Life is hard and comes with abundance of challenges and trials. Yet, the Bible teaches that many of these issues are self-inflicted. We cause our own problems based on the personal and selfish ambitions that we pursue that are contrary to God’s righteousness. Since our hearts are wicked, we have a natural desire to seek after that which is contrary to God, ultimately denying His goodness, righteousness, and wisdom in the process. By extension, we end up finding ourselves in bad places of injustice without any solutions that produce legitimate fruit and satisfaction in life. Some will even go so far as to blame God for these situations, but the Bible is clear, we are to blame. The scriptures show that the children of Israel have historically had to face incredible issues that even threatened their existence as a people group on this planet. Still, the scriptures are also candid to explain that these issues came about because the people refused to keep God’s commands. The people wouldn’t pay attention to God, made up their own form of righteousness as they went along, and found that their personal opinions about life were wrong, having dug themselves incredible pits in dark places. Thankfully God is both merciful and patient to deal with these miserable habits that all people have.
The testimony of Nehemiah gives a clear example of this situation. It does not end on a high note. The Book of Nehemiah ends with the testimony of God’s people making the same mistakes as they had in the past, which had caused an abundance of problems and judgments for them since then. Though the people knew why they had been judged in the past, their depraved natured caused them to continue in the same forms of foolishness, provoking God to judge His people again, and again, and again. In Nehemiah 13:23-31 the Bible explains that Nehemiah found that the people had taken on pagan wives, specifically the priests. Recall that this is the same issue that was discussed at the end of the Book of Ezra. When Ezra went to Jerusalem decades before, he was informed of the exact same issue. At that time, Ezra took dramatic steps to annul the unlawful marriages and deal with the situation according to God’s laws and standards. Nevertheless, the testimony of Nehemiah 13:23-31 shows that the people just couldn’t help themselves. Again, the people had taken pagan wives for themselves.
This time, the stakes were much higher. It was not just that the children of Israel were marrying women that were pagan, but that the results of their marriages were destructive to both the spiritual AND cultural integrity of God’s people. The Bible explains that many of the people who began taking pagan wives quickly assimilated into pagan culture. The Jews began to drift away from the cultural practices and language of their forefathers. The scriptures testify that many of the younger generations didn’t even know the original Hebrew language because they began speaking the languages of the Moabites and Ammonites in their households. This was especially true in the households of the priests, even the high priests! Here, it is important to consider the ramifications of this issue. If the parents of the Jews were taking pagan wives and speaking pagan languages, they were likely participating in pagan cultural traditions and religious practices. Not only were the people embracing that which was an abomination to the Lord God, but were also disqualifying themselves from future repentance. How could the people seek the Lord according to His Word if they people were becoming ignorant of the language in which it was written? How could the people of God know His commands and statutes if they weren’t practicing them at home, and were departing from the language in which it was penned? Recall that the children of Israel had already neglected the law to the point where they had misplaced the scrolls and became ignorant of some fundamental things in the law. At least they were able to read it once it was discovered. This time, the depravity of God’s people was so great that they were purposefully blinding themselves in pursuit of fleshly appetites so that their connection to God was deliberately crippled.
When Nehemiah saw these things taking place, he responded with incredible zeal! The scriptures testify that Nehemiah contended with the people in the same manner that he had contended with them about the issues of the Sabbath. This shows that, wherever the people were guilty of offending God, Nehemiah wouldn’t permit it. He wasn’t willing to let the people compromise. He wouldn’t relent in his job to hold the people accountable to God’s clear declarations of pure righteousness. Whether he was offensive to the people or not, he didn’t care. In fact, Nehemiah was so offended by the unlawful marriages that were taking place again, that he even physically attacked some of the people who were guilty. The Bible explains that Nehemiah struck some of the people and even pulled out the hair of some of the people. Yet the scripture never rebuked Nehemiah. The scriptures never suggest that Nehemiah was wrong to respond in such a manner. The Bible never suggests that God disapproved of Nehemiah’s response against the people. In fact, the absence of a response from God shows that He likely approved of Nehemiah’s zealous efforts to purge sin and uphold His righteousness. Hence, Nehemiah’s violent response against the sin in Israel is emblematic of God’s attitude towards the sin in Israel. Nehemiah’s violence was far less severe than God’s would have been however…
When Nehemiah addressed the people, he was invigorated to remind them of the very issues that caused so much of the distress in Israel. Nehemiah reminded the people about King Solomon. So many of Israel’s issues that were documented in 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles stemmed from the unlawful marriages that Solomon had. Nehemiah reminded the people that Solomon took on pagan wives, and even though he was so beloved of God, he suffered dearly! As a result, the family dynamics of Solomon were greatly perverted. Eventually, those issues led to divisions, which led to separations, which led to a 2-state kingdom in Israel, and for centuries, the worship of God was corrupted by all of the individual self-seeking mentality the people had grown accustomed to. Since Solomon showed himself to be a self-seeker, taking on wife after wife, whether offensive to God or not, the people followed the lead of the king. Over time, the people had grown exceptionally distant from God so that God the Lord judged them through the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Babylonians. You could make the argument that the Persian occupation that Israel was enslaved to at that time could be rooted back to the issues that sparked from Solomon’s evil pagan relationships. Yet, the people were committing the exact same offenses again.
It was clear that God was patient and merciful with the people, but the history of Israel showed that it was clear that God was also righteous. He had proven that He was willing to judge His people. God proved that His mercy was helpful, but not to the point where He would excuse all of the consequences of the people’s foolishness. God warned the people in His law that marrying pagan people would cause the people to be distant from Him. Since God alone is good, wise, and right, the distance from God would cause the people to dwell in evil, foolishness and corruption. The people didn’t seem to care. They didn’t consider the magnitude of consequences that had been suffered since the days of Solomon. They people didn’t consider the magnitude of consequences the people suffered since Ezra discovered the unlawful marriages in Jerusalem the first time. The people didn’t consider the oaths that had been sworn when Ezra sought to purge this sin from the people and lead them in repentance. The people wanted to live according to their personal and selfish ambitions so bad, that they just kept willfully making the same mistakes, digging the same pits that they would later fall into and suffer from.
The testimony of Nehemiah 13:23-31 states that, once again, it was the leadership in Israel that encouraged this behavior. Eliashib the high priest was singled out as one of the chief offenders that Nehemiah confronted. It was exposed that Eliashib not only made friends with Tobiah the Ammonite and permitted him to use God’s holy temple space for evil personal use, but also became family with Sanballat through the marriage of his son. Eliashib had a wicked partnership with Tobiah, one of the chief persecutors of God’s people, and then allowed his son to marry the daughter of Sanballat, the other chief persecutor of God’s people. It is no wonder that the people suffered persecution. They kept keeping the sources of darkness close to them. The people kept going back to the very causes of misery and destruction. The people kept indulging in that which made them sick. As Nehemiah saw all of these things taking place, he pleaded with God for mercy and justice: justice against Eliashib and the leaders of Israel that caused such corruption to God’s purposes, and mercy for himself. Nehemiah prayed to God hoping that God would excuse him from the judgment that would inevitably come upon Israel – again. Nehemiah hoped that God would see his zeal for God’s righteousness, the good works that he tried to do to steer the people straight, and consider those things when administrating His judgments.
Unfortunately, the Book of Nehemiah ends this way. The history of the Bible shows that Nehemiah, and his contemporary Malachi were the last men that received God’s divine revelation. God was silent for 400 years until the incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God. Clearly, the people’s desire to live by their own standards was sufficient to cause God to be silent with His people. They were indifferent to God’s commands, ignorant of the language of God’s people, and blind to how their manner of living was parallel to those of the past who were cancerous and ultimately judged. Nehemiah did his best. He cleansed the people, the temple, the complex, and sought to live rightly by example. Still, the people, even God’s leaders, sought to rebel against the One that had shown so much favor. The darkness and suffering that took place during the 400-year span between the Old Testament and New Testament was simply on account of the conscious decisions the people made to dig their own graves. As people, we can’t expect to do the same wicked things expecting righteous and beneficial results to come from it. At some point, we need to change in repentance to do that which God says is right.
