THEY WERE SINGLES, TOO—A LOOK AT NEHEMIA AND JEREMIAH
By Kevin Anthony Stoda
Our church and world are already inundated with conflicting views on single life. Basically, “single” means simply that one is not living with husband or wife. One might be a widow, a divorce, or never even been married. There are, however, many myths about leadership roles in churches as related to singleness. These myths include the idea that only “marrieds” should hold leadership roles in the church. We need to avoid such myths.
Last summer, I shared with my congregation a sermon about New Testament role models, such as the Apostle Paul, about Martha & Mary, Anne at the Alter, and John the Babtist. All these New Testament heroes were singles—as was, of course, Jesus the Christ.
Today, I want to encourage more involvement from all church members & participants by sharing on inspiring Old Testament figures who were single and super role models for Christians in all our fellowships worldwide today. They are models of faith and communities of which they were full members.
Again, I have a lot of the basis for this message from David M. Hoffeditz’s work, THEY WERE SINGLE, TOO.
I will share today from the lives of Jeremiah & Nehemiah as singles and motivating examples to all Christians—not only for singles but to all in the Christian community worldwide.
Psalm 13 starts, “How long, Lord, will you ignore me? How long will you pay no attention to me?” That was a song of David’s, but it certainly reflected the lonely and single life of Jeremiah, too. Hoffeditz writes, “Until, ‘the fall of Jerusalem in 587 (BC), his [Jeremiah] forty-year ministry was marked by opponents’ attempts to silence him by means of arrests, trials, beatings, imprisonments, and’ assassination.
Throughout his life, Jeremiah was seen as both an angry man and a weeping prophet. He even called down judgment (through the power of God) on some of this opposition.
However, more than the behavior Jeremiah showed in importance are the sacrifices he made. One of them was his call to not marry, as reported in 16:2 of Jeremiah; he was also certainly called to not have children, too. It should be noted that at the time in Israel’s history, there was not even a Hebrew word in existence for “bachelor”. It was generally not an acceptable condition in Hebrew society.
Throughout the entire book, Jeremiah shows us at least 5 ways to persevere and succeed as a child & a prophet of God’s—even with our loneliness and our persecutions. First of all, Jeremiah was appointed from birth to take on his role as prophet or even as human being. God tells him in Jeremiah 1:4-5, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you prophet to the nations.”
This news is similar to what Apostle Paul told the Ephesians in 1:4-6. There we are told that Jesus chose us before the world was created. Moreover, before Jeremiah knew God; God already knew Jeremiah—and the same is true for you and me. And while Jeremiah (and we) doubt, GOD SUPPLIES.
Second, we need to trust in God’s control. By chapter 15, Jeremiah has experienced a lot of stress—including isolation and loneliness, totally marginalized and feeling rejected by ALL. Jeremiah makes a list of over a dozen things he has done to serve the Lord. He petitions God for an explanation. Soon, God responds that he is in control. Finally, in 16:9, Jeremiah pronounces that the Lord “is my strength and fortress, and my refuge in my day of affliction.
Third, and very importantly, we can each learn God’s perspective. This can be seen in Jeremiah’s purchase of a field n the midst of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. WOULD YOU BUY PROPERTY UNDER BOMBARDMENT? In 32:16-25, we see that Jeremiah can do this because he recognizes God’s perspective of things. “Ah Lord God, it is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arms. Nothing is too hard for you 9and) you show steadfast love to the 1000th generation.” Through the power of prayer, Jeremiah had received the vision to buy the field in war time.
According to Hoffeditz, Eugene Peterson writes of Jeremiah, “No one becomes human the way Jeremiah was human by posing in a posture of victory. It was prayers, hidden but persistent, that brought him to human wholeness and spiritual sensity that we want.” Jeremiah’s prayer life also attests to his heart and the fact that God wants to communicate with us there in our hearts.
A fifth lesson from the life of Jeremiah is that he did have and these friends played great and supportive roles. In the same way, we are called to be friends to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are called to act in supportive roles, too.
Recall the Eunuch in the King’s court who came to rescue Jeremiah in 38:1-13. His name was Ebed Melech—and as a eunuch, by definition , he was single, too. This Ethiopian slave took his own life into his hands by challenging the King Zedekiah and eventually b rescuing Jeremiah. Others who aided Jeremiah and his works included Gedoliah, the Governor of Judah, and Elash, the Son of Saphan. Both faced death threats. As well, Baruch served Jeremiah despite losing his royal lineage rights in the Kingdom of Israel.
