When Fear Collides With Faith

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Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

So we come to the end of our journey through Nehemiah. These last few verses we will examine this week provide a nice summary of all that Nehemiah accomplished. God used Him in a mighty way not only to reestablish His people in His land but also His law in His people’s heart. Lets take a look and see what God does in the final verses.

The Restoration of the Sabbath

In those days I saw in Judah some who were treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sacks of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs and all kinds of loads, and they brought them into Jerusalem on the sabbath day. So I admonished them on the day they sold food. Also men of Tyre were living there who imported fish and all kinds of merchandise, and sold them to the sons of Judah on the sabbath, even in Jerusalem. Then I reprimanded the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing you are doing, [m]by profaning the sabbath day? Did not your fathers do the same, so that our God brought on us and on this city all this trouble? Yet you are adding to the wrath on Israel by profaning the sabbath.” Nehemiah 13:15-18 NASB

It came about that just as it grew dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and that they should not open them until after the sabbath. Then I stationed some of my servants at the gates so that no load would enter on the sabbath day. Once or twice the traders and merchants of every kind of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. Then I warned them and said to them, “Why do you spend the night in front of the wall? If you do so again, I will use force against you.” From that time on they did not come on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day. For this also remember me, O my God, and have compassion on me according to the greatness of Your lovingkindness. Nehemiah 13:19-22 NASB

 

We see in vv. 19-22 the continuation of Nehemiah’s actions from earlier in this chapter. Nehemiah is obviously concernd with the spiritual state of the people. He continues reintroducing elements of the Law to the people so that the Law can be reintegrated into the life of the nation. In these three verses we see that the Sabbath was restored. Why is this important?

Remember the Sabbath was a day of rest for the nation. They were supposed to recuperate from the previous six days of labor. This was patterned after the seventh day of creation when God chose to set the example of taking a day off after six days of labor. Though God didn’t need a day to recuperate, He intended man to take one because He knew what would happen if mankind didn’t take time off. For His people Israel, the Sabbath was a stress management tool. Evidently the nation had been neglecting this for some time. Nehemiah, determined to reestablish God’s rules for His people wasted no time in reestablishing the Sabbath.

He emphasized the Jerusalem would shut down commerce for one day a week. He got irritated with the merchants that would come to Jerusalem to sell their stuff. They were so desperate to sell their stuff that they camped outside of Jerusalem on the Sabbath. This served as a temptation to sin for the people. Nehemiah was having none of this. He threatened force  against these merchants if they continue to camp outside the city gates on the Sabbath. Was Nehemiah correct? I think so. Remember that the people were in captivity. They had lost their freedom at least in part for their neglect of God’s Law. Nehemiah determined to avoid that same issue coming up again. So he took extreme measures to ensure that the people not only did not sin but also that the temptation to sin was removed. Good job looking out for your people Nehemiah.

How often do we place temptation in front of ourselves and then get surprised when we give into it? Far too often in my life. How about you? Perhaps we should take extreme measures like Nehemiah in order to avoid the temptation to sin.

The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages

In those days I also saw that the Jews had [q]married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?” Even one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite, so I drove him away from me. Remember them, O my God, [u]because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Nehemiah 13:23-29

Nehemiah now prohibits intermarriage. Well, actually Nehemiah reminds the nation that God had prohibited intermarrying with the nations. Why? Was Israel so special that they couldn’t marry anyone they liked? Yeah, they were. God identified with Israel. He chose to glorify Himself in this tiny nation who were surrounded by other much larger and stronger nations. So God wanted them to be totally reserved for Himself. He had set them apart. He expected them to act like the special people He made them. They were not like the nations that surrounded them. They didn’t worship idols. They didn’t trust in themselves. They didn’t act like them, believe like them or live like them. Now Nehemiah was determined to make sure that they remained pure. There were even priests who defiled the priesthood though intermarriage. Nehemiah drove all of them away.

Now while the commandment not to intermarry with other nations does not apply to us today since we are not the same as Israel, there are some things that we need to learn from this episode. We intermarry with the world when we make church about us. The gathering of the saints is for the corporate worship of God not our comfort or control. We intermarry with the world when we make their priorities our priorities.When we focus on the outward appearances of success – money, possessions and position – we intermarry.

We pollute the purity of our life of faith when we focus on these temporal things. Is it time for you – and me – to divorce ourselves from our unfaithfulness?

