Rebuild: Nehemiah 13:23-31 – The Danger Of Biblical Compromise

Grace For The Journey

We are in the last passage of the last chapter of Nehemiah as we bring our verse-by-verse study of this Book to a conclusion.  There will always be more for us to learn in the Book of Nehemiah, but today finishes out the final chapter as we pick up in verse 23 and study the final passage.

Our series has been entitled REBUILD; God’s rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem and rebuilding the people who live inside those walls.  The people who had been in exile for so many years have been brought back into the land and they rediscovered the Bible.  Revival had broken out as people listened for hours to preaching of the Word, confessed their sins, and rededicated themselves to God.  They even made a covenant to God in chapter 10 promising to live in accordance to the teachings of Scripture.  They would no longer compromise in their relationships, they would no longer compromise the Sabbath day.  They concluded their promises in the last verse of chapter 10 with the stirring pledge to no longer neglect their faith.  They said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”  That is what they said.

But, when all was said and done. . .

More was said than done.

While Nehemiah had gone back to the capital of Susa, the people fell back into old habits and old ways.  After a year or so of being away, Nehemiah returns to find that “while the cat’s away, the mice have played.”  They had allowed unbelievers; pagans, to come into the temple and marry among their people.  They had failed to keep the Sabbath and treated the Sabbath day just like any ordinary day.  They had compromised their faith in so many ways.  We continue to read about this compromise today as we study again at verse 23 and following.  As in Nehemiah’s day, we need God’s Word today.  We ask that God help us understand it, that the Holy Spirit, be our teacher as we study.  May we take God’s truth, plant it deep in us; let it shape and fashion us in His likeness,

On July 17, 1981, two suspended walkways inside the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri collapsed.  Tragically, the collapse of the walkways killed 114 people and injured over 200 others.  Responders worked for hours to locate survivors, many of whom had been trapped under the rubble of steel and concrete.  Until the collapsing of the towers of the World Trade Center 20 years later, the Hyatt Regency disaster was the deadliest structural collapse in American history.  Investigation found that the collapse was due to a late design change in the structure of the walkways.  Poor communication among contractors and economic pressures to finish a “fast track” project on time resulted in a compromise of engineering ethics.  The Hyatt Regency calamity is a standard case study in engineering courses all over the world, a case illustrating the need for engineering integrity.  In fact, the man who bore primary responsibility for the catastrophe spent the latter years of his life speaking to professional conferences in the hopes of preventing similar problems.  He did not wish to see future generations give-in to an ethical engineering compromise.

One small compromise in the integrity of the structure led to its impending demise.  In the same way, one small compromise in the integrity of God’s people may lead to the impending collapse of our faith.  We allow a “little sin” to gain entry and before we know it the entire structure of our lives falls down around us. 

Chapter 13 is all about compromise.  Today’s passage shows that . . .

What one generation practices,

The next will condone.

God’s people had allowed for the seemingly “little sin” of intermarrying with pagan unbelievers.  As a result, the future generation suffered.  Little sins have a way of growing, compounding, increasing, and aggravating.  Let’s study the passage and see how this happened.

Verse 23 says, “In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.”This was wrong, marrying the people of “Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.”  The people of God were not to intermarry with the foreigners who lived outside the community of faith.  This was expressly prohibited by Mosaic Law. 

Remember that this command not to intermarry with the people of Ashdod or the Ammonites and Moabites was not a racial matter.  There is no verse in the Bible supporting racism.  The concern was rather that God’s people intermingling with unbelievers meant that they would compromise their religious identity and religious heritage.  This is the point of the prohibition.  

Nehemiah likely cited Deuteronomy 7:1-6.  This command was given by God and handed down through Moses at Mount Sinai, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you…nations greater and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them over to you, you shall conquer them and … shall make no covenant with them nor show mercy to them.  Nor shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son.  For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods … But thus you shall deal with them: you shall destroy their altars, and break down their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images, and burn their carved images with fire.  For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.” 

The command not to intermarry with the people

Of Ashdod or the Ammonites and Moabites

Was not a racial thing, it was a religious thing.

If someone from the tribe of Ashdod were to repent and turn to God, or an Ammonite, or a Moabite – like Ruth, the Moabitess – were to repent of their false gods and turn to the One True God, they would find acceptance in the Kingdom of God.  Anyone who turns from sin and turns to the Lord may be saved.

The command forbidding God’s people

From intermarrying with the pagan unbelievers

Of the surrounding land was to protect God’s people,

To safeguard their religious identity and protect their religious heritage.

Any compromise of that solidarity would lead to a loss of religious identity and heritage. 

And that’s precisely what verse 24 illustrates, “And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke according to the language of one or the other people.”  The children “could not speak the language of Judah” and the language of Judah is Hebrew.  Follow me on this: If the children “could not speak the language of Judah,” if the children could not speak Hebrew, what else does that mean?  It means also they could not read Hebrew.  What does that mean?  If they cannot speak Hebrew or read Hebrew, then they cannot understand the Bible. 

The concern is greater than nationalistic pride.  In the words of one commentator, failure to read and speak Hebrew “meant a steady erosion of Israelite identity at the level of all thinking and expression, and a loss of access to the Word of God, which would effectively paganize them.”  He adds, “A single generation’s compromise could undo the work of centuries.”

Verse 25 says, “So I contended(same verb as in verses 11 and 17)with them and cursed them(pronouncing God’s curse upon them), struck some of them and pulled out their hair,and made them swear by God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves.’”  We have noted previously the contrast between the leadership styles of Nehemiah and his contemporary Ezra.  When Ezra was vexed by the people’s sinfulness, he pulled out his own hair (Ezra 9:3).  Nehemiah, on the other hand, pulls out the hair of the people!

The pulling out of the hair of others probably had more to do with public shame than anything else.  Other Old Testament references suggest that the removal of hair was a way of drawing attention to one’s shameful conduct or inflicting shame upon an enemy, plucking the hairs of one’s beard, for example (cf 2 Samuel 10; Isaiah 50:6).

Nehemiah makes them recommit again.  He makes them swear allegiance again to God and His commands.  He asks in verse 26, “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things?  Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel.  Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin.”  While Solomon was the greatest king who ever lived, even he was led into sin by compromising his religious convictions.  Taking a number of foreign wives may have been the way other kings of other lands acted, but this was not to be so for Israel’s king.  And this compromise led to Solomon’s downfall.  His heart was no longer devoted entirely to the One True God but was divided, some of his heart given to false gods.

Nehemiah asked them in verse 27 says, “Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?”  Nehemiah describes this intermarrying of pagan women a “great evil.”  He does not sugarcoat his rebuke.  Were we to ask just how bad was the situation in Jerusalem, how bad had this thing gotten while Nehemiah was away?  We discover in verse 28 that even the high priest had compromised his faith.  Verse 28 states, “And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I drove him from me.”

The high priest’s son Joiada – or Jehoiada, depending on your translation – has a son whom he gives in marriage to the daughter of Sanballat!  Sanballat, you will remember along with Tobiah, was one of the chief enemies of God’s people introduced way back in chapter 2.  We read a couple weeks ago how Eliashib had allowed the enemy Tobiah to live in one of the storerooms of the temple.  Nehemiah learned about this and drove Tobiah out of the temple.  Now Nehemiah discovers that Eliashib has also allowed his grandson to marry the pagan unbelieving daughter of Sanballat. 

What one generation practices,

The next will condone.

Nehemiah learns of this and, the last phrase of verse 28 says, “therefore I drove him from me.”  More literally, Nehemiah “chased him” away.  I can picture Nehemiah chasing him away just as he chased away Tobiah from that storeroom!

In verse 29 Nemiah prays, “Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.”  Nehemiah entrusts their situation to God: “Remember them, O my God,” remember what they did, how they “defiled the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.”

Then a concluding statement in verse 30 and following, “Thus I cleansed them of everything pagan. I also assigned duties to the priests and the Levites, each to his service, and to bringing the wood offering(wood for the altar)and the firstfruits(of the harvest)at appointed times. Remember me, O my God, for good!”