The Sabbath day is one of the most important issues in the entire Bible. It was the first commandment that God gave in His Law that served as a practical way to receive God’s benefits. The Bible explains that the Sabbath day was the sign of the covenant of the Law that God gave to Moses. Therefore, the Sabbath was the key feature of life in Israel that would connect God’s people to Himself through the Law. The Lord made a special and unique covenant with the children of Israel through the Law that He gave to Moses, and the Sabbath was the Lord’s way of signing that contract to validate the promises and curses that came with the Law. The Sabbath was supposed to be a day in which the children of Israel rested from their work in order to honor God and recognize His goodness. The people were called to work six days, and then rest from their regular labor on the seventh day in the same manner that God rested from His labor in creation on the seventh day. In this way, the Sabbath was intended to teach the Israelites about rest. God ceased performing the labor of His work to create things on the seventh day in order that He could observe the goodness of the completion of His perfect work. God refrained from doing that which He did the previous six days in order to enjoy the effects of His Word and will.
The Bible teaches that the children of Israel were supposed to keep the Sabbath in the same manner. Since the curse of sin caused mankind to live by the sweat of difficult labor, God showed mercy through the Sabbath. He is the ultimate provider of all things, so the ceasing of labor on the Sabbath wouldn’t restrict the people from His provision. This principle was proven true through the wilderness journey. There, God provided manna every day except on the Sabbath. Instead, God provided twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath so that the people would not have to labor in gathering their food on the Sabbath, and the people could rest and enjoy the Lord’s provision. God intended to teach the people about His mercy through the Sabbath. Though sin remained, God provided temporary relief and rest from some of the labor of sin. God implemented the Sabbath day as holy in order to continually remind the people of His promise to ultimately do away with the labor of sin by the effects of His own provision and providential care through the Messiah. This is why the Sabbath day was so important to the Lord. It was not only practical to recharge His people in order to endure the next work week, but was intended to be a blessing for the people to remind them of the salvation He planned to provide.
For this reason, the Sabbath day required the children of Israel to abstain from doing work, especially as common to the previous six-day work week. The people were required to work six days during the week in order to survive, take care of basic needs, and address their normal living circumstances. If the people wanted to profit in life, they had six days to try to do so under the will of God. The people were to cease from this sort of labor on the seventh day so as to remember that God is the provider of all things. The Sabbath was intended to give the people a break in the work schedule in order to consider God as the source for their ability, provision, and protection that they had already enjoyed through the week. The people weren’t to continue to go about their own business, but instead recognize God as the means by which they were able to function at all, let alone enjoy the good things that God had provided them according to His abundant mercies and grace. Unfortunately, this was an area of struggle for the children of Israel. The Bible shows that the people frequently profaned the Sabbath and offended God in the process.
The testimony of Nehemiah 13:15-22 shows that the children of Israel continued to offend God in this area during the time of Nehemiah. Though the prophet Jeremiah explained God was going to judge Israel through the Babylonian captivity because of Israel profaning the Sabbath, the people didn’t learn. They continued to make the same mistakes on account of selfish ambitions. The testimony of Nehemiah 13:15-22 explains that, when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to assist the people, he found that some disturbing things were taking place among the people. The people had profaned the temple of the Lord by abandoning it and neglecting the proper use of it. The Bible explains that the leaders had made deals with crooked men in order to receive personal profit through the improper use of the temple. As a result, the temple workers were not paid for their work, their purposes were neglected, and the worship of God was corrupted in a major way. Nehemiah made quick work of that. He zealously attacked the issue by removing the wicked temple workers from their office, restoring trustworthy men to manage the temple work, and ensuring that the temple workers were being taken care of in the manner that the Law commanded.
Nehemiah also found that the people were profaning the Sabbath for the same reasons. While Nehemiah was absent, the people were finding ways to use the Lord’s holy purposes for personal profit. As the people repopulated Jerusalem, they began to use the city as a city of commerce. The people did not consider God’s holy city where He desired His presence to dwell, as a sacred city. The people instead saw the city as advantageous to buy, sell, and trade. The testimony of the Bible explains that people came from all over and brought various goods and wares such as wine, oils, and sheaves to sell to the people, specifically on the Sabbath. When Nehemiah arrived, he quickly saw that the Sabbath day looked just like any other work day. This was exactly what the Lord had prohibited. Donkeys were burdened with carrying goods. People were posting up their shops. The streets were filled with traders both inside and outside of the temple complex. In Nehemiah’s absence, the people figured that they could use the extra day as a way to make extra money. God’s purpose was not to provide seven days to indulge self through the pursuit of profit or fleshly ambitions. The purpose of the Sabbath was to focus on the Lord, His glory, His holiness, His righteousness, His mercy, and His grace – especially in Jerusalem at the temple complex. This was not happening.
Nehemiah was greatly offended. The people had clearly agreed that the availability of commerce on the Sabbath was a good thing in their eyes. The people didn’t care to take time off of work to recognize God. The people sought to work their hustle to make more. The people sought to continue their pursuit for fleshly indulgence. They couldn’t just sit back and follow God’s command to rest and think of Him. Though Nehemiah was outnumbered by the people that enjoyed this kind of fast-paced capitalistic living, he exercised his authority and resources to address the issue. Here, it is important to see the righteous example of Nehemiah. Just because Nehemiah was surrounded by those who offended God, he didn’t compromise or concede to their unrighteous living. The Bible says that Nehemiah contended with the people. He was offended on behalf of God and afraid of the consequences that God might bring – AGAIN!
When Nehemiah saw what was going on, he charged the people by reminding them that they were JUST judged by God through the Babylonian captivity for the exact same issue. God had obviously expressed his displeasure with this particular offense and many people died horrible and violent deaths as a result. The people were kicked out of the land and the land was destroyed for that exact offense. The people spent the last generation laboring to restore the land that was destroyed in judgment only for the people to commit the same sin that originally caused all of that destruction. Nehemiah did all that he could to bring the people’s attention to the foolishness that they were embracing in their lifestyle. Nehemiah didn’t just talk. He also exercised his authority under Artaxerxes to shut all of the gates of the Jerusalem wall on the Sabbath day so that no one could enter. Additionally, he appointed his own servants as guards to ensure that the gates remained closed on the Sabbath. When some of the people camped just outside of the gate to try and continue to sell their goods, Nehemiah threatened to lay hands of them. The people got the message and stopped.
The Bible shows that Nehemiah was zealous for the Lord and His purposes in this area too. He exercised his ability to speak, the authority and influence that God gave him, and his personal resources to try and keep the people from offending God. Nehemiah wasn’t simply a man with a power trip. He feared the judgment of God coming upon the people again. Nehemiah didn’t want his people to die in God’s judgment again and so did everything he could to protect their spiritual integrity. Nehemiah clearly offended many people and hurt the bank accounts of many others. Still, Nehemiah did the necessary work to ensure that the people were not an offense to God. Nehemiah didn’t have any concern for how the people perceived him. He was only concerned with how God perceived the people. The Sabbath was important to God and by extension was important to Nehemiah. Nehemiah interceded in the way that he could to seek the mercy of God on behalf of the people, hoping that his desire for God’s righteousness would suffice to keep God from judging the people again.
This testimony is a clear illustration of God’s righteousness, and a clear presentation of what God considers good. God was not pleased with the relentless desire of the people to profit and indulge. People often times will work one job to pay the bills, then endeavor in other sorts of labor to increase their personal circumstances or worth. This is not what God wants. God did not create days for His people to leverage on personal growth and success. God provides days in order to equip His people unto worship and praise for His goodness. The attitudes of the children of Israel during the days of Nehemiah showed that the people were exceptionally selfish; not considering God at all. The passionate response of Nehemiah shows what God truly desires and is merciful to honor the zeal of one fearful, humble, and faithful man to spare the lives of many foolish and selfish individuals.
When Jesus began His ministry in Chapter 2 of the Gospel of John, the scriptures stated that He went into the temple of the Lord and was not pleased to find what He saw. The Bible explains that the Jewish religious leaders had turned the temple complex into a center for commerce where people were seeking to go to make a profit and simplify their lives with convenience. The people went to the temple complex as commanded in the Law, but not with hearts of worship. The people went out of tradition and therefore many of the people worshiped God in vain. Jesus went in and immediately saw that the motives of the people were not geared towards exalting the name of God. The people were not there in humility with the fear of the Lord. The people were not there to honor God, but instead get something for themselves. Upon seeing this environment, Jesus expressed His offense with action. He “cleansed” the temple complex. The Gospel of John testifies that Jesus began to flip tables over, made a whip out of cords, and drove animals out of the area. He chased the money changers out of the complex and removed that which was an offense to the Father. The Jewish religious leaders were stunned, wondering who Jesus thought He was, and by what authority He did what these things. Later, the disciples remembered Jesus’ actions and attributed Jesus’ purging of the temple complex as the fulfillment of scripture that says, “Zeal for Your house has consumed Me.”
