True Worship Leads to Obedience & Reform
Chapters 11 and 12 of Nehemiah speaks of bold reform. It shows God’s people drawing closer to Him in worship, and, as such, they also became vividly aware of His standards. More specifically, a standard laid out int he 23rd chapter of Deuteronomy:
An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever: Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.Deuteronomy 23:3-4
It had been roughly one thousand years since the original infringement when the children of Israel came up out of Egypt. Reform was overdue! But God is no respecter of persons. He remembered another promise He had made, long ago, to Abraham:
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.Genesis 12:3
The cursing of the Ammonites and Moabites were simply the fulfilling of this, come to pass. Reform or not, it was about the Truth that God already spoke, coming to pass.
Separating from the Multitude
Once Israel heard the command from God, from the writings of Moses, they obeyed and separated from the mixed multitude. It would have been just as easy, instead of living out this reform, to have simply come up with excuses instead.
They could have spoken to how long ago it was, and how that was “a different time”… surely God wouldn’t expect the same standards to be in place?
They could have talked about how different things had become, and that there was no reason to go overboard.
Or, if all else had failed, they could easily have asked for a task force to truly examine the issue.
A Mixed Multitude
The “mixed multitude” represented a people who wanted, for all intents and purposes, to be associated with the land of Israel. However, they did not want to make an honest commitment, with everything that would entail.
The same is true today, in churches all across the country. Good people, people who do good deeds, and say all the right things, but still lack being an active participant in God’s covenant. Lacking their part in the salvation plan.
Reform of the Temple
Nehemiah remarks that “during all this” he was not in Jerusalem. He had more than likely returned to the Persian court to assume his duties there and was probably gone for a span of ten to twelve years.
When he had originally left Jerusalem, there was somewhat of a revival going on. But, as it always is, the true test of the power of God’s working on the inside of us is the long term outcome. Look at where you are, spiritually, about ten years after God does an excellent work in your life.
When Nehemiah finally did come back to Jerusalem, he found that the priest Eliashib had conspired with Tobiah. If you remember, a few chapters back, this was one of the greatest enemies to Nehemiah’s wall rebuilding effort.
It’s not surprising then to learn that Tobiah was an Ammonite, one of the “mixed multitude” that was not even to be counted in God’s assembly. Unfortunately, as Nehemiah returned, he found that Tobiah was not only a part of the assembly, but he went so far as to take up rooms in the courts of the temple. And Eliashib had either turned a purposeful blind eye or just didn’t care.
Nehemiah was Grieved
Someone with such a heart for God, like Nehemiah, would obviously be bitterly upset about a pagan setting up space in God’s temple. But worse still, Tobiah had a history of stark opposition to God’s work.
This whole situation shone a light on a couple of important things. First, was the fact that such a spiritual man and leader in Israel such as Eliashib refused to acknowledge the problem. Even worse, there wasn’t a soul around who was willing to call him out in this problem area.
Nehemiah was sad, thinking that there was no real value, no worth, in the spiritual revival he witnessed the last time he came to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah Takes Action
If we’ve learned anything about Nehemiah while blogging through this particular book, it is that he isn’t the kind of man to just sit back on his haunches and accept this sad fate. No, he immediately sprang into action, throwing out everything that Tobiah had placed in the temple courts.
He went further to have those rooms cleansed ceremonially, bringing back the sacred items which should have been there in the first place. It kind of reminds me of when Jesus cleansed the temple with a braided whip.
The thing that both Jesus and Nehemiah knew was that love should never be confused with “niceness”. There should be the wisdom to understand when true action, bold moves, and true reform are necessary.
Nehemiah made it known, then, that he realized there was no obedience in their acts of giving. One of the biggest “give-away’s” to this fact is that the people that should have been there, serving God and God’s people, could no longer do that.
Because the house of God had been forsaken in giving, they had to leave their respective places of service. Instead of accepting that fate, Nehemiah once again went to work, reworking the collection and accounting so that the Levites could recommit to this most important work.
