Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Job 9-12

In 9:2 Job asks a profound question: “how can a mortal be just before God?” The problem is not merely one of human sin. The difficulty is that human beings and God are on two vastly different levels.
Job continues to maintain his innocence (9:15). Thus, this begs the question: why is God still punishing him, or allowing Job to suffer?
Job’s longing is simply to have his case heard by God. However, he says: “I cannot answer him.” (9:15) “For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together.” (9:32)
Job’s words here sound very much like some of the psalms. Often the psalmists express that if their case could only be heard by God, then there would be justice. That is why we encounter the repeated refrain throughout the Bible: “Hear me, O God!” (Psalm 86:1)
Yet, Job takes things a step further. He says, “There is no umpire between us.” I other words, Job wishes that there were someone to adjudicate his case before God…but there is no such person, for Job’s case is against God, so who is there to judge between them?
In chapter 10, Job gives free utterance to his complaint. “I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (10:1) This kind of complaining against God is not often, if ever, encouraged in the church today. Thus, people who are suffering often do something worse; they stuff down their feelings; they try to repress their anger, and this causes even more problems. How much better to express what we are feeling, as Job does here? It is much better to vent our anger, even against God. After all, God is big enough. He can handle it.
This is what C. S. Lewis did in one of his most profound books, A Grief Observed. The book was originally Lewis’ journal that he kept after the death of his wife from cancer. Lewis knew what it was like to rage against God, to ask God the deep questions, and to get no answer. After going through this agony, eventually Lewis comes out to a somewhat better place. In A Grief Observed, Lewis says…
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of “No answer.” It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
Lewis wrote an earlier book entitled The Problem of Pain that deals with the intellectual question of how a good God can allow human suffering. A Grief Observed deals not with the intellectual question so much as with the emotional experience of pain. Yet, Lewis finds physical pain to be far worse. He writes,
What is grief compared with physical pain? Whatever fools may say, the body can suffer twenty times more than the mind. The mind has always some power of evasion. At worst, the unbearable thought only comes back and back, but the physical pain can be absolutely continuous. Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bomb each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain often is.
Lewis knew what he was talking about. He had served in those trenches in World War One and was wounded on the killing fields of France. If Lewis is right in what he says about emotional and physical pain in A Grief Observed then Job was experiencing the worst kind of pain: a combination of physical pain in his own body and grief for his lost children as well as for his own loss of happiness.
Zophar the Naamathite answers Job in chapter eleven. Like most people who have not experienced the kind of pain Job is enduring, Zophar has no idea what he is saying. As with Job’s other counselors, Zophar assumes that Job is guilty of some sin. “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” (11:6) As we have already seen, this is a mistaken notion. Therefore, all of Zophar’s beautifully worded wisdom is misapplied.
Job answers ironically in chapter 12, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.” At least Job has not lost his sense of humor, though it is a biting, black humor. In this chapter Job talks about God tearing down, withholding water, depriving of speech, making people wander in pathless waste, stripping people until they stand naked before him, causing people to grope in the dark without light, making them stagger like drunkards. The case that Job makes against God for allowing humans to suffer is a strong one indeed, and it will be many more chapters before we read the answer to Job’s complaint against God.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Job 5-8

