Somebody Has Got to do Something! (In Need of a Savior)

Have you ever observed a situation and thought to yourself, “Somebody has got to do something!” It might be something small like the dishes piling up in the sink or even something huge like a national crisis… but the thought emerges and might even escape your lips in the form of a phrase, “someone has got to do something!”

Most often when we make that statement or think it, it’s passive. What is implied is that someone ELSE should do something. It’s an indication that we are waiting for someone from the outside to swoop in and deliver us from our situation. We are expecting our husband to do the dishes or a politician to save the nation.

Granted on the dishes side of things we dismiss ourselves because we don’t want to do something, but what about those situations where we really wish someone would do something but we don’t see how it could be us. Maybe we dismiss ourselves because we are too old, or too young. We say things to ourselves like, “They would never listen to someone like me.” We make up all sorts of excuses about why we couldn’t be the one to do something and we end up sitting idly by and nothing ever changes.

But what if when we had that thought, we did something different? What if instead of being passive, we did something? What if we simply looked to God in the situation and asked him to intervene? What if after asking God to move we offered ourselves to be his agents of change.  What if we simply prayed, “God, someone has got to do something, I believe you have the only answer. Would you do something in this situation and because I believe you can and will use anything and anyone to bring yourself glory, I offer myself, I’m not giving you much to work with, but I’m banking on the fact that you like to use the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. So God, Somebody has got to do something, I’m asking you and I’m offering me.”

In this post we’ll look at three different Judges who saw their nation in turmoil and just when things looked the worst and you could hear the cry of the people saying, “Somebody has got to do something!” We see God answer their prayer by raising up the most unlikely of deliverers.

Othniel  

Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.(Judges 3:8-11 ESV)

We have heard about Othniel before ( in Judges 1:13). He was a young man. He captured a mountain, won the heart of Caleb’s daughter and inherited some of the choicest land in the region. However things changed. The nation slid into idol worship and God gave them over to their idols.

When we hear these words, “He sold them,” they can ring kind of funny in our ears. Does God sell things? Who does He sell them too? Why? We can consider this an idiom. An idiom is when we say something like, “it’s raining cats and dogs.” If you say that to someone who barely speaks English they will look at you and wonder that you mean. They are looking for real cats and dogs to fall out of the sky, but what you really mean is that it’s raining really hard and you used non-literal descriptive language to express how hard it was raining. What this language, that God had sold them, means is that God removed his hand of protection from Israel.

Imagine that I have a dog. Because he is mine I protect him. I feed him. When he gets in barking matches with bigger dogs, I break it up and save his tiny little life, all because he is mine.

Now imagine that I put him up for sale and I sell him. He is now someone else’s to do with what they like because he doesn’t belong to me. He belongs to them. Because he belongs to them, they can do what they want with him. They can make him pull a heavy dog sled, feed him chicken bones, or even stroke his hair backwards.

When he was mine, there was no way I would let anyone mess with him. Now that I have sold him, I no longer possess Him.  Since he is no longer my possession there is no reason for me to act on his behalf.

So when we hear that God has “sold” the nation of Israel, we are to understand that while He loves them, he is allowing them to be handled by others.  He does not intervene. In essence if they do not claim Him, He will not claim them.

Some of you read this and you think. How could a loving God do this to His people? You’re missing a picture of love. How could a loving God not? Love is not bandaging the bruises, love is addressing the behavior that leads to the bruises time and time again. The Lord is not an enabler of this people, but a deliverer. The problem is that sometimes we don’t want to be delivered, we want to be enabled. We like our bad behavior, we like our sin. We want someone to hold our hand and tell us it will be ok. But the biblical truth is that sometimes God gives us enough leash to hit the bottom

The people of Israel end up serving a wicked king. The writer of Judges even comes up with a special nickname for him. His name literally means “twice wicked from two rivers.” It’s a hint that this guy is a bad dude!

How long does it take you to realize that you’ve really messed up and you need God to take you back? It took Israel at least eight years. God hears and he answers. He sends a deliver Judge by the name of Othniel.

