When Grace Looks Harsh

godsradicalgrace copy

God’s grace has many facets but is the same grace no matter which way we look at it.

When someone utters the word Grace, more often than not the mind wanders to a warm fuzzy feeling. We often think of grace in terms of warm feelings, allowing for differences, and other nice actions. Seldom do we associate a judgement with grace. But did you know that one of God’s most gracious acts was wrapped in a judgement?

Genesis 3 details how Adam and Eve first sinned in the Garden of Eden. They were given free reign in the Garden. They were supposed to tend the Garden but I’m sure they enjoyed other things as well. I’m positive it was a beautiful life. Imagine living in a perfect world with a beautiful wife and daily walking with the perfect God. What an amazing life. To remain in this place all Adam and Eve had to do was obey. Simple obedience. Well, it isn’t so simple is it.

Adam and Eve sinned. The took and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was the only tree that God had told them not to partake. But they didn’t obey and they broke God’s command. The immediate effect of their sin was apparent – their eyes were opened to a world that went way beyond what they thought. Instead of being enlightened as the serpent said they would be, their minds were darkened by sin and shame. God found them and judged them all. After pronouncing His judgment on the serpent, Adam, and Eve, God continued

Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22-24 NASB

God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden – their home – for their sin as a gracious act. Now you may wonder how in the world can expulsion from the very presence of God, His perfect world can be viewed as an act of grace? Let’s take a look.

The key to this is that God wanted to prevent Adam and Eve  from eating from the tree of life and thus living forever. Now why would living forever be a bad thing? Isn’t eternal life a good thing?

Eternal life in Christ is a very good thing. We can be sure of our destination. But eternal life also includes life in eternal separation from God. That means forever being separated from being God’s friend – never being redeemed, always being condemned. That eternal life isn’t such a great thing for those who experience it. But it is the destiny of the unredeemed. And it is exactly what God was graciously preventing from happening to Adam and Eve.

If Adam and Eve had eaten from the tree of life while in their sinful state, they would have never died, never been redeemed and never been reconciled. As the head of the human race, this means that their children (read us) would probably be in the same status: unredeemable. God’s grace said NO! to that proposition.

God expelled Adam and Eve in order to redeem them. He expelled them so they could not live forever in their sinful state. He expelled them so that He would draw them closer to Him. He expelled them because He loved them and desired them to spend etenity with Him. That is grace.

Amazing grace. Radical grace

When you think of God shedding His grace on you, remember that

When He disciplines you, He is beng gracious to you. He doesn’t want you to continue in unrighteous behaviours, but to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

When God takes through trials – whatever type they may be – know that He is acting graciously towards you so that you will grow in Him.

When you face hardships, whether those are of the financial type, health type, or some other type, know that God is acting graciously towards you.

 

God’s grace has many facets but is the same grace no matter which way we look at it. It is His grace that He extends to us. His unmerited favor that He grants to us. The fact that He extends it to us – a sinful, rebellious, self-absorbed people – is something truly amazing.

God’s grace IS radical.

 

Built on God’s Provision

The Path Less Traveled Final

When we choose to walk the path of holiness rather than the road of mediocrity, we will have all we need to walk that path.

 

“Just keep going. This will all be worth the effort” I was told as I ran through the hills behind my base. I was in the US Marine Corps at the time and I was running with a friend in what was termed “The Hills” behind my base in California. These hills were steep – both going up and going down – and seemingly took forever to run through.

As we ran I was ready to give up. I yelled to Sgt. Ski “I’m done. I’m done.”

Sgt. Ski told me to keep going. “There is a reward at the end of this” he yelled to me. All through our run he ran with me. He didn’t run ahead of me. He didn’t run behind me. He ran with me.

When we finished our run, I was shown my reward: a job well done. It was strangely satisfying. I had ran with Sgt. Ski and followed the directives of my Commanding Officer to continue to train and be in top physical shape. Though running “The Hills” were difficult, it was well worth it. My CO provided the command. Sgt. Ski ran with me, encouraging me  to continue.

In my final article in this series and in Genesis 22, we see how God provided for Abraham. Let’s take a look and discover the way God provides for us as we walk on the path less traveled.

 

Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Abraham called the name of that place The Lord Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.”                 – Genesis 22:13-14 NASB

The Unexpected Expectation Met

Remember when Abraham and Isaac were trekking up the mountain? Do you remember Issac asking his father where the lamb for the sacrifice was? Issac saw the wood, saw the fire but didn’t see the lamb needed for the sacrifice. Abraham responded that God Himself would provide the lamb.