So far, in our reading of Job, we have seen that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1) In chapters one and two, we have also seen how God allows Satan to test Job with various trials. C.S. Lewis once summarized Satan’s role this way: “Satan is without doubt nothing else than a hammer in the hand of a benevolent and severe God. For all, either willingly or unwillingly, do the will of God: Judas and Satan as tools or instruments, John and Peter as sons.”[1]
At the end of chapter two, we see Job’s friends (Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite) gathering to comfort and console Job. They act very wisely at first. “They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (Job 2:13) This is, I believe, most often, the best thing we can do for those who are suffering: not say anything, but simply be with them. The ministry of presence is far more important and valuable than the ministry of words in times of suffering.
In chapter three, we see Job cursing the day of his birth because of the extremity of his suffering. This leads, in chapters four and five, to a response from Eliphaz the Temanite. It is a very eloquent response. It contains an oft-quoted verse of Scripture, “But human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7) The problem with Eliphaz’s speech is that he assumes Job is suffering because of some wrongdoing. He says, “How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” (Job 5:17) However, this is a faulty assumption. The book of Job shows us that suffering does not always come as a punishment from God. Sometimes suffering is just suffering, with seemingly no rhyme or reason from the human perspective. One thing we know for certain in this case, because we are told so in chapter one: Job is righteous. Therefore, his suffering is not a punishment from God.
In chapter six, Job speaks in response to Eliphaz. Whereas Eliphaz has said, “Surely vexation kills the fool,” (Job 5:2), Job wishes that his vexation were weighed and all his calamity laid in the balance. (Job 6:2) In other words, Job believes his vexation is appropriate to the calamity he has endured. Job wishes that God would crush him, that God would end his life before he denies the words of the Lord. At least then, Job believes he will die with a righteous record. Job asks all those who hear him to check and see if there is any wrong on his tongue. (Job 6:30)
Another one of Job’s friends, Bildad the Shuhite (the shortest man in the Bible!) responds in chapter eight. Bildad clearly finds fault with Job’s words for he asks, “How long will you say these things, and the words of your mouth be a great wind?” It does not seem exactly helpful or compassionate to call one who is suffering “a great windbag,” but there you have it. As has often been said, “With friends like this, who needs enemies?”
Bildad, like Eliphaz before him, expresses himself with great eloquence. Basically he says that we cannot know the ways of God “for we are but of yesterday, and we know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow.” (Job 8:9) However, of this one thing Bildad is sure: “God will not reject the blameless person.”
The problem with the speeches of both Eliphaz and Bildad is that they speak general truths, in fact, they echo the psalms and proverbs of Scripture, but they do not speak truth appropriately applied to Job’s situation. We need to beware of doing the same thing as these two “friends,” especially when we seek to minister to those who are suffering.