It’s important to know that Othniel isn’t the same young man that he once was. He’s a bit older. In fact, some scholars think he might be as old as sixty five years old or older. Not the kind of guy you imagine strapping on a flap jacket and calling in for secret ops. This guy should be retiring, sitting back and telling war stories, not going to war. But when he looked around and saw the condition of his people he didn’t use his age as an excuse not to go to war, he strapped on his gear and lead the charge because somebody had to do something and He was confident that God would use him.

EHUD (Judges 3:12-30)

And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done what was evil in the sight of the LORD. He gathered to himself the Ammonites and the Amalekites, and went and defeated Israel. And they took possession of the city of palms. And the people of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, and the LORD raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The people of Israel sent tribute by him to Eglon the king of Moab. And Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length, and he bound it on his right thigh under his clothes. And he presented the tribute to Eglon king of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. And when Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent away the people who carried the tribute. But he himself turned back at the idols near Gilgal and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” And he commanded, “Silence.” And all his attendants went out from his presence. And Ehud came to him as he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber. And Ehud said, “I have a message from God for you.” And he arose from his seat. And Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly. And the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not pull the sword out of his belly; and the dung came out. Then Ehud went out into the porch and closed the doors of the roof chamber behind him and locked them. When he had gone, the servants came, and when they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “Surely he is relieving himself in the closet of the cool chamber.” And they waited till they were embarrassed. But when he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them, and there lay their lord dead on the floor. Ehud escaped while they delayed, and he passed beyond the idols and escaped to Seirah. When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim. Then the people of Israel went down with him from the hill country, and he was their leader. And he said to them, “Follow after me, for the LORD has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites and did not allow anyone to pass over. And they killed at that time about 10,000 of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; not a man escaped. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest for eighty years.(Judges 3:12-30 ESV)

Next we move on to Ehud. The story of Ehud has got to be one of my all time favorite stories from the bible. This is not a story to read at the dinner table before a meal. However, it’s a fun story.

So Israel sins again and God allows the Moabites to take over. They make the Israelites pay tribute and put a large military presence in the land, complete with forts, outposts, etc. The Israelites have to bring in sheep, veggies, money, etc. to pay them off every month or however often.

Ehud is left handed.  (I bet you didn’t know there was a specifically left-handed hero in the bible!) Being left-handed isn’t a big deal to you and I, but back in the day it was considered weird. The right hand was the way to go. Have you ever heard the expression, “He’s my right hand man?” It means that it’s someone you can count on. If you sat at an important person’s right hand it meant that you were important to that person. In fact there is a tribe of Israel whose tribal name is Benjamin.  Do you know what the name Benjamin means?… It means “Son of the right hand.”

So when we are told that Ehud is left handed. That’s a big deal, because the left hand is nothing. Some scholars believe that his right hand was disfigured in some way and he had to learn to use his left hand for everything. If this were the case Ehud wouldn’t have been allowed to serve in the military back then, or even now. But he was ok to help deliver the tribute to Eglon the king of Moab.

Now this is where it gets kind of funny. Eglon means “bull or cow” and the writer makes big deal about how fat he was. Eglon was a big man, but the writer goes out of his way in essence to call him a “Fat Cow.”  Now in our day that’s just a mean insult. It’s impolite. If my kids said it about someone, I’d tell them to hush.  Back in that day it had a double meaning. Not only was it an insult, but you killed “fat cows” to eat or to make a sacrifice. Like in the story of the prodigal son; when he returns the dad says go kill the “fattened calf.” The whole reason you get a calf fat is so you can kill it and eat it. By implication Eglon is fat for the slaughter.

So here is the irony Ehud the left handed man (who happens to be from the tribe whose name literally means “son of the right-hand”) takes the tribute to Eglon (the fat cow)  and drops it off. Everyone starts to head home, but when he reaches the stones at Gilgal, he turns back!

It’s easy to dismiss this as just the place that he turned around, but something you need to know about these stones at Gilgal. These were the stones that were brought up from the bottom of the river when God parted the Jordan river and the nation of Israel first entered the land. Gilgal was where they first camped out in Israel. Check out Joshua 4:19-24.

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”(Joshua 4:19-24 ESV)

I can’t help but think that at least one little boy in the land had a father who walked by the stones of Gilgal and spoke to his son of the faithfulness of the Lord. One little boy that even though he was left handed, and perhaps even crippled and not fit for military service would grow up and find himself with the job that no one wanted, delivering tribute to the fat bull king. And one day after he has just dropped off the tribute he heads back with the other helpers and he passes these stones, at this place and he remembers! In his heart he knows that somebody has to do something!