The book opens and closes with Nehemiah on his knees in prayer.  Let me give at least three truths to take with you as a result of our study together.  

1) Spiritual Compromise Leads to Spiritual Calamity.

Once we allow a crack in the foundation of our faith, it just a matter of time before we face dire consequences.  Spiritual compromise of any kind leads to spiritual calamity.  There are non-negotiables for the children of God.  A.W. Tozer said, “The blessing of God is promised to the peacemaker, but the religious negotiator had better watch his step.  Darkness and light can never be brought together to talk.  Some things are not negotiable.” 

That Chapter 13 of Nehemiah is all about compromise is providential, the last chapter of the Book leaving us with a warning that rings in our ears . . . 

Do not compromise your faith.

Someone defined compromise as “planting God’s flowers in the devil’s dirt.”  God’s people had compromised in a number of ways . .

  • They had planted God’s flowers in the dirt of cultural temptation and accommodation. 
  • Their most recent transgression was a compromise of relationships. 

Our most important relationship is not with another person, but with God.  We love Him more than any spouse or any friend.  He is our most important relationship.

Remember that the command forbidding God’s people from intermarrying with the pagan unbelievers was for their own good, to protect God’s people, to safeguard their religious identity and protect their religious heritage.  Any compromise of that solidarity would lead to a loss of religious identity and heritage.

We too must not compromise in this area.  We will seek lasting and meaningful relationships with those who share our faith.  We will not, as the Apostle Paul would warn five centuries later, “be unequally yoked” or married to those who do not share our Christian convictions (2 Corinthians 6:14).  Young people – and older people – that means we will not get involved in a relationship where that young man or young woman does not share our faith.  If they have not given their heart to Jesus and are not seeking to surrender and know Him more, then we are going to safeguard our hearts by not compromising our convictions.  If we do, this truth will be manifest: spiritual compromise leads to spiritual calamity. 

Second . . .

2) Course Corrections Require Radical Actions.

Put another way . . .

We must deal with sin

And we must deal

With it radically.

We noted last time that the problem with so-called “little sins” is that they do not remain little.  The people had compromised for quite some time.  Neglecting the commands concerning the temple, neglecting the commands concerning the Sabbath, no wonder then in time they are neglecting the commands regarding intermarriage with pagan peoples.

Had the people done what God had said concerning the Sabbath it is hard to imagine they would have had opportunity to intermingle much with the unbelieving pagans with whom they did business.  But one sin leads to another and to another still.

The progression of sin is addressed in the opening chapter of the Book of James, verses 14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.  Course correction requires radical actions.  When Nehemiah learns of the people’s sins, he does not waste any time forming committees or hoping it will all go away, he takes radical measures.  Remember how he cleansed the temple?   Just kicks out Tobiah!  And today we read of his pulling out the hairs of those who had sinned, and “chasing away” a fella who was bringing shame upon the people of God.

Here is a question for you . . .

“What sin do you need

To get out of your life?

Or what needs cleansing in your life?  Quit flirting with that so-called “little sin.”  Take radical action this morning by “chasing it away” with the vigor and determination that Nehemiah had in chasing away the high priest’s son-in-law.  Confess that sin to God and repent from it.  Turn from it today.

Some of you need to turn to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  You need to be saved from sin, death, and hell.  You have allowed compromise into your life and you need to turn to Jesus.  Turn to Him today and be saved.

Third and final take-home truth . . .

3) We Must be Fluent in the Language of Faith.

Some of us speak the language of the world better than the language of faith.  We speak the language of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab.  We are culturally savvy.  We know the words to the latest songs, we know the names of the popular actors and actresses.  We are well-versed in the latest Hollywood movie and Madison Avenue fashion.  But far too many of God’s people speak only the language of Ashdod.  

Conversant in our cultural situations,

Yet woefully ignorant of

Our Christian convictions.

Resolve today to be fluent in the language of faith.  Know your Bible.  Read your Bible daily.  Study it.  Memorize it.  Meditate upon it.

Pass on the teachings of Scripture to your children and grandchildren so as to avoid generational compromise – because – just like a fatal design change to a building in the 11th hour, we compromise our Christian convictions by allowing a seemingly “little sin” into our presence, little thinking that it will cause the entire structure of our lives to collapse.  

Ask God for grace to conform you to the teachings of His Word.  God has spoken.  The Holy Spirit will help you apply what you have learned.  Ask Him to lead you to full obedience, holy reverence, and true humility.  Plant His word deep within your mind and heart.  Ask Him to shape and fashion you in Christ-likeness. 

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 13:15-22 – The Result Of Neglecting God’s Word and Worship

Grace For The Journey

We are nearing the end of our study of Nehemiah and are in its final chapter, chapter 13 chronologically the last written words of the Old Testament.  We noted last time that chapter 13 describes the upending of the covenant that God’s people had made with God back in chapter 10 in the heat of revival.  In chapter, 10 the people were all about making things right and living as authentic followers of God.  Maybe in the past they had failed the Lord, but no more.  They were recommitting themselves to the Lord and concluded their rededication with the rousing statement in Nehemiah 10:31, where they said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.”

Yet, here they are a few years later neglecting the house of God.  What did this involve?  We saw that it meant that . . .

They had neglected previous teaching,

They had neglected the purity of the temple,

And they had neglected the practice of tithing.

All this happened while Nehemiah was away on a trip back to Persia.  We read where Eliashib the priest had even allowed that Tobiah to move into a storeroom of the temple.  So, Nehemiah comes back and “cleans house.”  Tobiah is kicked out and the temple is restored to order.

We saw last time that the first part of chapter 13 describes the people’s forsaking the house of God.  Today’s passage describes their forsaking the Sabbath. 

Some say the fourth commandment no longer applies.  Strictly speaking, you will not find in the New Testament a teaching that says something like: “Continue to observe the Sabbath exactly as God’s people did in the Old Testament, namely resting from your labors on the seventh day of the week – Saturday – and gathering together in the Jewish Temple for the express purpose of worshiping the One True God.”  You will not find that kind of statement in the New Testament and there is a good reason for it.  While Sabbath was observed by Old Testament believers on the seventh day – on Saturday – something happened 2,000 years ago that caused the Jews of that day to change their Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  What was that incredible historic event that caused God’s people to change their day of worship from Saturday to Sunday?  

It was none other than the resurrection.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on

The first day of the week, on Sunday.

Luke describes the followers of Christ observing the Sabbath, getting ready for the Sabbath on Friday evening.  Luke tells us there were women at the tomb that evening, that they saw where Christ’s body was placed in it, and the Bible says at the end of Luke’s Gospel in chapter 23, verse 56, “Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment (according to the fourth Commandment).”  That is the last time we read in the New Testament that followers of Christ observed the Sabbath rest on Saturday strictly as a matter of adherence to the 4th Commandment.

After that first Easter morning, Christians began gathering together for public worship on the first day of the week, on Sunday.  The Bible tells us in Acts 20:7, “Now on the first day of the week” … “the disciples came together to break bread.”  They came together on the first day of the week, on Sunday, to break bread in worship.  They gathered on Sunday to bring their tithes and gifts.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 16:2: “On the first day of the week let each of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper.”  In essence, Paul says, “When you guys meet together for worship on the first day of the week, Sunday, let each of you lay something aside during the offering.”  I think we can see this truth at least in part in the opening chapter of the Book of Revelation where John speaks of being, “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Revelation 1:10).  The Lord’s Day was the way Christians began to refer to Sunday, the first day of the week.

Our Seventh Day Adventist friends insist that Christians should worship on Saturday.   They tell us Christians did not begin worshiping on Sunday until commanded to do so by order of Constantine in the 4th Century.  But when we look at these passages we say, “No, that is not what we see in our Bibles and that is not the practice of the early Christians in the centuries preceding Constantine.  Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week – on Sunday – and His followers have been gathering together on the first day of the week ever since.”