[1] C. S. Lewis, Letter to Don Giovanni Calabria, September 20, 1947

Monday, April 21, 2014

Job 1-4

As we begin our study of Job today, once again I find this introduction from Lawrence Boadt helpful….
The dramatic dialogue between Job and his three friends about the relation of suffering to human behavior, and Job’s impassioned assault on God himself, have made the Book of Job one of the all-time favorite classics of world literature. Many modern playwrights, including Archibald MacLeish (J.B.) and Neil Simon (God’s Favorite), have used it as the basis of successful plays. Job itself is constructed like a dramatic play:
1.     Chapters 1-2: The scene is set with an old folktale about how God tested Job, who proved faithful in every case.
2.     Chapters 3-31: A dialogue between Job and three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, over the meaning of divine justice and Job’s suffering, ending with Job demanding that God appear and defend himself if he is a just God.
3.     Chapters 32-37: A sudden appearance of a fourth adversary, Elihu, who challenges both the friends and Job, and demands that they submit to the divine majesty and divine control of human events.
4.     Chapters 38-41: God himself appears and recites the power and marvels beyond human understanding that show Job’s demands for justice to be arrogant. Job submits twice.
5.     Chapter 42:7-17: The final act of the old folktale in which God restores Job to his greatness and attacks the friends for accusing him.
The outline shows some of the inconsistency in the book from a modern logical point of view. The folktale in sections 1 and 5 has nothing bad to say about Job, but condemns the friends, while the dialogue sections present the friends as defenders of God and have God himself correct Job for his pride. As a result, we can detect two quite separate sources to the book. The prose folktale in chapters 1-2 and 42:7-17 was an older and quite legendary story of a wise man whom God tested and found faithful. A later author, unknown to us, composed the rich and profound exploration of human innocence and suffering, divine power versus a man’s search for meaning, that creates the wisdom book as we now have it. Possibly a still later author inserted the remarks of Elihu in chapters 32-37 to prepare for God’s speech in chapters 38-41.
The author had the courage to move beyond simple acceptance of God’s will to ask hard questions of the traditional and overconfident wisdom so often found in Proverbs and sometimes in the prophets. If God does look after the just, and does always punish the wicked, as the friends claim, why does the opposite seem to be our real experience, in which evil people prosper from their deeds and the honest person never gets ahead (Jb 21:7-17)? In many ways the author is writing a parody of the smug prophets and wise teachers who assure people that everything will be all right. But the book explores a still deeper question of how one who is faithful ever comes to know God or understand his or her relationship with God. Most of Job’s long speeches are concerned with either the silence of God or Job’s desire for a “right” relationship with God based on justice and mutual terms. Ultimately, the harsh reply of God destroys this hope—no one relates to God on a basis of justice or equal rights. God gives himself by means of his law and his revelation that we are to obey. For this reason, the author inserted a special poem on wisdom in chapter 28 that breaks up the dialogues but makes the firm point that no one can find the way to wisdom; only God knows it and he has given it to humans through reverent worship: “Behold the fear of the Lord is wisdom” (Jb 28:28). But worship is also the means of knowing God face-to-face. As Job finally admits, “I had only heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you” (Jb 42:5).
Job was a well-known figure of wisdom, perhaps like Paul Bunyan in the legends of Minnesota. Ezekiel suggests that he was as famed for his justice as Noah (Ez 14:14,20). Thus the use of the old folktale as an opening both establishes the agony of Job’s situation and makes it clear that God controls what happens. This permits the author to put on Job’s lips words and ideas that might shock many Israelites. The happy ending relieves the bad taste such attacks on divine goodness have created, and shows in the form of a drama how one man can grow and change his mind by learning wisdom. Other ancient peoples also explored these questions of suffering and faith. They even came up with roughly the same answer of faithful trust in the greatness of God. The Babylonian work, “I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom,” ends with the command, “Creatures endowed with breath…as many as there are, glorify Marduk!” (ANET 437). The author of Job has created a version that places these fundamental human questions within Israel’s belief in Yahweh. The final form most resembles the great psalms of lament with (1) their threefold cry of human pain and lament, (2) their call for help to God, and (3) their promise to praise God forever. Ultimately from the midst of doubt and questioning, Job teaches us, comes trust.[1]

[1] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 481-483

Sunday, April 20, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Easter

"The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences were the “gospel” or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the “gospels,” the narratives of Our Lord’s life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection." C. S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter 16

Esther 9-10

The closing chapters of the book of Esther focus on the revenge that the Jews took upon their enemies, on the sons of Haman and upon thousands of others. Personally, I cannot imagine anything more contrary to the spirit of Jesus Christ who said, “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” (Luke 6:29) Rather than taking the lives of others, Jesus laid down his life for us. Through that gift of his life, we can receive new, everlasting life.
The one good thing that came out of these events recorded in Esther is the feast of Purim. I say that is a good thing because on that feast day the Jews were instructed by Mordecai to give gifts of food to one another and offer presents to the poor. However, I find it hard to imagine a holiday that is more unlike the supposed event it commemorates than Purim.
Hopefully, as we read the story of Esther in the context of the whole of Scripture, it reminds us what an evil thing the act and spirit of revenge can be. Hopefully, we look to One greater than Mordecai for an example to follow and the gentle strength to “turn the other cheek” when we too are threatened by the bullies of this world.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Christ's Descent into Hell

Descent into Hell, Tintoretto, 1568

Today in the Church calendar is Holy Saturday, the day when we remember Christ's descent into hell.

Every Sunday, Christians all over the world confess their belief in Christ's descent into hell when they recite The Apostles' Creed. This doctrine is based upon 1 Peter 3:19 and 4:6. 