The Summation of Nehemiah’s Actions

Thus I purified them from everything foreign and appointed duties for the priests and the Levites, each in his task, and I arranged for the supply of wood at appointed times and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. Nehemiah 13:30-31 NASB

The final purification has been accomplished. Israel has been restored. Pure worship in the Temple is happening, the walls surround the city. Respect for God’s commands is paramount once again. Israel is back. Nehemiah has accomplished his task and he asks that God remembers Him.

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When Nehemiah’s fear collided with his faith, he relied on God and doing what is right rather than giving into fear. Fear is a part of life. It comes and invades us. It collides with our faith. So what is our choice when face with seemingly insurmountable odds? Should we cower in fear, forgetting all that God has done for us? I don’t think I really need to answer that question.

We must remember that our priority is the glory of God, not the glory of our local Church or our own personal glory. This is hard to do sometimes. Honestly this is hard to do most times because we live in such a fallen world. But this difficulty doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to glorify God every step of life. Let’s dedicate ourselves to glorifying God not ourselves. Let’s renew ourselves to build the kingdom of God through glorifying Him instead of building our brand. Let’s be people of the book rather than people of the bank account.

Let us unite as the whole body of Christ – regardless of our particular gifts – to glorify Him in our midst. Let us BE the body not just talk about. And when fear comes – be that fear of failure, scary times, money needs, health or anything else – let it collide with our faith.

And may our faith overcome our fear, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

 

Remember us God, for good…

Mission Complete

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Return of the Priests

We begin this week’s article where we left off in the last article – taking inventory of those who returned. We have this week the priests and the Levites numbered and accounted for. Why is this important? Well these were the leaders of the Temple. Without priests and Levites, there was no Temple worship. This is especially true of the High Priest. He was THE priest. He is the guy who would enter the Holy of Holies once a year to sprinkle the mercy seat. Without him, well, it wouldn’t be good. The High Priest’s genealogy was very important. Only certain men could serve God as His High Priest. So the people of Israel had to be meticulous in their record keeping. In these first few verses of chapter seven we see 22 leaders given who returned in 537BC.

We also see in this first section the heads of the priestly families. The High Priests are listed in v. 22. The Darius mentioned as Darius the Persian was more than likely Darius II who reigned from 423 – 404 BC. And one more note to make here. The Book of Chronicles mentioned here is not the canonical book by the same name. It was probably another book that listed names and genealogies.

Dedicating the Wall

In this section we see the action taken by the people. This probably happened right after the other dedication services recorded in chapter 11. This is important. The people were dedicating everything to their God. They knew that it was because of who He is that they were back in the land and able to be a nation again. Lets look at how they prepared and what they did to dedicate this wall to their deliverer.

Preparations for the Dedication

Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites from all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem so that they might celebrate the dedication with gladness, with hymns of thanksgiving and with songs to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps and lyres. So the sons of the singers were assembled from the district around Jerusalem, and from the villages of the Netophathites, from Beth-gilgal and from their fields in Geba and Azmaveth, for the singers had built themselves villages around Jerusalem.The priests and the Levites purified themselves; they also purified the people, the gates and the wall. Nehemiah 12:27-30 NASB

This is a big deal folks. Look at the preparations listed here. First the Levites were sought out from all their places. They (the Levites) were hunted down and invited to take part in this celebratory dedication. Sought out. They were not an after-thought. They were foremost in the mind of the people. It was almost as if the people were saying “we can’t dedicate without the Levites.” This was for good reason. The Levites were the priestly tribe. These were the guys who dedicated themselves to a life serving God in and around the Temple and providing the spiritual needs of the people. Since the whole city of Jerusalem was being dedicated to God, logic would dictate that the Levites would be involved,

But not only were they to be involved, the nature of their involvement was to be one of gladness. Look at the plan that was set in motion. There were to be hymns of thanksgiving, songs, cymbals, harps and lyres. The singers were surrounding Jerusalem so the songs would be heard throughout the city. Wow, this is perhaps the first surround sound system in history! Finally everyone was ritually purified.

So we see here this wasn’t just a party. This was a deeply meaningful spiritual event in the life of the people.

