Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
These days we are constantly confronted by people who want to bring down the walls of Christianity and dissuade us from building strong beliefs in our God. Maybe you can see this in action, maybe you don’t even realize all of the things that are trying to chip away at your faith. Well, no matter where you stand on this issue or how much you realize its urgency, it should give you some relief to know that this sort of thing isn’t new. In fact, Nehemiah and the Jews of Jerusalem had a similar problem.
While trying to rebuild the capitol of the Jewish world, Jerusalem, the Jews faced constant opposition from outsiders who were trying to stop them by stirring up trouble. The Bible records,
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and all the men of Ashod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Nehemiah 4:7-8).
As you can see, when the people of Israel were making some progress in building up their holy city, the outsiders were very upset and tried to make it difficult to keep building. The same is true with Christianity. As the church is being built up and continues to grow and flourish, those outside of the faith are trying to stir up trouble. In some areas of the world, atheists are directly combating Christianity, producing a lot of media to suggest that there is no God. In other parts of the world, other religions are spreading lies about Christians, and focusing on anything bad that might be associated with them. This is nothing new to the church and was nothing new to Nehemiah either. We read,
Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter in which was written:
“It is reported among the nations- and Geshem says it is true- that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building a wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us confer together.”
I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening: you are just making it up out of your head” (Nehemiah 6:5-9).
In Nehemiah’s time, the enemies were desperate to make sure that Jerusalem wasn’t restored, to the point of lying quite blatantly. I mean, come on, “Geshem says it’s true?” Geshem was one of the Arabs, and as we already read, the Arabs were known opponents of the rebuilding process. But look at how the enemies of the church today flock to evolution. We are constantly bombarded by long age dates on TV and in our textbooks. The government forces schools to teach evolution over creation by saying that creationism is outdated- and yet many textbooks that support evolution are still using examples from embryo recapitulation theory or the peppered moth study as proofs of Darwin’s theory even though both have already been proven to be fraudulent and inaccurate (by other evolution-believing scientists no less). Even how, the evolutionary world keeps throwing as much as they can to keep the church down. Even recently, Bill Nye the Science Guy produced a video in which he made the claim that by supporting creationism in schools, a person was essentially supporting the death of science. This isn’t further from the truth, as there are many Bible-believing Christian scientists seeking to discover, research, and improve man’s time on earth. But really they don’t have any hard ammo and therefore can only fall behind uncertain science and random accusations. I think it’s not far off to say that we’re in line with Nehemiah in that our accusers are basically making stuff up out of their own heads.
So what did Nehemiah do while under constant attacks and threats from outsiders? To find out, let’s check out Nehemiah 4:9, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah turned to prayer. Prayer is our first line of defense and offense for any spiritual battles. If you’re not praying or talking to God at all at least once a day, you’re not using your most powerful weapon against evil. In order to protect yourself from false ideas and from the temptations of sin, it’s essential that you converse with our Lord regularly. However, that’s not all that Nehemiah did. He also posted a guard. Know this: as a follower of Jesus you will come up against opposition. People are going to say that you believe in something stupid. I have heard my faith equated to believing in a flying spaghetti monster; so be ready. Actually, Jude tells us,
But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit (Jude 1:17-19).
So if you’re running into your own Sanballats and Geshems, don’t be surprised, because those without the Holy Spirit cannot discern spiritual things, and therefore think we are worshiping an imaginary friend. When this opposition comes, be ready. Read your Bible so that you can be prepared for the curious onlooker and his questions, and be ready with some solid facts and sensible logic that can back up your belief in creation and other difficult to accept Biblical principles. Because I can tell you from experience, telling a scoffer that you “just trust God” when it comes to scientific issues that the larger community is attacking your belief on does not sway any opinions or save any souls. At that rate you may as well believe in a flying spaghetti monster. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t trust God; as a Christian you should trust the Lord entirely. What I am saying is that you should be ready to answer for your faith.
Nehemiah had other problems though. His story continues, “Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, ‘The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall’” (Nehemiah 4:10). Honestly, there’s a lot of crap in the church. Left and right we’re finding flaws in the Body of Christ. But, considering that church is a place for recovering sinners, this shouldn’t be surprising. Either way, it can bring a Christian down to see how their brothers and sisters might be behaving and making the church look. Nehemiah had to deal with the issue of problematic leadership directly. We read in Nehemiah 5:9 that he actually rebuked the leaders especially for the problems that kept coming up in Jerusalem, “So I continued, ‘What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?’” Nehemiah didn’t kick and scream at those in the wrong, but he confronted the issue (which was the exacting of usury from fellow Jews) and pointed out that such things made the whole effort look bad. After that, do you know what Nehemiah did? Instead of continuing to complain about his greedy associates, he instead set for them a good example. We read,
Moreover, from the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, until his thirty-second year- twelve years- neither I nor my brothers ate the food allotted to the governor. Bur the earlier governors- those preceding me- placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that. Instead, I devoted myself to the work on this wall. All my men were assembled there for the work; we did not acquire any land.