Strictly speaking, the fourth commandment, in terms of keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day – Saturday – is a commandment that is no longer binding in that explicit sense.  At the same time, however . . .

The Sabbath principle remains.

The importance of taking one day in seven to rest cannot be overstated.  Rest is a principle woven into the very fabric of God’s creation.  God created the world in six days and rested.  He desires that His children rest as well for their good and for His glory.

Now, let’s study our passage.

Verse 15 says, “In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens(or all kings of stuff, goods and so forth), which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions.”

While Nehemiah was away the people had gone back to old habits of working and doing business on the Sabbath.

Verse 16, “Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.”  The “men of Tyre” or the “Tyrians” were Gentiles, people not bound by Sabbath law, but they found ready and willing business partners in God’s people.  Verses 15 and 16 describe a bustling market scene teeming with shoppers, with the accompanying noise and sounds of commerce and trade.  This burgeoning marketplace did not simply appear all at once.  It must have started off very small, shortly after Nehemiah had gone back to Persia.  It had not been that long ago when they promised in their covenant to do differently, as we read in Nehemiah 10:31, “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.”

But that was then, and this is now.  What had started as a small little compromise, just one “little sin,” had grown into a monstrous mesh of trespasses.  The far-reaching impact of just one sin!  We noted this truth in our last study by way of application.  We said we must remember the danger of compromise.  Someone said, “People seldom lose their faith by a blowout – It is usually a slow leak.”  One small little compromise that begins like a trickle of water from a faucet in time turns into a gushing flood of iniquity.  

The trouble with “little sins” is that they do not stay little.  People who never imagined to be stuck in darkness were the very people who had begun to enjoy a “little stroll in the shade.”  The trouble with little sins is that they do not stay little.  How many times have we said this, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”

Verses 17 and 18 state, “Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, ‘What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day?  Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.’”  Here is Nehemiah the reformer in action again!  He’s like, “What in the world is this evil you are doing, buying and selling on the Sabbath?!”  He says in verse 18, “Did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city” because of Sabbath-breaking?!”  

That was a reminder that at least one of the reasons God had disciplined His children centuries earlier, allowing them to be carried off into exile by the Assyrians and Babylonians, was because of Sabbath-breaking.  Nehemiah is saying, “Don’t you remember your history?!”  Don’t you remember what happened to our ancestors when they profaned the Sabbath?!  Their sin had consequences!  And you are headed for the same consequences!”  Sin would have fewer takers if its results occurred immediately.

If you knew that the “little sin” of clicking on the inappropriate link on your computer, taking you to a web page you ought not to be looking at, if you knew that one seemingly small click would lead immediately to your losing your job, losing your spouse, losing the pride of your children, and losing respect from everyone in the community, you would be less likely to click on the inappropriate link.  Sin would have fewer takers if its results occurred immediately.

Verse 19 states, “So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day.”  Nehemiah determines to fix the problem.  He instructs them to close the gates of the city and make sure they do not open back up until after the Sabbath.  Closing the gates ensured that no one could go outside and do business, and no one could come inside to do business.  Nehemiah sees that the gates are closed “as it began to be dark before the Sabbath.”

The Sabbath ran roughly from six o’clock Friday evening to six o’clock Saturday evening.  Even today, the Sabbath is observed in Jerusalem by orthodox Jews.  Beginning early Friday afternoon most businesses and restaurants close.  There are a few non-kosher restaurants that stay open for tourists, but most shut down.  Public transportation, busses, and light railway shut down as well, Friday evening to Saturday evening.

The last part of verse 19 tells us Nehemiah did not trust the people to keep the gates shut.  The Bible tells us that he, “… posted some of my servants at the gates.”  He wants to make absolutely certain the gates stay shut!

Verse 20 says, “Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice.”  There are some people camping out just outside the gate ready to do business on the Sabbath.  Nehemiah warns them in verse 21, “Then I warned them, and said to them, ‘Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!’ From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath.”  Nehemiah is not talking about laying hands on them to pray for them!  Someone said, “The only right time to get angry is when you get angry at sin.”   Nehemiah was angry at sin, a righteous indignation.  Verse 22 states, “And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves(due to their negligence, the Levites needed to be ritualistically purified again), and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day.  Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!” 

How does this passage apply to us today?  We have already noted again the danger of compromise.  The trouble with little sins is that they do not stay little.  Some of us need to repent of the little sins we have allowed to “get inside the gates.”  We have got to take decisive action like Nehemiah and say, “No more!”  That will mean some of us need to be honest before God, confess sin, and repent from sin – little sins and greater sins.  When a person is ready to confess his or her sins, God is always ready to cover those sins with His blood.

This also applies with regarding to the Sabbath day observance.  If the fourth commandment no longer applies in the strictest sense an explicit command to observe the Sabbath as Jews under law did in Nehemiah’s day, how do we apply the principle of Sabbath as followers of Christ today?  I am glad you asked!  I want to share with you the “Three Rs” of the Sabbath . . .

1. Reverence.

We must believe in the reverence of the Lord’s Day.  Deuteronomy 5:12 says, “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”  Sunday ought to be thought of as a holy day, a day set apart for worship of the One True and Living God who saves us through His Son Jesus Christ.  It is not just any day, it is a day where we especially pay tribute to and give concerted reverence to God.  

The people of Nehemiah’s day fell into an irreverence of the Sabbath.  It was a day like any other day.  They did business and traded on the Sabbath, indicating that they had a love for the world more than a love for the Lord.  Making money on the Sabbath was more important to them than taking time on the Sabbath to focus upon the Lord.

Our Lord’s Day – Sunday – ought to be a day of special focus upon the Lord, a holy day, a day we endeavor to do things differently than other days of the week.  It is not that there is some place in the New Testament that provides a list of approved activities on Sunday, you know, “You can do this, but not this.”  That would be to commit the error of legalism, precisely the problem with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  He had to teach them that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

2. Rest.

We need to understand the importance of rest from work.  Many folks spend hundreds of dollars on time-saving devices and then work overtime to pay for them!  Someone said, “The average American is a guy who was born in the country, worked so hard he could live in the city, then worked even harder so he could get back to the country.”  Few Americans really know the value of rest.  Even when we take time off, we don’t know how to rest.  With irony we often note that “no one needs a vacation more than the guy who just had one.”  Rest is a gift from God.

The Bible tells us in Exodus 20:9-11, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day …”  God rested not because He was weary, but because He was finished!  He was finished with the work of creating.  There was a limit to God’s creative work and God met the limit.  Man must also recognize the value of limits to his work.  

Ray Stedman called the Sabbath, “God’s stress management program.”  I like that.  The Sabbath teaches us the value of “pushing the pause button,” taking a break from the frenetic pace of our workaday world, giving our bodies and our minds a break from the chaos.

Rest.  But what are we to do during this time of resting?  That is the third R . . .

3. Remembering.

We have already noted the importance of reverence . . .

The Lord’s Day is a day consecrated or

Set aside for focus upon the Lord. 

It is during this day of focus

That we remember.  We remember . . .

Who God is and

What He has done.

Right after Moses gives the fourth commandment to rest on the Sabbath, he adds this in Deuteronomy 5:15, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” 

Remember what God did for you. 

Remember how He delivered you.

Observing the Sabbath is not just about reverence and rest . . .

It is about remembering;

Purposeful remembering

The Lord on the Sabbath.

The Lord’s day is not a day merely to sit around and do nothing!  It is a day, yes to physically rest from the regular routine of work, but it is a thoughtful rest.  It is a time to remember who God is and what He has done; a thoughtful rest.  In a word, it is worship.  

When we gather for worship, we focus upon and think about God – Remembering His mighty acts, praising Him because He is worthy of all praise. 

We take time in our homes to open the Word, reading from the Bible, remembering who He is and what He has done.  It is a special time for thoughtful, restful reflection upon the Lord.