The Dedication Ceremonies

Then I had the leaders of Judah come up on top of the wall, and I appointed two great choirs, the first proceeding to the right on top of the wall toward the Refuse Gate. Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah followed them, with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, and some of the sons of the priests with trumpets; and Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his kinsmen, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. And Ezra the scribe went before them. At the Fountain Gate they went directly up the steps of the city of David by the stairway of the wall above the house of David to the Water Gate on the east.The second choir proceeded to the left, while I followed them with half of the people on the wall,above the Tower of Furnaces, to the Broad Wall, and above the Gate of Ephraim, by the Old Gate, by the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate; and they stopped at the Gate of the Guard. Then the two choirs took their stand in the house of God. So did I and half of the officials with me; and the priests, Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah, with the trumpets;  and Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malchijah, Elam and Ezer. And the singers sang, with Jezrahiah their leader, and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.On that day men were also appointed over the chambers for the stores, the contributions, the first fruits and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions required by the law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who served. For they performed the worship of their God and the service of purification, together with the singers and the gatekeepers in accordance with the command of David and of his son Solomon. For in the days of David and Asaph, in ancient times, there were leaders of the singers, songs of praise and hymns of thanksgiving to God. So all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah gave the portions due the singers and the gatekeepers as each day required, and set apart the consecrated portion for the Levites, and the Levites set apart the consecrated portion for the sons of Aaron. Nehemiah 12:21-47 NASB

 

What a sight this must have been. We have one large choir on the city wall walking around it in a counterclockwise direction. Then there was another choir on the same wall walking in the opposite direction. Both these choirs were probably singing as they walked around the city. Imagine the spectacle! What joy and happiness was evident in the re-dedication of their city to God. The celebration continued with the meeting at the Temple and sacrifices being made. All these folks on a wall that Tobiah said would fall down if a tiny fox had run on it. How do you feel now Mr. Helper? Singing, sacrifices, rejoicing. Oh the spectacle.

Nehemiah’s work – his vision and burden – had been completed. The city was restored, the wall rebuilt. The Temple was once again offering sacrifices. Israel was a nation again. Nehemiah and the people that returned reestablished themselves as a people once again, not just slaves of another nation. The feeling must have been wonderful.

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How often do we enter into worship with expectations that God will restore us? Or that He will even be present? How joyful are we to gather in whatever building you gather in as a church? I know in the United States there is a certain routine to it all. We sing a song or two, have announcements, sing another song or two or three, have a sermon, sing a song, take an offering and say goodbye. Oh yeah, we pray a couple times too. It all seems so routine.

I wonder what it would be like to just have a time together that was filled with rejoicing and praising God in song and testimonies of His goodness. You know, get out of the routine and cut loose with praise and rejoicing? I wonder what would happen if we left our bulletins behind, our order of service put away, and simply praised God in song, prayer and testimonies. I wonder, I really wonder…

Roll Call

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Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

Sometimes a passage in Scripture can seem as interesting as watching grass grow or paint dry. Let’s be honest, sometimes what is in the Bible – what God considers important – is a bit confusing and, on the surface, seems a tad on the boring side. This is especially true when it comes to genealogies and lists in general. I don’t know about you but I find myself sometimes asking God why He puts this stuff in the Bible. Sometimes I miss the blessing that is there because I see only with my physical eyes.

Today’s passage in Nehemiah is like that. Sort of. On the surface this passage seems as appetizing as a bowl of hot sand. But if we take a little time and exert some effort, we will soon see that it is as tasty as a filet Mignon. Or whatever food you’d like to put in there. Let’s take a bite out of God’s word and see that it is indeed good.

Nehemiah and the people he has led, have rebuilt Jerusalem. They have achieved their goal of once-again fortifying their city. Jerusalem – and her inhabitants – were once again a nation. But there was only one issue left. No one inhabited the rebuilt city! Before Nehemiah Jerusalem was a city without walls. Now, after rebuilding was completed, Jerusalem was a city without a population. Here in Nehemiah 11 we see Nehemiah’s efforts to repopulate Jerusalem.

 

The Voluntary Draft

Voluntary draft? Don’t those terms contradict themselves? Well, kind of. There are a lot of these types of contradictory terms around. Grammarians call these things oxymorons. A few examples would be military intelligence, congressional ethics and so on. I bet you can think of a few too. But I think the terms voluntary draft fit what is going to happen here in Nehemiah. Nehemiah held a voluntary draft to repopulate the City.

Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem, but the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while nine-tenths remained in the other cities.  And the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem. Now these are the heads of the provinces who lived in Jerusalem, but in the cities of Judah each lived on his own property in their cities—the Israelites, the priests, the Levites, the temple servants and the descendants of Solomon’s servants. Some of the sons of Judah and some of the sons of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem Nehemiah 11:1-4a NASB

Think of the beautiful city of Jerusalem Newly minted, wonderfully protected and sitting high over the land of Israel. It is the capital of the nation but it has no people. Imagine how quite it was. How can one have a capital city that is uninhabited? That isn’t really possible. Nehemiah could have simply issued an order to populate the city. He was the governor and leader. I know that is how it would have worked in the Marine Corps. A group of us would have been voluntold to populate it and we would have dutifully moved in. But Nehemiah is going to take a different approach.

