February 27, 2012
Nehemiah, Rebuilt and Rebuilding, Kathleen Bushwell Nielson (P&R, 2011) There are so many things that I love about this Bible study. As fabulous as the content is, I first have to talk about the construction of the book. For those of you who still like reading books in print, this one has all the elements that a connoisseur loves. It is just the right size, spiral bound, pliable, and has adequate space provided throughout for you to write in your answers and reflections. If you’ve ever reminisced about the nostalgic feel of a good book, you will be well satisfied with this gem. Here’s where I might come off as a bit weird, but I love the texture of the cover, as well as the pages of this book. It's feel increased the pleasure of my reading experience. Really! Nehemiah is one of a series of Living Word Bible studies Nielson has published through P&R. This is the first I have read. I will definitely be reading some more of these. Nielson’s philosophy behind her writing is that we have become so accustomed in this age to regurgitating information that we have regressed in our ability to go to the Bible text for ourselves and mine for truth. In her words:
We’re so used to fast food that we think we should be able to drive by the Scriptures periodically and pick up some easily digestible truths that someone else has wrapped up neatly for us. We’ve disowned that process of careful reading…observing the words…seeing the shape of a book and a passage…asking questions that take us into the text rather than away from it…digging into the Word and letting it speak! Through such a process, guided by the Spirit, the Word of God truly feeds our souls (x).Nielson takes us through this process in her study. She sets it up well, that “Nehemiah is telling not just the story of the Jewish people. He is telling, above all, the story of God at work among his people, accomplishing his sovereign plan to preserve them and bless the nations through them, as he promised Abraham…It is about the roots of our salvation in and through the Lord Jesus Christ” (xii-xiii). She impresses on the reader that “These are God’s people, who show us both the consequences of disobeying God’s law and the blessing of receiving God’s mercy” (1). The reader will realize that as God’s people, this is our story as well. She takes us through the study in ten lessons, or chapters. Each chapter is broken into 5 days of study for the week. But don’t expect to just learn more about the book of Nehemiah. Nielson shows us how this account is woven through the tapestry of the rest of Scripture. I love how she points the reader to the bigger picture of Israel’s history, as well as Nehemiah’s connections in Ezra, Chronicles, 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and Daniel. Along with the Old Testament texts that help us to better understand Nehemiah, we are led to the New Testament to see the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises and implications on his people. As Nehemiah was faithful in obeying God’s call to rebuild Jerusalem, he could not rebuild the hearts of the people. Although God’s people could not be faithful to their oaths, God is faithful to his promises in Jesus Christ. Even now, he is preparing a new place for his people as we are being built into his perfect church. Nielson directs the reader to these passages with guided questions, but does not just hand us all the answers. The practical application questions keep the focus on God’s glory, as we look at the study’s implications for our lives. The end of the book has some added helps for the reader. There is a section titled, Notes for Leaders, that I found to be very helpful for anyone interested in leading this study, or any other study really. Her main advice is to focus on leading people to the text, rather than just being an “answer person,” or allowing the conversation to devolve into personal opinions. I also highly concur with her aim to keep Bible studies within the context of the local church. Neilson encourages leaders to equip other leaders and delight in God’s Word. Nielson also provides an outline of Nehemiah, timelines and geography, possible sketches of Nehemiah’s walls, a list of important people and places from the book, suggested memory passages, as well as additional study helps and translations for further study…all in less than 150 pages! What a great resource! I encourage anyone interested in a Bible study to go on over to P&R’s website and check out Kathleen Nielson’s series.