It is important to value the things of God above all things. It is important to share in God’s offense when His holy statutes and purposes are profaned. If our hearts are connected to God’s purposes by His Spirit, then our motives and desire for His righteousness should be a dominating influence in our lives. Though the Holy Spirit had not yet been distributed as it has today during the days of Nehemiah, the testimony of Nehemiah shows that he had the same zeal and consideration for the Lord and His purposes. Nehemiah’s desire for God and His righteousness was the driving force of His life. The testimony of Nehemiah 13:10-14 shows that Nehemiah desired to do that which God said was right, and when he saw things that were contrary, he was quick to respond in order to make corrections. The testimony of Nehemiah shows that he was truly a humble and repentant man. Though not trained up to be a leader (having the official position as a cupbearer), he was willing to do whatever needed to be done to make things right in the sight of the Lord. He examined the Word of God to know the righteousness of God. He examined the circumstances of life through the filter of His understanding of God’s Word. When things didn’t match up, Nehemiah did what needed to be done to make corrections, confessing sin, interceding for others, and setting people straight.
The scriptures state that Nehemiah had returned to his normal job in Babylon to serve Artaxerxes after spending twelve years in Jerusalem. After some time in Babylon, he again returned to Jerusalem, only to find that things were not as they should have been. Nehemiah first went into Babylon to help rebuild the Jerusalem wall, and was successful in doing so in only fifty-two days. He stayed for twelve years to ensure that the people lived within those walls according to the righteousness of God. He realized that the walls were worthless to the people to protect them if the people were not willing to live rightly according to God’s standards. When Nehemiah went back to Jerusalem, he found that the people had grown indifferent to many critical things concerning the Law. First, he found that there was treachery in the storehouses of the temple. The man named Eliashib was supposed to be in charge of ensuring the receipt of tithes and offerings of the people, and then distributing them to the priests, Levites, singers, and gatekeepers that worked and maintained the temple. Those who worked in the temple were supposed to be dedicated to the Lord’s purposes for the temple, and were to be supported by the people’s tithes and offerings so as to have 100% focus on their work that God ordained as holy. Nehemiah found that this was not happening.
Not only was Eliashib neglecting his duty, but also was allowing Tobiah the Ammonite to use the temple storehouse for his personal purpose. The Law was specific to instruct the children of Israel to abstain from relationships with the Ammonites and Moabites. Eliashib, being more concerned about his personal ambitions, neglected the command of God in order to leverage his relationship with Tobiah for personal gain. As a result, the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers were neglected in their provision, and the temple service was compromised and corrupted. Nehemiah removed both Tobiah and Eliashib from their places. The storehouses were cleaned up on account of the defiled purpose they had been used for, and Nehemiah worked to get things straightened out. As Nehemiah was setting things back in order, he realized that the Levites and singers that were supposed to be working for the temple had not been given their portions from the temple. As a result, those Levites and singers had to abandon their post in order to make a living elsewhere. Since the people were not doing their part to provide for the needs of those who were committed to the service of the Lord in the temple, the temple workers had to leave their jobs, and the work of the temple didn’t get done at all. The Lord’s house was left empty and unkept according to God’s righteousness and holiness. When Nehemiah returned from Babylon, no one seemed to care about this issue, but Nehemiah did what needed to be done to make it right.
Nehemiah charged the people asking, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” When the servants of God are neglected, it is like the house of God is being forsaken. When the people God appointed to serve Him full time are not supported by the people because of selfish ambitions and indifference, the house of God is forsaken. The zeal for God’s house that Nehemiah had consumed him so that he was direct and purposeful with the people. Nehemiah gathered together the Levites and singers that had returned to the country in order to try and make a living. He put the Levites and singers in their place at which point the people recognized the manner in which they had neglected the Lord. The prophet Malachi had previously charged the people for this exact issue. Malachi spoke against the leaders and children of Israel, saying that they had been “robbing God” of tithes and offerings. The indifference that God’s people had for God’s full-time servants was equal to robbing God Himself! When the people saw Nehemiah’s passion and zeal to restore the temple, they were convicted to begin tithing again. The scriptures testify that all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, the new wine and the oil of the storehouse, which was sufficient to meet the needs of God’s servants.
In addition, Nehemiah appointed new leadership in the storehouses. The scriptures show that he appointed four men that were faithful and honest brethren to receive the tithes and offerings of the people, properly sort them, and then properly distribute them according to the needs of God’s ordained servants. Nehemiah was wise to appoint four men in order to ensure that these men held each other accountable, keeping full control out of the hands of a single man. The true purpose of the storehouse was restored. The Levites and singers were restored. This means that the true functioning of the temple was restored. Though the people had continually been careless about the proper use and functionality of the temple, the passion of one faithful man was sufficient to put things back in order. Nehemiah’s life was consumed by his passion to see things done according to the Word of God. Nehemiah’s decisions and actions were governed by his desire to see the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises. Thus, when Nehemiah had restored the people and temple to order, Nehemiah pleaded with God in prayer to be remembered for his works. Nehemiah wasn’t trying to impress God or earn his favor. Still, Nehemiah’s prayer and request to be remembered shows that his motives were aimed at pleasing God, not people. Nehemiah didn’t care if the people praised him or hated him. Nehemiah wanted God to be pleased with his life and so he sought the Lord to take note of the heart he had to do that which God wanted, desiring to please his Father in heaven above all other things in life – no matter the difficulty.
The Bible teaches that the Lord is holy. His promises are holy. His purposes are holy. His work is holy. His presence is holy. The declaration of His Word is holy. When the Angel of the Lord (Old Testament manifestation of Jesus Christ) appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the Bible states that He instructed Moses to remove his sandals for the land he was standing on was holy. This is an important truth to consider. The ground that God originally cursed on account of the consequence of sin was suddenly made holy because the presence of God was made manifest through the Angel of the Lord! When the presence of God shows up, things change. According to the scriptures, we as God’s people should constantly be aware of this – especially since the promise of Jesus is that He AND the Father would dwell in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and distributed the Holy Spirit to those who believe upon Him, we have become holy because of God’s presence in us by His Spirit. Our lives should be lived for holy purposes. Our thoughts should be considerate of God’s holy presence. Our possessions should be used for holy works.
When God’s people don’t remember these things, bad things happen. The testimony of Nehemiah 13:1-9 explains that some of the children of Israel lost focus concerning this truth so that they were profaning certain things that God had previously declared holy. When the people dedicated the wall of Jerusalem to the Lord according to His holy promises, the Bible testifies that the people commemorated the praises of God with the reading of the Word. The people took the “Book of Moses,” referring to the Law, and read it aloud before the people. When the people read through the Law, they were surprised and later convicted about one of the things they discovered. The Law explained that the children of Israel were to live holy as the Lord’s possession. As part of their holy living, they were not to have any sort of relationships with Ammonites or Moabites. The Law was specific to explain God’s reasoning behind this. When the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, especially after crossing the Red Sea, the Ammonites and Moabites would not seek to aid the children of Israel. Instead, the king of Ammon hired a false prophet named Balaam to curse the children of Israel. The Ammonites and Moabites expressed great contempt against the children of Israel during that time and God took notice. Essentially, since the Ammonites and Moabites expressed great hate against Israel, God told the children of Israel to keep from the Ammonites and Moabites. God swore to later judge those people, but until then, the Israelites were to have no dealings with them.
The reason that the Jews were convicted about this command during the days of Nehemiah was because of the relationship that many of them had with Tobiah the Ammonite. Recall that Tobiah was one of the men that headed the persecution against the children of Israel when they were rebuilding the wall. Still, some of the elders and leaders in Israel maintained friendly relationships with him because of the people that he knew. Some of the elders and leaders in Judah were afraid to separate from Tobiah because they didn’t want to offend him or the people he was connected to. They were more concerned about pleasing Tobiah rather than pleasing God. According to the testimony of Nehemiah 13:1-9, Eliashib the priest had made a business deal with Tobiah that was highly offensive to God’s commands. Eliashib was the priest in charge of the storehouse where the Jews were supposed to store the grain offerings, the frankincense, the articles, the tithes of grain, the new wine, and oil that was supposed to be distributed to the Levites, singers and gatekeepers. The Bible testifies that Eliashib exercised his authority over this room to use for personal gain. Rather than use this room for the holy purposes that God commanded, he had given Tobiah permission to use the room for his personal purposes. Not only was Eliashib engaging with an Ammonite man against God’s command, but was also taking that which God attributed for holy purposes, and giving it over to the enemy of God’s people and God’s purposes.