Understanding what Abraham was thinking – or at least trying to understand – is not productive. Was he thinking that the sacrifice would be his son Isaac? Did Abraham think God would make a substitute available? We simply don’t know because the text doesn’t go any further on Abraham’s comment. And that is a good thing.

What is interesting is that Abraham’s expectation was for a lamb.

 

The Hebrew word usedseh for lamb, seh, means a young sheep, or young lamb. The picture to the right is a very good representation of what Abraham expected God to provide.

 

 

The Hebrew word used for the ram here is the word ayilWhen you see that word think of one of those big-horned sheep. This wasn’t some little thing this was B-I-G BIG!

 

'ayil

Do you see the difference? The size of the sacrifice that Abraham expected and what God delivered could not be more different. God provided much more than Abraham imagined He would.

 

The Expected Sacrifice Made

So Abraham made the sacrifice he expected to make. The only difference was the subject of the sacrifice. Abraham – by all indications – expected to sacrifice his son but perhaps was hoping for a lamb instead, followed God’s instructions to the letter. God had a different idea. God supplied much more than Abraham needed for the sacrifice that God demanded. God was much more generous to Abraham (and Isaac) than either could have imagined. Hmmm.

 

The Expected Provision Remembered

Abraham made the sacrifice.He killed the ram provided by God. He named that place “The Lord will provide.” Remember that God sent Abraham to the mountain of Moriah. We saw that in v. 2. The word Moriah is a Hebrew participle meaning the place of seeing. The idea that we glean from that in this context is where God sees, God provides. So Abraham named that spot as the place where God saw and provided.

Where are you on this path less traveled? Where are you in the pursuit of holiness? Are you at a point of appointed sacrifice?

The lesson we should learn – the one we better learn – is that God’s provision for us as we follow Him on the path less traveled is often times much more than we can imagine. And that is OK. While we should expect God to provide for us as we follow Him, we should not expect that provision will be small.

When we choose to walk the path less traveled. When we choose to walk the path of holiness rather than the road of mediocrity, we will have all we need to walk that path. Often we will have much more.

Our walk on this path of holiness is built on nothing less than God’s provision. Regardless of what form it take, it is from God and we should expect that it will be more than enough for us to finish the task God has called us to complete.

Built on Committment!

The Path Less Traveled Final

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed?

This  week we will consider only two verses in  Genesis 22. I chose only two verses because of the many important things that occur in these two verses. To appreciate the importance of Genesis 22 as a whole, we must understand the importance of these two small verses. So off we go into the adventure of Genesis 22:11-12.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

The strong adversative But begins this section. This means there is a contrast to be illustrated in the words following the But. To fully understand the importance of this we must look at what immediately preceded the But here. Remember just prior to this Abraham had journeyed with Isaac, walked up s  mountain, built an altar, and assembled the wood for the sacrifice. He had just bound Isaac and placed him on the wood. And then he took the knife he had and probably placed it to Isaac’s neck. Now think about this for a  moment.

Abraham had not only followed God to the mountain of sacrifice. Not only did Abraham demonstrate his faith by walking with Isaac up the mountain to the place of sacrifice, but so did Isaac when they came to the altar. Isaac, remember, is probably a late teen by this time. He could have resisted at any point and Abraham would have been powerless to stop him.

But Isaac followed his dad and God to the point of death.

That brings us to the But in this week’s passage. And boy it is a big But. Imagine this scene: Isaac is bound and on the altar. Abraham has his knife in hand. Abraham takes the knife, stretches his hand out to place the knife on Isaac’s throat. He is ready to slice Isaac’s throat and burn his body as a sacrifice to the Lord.

Enter God’s But.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me. Genesis 22:11-12 NASB

Before Abraham could do harm to Isaac, the angel of the Lord interrupted him. Whether this angel was the pre-incarnate Christ or not is not important. Because the angel most definitely had the authority of the Lord in order to speak the way he did. If this was merely an angel sent to speak to Abraham and not the Lord Himself, that angel carries the full authority of the Lord. So the words here carry the same weight. So what did this angel say?

Do not…

The angel said not to stretch out his (Abraham’s) hand against Isaac. The angel was calling off the sacrifice. He said “don’t cut the boy’s throat.” That is quite a statement for the angel to make. This angel had to come with the Lord’s authority for only the Lord could say stop. Abraham was now not to do anything to Isaac. Why?

For now I know….