C. S. Lewis had this to say about the doctrine in a letter to Mary Van Deusen, written on January 31, 1952. Mrs. Van Deusen must have asked Lewis about the fate of the "heathen" for Lewis answers...
On the heathen, see I Tim. IV. 10. Also in Matt. XXV. 31-46 the people don't sound as if they were believers. Also the doctrine of Christ's descending into Hell and preaching to the dead: that would be outside time, and include those who died long after Him as well as those who died before He was born as Man. I don't think we know the details: we must just stick to the view that (a.) All justice & mercy will be done, (b) But that nevertheless it is our duty to do all we can to convert unbelievers.

Esther 5-8

If nothing else, the book of Esther is great literature. In fact, I believe it is one of the greatest literary pieces, one of the greatest bits of storytelling, in the entire Bible. It ranks right alongside the book of Ruth in that regard. Much of the reason for this assessment can be attributed to timing. The story draws the reader in and builds slowly to a climax.
In these middle chapters of the book, we see the wisdom of Queen Esther. In order to save her people, the Jews, from catastrophe, she does not immediately ask the king to fulfill her desires because she probably knows that to make her request immediately and straightforwardly will not meet with success. Instead, she invites the king and the wicked Haman to a banquet. Then, when the king again offers to meet her request for anything, up to half of his kingdom, she again strings him along with an invitation to another banquet.
Meanwhile, Haman’s anger towards Mordecai begins to bubble up to the boiling point and he has a gallows prepared upon which to hang his Jewish enemy. At the same time, the king experiences a sleepless night and chooses to go over his record books rather than lie in bed. He discovers that Mordecai has never been honored for his service to the king in uncovering an assassination plot. Thus, he chooses to reward Mordecai and, “by chance,” to do it through the agency of Haman who happens to be passing through the court at that time. Certainly, a Jewish audience hearing this story for the first time would have seen these elements of happenstance in the story as evidence of their God working behind the scenes to bring about his good ends for his people.
All of this builds to the perfect climax in terms of storytelling. At the second banquet, Esther presents her request for her life and the lives of her people to be spared. She, wisely again, does not tell the king who her people are, and presumably, the king does not know. When the king asks who has delivered over his beloved queen to death, Esther points the finger at Haman. The king rises from his seat in hot wrath and goes to the palace garden, apparently to cool off. When he returns to the room he finds Haman throwing himself on the queen to beg for his life. The king misinterprets this as a sexual advance. Just at that moment, a servant arrives to tell the king about the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai. The story reaches its perfect climax when the king says, “Hang him on that!” Thus, they hung Haman on the gallows and the king’s anger abated, and the story moves to its anti-climax.
All of these story elements work so perfectly, unlike events in real life. Thus it would seem to me that the book of Esther is just that—a story—historical fiction if you will. However, it is a story that would have had great meaning to the Jews in exile, or even in the post-exilic period. It is a story that would have reassured the Jews, as Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that,  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I do agree, however, with Lawrence Boadt, that the conclusion of this story is rather frightening. Rather than simply asking for the opportunity to defend themselves against their attackers, the Jews through Mordecai seek the opportunity for revenge. They seek to not only defend themselves but “to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, with their children and women, and to plunder their goods on a single day throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus…” (Esther 8:11-12) This aspect of the story seems to neglect what is rightly said elsewhere in Scripture: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19)

Friday, April 18, 2014

C. S. Lewis on Good Friday

Pierre Paul Prudhon, Crucifixion

“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing - or should we say "seeing"? there are no tenses in God--the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.” C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Esther 1-4

