Nehemiah 11–13. The Aftermath of Revival.

Key Notes:: Relapse after revival. Neheniah's frustration. History of American revivals.

Students of revival know that spiritual awakenings do not usually last more than a few years. The question is what happens afterward. Will the gains be sustained? Will there be a reaction? Will revival come again? Some of these questions are answered in Nehemiah, but we must not assume that what happened in this case will be repeated in other situations.

Neh.11:1–24 Some thousands of leaders—priests, levites and gatekeepers-- as well as many from Judah and Benjamin had agreed to live in Jerusalem. They were tabulated by their family names.

12:1–26 The genealogies of the priests and levites that came with Zerab-babel were kept. Some residues of these priestly names can be found to the present day. (Kohen, Cohn, Levi, etc.)

12:27–43. After the completion of the wall of Jerusalem, a great parade was held to commemorate the occasion. Princes and priests, musicians and singers marched in two directions on top of the wall. Nehemiah led one parade group and Ezra the other.

From this we surmise that the wall was quite wide, perhaps twelve feet wide; the marchers were undoubtedly not in single file. The second note is that they were above all the surrounding country-side. Jerusalem is 2500 ft. above sea level. The Mediterranean is 33 miles away to the west. The Dead Sea, some ten miles to the southeast, is 1300 ft. below sea level. People standing on the wall could be seen from a distance, “And the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  The impact of this event on their opponents would be significant.

13:1–3 On the day of the dedication they read that Ammonites and Moabites were not to enter the assembly.

“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation; none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the Lord for ever; because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor…to curse you.” “You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days for ever.” (Deut.23:3–6)

The Ammonites and Moabites were the offspring of Abraham’s nephew Lot by his daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Gen.18:36

13:4–9 Nehemiah had gone back to Artexerxes for a time and when he returned he found that Tobiah the Ammonite had been given quarters in the Temple in a chamber previously used for the storage of various offerings. Nehemiah angrily threw out Tobiah’s furniture and gave orders to purify the quarters so that they would again be used for temple offerings.

13:10–14 The tithes had not been given to the Levites. The Levites had gone back to their towns to tend to their farms, their other source of income. Nehemiah called for the tithes to be brought. He shook up the officials and assigned them to protect the storehouses.

13:15–22. Then he found that Jews were working on Sabbath, pressing out grapes for wine, and selling produce in Jerusalem. Men from Tyre were selling their foods on Sabbath. Nehemiah ordered the gates of Jerusalem closed at sundown Friday night. Merchants waited outside the city gates anyway and Nehemiah had to warn them away. Levites were assigned to guard the gates.

13:23–31 Worse yet, Jews were marrying women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Many of the children could not speak the language of the Jews. Nehemiah reminded them of how Solomon’s wives led him into sin. One of the sons of the high priest had married into the family of Sanballat, the Samaritan. Nehemiah chased him away. So Nehemiah tried by his personal effort to rebuild the gains that the revival had brought. Three prayers of Nehemiah asked for God’s help and reward in this effort.

Comments: Sanballat and Tobiah failed in their objectives to stop the Jews by intimidation. They gained surprisingly much by subtlety and infiltration.

We note that the revival eventually collapsed. It failed in all the points that were its initial features.
The fruit of revival was action and involved changes in basic life patterns.

•Whom do I marry? In the revival they had separated themselves from foreign women. But now the Jews were marrying women from Ashdod,  Ammon and Moab and the son of the high priest had married a Samaritan.
•How do I spend my time? They had pledged not to work on Sabbath. But now the Sabbath had become commercial again.
•What do I do with my money? They had vowed to give tithes and first fruits to the temple. Now the tithes were not being collected.
•Where do I live? By lottery 10% were to live in Jerusalem. Now the Levites had gone back to their villages to tend their fields. And Tobiah had a suite in the Temple!