The Bible explains that it took Nehemiah some time to learn about this evil. He had stayed in Jerusalem for twelve years to help administrate and govern the people according to God’s purposes after the wall was built. After those twelve years, Nehemiah returned to Babylon for a time in order to continue in his service to King Artaxerxes as a cupbearer. Sometime later (a time not specifically disclosed), Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, at which point he found out about these horrible issues. When Nehemiah left, Eliashib figured he could get away with his treachery. When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he quickly put an end to it. The Bible explains that Nehemiah was grieved bitterly and threw Tobiah out of the room that was intended for God’s purposes. Here, it is important to see how the holy purposes of God provoked Nehemiah to respond with zeal. Nehemiah didn’t organize a committee to vote on Tobiah’s presence. Nehemiah didn’t consult with several people before deciding to act. Nehemiah knew the Word of God. Nehemiah knew the God who authored the Law. Nehemiah feared offending God far more than offending other men. Nehemiah considered the declarations of God’s holy Law, saw where God would have been offended, and addressed that offense with passion and purpose. Nehemiah responded against transgressions of the Law in a manner that showed he was also offended by that which offended God.
This is what the children of God should look like. We, as God’s holy children, having been sanctified unto God’s eternal purposes by the blood of Jesus Christ, should also be offended by that which offends God. How could God’s people, having received the excessive extent of mercy that we have, stand idly by and watch God’s holiness be profaned by people usurping God’s possessions for themselves? How can we as God’s people, who have been saved from condemnation from so great of grace as shown through Jesus, keep to ourselves when God’s holy purposes and promsies are treated as if cheap and worthless. Eliashib failed to remember the holiness of God so that he felt he had the right to use God’s possessions as if they were his own. He did not fear God, nor the consequence of offending Him. Nehemiah on the other hand was heavily offended because of the profanity against God’s holy presence and purpose.
Upon throwing Tobiah out of the storehouse, Nehemiah commanded the people to clean all of the rooms and restore all of the things to their place according to God’s commands in the Law. Nehemiah wouldn’t let the people compromise. Nehemiah wouldn’t let the people take the liberty to decide how they wanted to do things concerning God’s possessions. This testimony parallels that of Jesus Himself. Recall that when Jesus first entered into the temple complex in John Chapter 2, He saw that the people had turned His Father’s house into a mall. They had taken that which the Father declared as holy and used it for personal gain, as if they had the liberty to do whatever they wanted to. Jesus, being greatly offended, began to flip tables, whip animals to drive them out, and kicked the merchants out of the complex. He too was offended and impassioned to respond. In fact, the Gospel of John states that the disciples later remembered Jesus’ response against the merchants in the temple complex and recalled the verse that said, “Zeal for Your house has consumed Me.” In the same way that Jesus was consumed in zeal to do the will of the Father, so too was Nehemiah. Where God’s holiness was corrupted, Nehemiah passionately and immediately did what needed to be done to correct things according to the supreme standards of God’s Word.
The Bible explains that the work of the Lord is worthy of praise and honor. When we see the work of the Lord, we should praise Him. When we hear about the work of the Lord, we should praise Him. When we hear about the promises of God, we should praise Him. Our praise should not only be responsive to the works of God, but should also be expressed in anticipation of the work God will do in the future according to His Word. Furthermore, the Bible explains that our praise to God should be loud, passionate, and musical. The Bible shows that when people praised God, they would loud and boisterous. The people shouted and sang with great zeal. It was not just that God’s people were responsive to God and His goodness, but were excited to be beneficiaries of His goodness and expressed that excitement in ways that were compelling, celebratory, and obedient.
Evidence of this truth is seen in the testimony of Nehemiah 12:27-47. This portion of scripture documents the effort that the children of Israel exercised to dedicate the wall to the Lord. The scriptures state that when Nehemiah and his people finished building the wall, they were so excited, not only to see the wall built, but see it built in record time. The wall was built in the midst of very difficult opposition in fifty-two days. The people recognized that God was in charge of the building and was faithful to see it unto completion. The testimony of the rebuilding of the wall was so compelling that the enemies of God’s people even feared God, recognizing the Lord as the cause of success. The enemies of God’s people were discouraged in their efforts to foil the rebuilding of the wall, recognizing that they didn’t stand a chance to successfully oppose the work of the Almighty God. The enemy recognized who God was. The children of Israel recognized who God was. They were compelled to celebrate the right way.
The Bible explains that the elders of Israel sought the Levites in order to gather them in Jerusalem as the leaders of the celebration. The elders knew that the Levites were a critical part to the dedication of the wall because of the standards of God’s laws and traditions that King David had put into place prior. Since the Levites were scattered throughout Israel in order to do their duty to teach the Israelites all over, they were summoned to Jerusalem in order to lead the people in the celebration of God’s work. The Bible explains that the people assembled to Jerusalem with gladness, thanksgiving, and with singing, accompanied with loud instruments. The people had solemn services of worship and prayer before, but also desired to celebrate the goodness of God, being thankful for the work He had done to restore the people.
The scriptures explain that the priests and Levites and singers first purified themselves before performing their service. These details explain that celebrating the Lord’s goodness must happen in a certain manner. Notice that God appointed certain men to lead the celebration and dedication. Notice that those men had to be consecrated and purified according to the standards of the Law. Our expression of thanks cannot be motivated by the flesh or expressed through the flesh. Knowing the corrupted nature of mankind, God gave certain provisions and prescribed certain methods that should be practiced in order to honor Him rightly. The children of Israel didn’t make up their own form of praise. They faithfully followed God’s instructions, recognizing His holiness, and before they began to praise God, ensured their own hearts were focused on Him in with repentance and humility. The praises of God must be premised with the purification of God’s people. We cannot praise God with corrupted hearts.
The Bible states that Nehemiah assembled two groups of choir singers. He sent one group to spread out to the southern part of Jerusalem by the Refuse Gate and stretch up north towards the City of David, as far as the Fountain Gate on the easternmost side of the wall. Nehemiah then took a group himself, and went to the western part of the wall by the Sheep Gate and spread out to the north. Nehemiah ensured that the men he had appointed to sing were as spread out across the wall as possible. He wanted to make sure he could cover as much as the wall as possible with singers so that each and every part of God’s work could be celebrated rightly. When the people took their position and began to sing, the singing went throughout the region of Judah. The people played their cymbals, stringed instruments, harps, and sang with loud passion to express their thanksgiving to God. The whole choir was somehow directed by one man, but sang as if one voice as loudly as they could.
It is important to understand a critical detail about the testimony of Nehemiah 12:27-27. The scriptures plainly state that the praises of the people were not motivated or stimulated by the people themselves, but by the Lord! The Bible teaches that the people rejoiced “for God made them rejoice with great joy.” In other words, the Lord influenced them, not only by the work that He did, but by the focus that He brought to the work that He did. The Lord does amazing miraculous work every day, but people are not often willing to acknowledge Him. This moment in Jewish history shows that the Lord did the necessary work to direct the attention of His people to the work that He did. He did not allow the people to be consumed in the affairs of their personal ambitions at this time. He made sure that His people were able to identify Him in the work that was done to complete the wall, affirming that He would never leave or forsake His children, unto the fulfillment of His eternally unconditional promises. When God opens the eyes of His people to the work that He is already doing, we are then enabled to rejoice with great joy, showing that we remain unable to bless God this way until He provokes us to do so.
Lastly, the Bible explains that God’s motivation had a rippling effect on the people to do more than praise God. While praising God, the people were compelled to offer great sacrifices, give tithes, and other offerings. When God opens the eyes of His people to the good things that He has done according to His grace, the Bible shows that the appropriate response is to celebrate with joy, and give unto the Lord for the Lord’s purposes. The sacrifices were given as a token of appreciation to God, but the tithes and offerings were given in order to enable the people God appointed to lead the praise in the temple to continue in their work. The tithes went to the priests, Levites, singers, and gatekeepers of the temple. The offerings went to the same people in order to meet their needs, provide for their families, and ensure that the praises of God continued. When God opened the eyes of His people to His goodness, the people were compelled to give unto the Lord to ensure the continuation of the zealous praise and worship that was taking place. Those who have received the revelation of God’s goodness should be moved to participate in the pure praises of the Lord in humility and holiness while also supporting the continuation of God’s praises knowing that He is worthy. Our possessions shouldn’t be the things that keep us from recognizing God’s goodness, but should be used as tools to facilitate the praising of the Lord God Almighty!
