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An Internal Threat (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 17, 2023 4:00 am

An Internal Threat (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 17, 2023 4:00 am

Bodywork and fresh paint can make old cars look new. Engine rust, however, can bring a car to a halt. In doing God’s work, Nehemiah similarly handled outside attacks only to find a new threat from within. Hear more on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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This listener-funded program features the clear, relevant Bible teaching of Alistair Begg. Today’s program and nearly 3,000 messages can be streamed and shared for free at tfl.org thanks to the generous giving from monthly donors called Truthpartners. Learn more about this Gospel-sharing team or become one today. Thanks for listening to Truth For Life!





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You can make an old car look like new with bodywork and a fresh coat of paint.

If you pop the hood you may see a completely different picture. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg shows how Nehemiah, after dealing with attacks from outside, found new threats from within. Our God and our Father, we come to you expectantly that you will speak to us through your word. We certainly long that beyond the pages of Holy Scripture and beyond the voice of a mere man, that we may encounter you, be encountered by you. So speak to our waiting hearts, we pray, and show us ourselves, and show us your greatness and your glory, and match, if it please you, the needs of our lives to the truth of your Word today. For we pray in Christ's name. Amen. When we concluded chapter 4, some of us might have been tempted to believe that having raised the wall to half its height, having been able to defend it against these initial attacks of the enemy, that all would be well.

But in actual fact, it isn't so. They had managed to contain and to control the external threat, but they had not dealt with the notion that was about to creep upon them—indeed, to unleash itself upon them—which was to come from a surprising source, namely, from within their own ranks. In the reading of chapter 5, some of us may also be tempted to believe that it's a kind of remote chapter, somewhere far removed from our own time and circumstances, but yet a more careful reading points out that it is actually a very contemporary chapter, having to do with taxes, loans, money, status, and the effect that those things have upon the lives of individuals, and more pressingly, the effect which these things have upon the lives of God's people.

The building of their walls had been able to contain what was outside, but it was ineffective in tackling what was inside. And since unity of purpose and harmony of disposition was absolutely essential to the effective completion of this great project, the evil one would know that if he could get God's people disunited, disgruntled, at war with one another, then that would be just as effective a way of closing the operation down as if they were standing with swords awaiting a potential attack from outside their ranks. It is a reminder to us that the same remains true in every generation. By the time Paul speaks to the elders of the church at Ephesus before leaving them, it's recorded in Acts chapter 20, he reminds them of their custody of the people of God, of the flock which is in their charge. He says, I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.

In other words, people will invade from the outside, and that that will have a detrimental effect on what's going on. But beyond that, he goes on to say in verse 30, even from your own number, men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So the problem throughout the whole of biblical history, throughout the whole of church history, has been namely this, that when God's people do God's work in God's way, they will encounter opposition.

It will come from expected sources, if you like, such as we considered last time, and it will come also from less expected sources, such as we're about to consider this morning. Now, I'd like to try and gather our thoughts in chapter 5 under three main headings. First of all, we will consider how the problem surfaced in verses 1 to 5. We'll consider how the problem was solved in verses 6 to 13. And as time allows, we'll consider how Nehemiah's integrity prevented the emerging of further problems, particularly as it related to him. So follow with me if you would. You need to have your thinking caps on this morning.

You need to be alert and awake if you're going to stay with this. Consider how the problem surfaced. It's described for us here, there was a great outcry. And the source of the concern was surprising, but note for a moment that what we have here is a scene described in 2 through 5, where apparently a whole crowd of people took to the streets, as it were, or at least took to where they could find Nehemiah, so that they might declare before Nehemiah the extremity in which they found themselves. I think it is fairly obvious that the extremity of these circumstances are not as a result or as a direct result of this building project which, after all, we're told lasted only fifty-two days. It's highly unlikely that the social and economic infrastructure of Jerusalem, and particularly of the people of God, could crumble in so fast a period of time.