Today we begin a study of a new book, one of the most unusual in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here is Lawrence Boadt’s perspective on it….
The Book of Esther contains a thrilling tale of escape from mortal danger for the Jews. It is set in the Persian period under King Xerxes, who ruled from 486 to 465, and tells the story of a beautiful young Jewish maiden, Esther, who is chosen to be the queen when he becomes angry with his first queen and divorces her. Esther brings along her cousin and guardian, Mordecai, but soon he has enraged the Persian prime minister, Haman, by refusing him the proper signs or respect. In anger, Haman convinces the king that he should destroy all the Jews in a day of slaughter because they follow their own religion and do not worship as the Persians do. In this crisis, Mordecai convinces Esther to go before the king and change his mind. The king is won over when he realizes Haman’s intentions, and he instead orders the prime minister to be slain while he gives the Jews permission to have their day of slaughter against their enemies. The book ends with the establishment of the feast of Purim, to be kept forever as a memorial of this great day of victory.
Thus one purpose of the book is to give the reason for the feast of Purim. But another reason is to show that the Jewish people must always keep themselves separated from the dangers of pagan governments and be prepared to defend their own faith when it is in danger. Interestingly, although every other book of the Old Testament has been found at Qumran among the famous Dead Sea Scrolls, no copy of Esther is known. The reason for this may well be in the wild nature of the feast of Purim at the time. The Jewish rabbis who wrote the Talmud noted that the two-day festival (one day to celebrate the slaughter of enemies in Persia, the second to celebrate the slaughter of those in the provinces) became so carried away with wine and rejoicing that some could not distinguish between “Blest be Mordecai” and “Cursed be Haman.” For the sectarian Jews who lived a monastic life in the desert at Qumran, such levity was not tolerable.
But the Book of Esther was much appreciated in mainline Judaism. It became part of the Megilloth, the scroll of five short books that were to be read on feast days. Since the book was written to explain why a feast came to be, a real incident probably lies somewhere behind the present drama. Although the written story of Esther is played out on the level of the king and queen of Persia, it builds upon some local threat to the Jewish community that was averted by an unknown heroine. This small, original event became celebrated in prayer and story and from it the authors developed their final version. It is a difficult book to love since the spirit of vengeance seems to dominate the story. Moreover, it never mentions God or his direct help to his people. No one is sure why this is so, but it scandalized even the early Jewish translators of the Septuagint, who added to their translation prayers and petitions from Esther and Mordecai directly to God. The whole book must come from the latest Persian period or early Greek times. Its themes of divine help for persecuted Jews and the destruction of all their enemies are also found among other late books such as Judith and Daniel.[1]
Regardless of the book’s historical element, Esther contains many strong literary points. The first chapter is fascinating in its presentation of the wealth and intrigue of the Persian court of Xerxes/Ahasuerus. Of special interest is the story of Queen Vashti who comes off as the first feminist, saying “no” to her husband the king. This event sends all the courtiers scrambling for a response, for fear that all the women in the Persian kingdom will follow Vashti’s example.
The tale of Esther and her cousin Mordecai in chapter two is told with fine literary detail. Their characters are carefully drawn. Once again, we get a window into the life of the Persian court, and a Persian harem in particular with its eunuchs, vast number of concubines, cosmetic treatments (I wonder what they were?) and all the rest.
Chapter three introduces the reader to the evil Haman the Agagite. Is he a descendant of the king who is slaughtered by the prophet Samuel in that earlier book? Haman rises to a high level in the court of Xerxes, perhaps because of his financial contributions to the king’s coffers. Mordecai, as a Jew, refuses to bow down to a human being, since the Jews would only bow to their God, though God is not even mentioned in this book. This leads Haman to bribe the king into issuing a decree not just against Mordecai but against all the Jews. Reading the book of Esther in light of the twentieth century Holocaust is truly chilling.
Chapter four contains the communications back and forth by courier between Mordecai, outside the palace, and Esther within the confines of the harem inside the palace. In these communications, they plot their response to the king’s decree. This chapter contains perhaps the most remembered verses in the entire book of Esther:
Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:13-14)
These verses are a good reminder to each of us, that even when God does not seem to be active in our lives, there is still a plan being carried out in each one of our lives. Perhaps each of us has come to our present position in life “for such a time as this” to carry out God’s unique purposes for his kingdom.