What would have happened if Ezra’s reading and teaching had continued on a large public scale? What if Nehemiah had not returned to Susa?

The ground gained by the revival could not be sustained. But It was undoubtedly easier for Nehemiah to restore the gains than if the revival had not occurred.

REVIVALS

Revivals are a feature of Christian life since the Reformation.

We do not usually classify the Protestant Reformation as a revival because it was much more than that. It was a basic rethinking of Christianity. It began with Martin Luther in 1517 and was advanced by John Calvin and many others. Their great insight was that salvation is by God’s grace alone and not by human effort. We  also mention Zwingli whose work and teaching ran almost parallel with Luther's, but went beyond him in certain doctrines, such as the Lord’s Supper. He taught that the Lord’s Supper was a memorial and not a sacrament. Peter Menno founded the Mennonite/Amish branch of the church which has emphasized pacifism and separation from the World. Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1523 to form the independent Church of England.

There was a general upsurge in religious life in America from 1620 to1858. It began with the Puritans in England and the right of dissent from the established orders of King, Bishop and Liturgy. They fought the sacramental, ceremonial approach to Christian life in favor of inward, personal faith.

The first Great Awakening in the American Colonies began in 1734 and continued for 15 years. It was started by Jonathan Edwards, arguably the best Christian thinker (theologian,  philosopher, preacher, psychologist) this country ever produced. The revival began with his preaching  in a small church in Northampton Mass. and spread from there. He called it “a surprising work of God”. George Whitefield  picked up the baton and ran with it. He was an itinerant preacher from Britain who spoke to thousands of Americans along the Eastern Seaboard. He was in his 20’s, a flamboyant and gifted speaker. He spoke in the open air much more than in the churches and could hold an audience of 20,000 without amplification. A seventeen year-old, Isaac Backus heard him preach several times.

“On August 29, 1741…I was mowing in the field alone….It appeared clear to me that I had tried every way that possibly I could {for salvation} and if I perished forever I could do no more—and the justice of God shined so clear before my eyes in condemning such a guilty Rebel that I could say no more—but fell at his feet. I saw that I was in his hands and he had a right to do with me just as he pleased. And I lay like a dead, vile creature before him.”
“And just in that critical moment, God, who caused the light to shine out of darkness—shined into my heart with such a discovery of that glorious righteousness which fully satisfied the law that I had broke and of the infinite fullness that there is in Christ to satisfie the wants of such a helpless creature as I was…that my whole heart was attracted and drawn after God and swallowed up in admiration in view of his divine glories.” (Revivals, Awakenings, and Reform. W.G. McLoughlin;  U. of Chicago, 1978; p.65)

Sometimes there was nasty, even vicious opposition to Whitefield’s preaching but most often his preaching led to weeping and repentance. Before the movement was over, there were 30,000–40,000 converts in New England alone and 150 new churches.

On the European continent, starting about 1720, revival was also going on. In Bavaria it took the form of Pietism (attention to holy living, private devotions and Bible study). The movement was led by Count Von Zinzendorf and the Moravians. The Moravian Church pioneered missions in many part of the world. Isaac Watts was writing great hymns for the English-speaking world (1674–1728).The second Great Awakening began with the preaching of Timothy Dwight, president of Yale University (Grandson of Jonathan Edwards), in 1786. Yale was a party school even then.

“A third of the students (many of them destined for the ministry) were converted. Membership in the student ‘Moral Society’ rose to unprecedented numbers in‘02; and Benjamin Silliman, the future ‘father of American science’ wrote home that ‘Yale College is a little temple; prayer and praise seem to be the delight of the greater part of the students, while those who are still unfeeling are awed to respectful silence.’” (A Religious History of the American People. SE Ahlstrom. Yale U. Press, 1972; p. 416)

The Second Awakening was continued by Charles Finney, a pastor who became an itinerant revivalist and John Wesley,  a British Episcopalian pastor. John Wesley began preaching in 1744 in Britain; his brother Charles, a noted hymn-writer, accompanied him in the work. He developed small groups (“classes”) extensively and with remarkable discipline. His hard-working followers were called “methodists”. The Methodists eventually broke away from the Episcopalian establishment and became a separate denomination.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the American Bible Society,  the American Colonization Society (antislavery), and a foreign missions society were formed during this second Great Awakening. Slaves were hearing the Gospel and adopting it for themselves.