Nehemiah traveled through the towns where the people were located and cast lots to see who was called to live in Jerusalem. He would have expected that person and family to move in. But what is interesting is the use of the word volunteer in this section. Evidently the people could decline the invitation from God to move to Jerusalem. If someone declined, the lot was cast again and the process continued until a willing heart was found.

Many were called but only a relative few were willing. And those who were willing were blessed by the people for volunteering for this mission.

There are those reading this who have been called to a task by God. But you are either unwilling or still considering answering that call. I know what it is like to be faced with a decision like this. But let me tell you from experience that answering God’s call and volunteering to follow Him is a decision you won’t regret. It will be difficult in times like ours. But the reward – while not necessarily experienced here and now – is great. How are you doing choosing to follow God’s call on your life? Are you struggling with that decision?

Nehemiah’s List

Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, of the sons of Perez; and Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Col-hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of the Shilonite. All the sons of Perez who lived in Jerusalem were 468 able men.

Now these are the sons of Benjamin: Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah; and after him Gabbai and Sallai, 928. Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer, and Judah the son of Hassenuah was second in command of the city. Nehemiah 11:4b-9 NASB

Beginning with the second part of v. 4 we will go through a series of lists that seem to have little application to us today. But let’s keep our eyes opened to what God is saying through these verses, OK?

The first set of names focus on two very important groups: the tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin. These tribes made up the southern kingdom of Judah. There are 468 from Judah and 928 from the tribe of Benjamin. Why are these interesting? I’m glad you asked!

Let’s take a look at the descendants of Perez. These make up a portion of the men labeled “468 able bodied men”. Now Perez had an interesting beginning. In Genesis 38 the tale of his conception through birth is told. Remember that his father Judah conceived Perez with his (Judah’s) own daughter-in-law. So Perez would be considered an illegitimate son. In fact there were twins in this birth. The first child began to emerge so the midwife tied a thread around that child’s finger to document which came first. But that arm went back in and the other child, named Perez, came out first! This is why this baby was named Perez. The meaning of the name Perez is roughly breaking out. And breaking out he did! Even though Perez had a rather difficult beginning and was regarded as illegitimate, he became one of the greatest heroes of Judah. He was so much so a hero that he was still being talked about 400 years after Judah lived. Another interesting fact is that his descendants are called the brave men of Perez.

Let’s move on to Benjamin. This tribe volunteered more than twice the number of Perez despite being a smaller tribe. Once again the history here is quite interesting. In the Book of Judges the sordid background of Benjamin is given. To make a long story short, in the last few chapters Benjamin’s devolution into a people who practiced sexual sin culminating in the practice of homosexuality. This was seen as a stain on the nation since homosexuality was thoroughly condemned by God. But here was a tribe that was openly practicing it.

Two very important men came from this tribe. The first one was named Saul. He was the first King of Israel. He started out well but jealousy and self-centeredness reduced him to an utter failure. He had forty years of reigning over Israel as a bitter, angry man. Saul was in full rebellion against God. Saul finally kills himself on the battlefield and ends his time as king.

Another person followed almost exactly an opposite path as Saul. That person’s name was Saul! Now Saul number two began his life as a man dedicated to God’s word, slid into intolerance of God’s Messiah and the Messiah’s called out ones, persecuted them, murdered them and finally came to be one with them. Do you know about whom I speak? Yep, that Saul. He wrote a lot of the New Testament. We know him as Paul. He was from the tribe of Benjamin. Amazing.

These two men so important in God’s story had such ordinary beginnings and such a tortured tribal history. But here they are. Can you see what God is teaching? Regardless of your beginning or your family history, God isn’t finished writing your story yet. He is going to use you for His glory.

Be ready to hear His call on your life. That means that you are growing steadily toward Christlikeness, holy living and faithful dependence on Him. Be ready when He calls to volunteer to follow Him. Following God’s call on your life is not necessarily an easy thing to do. Sometimes the call can lead to heartbreak. I know all too well about that. But that heartbreak is not the end or even the purpose of His call. God is about bringing glory to Himself. He uses us in specific situations to do just that.

SO whenever you are called into a situation that seems difficult or daunting, remember that it is for God’s glory and not your comfort that He calls you.

Be ready for His call. Listen for His call. And volunteer to follow His call.

To God be the glory.

Amen.

