Nehemiah - Introduction

Dr. Steve Viars May 25, 1996 Nehemiah

- Input - I'm curious, for those who have studied this book before--what would you say its about?
1) A book about construction.
- in some ways thats true. It teaches us about how God used these men and women to construct the walls around the city of Jerusalem in a very short period of time.
2) A book about leadership.
- Thats also true. Nehemiah was a very godly leader. The principles he models for us in this book are ones we should ask God to help us develop as we called upon to serve in leadership positions for Him.
- Chuck Swindoll wrote: (read p. 1-2 - Hand Me Another Brick).
3) A book about the power of God and the way He blesses the efforts of His people.
- James Montgomery Boice said of this book - (Read pp. 910 of Learning To Lead)
- This is undoubtedly a key thrust of the book. We will certainly talk about construction principles and leadership principles as we work our way through the book---but all of that will be in the context of the marvelous way God blessed his people...
- and I think as we read through the book, we'll find that thats the way Nehemiah would have wanted it.
- I know that a number of you like to buy a book or two on whatever we happen to be studying at the time and study along on your own as well.
- Here's a list of some books you may want to purchase for that purpose:
1) Be Determined - Warren Wiersbe
2) Nehemiah - Learning to Lead - James Montgomery Boice
3) Hand Me Another Brick - Charles Swindoll
4) Nehemiah and the Dynamics of Effective Leadership - Cyril Barber
5) Ezra and Nehemiah - Derek Kidner
- this morning, our goal is to deal with some introductory issues, and then begin a verse by verse discussion of the book next Sunday.

I. Interpreting Nehemiah

- Beginning this study gives us an opportunity to think about some important issues regarding the interpretation of the Scripture.

- Part of the challenge in this book is that Nehemiah was an OT character, and the work he did and the leadership he provided was in the context of God's working through OT Israel.
- on the other hand, we're are NT believers...and the question becomes: "How do you bridge the gap between an OT Bible character and NT believers today?"
- Over the years, different people have answered that question
different ways.
- one answer is that the Scripture should be interpreted
- now, I'm not talking about a place in the Bible where the
writer is obviously using some sort of an allegory to stress a point.
- for example, when Jesus spoke about being the good shepherd--it was obvious that He wasn't saying He was a literal shepherd, or that we his people were literal sheep
- instead He was using an allegory to prove a point and that would have been very evident to His listeners.
- the difference between that right use of allegory and the abuses I'm now speaking about is when a person tries to draw parallels between what was happening in a text of Scripture and what is happening today when the text gives us no reason to do that.
- (I'll try to illustrate that in a minute) but the point is -- we
have no intention of interpreting the book of Nehemiah
- another way of saying that is -- we have no intention of spiritualizing the text.
- instead, we plan to study Nehemiah as a literal person, seeking to accomplish a literal work for a literal God.
- as we study, we will of course look for principles for how to live today...but those principles will not be the result of fanciful speculation that the original writer would have never intended.
- now, an obvious question that emerges in this is -- what is the difference between an appropriate principle that results from a literal interpretation of the text...
- and a fanciful principle that comes from an allegorical
interpretation of the text.
- let me give you some examples, and you tell me---Is this principle the result of allegorical interpretation, or literal interpretation?
1) Because the wall was completed in 52 days, we should complete our building programs today in 52 days. (Allegorical)
2) Because the wall was completed in 52 days, we should believe that God can do great things through those who are faithfully following Him. (Literal)
3) Because Nehemiah surveyed the ruins of the wall at night on horseback, our building committee should have their meetings at night on horseback. (Allegorical)
4) Because Nehemiah surveyed the ruins of the wall at night on horseback, leaders should carefully consider a project before "springing" it on others. (Literal)