The point of the Lord’s Day is not rest in the sense of inactivity and idleness, laying around all day, or just sitting around watching TV, or going shopping or playing video games and surfing the internet.  Again, we must not be legalistic here.  Sometime in those activities may well be acceptable, but we must take care not to lose the day.  

We must not miss the blessing of the Lord’s Day as a day of “relaxation infused with consecration.”  The Lord’s Day is a special day on which we refrain from doing the things we normally do that we might consecrate ourselves to God and enjoy His presence more fully in a uniquely wonderful way!  

As our Lord Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man.”  It is a gift from God!

As we prepare to respond to God’s truth.  Let me review the essence of our study . . .

First – Is there a sin you need to confess right now before God?  Have you compromised your faith, allowing sin to intrude through the city gates and into your temple – your mind, your body.  Confess silently to God and ask His forgiveness.   Repent.  Turn to God. 

Second – What do you need to do to make sure Sunday never becomes like just any other day, but a special day – a day of reverence, rest, and remembering.  You may ask God silently, “God, help me always to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  

If you are not a believer, you have never been saved, turn to Jesus Christ and be saved from your sin.  The Bible teaches in the Book of Hebrews that Jesus Christ is the One in Whom is found rest, real rest, in the fullest sense.  If you are weak and tired and heavy-laden with sin and sorrow, go to Jesus and He will give you rest, heavenly rest, salvation rest.  Just say to Him right now, “Lord Jesus Christ, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”  

May God give us grace to surrender all to Him, including the Sabbath.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 13:1-14 – Why Is The House of God Forsaken?

Grace For The Journey

Our current Bible study series is entitled “REBUILD.”  We have noted that the Book of Nehemiah breaks down roughly into two categories:

Chapters 1-6; Physical Rebuild, where we read of the Rebuilt Wall

And

Chapters 7-13; Spiritual Rebuild, where we read of the Rebuilt People.

What we have in Chapter 13 is what many scholars believe to be the last portion of the Old Testament written.  It does not appear that way to us as the Book is in its canonical order rather than its chronological order.  It is placed along the other books of Old Testament history, but the contents concern the last events of God’s people in the history of the Old Testament.

Beginning at verse 4 Nehemiah says, “Now before this,” and that opening phrase tips us off to the fact that Nehemiah then tells us about some things that happened while he was actually away from Jerusalem, things that happened while he had gone back to Persia for awhile.  See that at verse 6 where he says, “But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king.  Then after certain days I obtained leave from the king” – verse 7 – “and I came to Jerusalem…”  This tells us that quite a bit of time has passed.

Chapter 13 is something of a paradox.  It can be seen as both discouraging and encouraging.  It is discouraging in that it shows us that much of what Nehemiah led the people to do was soon forgotten.  The great covenant they had made with God back in Chapter 10, a chapter that concludes with the phrase, “We will not neglect the house of God” (10:39), is a covenant largely broken by chapter 13.  The people neglected the house of God as indicated by Nehemiah’s statement in Chapter 13, verse 11, “So I contended with the rulers and said, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’” 

The Book of Nehemiah is often hailed as a great book on leadership, yet by popular metrics of success, it would seem Nehemiah failed.  After all, he led the people to reform, but while he was away, the people fell back into old habits and old ways; they fell into sin.  So much for Nehemiah’s great leadership!  Maybe Nehemiah could have related to the statement that “the conference room is the place where everybody talks, nobody listens, and afterwards, everyone disagrees.”

Fortunately . . .

The Book of Nehemiah

Is not primarily

A Book about leadership,

But a book about God

And how God relates

To His people.

And this leads us to the encouragement of Chapter 13.  While much of what we study here can be discouraging – the people fall back into old sinful habits – the fact is that God will not abandon His people.  He had made a promise to them as far back as Genesis 12 to be their God and to never forsaken them.  That fact holds true for God’s people today.  He will not finally abandon us when we fall into old sinful habits.  The cross still stands to cleanse us from our sin.

I want us to look at the teaching outline that will help us journey through the passage together.  It is a descriptive outline, merely describing the events of the passage as we read through the text.  It shows how the people of God had neglected the house of God:

First from the opening verses, verses 1-3, we see that God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

1. By Neglecting Previous Teaching – Verses 1-3.

One of the positive marks of the people of God in Nehemiah is that as they read the Word they responded rightly to it.  While they had neglected previous teaching in the Word, they immediately seek to correct it.  Verses 1-3 say, “On that day (or at that time) they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people, and in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever come into the assembly of God, because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them. However, our God turned the curse into a blessing.  So it was, when they had heard the Law, that they separated all the mixed multitude from Israel.”  The people were reading the Word or hearing the Word read aloud and they said, “Hey, there’s something we have neglected.  The Bible says we are not to have Ammonites or Moabites with us inside the city of Jerusalem and we have allowed them to intermingle with us.  We have got to change that!”  So they did.

A bit of context is helpful here.  Were we to go back and read the portion of Old Testament Law that was read aloud to them, we would go back to Deuteronomy 23, verses 3-6.  There we would read this very specific prohibition: No Ammonites or Moabites allowed to be among you!  Why?  Well, verse 2 tells us, “Because they had not met the children of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them.”  When God delivered His people out of slavery and bondage to the Egyptians and led them on a journey to the Promised Land, it was the Ammonites and Moabites who stood against them.  When God’s people were famished and thirsty, the Ammonites and Moabites refused to give them bread and water.  These folks did not follow the One True and Living God.  They were rebellious idolaters.  And verse 2 reminds us that they had once even hired a prophet to prophesy doom against God’s people, but it did not work.  You can read about that later in the Book of Numbers 22-24 where they hired this guy named Balaam to curse God’s people.  But every time Balaam opened his mouth to curse God’s people, God turned his cursing into blessing.   And all he could do was speak good things upon God’s people.  Remember . . .

God had made a promise,

A promise of blessing

Upon His children

As far back as Genesis 12

So Balaam could not change

That blessing into cursing.

The people are reading from the Book and they realize they had neglected this previous teaching about separating themselves from the Ammonites and Moabites and the say in verse 3, “We need to change that,” and they do, “they separated all the mixed multitude from Israel.”

Now remember, we have covered this ground before . . .

The problem with the

Ammonites and Moabites

Was not a racial problem,

But a religious problem.

It was not that the Ammonites and Moabites were of a different race and God’s people were of a superior race.  You will never find a single verse in all the Bible to support racism.  That is not what is going on here. 

The prohibition against intermarrying and intermingling

With the Ammonites and Moabites was due to their being

Unrepentant followers of false gods.  They would not

Follow the one true and living God – to Intermingle

With them was to compromise one’s convictions and

Open up the possibility of falling into sin by falling

Away from God and turning towards false gods.

If, however, an Ammonite or Moabite were to confess

And repent and turn from the false gods of the pagan lands,

They would be welcome among God’s people. 

Remember Naomi the Moabitess, a woman from Moab.  Remember what she said to her mother-in-law Ruth?  She said, “… Your God will be my God …” (Ruth 4:16e) and she turned from the false gods of the Moabites and was welcome into the fold of the people of God.  The doors remain open today for anyone to enter into a relationship with God if you come in repentance, breaking with sin, and entering into true worship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The first area of neglect: the people had neglected previous teaching.  The second area of neglect is, God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

3. By Neglecting The Purity of the Temple – Verses 4-9.

As we look again at verses 4 and following, we enter into some events that occurred while Nehemiah was away.  Remember when Moses went up on the mountain to be with God and get the 10 Commandments and then he comes down to find the people in sin?  That is what’s going on in verses 4 and following; Nehemiah was away, having gone back to Susa, the capital city of Persia, and while he was away what happened?  

Verses 4 and 5 tell us, “Now before this, Eliashib the priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah.  And he had prepared for him a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine and oil, which were commanded to be given to the Levites and singers and gatekeepers, and the offerings for the priests.”  Eliashib the priest allows Tobiah to move into one of the storerooms of the temple!  Can you believe it?!  It may actually be more like a suite of storerooms. Right there in the temple.