Maybe he’s full of excuses on why not him, he is left-handed, he is cripple, he’s not trained on how to kill. However on this day, something comes over him and he doesn’t offer any excuses. He’s had enough. He doesn’t want to endanger anyone else, perhaps he thinks it’s a suicide mission, so he sends the other guys on ahead and doesn’t tell them of his plan, but solemnly turns back to face this fat bull king alone.  He goes to Eglon and tells him, “I have a secret message for you.

Eglon apparently loves secrets and so he sends everyone out of the room. He’s not threatened by Ehud after all… he’s deformed. Little does he know that Ehud has a sword strapped to his thigh. I’m sure the guards patted him down, but not too well, because he hid the sword on his other thigh.

Then Ehud says, “It’s a message from God.” Now at this point Eglon is really curious. He wonders what kind of message God might have for him. So he stands. This was probably really difficult for him to do. After all he was “fat for the slaughter.”

Then Ehud reaches in his tunic produces the hidden sword and with one quick motion plunges it into Eglon. He is not a skilled assassin. As far as we know this is his first attempt. He doesn’t go for the heart or the lungs or even the head. He goes for the biggest possible target and aims for the belly! He pushes it in so hard and so fast that he actually loses the sword in all the fat. There is no way to draw the sword back out again for a second blow. There is no need. Eglon is bleeding to death on the floor.

Now here is the thing. When Ehud plunged the sword into Eglon he actually ruptured his intestines, there is no polite way to say this, his poop starts to ooze out. I know it’s gross right? The whole thing is gross (but it’s in our bible and I think for good reason). Ehud locks the door and walks away. The guards come to check on Eglon and the doors are locked and they smell this disgusting smell so they naturally thing that he’s in the bathroom.

So can you imagine the conversation that goes on outside the door?

 

And all the while they were sitting outside smelling his poo; Ehud was running back to Israel with the news that he had killed Eglon! He rallies the troops and they stand at the Jordan River so as the Moabite troops start to make their way back they are captured and killed! So this possibly handicap, left-handed member of the tribe whose name means “son of the right-hand” who was probably not fit for military service ends up leading the whole army of Israel and gets the victory!

Don’t you get the picture? It’s GOD who delivers Israel time and time again. First he raises up an older man, next he raised up a left-handed guy, now he raises up a farmer. We have only one verse in all the bible to describe a guy by the name of Shamgar

SHAMGAR (Judges 3:31

After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel. (Judges 3:31 ESV)

Shamgar’s weapon of choice was a long pointy stick that you use to poke cattle with when they are getting kind of slow. It’s not really a weapon at all. It’s not that sophisticated. It’s really just a pointy stick. I’m sure when folks saw Shamgar coming they weren’t afraid.

We don’t know much about Shamgar, but we can deduce a few things. His name suggests that he was not an Israelite. He was possibly an Egyptian. He was probably a farmer and not a soldier given his weapon of choice. That’s all we really have to go on. We also know he killed over 600 Philistines. We don’t know if this was at one time, or in bunches or if he was alone and killed this many or lead a group of men, but we do know that he killed. When you hear Philistines you need to think Vikings. At this point in history they are really like southern Vikings. They would come in from the seas and rivers and take over territory. Everyone hated them.

So at this point it seems like God used an Egyptian farmer to chase off the Philistines. Isn’t that just like God to use the most unlikely of people with the most unlikely of weapons to save his people.

All of these judges foreshadow someone even greater. One day there would come a deliverer who would come from the most unlikely of places (backwoods Galilee) and he would beat the biggest enemy of all (Death) in the most unlikely of ways (dying on the cross and raising from the dead).

Unlike these judges, he didn’t come to provide temporary deliverance, but rather to set us free from our sin once and for all. Everyone who turns to him in trust will be saved and have ever lasting life. The real question is have you ever submitted your heart and life to Jesus Christ?