The angel of the Lord said that he knew that Abraham would not withhold the son of promise from God in any way, shape, matter or form. So what about this: did the Lord learn something about Abraham here? Oh boy, this opens a can of theological worms!

Without spending the next few months wading through that subject, let me say that God did not learn anything about Abraham. It was Abraham who learned something about himself. The context of this passage indicates this. It was in v. 1 that God tested Abraham. God decided to test Abraham’s faith. It seems to me that if God was testing Abraham, then God already had the answer but Abraham had not yet discovered this about himself.

So through the test, God was testing Abraham so that Abraham would learn the extent of his faith in God.

Parents do this to their children all the time. We ask our children questions, place them in situations, so they will react. We already know how they’ll react but they have yet to discover this reaction. When they react the way we knew they would react, have we learned anything? Nope. But we may say something like what the angel said to Abraham.

Abraham learned the extent of his faith in God. Abraham learned that he trusted God to the uttermost. He learned that nothing would ever replace his commitment to God, not even family. Abraham learned that he really did belong to God and would follow Him at whatever the cost. that is a good thing to know.

 

How do we do with knowing our commitment to God? I know we talk a good game about being committed, but are we really committed? If God called me – or you – to a place of sacrifice, would we go? You know, we should know that answer already.

God has called us to be living sacrifices. He has called us to take up our cross and follow Him. He has called us to leave all we know to follow Him on the narrow way into heaven.

We are at the place of sacrifice. Have we – you and me – discovered the extent of our faith? Just like Abraham, have we come to lay all on the altar in worship of Him?

 

 

Built on Obedience

The Path Less Traveled Final

True faith is always followed by obedience and actions.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him; and Abraham built the altar there and arranged the wood, and bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.                            – Genesis 22:9-10 NASB

Whenever you boldly proclaim your faith, be sure that your feet are willing to walk where you proclaim you will go.

 

The journey that Abraham and Isaac had been on had come to it’s apparent end. Evidently God revealed to Abraham where he was to sacrifice Isaac since Abraham recognized the place. Imagine the feeling Abraham had. how would you feel if you had arrived to a place of sacrifice of your son? I can’t imagine the various emotions that  would be raging through me.

I suppose that as I came to the place of sacrifice my eyes would search all around to see a different sacrifice. I would be scouring the countryside for a lamb. ram or some other sacrificial animal. I imagine that i would be slowing down a little as I came to the place of sacrifice. “Where is the lamb?”

Abraham builds the altar. The thoughts running through his head must have been myriad. Abraham was building the altar upon which his son would be sacrificed. Wow. But Abraham did not stop there. He arranged the wood that would consume Isaac’s body.

Now pay close attention to the next part. Abraham bound Isaac and placed him on the altar. Isaac was probably a teen not a child if I’m reading the Hebrew correctly. So why does this matter?

Isaac could have resisted. Isaac could have run away at any point in this journey. Isaac could have said no and left his father Abraham. He must have known by now he was going to be the sacrifice. There is no record of Isaac negotiating with his father. There is nothing in the record that leads me to believe that Isaac objected in any way. Isaac was totally submitted to his father’s will. Ultimately Isaac was submitted to his Father’s will – God’s will.

Isaac was resolute in giving his all to God. There is no other way to interpret this. He was resolved to follow God’s will up to and including the point of death. How would I react to this? As either Abraham or Isaac, how would I react. How about you. Hmmm.

But Abraham’s actions did not end there. Look at the text – he (Abraham) stretched out his hand, took the knife with the intent of slaying his son. Abraham was following God’s call to the very end. Isaac was submitting to God’s call to the very end – the end of his life.

Now remember that Isaac was the son of promise. This is the son through whom God will make a great nation. This is the son God promised to Abraham and Sarah even though they were old. This was God’s miracle child to Abraham and Sarah. And now he is going to kill him and burn him on an altar by God’s command.

Let’s think about this for a moment. What was Abraham demonstrating? Well, we really have two main options. Abraham could have been demonstrating faith. He also could have been demonstrating obedience. let’s look at each of these.

 

Abraham’s Faith

He had to believe God had a plan to either restore Isaac to life or to provide a way out of slaying Isaac.

Abraham has demonstrated faith throughout this journey to sacrifice his son Isaac. Certainly he is at the very least demonstrating faith in this part of the journey. He would have to be a man of faith to go this far. He had to believe God had a plan to either restore Isaac to life or to provide a way out of slaying Isaac since God promised to make Abraham a great nation through this son and all the nations would be blessed through him. so yes, Abraham was demonstrating faith.