Unless, of course, what it had been was simply the straw that breaks the camel's back, and I think that's far more likely. Namely, that as we see, there was a famine, and presumably there were existing economic struggles in which these people shared, and now, in engaging in this vast project, it was having an effect upon their financial circumstances. Because as long as the building project was going on, a number of things would be true. First of all, manpower would be diverted. There wouldn't be the same number of people involved in agriculture and in the raising of crops.

That would mean that there wouldn't be as much grain. Secondly, workers were separated from other sources of gainful employment, because you will remember that in the evenings, the instruction was given that the workers should not leave the city. And that would prevent them from having a night job, which would give them the opportunity to raise a wee bit more cash. Thirdly, farmers would be hindered from supplying the city.

After all, we're putting up all these walls, and there's all this kind of stuff going on, and so that would have an impact on it. And also, fourthly, because of all the animosity surrounding the work of the people of God, there would be disruption of the normal commercial ties and opportunities. Sembala, Tobiah, the Ashlites, the Ammonites, etc., were potential trading people, but as soon as you go to war, the trade status changes dramatically. And so these people were in deep trouble, and the focus of their outrage is not Nehemiah, not the project, but their Jewish brothers, as you would notice from verse 1. And some of the people shouted out from the group in verse 2, we're far too many, and there's far too little food. Our daughters and our sons are too numerous, and in order for us to eat and stay alive, we need to get grain, the implication being that we're not getting it. Somebody else shouts out in verse 3, we're mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our homes to try and get grain in this famine. In other words, putting it in a different way, do you know how many times in Nehemiah we've had to go to the pawn shop in the last week? We're taking everything that we have, all that represents security to us, and we have to keep going and saying to people, I'll give you this if you'll give me cash, because I need the cash to get the grain, because if I don't have the grain, I can't have the food, and if I don't have the food, I can't feed my family. And then someone else shouts out in verse 4, we've had to borrow money to pay the king's tax on our fields and on our vineyards. And the king's tax was not inconsequential, it was significant. There's even a suggestion in the second half of verse 5 that in this experience of slavery, they've had to go to the extent of enslaving their daughters, perhaps people are even beginning to take them as second wives.

And you'll notice the offense. Although we are of the same flesh and blood as our countrymen, and though our sons are as good as theirs, yet on the basis of finance, we are forced to sell our children into slavery. When capitalism goes wrong, as it's gone wrong here in chapter 5, it brings about bondage as fast as any communism. Because the same inhumanity in the heart of man, the same greed, the same rapacious aggravating demand for that which will make me beneficially supplied to the detriment of others, rises in the iniquitous heart of an individual, irrespective of what great trumpet we sound concerning freedom, etc. Now, as unpalatable as that may be to our ears, history testifies to its truth.

And it was because they had a free system of finance that they were able to create this tyranny whereby the rich became richer while the poor became poorer. And it would have been bad enough if it was as a result of what the external communities were doing to the people of God, but the offense lies in the fact that the people of God were doing it to each other. God's people, involved in God's project, take time out from the overarching conquest to rip one another off. Verse 5, the sum total of the situation in one phrase, we are powerless. We're powerless. Our sons and our daughters are being carried away into slavery, and we can't do a thing about it. We are unable to do anything, because everything that we have, we are mortgaged up to the eyeballs and beyond. And the bankers who are repossessing all our stuff are our own flesh and blood. Their kids play with our kids. They have the same blood in their veins as do we.

Nehemiah, this isn't right! And it isn't. Now, some have suggested that what we have here is a strike, that the people go on strike.

I think that has more to do with imagination than anything else. You know, it's kind of to set it up as a more dramatic story. Verses 1–5, the people on strike. They're not on strike. There's no suggestion here that they're saying to Nehemiah, if you don't sort this out, we won't build a wall, or if you don't do this, we're finished with you, Nehemiah. No, their focus is on the greedy, insensitive, wealthy members of their community. Now, it so happens, as we're going to see, that Nehemiah was one of the wealthy members of the community.

He may even be one of the wealthiest members of the community, pointing out that it is not the existence of the wealth that is the issue, it is the way the wealth is used and or abused. There's no problem, ultimately, in having stuff. The problem is when the stuff has us. So that's how the problem suffered, verses 1–5. That's how it surfaced. How did Nehemiah deal with the problem?