 

A Six Pack of Promises

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If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

I remember when I was growing up that I wanted to have what is termed “six pack abs”. Do you know what I mean? That term refers to one’s ab muscles being so well developed that they look similar to six individual muscle groups – a six pack if you will. Well needless to say, I’ve never quite developed those abs. I have 2 liter abs right now. My abs look like a couple of liters of soda rather than anything that resembles a six pack. But oh well.

We continue in chapter ten experiencing a number of promises the nation made to God. Now remember that they have committed in writing to these promises. Actually, they committed to keep these promises to God. And boy are they serious. These folks have had enough of wishy-washy thinking. They not only said they would keep the Law in general terms but now they are spelling out exactly what they mean. And these terms are specific. These promises, unlike my abs, were well developed and stood out from their previous behavior. These promises would definitely qualify as a six pack…a six pack of promises to God! (All verses are taken from the New American Standard Bible)

 

Promise to be Pure

and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.

Now on the surface this looks kind of odd. And I guess it really is. In the Law, Israel was forbidden to intermarry with any of the nations, regardless of the physical beauty of their people or the standing in society. This was done to keep the nation’s blood pure and dedicated to the Lord. Here the nation recommits to keep that alive. They are refusing to allow daughters or sons to be given to (or take) a husband or wife from any of the nations around them. This was a heavy promise to make. There was a limited number of brides available in the nation. But these folks decided their promise to marital purity was more important than convenience.

Promise to Keep the Sabbath Holy

As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

Every seventh day, the nation was supposed to cease from labor and take a day off. They weren’t supposed to work at all but take time from their labor. Likewise, every seventh year they were supposed to allow the land to take a rest from it’s labor of producing crops. So the people had to trust that the sixth year would yield enough food to last them for two years. They had to trust. They needed to have faith that God would meet their needs.

Evidently they had been neglecting these commands. They were not trusting, they were not believing that God would provide for them. But now, after God so magnificently provided all they needed to rebuild their wall and the Temple,  they made a promise to show the faith in God they should have been demonstrating all along.

Promise to Tithe

We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood among the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law;

Now this is a big bite of verses to cover. But the gist of it is that they decided they wold renew their pledge to give as the Lord demanded, not how they felt like doing. Now look what they are promising to do. They promise to give for the showbread, the continual grain offering, the burnt offering and so on. They were pledging to take care of the Temple and the needs for the sacrifices that were deemed necessary. Now understand this; this promise wasn’t cheap. This was an expensive promise. I’m sure they intended to make good on it.

Now why do all this? They were obviously convicted about their past conduct. They knew that the Temple needed these things. Instead of withholding them or simply ignoring them, they decided to to explicitly state that they would fulfill the needs as required by the Law. These folks were serious, weren’t they.

 

Promise to Keep the Sacrifices

and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the Lord annually, and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God. We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God

Again, here is another very expensive promise. The nation is promising to bring the first of everything to the Temple. There are no leftovers here! They are bringing the first fruits of the field, their herds, their flocks and every bit of what they have. They are bringing the first of it all, not what is left over.

God is serious about being first in everything – and rightly so. The nation, in their rebellion, had decided to make Him somewhere down the list of priorities. He didn’t like that much…actually He didn’t like it at all. So the nation learned a hard lesson. And now they are pledging the first of everything. The best. The very best for God.

 

Promise to Provide

the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns. The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse.For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers.

These promises have to do directly with the Levites. Now the Levites, in case you don’t know, were the priestly class of people. Their only job was to minister in the Temple. In fact they could not do anything else. The people of the nation were to provide for them. This didn’t always happen and the Levites were challenged to either starve or break the Law. Guess which one they did? But it should have never been that way. If the people had taken things seriously, the Levites would have always had their needs met. There would have been no conflict.

But the people didn’t always provide as they should. This caused a domino effect to happen. The nation’s adherence to the Law crumbled and so did the nation. Now  the people appear to be serious about providing for those who minister in the Temple of God.

Promise to be a Steward

Thus we will not neglect the house of our God.

This promise looks small in comparison tot he other ones made in this passage. Perhaps this is the biggest one. It is at least the one that encompasses all the others. The people simply stated “We aren’t going to ignore Your house anymore, God.” And by not ignoring His house, they pledge not to ignore Him. How refreshing that must have been for God to hear these words. His people have decided to return to Him.

They decided that He did know best. They decided that He is right – all the time. They decided that His way is the only way to live.

 

So what does this have to do with us, the Church? While we are definitely not under the Law, we can learn a few things about living for God instead of ourselves. When we place God first in our lives, all other things pale in comparison. Money, position, future wives or husbands don’t really matter. All that matters is our commitment to God. Oh sure other things still occur, but their relative importance is in proper perspective.