 

Abraham’s Obedience

Look at what Abraham did, not just believed.

Abraham was also demonstrating obedience to God’s call. He followed God’s instructions without question, debate, or compromise. He followed not only with his mind but also with his feet. He obeyed God. Look at what Abraham did, not just believed. Abraham took his son and servants and set out on a journey to an unknown place. God said “go!” and Abraham went.

Abraham ascended the mountain with his son, wood, fire and knife for the sacrifice of his son. Abraham took the tools that would lead to his son’s death and ascended to the place of the sacrifice. In fact he loaded the son with the wood that would consume his son’s body.

When he arrived at the place of sacrifice he built an altar. He put the wood on the altar. He bound his son and placed him on the altar. He took the knife and planned to cut his son’s throat and sacrifice his son.

Abraham did all these things. This is what I believe is being stressed here. Abraham – and Isaac – obeyed God to the uttermost. What a lesson for us today.

 

So how are you at obeying God? I’m not concerned with what you say, I’m concerned with what you do. When God calls you to a difficult place, do you complain?

What if God calls you to a physical ailment to demonstrate His grace. Do you complain about your situation? Or, do you take your physical ailment in stride knowing that God is the One who sustains you.

Maybe God calls you to the difficult place of joblessness. Perhaps He calls you to a life where you live without a spouse. Maybe your dream is not what Gods wants for you. Will you obey God’s call and release your dream? Definitely food for thought.

Whenever you boldly proclaim your faith, be sure that your feet are willing to walk where you proclaim you will go.

Make sure that your actions always support your professed faith. Our path of holiness is one that is built on obedience. As James stated in his epistle, faith that does  not have works is a dead faith, In other words, if you proclaim faith in God yet do not obey Him, then your faith is questionable.

True faith is always followed by obedience and actions.

 

Digging at Diligence

The Path Less Traveled Final

Our walk on the path less traveled is not to simply gain knowledge for ourselves for the sake of gaining knowledge. It is to gain knowledge, tempered with wisdom, to pass on to those who desire it a deeper, much more personal knowledge of just who God is and what His word states.

 

Does God’s Church care about learning the deep things of God’s Word? I don’t know the answer to that question. For sure we are busy these days. We have jobs that usually require us to commute, political tensions, wars and rumors of wars. We have lots of distractions in the form of entertainment that vie for our attention and time. Where do we spend our time? Where do we invest ourselves? How we answer those questions tells the story of our desire to be be disciples of Christ and not just associated with Him.

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15 NASB

There is quite a bit to unpack in these few words of Paul to Timothy. Let’s give this a shot and see what we need to do to be disciples – disciplined ones – of Christ.

Be Diligent

Paul begins with a command to be diligent. The Greek word here is spoudazoThis word means to proceed quickly, hurry, hasten or to be especially conscientious in discharging  an obligation. The second definition fits best with the context here in 2 Timothy. Think of the word zealous and you’ll have a good understanding of the word spoudazo. Getting a bit more technical, this context has it as an aorist present imperative. It is a command that, unlike the present active imperative, is expected to be done once. It also has the nuance of a completed task. So taking this all together, we have a command that is supposed to be completed and that thing to be completed is a basically a mindset. It is an attitude that we decide to have. But what are we to be diligent about?

 

Present Yourself

Our decision to be diligent is with the end being presenting ourselves to God. We are to be zealous to present – offer, or appear before – ourselves to God. That is our mindset. But this isn’t just showing up in front of God and saying “Here I am, God.” No this presentation of ourselves is with a caveat: as an approved workman who does not need to be ashamed. We are to show ourselves to God unashamed. We are to show ourselves as approved workmen. The word for approved is dokimos which has the idea of refinement having taken place. The verb for of this word, dokimazo, is also used of the process of refining silver to rid it of impurities. In that process the silver becomes more valuable and stronger because  the impurities are burned out of it under increasing heat.

This is THE picture I want in your head: a pot of silver bubbling over the ever-increasing heat of a furnace.

The silver is you and me. The heat from the furnace are the trials of life that put us under pressure. But  who is tending the fire? The master craftsman Himself – God – is stoking the flames. He is increasing the heat on use to purify us so that we can present ourselves to Himself as approved – having been tried, purified and sanctified by the flames and heat of His furnace. This is the meaning of dokimos.

The idea of approved here is just that: there is no chance of failure. When God begins the process, you will be approved.