This is that same Tobiah who taunted Nehemiah and the Israelites back when they were rebuilding the wall.  He is the guy who was like, “You’ll never do it!  That wall will not even support a small animal if it were to try to climb upon it.  You guys are losers!”  That same Tobiah!  Tobiah was – incidentally – an Ammonite!  One of the people we just read about it in the previous verses, a pagan follower of false gods.  That is the guy who was allowed to live in one of the storerooms of the temple!!

Eliashib in verse 4 allowed it.  He was a priest there at the temple and because he was “allied with Tobiah,” a relative of Tobiah, he had allowed him to live in the temple storerooms.  Now Nehemiah did not know this.  He was away in Persia.  He tells us that in verse 6, “But during all this I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king (433 BC). Then after certain days(or after quite some time)I obtained leave from the king.”

A quick timeline: Nehemiah had been governing in Jerusalem, leading the people in the rebuilt city of Jerusalem for some twelve years, from 445 to 433.  Then, he went back up to King Artaxerxes, thousand miles away, back to the Persian Capital of Susa.  Remember, he had a job there as the king’s cupbearer.  So, he was back in Susa for awhile, maybe 2-3 years, no one knows for certain how long, but after some time, he obtained leave from the king, asked for permission to go back and see how things were going in Jerusalem, and he comes back to Jerusalem. 

What does he discover?  Verse 7 says, “And I came to Jerusalem and discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, in preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God.”  He describes it as evil.  The temple was sullied with the presence of the unbelieving thug, Tobiah!  How did you feel about that, Nehemiah?  He tells us in verses 8 and 9, “And it grieved me bitterly; (what did you do, Nehemiah?) therefore I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room.  Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms; and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”

We are going to be reading more of his righteous indignation in future study of this chapter where he gets even more brutal.  He is quite a contrast to his contemporary Ezra.  In the book of Ezra when God’s people fall into sin it causes Ezra to pull his hair out.  Later in this chapter we will see that when God’s people fall into sin it causes Nehemiah to pull their hair out!  

Nehemiah discovers Tobiah is living in one of the temple storerooms – defiling the purity of the temple – So Nehemiah does a thorough spring house cleaning.  The purity of the temple had been neglected.  Nehemiah foreshadows another housecleaning event.  Hard to read this passage without thinking about a future housecleaning of the temple five centuries later when our Lord Jesus would knock over the tables of the money changes in righteous anger and clean house (Matthew 21:12ff).  Remember: anger itself is not a sin.  Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and sin not.”  Righteous indignation is not a sin.  

Nehemiah kicks out the Ammonite Tobiah and verse 9 tells he, “commanded them to cleanse the rooms.”  And they bring back into the storerooms “the articles of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.”  

This mention of grain offerings leads to the third thing the people had neglected.  God’s people had neglected previous teaching, the purity of the temple, and thirdly, God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

3. Neglecting The Practice of Tithing – Verses 10-14.

Verse 10 says, “I also realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them; for each of the Levites and the singers who did the work had gone back to his field.”  God’s people were to support the Levites through tithing.  You will recall that from last time.  They were to bring in grain offerings and tithes to support the ministry of those who ministered at the temple.  But the Levites were not being supported.  There were no storerooms full of tithes because Tobiah was living in the storerooms.  So, the Levites – who were supposed to be financially supported by God’s people – had to leave the temple and go work the fields to support themselves.  Verse 11 tells us what Nehemiah did about that, “So I contended with the rulers, and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their place.”  Nehemiah got things in order and the people began tithing again. 

Verses 12 and 13 state, “Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain and the new wine and the oil to the storehouse.  And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouse, Shelemiah the priest and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah; and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah; for they were considered faithful, and their task was to distribute to their brethren.”

Then Nehemiah prays in verse 14, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for its services!”  Nehemiah is asking God to not forget what he did in restoring to order the temple and its services.

In closing, I would like to leave you with three reminders by way of application.  How can we rightly apply this passage to our daily lives? 

1. The Duty of Confrontation.

When Nehemiah discovered that God’s people had fallen into sin, he called them out on it.  He confronted them.  It is a lie that we should avoid confronting people out of love. That is just wrong.  It is unloving to leave them in their sin.  Let me say that again: it is unloving to leave a brother or sister in sin.

The Bible says in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The Book of James ends in chapter 5 and verses 19-20 with these words, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”  If you love me you will want to save my soul from death and lovingly lead me to Christ whose atonement covers a multitude of sins.  

Jesus teaches in Matthew 18 that when your brother or sister sins you are go and tell them their fault between you and them alone (Matthew 18:15ff).  We have a duty to confront sin.  Deal with it.

Remember the Duty of Confrontation.  Secondly, Reminder . . .

3. The Danger of Compromise.

Chapter 13 is full of compromise.  The people of God compromised their faith and trust in the One True and Living God.  They allowed sin to creep into their lives, creeping into their community, and into their temple.  Tobiah the ungodly Ammonite was allowed to come in among them!

Have you compromised, by allowing an ungodly Ammonite to take up residence in the storeroom of your temple, your body?  Is there an evil Tobiah who lives inside your heart?  What are you going to do about it?  Nehemiah took quick, decisive action.  He did not stop to pray about it.  It was evil.  He already knew what to do.  He kicked it out.  

You who have compromised your faith by allowing little Tobiah’s into your lives, you must “clean house” this morning.  Confess those sins and repent from those sins.  Do you have any unhealthy associations?  I do not mean, “Do you have lost friends.”  I hope you do have lost friends.  Many of them.  We should be praying for and talking regularly with lost neighbors, lost friends and co-workers about their need to accept Christ as Savior.  Are there unhealthy and unhelpful relationships causing you to compromise your faith in Christ?  That man, that lady, who does not follow Jesus and you are in a relationship with them – and they are drawing you away from the Lord.

Did you know that Lottie Moon, the famed Baptist Missionary Woman we remember at Christmastime, did you know she was once engaged to Southern Seminary Professor Crawford Toy?  She broke off the marriage engagement once she learned that he had changed his theology and no longer believed as she believed.  Though she loved that man, she loved Jesus more.  She knew the danger of compromise.

The Bible says in Proverbs 13:20: “He who walks with the wise becomes wise but a companion of fools suffers harm.” This is a reminder that if we allow unhealthy and unhelpful associations into our lives, we will very likely and very soon go astray.  You cannot follow God with a compromised heart.  You cannot expect to have any influence if you compromise your Christian convictions.  Someone said, “The world will never be evangelized by Christians who compromise.

Thirdly . . . God’s people had fallen into sin . . .

3. The Delight of the Cross.

We said at the outset that Chapter 13 is at once discouraging and encouraging.  It is awful easy to read of the compromise of God’s people in Nehemiah’s day and shake our heads in disbelief.  But as I reflect upon this chapter, I sense God often shaking His head over me.  How often have I sinned by behaving no differently?  The people had said during the covenant they made with God in Chapter 10, “We will not neglect the house of God!”  But here they are just three chapters later neglecting and forsaking God’s house.

What commitments have you made previously to God in your life?  How many broken promises?  How many sins?  Aren’t you glad, Christian, aren’t you glad that when you sin, the cross still stands to meet your needs?  God convicts you of your sin and you confess immediately, repent, and turn back to Him.  Thank God for that Holy Spirit conviction to point out sinful compromise!

As one commentator writes: “Be encouraged by the evidence of grace in the ongoing impulse to repent.”  I like that.  Be encouraged, Christian, by the evidence of grace in the ongoing impulse to repent.  And repent today.  Turn from sin and turn to the Savior.  The cross still stands to meet our needs.  If you are not a Christian, you are not a believer, you have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – The cross still stands.  Right now.  Turn away from your sin and believe in the One who has made a way for you to be saved from eternal hell and suffering in the final judgment.   The only way to escape that fiery judgment is to turn away from sin and turn to Christ.  Believe that Jesus is who He said He is.  He lived for you and died in your place to bear the punishment you deserved, and He rose from the grave to grant life to all who believe.  Turn to Him today and follow Him in baptism, getting connected to the church and growing.

