Posts Tagged ‘Nehemiah’

Sirach 49:11-13: Heroes after Exile

Monday, May 22, 2023lessons-nehemiah

Over the last several days, we reflected on the idea of taking a dare on the strength of the relationship between God and humanity. Today we return to a favorite as we reflect on Nehemiah, a man who led his people out of exile and created an environment in which they might become heroes. How might we live our own lives as new Nehemiahs?

Nehemiah was the administrator who brought his own money, sweat and tears to the reconstruction of the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem.  He provided not only the structure, organization and the will, but the risk-taking attitude and perseverance to create the continuity between the pre and post exile worlds.  He created an environment for the Word of God to flourish in the post-captivity Jerusalem.  At various times over these several years as we have spent Noontime together, we have reflected on this man, this work, this wisdom, this patience, this persistence, this dedication and devotion to God.  These are all qualities necessary for discipleship.

As we go about our lives we are continually called to rebuild and to reconstitute ourselves and others.  We are called to Christ, the one who saves.

nehemiah's wall

Nehemiah’s Wall

True heroes are those who understand that the saving work they do – their amazing feats, their miracles – come from God.  They know that God is the source of all goodness and healing.  And they praise God unceasingly in the midst of turmoil and strife.  True heroes create structures and times and places in which God can dwell with the faithful.  True heroes find reward in the endless suffering that accompanies discipleship.  True heroes are rare.  When we find them, we best hold on to them, and follow.

Adapted from a favorite from May 9, 2008.

To reflect on the nature of optimism, watch Tari Shalot’s Ted Talk on The Optimism Bias. Enter the name Nehemiah into the blog search bar and explore this man’s determination and willingness to take a risk. Click on the image of Nehemiah’s wall above to learn about the archeological work at Nehemiah’s wall and gate. Or visit: http://www.biblicalarchaeologytruth.com/nehemiahs-wall.html

Images from: http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2009/03/09/lessons-from-nehemiah-1-humility/ and http://www.biblicalarchaeologytruth.com/nehemiahs-wall.html

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joyWednesday, November 3, 2021

Nehemiah 8

Joy and the Law

We continue through the Old Testament looking for stories of joy that might surprise us. If today’s story calls you to search further, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter the word Joy in the blog search bar. You may also want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com to see how joy surprises you there. Today our story is taken from the Book of Nehemiah.

The priest Ezra and the organizer Nehemiah bring the faithful back to Jerusalem to rebuild the, city, the temple and their relationship with Yahweh. The faithful find it in themselves to ask forgiveness, to ponder their recklessness and abandon. Yahweh receives the faithful with loving forgiveness. For Yahweh has been waiting with open arms all along their journey home.

We might find it difficult to understand what The Law really is, and last winter we spent a number of weeks reflecting with Psalm 119. In this series, we found a variety of ways in which we are called to perceive the concepts in the Mosaic Law and in the end we determined that this psalm – the longest Chapter in scripture – is actually an exchange of love letters between God the Creator and us, God’s creatures. This is what the stories in Nehemiah call us to today.

Nehemiah 8:9-10: And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 12:43: They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

What is this law that brings the faithful back to God?

images-joy-redAleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, He . . . the first five letters in the Hebrew alphabet and the opening stanzas of this prayer of the Law. These letters bring us the understanding that we are made in God’s image of mercy, forgiveness and love. This is God’s promise.

Waw, Azyin, Heth, Teth, Yodh . . . the second five letters bring home to us the idea of trusting God beyond all others and all else. We also come to understand that joy is always somewhere hidden in sorrow. This is our portion.

Kaph, Lamed, Mem Nun, Samekh . . . kindness, transformation, dedication, insight, promise. These are the gifts we receive when we contemplate God’s law. These are the gifts that often only come through strife and contention. God promises that despite our portion of suffering, there will always be great joy. This is our call.

Ayin, Pe, Sadhe, Qoph, Resh . . . discernment, serenity, freedom, discipleship, eternal life. Once we begin to live in God’s Way rather than our own, we understand how and why we are Children of God. We understand that we are most free when we give ourselves over to God. We understand that we must die to self before we experience eternal life. This is our rescue.

psalm-119-32Shin and Taw . . . the Law of Love arrives when the creator comes to walk among us as a man of flesh and bone. We are marked with the sign of Tau, claimed as God’s own. When we journey through and with God’s Law we begin to experience transformation. This is our redemption and our own resurrection from the life of the dead.