Furthermore, a hundred and fifty Jews and officials ate at my table, as well as those who came to us from the surrounding nations (Nehemiah 5:14-17).
So rather than dwell on the mistakes of others, Nehemiah did his best to take care of people. He acted out of love for God rather than a love for his own needs. So when you see someone acting poorly, sure, confront the issue, but forgive the person and then set a good example for them to try again and get better. In doing this you not only restore your brother (or sister), but you also help to build up the church as a whole.
One of the worst issues that Nehemiah had to deal with in his restoration of Jerusalem was not from outside, but from within. Nehemiah tells us,
Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us” (Nehemiah 4:11-12).
Notice that the enemies of Nehemiah and the Jews only talked once, but the fearful Jews spread this bad report ten times over among those working to restore the city- not a very motivational crowd. Many people are sneaking into the church who don’t even really believe in Jesus and really want to stir up trouble (either consciously or unconsciously). They’ll say that the Bible isn’t 100% true or accurate and is flawed, opening up a whole host of questions as to what is to be trusted and what isn’t to be. But even worse than that are the many believers who are compromising their beliefs in order to match up with these people and the world. They’re told by secular science that evolution is the only option and so then they try to somehow balance a very clearly stated six days of creation with millions of years. I’m sorry to any theistic evolutionists out there, but God said that the sun was created on day four of creation- the day after plants. Try to put your millions of years of plant life into a sunless environment. Since you’re already trying to preach the impossible, then it’s better to side with the supernatural and just admit that the Bible presents an accurate depiction of creation. Nehemiah had to deal with compromisers too. One of his friends tried to get him to hide in the Temple (something he wasn’t allowed to do) under the perceived notion that people were coming to kill him. But Nehemiah writes, “I realized that God had not sent him, but that he had prophesied against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him” (Nehemiah 6:12). People in the church who ascribe to long ages or theistic evolution (which go against what’s written in the very same Bible that talks about salvation through Jesus) are only trying to make friends with the world. And we’re told by James, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Amidst all this trouble, Nehemiah writes,
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to his own work (Nehemiah 4:14-15).
When we refuse to compromise with the world or give any ground on our faith we strengthen the Body of Christ and confound the enemy. Be strong, brothers and sisters. Don’t let some clever atheist try to make you confused with some slyly applied logic. Nehemiah continues,
From that day on, half my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me (Nehemiah 4:16-18).
In this passage, Nehemiah helps us to understand a little about how a church should look. Behind everything a church needs some good prayer warriors, those people who can get on their knees and ask God for help all day for everything the church needs and to strengthen the leadership and whatnot. Note, this is not for everyone, some people are happy just to get five minutes of prayer in a day. But if you’ve got a skill for prayer tell your pastor, and ask him if there’s anything that you can pray for the church and its people. Most churches have prayer groups specifically for the prayer warriors, so sign up! However, take note, even with specific people guarding them, all of the workers still kept a sword at their side. You too need to keep your sword at your side. Wait…we need weapons in church? Paul writes in Ephesians 6:17 “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Your Bible, the Word of God, is an amazing asset in the fight against evil, right up there with prayer. Read your Bible every day, try to remember what the Holy Spirit teaches you, and arm yourself against the attacks you’re likely to come under. The Bible isn’t some old antiquated book, but rather it is written,
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
If my Bible is sharper than any double-edged sword and despite its age retains its relevance to the point where the writer of Hebrews can even refer to it as being alive, why wouldn’t I want to have it at my side as I do the work that God has called me to?
After overcoming much opposition, Nehemiah writes,
So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
When the work was completed, Nehemiah’s enemies no longer had anything with which to attack him. This, really, is where we are in the story of the church. For as he hung on a cross Jesus spoke out a short but very important sentence. We read, “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). Through his death on a cross, Jesus brought salvation to those who seek it, making a stairway from earth to heaven. Christian, you have already won, the wall is already built. Stand firm in your faith and the devil won’t have anything on you. But be ready with answers, armed for battle, for when the enemy tries anyway. Who knows, maybe you can save the very people who attack you.