SBJT examines Nehemiah application and theology

Communications Staff — December 9, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—In many sermons and Sunday school lessons, the Old Testament book of Nehemiah is presented as a series of moral lessons and tips on leadership.

But according to the authors of the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Nehemiah is far more. It presents a crucial aspect of God’s redemptive plan and applies to important aspects of modern church life, they write.

Stephen J. Wellum, editor of the journal, contends that many Christians profess belief in the importance of the Old Testament but have only a cursory knowledge of its events and their significance in the storyline of the Bible. In his editorial, Wellum says the journal seeks to remedy defective knowledge of the Old Testament by examining Nehemiah’s background, language and meaning.

“For the most part, we have been taught various stories and moral lessons from the OT, which serve to instruct us how and how not to live our Christian lives,” he writes. “But what we often lack is an understanding of how these OT stories first fit into the larger story of God’s redemptive plan and purposes centered in Jesus Christ and, secondly, how they apply to us today.

“…While for many of us, Nehemiah has only served to illustrate lessons of leadership or give us incentive for our new building programs, our authors demonstrate that God had given us this book for more reasons than this.”

Essayists include Terry J. Betts, assistant professor of Old Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Betts sets the historical context of Nehemiah by describing the circumstances leading up to the deportation of Israel into exile and the nation’s subsequent restoration. He argues that the events depicted in Nehemiah illustrate God’s character and love.

“The events leading up to the exile, the exile itself, and the return all point to God’s sovereignty and grace,” he writes. “The Lord God is not only the God of Israel, but he is the God of the nations. Kings and leaders plan their courses of action, but it is the Lord who raises them up and brings them down for his own glory and purposes. God has always been and always will be faithful to his word and to his people.”

Peter Gentry, professor of Old Testament interpretation and director of the Hexapla Institute at Southern, examines Nehemiah 12 and argues that the chapter points to the importance of rightly ordered worship in the Kingdom of God.

As God gathered the nation of Israel from exile in Nehemiah, God is gathering His people from all nations today, Gentry writes. As believers are gathered into God’s Kingdom, they must make purity in leadership and true worship priorities, he says.

“We have done little to stem the tide of biblical illiteracy in our churches as our worship is not focused by our musicians and preachers on the word of God,” he writes. “Musical styles and oratory are more highly valued than biblical content. Nehemiah 12 is a powerful word from the Lord for the church today, if we are to be faithful as agents in renewing the city of God.”

Russell T. Fuller, associate professor of Old Testament interpretation at Southern, focuses on lessons that can be taken from Ezra’s ministry as a priest, scribe and teacher. He concludes that Ezra was an agent of revival and reminds the church of the need to maintain the truth of God’s Word.

“Speaking of Old Testament events, the Apostles tell us that these events are examples for our instruction (1 Cor 10:6; 2 Pet 2:6) and that the Old Testament prophets were serving the church in their writings (1 Pet 1:12),” Fuller writes. “So Ezra, the great scribe of Scripture, serves the church today, instructing us by the books of Scripture that he authored, by the godly example that he set, and by the Old Testament that he edited.”

Other essayists include Grace Theological Seminary professor Tiberius Rata and Atlantic Baptist University professor Stephen G. Dempster. The journal concludes with a sermon by Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

To subscribe to the SBJT or obtain further information about it, please contact the journal office at 502-897-4413 or

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