 

 

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

Citizenship in the Royal city (Nehemiah 7:4-6)

One of my favorite books is Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. One of my favorite scenes is when Christian sees the Celestial City from a distance. He is excited and ready with anticipation to enter the city and see his King, yet on this last leg of the journey he meets an old friend who came in by a different way and as they approach the gate he sees that his friend doesn’t get to enter the city because he didn’t come through the wicket gate like Christian did. This last bit is sobering and it reminds me that many can put on a good front, but only those who are qualified in Christ get to enter into Heaven and those who reject him have rejected his Kingdom as well.

Today in Nehemiah we see something similar as Nehemiah seeks out qualified people to fill the city of Jerusalem. The key word there is qualified. You had to be from the city and from the people of Judah to live in the city. It was a big deal. The right credentials got you a city address. The wrong credentials got you kicked out of the city… it mattered.

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The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few, and no houses had been rebuilt. Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it: These were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried into exile. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his town. (Nehemiah 7:4-6 ESV)

The following were those who came up from Tel-melah, Tel-harsha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer, but they could not prove their fathers’ houses nor their descent, whether they belonged to Israel: the sons of Delaiah, the sons of Tobiah, the sons of Nekoda, 642. Also, of the priests: the sons of Hobaiah, the sons of Hakkoz, the sons of Barzillai (who had taken a wife of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite and was called by their name). These sought their registration among those enrolled in the genealogies, but it was not found there, so they were excluded from the priesthood as unclean. (Nehemiah 7:61-64 ESV)

We don’t place much emphasis on land these days but generations ago people were tied to geography. It mattered where you came from, even if you weren’t born there, it was “home.” Such was the case for Jerusalem. Many of the people who had come back weren’t born in Jerusalem. They didn’t have memories of growing up in Jerusalem. At best they may have had some old stories shared by their parents or grandparents about what life was like in Jerusalem before an invading army had come in and carried the people off into captivity. They were told to pray for the peace of the city where they found themselves (Jeremiah 29:7), but they never forgot that they really belonged back in Jerusalem. So when the time came and they were free to go back, many did!

I think the image of having a home that you have never seen is a beautiful image of what heaven is like for the Christian. We know that we live this life as aliens and exiles (Philippians 3:20, Hebrews 11:13-16) from the one true city that we have yet to see. We are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven. We haven’t seen it yet, but we have heard about it and we can’t wait to get there. Unlike Jerusalem, the New Jerusalem will already have walls and gates (Revelation 21:12), but just like in the day of Nehemiah this New Jerusalem is incomplete without its people.

Just like in Nehemiah’s day, you had to belong to the city before you could become a resident. There will be many who think they belong in Heaven but find out at the last moment that they were never citizens to begin with (Matthew 7:19-21). Jesus told us that the only way to get to God the Father and by consequence the Celestial City in which he reigns was to come through Him (John 14:6).

Disappointment from the Inside (Nehemiah 6:15-19)

Disappointment from the Inside (Nehemiah 6:15-19)

Leadership is more of a burden than a reward most days. Somebody has got to do something and so you stand up to lead. You have a vision of things should be and how to get there. You spend your days and nights in earnest labor, rallying the troops, lifting spirits, encouraging people to do the right thing and then finally you see success is on the horizon. Yet, even in the midst of success there are often moments of disappointment.

Sometimes it is the people inside our circle that can disappoint us the most. We’ve trusted them, leaned on them and counted them as friends. Yet, we find they have a propensity to tolerate the untolerable and it is not because they are more inclusive than we are, it is simply for something as petty as an economic or social advantage.

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So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God. Moreover, in those days the nobles of Judah sent many letters to Tobiah, and Tobiah’s letters came to them. For many in Judah were bound by oath to him, because he was the son-in-law of Shecaniah the son of Arah: and his son Jehohanan had taken the daughter of Meshullam the son of Berechiah as his wife. Also they spoke of his good deeds in my presence and reported my words to him. And Tobiah sent letters to make me afraid. (Nehemiah 6:15-19 ESV)

 

Even Nehemiah faced the discouragement of betrayal among some of his leaders. He had to listen to folks talk about how good Tobiah was even while Tobiah was busy trying to tear down Jerusalem’s walls. He also had them constantly running off and telling Tobiah everything he said and did. Despite this seeming incongruity with his people, Nehemiah was able to lead his people to rebuild the wall in only 52 days!