5) Because Nehemiah confessed the sin of his forefathers as a representative of God's chosen nation of Israel, we should confess the sins of America today. (Allegorical)
6) Because Nehemiah confessed the sins of his forefathers as a representative of God's people, leaders should be sure that sin should be confessed by/to the appropriate people before expecting God's blessing. (Literal)
- A. Berkley Mickelsen wrote: "Allegory, a very legitimate way of teaching truth, should not be confused with allegorizing, which takes a narrative that was not meant to teach truth by identification. By a point by point comparison, allegorizing makes the narrative convey ideas different than those intended by the original author. Thus allegorizing is an arbitrary way of handling any narrative."
- Bernard Ramm said, "The Bible treated allegorically becomes putty in the hand of the exegete. Different doctrinal systems could emerge within the framework of allegorical hermeneutics and no way would exist to determine which was the true one...The allegorical method puts a premium on the subjective and the doleful result is the obscuration of the Word of God."
- now, another idea to note here is that while we want to avoid allegorizing, we also want to avoid a sterile "Dan Rather" approach to the text as if this is simply a story to be told.
- a couple of important passages to remember when thinking about OT narratives (stories) are:
- I Cor. 10:1-10 - READ and DEVELOP
- Romans 15:4 - READ and DEVELOP

II. The Historical Backdrop of Nehemiah

- I realize that some of us really like history, and some don't.
- but when it comes to the matter of studying the Bible (esp. the
OT), it's important to know at least a few key historical facts.
- Chuck Swindoll said - "Trying to study and appreciate Nehemiah without a knowledge of this transitional period of history would be like visiting old Concord Bridge in Massachusettses or the liberty Bell in Philadelphia with no knowledge of the Revolutionary War."
- I'd like to mention 6 key events in the history of Israel that precede what we're going to be studying in the book of Nehemiah.
A. Call of Abraham - 2000 BC
- NOTE - The dates we are giving under these first could of points are rounded-off rough approximations to make it easier to remember. If you would like to have a more detailed, expanded, and precise discussion of these events, I have some copies of a study from James Montgomery Boice that I'll be happy to give you right after class.
- the history of Israel began when God called Abram in Genesis 12 and promised to make of him a great nation.
B. Period of the Kings - 1000 BC

- obviously we're skipping a lot if we just skipped 1000 years, but another critical times in the history of Israel is when the people asked for a king.
- God answered that request, and the nation had three kings
before it divided.
1. Saul
- A disobedient man who proved to be a poor choice by the people.
2. David
- A godly (though far from perfect) man who led the people spiritually and who's reign was greatly blessed of God.

- Under David, Israel became a recognized military power, and enjoyed great prosperity.
3. Solomon
- David's son who was granted supernatural wisdom from the Lord, but strayed from God's principles.
- The boundaries of the kingdom continued to grow under
Solomon, but the Lord had to judge him for his
unfaithfulness and disobedience.
- I Kings 11:11-13 - READ and DEVELOP
C. Divided Kingdom - 931 B.C.
- After Solomon's death, the ten northern tribes split from the two southern tribes. The northern retained the name Israel, while the southern took the name Judah.
- Chuck Swindoll writes of this period in Israel's history:
Hand Me Another Brick - p. 4

D. Northern Kingdom Falls to Assyria - 722 B.C.
- Because of the way God's chosen people had been living,
judgement had to come.
- they had ignored the Scriptures and had ignored the warnings of the prophets.
- many were living in idolatry and were far from the Lord.
- The Assyrians invaded the Northern kingdom and it fell in 722
- These people were known for the ruthless way they treated their enemies.
- Many Jews were killed, others taken captive, deported, and
resettled in neighboring nations.
(This was done so the people would no longer have a national identity and would not be tempted to get back together and reclaim their territory.)
E. Southern Kingdom Falls to Babylon - 586 B.C.
- the same thing happened to Judah, only this time at the hands
of the Babylonians.
- this period of time was known as the Babylonian captivity.
- II Chron. 36:18-20 - READ and DEVELOP
- Cyril Barber's Chart - p. 11

- this captivity lasted 70 years.
- During that time, Babylon was overthrown by Persia.
- God raised up a friendly (yet unsaved) leader named Cyrus who allowed the Jews to return to their homeland.
- READ II Chron. 36:22
F. Return to the land
- this process actually occurred in three major steps, separated by over 100 years.
1) Zerubbabel - 538 B.C.
- recorded in Ezra 1-6
- laid the foundation of the temple.
2) Ezra - 458 B.C.
- rebuilt the temple
3) Nehemiah - 445 B.C.
- rebuilt the city walls
- cf. Cyril Barber's chart - p. 12

III. Lessons From What We've Studied Today

A. God does judge sin.
Gal. 6:7-9
B. God is merciful to those who call upon Him
I John 1:9
Proverbs 28:13

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and four grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

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