Theme: A Time to Work
This week’s lessons help us to celebrate Thanksgiving properly by impressing upon us the importance of continually expressing genuine thanks to the Lord for all his blessings.
Scripture: Nehemiah 8:10
I do not know whether Nehemiah, the governor of Judah during the second half of the fifth century B.C., knew the writings of Solomon. He may have since Solomon lived several centuries before his time. If he did, he may have had Solomon’s wise words in mind when he instructed the people of his day about Thanksgiving. Solomon had said,
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance… (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).
In our text Nehemiah tells the people, who had been listening to the law of God and had been convicted by it even to the point of tears, that although there is a time for sorrow, there is also a time to enjoy and give thanks. And this is it! He told them, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
This week is also a time to enjoy choice food (and give thanks). In fact, this is the very essence of Thanksgiving.
There were other “activities under heaven” for which there had been right times earlier, but it was not the time for these now, according to Nehemiah. One activity had been working. They had worked very hard. Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem from the Persian capital of Susa in 445 B.C., with the goal of rebuilding the wall of the city which had been destroyed by the Babylonians 141 years earlier. The wall had been extensive, a mile-and-a-half to two-and-a-half miles in circumference. But it had been utterly destroyed, and the opposition to rebuilding it had been so great, that several earlier attempts to reconstruct it had ended in abject failure. Nehemiah faced a monumental task, external opposition and a discouraged people. But his leadership was so effective that the exiles were rallied, and the project was completed in only fifty-two days.
There had been a time to build. There would be times to build again, as there always are. But for the present, work needed to be laid aside. This was a time to enjoy what God had given.
There had also been a time when Nehemiah had rallied the people to fight against a possible interruption of the work by the hostile provinces that surrounded Judah on all sides. These small kingdoms were threatened by the prospect of a resurgent Jewish state, and their leaders did what they could to intimidate Nehemiah and hinder his work, at one point spreading a rumor that they were about to attack the city suddenly. At this point Nehemiah turned Jerusalem into what was virtually an armed camp. The workers were given weapons and half were appointed always to be on guard while the other half continued working.
Time to fight? Yes, there had been time to fight, just as there are times for us to fight our battles. But this was not the time. The feast was a time for pure enjoyment.
Describe the situation of Nehemiah’s day. How had they demonstrated that there was a time for working and building?
What was the nature of the opposition the Israelites dealt with?
Reflection: In view of Thanksgiving, what spiritual disciplines do you perhaps need to improve upon or strengthen? For example, are you growing in the need for humility and thanks for all the blessings you receive each day from the Lord?
For Further Study: To learn more about the book of Nehemiah, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall and revival among the nation, download for free and listen to two messages from James Boice, “A Nation under God, Part 1” and “A Nation under God, Part 2.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)