How was the problem solved? If you are unfamiliar with this story, you will read, I hope, with a sense of expectation. You come to the end of verse 5, and you don't know what happens next. You put the Bible down, and you say, boy, he's got a problem. What's he going to do now?

This is a real beauty. I mean, on the outside they can all band together and fight the enemy, but when you've got the trouble in your own house, when you've got that kind of war happening between brothers and sisters in the same family, when you've got that kind of thing going on inside the one church, you've got a problem. So what will Nehemiah do? Well, look, verse 6 tells us, his immediate reaction is, he was really angry. I was really angry. If you want a subtitle, call it righteous indignation. Because the source of his anger was not that he himself was accused, although, as we will see in verse 10, he includes himself in this wider process. But rather, his anger is the measure of his concern.

Because he recognizes that what is taking place here is wrong, and he is driven by a sense of reverence for God, righteousness, and a compassion for God's people. That, incidentally, will always be what drives us to righteous indignation. You know, the Bible says, I think in James it says, that in your anger do not sin. That it is possible to be angry and yet not to sin, but not a lot. In my case, I don't think five percent of the time. Indeed, I'm tempted in the saying of it to assume that five percent's a little high.

Maybe one percent of the time and ninety-nine percent of the rest of the time is the balance for me. Most of my anger isn't righteous. Most of my anger's selfish. The kind of righteous anger, while we know that we have righteous indignation, is when it relates to something that is offending against God's glory, is in denial of God's law, and is harmful to other people. For example, turn forward to the book of Mark and see Jesus displaying righteous indignation in Mark chapter 3.

He goes into the synagogue, Mark tells us, there at the beginning of the chapter. There was a man there with a shriveled hand. Now, we don't know the details of the shriveled hand, but we understand the word shriveled, and it's not supposed to be an adjective for hand.

It's a different adjective from normal. You can have shriveled prune or shriveled something, but you're not supposed to have shriveled hand. And the idea of a shriveled hand is dramatic and says to us, here is a man to be pitied.

Anybody with a modicum of humanity in them at all is going to look at a man in that condition and feel bad for them. And so he's there, and he's in the synagogue, but there are people there who are looking, verse 2, for a reason—to accuse Jesus, just looking for a chance to catch him out. So they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. So Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, Stand up in front of everyone.

There was nothing clandestine about what Jesus was about to do. He knew that they wanted to catch him out. He wasn't going to zap him, as it were, while he was looking over here. He zapped him over there.

He could have done that. He could have been talking to somebody over here and healed his hand over there, and, you know, kind of did a number on him. But no, he says to the man, he said, Why don't you just stand up in the middle of everybody? So now the poor guy with the shriveled hand standing up in the middle of everyone.

Everybody looks at the man and says, I'm glad my hand's not like that, and I wish somebody could do something for his hand. That is everybody except these rascals who are trying to accuse Jesus and trying to catch him out. They're more concerned about their little external regulations than they are about the man's shriveled hand. So verse 4, Jesus asked them, Which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?

Now, they knew there wasn't a good answer to that question, so they were smart enough to remain silent. And then, listen, Jesus looked around at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, and he said to the man, Stretch out your hand. What was his concern? His concern was for God and for his glory and for his power and for his might.

And these offensive people were dragging it down. And that is exactly the response of Nehemiah in verse 6. Righteous indignation is followed by careful contemplation. Verse 7, I pondered them in my mind. Pondered what? What does them refer to? Them refers to the charges he's mentioned in verse 6. There were charges brought, and he pondered the charges. His concern was both controlled, and it was constructive.

He doesn't launch into a speech that he's going to later regret. There's a lesson there for many of us. We get the righteous anger part, right? It's the one percent of the times when we're allowed to be angry and there's a righteous anger, and then we sin as soon as we open our mouths. Because we don't take time to think about the fact that there is reason to be righteously offended. There is every reason to be offended by the abortion scandal of our nation. There is no reason to become offensive to non-Christian people who are only different from us because the grace of God has not transformed their lives. So it is righteous indignation that says this is wrong, that this should be happening to children in the womb. It is not right then to start banging them over the head, metaphorically or literally, and trampling on them and jumping on them and screaming at them and bellyaching at them. That is all sin! It's sin! For who made them different from us, and who made us different from them?

