Issue No. 8

23 Feb - 1 Mar 2009

Thinking Points

by Mickey Chiang (MDiv 1997)

Nehemiah 3: An Interesting Catalogue

The book of Nehemiah is largely an account of how the burnt gates and broken walls encircling Jerusalem were restored by a captive-in-exile, Nehemiah, a cupbearer of Babylonian King ArtaxerxesLet’s confess it, we usually skip over this book when we read the Bible. For how can a catalogue of repairs to gates and walls be exciting or even interesting?  Actually, they can be both, if we keep a sharp eye out, and think.

First, we should be aware that the burnt gates and broken walls were the parting gifts left behind when Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar’s army departed from Jerusalem, after burning the magnificent Temple of the Lord and taking away the survivors into exile in Babylonia.  Rather exciting times, weren’t they?  If we use our imagination and picture all this, why, it’s as exciting as the Lord of the Rings!  Except that Nehemiah was no Tolkien.

Seventy years later, the Lord moved King Cyrus, in the very first year of his reign, to make a proclamation beginning amazingly with the name of the Lord:  “The Lord, God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah.  Anyone of His people – may his God be with him – let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord. . .” (Ezra 1:2-3).  In such a simple way, Cyrus set the Jewish captives-in-exile free, in fulfillment of the word of God spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.

Some 40,000 Jewish exiles made the long return journey from Babylonia to Jerusalem.  What a sight it must have been:  40,000 people on the move with 736 horses, 245 mules, 435 camels and 6,700 donkeys (Ezra 2:64-66).  What a grand adventure!  The Jews had been dragged off to Babylon as captive slaves, and now they came out with livestock, and wealth.  God can bring good out of bad circumstances.

Alas, in Jerusalem, all did not go well.  The focus was on rebuilding the Temple, but with strong opposition from wily opponents this took 21 years, up to around 516 B.C.  It was not until 458 B.C. that the priest Ezra arrived with a second wave of returnees, “including priests, Levites, singers, gatekeepers and temple servants” (Ezra 7:7).  What does this say about Ezra’s main focus?

Where did Nehemiah come in?  Nehemiah was distressed to learn that the Jews in Jerusalem were “in great trouble and disgrace” (Nehemiah 1:2).  Why were they in great trouble and disgrace?  Well, when Nehemiah went to Jerusalem, he discovered that hostile people surrounded Jerusalem.  With the gates wide open and the walls broken, these enemies could come in to rob, molest and kill if they so wished.  Moreover, with the walls broken and the city in ruins, Jerusalem must have looked like a disgraceful slum.

So Nehemiah exhorted the priests, nobles and officials to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, that they would no longer be a disgrace (Nehemiah 2:17).  He also told them that the hand of his gracious God was upon him, and what King Artaxerxes had said to him regarding the rebuilding of the gates and walls of Jerusalem (2:8).  Nehemiah had prudently kept his mission a secret until he had surveyed the situation.

Why did Nehemiah make his Chapter 3 a long list of who repaired what? Was it to give credit where it was due?  But was it more than that?  For Nehemiah started with, “Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate” (3:1).  He continues with, “The men of Jericho built the adjoining sections, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them”. Hey, the upper crust, the anonymous masses, and a specific individual; isn’t that a cross section of society?

Isn’t it amazing that scholarly priests were working as carpenters re-installing the massive wooden gates and bars, as blacksmiths or ironmongers handling bolts and hinges, as stone masons “dressing” huge ashlars or blocks of stone that made up the walls, and as engineers moving ashlars each weighing many tons.  What did the priests know about such work?  But God enabled them to do this backbreaking, sweaty work.  Hey, how many pastors would bend their backs to do such manual work today?  Why not?

In Nehemiah’s catalogue we see goldsmiths, perfume makers, rulers sons of nobles and their daughters and many others joining in the work.  As Henry Blackaby pointed out in his book “Experiencing God”, we should observe where God is at work and hasten to join it.  Do you see God starting some work around you, work that you should join?

Weekly Highlights

Next Week’s Chapel speaker (4th Mar) is Rev Dr Daniel Chua, Senior Pastor of Mt Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church. All are welcome.

Inaugural Conference Update #5
“Tending the Shepherds ~ Feeding the Pastoral Care Giver”
29 June ~ 2 July 2009 (Monday ~ Thursday)

Introducing our Workshop Speakers

Eight workshops will be offered during the Conference. The workshops will bring into focus the various areas that pastoral care-givers need to develop for their spiritual vitality.

We will be introducing the workshop speakers in this and the next update.

Dr Philip Satterthwaite
W1 Theological Studies & Reflection As A Spiritual Discipline
Philip has been Lecturer in Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at BGST since 1998. He preaches and teaches regularly in churches. He is a member of Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.
Rev Dr David Wong
W2 Finishing Well in Ministry: First Steps Now
David has 30 years of pastoral ministry and leadership training experience.  In 2006 he started Finishing Well Ministries to help leaders move beyond mid-life to a strong finish. Currently he serves as Senior Pastor of Zion Bible-Presbyterian Church, and Leadership Mentor in The Bible Church.
Mr John Chong Ser Choon
W3 Cultivating A Sabbatical Lifestyle ~ Exploring The Spiritual Disciplines
Ser Choon is the Director of Trinity Life Centre, a ministry of spiritual retreats, seminars in the area of spiritual formation. He has been a part-time faculty member with BGST since November 2007.
Rev Dr Daniel Chua
W4 Working The Angles For Long-Haul Ministry
Daniel is the Senior Pastor of Mt Carmel Bible-Presbyterian Church, where he has been serving for 20 years. He has been blessed by a leadership team that encourages long-term pastoral ministry.
Register now ~ Early Bird Specials
Send your name, church, address, contact number and email address to
Chapel Notes by Mr Quek Tze-Ming

Kingdom Power & Authority

What is the nature of kingdom power and authority? In Mark 1:21-34, Mark presents Jesus at work with a powerful word, a powerful deliverance, and a powerful healing.

The link between these is found in the prophetic vision of a restored kingdom of God, such as Isaiah 35:4-10. So when Jesus banishes the unclean spirit, and heals Peter's mother-in-law, he is demonstrating the reign of God. He is fitting people to return to God's kingdom on the highway of holiness. In the ministry of Jesus, the reign of God has invaded history, invaded the territories once held by Satan, bringing wholeness and freedom.

What has that to do with us? The call of the 12, which immediately precedes Mark 1: 21-34, is also part of the reign of God coming near. It is a re-forming of the 12 tribes under the rule of God. Their mission is also to preach, to heal, and to deliver (Mk. 6-7, 12-13). We are their spiritual heirs — in the business of announcing God's rule, offering wholeness to broken and hurt people, speaking freedom to those who are oppressed by evil powers.

However, we exercise this great authority for the sake of others, not for ourselves. When the unclean spirits shouted out Jesus’ identity, they were told to be silent (Mk. 1:25, 34; 3:11-12). They only knew Jesus as the victorious Son of God. This view of Jesus can only mislead, and so they were silenced, because Jesus can be openly known as the Son of God only at the cross (Mk. 15.39). For Mark, Jesus’ true identity is tied up inextricably with his suffering and death on behalf of others. When Jesus seemed weakest – at the cross – that was the point where he was most powerful. In his suffering for the sake of others, he plundered Satan and brought people into the reign of God. That is the nature of Jesus' power and authority. It is exercised for the sake of others, not for himself, even unto death. That is powerful weakness.

If powerful weakness is an integral part of who Jesus is, then it should be part of his church as well. We are also to act on behalf of others, not for ourselves, to be ready to suffer and give of ourselves, even unto death.

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