Those of you who are Christians, remember the duty to confront, the danger of compromise, and the delight of the cross.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 12:44-47 – Joy and Giving

Grace For The Journey

  We are studying verse-by-verse through Nehemiah in a series entitled, REBUILD.   Nehemiah records the events some 400 years before Christ when God’s people had been under the discipline of God for their sin.  They had been unfaithful to God so God allowed the Babylonians to attack Jerusalem, knock down its buildings and walls, and carry off God’s people into captivity.  The city of Jerusalem lay in ruins for many years after that.  But . . .

By God’s grace that was all over now,

And the people are brought back to

Their homeland in Israel and the city is rebuilt,

The walls rebuilt in just 52.  And God then

Begins a “rebuilding” of the people. 

Having rediscovered the Word, the people

Are led to rededicate themselves.

That brings us to Chapter 12 where last time we read of this great dedication ceremony.   The people gather together to dedicate the rebuilt walls, the rebuilt city, and their rebuilt selves to the One True and Living God.  Nehemiah gives us the details in Chapter 12, the two thanksgiving choirs marching around the tops of the walls, meeting together at the front of the temple in what was surely a grand musical offering of praise and thanksgiving to God.

We paused to reflect on the concluding verse of that narrative, where the word “joy” or “rejoice” occurring no fewer than five times.  Verse 43 says, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  Resounding joy!  We talked about how God created us to joy in Him.  While we experience times of real sorrow, God created us to delight in Him, to love in Him, to sing in Him, and to joy in Him. 

He both

Expects our joy

And

Enables our joy.

We also noted that the people of God in their worship offered up sacrifices of thank offerings to God.  Our thank offerings today are found largely in what the writer of Hebrews calls “the sacrifice of praise to God.”  Hebrews 13:15 states, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

Worship, singing, and praise is natural for the Christian as he or she has Christ within and the word of Christ that dwells within.  The Bible says in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” 

The presence of Christ

Is the essence of joy. 

It is easy to sing when

You walk with the King.

But is joyful worship only about singing?  Is it enough just to shout and sing and lift our voices in praise?  Are there not also practical expressions that accompany our shouts of joy.  It is easy enough to shout and sing, but is more expected of us?  The Bible answers that question with a resounding, “Yes.”  And our passage today opens up with Nehemiah’s telling us something that happened at the same time, on that very day.

Many of you are familiar with that is called the Shorter Catechism; a longstanding disciple-making booklet put together in question and answer format to teach basic doctrines of the Bible.  The old Baptist catechism is based largely upon the Shorter Catechism.  There are these question and answers, for example . . .

Q. Which is the first commandment?

A. The first commandment is, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

The very first question of the Shorter Catechism asks this question . . .

Q. What is the chief end of man?”  

A. The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

The chief end – that is, the whole point of our existence – is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”  Others have noted that we glorify Him most when we are enjoying Him most.  But . . .

Joy is more

Than singing. 

Joy is living.

Nehemiah shows us in today’s passage that joy is also giving.  These verses describe a people who found joy in giving. 

These verses tell us about the peoples’ joyful giving.  Were we to look inside the walls of the rebuilt city we would see not only the temple, but a bunch of storerooms that contained food, grain, pots and pans, and other things used for ministry. The priests and Levites would come in from the villages and prepare everything for worship.  It took time and it took resources.  Tithes were collected into the temple and the monies and resources were distributed to those who led in worship, supporting the ministry of the Lord.

By the way, you have got to love Nehemiah!  He is keen to capitalize on the joyous occasion, striking while the iron is hot, he teaches the importance of tithing and giving to support the work of the Lord.  As one preacher says, “It is one thing to shout on a great occasion, but another to offer the sacrifice of praise continually and to make realistic provision for the church’s needs.”

In today’s blog, we are going to look at three words about given . . .

1. It was Cheerful – Verse 44.

Their giving was done cheerfully.  We have already noted the theme of jubilation that precedes this passage, the people rejoicing with great joy.  Nehemiah tells us in verse 44 that as the people gathered together tithes and offerings that they did so joyfully.  The very last phrase in verse 44 says, “for Judah (that is, the people of God), rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.”  The passage goes on to show that the peoples’ giving was the joyful expression of gratitude for those and to those who led in worship at the temple.  Cheerful giving.

The Bible teaches the same truth in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.  Someone has said, “You’re not really giving to God until you enjoy it.”  I think that is true.  Some say, “Give till it hurts” and for others “It just hurts to give,” but I think it is true that we are not really giving to God until we enjoy it.  We are not to give grudgingly, nor of necessity, as though being forced in some way.  We are to give cheerfully.  

You will remember Jesus one day was watching people give their tithes and offerings in the temple.  Some were showy in their giving, pouring a number of coins into the giving containers making as much noise as possible.   And Jesus saw a poor widow woman putting in just two small copper coins into the temple treasury—not much, not even worth a penny in our day.  And He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had”  (Luke 21:1-4).  You cannot give like that if you are not giving cheerfully.  We cannot expect God to honor our giving if we give grudgingly or of necessity.

Some of you will know the name Harry Ironside.  Ironside was the famous pastor for some 20 years at Moody Church in Chicago and author of a number of commentaries.  Ironside used to tell the story about an old Scotsman who accidentally gave more than he intended into an offering bag during a worship service.  In Scotland, the ushers at the church used a pole with a bag on the end of it and they would make their way through the pews and position that bag in front of you and you put your offerings in the bag.  This one guy accidentally dropped in a gold sovereign coin by mistake when he meant to put in a shilling.  Now a shilling back then was worth a quarter, 25 cents.  And a gold sovereign was worth 20 shillings, worth $5 which was a lot back then.  This old Scotsman accidentally drops in the sovereign and, as soon as he realizes it, he tries to get it back.  But the user pulled the bag back and said, “Nah, once in, always in!”  And the old Scotsman says, “Ah well, I’ll get credit for it in glory.”  And the usher says, “Nah, you’ll get credit for the shilling!”  That is all the old man intended to give, so that is all the credit he will get.  We are to give as God has given to us: joyfully, freely, gladly, cheerfully.

Their giving was Cheerful.  Second word about their giving . . .

2. It was Scriptural – Verses 44-46.

Nehemiah notes twice in verses 44 and 45 that their giving was “by the Book,” according to the Scriptures.  These verses say, “And at the same time [on that very day] some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites …”  The phrase “specified by the Law” means, “as recorded in the Scriptures.”  Tithing was biblical.   

You will also see in verse 45 the phrase, “… according to the command of David and Solomon his son.”  The service of ministers was supported by the people as the ministers were doing what was commanded in the Word.  Ministry was supported by tithing and giving.

The word “tithe” means “tenth.”  That is literally what the word means: “tenth; one tenth, or ten percent.”  Strictly speaking, to tithe is to give 10% of what you have received.  A tithe is 10% of your earnings.  Earn $1,000, and if you tithe on that, $100 dollars goes to the Lord. An “offering” is when you give above the tithe.  As you have returned your tithe to the Lord and as God often prompts you, you may give an offering in addition to, or above your regular giving.  That is an offering.

It is not our place this morning to do an exhaustive Old Testament survey about the various tithes of grain, money, and offerings collected by God’s people.  I will leave that to your further study later.  But one truth is unmistakable: God expected His people to give the first tenth of what they had received, to return that to God to support the ministry, the ministry to God’s people.  The people in verse 44 were obeying that command, the command “specified by the Law.”

They obeyed God’s command, His Law about giving and tithing.  And again, you can read some of those commands later in places like Leviticus 7, Numbers 7, and Deuteronomy 18.  By the way, I am reading through Numbers in my devotion time and discovered that one of the longest chapters in the Bible is Numbers Chapter 7, nearly 2,000 words and all of them about giving.