If we struggle to find how God’s Law brings more freedom and not less, we might spend time with this story. If we balk at the lesson that we must die in order to rise, we might spend time with this Psalm. Ezra and the Levites teach the people. Nehemiah organizes the work. Together these leaders and these people enact God’s Law. Together these leaders and these people find rejoicing in what had once been a great sorrow.

To investigate God’s Law in these stanzas, enter Psalm 119 in the blog search bar.

To learn more about Ezra and Nehemiah, spend time with the stories in these two books. Enter their names in the blog search bar and explore. Click on the images for other reflections. Or use the scripture link to compare different Bible versions of these verses. 

Images from: http://dwellingintheword.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/944-psalm-11925-56/ and http://jennyrain.com/2011/09/gitzentats-you-create-choose-joy/

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

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joyMonday, November 1, 2021

Ezra 6

Joy and Dedication

We move further into scripture looking for stories of joy that continue to surprise us. To explore other stories, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter the word Joy in the blog search bar. You may also want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com to see how joy surprises you there. Today our story is taken from the Book of Ezra.

We dedicate buildings and highways, poems, novels and songs. We create solemn ceremonies and speak reverent words to remember the dead, the lost, and even the forgotten. In all of our endeavor to avoid past mistakes and to keep in mind past and present loved ones and sacred places, we will want to remember to also dedicate ourselves to service in God. For it is in this giving that we find eternal joy.

The people of Israel, the priests and the Levites, and the rest of the returned exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy. With joy they celebrated the festival of unleavened bread seven days; for the Lord had made them joyful, and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work on the house of God, the God of Israel. (Ezra 6:16 & 22)

God says: I know that you appreciate all that your forbears have sacrificed for you, and that you also dedicate days and memorials to your many causes. But as you read these words in this moment of the time I have given to you, begin to dedicate yourself to the goodness I have planted within you. Take a step toward seeing a glimmer of goodness you find so difficult to encounter in your enemies. Step forward in a life of full and authentic dedication to creation. Commit to dedicating a few moments of each day to speaking and listening to me. In doing all of this you will find joy in the most surprising of times and places. This I promise to you.

joy candlesVisit Ezra 6 today and spend some moments among the verses. Listen for God’s voice to speak to you.

To learn more about Ezra and Nehemiah, spend time with the stories in these two books. Enter their names in the blog search bar and explore. Click on the images for other reflections. Or use the scripture link to compare different Bible versions of these verses. 

For a better understanding of these Books, go to: http://biblehub.com/dictionary/e/ezra-nehemiah.htm 

Image from: http://chrisaltrock.com/tag/joy/

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

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joySunday, October 31, 2021

Ezra 3

Joy and Worship

We move further into scripture looking for stories of joy that continue to surprise us. To explore other stories, click on the word Joy in the categories cloud in the blog’s right hand sidebar and choose a reflection, or enter the word Joy in the blog search bar. You may also want to visit the Joy for the Journey blog at www.joyforthee.blogspot.com to see how joy surprises you there. Today our story is taken from the Book of Ezra.

After the Babylonian captivity and exile, after the scattering of the twelve tribes to the corners of the known earth, after the loss of hope that those who go out weeping will return rejoicing . . . the faithful receive word that they are to return to Jerusalem.  Two leaders, Ezra and Nehemiah, the priest and the administrator, lead the faithful in a journey of reunion and transformation. As with all people who remain open to the power of the Spirit and the healing of God’s presence, these returning exiles gather to worship Yahweh once again. And they know great joy in abundance.

Ezra 3:12: Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.


James Tissot: Jesus Teaches in the Synagogue (Detail)

Can we imagine the sound of joy that might rise to the skies if we were to thank God for all that we have and all that we are? Can we fathom the power we already hold in our minds and hands if we give all our great and petty worries over to Christ? Can we picture the compassion and healing that we might experience and then share with the world if we open our hearts to the Spirit that already dwells within?

God says: You are rightly focused on the daily task of survival but imagine if you were to trust me more and your own resources less? Do you see how much you have already gained? Can you imagine how much you are yet to receive? My servant Paul reminds my followers in Corinth that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”. (1 Corinthians 2:9) And this is so. Today you read about how the faithful returned to me and celebrated with liturgy. Do you know how much it means to me when you join my Son, our Spirit and me in beautiful liturgies of Word and Eucharist? Do you know that I have wonderful plans for you? Plans for joy and not for woe? When you doubt, open scripture to see how many times I have already rescued my people. Open your lives and remember how often I have already saved you. Will I not love you even more as our relationship deepens? Will I not bring you even more joy? Have I not already told you that all of this is so?

scroll-mAs we consider today’s Noontime, let us also consider how we might approach liturgies with a new energy. If we do not belong to a worship community, let us explore the possibility of finding or creating one. And if we long to find union that lasts, let us commit to entering fully into our worship community with a new expectation of finding great joy.

