Grace For The Journey
Nehemiah chapter 9 is the longest recorded prayer in the Bible. Chapter 9 is a six-hour worship service, 3 hours of reading God’s Word and then 3 hours of confession, confessing the sin of not following the Lord God.
God’s people rehearsed
The ways of God
And then they
Responded to the Word.
They responded rightly to the Word. They said, in essence, “We confess! We have sinned! God has been faithful. We have been unfaithful.” That is chapter 9 – God’s faithfulness in the face of Israel’s unfaithfulness.
The people genuinely repent. I was reading in my quiet time the other day where Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7 that there is a kind of sorrow that does not lead to repentance. Like the serial adulterer who is sorry only that he got caught. But then there is a godly sorrow, a godly sorrow that leads to repentance, to a commitment to change. That is what the Israelites have here in chapters 9 and 10 in response to their sin. They confess, they repent, and then they purposefully commit themselves afresh and anew to God. They pledge . . . in written form . . . they pledge their allegiance to God.
Verse 38 says, “And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.” Basically, the people are saying, “Hey, we have broken Moses’ Covenant before. We get it. We failed big time. But no more! We will keep all the words of the commands of the law!” They were not doing this as a means of acceptance with God. They were not keeping rules and commands in order to get saved. This is not a covenant of works.
It is a loving response
To God’s love upon them.
God had called them into a special covenant of grace whereby they became His special people. In fact, it had not been that long since they had celebrated the Day of Atonement, a day on which a goat was taken and the sins of God’s people were confessed upon that goat and the goat was driven into the wilderness never to be seen again – reminding the people that God had forgiven all their sins.
The people are already God’s children
Accepted on the basis of God’s grace.
Chapter 10 is their loving response
To God’s love for them.
Chapter 10 is the covenant, first the people who signed it (1-27) and then the covenant itself in the following verses. The signatories include the civil leaders Nehemiah and Zedekiah in verse 1, then priestly names and Levite names and then leaders, 84 names altogether. The point of the long list of names indicates that the people are in solidarity, they are united together on this and they mean business! In the same way we would sign a church covenant, putting our names down to say, “We are already in this covenant, but this is a way of saying, ‘Yes, I am on board. Yes, I unashamedly stand together with brother and sister before God and say, I am proud to be included in this number of names whereby we are covenanting together. We will keep the covenant together that God has made with us.’”
Verses 28 and 29 underscore the seriousness of their intent, showing that the rest of the people following God were behind all the leaders and with the leaders in keeping the covenant, “Now the rest of the people – the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding; these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes.” They were so serious that they even “entered into a curse and an oath” which means, they even set up some kind of consequence for failure to keep the covenant.
There is a really neat phrase in the last part of verse 28 I do not want us to miss. Verse 28 says, “Now the rest of the people – the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, and all those who had separated themselves from the people of the lands …” Did you note that last phrase, “All those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands.” It indicates the wideness of God’s mercy; a mercy that extends beyond ethnic Israel to all who will leave the false gods of the lands and join with those who worship the One True and Living God. God’s mercy extends to all who will believe – including you and me!
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
which is more than liberty.
Verses 30-39 record the specific pledges. These are areas of specific application where the people had been particularly negligent in keeping the Mosaic Law, the love covenant God made with His people. The people acknowledged they were guilty of breaking the covenant in three particular areas: Their failure to recognize that God is Lord of their Relationships; their failure to recognize that God is Lord of their Rest; and their failure to recognize that God is Lord of their Resources. God’s people . . .
1. Made A Commitment To God About Their Relationships.
Verse 30 states, “We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons.” This is a pledge of allegiance to God regarding relationships. Verse 30 acknowledges the danger of mixed marriages. The law condemned mixed marriages – not on racial, but on religious grounds. That is important! God is not opposed to people of different races marrying. He created all people! It was not a racial problem, but a religious problem. The problem was that the people of the surrounding lands did not worship the One True God. Marrying someone with a different religious worldview was disastrous. Think of Solomon whose heart was drawn away from God because of following the hearts of the women of foreign lands with foreign gods.
It is still an issue today. Paul teaches this same principle in 2 Corinthians 6 where he warns of two people being “unequally yoked.” He is talking about the wedding of two people who do not have the same biblical worldview. It is not a racial problem, but a religious problem, a holiness issue. A believer should only marry another believer. The Bible also says in 1 Corinthians 7 that a widow is free to remarry but, “only in the Lord,” only a believer. It makes a difference when husband and wife are on the same page spiritually.