The greater point is that God uses the tithe to do the work of the ministry to God’s people.  Tithing is a principle that continues into our day.  Some may differ on whether the Old Testament Law about tithing is still binding as a law, but nearly every Christian agrees on the principle of tithing, tithing is an ongoing principle is the means by which God funds the ministry of the church.

Our church expects members to discover the joy of tithing, the joy of returning to the Lord the “first fruits” of their harvest, the top of their giving, the first tenth, 10% of what God has given us through the providence of a job.  Like God’s people giving to the temple, we give our tithe to the church and all those monies support the ministries of the church.  You are receiving ministry from the church – including the ministry of hearing the Word of God, sitting under the teaching of God’s Word in Bible Study classes, gathering together for worship – you are receiving so it is natural to be giving; giving to support what you are receiving.  That is why the tithe is returned to the local church.  

We are not to use our tithe for other things.  That is, we do not take our 10% and give it to other causes and call that “tithing.”  We give our 10% back to God through the local church ministry (Malachi 3:10); that i’s tithing and then – as God leads us to give above our tithe – we may choose to give offerings to other causes, missional, or humanitarian needs, or otherwise.  

God always honors our giving.  Tithers will provide testimony that when they return their tithe, God always provides.  As God says through the Prophet Malachi in Malachi 3:10, “’Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”  A good question for us to ask is, “What would the church look like if everyone were to give as I give.”

Their giving was Cheerful.  Their giving was Scriptural.  And, thirdly . . .

3. It was Bountiful – Verse 47.

Verse 47 essentially demonstrates that the people provided more than enough funds for one another.  Everyone received what was necessary.  Verse 47 declares, “In the days of Zerubbabel [a hundred years earlier] and in the days of Nehemiah [both then and now] all Israel [note that: all of God’s people] gave [all gave] the portions for the singers and the gatekeepers, a portion for each day. They also consecrated holy things for the Levites, and the Levites consecrated them for the children of Aaron.”  What you have here is unity of the people with regard to their giving.  They gave cheerfully, Scripturally, and bountifully so that each and every person received what was needed to do the ministry.

One commentator has noted, “The people funded the worship of God.  Their perspective was, ‘Whatever it costs us, though we must sacrifice, we must support the worship of God in the temple. That is what our lives are about.” 

Bountiful giving is easy

Once we reflect on what

We have bountiful

Received from God.

Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.”  Here is the question: “What have we NOT received from God?”  If we belong to Christ, it’s logical that everything we have belongs to Him.  As Isaac Watts wrote in the hymn we often sing: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

Giving to God is just taking our hands

Off of what belongs to Him.”

It is in the context of giving in 1 Corinthians 9 that Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (1 Corinthians 9:15).

The greatest gift we have received from God is Jesus Christ.  Thanks be to God for HIs indescribably GREAT GIFT, the gift of salvation that is ours through Jesus Christ.

Danny Akin, president of Southeaster Seminary, was talking about Christian giving and how those who are believers should give generously, the tithe to the local church merely being the start of our giving.  Rather than splitting hairs about how much a person should give each week he suggested this exercise, he said, “Get on your knees, look to the cross, and give based on that.”

As we close out study, let’s consider the teaching we have heard from God’s Word.   When God’s people give, their giving is to be cheerful, their giving is to be Scriptural, and their giving is to be bountiful.  What are you giving?  Do you tithe, do you give 10% back to God through the church ministry?  Many of you do.  Really, if we are serious about living by God’s truth, the Bible teaches that, for the Christian, 10% is only the beginning.  The Bible teaches us in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says, “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.  Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God has prospered him,  …”  But how do you do that?  Do you give cheerfully – or begrudgingly, out of necessity?  Maybe our motives are not right.  Let’s take a moment to confess silently and repent from sin.

Some of you are convicted about giving to God, beginning to return the tithe to Him, the first 10% of your paycheck as the means by which you say, “God, I trust You to provide.  I am taking You at Your Word when You said, ‘Prove Me now in this.’  I am doing just that, believing You will pour out every need I have through the open window of Your provision.”  Silently thank God for His abundant provision and ask for His grace to be a faithful giver.

If you do not know Jesus Christ . . .

God does not want your money,

He wants your soul. 

Your greatest need is not

To receive more stuff,

Your greatest need is

To receive a Savior;

The Lord Jesus Christ.

Be encouraged to know that God loves you this morning and has made a way for you to be accepted by Him, forgiven of sin through Him, and finding life in Him.  Turn to Christ this morning and be saved.

When we survey the wondrous cross, when we look to the cross, we see there every reason for our giving generously.  God’s love is so amazing, so divine, that it demands our soul, our lives, and our all.  May God be honored and glorified as we respond to Him  in truth through Christ Jesus our Lord, amen.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”

Rebuild: Nehemiah 12:27-43 – God Gives Us Real, Resounding Joy!

Grace For The Journey

 We have been studying Nehemiah for some weeks in our series REBUILD.  We have been learning about how God rebuilds walls around a city and how He rebuilds the people of the city.  The city of Jerusalem had lain in ruins for quite some time as God disciplined His people for their sin, sending them into captivity under the Babylonians.  But that was all over now, and God brought the people back into the land.  Nehemiah led the people to rebuild the walls that went around the city in a record 52 days.  And once the walls went up the people gathered together.  They opened the Bible and began doing what it said.  They listened to preaching and teaching, confessed their sin and recommitted themselves to God.   And the time has come to dedicate the rebuilt walls and rebuilt people to the One True and Living God. 

In the passage we will be looking at today, Nehemiah lists the various people with him and the places along the wall.  And he describes how the people were singing and celebrating.  He lists the things the people used in the dedication of the wall – musical instruments, harps, congregational singing, and choirs.  Get a picture in your mind –  half of the people are gathered on top of the wall marching in one direction; the other half in the other direction, singing, rejoicing, praising God, and then they meet together at the location in front of “the house of God,” (verse 40), or the temple.  We see that in verse 40, “So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God,” and Nehemiah lists all the people who were with him, all the people are singing and then verse 43 states, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  This is a great verse that captures the moment succinctly and memorably.  The word “joy” or “rejoice” occurs five times! 

I want us to look this morning at . . .

“Resounding Joy,”

Resounding,

Echoing,

And

Reverberating

Joy!

I read a story the other day about individuals who are hired by Facebook to take down inappropriate videos.  There are several hundreds of people Facebook hires to look at video user’s uploads and they flag inappropriate ones, blocking them from being posted.  This led to these employees having to watch a number of unsettling videos – horrible images, beatings, abuse, etc. – many of these things got to them and led to deep depression, similar to the post-traumatic stress many of our veterans suffer.  The daily barrage of unpleasant, dark, and disturbing images led to a joyless existence.  The Facebook people were having to figure out how best to address the problem and care for the souls of the workers.

I do not think I would like that job, and I certainly cannot imagine having a job like that without a deep-seated joy in the Lord.  We were designed to joy in the Lord.  Psalm 100:1-5 declares, “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before His presence with singing.  Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.  Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise.  Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.  For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”

God created us to have joy in Him.  Apart from Him, we will try to find joy in the wrong things, and we will we be lacking that critical element that allows us to live in a dark, fallen world.  As Nehemiah has already taught us in Nehemiah 8:10, “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  God created us to have joy in Him.  Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart does good like medicine …”  

We should never fake joy.  In fact, there are times we sorrow deeply.  The shortest verse in the Bible is where Jesus experiences true sorrow at the deepest human level.  He came to the place where Lazarus was buried and the Bible says in John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”  Grief is real.  Joy is a deep-seated, weighty presence underneath the sorrow that makes its way out when the sorrow is over.  It comes through faith in the Lord.  That is why Jesus would say John 14:1, “Let not your heart be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in Me.”  Joy is deep-seated, always there if we are believers, it comes up and through us as we believe and trust in the Lord.  The presence of Christ is the essence of joy. 