If we place God first in our romantic life, financial life, and spiritual life, we will reap rewards that are enormously more that what we could ever imagine.

How are you doing with this? Is God first and foremost in your life or is He somewhere else on your list of priorities? How is your commitment to supporting your Pastor? Helping at church? Are you willing to do some work around the building and give money so your Pastor can dedicate himself to studying and preaching the Word of God?

Still Faithful

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God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

We come to the end of chapter nine…finally to the end of chapter nine! Have you felt like this was an unending journey? There have been times I thought that this chapter would never end. But like most things, it has an end. finding that end is a bit bittersweet though. I’m glad to be moving on but so humbled and challenged by what was here.

The ending to this chapter is as powerful – perhaps more powerful – than the rest of the chapter. Here we will see the consummation of the recounting of Israel’s up and down relationship with God. We will see the end result of that relationship. We will also see that, unlike this chapter and many other things in life, some things never end. We will discover the never-ending faithfulness of God remembered and praised.     

 

Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:32-37 NASB

There is so much in this section of chapter nine I could write for a few more weeks. But I won’t. I promise. The richness that we have come accustomed to is prevalent here as well. Let’s take a look at some key words and key concepts written about in these first few verses.

The first thing I notice is how the people thought about God. Look at the words used to describe God:

He is Great

In the eyes of the people, God is great. The Hebrew word used, gadol, carries with it the idea of distinguished, great in magnitude or strength, and of God Himself. In other words, this is not considered faint praise. Imagine loud trumpets announcing a very important person arriving. Think of all the pomp and circumstance  associated with someone very important arriving. Now multiply that image a million times. Actually, multiply it by infinity. That is the idea of this word when used of God. He is so great He is beyond human comprehension. Wow.

He is Mighty

God is seen also as a mighty one. This word should make us think of a brave, strong warrior type. This is used to once again describe God in an interesting way. They thought of God as their protector – mighty and strong – able to defeat all who opposed. God was seen as so strong that the people realized that there were no accidents in their lives, only incidents. If God chose to prevent anything from happening to the people, He certainly could. The opposite is also true. If God lifted His protection, things could (and did) happen to Israel. So everything came from the hand of God.

He is Awesome

The word awesome is probably one of the most overused words in the English language. This word really packs a punch. We ought not use it so often that we cheapen or lose the meaning of it or how strong a word it is. This word has the meaning of striking fear, to honor, respect, to stand in awe. To call God awesome is to call Him worthy of awe, respect and honor. This is a powerful term that we overuse. While there are many wonderful things on this earth, very few (if any) are truly awesome. Truly, God really is the only One to Whom the word awesome should be applied

Now that we have set the stage regarding how God was viewed by the people, let’s take a look at how they reviewed their situation.

In this section the people plead with God to remember that the people’s troubles are not insignificant. Now what are those troubles? Captivity of course. Even though they have rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, have re-instituted the Law and sought forgiveness, they were still a people in captivity. And they asked God not to forget about their situation.

Remember in our discussion of God being described as mighty? Remember that all came from His hand either through His actions or His removal of protection. Well we see this truth acknowledged here:

However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly.

The people recognized that God had been faithful with them while they had been unfaithful to Him. Isn’t that how it goes? God remains faithful while we rebel, stray and basically act like brats. But He is still faithful. His faithfulness should never be in doubt.

All that had come upon Israel – and us today (we are not Israel, but the principle is the same) – is the result of our unfaithfulness not His.

Again, the people recount the specific acts of unfaithfulness: they did not keep God’s Law, God’s commandments or His admonishments. They decided they knew better and went their own way. They lived in the kingdom God gave them yet did evil and refused to repent. And what was the result of their actions? You got it – captivity with a capital C. they became slaves. The kings over them ruled over their very bodies and their possessions. The people had no will of their own. They asked God not to forget them in their distress.

Writing it Down

Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests. Nehemiah 9:38 NASB

The final verse in this section is the codifying of their agreement. The people were under such conviction that they wrote the agreement down. This was not so much to remind God but to remind the people. It was a kind of living will. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew how serious they thought these issues were.

The word used translated in the phrase making an agreement is the word karath. This is a fairly rare word in the Old Testament. It basically means to cut. It would most fit with the idea of cutting a covenant. Now what does that mean? When a covenant was cut, the agreement was made in this manner. Animals were cut in half and placed so that there was an aisle between the various parts. The two making the covenant would then walk between the bodies symbolizing two things. One thing that was symbolized was that the covenant was sealed. The terms were to be treated as the animals – dead. That meant that the terms could not changed – they were dead. The second thing in view is that each of the covenant makers were saying that they would become like the animals – dead – if they broke the covenant. So this was a big deal to the people. They wrote it down, memorializing their commitment to God and giving it the force of a cut covenant.