It amazes me how little people have changed over the thousands of years since the events of Nehemiah occurred. In our churches today we have those who come in as wolves in sheep’s clothing who would love nothing more than for the church to run according to their style and preferences and we have those in the church who tolerate them. Many churches are little different than a country club operating on the “good-ole-boy” system and many truly godly leaders have been run out because they couldn’t endorse ungodliness in their midst.

 

Nehemiah 4:10-14

Nehemiah 4:10-14

There is something energizing about the beginning of an adventure or project. You start out with all kinds of energy and gusto ready to take on all the challenges that lie ahead. You know that it won’t always be easy sailing, but you are ready for whatever comes. There is a sense of what it could be like; how the world or at least you little corner of it, will be different when it’s all said and done. You are spurred on by hearing success stories of other people in other places and you ask yourself, “why not here? Why not now?” You set your hand to the work and it the motivation comes easy.

Then somewhere in the middle as things begin to take shape you realize that the finished product may look different than your dream. The days seem to get longer when there is hard work to do and shorter when there are deadlines to meet. You find yourself wondering if you should just quit. You have met the resistance! Resistance is that inward voice that tries to get you to throw in the towel early and quit. It’s the part of you that says that it can’t be done. It’s the part that says you have done enough. It’s the little voice that says you gave it a good run or somebody else can take it from here.

Lots of people fade out half way through because of that little internal voice of resistance. They quit early. They miss seeing the mission completed NOT because the enemy outside was too great, but because they gave ear to a voice from the inside that said to quit.

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In Judah it was said, “The strength of those who bear the burdens is failing. There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall.” And our enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work.” At that time the Jews who lived near them came from all directions and said to us ten times, “You must return to us.” So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” (Nehemiah 4:10-14 ESV)

As Nehemiah was finding out, sometimes the greatest obstacles to success don’t come from outside the walls the come from voices inside. The progress was challenged by the internal voices of resistance. The people were talking to one another wondering if they could really get the wall completed with the materials they had on hand. They were already half way there (Nehemiah 4:6) but they were struggling to see the vision of how the other half would come together.

So what do you do when it’s the voice inside telling you to quit? You remember God! Look again at verse Nehemiah 4:14. He doesn’t give a long drawn out speech about duty, or honor, or anything like that. He goes straight to the point. He says, “Remember the great and awe inspiring Lord.” In other words he reminds the people that they didn’t call themselves into this battle. They didn’t start the ruckus. They didn’t even attempt to rebuild the wall in their own strength. This is of the Lord! If God had lead them there he would lead them through.

I don’t know where you are in your fight against resistance but there is only one place to go when the voice inside your head telling you to quit becomes almost deafening. You have to take it to the one who called you to the task in the beginning. Take it to the Lord! Remind yourself of who He is, what He has done, and that if He has called you to this, it will be accomplished! Spend sometime today reflecting on who God is. One of the passages that helps me reflect on the mightiness of God is Psalm 115.

Nehemiah 4:9

Nehemiah 4:9

I love what the book of Nehemiah teaches us about prayer. Some folks believe that when we pray and ask God for something that it ends there. So they will pray and ask God for a job, but they won’t put a resume out, attend a job fair, or even tell their friends they are looking. They expect the job to fall out of the sky. Granted sometimes God does work in incredibly miraculous ways, but most often prayer is a partnership. We pray and ask in faith and then we act in faith that God will do what He said He would do. So for the guy looking for the job, he prays and asks God for a job. Then acting in faith that God will provide, he goes and looks for the job that God is going to provide! Or the girl who prays for rain; She asks God for rain and then takes an umbrella with her. Both of these requests were in faith that God would answer, and both had a faith step to take.

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But when Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs and the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the repairing of the walls of Jerusalem was going forward and that the breaches were beginning to be closed, they were very angry. And they all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it. And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night. (Nehemiah 4:7-9 ESV)

When things get turned up around Jerusalem and the idle trash talk all the sudden turns into a serious threat Nehemiah and his people are prepared. The very first thing they do is pray. The next thing they do is set up a guard. This is where faith and action meet. They ask for God’s protection and then they diligently set up an alert system should they need to defend themselves. This is like bringing out the umbrella after asking for rain or putting in a job application after asking God for a job. This is faith that God will act.

