Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday - Nehemiah 10 - Sign on the Dotted Line

t our church, we have what is called our "Church Covenant" which supposedly all our members hold to... or at least aspire to do so.   It is a wonderfully written document. But naturally, it is of no value at all if we don't pay attention to what is in it and if we don't strive to live up to it. Now, we don't require new members to sign a document assuring us that they will strive to keep our covenant, however, the people of Ezra and Nehemiah's day did sign on the dotted line. This chapter records for us just how serious these Jews were in their desire to live holily.

There were over 80 men who signed this ancient Declaration of Faith and many more who vocally vowed to attach their loyalty to it as well (Nehemiah 10:28 - 29). They agreed to live by the Law of God and of Moses. Most specifically they covenanted together on a few very particular rules. They were not to give their children to heathen for marriages. They would keep the Sabbath by refraining from business transactions on Saturdays. They promised to forgive debts every seventh year. And, they planned to give tithes and offerings sufficient for the maintenance of temple worship. Perhaps their ability to live up to these commitments would shortly prove lacking, but at least they sincerely intended to do right this time. Their initial devotion was well directed.  Such initial nobility is not redemptive; but it is a necessary evidence of true faith (Revelation 22:17).

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday - Nehemiah 9 - Reviewing the Past; Preparing for the Future

hree and ½ weeks had elapsed since the nation first met together to request spiritual instruction from Ezra (Nehemiah 8:2 & 9:1). There were several good things that had happened because of the people's exposure to God's revelations.  In addition to the items which we looked at from Nehemiah 8, we find a few more here in Nehemiah 9. After the initial gladness that God caused in the hearts of the people, there was a somber spirit that settled over the city as more and more truth was expounded.  Now, perhaps there isn't any point in commending the heavy atmosphere, but we can certainly commend the people for what they did in their sadness.  They repented, admitted their guilt, separated from evil and worshiped the Lord continually from day to day... spending time in both prayer and Bible reading (Nehemiah 9:3).

Much of this chapter is devoted to the prayer of the Levites which they prayed in the ears of the people. The prayer is remarkable in that it is a restatement of the history of God's interactions with His people. The prayer began with a reference to Creation and then picking up with Abraham covered major points in Israeli history including the Egyptian bondage, the ministry of Moses, and the conquest of Canaan and so on. The narrative went all the way through the captivity of the people to their then current condition as God's humble servants back at home again in their own land. There was much worship, confession and humility which was threaded into the historical prayer.

This prayer wasn't just about the past. It was a covenant or a commitment concerning the future of the Jews (Nehemiah 9:38).  The clergymen of Nehemiah's day stood on the stairs and prayed aloud in front of the congregation on the 24th  day of the 7th  month of the year that year.  And, they apparently did so while sincerely intending to avoid the failures of their past (Nehemiah 9:33… see also the spirit of Ezra 9:13).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Thursday - Nehemiah 8 - Collective Hunger


n Matthew 5:6 we see that it is an immeasurable blessing when people are hungry for good; for truth; for right (Matthew 4:4). In the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, there was a spiritual hunger in Jerusalem. The people came to Ezra and asked to hear the laws of Moses. So, that is what they got.

From a wooden pulpit, Ezra read the Pentateuch aloud to everyone who could listen.  He read all morning. The people stood in respect for the Scriptures.  And, they praised God with uplifted hands, open mouths and bowed heads (Nehemiah 8:6).

The men of God who were with Ezra also spent time explaining the meaning of Moses' words in a way that was intelligible for the common people. It was a regular preachin' meetin' (Nehemiah 8:8).

The people were greatly disturbed by the truth. They were full of sorrow, guilt and fear. But, the message from God to them was one of kindness, gentleness, goodness, mercy, comfort and cheer (Nehemiah 8:10). They responded appropriately (Ecclesiastes 7:2), but God had better things in mind for them (Jeremiah 29:11 & Nehemiah 8:12).
When the people heard the truth, they changed.  They began to move from positions of ignorance and disobedience to places of submission and blessing. Specifically, they discovered that there was a great feast which was supposed to be held during the 7th month (the same month which they were in). They were to commemorate the wanderings of their ancestors in a week-long festival called the Feast of Tabernacles. So, they did it, because God had commanded it (Leviticus 23:39-43).
And, kept reading and studying the Scriptures. They wanted more. They had meetings every day during that week and continually listened to the reading of their Bible  (Nehemiah 8:18).

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tuesday - Nehemiah 7 - The Need for Growth

ehemiah built the city walls and erected the gates of Jerusalem. He made the place secure, but there were still very few people inhabiting the city (Nehemiah 7:4).
Nehemiah discovered a list of the Jews who had been in Jerusalem during the days of Zerubbabel. Apparently, he intended to work on finding them (or their children) to repopulate the Holy City. There was plenty of property. There were rulers in place to keep the peace (Nehemiah 7:2). As I said, the walls and gates were erected. And, a schedule to open and close the city had been established (Nehemiah 7:3). But, without people to fill it, Jerusalem wasn't yet what it was meant to be.

Now, as you read the genealogy which Nehemiah found, you will find that it is slightly different than the one in Ezra 2. It is similar enough to make us assume that they have a common source, but different enough to make us pause and consider what the differences must mean. At the very least we should conclude that we have 2 different lists which were compiled by 2 different census takers at 2 different points and places. One commentator explains it by the claim that the list in Ezra 2 was compiled in Babylon when the first journey to Jerusalem commenced, while the list in Nehemiah 7 was made in Jerusalem some time later after the people had settled into the land. The passage of time and the addition and subtraction of individuals along the way is perhaps a sufficient explanation to satisfy the curiosity of a believing mind. Naturally, there is no explanation which would be sufficient to satiate an unbelieving mind.

Anyway, Nehemiah was led by God to call roll to promote growth in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 7:5).