There is joy all through this passage.  I have broken the passage down into three headings, three words that describe what is going on in the text as the people gather together to dedicate the wall to the glory of God.  They get themselves in order first and then there is the dedication itself where the two choirs make their procession at the top of the walls, and then there is the accompanying jubilation and praise that reverberates through the land.  

The first word . . .

1. Purification – Verses 27-30.

In the opening verses of the passage, beginning at verse 27, we read that the people sought out the Levites and gathered them together at Jerusalem.  They were scattered here and there in the surrounding villages, so the people got them all together.  Verse 30 tells us that, along with the priests, they will prepare themselves and the people for worship, “Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall.”  We are not told how they purified themselves, the people, the gates, and the wall, but more than likely they did so through ritualistic washings with water; washing their bodies, washing their clothing, and washing the walls. 

The point is that they were going to be

Worshiping in the presence of God

And they needed to be cleansed

In order to be in His presence.

There is no deep-seated joy without purification.  We cannot be a joyful people if we are a sinful people.  We cannot be truly happy apart from true holiness.  Rejoicing requires repenting.

One of the reasons it may be difficult to sing in a worship service is because we have not taken time to prepare ourselves; taking time before we leave the house to go to the cross and appropriate the Gospel afresh and anew.  Confessing our sin, repenting, turning back to the Lord, and resubmitting ourselves to His Lordship.  We should take time in the worship service to do this as well.  We want our worship to be true, authentic, and real.  It will never be joyful praise if there remains unconfessed and unrepented sin in our lives. 

We cannot be a joyful people

If we remain a sinful people.

Sin robs us of our joy.  Confess it daily.  Repent from it regularly.  Purification. 

The second word . . .

2. Dedication – Verses 31-42.

In these verses, we have the dedication proper, the dedication itself.  The people are positioning themselves upon the walls, walking over the tops of the walls, dedicating the walls to God.  The city is, after all, the city “of God.”  It is His city, His temple, His buildings, His walls.  The picture is of this great procession, a processional of two choirs, one going to the right or south (verse 31) and the other choir going the opposite way or north (verse 38).  Ezra behind the one choir and Nehemiah behind the other choir.

These are called “thanksgiving choirs,” the people thanking God for His providence, providing the people all the resources, time, and energy needed to rebuild the walls.  They likely sang some of the Psalms as they made their procession around the walls, marching around and singing, maybe Psalm 48:12-13 for example, “Walk about Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.”

I found a picture that illustrates what this may have looked like . . .

The people all around the tops of the walls, up and down the stairs, the two choirs meeting together here, horns blowing, and people singing.

By the way, do you remember Sanballat and Tobiah?  Those rascals back in the earlier chapters?  They were trying to discourage Nehemiah and the others from rebuilding the walls.  In chapter 4 and verse, Tobiah specifically had ridiculed and taunted the people of God as they were getting the first stones up and he said, “Look at that pathetic wall!  It would not even hold the weight of a small animal!  If a fox were to climb up on that wall it would break it all down!.”  Well . . . Wonder what Tobiah would say now!?” Hundreds upon hundreds of people walking across the tops of the walls.  God is good . . . He has provided!

The final word . . .

3. Jubilation – Verse 43.

Verse 43 says, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  This verse reminds me of the verse in Matthew’s Gospel where the wise men make their way to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus.  And Matthew writes in chapter 2, verse 10, “And when they saw the star they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.”  It was not just joy, or great joy, but they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy! 

They offered “great sacrifices.”  These were thank-offerings to the Lord, a way of praising God, and thanking Him for what He has done.  Most present in their minds would be their gratitude to God for enabling them to build the wall in 52 days.  But they were thankful for much more – thankful for what they had learned recently in His word, thankful for forgiveness, thankful for restoration after having been in captivity for 70 years in Babylon.  

The writer of Hebrews tells how thank offerings continue in our day through worship.  In Hebrews 13:15, the Bible tells us, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”  Our thank offerings continue today through our worship.  We sing to God and that singing is a “sacrifice of praise.”  God loves to receive this sacrifice.  He loves to hear us give thanks to Him through praise.  Singing praise to God is one mark of a true Christian.  Singing to the Lord is natural for the believer.  It is a way of life.

Ephesians 5:18-19 instructs us to, “And be not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”

Colossians 3:16 tells us to, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

The joy of God’s people in verse 43 is a resounding joy!  The last phrase of verse 43 says the joy was so great that “the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off.”  You could hear it for miles around.  As I studied verse 43 two truths began to stand out.  Two truths about joy . . . 

  • God Expects our Joy.

I cited Psalm 100 earlier.  Many of you know the praise chorus that paraphrases Psalm 100 . . .

I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart

I will enter His courts with praise

I will say this is the day that the Lord has made

I will rejoice for He has made me glad

God has “made us glad.”  You see that in verse 43, as well, “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy …”  God expects His people to be living testimonies to the joy of the Lord.  

You look at some professing Christians and you wonder if they really know the Lord. You listen to the way they talk, and they do not sound like believers at all.  Their demeanor and conversations resemble a people who are defeated, hard, calloused, and cynical.

Somebody said, “Some Christians give the impression they were baptized in vinegar!”  Do not be that person!  Do not be the person who can brighten up a room by leaving it.  Do not be that person!  God expects our joy.  He created us for joy.  Joy in Him

First truth . . . God expects our joy.  Second truth . . .

  • God Enables our Joy.

He is the source of our joy.  Again, note the important phrase in verse 43, “For God had made them rejoice with great joy …”  Who made the people to rejoice with great joy?  Who enabled that joy?  God – He is the source of our joy.

Remember when we studied Nehemiah 8:10?  It included the phrase, “… the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Remember when we studied that phrase, I said that it does not mean we manufacture this joy ourselves.  Like, “I will be strong if I can get myself joyful.”  

The source of our joy is in God,

Namely God’s joy for us. 

It is the joy of the Lord,

The joy belonging to the Lord,

It is His joy for His people

Whom He delights to forgive

And rescue from captivity.

It is the joy of the Lord for His children; His love for those He saves, His joy in us.  It is that joy that God has toward us that is the source of our strength.  Put another way:

We are joyful when

We know Who He is,

When we know

What He has done

When we know that

He loves us, delights

In us, and forgives us.

When we reflect on God’s love for us it activates our love for Him.  When we reflect on God’s joy in us it activates our joy in Him.  This is how God enables our joy.  We reflect on His love for us in Christ and it does something to us.  Our reflection upon Him causes a joy to come through us.  But, we have to reflect on that love and joy.  It requires our doing something; intentionally thinking upon Him and reflecting upon His love and joy for us in Christ.

Most of us have a thermostat in our homes.  You know what a thermostat is, do not you?  A little boy pointed to a thermostat and asked his friend, “What’s that?”  He said, “I do not know; it is something my mom turns up and my dad turns down.”  If you want to feel right in your home, you have to adjust the thermostat.  It requires an action.  I have got to do something.  I cannot just lie in my bed sweating and hope it starts feeling cooler in the house.  I have got to get up and go in there and move the switch down a bit!

Joy is like that.  If you want to feel right, you have to do something.  It will not just happen; you have to reflect, taking time to think about God’s love for you in Christ, and when you do that, it is like you have moved the setting on the thermostat: you begin to feel better, you begin to feel joy.  The joy of the Lord is your strength.

If you are not a Christian, or if you are not living for Jesus, you cannot really do this.  Apart from Christ, true joy, resounding joy, is simply not possible.  Oh, you can have moments of happiness, but happiness comes and goes and changes with your circumstances, or is dependent upon the diversion, the escape, or the next drink, or drug.  It is not the same as joy.  Some of you are trying to manufacture your own kind of joy, but it will remain as foreign and elusive to you as long as you remain in the shackles of sin.  God loves you and has made a way for you to know Him in Christ Jesus.  Turn from your sin and trust in Him.  Believe in Him and He will give you real, lasting, resounding joy.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

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.”