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!
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.”