To learn more about Ezra and Nehemiah, spend time with the stories in these two books. Enter their names in the blog search bar and explore. Click on the images for other reflections. Or use the scripture link to compare different Bible versions of these verses. 

For a better understanding of these Books, go to: http://biblehub.com/dictionary/e/ezra-nehemiah.htm 

For more about anxiety and joy, click on the image above or visit: http://riselikeair.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/anxiety-joy-a-journey/

Tissot image from: https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4471

Scroll image from: http://dadozier.wordpress.com/category/ezra/ 

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Monday, June 15, 2020

cloths-jesus[1]Micah 2

Plotting Against God’s Will

Those who have plots schemed against them will always find themselves in good company.  The Pharisees and the Jewish religious structure created and fomented plots first against Jesus and then against Jesus’ disciples because these speakers of truth threatened their power, their livelihood, and the supreme control they held over the lives of so many.  And this is what Micah offers us today: when the plotters spend time on their couches planning division and revenge, they do not see that they weave the schemata for their own downfall.

Frequently when we read the Gospels a story about Jesus ends with the line . . . and they went away plotting to silence him . . . to imprison him . . . to stone him . . . to do away with him.  When we read Acts, we find the same wording appearing in the stories of Peter, Paul and anyone who continues to bring love and healing to the poor in spirit, to the lame, and to the blind.  These loyal followers of Jesus – and we can count ourselves as companions of Christ – also have those who plot to bring about our fall.

We have observed recently that in the story of Esther we see Haman construct a gallows in front of his house so that he can watch the execution of the Jewish people.  Haman and his entire family die on that gallows.  In the Book of Judith Holofernes suffers the end he plans for the people of Bethulia.  God’s presence in these plots and the willingness of these two women to act in accordance with God makes holy acts of these schemes for evil.

This idea that intrigue will always be planned against the faithful sends us to a concordance where we find in the book of Proverbs a warning against plotting against the neighbor who lives trustfully near you (3:29), for this indicates deceit in the heart (12:20), leads us further astray (14:22), and puts us in the company of evil people (24:2).

In Psalms 2, 21, 31, 35, 37, 38, 64, 83 and 85 there are warnings against plotting and scheming in vain, creating terror on every side, slandering, gnashing teeth, and forming unholy alliances.

The prophet Nahum tells us that whatever the evil plot, the Lord will bring it to an end; and in the book of Nehemiah is the story of how Yahweh foils a plot against those who rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.

Over and over in scripture we read stories of how the deceitful are brought down by their own machinations; and in our own lives we see this happen endlessly.  What is it about our narrow field of vision that does not permit humans to respond as we should to the obstacles in our path?  What is it that lures us into dark deceptive paths rather than join Christ in the journey of light for which we are made?  Why does division and power seem so appealing when in truth it is unity and collegiality that most reflect God’s plan?  Why do we covet so often, create illusion so well, and delight in working out evil on our couches?  If it is difficult to understand this darkness and those who delight in controlling us, we are in good company and despite the suffering we endure this is what we ultimately know – for we have been told so often: God assembles the faithful and this remnant will not be panicked; the shepherd will put away all anxiety; we will rejoice in hope and flourish in love.  This is God’s will.  This is God’s plan.

Tomorrow, a prayer to endure the work of plotters and schemers.

Adapted from a reflection first written on February 12, 2008.

Image from: http://www.jesus-story.net/peter_and_john.htm

For more on Esther and Judith, enter their names into the blog search bar and explore . . .  

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Friday, May 22, 2020hamikdash21[1]Haggai 2:15-19

Promise of Immediate Blessings

This is good news!  Commentary tells us that we should read this citation along with Chapter 1: The Exhortation to Rebuild the Temple. After the destruction and capture and exile by the Babylonians, the Jewish people were finally allowed to return in groups to Judah, but they had a good deal of trouble in rebuilding their temple and themselves. We can read about this in Ezra and Nehemiah.

