over Jerusalem, like in Jerusalem, not from someone having power over them from afar?

A. They are different kings: Artaxerxes is the son of Xerxes (Artaxerxes’ name means “rule from Xerxes”).  There would have been a ruler (what we might call a governor) of the region of Samaria, who controlled the entire region on behalf of the king.  He will come into play in a larger role when we move to Nehemiah.

Q. (7:6): Who is the king that gave Ezra everything he asked for.  Artaxerxes, right?

A. Yes.  Xerxes is dead at this point.

Q. (7:11-26): I’m trying to figure out what is going on here.  Is Artaxerxes is two-faced?  In Ezra 4:18-22, Artaxerxes orders Jerusalem to stop the building of their wall.  But, in 7:11-26, he is telling Ezra to take anything he needs for the temple and worshipping God.  Another point I would like to talk about is that Artaxerxes respects God’s authority, yet he does not choose to worship God.  Why don’t these other nations who recognize God’s power choose Him as their god?

A. The real threat here, as best I understand the story, is the walls.  That appears to be the focus of the king and Israel’s enemies: if Jerusalem has a rebuilt wall, it will become powerful again, which could be dangerous.  So when Ezra is given his marching orders to bring people back, note that no provision is made for rebuilding the walls, but instead to make worship at the temple.  It will not be until Nehemiah joins the party that we see the king truly change his mind and order it to be rebuilt.  It appears Artaxerxes’ real concern is offending the Jews’ God.  As to why he (and other foreign kings) do not worship God while showing Him respect (of sorts), it most likely has to do with their understanding of gods controlling particular cities or regions.  The idea of one God ruling everything does not appear to be on their radar.  So while they pay lip service to God’s power, they still don’t really think of Him as THEIR God.

Q. (8:15): Any idea why there weren’t any Levites?

A. No idea I’m afraid.

Q. (8:18-19): Why was it so important to keep Temple tasks in line with family origins?  For example, why couldn’t a non-Levite become a priest?  There are other examples, like the tribe that protected the Temple at the gates.  And, why is it important to say someone’s name with who their descendant was?  Was it a reference of character, just to note “for the record,” or what?

A. Since God was the one who ordained that only Levites could serve in the temple (and only a subset of them could be priests), He’s the one you can “blame” for the lack of non-Levite priests.  Don’t forget, that’s what got the people of the Northern Kingdom in a lot of trouble: they were using unauthorized priests because the true Levites wouldn’t participate and went to Judah.  As to the family lines: heritage was EVERYTHING to these people: your only value in such a society at this time was because of who your family was, whether good or bad.  A family name was paramount, as it still is in places in the world today.

Q. (8:21-23): This scripture is great for me.  I was just pondering and doubting my resolve with this very issue.  Here, Ezra and crew were worried about traveling a long way without soldiers and horses for fear of being attacked.  It’s great to see how “human” this scripture is.  I think of so many Bible heroes, Ezra appears that he is one this far, and how humble they are before the Lord.  They have fears and doubts like we do today, but they have courage and stick to God.  At BCL — a weekly live performance at our church (where kids and parents learn about God together) — they were talking about courage.  Courage to let God take over the life that I have known for 40-plus years and letting go of it is hard.  Our interests, traits, the way we do things, etc. are learned or develop over time out of habit.  And mine were not all born from God.  I, and my “family” (meaning family, friends, co-workers, really my whole world down to the teachers I had and the tv shows I watch) created my life.  Luckily, God was in it too.  But, my point is, I created who I am, without referring to God’s word or asking Him.  So, I need to repent myself and erase those things from my blackboard that are not Godly.  I’m going to bring in some shame here.  I snack while I’m doing these blogs many times as a nervous habit, to stay awake, just something to do.  In the last 3 years I have gained 10 pounds which really bugs me.  But, munching while blogging hardly seems a sin, but it is.  I need to ask God for help with that.  I also have a problem with thinking people are against me, unfriendly or spiteful without giving them a chance.  That is at my core for some reason.  Must come from my childhood.  But, I am combatting that bad personality trait fairly fast.  Rather, God is helping me combat that.  I also have doubts, like Ezra, that God will take care of me.  Yesterday, we had a full day at a theme park.  So, I thought we should go to the later church service today to let my daughter get enough rest.  But, she is shy and her friends are at the first service.  I just blurted out in my head, “I’m not going to worry about it, God’s got it.”  To my surprise, another one of her friends showed up with her twin little sisters so both my girls had friends they knew in church today.  What a surprise.  And then, there was a bonus.  We talked to them later and figured out some other families we can invite into our small group.  My point is, there is darkness and doubt in our everyday lives — be that it may seem small — that can overtake our day.  If we just let God handle it, it really feels like a big weight off of your shoulders and you get lifted up!  So these ill feelings that these bad habits cause is a huge hint that they are not godly.  And, I should repent and turn them over to God.  They seem so innocent that it shouldn’t matter, but they really do interfere with my happiness.

A. The Bible is quite frank about the shortcomings of many of its characters, and I think that provides a good model for us.  When we see how human many of these people really are (they act in cowardly manners, they fail repeatedly, etc.), we can see the ways that God works with them and through them — sometimes using their very faults in the process — to redeem their lives and the lives of others.  The Bible is quite clear on who is ultimately good, and it is not us.  We will see lots of examples of this in the NT.

Q. (8:33): I don’t ever remember the weight of the offerings as being important.

A. They were making sure that nothing was stolen on the long journey to the Holy Land.

O. (8:35): How wonderful it must have been for the Israelites to be together again and starting anew by worshipping God.