The history of the Bible shows that the work of God continues on. No matter the condition of God’s people, God’s objectives and purposes find a way to progress towards the fulfillment of His promises. This shows how transcendent God’s sovereign power and control is. This shows how immeasurable God’s grace and mercy are. Though God’s people continue to rebel and pursue other avenues in life, God remains in control of all things; always keeping and preserving for Himself, a remnant of faithful men and women that He is able to use as instruments of His righteousness. Consider the global flood in the days of Noah. The Bible plainly explains that God destroyed all people with the exception of eight because of the faith of one. If there was ever a time where God’s purposes and promises seemed to be foiled, it was then. Yet still, God managed to preserve human life, enable the repopulation of the globe, and soon after, called Abraham to be the father of faith. Even the total destruction of the world wasn’t enough to keep God from doing what He promised!
This truth should provide God’s people with confidence and assurance towards God’s eternally unconditional promises. The fulfillment of God’s promises is not dependent on the abilities of God’s people, but upon God Himself to provide ability to otherwise disabled people. History proves that God is always able. History proves that where God’s people passionately pursue evil and sin abounds greatly, God’s grace abounds much more unto the preservation of faith, righteousness, and progress. One of the practical ways that the Bible exemplifies this concept is through the genealogies. In Nehemiah 12:1-26 the Bible documents the names of many men that served as priests and Levites from the time of Zerubbabel to the time of Nehemiah. Though Nehemiah doesn’t state the specific purpose for his inclusion of this genealogy at this point in his letter, the mention of names and the description of them shows how God was continually able to engage His people according to His providential care.
The genealogy of Nehemiah 12:1-27 serves in one sense to be the commemoration of the great men that undertook the challenges of serving God’s purposes during a time where it appeared God had cut off His people. When Zerubbabel returned with the first group of captives and sought to rebuild the temple, the people struggled. They returned to a land that was in desolate ruin. The elders looked at the condition of the land and compared the second temple to what they remembered of Solomon’s temple, and they mourned. The younger generations shouted for joy at the opportunity to dwell in the Promised Land rather than Babylon, but were soon distracted by the concerns of daily life so that they neglected their God-appointed duty for many years. The Lord sent prophets to sternly charge His people to get back to the work that He appointed, at which point, the temple was completed. Still, during this whole time, God enabled priests and Levites to serve the needs of the people in ways they were unfamiliar with. How would they offer sacrifices? The environment certainly didn’t provoke a reason for praise. How would the singers sing with passion? The people did not yet find the scrolls of the Law. How would the Levites teach and expound the Word? Though the manner of service for these men was difficult, God provided them with the ability, steadfastness, and perseverance to endure the circumstances. They are honored not only being mentioned in Ezra’s account as historical documentation, but also in Nehemiah’s in honorable memorial.
The Bible shows that God was able to preserve the roles of the priests and Levites through the changes in generations and political rules. When Darius took over as the king of Persia, the scriptures document certain changes in administration that caused various hardships. Still, the position of the priests and the roles of the Levites were sustained as proved by the mention of the men who served in those roles. As the years went on, the people began to compromise in their duties so that the integrity of the positions God ordained became corrupted. The testimonies of Ezra and Nehemiah both shows that the priests and Levites engaged in wicked things and brought hardships to the people on account of the Persian administration changes. Still, God was able to preserve a faithful remnant. The Bible shows that when the priests became more corrupt in their position during the days of Nehemiah, God called upon the Levites to make up the difference. The priests progressively worsened in their relationship with the Lord, but the Levites are mentioned by Nehemiah as being responsible instruments of the Lord. It was the Levites who taught the Word of God to the people while the priests lived corruptly. Though the list of honorable names of priests lessens, the names of honorable Levites grows, showing how God was able to ensure the continuation of His revelation and divine purposes in Israel.
History has shown that the people of God often excel in doing that which God hates more than that which God approves of. Thankfully, God is longsuffering and does not punish His people according to the iniquity that we practice. God is powerful to administer consequence, but not total destruction unto the dissolving of His promises. God knows how to deal with people. God knows how to save us from ourselves. God knows how to keep certain people safe and removed from certain influences so as to maintain their spiritual integrity, thereby having faithful vessels that He can use to preserve the holy heritage of His people. The genealogy of Nehemiah 12:1-26 lists the names of men that God used, in spite of their character and nature, to progress towards the fulfillment of His eternally unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This genealogy shows that God is able to supply the needs of His people to ensure the fulfillment of His spiritual purposes. No matter the difficulty of the circumstances, God was able to keep the positions of the priests and Levites intact with good men faithful to God’s causes while many were doubting God. No matter the weaknesses of God’s people, God’s strength and faithfulness is transcendent unto the fulfillment of His promises. This is good reason to have total confidence and hope in God and God Himself!
When the Lord makes promises, it is His intention to fulfill those promises to the fullest extent so that He can be glorified by the results of that fulfillment. When God promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would be a great nation, He meant it. He told them to compare their greatness in numbers to the number of stars in the sky! This is not a small number. God’s purpose was to multiply the descendants of Abraham to be immeasurable so as to testify of the glory of His own greatness to do such a thing on His own. Likewise, God assured the patriarchs that they would dwell safely in the Promised Land. God did not define the boarders of that land so that His people could negotiate the terms of His promises with foreign nations. God did not select Jerusalem as the place where His glory would rest so that the city could be divided and diminished. God made specific declarations that He intends to fulfill in order to perform specific works of His revelation that amplify His majesty. The greatness of Israel is largely dependent on their ability to dwell safely in the land, so that God’s sovereign control is demonstrated to be truly transcendent. Hence, the blessing that God promised would be proven superior to effect “all the families of the earth.” It is God’s work to fulfill the first two facets of His three-part promise that facilitate the glory of the blessing. Since the blessing that comes from Israel to fill the world refers to the administration of Messiah’s kingdom by His own rule and governorship, the integrity of the first two parts of this promise are important. How can the Messiah’s rule be so supreme if His people are weak? How can the Messiah’s glory be so supreme if His capitol city is in ruins and desolate? Thus, the condition of these two things is critically important to the fulfillment of God’s eternally unconditional promises to Israel.
How then should God’s people seek to be a part of God’s work, purposes and promises? The scriptures encourage the people of God to pray for the peace of Jerusalem because of God’s own affection for His holy city. The Bible encourages God’s people to take care of one another, especially those of the true seed of Abraham (referring to Jews with faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah), since we are all the instruments of God’s righteousness. Therefore, it is good to be engaged in the work of taking care of God’s people and taking care of the holy city in whatever capacity we might be able. This principle is seen to be true in the testimony of Nehemiah 11:1-36. This portion of scripture documents the work that was done to ensure the proper repopulation of the city of Jerusalem. The temple was rebuilt. The wall was restored. Still, the condition of Jerusalem was not according the will of God. The city remained desolate in some ways because of the extent of the judgments God administrated before. Remember that when Nehemiah originally began to rebuild the wall, the people were overwhelmed by the amount of trash and junk that had piled up in the city because of neglect. The Babylonians utterly destroyed the place and the temple was in complete ruins not that long before. The residual effects of that destruction still remained in some areas so that many of the people were unwilling or unable to dwell in the great city. This had to be addressed.
The city of Jerusalem was, and is still, considered the great and holy city. It is the city that God swore to take for His own city. It is the place that He selected according to His own grace to make a dwelling place for His presence and glory. It is the city from which the Messiah – Jesus Christ – will rule and reign from the Throne of David, for 1,000 years upon His return. This city is supposed to be emblematic of God’s own glory and greatness. Yet, at the time of Nehemiah, it was in shambles and most of the people were reluctant to live there. Not only was the place filthy from previous judgments, but the holy city was also the center of enemy threats and a desolate population. Who would volunteer to live in a city that was the center of so much opposition? Remember that when Nehemiah and his men were rebuilding the wall that Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem made frequent threats of attack because of their efforts to restore the city. The men who built had to perform their work with swords, shields, and spears in their hands because of the threats. It is reasonable to expect that many people were discouraged from taking up residence in this place to begin new lives with their families. Also, since the city was so sparsely populated, how could anyone make a living there? The city of Jerusalem was intended to be a holy city as it was, not a place for commerce and trade. It was already a difficult place to thrive financially for that reason. In the minds of the Jews at that time, it was safer and more profitable to dwell in the surrounding country land in hopes to build up farms and develop crafts that could be sold where people were already dwelling.