Accurately Handling the Word of Truth

The final clause in this very important verse is a really neat one. It stresses why we should not be ashamed and why we are approved. It is because we accurately handle the truth. Now this word accurate is  an interesting one. The Greek word is orthotomountaElsewhere it describes a tentmaker who makes straight rather than wavy cuts in his material.That is interesting because Paul, the author of this letter, was a tentmaker. It can also mean a builder who lays bricks in straight rows and a farmer who plows a straight furrow.

So we gather from all these uses that it means to be accurate or straight with what we are doing. But are we doing this?

I’m saddened by what seems to me to be the most anti-intellectual movement in the Church’s history. Just about anyone with a computer, internet connection and a search engine can become an instant expert on all things biblical. Those who have worked diligently to understand the Word of God and the best way to study and interpret it seem to be cast aside.  This ought not be. Not all opinions are equally valid or authoritative. I’m sorry if this upsets you. But that is the truth. I would no more entrust my physical health to a self-trained “doctor” who read a few books on medicine than I would entrust my spiritual health to someone who read a few books on theology.

I’m all for Christians working through the Bible and not just accepting someone else’s interpretation of Scripture. But when a Christian decides that they know the Bible because they decide they know the Bible, well, that is just dangerous. If there is no one providing a check against a person’s bias (and we all have a bias) bad things can happen.

If we are serious about knowing the deep things of God we will be diligent to study. Being diligent means keeping at it when it is difficult. Being diligent also includes the idea of checking ourselves against those who know more and have experienced more. If we are serious about being diligent in our study of the word of God, we will zealously seek out those who have studied at a greater depth than ourselves. And if we are zealously seeking those who have studied at a greater depth than ourselves, then we will be working hard at knowing Him so that we may become a resource for another.

Our walk on the path less traveled is not to simply gain knowledge for ourselves for the sake of gaining knowledge. It is to gain knowledge, tempered with wisdom, to pass on to those who desire it a deeper, much more personal knowledge of just who God is and what His word states.

 

Standing on the Truth

nehemiah wall_final

 

We could use someone like Nehemiah who isn’t willing to compromise the Word of God simply because the culture demands it.   So, are you willing to stand on the truth of God’s word?     Are you willing to say “thus says the Lord”  

To understand what is happening here, well, we need to look at the first seven verses of chapter thirteen. Specifically we need to understand verse seven. In verse seven we are told that Nehemiah returned to King Artaxerxes in the 32nd  year of his reign. This would put the year right around 432 BC. Why would Nehemiah do this?  In the ancient near east it was customary for a servant to return to his king to reaffirm his allegiance to that king. The time away from the king was variable from king to king, but the custom remained. The servant was required to go before the king who had sent him and restate his loyalty to that king. So that is what Nehemiah had done.

Nehemiah returned sometime later – perhaps between 432 – 431 BC since the prophet Malachi reproved the Jews in Judah for the very things Nehemiah details in this chapter. What we find here are reforms that are in direct response to the violations listed in Nehemiah 10:29-32.

 

The Exclusion of Foreigners

On that day they read aloud from the book of Moses in the hearing of the people; and there was found written in it that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, because they did not meet the sons of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing. So when they heard the law, they excluded all foreigners from Israel. Nehemiah 13:1-3 NASB

Wow, this seems a bit harsh, doesn’t it. So what’s wrong with some Ammonites or Moabites living among the assembly of people? What is the problem with these folks living in and among those in Jerusalem? Doesn’t God like diversity?

There are a few things here that we need to understand. First, yes this is harsh. But God had set down His rules about this in Deuteronomy 23:3-4

No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of theLord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.             Deuteronomy 23:3-4 NASB

So the reason this happened was because these folks did not give the Israelites food and water? That event happened around a century before the current situation. Does God hold a grudge THAT long? It sure seems like it. But there is more to this issue. In Ezra 9 there is an account of when Ezra led a group back 30 years before Nehemiah to rebuild the Temple. What Ezra found was that the remaining Israelites had intermarried with, among others, the Ammonites and Moabites. These intermarriages, along with the aforementioned people’s detestable practices, spread impurity throughout the land and the Israelites. So in this light we see that God’s radical action was indeed necessary and preferred. When a person has cancer, that tumor must be removed somehow. That is what happened with vv. 1-3: the cancer of the Ammonites and Moabites was removed from Israel.

It was an issue of purity, not compatibility.

