Chapter 7 of Nehemiah describes how even with the wall completed around Jerusalem, the enemies – and most noteably Tobiah – still did not want Nehemiah to accomplish the goal of rebuilding Jerusalem. Tobiah had relatives in the city, they kept reporting what was happening, and Tobiah sent “letters of intimidation” to Nehemiah. Why? Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem by God with the support of the king who also sent resources with Nehemiah. Tobiah could have rebuilt the city before Nehemiah ever arrived, but the state of affairs for the people in Jerusalem was “great trouble and disgrace” (1:3).
Tobiah had married a daughter of a leader in Judah, and his son married the daughter of a leader in Judah. The purpose of such marriages was political, to exert influence and have control. Throughout the book of Nehemiah, Tobiah attempted to tear down everything that Nehemiah was building up. There is a word for this – jealousy. Jealousy is an attitude – a sin – which is characterized by resentment for another person’s accomplishments or by hostility toward another person who is believed to have some advantage. Jealousy has its roots in one of the seven deadliest sins – pride.
Jealousy is always destructive. A person filled with pride is blind to the grace of God. We all have experienced the destruction – either because we’ve been filled with pride or we were in the path of someone else who had been consumed with jealousy. I’m convinced that some things can only be driven out through prayer. Nehemiah did not stop to listen to Tobiah, because Tobiah’s only interest was in destruction for the sake of Tobiah. Instead, Nehemiah continued to turn to God and to move forward in the purpose that God had given him.
When I turned to Acts 1, three phrases stood out for me. Each phrase spoken by Jesus to dispirited disciples: “Wait for the gift”; “You will receive power”; “You will be my witnesses”. The gift would be the Holy Spirit. The power would come from the Holy Spirit. Their mission would be to give witness to the resurrection. Waiting, receiving, being – their focus would not be on themselves but the Holy Spirit guiding and moving them forward.
Somehow these two stories seem to fit together for me. The spirit of jealousy and the Holy Spirit cannot exist together. Where one exists, the other ceases to exist. Which do you want?
Today’s readings: Nehemiah 7-8; Acts 1