Nehemiah 11-12, Hebrews 11
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:39-40 ESV
It took a lot of faith for Nehemiah to leave his safe and secure job as a civil servant working for the king of Persia. It took faith for him to go before the king and risk his anger by asking for permission to return to his native land and rebuild the walls. It took faith for him to ask the Jews living in exile to make the long journey back to Judah and take on the formidable task of doing construction work on walls that had been destroyed 70 years earlier. It took faith for him to face the unceasing attacks of his enemies and continue to build in the face of opposition and the mounting discouragement of the people. It took faith for him to call the people to renew their covenant with God and give up their foreign wives and the children they had born. All Nehemiah had to go on was the word of God. He couldn't see the outcome of his efforts. He had no guarantee as to how things were going to turn out. And there is no doubt that Nehemiah had second thoughts along the way. He got discouraged. He had misgivings. He questioned himself and his calling. But he kept trusting and building. The writer of Hebrews provides us with a wonderful definition of faith: “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). The apostle Paul gives us similar sentiment: “…for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV). In this life, we can't always see the outcome. We aren't always given a crystal clear image of how things are going to turn out. We simply receive a word from God and are expected to trust Him – sight unseen. That is the essence of faith. Like Nehemiah, we must learn to trust God, not the circumstances. While everything around us may point to a less-than-satisfactory conclusion, we must keep our eyes focused on God and His unwavering character. We must trust in His power and His uncanny ability to always keep His promises.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Chapter 11 of Hebrews is often called the Hall of Faith. It contains a list of Old Testament characters whose lives, like Nehemiah's, demonstrated what it means to live by faith. We read of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, and the rest of the patriarchs. There's the familiar story of Moses. And yet, the central character of the chapter is God. At the end of the day, it is He in whom they are placing their trust and basing their faith. Abraham left his hometown on nothing more than the word of God. He traveled a long distance to get to a land that God had said He would give him, then spent his entire life living in tents and never really occupying the land that had been promised. He waited years to have a son through whom God said He would make a great nation. But then God asked Abraham to sacrifice him. And we read that, “ It was by faith that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice when God was testing him. Abraham, who had received God’s promises, was ready to sacrifice his only son, Isaac” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT). Abraham had to trust God. He couldn't let reason take over. Nothing about what God was asking him to do made sense. But “Abraham reasoned that if Isaac died, God was able to bring him back to life again” (Hebrews 11:19 NLT). His faith was in God. Abraham would not live long enough to see the promises of God fulfilled. He would never have a permanent home or see his descendants proliferate and spread throughout the land of Canaan. But he kept trusting. Over and over again we read those two powerful words, “by faith.” Each of these Old Testament saints lived by faith in God. Even Rahab the prostitute and a non-Jew, placed her faith in the God of Abraham, choosing to trust that He was able to defeat the gods of her own people. She took a huge risk and protected the Hebrew spies, asking them to spare her life when they conquered the city. With no guarantee of success, she trusted God. And time and time again, we see that God proved Himself trustworthy.
What does this passage reveal about man?
We are wired to live by sight. We demand proof. We want guarantees. But the life of the believer is based on faith. It “is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1 NLT). So the daily test for each of us is whether we will trust God and place our faith in Him. Will we do what He tells us to do or go with our gut? Had Nehemiah listened to his own inner voice, he would never have returned to Judah, never have attempted to rebuild the wall, and never experienced the joy and elation of celebrating its dedication a mere 59 days after having started. But even Nehemiah didn't get to see all his hopes fulfilled. The city would remain in a state of disrepair and virtually empty for years to come. He would leave and return to find so many of his reforms and renovations having fallen by the wayside. And yet he would keep on believing and building. One of the main roadblocks to our faith is our tendency to be shortsighted in our perspective. We have a short-term mindset that tempts us to expect everything in the here-and-now. We expect immediate results. But the writer of Hebrews reminds us that those great saints of the Old Testament “all died in faith, not having received the things promised” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). They somehow knew that there was more than meets the eye. They had an eternal perspective, “having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13 ESV). Somehow they understood that God had something far greater prepared for them than just the immediate gratification of their hopes and dreams. “But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:17 NLT).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
Living by faith does not mean that everything always turns out for the better. It is not a guarantee of the easy life. In fact, chapter 11 of Hebrews tells us of those who “were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:35-38 NLT). The apostles themselves fit into this category. Most of them died martyr's deaths. They didn't live to see the return of Christ. But they never stopped believing that His promises were true and that God would accomplish all that He had said. They had an assurance about things they could not see – based on their understanding of the character of God. To live by faith is to live with an eternal, not a temporal perspective. It is to understand that what will be is not limited by what I can see. God's plan is not hindered by my eyesight. The best is yet to come. God is not done yet. I must learn to place my confidence in my unseen, yet unfailing God.
Father, You are trustworthy. You are faithful. You are all powerful and completely in control of all things. I can place my faith in You. Forgive me for the many times I attempt to live by sight. I still find it so easy to focus on my circumstances and judge Your goodness based on what I can see. But we are to live by believing, not be seeing. I won't always understand what is going on. I want always like what I am going through. But I can trust You. I must always remember that Your best is out ahead of me – “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4 ESV). Amen