Trash Talk Doesn’t Get to Define You (Nehemiah 4:1-4)

Trash Talk (Nehemiah 4:1-4)

I love sports. I particularly enjoyed playing basketball and football in high school. One of the elements of playing sports was the inevitable trash talk. Somebody from one team or the other would feel the need to comment on how poorly the other team was about to perform. It served as a false bravado verbally building up the team doing the trash talking while attempting to psychologically undermine the other side.

If you think about it, trash talking didn’t have any real power. It was just talk, but some guys would let it get in their head. They would either get so mad that they couldn’t think straight or they would start to believe that they were going to lose. The only power that the trash talk could have was the power that those who heard it gave it.

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Now when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was angry and greatly enraged, and he jeered at the Jews. And he said in the presence of his brothers and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore it for themselves? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish up in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish, and burned ones at that?” Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “Yes, what they are building–if a fox goes up on it he will break down their stone wall!” Hear, O our God, for we are despised. Turn back their taunt on their own heads and give them up to be plundered in a land where they are captives. (Nehemiah 4:1-4 ESV)

When the wall starts to get rebuilt it stirs up the enemies of Jerusalem and they the come surround the city and begin a campaign of trash talk. Trash talk is always the same it goes like this, “You can’t do that, because ________.”  The reason doesn’t even have to make sense, it’s just trash talk. Sanballat and Tobiah bring their trash talking A-game in an effort to stop the work on the wall.

I think it’s at this point that it is helpful to realize that Sanballat and Tobiah don’t have Jerusalem’s best interest at heart.  They have a goal; make sure the people never get the wall built.  They don’t want to see the people as strong and independent. They want to exploit the people of Jerusalem and to do that they have to keep the wall from being built.

Along the way you will encounter some trash talk. It’s important to realize what it is, just talk. There are people out there who for whatever reason don’t want the peace of your city. They have an agenda that strikes against everything you will be working to do. They will trash talk. Don’t let it get in your head.

Fasting Brings Feelings into Focus (Nehemiah 1:4)

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:4 ESV)

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What do you do when you have deep feelings about injustice in the world? How do you move? What is the next step? Is it just emotion or can that emotion be channeled into something productive? Take a look at Nehemiah. We are only four verses into this book and already we see his strength of character to ask the question about how others were doing, to hear and respond with weeping, but then he does…MORE.

First he does more feeling. He adds fasting to the mix. He wants his body to ache because his heart aches. This is a long forgotten discipline in our culture. Fasting is the intentional with drawl from food so you can focus on what you feel. In your body it serves as a detox or a cleanse, kind of like a reboot for your digestive system.  Spiritually speaking it does something similar.  In Nehemiah’s time a fast would mean taking time away from meal preparation which included everything from the purchase at the market to the actual cooking of the meal. This was a big time saver, but more than that it was a way not to focus on the day to day things that can consume our thinking and allow a pure focus on what God might have for Nehemiah. Too often we drown out God’s voice because of all the other voices we fill our lives with. In a modern context fasting might also include setting aside entertainment, social media, and other voices that have a way of consuming out thoughts so that we might be able to hear clearly from God. Fasting brings feelings into focus.

Our feelings alone can lack focus. We have a crush on a person who just looks cute, but when we get to know them we find out they are a jerk… but until your feelings are brought into focus by reality you move and act as if they are a perfect person. Feelings are a helpful response to where we are and how things have been, but they are unreliable guides to our future. This is why we should never just act on our feelings alone.  Just ask anyone who has said or done something stupid in a moment of anger.

Nehemiah feels a deep sadness for his countrymen and especially for Jerusalem being a city without walls, instead of jumping into action though he brings his feelings into focus by fasting and he brings his thoughts to God in prayer.

Now lots of folks think that prayer is where we move God to action, but they have it backwards. We don’t pray to tell God what he should do; we pray to ask God what we should do. The point of prayer isn’t to conform God’s will to ours, but to conform our will to God’s (Matthew 6:9-10).  Nehemiah goes to God to get God’s perspective, as we will see in the coming days and weeks, God sees the need clearer than Nehemiah ever could.

You may be at a crossroads in your life where you feel like God is calling you to do something but you are unclear about what he wants you to do. Fasting may be a very helpful option to bring things into focus. Consider setting aside some of the distractions in your life so that you can hear his voice more clearly. It is wise to get clarity on what God is doing before you act.