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So what shall we do with all this then? We don’t have to cut covenants anymore, do we? Well I think the big takeaway from this entire chapter is that God’s faithfulness is everlasting. There is no end to it. He may remove His protection from time-to-time so that we may be disciplined. But even in that act, He is faithful to us.

Let’s learn from Israel’s examples. Let us not rebel anymore. Let us obey God. Let us rejoice in His commandments. Let us stand for His truth. Let us depend on Him and His Word rather than our own smarts. Let’s live faithfully to the One who is everlastingly faithful.

 

The Song Remains the Same

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God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

This great prayer of repentance and remembrance continues here in chapter 9. As I read through the passage for this week I remembered something my brother and I used to say all the time: the song remains the same.  We said that to each other as a way of conveying the fact that nothing had changed in our lives despite a separation by our living miles apart.

In the passage today, as the people repent and remember the past, we see that in Israel’s history, the song remains the same. Let’s review last week’s article focused on some important points that I want to stress again in order to experience the gravity of this week.

One of the takeaways from last week was that God keeps His promises. We saw this in a couple of actions, first by God then in Israel’s response. The end of this was that Israel entered and possessed the land God promised to them. Israel had acted in faith and followed what God said (after a rebellious generation had passed). So this generation would be on-fire, right?

Not. So. Fast.

The Song Remains the Same

But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies. Nehemiah 9:26-27 NASB

This part of this prayer begins with a big  BUT. There isn’t a better word in any language to stress how significant a shift has taken place. The Israelites, who had possessed the land God promised, had victories over others as God promised and prospered in their home now decided they knew better than God. Oh boy, here we go again.

Look at what this new crop of Israelites did. First the were disobedient and rebelled against God. The next phrase sums up everything: they turned their backs on your law. You see Israel was now smarter than God – or at least they thought they were. God gave His law to Israel for their protection. He regulated their worship life so they would please Him. God was generous with them. He blessed them. He provided for them. And what did they do in return for all of God’s benevolent gifts? They rebelled. They turned their backs on Him.

But they didn’t stop there. God sent prophets to correct Israel’s path. One would think that Israel would listen to these prophets. But no, sadly Israel did just the opposite. They refused to  listen and then killed the prophets God had sent. But it didn’t end there. Look at what happened: they performed awful blasphemies. They took God’s perfect law and turned it on its head. They did the opposite of What God wanted the to do. So God took them out of the land and gave them to those who would oppress them. God disciplined His people.

But when they repented and cried out, God  heard them and had compassion on them. God sent Israel deliverers. These deliverers took Israel out of bondage and back to where they belonged.  God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.

 

Israel’s Heart of Disobedience

But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. Nehemiah 9:28 NASB

I feel I should just copy and paste my first section here! Everything that happened before happened again. What  a sad commentary on their heart. They continued to rebel and refuse to follow what God prescribed for them. The last few words of v. 28 indicates the breadth of God’s compassion: you delivered them time after time.

God’s Abounding Grace and Mercy

You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:29-31 NASB

In these last few verses we see an important indication of God’s character: He pursued Israel, He wanted them to turn back to Him. Look at the time in view – for many years…” This wasn’t a one time ordeal. This went on for years. And years. And years. Still God pursued them. Still God loved them. Still God had compassion on them. God’s abounding grace and mercy is on display here. Look at v. 31:

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

What else could I possibly say about God? He is gracious and merciful. Even with all the disobedience, arrogance, stiff-neckedness that Israel has displayed throughout the years, God still – STILL – showed them mercy. How’s that for a giving God!

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So what does this mean to us? This is all about Israel, right? Well, no it isn’t all about Israel. This is all about God. God reveals Himself as a compassionate, long-suffering and patient God. Regardless of how many times we fail to do what is right – regardless of how many times we fail to obey – if we truly belong to Him He will never – NEVER – abandon us or turn His back on us.

That truth should not encourage us to sin more but to sin less. Because He is so compassionate and willing to endure our up and down behavior, we should be more sensitive to when we fall short. We should want to obey Him more because of who He is. God’s compassion should make us more willing to obey, not less.

How are you doing with that?