These circumstantial conveniences were of no concern to the true men of God’s purposes. Though God did not spite or rebuke those who desired to live outside of Jerusalem, the Bible commends those who did sacrifice certain comforts in order to help repopulate the holy city. The testimony of Nehemiah 11:1-36 explains that the leaders and chief elders of Israel volunteered themselves to live in Jerusalem. It was fitting that the leaders of God’s people undertook the difficulty of the task required to put the people in better position for God’s promises to be fulfilled. This shows that those who God appoints as leaders aren’t called to sit above the people in comfort because of their position, but instead should be willing to surrender themselves as the first to embrace the difficulties that come with God’s service in order to encourage the people. The repopulation of the city of Jerusalem began so that the people could encourage and express their desire to see the fulfilment of God’s eternally unconditional promises. The elders and chiefs of Israel exercised faith and fulfilled their duty as leaders by taking on the risks and difficulties associated with living in that city at that time.
The testimony of Nehemiah states that the priests and Levites also dwelt in the city of Jerusalem. This should be obvious since these men were committed to the work of the temple. Here, the Bible shows that those whose duty required them to live in difficult areas, surrendered to those circumstances to do that which God said. They didn’t seek to live in neighboring cities that appeared safer or more prosperous and then travel into Jerusalem to do their work. The priests and Levites fully entrenched themselves in their Godly purpose and trusted the Lord to protect and provide unto the fulfillment of His promises. The Bible documents that 1,192 families of the priests dwelt in Jerusalem, and 456 Levites and porters lived in the holy city with them. There were far fewer Levites that lived in the city because the remainder were to be scattered around the whole of Israel in order to teach the people according to God’s righteousness.
Still, after the elders took their residence, the priests and Levites took theirs, the city was still poorly populated. The people sought volunteers from the tribe of Judah and tribe of Benjamin to populate the rest of the empty space in the city, and then cast lots for other families to fill the balance. Of the volunteers, the Bible shows that most of them came from the descendants of Perez, the head of the household of King David, and direct descendant of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Thus, it was fitting that the city that would serve as the resting place for the Messiah was chiefly populated by His original descendants. For those who were selected by the casting of lots, more families from the tribe of Benjamin were selected. The people agreed to cast lots so that one out of ten families could dwell in Jerusalem, while the other ninety percent of the Jews dwelt in their normal areas according to their original inheritance. The lot happened to fall on 468 families from Judah, but 928 families from Benjamin. This testimony shows that only a few thousand families were called to repopulate the great and holy city, but by the time Jesus was incarnate and went to Jerusalem in the flesh, the city was well populated and filled with God’s people! No matter the small beginnings, God is able to do that which He promised on account of His own namesake. That means that God was willing to do whatever needed to be done to cause the families He called to Jerusalem to thrive despite the difficulties, threats, and fears. The people who submitted to God’s purposes, simply to live in the city of Jerusalem, were like pioneers that were used to facilitate the fulfillment of God’s promises. Though the calling is hard, God always ensures that His people are equipped that which must be done according to His Word. His own reputation and integrity is at stake in this regard, and God will never allow His own name to be tarnished, which enables the benefits to those who seek to exalt His name in these ways.
The Bible teaches that repentance is a HUGE part of salvation. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, He proclaimed to the people to “repent and believe.” This is how Jesus’ ministry was started. When Peter preached to the people on the Day of Pentecost about the fulfillment of Jesus’ work, the people were convicted and pierced to the heart and asked, “What should we do?” Peter responded by telling the people to “repent and be baptized.” As a result, the people were zealous to respond to Peter’s command and thousands were saved on that day. Clearly, repentance is a precursor to following the Lord by faith. Without repentance, there cannot be a genuine pursuit of the Lord, which expresses an absence of faith, and absence of salvation. However, the Bible explains that true repentance involves more than a guilty feeling. Repentance is more than saying “sorry.” Repentances requires, not only a change of mind based on the revelation of God’s truth concerning sin, but also encourages a change of conduct, attitude, and overall lifestyle. How can we follow God if we don’t first stop and turn from the direction of our personal ambitions and opinions?
A thorough example of true repentance is documented in the testimony of Nehemiah 10:1-39. The Bible shows that when the people prayed a prayer of humility and repentance, they were quick to respond to their prayer in their conduct. They did not let their words reflect lip service. The people quickly took to action to show that their prayer was genuine and heart-felt. When the people finished their prayer, they immediately took to the work of ratifying their covenant. They did not just make an outward promise, but resolved among themselves to make their re-commitment to the Lord a publicly known thing. The Bible explains that Nehemiah led the people in placing a seal on their covenant to the Lord. This is not to say that the people made up their own new covenant to replace the Law of God. Instead, the people made a documented declaration that the children of Israel would conform to the righteousness of God according to His Law. They wanted their commitment to the Lord to be serious and binding. The people wanted to make their obligation to the Lord into a covenant to keep the people accountable to each other. After Nehemiah “signed” the covenant, the scriptures show that twenty-two priests, seventeen Levites, and forty-four chief elders supported the cause and contributed to the seal of the document. The leaders of Israel were with one mind to restate their desire to be faithful to the Lord. Even the wives and children of the leaders were involved in the ratification of the covenant, showing that those who desire to live for the Lord should lead their entire households to do so to hold them accountable as well.
The testimony of Nehemiah 10:1-39 also explains some of the details of the covenant that the people ratified. The prayer of the people was an honor of God for His faithfulness. The people were not content just to acknowledge God for who He was. God is who He is regardless of what the people say of Him. The people also resolved to revise their manner of daily living to show that they wanted to submit to the Lord and conform to His righteousness as declared in the Law. First, the covenant called for the people to live sanctified according to God’s purposes and promises. The people were to be joined to one another according to the conditions that the Lord had prescribed. The temple workers were to be joined to their duty as God appointed. The foreigners that lived with the Jews were to be separated from their past pagan lifestyles. All of the people were to be separated from the wicked marriages that the Lord commanded against, and keep from marrying people from foreign nations. The covenant repeated these simple principles and the people agreed to them. How can we seek the Lord and His righteousness if we are not willing to separate from the corrupted things of our past life and evil influences that oppose God and His righteousness?
The people also agreed to restore the Sabbath day according to the original commands of God. The people had grown accustomed to profaning the Sabbath. The people had considered the Sabbath to be like any other day and made a habit of buying, selling, trading, and conducting their lives for the purpose of personal gain. This was an offense to God, especially since the Sabbath day was the sign of the covenant of the Law. The Lord gave the children of Israel the Sabbath day as His way to ratify His covenant with the people according to His righteousness. Unfortunately, the people had dismissed the holy nature of the day and resolved to make immediate and drastic changes to their lifestyles. Their covenant prohibited people from buying, selling, and trading on the Sabbath. Their covenant reminded the people about the holy nature of all of God’s holy days so that the people would honor those days with reverence and focus on the God they exalted in their prayers. Though the people would likely lose money and experience inconvenience, the people were willing to undergo those issues in order to ensure their attitudes about God’s holy days were honored according to the holiness of God who spoke them. How can we enjoy the benefits of God’s goodness and holiness if we are unwilling to honor the simple ways He called us to live to celebrate His peace, rest, and blessings?
The covenant called for the people to make corrections concerning their issues of usury and abuse of God’s provision. The scriptures explained that the people took advantage of one another in financial ways. They were charging interest when God commanded them not to. They misused God’s provision to go after personal increase at the expense of others so that some were having to sell their homes and their children in order to survive. God was not pleased with this and Nehemiah had already led the people to make certain corrections in this regard. The people were not satisfied with those corrections and took additional steps to ensure they were doing all that they could to please God in this area. The Bible says that the people reinstituted the Sabbath of the land and the year of Jubilee. The Sabbath of the land was commanded by God, instructing the people to let the land rest for a year so that it could be revitalized to grow crops more efficiently over the long term. The people had not been doing this, but resolved to make this a regular part of their lives. The people reinstituted the year of Jubilee, which was a year that called for the children of Israel to forgive and forget all debt so that the people would live continually under those sorts of burdens. Slaves were to be set free. People were to be forgiven. The people had not practiced this for quite some time, but knew that if they wanted to show gratitude for God’s mercy, they needed to show God’s mercy. How can we show thanks to the mercy God has given us if we don’t practice the prescribed ways that God instructed us to be merciful?