Charles Finney changed the nature of revival ministry by professionalizing it. He knew that certain methods would produce certain results and he did not hesitate to use them. He put a strong emphasis on human effort in contrast to the earlier puritan emphasis on God’s election. In other words,  Arminian thought replaced Calvinist thought in American evangelism.

Modern Arminians came from John Wesley and the Methodists in the early 1700’s and from them sprang the Pentecostal Holiness movement. Since Whitefield (a Calvinist) , most of our prominent evangelists have been Arminian: John Wesley, Charles Finney and Billy Graham for example. However, the real revivals I have witnessed cannot be credited to revivalist preaching, or any direct human effort.

Dwight L. Moody preached in US and Britain 1860–1890. He persuaded Ira Sankey to come with him as singer/song-writer. He was not highly educated and his preaching was plain. He said “God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.’” (Mcloughlin, op.cit.; p.144). He was attacked by socialists as an enemy of the working classes because he preached at a time when there were many unemployed workers and they found consolation in his messages. He founded the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

There was a tendency to ignore Christian activity during the Civil War, but during quiet periods in the War, chaplains on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line were conducting intensive evangelistic meetings with their troops and many were converted.

Some historians say the Third Great Awakening 1890–1920 was begun with “the Prayer Meeting Revival of‘57–58 when business men met in large numbers during the financial panic of‘57. Billy Sunday was a converted baseball player who preached from‘90–1920. His style was slangy and flamboyant. He fought against alcoholism. A headline in Burlington, Iowa read:

“BURLINGTON IS DRY: BILLY SUNDAY HAS MADE GRAVEYARD OF ONCE FAST TOWN.” (McLoughlin, op.cit. p.147).

In 1906 Pentecostal revival appeared with great vigor, starting from the Azusa Street Mission of Los Angeles. A new denomination, the Assemblies of God, emerged after’14.

The Fourth Great Awakening was 1960–1990. In’47 Billy Graham, with George B. Shay began evangelistic meetings which eventually spread around the world. He preached to more people than anyone in the history of the world. Ten million Koreans heard him on one session. His practice of including liberals and Roman Catholics in his local teams was a cause of concern. His intent was to get the hearing of the Gospel in the widest circles. The converts, however, were often sent back into dead churches. The long-term gains have not been as great as in previous revivals.

This Fourth Great Awakening was not just among Christians. The Awakening has also revived Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and various secular groups during a time of radical change. Marxism collapsed in Europe. The Second Vatican Council shook the Catholic laity as well as the hierarchy. The Vietnam War, The Civil Rights Movement, The New Age,  and the Sexual Revolution disrupted the society in every way—clothing and hair, speech, food, music, marriage, visual images, politics. We know that a large minority of Americans declared themselves publicly for Christ. We can only pray that they prevail over many attacks of the enemy.

The only long-term revival has been described in East Africa, active for a half-century. The secret, we are told, was continuing brokenness before the Lord.

Revival is frail and transient. The fervor cannot usually be sustained. People become exhausted. The group must disperse and go back to the activities of everyday life. The fall-out is significant. Denominations split as fervent believers separate from spiritually dead organizations. Sometimes excesses occur on the fringes when ecstasy leads to lunacy. Strong reactions develop such as Unitarianism which is still strong in New England since the First Great Awakening. But revival is a work of God and we pray for it.

We praise God that He has brought fresh vigor to the churches four times in our 250 years. It is a legacy of our nation.

It is the hope of our nation and the hope of the world.