[1] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 497-499

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nehemiah 9-13

The closing chapters of Nehemiah contain material that may, at one time, have been part of the book of Ezra. Chapter 9 contains a long prayer purportedly made by Ezra at a sacred assembly of the Jews. In this prayer, Ezra recites the most significant points in the history of Israel, starting with creation, then Abraham, the Exodus, the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, and so on. This type of recounting of the history of Israel is not unique to Ezra. We see another example in the New Testament in the form of a sermon given by Stephen in Acts 6 and 7. Whether or not Ezra actually prayed such a prayer, this recounting of Israel’s history serves the point of giving a summary of the story of Israel up to this stage for the reader. The key thing in all of this is that the Jewish people serve a great and mighty and awesome God who keeps covenant with them and shows them his steadfast love forever (Nehemiah 9:32).
Beginning with Nehemiah 9:38 and on to the end of chapter 10 we have the covenant agreement that Ezra and/or Nehemiah executed with the Jews binding them to adhere to all of God’s law. Key points in this covenant are the agreement not to intermarry with non-Israelites and not to neglect the house of God.
Chapter 11 recounts the fact that the Jewish people cast lots to decide who would live in Jerusalem. One would think it would be a privilege to live there. Yet, it seems that many of the Jews preferred to live on their own land outside of the city. Thus, the Jews were especially grateful to the ten percent of their population who agreed to live in the city. Chapter 11 also includes a long list of people: leaders of the province who lived in Jerusalem, Benjaminites, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, and overseers of the Levites. The list reveals how important all the staff and clergy of the Temple were in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. Then chapter 11 concludes with a list of the villages outside Jerusalem in which the returning exiles lived.
As if we had not had enough lists, chapter 12 begins with a list of priests and Levites who returned from exile with Zerubbabel, another governor of Judah. This list is followed by an account of the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, presumably under Nehemiah’s leadership. This reveals what a disparate collection of different texts the closing chapters of Nehemiah encompasses. The author of this text notes how important it is that procedures in the Temple correspond to the commands of David and his son Solomon. If you want to get the hang of what this means, or what this way of thinking is like, we might compare it to churches today following the rules for church life laid down by Martin Luther or John Calvin five hundred years ago. That is the approximate distance in time between the time of Nehemiah and the time of David and Solomon.
Chapter 13 re-emphasizes some of the themes that we have seen throughout the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. It says that on the day of the dedication of the wall that it was found in the book of Moses (that is the Torah or Pentateuch) that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God. Therefore, once again, the Jews voluntarily choose to separate themselves from those of foreign descent…presumably even from their wives and children.
The rest of chapter 13 recounts the backslidings of the Jews during the absence of Nehemiah when he returns to report to King Artaxerxes. One of Nehemiah’s enemies, Tobiah, has been allowed a room of his own in the Temple precincts. When Nehemiah returns for his second term of service as governor, he throws Tobiah and all his stuff out of the Temple. Furthermore, the Levites had not been given the tithe so they had to go back to work in the fields rather than tending to the Temple. Nehemiah addresses this problem as well, restoring the ministry of the Temple. Another problem Nehemiah addresses is that of the people not keeping the Sabbath. He corrects this violation of the law by making sure that the gates of Jerusalem are shut for the Sabbath and that no merchants approach the city on that day. Finally, Nehemiah has to address, yet again, the problem of intermarriage among the Jews and those of foreign descent. He reminds them of the negative example of Solomon in this regard. It seems that this was an error to which the Jews continually fell prey. It is interesting how quickly things fall apart in any organization when there is lack of leadership, and the book of Nehemiah gives us many lessons in leadership that apply far beyond the scope of religion.
Nehemiah closes his memoir with a refrain we have heard throughout its pages: “Remember me, O my God, for good.” (Nehemiah 13:31) Is this not the fundamental prayer that everyone prays, whether they realize it or not? Is not our greatest desire to be remembered by the God of the universe, to be remembered for good and not evil? For, to be remembered, to be held in the mind of God, is to have existence itself, existence from which flows every other good. Being remembered, being held in the mind of God, is the very essence of eternal life.