Lastly, the people resolved to correct the issues in the temple that had been neglected or improperly practiced. Since the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the temple, the people did not have access to many of the resources that filled the temple prior. The people did not have the sponsorship of funds and food from the king like in the days of Hezekiah in order to have regular supply of the showbread, and other daily requirements in the temple. The people didn’t have access to wood for fire to keep the altar burning. There were simple things that kept the people from doing that which God commanded in the temple that were missing. The people adjusted their daily lives to ensure these things were corrected. First, the people corrected the chief issue that was causing a lot of the deficiencies. The prophet Malachi had charged the people of “robbing God” of tithes and offerings. The people ensured their covenant involved correction to this issue. They obligated themselves to tithe responsibly without making excuses. It was true that many of the people were poor and still in the early stages of rebuilding their lives in Jerusalem. It was true that the Persians were taxing the people heavily. The people agreed that those were not legitimate excuses to keep from tithing.
The Bible explains that the people tithed extra so that they could not only meet the needs of the priests and Levites according to the Law, but also build up the resources of the temple. The people wanted to make sure the families and households of the priests and Levites were met according to God’s original command. How can the spiritual leaders of God’s people do their jobs well if they cannot be committed to them on account of financial strain? How can a person have a spiritual focus on their spiritual duty if they cannot afford to feed their family by their spiritual service and must take on secular work? The Apostle Paul wrote that those who preach the Gospel should live by the Gospel; a principle that Paul learned from the fundamentals of God’s law. Additionally, the people gave extra in order to ensure that there was plenty of dough, wood, wheat, wine, and other necessary resources to facilitate the daily worship practices of the Law. How can we worship God if we do not follow the holy statutes that He gave concerning our worship? How can we obey God if we do not take care of one another according to the callings that God has placed upon our life?
This covenant was a demonstration of the seriousness that the people had to express gratitude for the mercy God had provided. The people wanted to express thanks to God by obeying God and made the necessary changes to their lives in these areas to ensure that they were able. This is what true repentance looks like. This is what true gratitude unto God looks like. When God’s people are willing to confess faults and then take all of the necessary measures to restructure life so that it fits the mold of God’s righteousness according to the Word, that is when the real work of salvation takes place. The ability to do these things doesn’t come from within, but the repentance of the people excited faith, which enabled the Spirit to equip the people to live according to God’s righteousness.
The Bible teaches that none are righteous. The Bible teaches that all people fall short of the glory of God. The testimony of the Gospel explains that when a person comes to salvation, they are not immediately made righteous. The sinful nature remains while God’s people continue in this life. Thus, the flesh wrestles against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. Even as God’s children, destined to be heirs of God’s eternally unconditional promises, we fail. Our old sinful habits still have a way of creeping back into our lives. Our evil thinking and selfish ambitions still seem to have an influence over us even though the death of Jesus is sufficient to free us from the bondage of these issues. The Bible teaches that, even though the Lord provides all of the ability and tools to die to the flesh, our depravity is so bad that we often continue in it just because we want to, regardless of what God says. This makes life incredibly difficult and frustrating. Understanding this dynamic of Christian living, how are we supposed to respond? What does God want from us really?
The Bible explains that we are not saved by our own merits of righteousness. We are not saved by the things that we do or don’t. Likewise, we don’t stay saved based on our behavior and conduct. This is not to excuse sinful conduct in the lives of God’s people. The Apostle Paul plainly wrote, “Should we continue in sin so that grace may abound? Certainly not!” Still, while God’s people should be convicted to abstain from sin, darkness, and corruption, we will fall despite those convictions. The benefit of a believer in Jesus Christ is that, despite those defeats and failures, our spiritual integrity will remain preserved on account of Jesus’ righteousness and the Father’s faithfulness to His promises. Hence, as believers, we should not expect to perform perfectly in this life, but instead, recognize the truth of our depravity compared to God’s grace, and respond with humility and thanksgiving. God is not asking for performance. God desire praise and worship through gratitude and meekness.
The testimony of Nehemiah 9:32-38 proves this concept as true. When the elders of Judah prayed to God, they acknowledged the awesome identity and character of God. They recognized His sovereign control, power, and wisdom as the Creator of ALL things. They recognized God’s providential care and concern to make exceptionally great promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people recognized God’s greatness and supreme glory to ratify His promises Himself, taking on the responsibility of fulfilling those promises upon Himself and Himself alone. The people then confessed all of the horrible issues that their ancestors had over the course of their history. The elders of Judah confessed that, though God was so amazing, merciful, and gracious to make such wonderful promises and then do so much to fulfill them, the people responded with indifference and rebellion against God. The Lord did great things to increase His people, but the people denied God, lived pridefully, and rejected God’s righteousness in order to live according to their own perverted and corrupted standards. God disciplined the people, but the people gave half-hearted pleas for help. Still, God responded according to mercy instead of justice. He was fair to permit the consequences for the sins of the people, but did not utterly destroy them as they deserved. The elders of Judah during the time of Nehemiah were thankful to God and were sure to humble themselves before Him in order to give the Lord His due glory.
When the elders of Judah completed their prayer, they sought the Lord’s mercy with even more statements of repentance. The Jews called God, “the great, mighty, and awesome God.” The people called God “great,” referring to His superior authority. The word used to describe God’s greatness is a word that describes one that is highest in rank. The Jews confessed that God is highly exalted above all and were willing to submit to that truth. The Jews referred to God’s “mighty” nature. This word is a word that describes the magnitude and intensity of God’s greatness. It is not just that God is great, but His greatness is manifested with majesty and intensity. The people recognized that God’s greatness is unparalleled and difficult to understand. His greatness cannot be measured or quantified in any sort of way. His glory fills the earth and His wisdom is past finding out. He cannot be duplicated, imitated, or copied to any degree!
The Jews also acknowledged the “awesome” nature of God. Here, the King James Version of the Bible uses the word “terrible” to describe the awesomeness of God. The idea refers to the fearful nature of God. When considering the intensity and magnitude of God’s power, wisdom, and glory, His nature is terrifying, especially compared to ours. The appearance of God at Mount Sinai was manifested through thunderings, lightning, and great pillars of fire and dark smoke like a volcanic explosion. Yet, there was no volcanic explosion. The Bible says that the “Angel of the Lord,” an Old Testament manifestation of Jesus Christ, was able to destroy 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night all by Himself. The Bible says that when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, they were rendered unconscious by what they saw. It was too much. When we consider God, His identity, nature, and character, it is a terrifying thought to be in His presence because His glory, power, and wisdom is totally unrelatable. No one has seen God at any time. Knowing the attributes of God and His past dealings, especially compared to the response of Israel in their history, the elders in Judah recognized the eternally superior majesty of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Jews recognized that it was God who kept His promises to Israel though the Jews had historically been unfaithful. The elders of Judah ended their prayer with one last plea for God’s mercy and a pledge to submit to God’s righteousness. They again confessed the sins of their forefathers, including the priests and elders. They confessed that God’s past disciplines were right. They confessed that God did good to bring suffering to the children of Israel because of the ways the people treated God. Still, the people confessed that their suffering was hard. They knew they deserved all that God administered, but the Jews at the time of Nehemiah sought God’s mercy in humility. They weren’t seeking God’s favor as if their conduct was better than their forefathers. They confessed that they were also wicked in nature and unfaithful. Still, the Jews looked at the extent of mercy that God showed in the past, and hoped that God would simply provide favor to lighten their burdens on account of God’s own nature, not their conduct.
The Jews confessed that their behavior and attitudes was not good. They knew they didn’t deserve any good thing from God. Yet, they recognized that their lives were not in line with the will of God. They lived in the land, but not freely. They were able to grow fruit and drink water, but while in submission to a foreign government. The people were forced to pay taxes to Persia and give the increase of their labor to foreigners. The elders of Judah knew that this was not right according to the previously documented declarations of God’s purposes and promises. The people didn’t ask for God’s favor in mercy because they felt entitled. The people simply recognized that their current circumstances were not in line with the Word of God. Therefore, they pleaded for God’s mercy and grace so that they could make efforts to get things right. The people completed their time of prayer and then assembled together to seal a decree and covenant that re-committed the Jews to the Law of God. The people vowed to repent and make God’s righteousness the supreme standard of their lives again. The people knew that if God was going to offer mercy and grace to deliver them from the hardships that had weakened the people, they would need to seek the Lord and His righteousness.