As you read through this chapter, you will eventually come to the part where it talks about the sacredness of the Sabbath and the fact that the people profaned it. Israel was gladly purchasing all that the foreigners were bringing to sell.
But you must understand, this isn’t about “buying and selling”. It’s about priorities. Spending and making money had become more important than showing reverence before God, or before glorifying God.
According to the New Testament, as I understand it, we are no longer under the strict Sabbath Law as were all those under the Old Covenant:
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.Colossians 2:16-17
However, there was no relaxation in the obligation that we MUST honor God more than money!
But back to Nehemiah…
He went on to tell the people that they should have looked back and remembered that profaning the Sabbath had only brought wrath on the people of Israel. Now, by continuing in that sin, they were doing their part to heap on even more wrath.
But you know Nehemiah! He wasn’t about to have it going on in his presence. He threatened them outright:
Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.Nehemiah 13:21
I’m willing to bet Nehemiah wasn’t telling them he was going to pray for them. No, these hands would be laid on for correction, and they got the picture! They did not come back again on the Sabbath.
God had commanded that Israelites should not marry into the pagan nations that surrounded them. However, while Nehemiah was away, the Jews did just that very thing, to extreme levels.
Nehemiah’s reaction was just as extreme:
And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons; or for yourselves.Nehemiah 13:25
We don’t have to study commentaries and sermon notes to understand that Nehemiah considered this a drastic form of disobedience. God had said “no” to this kind of romantic pursuit, and that was all there was to it.
He even went so far as to make an example of King Solomon, one of the wisest kings to ever have lived, and surely one of the most blessed by God. Having asked only for wisdom, God granted him riches galore, so that everyone knew him for his wealth.
However, once Solomon started to marry pagan women… and then to buckle and build temples to the respective gods… then he, himself, was led to sin and, ultimately, his demise.
Nehemiah’s Clear Conscious
By the end of all that he had done to make things right, Nehemiah cried out to God to remember him. He had attempted to secure Jerusalem, making it strong and safe. Furthermore, he led the people toward obedient worship of God.
In his earnest cries, one can almost sense a feeling of failure in Nehemiah. In chapter ten of this book, the people promised they would never neglect God’s house. But he came back, having to ask why they had done that very thing!
The moral of this particular story is clear, isn’t it? That we, and people in general, can make all the vows, covenants, rules, and promises they want, but it is only God’s grace, which swoops in when we are obedient to His doctrine and commands, that ultimately helps us to overcome sin in our lives!
If our promise could save us, or making a commitment to Jesus, wouldn’t things be different? If we could be saved by “believing only” the way that some misconstrue the Scriptures to read, then Jesus’ death would certainly have been noble…
But it would also have been unnecessary.
The following verse is a great summarization of this:
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.Titus 3:5
That verse greatly mimics another, so familiar:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.Acts 2:38
May we ever and always live to glorify the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords!
As with many readings I’ve covered during our Blogging Through The Bible experience, there always far more topics for discussion than I could ever think to ask under one heading!
Instead, I’ll simply ask for your input. What do YOU think about this chapter? How did it strike you that Nehemiah was so grieved and so bold in his actions to reform Jerusalem? What else stood out or struck you in this chapter?
Lord Jesus, help me to never, ever take Your love, Your grace, and Your mercy for granted! Help me to never be as those Israelites were in forgetting You, Your commandments, and our promises to serve You and glorify You always! Make me ever mindful that You are with me always, and I ask it in the mighty Name of Jesus, Amen!
In Case You Missed It…
The most recent Blogging Through The Bible entries are still live and ready for reading.
Angela’s addition for Nehemiah chapters 6 & 7 are HERE.
I covered chapters 7 & 8 HERE.
Tammy wrote about chapters 9 & 10 HERE.
You can read Tatiana’s coverage of chapters 11 & 12 HERE.