What's the difference? The grace of God. And who's in charge of God's grace?

God! So why would we look down our long religious noses? It is the spirit of the Pharisee. The indignation is righteous, the response is unrighteous.

But in Nehemiah's case, he did both right. He got really mad in sight. Then he got a hold of his anger as he contemplated the charges. If your lips would keep from slips, five things observe with care. Of whom you speak, to whom you speak, and how, and when, and where.

He doesn't launch off. Righteous indignation, careful contemplation, and then direct confrontation. I ponder them in my mind, and then he goes straight at it.

There's something very refreshing about this. Then I accuse the nobles and the officials. People say, Well, if you're a nice leader, you shouldn't be accusatory. I mean, if you're going to be a nice man and lead God's people, then you can't go around accusing people.

Well, you shouldn't make it the hallmark of your life, but there will be times when you must, unless you're just a coward. Think how much confusion is caused in the work of the people of God, because the people of God are unprepared to respond in righteous indignation, careful contemplation, and direct confrontation. They go and they tell fifty other people about the problem rather than addressing the problem at its source. And they often justify it by saying, Well, I don't want to harm the guy, or I don't want to hurt her. So I'm not going to say it to her face. I'll just say it to fifty other people, and then they can hurt her. Do you know the hurt that's caused by that kind of stuff?

Far greater than ever going straight at it. You're a leader, you got a problem in your office, got a situation in your school, got a sales team, and one guy's driving everybody nuts. Tomorrow morning, first thing, grab a hold of him, sit him down. Think about it this afternoon and tonight, and tomorrow morning, sit him down, tell him straight to his face. I dare you.

I dare you. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg with the message he's titled An Internal Threat. We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. One of the essential elements in Nehemiah's leadership and life was prayer. Maybe you've been inspired by Nehemiah's absolute confidence in God.

If so, we've got an exciting offer for you. You can download today Alistair's book, Pray Big, as an audiobook free of charge. Pray Big examines the Apostle Paul's bold, expectant prayers for the Ephesian church. As you listen, you'll be inspired to pray bigger and better prayers, prayers with greater conviction. The free audiobook is available only through the end of this month, so download Pray Big today.

Go to truthforlife.org slash Pray Big. By the way, there's a companion study guide for the free Pray Big audiobook. It'll help you apply the lessons from the book in your own prayer life. The study guide has reflections and questions from each of the book's eight chapters.

You can download the study guide for free, or you can purchase a print booklet at our cost of just two dollars. Search for the Pray Big study guide at truthforlife.org slash store. Here at Truth for Life, we make it our practice to offer to you as many free or low-cost resources as possible. Our goal is to have clear, relevant Bible teaching available to anyone who wants to learn more about God's Word. In fact, that's our mission, to open the scriptures each day to help all who listen come to better understand and apply the Bible in their daily lives. Every time you pray for the ministry of Truth for Life or make a donation, that's the mission you're supporting. And when you give a donation today, we want to say thank you by inviting you to request a copy of the book, The Beauty of Divine Grace. This is a book that explores the very heart of the Christian faith, which is that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the scriptures alone. It's a tremendous book that really brings home the depth of our total dependence on God for redemption. It's easy to get off track on this. Even believers can experience moments when we think, have I done enough?

Have I been good enough? Well, here's a book that will make it clear that our assurance of salvation is found in Christ's finished work, not our efforts. The Beauty of Divine Grace is foundational teaching for every Christian. Request your copy of the book today when you donate through the Truth for Life mobile app or online at truthforlife.org slash donate or give us a call at 888-588-7884. I'm Bob Lapeen. Tomorrow we'll learn from Nehemiah how to confront internal corruption effectively and to do it without condemnation. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-10-17 14:32:06 / 2023-10-17 14:41:10 / 9

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