True Compassion

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Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

When we remember all that God did to deliver His people from Egypt we should be amazed. God performed miracle upon miracle to get His people out of that place and to glorify His name. One would think that the ones who were delivered would never forget about the wonderful things God did. But they did forget. Boy, did they ever forget!

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery.  -Nehemiah 9:16-17

Just as the people recalled God’s goodness, they also remembered their ancestor’s rebellion. Look at how they are referred to in this passage. They are called arrogant, stiff-necked and disobedient. They did not listen and did not remember. They chose to go in a different direction than God had for them. They sure were kind of “out there”. Lets look at a few things in this description.

First they became arrogant. Have you ever seen this type of transformation take place? It is a sight to behold. But it is a sad thing to witness too. To see a previous humble servant of Christ get full of himself and believe that everything is all about him is sad indeed. Politicians, singers, bands and writers have suffered through this type of transformation.

Next they became stiff-necked.  Now what does this mean? Well, the best way I can explain it is that they rebelled and rebelled obstinately. So think of someone so set on rebellion that they have no other course of conduct available. That is sad isn’t it?

They disobeyed, didn’t listen and didn’t remember. They were a mess.They chose their path and walked down it. They left God and His precepts. This rebellion led them to their destination. And that destination wasn’t freedom. No, that destination was slavery.

Before we get all full of ourselves and criticize Israel for doing this lets consider how many times we have done the exact same things. Have you ever wandered? Ever refused listen to the Holy Spirit and either doing something or not doing something He is prompting? Me too. Too many times in fact. But we should be encouraged by the person we know as God. Look at the next verse or two:

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.Therefore you did not desert them,   -Nehemiah 9:17

Grace and compassion

God shows His graciousness towards Israel. Notice how God is described: forgiving, gracious and compassionate. Are you known by those words? When I ask myself that question, I’m not too pleased with the answer. I often can be one of those three once in  awhile but I have a difficult time being all three all of the time. Maybe this is true of you too. But thankfully God is not mankind. He is all these things.

The final sentence here is spellbinding to me: Therefore you did not desert them. Think about the statement being made. God had every right to desert Israel. Hey, for that matter, they had already deserted Him! God would have been fully justified in leaving them behind. But He didn’t.

Similarly we wander from God, We don’t listen or obey. We judge, hurt and become proud. God has every reason to desert us – we have already deserted Him. But, just like God’s actions towards Israel, He doesn’t desert us. What a loving and compassionate God we serve!

And what’s more there seems to be no limit to what God endured with the Israelites.

When there were idols

even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies.    -Nehemiah 9:18

The Israelites, I’m sure you remember, decided to have an idol. When Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the people below cast themselves an idol and gave the credit for their deliverance from Egypt to this newly-minted golden idol. That had to hurt.

When they wandered

Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them.   -Nehemiah 9:19

Remember the wandering in the desert? That would have been a great place for God to say “I’ve had enough of you. I’m leaving. Figure everything out for yourselves.” But God did not do that. He lovingly and compassionately led them through their sojourn in the desert. He used a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Interestingly, in the Temple, there was smoke or cloud in the most holy place where the glory of God would reside. Finally, He gave His Spirit to guide them.

These folks had it all. Boy, I wished we had this type of guidance today. But you know, we do. We have it even better. We have the Holy Spirit – God Himself – dwelling inside our mortal body. He guides. He instructs. He leads. Think about that. God Almighty lives in us so that He can guide us. Do we listen and follow like we should?

When they complained

You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.    -Nehemiah 9:20

The Israelites complained while wandering in the desert. They complained about the heat. They complained about the food (the Hebrew word Manna means What is it!) It seems they were always upset about something and never thankful for anything. What a bunch of whiners! I bet God really taught them a lesson for all their whining. He did. Just not the lesson that may have popped into your head.

God kept feeding them. God kept giving them water. God sustained them for forty years. An entire generation of people were sustained by God. Their clothes remained in good condition as did their shoes. Their feet never swelled up in spite of all the walking they did. Yeah, God taught them a lesson alright. He taught them  a lesson about love and compassion. How we need that lesson today.

Being loving to the lovable isn’t anything special. Be compassionate on those who are nice is nothing great. But to love the unlovable and be compassionate on the rebellious ones…Wow. Just. Wow.

 

So how are you doing showing compassion and love to everyone around you? Don’t make the mistake thinking loving someone means you never disagree or even rebuke their conduct. Love will be present in those situations. Compassion will be there too. Perhaps God is tugging at your heart as you are reading these words like He is tugging at mine as I write these words. Maybe we need to redouble our efforts to show compassion and others to others in spite of how others are…or how they act.