The Samaritans in the northern part of the former Jewish territory who had intermingled with non-Jews have become the enemies of Jews returning to their home in the southern region of Judah.  These Samaritans now block the way home for the returning exiles.  In a time of return from deportation when we might imagine a new joy rising from the hearts of the Israelites, it is instead corruption and idol worship that they experience.  In a time when physical and emotional fatigue from the return journey sap the strength of God’s people, they are called to dig deep into their inner selves to find the energy to rebuild.  Yet despite the energy they expend in their struggle to return to their Jerusalem home, the faithful find the wherewithal to rebuild.  They rely on their custom of maintaining contact with Yahweh through exile. They are an exhausted people who return from the north and yet here the prophet Haggai entreats the people to rebuild what was lost and he promises that there will be immediate joy.  We might feel tired just thinking of the turmoil, disappointment and suffering they experience.  We also might feel their hope, animation and sense of fulfillment.

This is a story that inspires.

Some of this prophecy (in particular the portion of chapter 2 just before today’s reading) takes the form of a “torah” or instruction given by a priest and so it carries particular significance. We are reminded that we are nothing if not first thought and then created by God. We are exhorted to re-build the old temple and to rebuild ourselves.  We are reminded that God will fill us with the persistence and fortitude to answer this call.  We are told that there is one to come who will shepherd his sheep in their return to an old home in a new spirit.

As we near the end of this Eastertide in the midst of pandemic, we have journeyed for two months of celebration in the most unusual of ways. We experience both the death of a hope and the birth of a new way of living, and throughout these weeks, we have always had the intimate presence of the resurrected Christ who arrives as fulfillment of all the prophets have predicted.  Jesus is the new temple, and we are the building blocks.  He is the promise, and we are the beneficiaries.  He is the blessing, and we are the blessed.  As we return from our own personal exiles, may we live up to this promise.  And so we pray . . .

Dear and gracious Lord, you have called us back from our time of exile.  You have offered us transformation and new life.  You have filled us with new energy and new strength.  May we live up to the potential we embody.  May we learn to be true, living stones in your temple.  And may we experience the joy of your immediate blessing.  Amen. 

Adapted from a Noontime first written on May 17, 2007.

Image from http://www.israelvideonetwork.com/rebuilding-the-temple-in-jerusalem

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Ezra 10:1-15: The People’s Response

Thursday, June 20, 2019


Ezra and Nehemiah, priest and administrator, return from exile to rebuild Jerusalem after its fall and the nations’ exile.  In joy tinged with sadness they dig into the ruins of their past to re-discover their covenant with Yahweh and to and re-pledge their fidelity to him.  Yet in this bittersweet moment as they return from deportation, they continue to ignore God – even the leaders among them who are to serve as models.  We read the long list of their names further along in the chapter and we pause to reflect that we too, are among the guilty.

We remember that although the Old Testament response to their recognition of unfaithful ties with non-Jewish spouses and children was severance and abandonment, our New Testament response is one of openness and an invitation to reconciliation.  Today we might look at Ezra’s response to the original act of betrayal: for he was in mourning over the betrayal by the exiles.  A leader among them, Shecaniah, during his appeal to Ezra says: Yet even now there remains a hope for Israel . . . have courage and take action!  The action they take is to name the culpable . . . and to expel the innocent women and children from their presence.  This story has always troubled me, as does any total severance I encounter in my life.  There is something about it which does not match the Gospel story.

We know that there are times when even Jesus recommends that his missionaries shake dust from the feet to move out of hostile territory and on to new places.  We also know that only God can soften hearts, and can give the gifts of faith, hope and love of enemy.  Only God can unbend stiff necks and open closed eyes, ears and hearts.  Only God can send us the graced moments that make our relationships come alive for an eternity.  Yet, we also believe that we must always make ourselves available for the miracles God wishes to give us.  We must be open to the outrageous possibility that God can grant our hearts’ desires when we ask in Jesus’ name.  We must be willing to remain as constant as God has remained with us.  And we – the victims of abuse – must be willing to petition intercession and salvation for our abusers while maintaining a prudent, watchful and open stance with our enemies.  This must be our response . . . for it is the Christian response.

Many times in the Gospel we see Jesus defer to the Father and we hear the words and bind them to our minds and to our hearts: Do not be afraid.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Jesus’ response is to rely on the creator and it must be our response.  Just as Jesus trusts in God’s wisdom and plan, so must we.

It is easy to assign culpability to the blameless, faceless and nameless women and children in today’s reading who find themselves as destitute as these Jewish people themselves had several times been in their history – slaves in Egypt, exiles in Babylon.  Yet they show no compassion.  Christ has not yet walked among them to show them The Way.

