New Testament (except for Psalm 106 which we read tomorrow) – DONE! For those of you who have read the Old Testament in its entirety for the first time, I offer my congratulations on a job well done. You have persevered, and God has seen your diligence. If you’ve read the Old Testament in its entirety before, I’d love to hear what new insights you have gained as you reread the battles, the struggles and the praises of God’s people.
Let’s finish Nehemiah.
The temple is built. The wall is repaired. It’s time to live in the town and … few people want to. There was probably a lot to do to the town, and the people were enjoying their lives living in their camps. Why rock the boat or move on? They had it good! But God had other plans, and He wanted them to claim His city. Since few people apparently volunteered, Nehemiah records an unusual way to repopulate: he tithes the people. 10% of the people were selected by lot to populate Jerusalem. It was an honor to be selected (I know God actually picked the people although the method He used was a lottery), but I wonder how difficult it was for the selectees to march away from family and friends to take God’s city.
What would happen in YOUR church if 10% of the people were asked to move to another area and start a new ministry?
We can learn many lessons from this repopulation.
1. We need to give ourselves to God. The people who were selected were making themselves a living sacrifice to God. Paul tells us to do the same in his letter to the Romans.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
Unfortunately, the people were transformed only for a little while. Nehemiah reported back to the king, then returned to Jerusalem, and he found out that the people had intermarried. This passage does not address interracial marriage. God wanted the Jews to remain a pure people so the line from David to Jesus would be pure. The people were conforming themselves to their world and marrying the local pagans. The kids of those marriages weren’t even taught the language of their fathers. These women were Ammonites and Moabites, the products of the incestuous union between Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38) – the enemies of the Jews. If that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Ammonite, Tobiah, living in the Temple – the place where God specifically said only His people were to be (Nehemiah 13:28)! And to top it off, Tobiah was using a room dedicated to God for storing the offerings used by the Levites. Sin had crept into the temple, and Nehemiah threw Tobias and his furniture out.
2. The people gave praise to God for what He had allowed them to accomplish. They walked around and on the entire wall. It reminds us that although we are all members of the body, the part that God gives us to do does not belong to us. You have no “territorial rights” in the church. Maybe God has something else for you to do. Your service to God is a gift, and once given, the gift is God’s to use as he wants. (There’s a story about a building program in a large church which required that a certain Sunday School class relocate to a different area of the church. The class SUED the church! How ridiculous that they thought there were squatters rights available to any group!)
Another reason that the people walked around the walls was that it symbolized stepping out in faith to receive God’s blessing (remember Joshua and Jericho?). In Nehemiah’s time, walking on a piece of property was laying claim to the property. God told Abraham to claim the land exactly that way:
Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you. Gen 13:17 (ESV)
He made a similar promise to Joshua.
Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. Josh 1:3 (ESV)
Although the walk around the walls was symbolic, it wasn’t the most important thing. The people praised God. They were excited to be back in Jerusalem with their own Temple. They were believing in God. and as a result….
3. The people gave to the work of the church. The people knew that their blessings came from God, so they got their hearts right with Him, praised Him for His deeds, and showed Him they were serious by opening their wallets. Please note that the first thing they did was to give themselves to God. Giving money without a right heart isn’t a sacrifice or an offering – it’s an obligation. Paul underscored this when he commended the church in Macedonia.
For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 2 Cor 8:3-5 (ESV)
When we give to God, we need to remember that we must give with the right spirit. Any monetary gift is really a spiritual sacrifice to God and we want our sacrifices to be…
… a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. Phil 4:18 (ESV)
And finally, Nehemiah dealt with Sabbath day commerce by shutting the gates. The people weren’t honoring their Sabbath to God. It was another day full of work and shopping – and a temple service too. It’s not much different today (although there is no requirement to stop work on the Sabbath).
God is working on me with the whole Sabbath rest thing. Can I take a job where I will not be able to participate in church activities? If I do, am I telling God that I don’t trust Him to provide me with enough – or am I saying that I don’t want to be a part of His body? If I run from church to the big sale at the local mall, am I honoring His command to rest one day and work six? How about church “fellowship” at the local sports stadium? Does that honor God’s command to rest? Cooking for the entire week to make the weekdays smoother?
I can’t answer any of those questions for you. As part of the New Covenant, God didn’t give us specific Sabbath instructions as He did to the Jews. In fact, the writer of Hebrews says:
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Heb 8:13 (ESV)
As you meditate on the final words in Nehemiah, I pray that you will have a talk with God about your Sabbath activities. I pray that you truly desire to worship as He would have you worship – and I pray that if He asks you to change some aspect of your Sundays (or any other part of your life, of course), you take Him seriously and ask for His help as you grow closer to Him.
Tomorrow we begin the New Testament and we will see the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in the birth, life, death and resurrection of our Lord.
I really want to know what reading the Old Testament has done for your walk with Christ. What areas have been strengthened? Was the reading what you expected? What were the good parts? What were the boring parts? Will you continue this habit in 2013 and continue to read the Bible through every year? I know that I will do so next year – again – and will use a different method of reading, perhaps straight through, or maybe a little of the Old and New Testament every day.
See you at the end of the week!