The reason for this principle for the marriage relationship is clearly taught in the Bible . . .
- Genesis 2:24 teaches that the husband and wife are “one” in marriage, one flesh. How does that work if the one-fleshness is not in agreement on matters of faith?
- Deuteronomy 6 instructs that parents are to teach and pass on their faith to their children.
- Ephesians 5 says marriage is a picture of God’s relationship with His people – Christ and His bride the church.
If one of the two persons in marriage is not a believer in the God of the Bible, how can they carry out these instructions effectively? How can their marriage adequately reflect the relationship of Christ with His church?
God’s children pledge allegiance to God in our relationships. Secondly, God’s people . . .
2. Made A Commitment To God About Their Rest.
Verse 31 says, “If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.” God’s people had broken the fourth commandment, broken the Sabbath, the day of rest, by beginning to do business on the Sabbath instead of observing the sabbath as a day of rest.
Keeping the Sabbath was
An evidence of faith and
Trust in the Lord to provide.
Refraining from work was a way of saying, “God, I trust You to take care of my needs. I know I do not have to worry about making money today, because You will provide and You want me to show You that I believe that by resting. So I will rest.” And the true Israelite would rest on the Sabbath day, trusting God, resting in His promises . . .
Taking the day as a special time
To focus upon the grace of God,
To focus upon the greatness of God,
And to focus upon the goodness of God.
This is the point of the Sabbath today. It is not a law to be kept legalistically. We observe the sabbath principle on Sunday because that is the day Christ rose from the dead – It is in Christ where we find our eternal rest! We are wise to refrain from working on the Lord’s Day where possible, on Sunday, whereby we too indicate that we have faith to believe that God will provide our needs. We enjoy taking a day to rest, reflection, and a time to recharge, keeping the day as a day unlike the usual routine and rhythm of the week.
God’s people pledge that He is Lord of our Relationships . . . He is Lord of our Rest, and thirdly, God’s people . . .
3. Made A Commitment To God About Their Resources.
Verses 32-39 declare, “Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God as it is written in the Law. And we made ordinances to bring the first-fruits of our ground and the first-fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the Lord; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the first-fruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the [u]house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.” The terms “offerings” or bringing the “first” as in first-born or first-fruits, or “tithe,” occur over a dozen times in these last eight verses. That is a lot of times! The people pledge allegiance to God with regard to their resources as the way in which ministry will continue. The main takeaway here is that the people of God recognize that God is the Lord of our Resources. They had neglected worship of God though their giving and they are pledging to make it right.
We too recognize God is the God who owns all our stuff. He is the One who gave it. When we tithe – the word means “tenth,” – when we give, we acknowledge God is the rightful owner of everything we have. God has used the means of His people tithing and giving offerings as the way to fund ministry so that, note last phrase in the chapter says, “we will not neglect the house of our God.” When we give of our tithes and offerings, we also acknowledge that we are not worried about God’s providing and we are happy to return a portion of our resources to God for the funding of ministry.
It is a faith issue.
Our giving is one of
The ways we indicate
That we trust God.
And because of the giving of God’s people, ministry thrives.
The people in Nehemiah’s day covenanted together to say, “We will do what God says!” but, as we will see in future chapters, they fall back into old sinful habits. We will see that in Chapter 13.
Many of us can relate. We really want to serve the Lord, yet we fail Him. We sin.
- What sin do you need to confess to God as you respond to His Word today?
- What does your current obedience to God say about your love for Jesus?
- What is your initial response when you hear the word “tithing” or “giving?”
Is there a way you have “neglected the house of God?” Neglected to find in Christ all that your heart and life needs? Have you neglected seeking a relationship where the other person shares your biblical worldview? Take time right now to repent of your sin and turn to Christ who lived for you, died for you, and rose from the grave for you so you could have the best relationship ever – rightly related to your Creator, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Then . . .
- You will experience and enjoy the blessing of God’s rule and involvement in your relationship.
- You will experience and enjoy the bliss of God’s rule and involvement in your life that leads to rest.
- You will experience and enjoy the bounty of God’s rule and involvement in your resources!
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”