I like to think that when confronted with difficult decisions like the ones we read about and think about today, that we will choose the Jesus Way, the Jesus Approach to the dilemma.  Our response, if we follow Jesus, must be as honest, prudent and open as his.  What is this response . . . ?  With prudence and with trust in God, let us welcome the guilty . . . for we are among them.  Let us forgive . . . for we are forgiven.  

A re-post from May 24, 2009.

Image from: http://blog.thefoundationstone.org/2009/12/23/fasting-as-a-prayer/

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Ezra 10:16-44: The Guilty

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Tower of David Ruins: Jerusalem

At the time that the Jews were returning from their exile, Ezra condemns certain priests who intermarried with the Gentiles strayed from Yahweh.  Their solution?  To sever relationships with wives and children and make a guilt offering.  This is a course of action appropriate for their time but it is not the action that New Testament people will take.  If we are People of the Restoration, People of Resurrection and healing, we will build bridges where there is dissent and conflict.  We will look for compassionate yet just ways to maintain contact and to heal breaches in relationships.

Let us welcome the guilty . . . for we are among them.

Let us forgive . . . for we are forgiven

From the MAGNIFICAT morning intercessions.

You made all human beings in your image: fill us with reverence for one another.  Hear your children’s plea!

You restored us in your image through the work of the cross: teach us to work to restore the dignity of all those degraded by the works of evil.  Hear your children’s plea!

You raise us to newness of life in Jesus Christ: fill us always with Easter joy.  Hear your children’s plea!

Written on April 16, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.moderatotours.com/easter_abroad.html

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.16 (2008). Print.

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Daniel 9:13-19: Prayer in the Desert

Third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

Just a few weeks ago we took a look at this chapter of Daniel but on that day we were reflecting on God’s messenger Gabriel and thinking about the times that God has sent us messages in rapid flight at the time of the evening sacrifice.  The message that we ponder today is Daniel’s famous penitential prayer on behalf of the community.  In this Eastertide we have been examining the state of exile and captivity, and we have given thanks for God’s abiding presence despite our despair and loss.  We have reflected on how to suffer well . . . and how to trust God when there is nothing and no one else to trust.  Through our Lenten journey we pondered how to best search our souls and how to best ask forgiveness.  Today we might come together as an ethernet community to pray these words together.  They are words that we see again in Ezra (9:6-15) and Nehemiah (1:5-11 and 9:6-37) when the priest and the administrator rebuild the Jerusalem temple after Cyrus allows the Jewish people to return from exile.  This chapter tells us of the sad day when the Jewish people are told that their exile will last much longer than they had anticipated . . . not 70 weeks or 70 years, as they had thought and as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah.  No, they receive word that their captivity will really end in 70 x 70 years, 490 years . . . which is precisely the amount of time until the arrival of Jesus . . . the Liberator and the Redeemer of all . . . for all . . . for all time

The HARPER COLLINS COMMENTARY tells us that this prayer is not seen so much as a petition from the people who obey God; but rather, it is seen as an appropriate act of piety from a people who have erred, from a people who have disobeyed.  And so we might pray it together today . . . in an admission of our own willful act of waywardness and disobedience, and in gratitude for blessings and graces received.   (Mays)

We recognize that we spend much of our lives in the desert; we acknowledge that we are often held captive; and we also acknowledge that during these dry and lonely times we are not actually alone . . . we are accompanied by God.  And just as the angel Gabriel comes to Daniel to bring him the news that God abides, so too, does he comes to us to remind us that God is with us, that God is good, and that we are loved by this eternal God.

Today we read Daniel’s prayer and we pray as the Jewish community prayed with Ezra and Nehemiah when they returned to their ruined city.  We pray as we ponder the ruined places in our lives . . . and we give thanks.

God of Heaven, God of Earth, Spirit Dwelling Among Us,

Guide us . . . and grant us the faith to follow,

Be glad in us . . . and grant us the hope to rejoice in you,

Love us . . . and grant us the grace to grow in you.

We wish to turn . . . we wish to return to you.

For you are the beginning, the end, the all.

We are your servants.

May we serve you well.


A re-post from April 20, 2012.

Mays, James L., ed.  HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE COMMENTARY. New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988. Print.

For more reflections and a wonderful poem about footprints in the sand, click on the image above or go to: http://celesteanima.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/poem-footprints-in-the-sand/

For more on Gabriel’s visit with Daniel, go to the Gabriel Comes to David post on this blog at: https://thenoontimes.com/2012/02/07/gabriel-comes-to-david/

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