We turn now to another single who was a role model in the Old Testament: Nehemiah, who came back from the exile to Jerusalem to reconstruct the Kingdom, we find a man who is neither a prophet nor a born leader. He is simply a cupbearer. Like Jeremiah, Nehemiah was ridiculed by his own workers, by the work he performed, and even mocked by the materials he had chosen. Tobiah, a principle opponent, even sent letters threatening his life and that of his workers.
In all this, any individual—let alone a single person and an outsider in Jerusalem—might have been engulfed by depression at such a moment. What drove Nehemiah on??? It was his commitment to the Lord. This commitment truly represents the character of Nehemiah.
Hoffeditz notes, “Living with imperfect people creates frustration and discouragement.” In building the Old Testament Jerusalem Wall anew, we observe that Nehemiah observed many intraparty and intra-familial feuds. There were the struggles between those who had much and those who had little. There was anger amongst those who had good property and those who had less good quality land and homes. Socially there was struggle constantly.
However, from the first part of Nehemiah’s book onwards we see that Nehemiah’s actions and character revealed a full commitment to the Lord [despite the people’s sins and failures evidenced all around him]. Commitment was what Nehemiah was about. This was how a young untrained leader—a cupbearer—was able to lead his people to do more & more while surmounting all kinds of obstacles for over 12 years.
Nehemiah’s commitment rested not only on the knowledge of God’s words and promises in scripture nor legends. Like Jeremiah, Nehemiah walked with God, i.e. just as Adam in the garden of Eden. JI Packer is quoted by Hoffeditz: Nehemiah “saturated with praying and praying of the truest kind—the kind of prayer that is always seeking to clarify its own vision of who and what God is, and to celebrate his reality in constant adoration, and to rethink in his presence such needs and requests as one is bringing to him . . .”
God, help us all to pray like that!
As Hoffeditz, himself shares, “There are no easy twelve steps or instant packets to obtain commitment to the Lord.” It requires prayer, searching for knowledge, avoiding false concepts of self-sufficiency, and a focus on the vision of God and his commitment to us and our communities on earth.
Through his intimate relationship to God, Nehemiah’s commitment grew. For example, he prays when he asks for provision from the Persian King (2:4). He prays for the safety of his people and the guards (4:9). In 6:9, he calls for the lord to strengthen his people further in the midst of foreign pressure. Finally, in various verses (2:20, 4:15) we can see that Nehemiah seems often to fully rest in comfort that the Lord will act. For example, in his prayers and actions, he moves quickly away from ever asking: “Why am I persecuted?” or “Why are my people so besieged?” Instead, he moves quickly to calling on God to tackle his assignments.
The Lord was in charge. Nehemiah simply had faith in this.
A final reason that this single man pursued that Restoration of Jerusalem project–not to be an example for us for all time—but rather because he enjoyed the privilege and joy of serving the Lord.
Let us do the same. Find our calls and follow with commitment.
In summary, Jeremiah & Nehemiah were committed to the Lord and therefore did not quit. Five areas of Jeremiah’s are lifted up in this Message for reflection on how Jeremiah was able to overcome so much trouble in his life as a prophet. This enabled him to not only to survive but to productively serve the Lord as we should;
(1) “Jeremiah recognized that the Lord had called him.”
(2) Jeremiah’s trust in God’s control serve as a defense against loneliness and isolation.
(3) Jeremiah could continue on in spite of opposition and trouble because he came to embrace God’s Perspective.
(4) Both Jeremiah and Nehemiah were committed to prayer life everyday with the Lord—on their knees or off them.
(5) Jeremiah needed friends and supporters—and had them throughout his long life—[Let’s be supporters of one another like Jeremiah!!!!]
In the life of Nehemiah we see two more insights into how we—whether singles or marrieds—can carry on and succeed.
Nehemiah was but a humble cupbearer, but he was willing to give up everything—moving a thousand kilometers from a royal court to dusty and filled with rubble Jerusalem. He gave up his time, too. For 12 years, he put up with great opposition from military powers and 12 years of infighting among the Israelis themselves.
Nehemiah was threatened with his life. He was mocked and ridiculed, but he continued. In all this a second insight becomes visible. If we, too, are committed to service and God’s community we will feel a joy of blessings and privilege.