 

The Expulsion of Tobiah

Now prior to this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, being related to Tobiah, had prepared a large room for him, where formerly they put the grain offerings, the frankincense, the utensils and the tithes of grain, wine and oil prescribed for the Levites, the singers and the gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. But during all this time I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had gone to the king. After some time, however, I asked leave from the king, and I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God. It was very displeasing to me, so I threw all of Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms; and I returned there the utensils of the house of God with the grain offerings and the frankincense. Nehemiah 13:4-9 NASB

 

When I first read this section, my reaction was “Really!? This guy was living in the Temple? What’s up with that?” Remember Tobiah was one of the guys that was hurling insults towards the Israelites as they rebuilt the wall. He was one of the guys trying to intimidate and scare the Israelites off. So why is he in the Temple?

The Temple had many rooms used for different purposes. Some of these purposes included a storehouse for grain and such for the priests. Evidently Tobiah was an influential relative of the priest Eliashib. Eliashib cleared out a room and gave it to Tobiah so he’s have an apartment to live in the Temple.

Nehemiah was out of town when this happened. However he learned of it somehow and asked the king to return to deal with this. Now notice that the king (though it isn’t written here) gave Nehemiah permission to leave. This makes me want to respect Artaxerxes a little more. He knew Nehemiah’s burden for Jerusalem and didn’t demand that Nehemiah stay the entire time planned. That is a king who is concerned for his subjects.

So Nehemiah returns. Notice what he says about Eliashib’s actions: He calls them evil. They weren’t a mistake, a flub, or anything but evil. This gives another indicator of how serious Nehemiah was about the purity of Israel. Nehemiah returns and throws out Tobiah’s possessions and Tobiah himself. Nehemiah wasn’t playing around. Can you picture Nehemiah getting back into town and coming to Tobiah in the Temple? Imagine what Nehemiah said…imagine what Tobiah and Eliashib thought. Nehemiah wasn’t one to be trifled with. But it didn’t end there. Nehemiah gave an order to make that room ritualistically pure. The, after the room had been purified, Nehemiah returned to it it’s original contents.

Wow, Nehemiah was a great leader who knew what was right and was determined to do that which is right.

 

The Revival of Tithes

I also discovered that the portions of the Levites had not been given them, so that the Levites and the singers who performed the service had gone away, each to his own field. So I reprimanded the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” Then I gathered them together and restored them to their posts. All Judah then brought the tithe of the grain, wine and oil into the storehouses.  In charge of the storehouses I appointed Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and in addition to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered reliable, and it was their task to distribute to their kinsmen. Remember me for this, O my God, and do not blot out my loyal deeds which I have performed for the house of my God and its services. Nehemiah 10-14 NASB

The final section in this week’s article is dealing with the lack of tithes. The priests who attended the Temple lived off the tithes (literally tenths*) of the people. There were three tithes that comprised all the compulsory giving. Think of these as taxes. The total of these tithes were between 22% and 30% depending how one calculated the third tithe. In any event these tithes were collected for various purposes, not the least was the pay for the priests so they could attend to their duties. When the tithes weren’t being given, the priests had to find other means of support to meet their daily needs. When the priests did this, the Temple service suffered. So Nehemiah once again makes sure that the tithes were restored. He brought the people together and told them that the House of God – the Temple –  was being neglected because they had refused to tithe according to the Law. Well, the tithes were revived, reliable people from various walks of life were appointed  to distribute according to the needs, and sanity restored.

An interesting thing to me is that the four who were considered reliable was a priest, a scribe, a person of the priestly tribe of Levi and a layman. Every walk of life is represented by these four men. Looks like all the people of Jerusalem were involved in the revival.

 

When I think about our own situation as the church in difficult times, I wonder where our Nehemiah is?

Where is the one who will stand up to those who pervert the word of God? Who will stand and say that God’s word is opposed to the social engineering that is happening? Homosexuality is a sin. Homosexual *marriage* is wrong. And yet we have entire denominations falling into line with the culture on this and many other issues. How have we fallen so far…

So, are you willing to stand on the truth of God’s word? Are you willing to say “thus says the Lord”  and take the ridicule? The Church could use some true conviction coming from the pulpit these days. We could use someone like Nehemiah who isn’t willing to compromise the Word of God simply because the culture demands it. The church could use a people of conviction who are unwilling to watch the beauty of God’s word be degraded with immoral and, yes, evil behavior. The question isn’t who is going to do this. No, the question is…Is this person you?

Mission Complete

nehemiah wall_final

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…