The Jews realized their sin and confessed it. They didn’t make excuses. They didn’t try to validate or justify their faults. The people understood the holy righteousness of God, and recognized God’s past judgments. The people knew that their weakened position was the purposeful work of God to judge and humble His people in order to correct them. The people submitted to that work of humility. They didn’t fight against God. They didn’t try to hide issues from God. The people confessed that they deserved the suffering they had endured, and that God would have been right to cause more suffering because of the ways they had treated God. Still, the people did not relent in their pursuit of God just because they saw their failure. The people pursued the mercy of God and resolved together to live according to the righteousness of God. Does this mean the people fixed their issues and lived rightly from that point on? On the contrary, the Bible shows the people continued to struggle with the same issues. No matter how greatly they desired, or how seriously they resolved to form a covenant with God to live rightly, the depravity of the flesh of God’s people continued to cause issues. Still, God remained faithful to provide mercy and forgiveness, not because of how good the people were, but simply because the people confessed their offense, responded to the convictions of God, and sought the forgiveness that He offered through continual repentance. Rather than try to fix their issues on their own by their own efforts, the people turned to the righteousness of God in the way that they could, in hope that God would show favor despite their nature.
The Bible teaches that all people fall short of the glory of God. No one will be able to stand before God and receive His approval according to the “good works” that they have done in this life. Those works simply don’t measure up to that which the Lord does. The Lord God is holy and righteous to perfection. While the humanitarian efforts of people throughout the ages has been noble, it has not been equal to that of the Almighty God! The righteousness of God is pictured in the supreme glory of God. The supreme glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. The testimony of Jesus pinnacles at the sacrifice that He gave of Himself to offer forgiveness of sins to the world. The Bible teaches that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God, but that God’s power was shown through the conduit of mercy and grace. No one can match the quality of mercy and grace that God displayed as Jesus. Thus, no one can match the righteousness of God, and by extension, all fall short of God’s glory in this one simple area.
The scriptures actually show that people are not naturally merciful and gracious at all. Historically, people have proven themselves to be unfaithful, selfish, and unrighteous – especially God’s own people. This truth accentuates the glory and righteousness of God. The scriptures teach that even though God’s people are faithless, He remains faithful. He is just and fair to judge sin, but is powerful to ensure that His judgments do not interfere with the integrity of His eternally unconditional promises. Who but God can do such a thing? The children of Israel during the days of Nehemiah marveled over these truths about God too. In Nehemiah 9:26-31 the Bible explains that the elders of Israel praised God on account of His faithfulness. They worshiped God the day after the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, and as they worshiped, they prayed before the people to recognize and honor God for His identity, purposes, and promises. The people recognized that their current circumstances were evidence of God’s goodness shown through mercy and grace, understanding the depths of God’s faithfulness to His promises in spite of the people that benefit from them.
The passage begins by recounting the manner in which the children of Israel responded to the goodness and grace of God to deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt and move them into a land flowing with milk and honey. God revealed His power, sovereign control, provision, providence, righteousness, and glory through the 40-year wilderness journey and then through the time spent over taking the Promised Land. God provided miraculous provision and victories and revealed His righteousness in ways the world hasn’t seen since. Yet, the children of Israel responded to God’s goodness by being disobedient against God. When the elders in Judah prayed to God, they confessed that their ancestors treated God like garbage. God spoke of the unfaithfulness and unbelief of Israel in the manner of a marriage relationship. Israel was like an unfaithful wife that constantly sought to be intimate with other men, while God described Himself as a loving husband that sought to lavish His wife with goodness. When Israel moved into a land to inherit houses they didn’t build, wells they didn’t dig, vineyards and groves they didn’t plant, and eat fruit they didn’t grow, they disobeyed the God who provided all of those good things. They disregarded God’s laws and commands, and were totally indifferent to God. They grew comfortable in their living circumstances, forgetting the God who made their lives possible. When God sent prophets to teach, warn, and redirect the spiritual focus of the people, the people rebelled against God by rejecting God’s servants, even killing some. God was good to the people, but the people simply wanted the good things God gives without wanting God Himself.
Rather than destroy the people, God continued to show patience towards His people. The people continually provoked the Lord, but the Lord showed great restraint in His discipline. He did send enemies against Israel and enabled the enemies to defeat His people as a form of discipline. The testimonies of the Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and the Kings shows that the children of Israel were constantly harassed by many surrounding nations, never being able to fully enjoy the good things that God had given. Over time, the possessions of the Israelites depleted. God enabled foreign nations and enemies to take that which was supposed to be Israel’s possession. Since the people didn’t esteem God, the Lord showed the people what life is like without Him. The people suffered greatly and were never satisfied in their pursuit of selfish ambitions apart from the Lord.
Nehemiah 9:26-31 explains that God’s discipline was effective to teach certain generations a lesson. After a time of suffering from God’s discipline, the people cried out to God. They sought the Lord in repentance after the Lord had humbled them and the Lord was faithful to hear the cries of His people again. Though the Lord described His people as a cheating wife, the Lord expressed EXCEPTIONAL mercy and faithfulness to take His unfaithful bride back. He heard the cries of His people from His highly exalted place in heaven and sent deliverers to save His people from further suffering. The testimony of the Judges shows this continual cycle of rebellion against God, followed by the humility of the people, the cries of the people, and the Lord’s response to send a savior for the people to relieve them of their suffering. This went on for many generations, even up to the days of Nehemiah. The elders of Judah praised God during the days of Nehemiah because they knew they were beneficiaries of this mercy that God had shown for a long time.
However, the people continued to show the extent of their unfaithfulness to God. Though God delivered His people from their enemies, the people rebelled against God again. As the generations continued on in Israel, the people eventually went back to living according to selfish and wicked human habit rather than God’s righteous laws and commands. The people provoked God again and caused Him to administrate harsher discipline. Rather than sending enemy nations to pester and irritate the children of Israel, God sent stronger nations to dominate the children of Israel. By the time of Nehemiah, God had sent the Assyrians to conquer the northern kingdom of Israel, and later sent the Babylonians to utterly destroy both the northern and southern kingdoms. The elders of Judah rejoiced and praised God during the days of Nehemiah because they were a generation of people that once lived in Babylon on account of God’s brutal discipline. They understood the realness and extent of suffering the sins of their fathers caused. They knew what it was like to live separated from God’s purposes and promises.
This was the next generation that cried out to the Lord for mercy and restoration according to God’s original promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people had been scattered abroad and kicked out of the Promised Land, held captive in Babylon. During this time, there were men such as the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel that pleaded with God for mercy and interceded on behalf of those who sinned against Him. The testimony of Nehemiah 9:26-31 shows that God heard their cries yet again. Still considering the analogy of a marriage relationship, it was as if the wife of a faithful loving husband continued to cheat with multiple partners, but the husband’s faithfulness and integrity to His own promises caused him to show mercy and take his wife back any time she returned in shame. This shows that, while God is righteous to discipline His people, He is ALWAYS willing to forgive those who humbly seek His forgiveness on account of His mercy. Though His people failed over and over and over again, God was patient with His people on account of His eternally unconditional promises.
When God restored His people, the people specifically recognized that God brought the people back to His law and commands. This shows that God’s restoration is predicated on the foundation of His own righteousness. God doesn’t offer forgiveness so that people can live according to self-righteousness or selfish ambition. God offers forgiveness so that His people can be restored to His own righteousness – the only true righteousness that there is. Yet still, the people failed. Yet still, the people sinned. Yet still, the people rebelled. As the elders in Judah prayed, they recognized the promise of God’s righteousness and quoted Leviticus 18:5 to confess the goodness of God: “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them: I [am] the LORD.”
The Lord’s Law plainly stated that if the people did what God said, they would live. The testimony of Nehemiah 9:26-31 shows that the children of Israel constantly refused to do that which God said. Therefore, many of the children of Israel died according to the promise of the Law. Still, the elders of Judah marveled at God’s restraint to keep from utterly destroying the children of Israel. God judged, but did not totally purge. God destroyed the wicked, but not unto the removal of their existence. God always left a remnant so as to repopulate the land, giving Him the opportunity to fulfill His promises at a later time. The Bible says that the people shrugged their shoulders at God, showing a total lack of concern and care for the Lord. Yet the Lord restrained His anger and continued to offer forgiveness. The people stiffened their necks and ignored God’s Word. Still, God filled specially selected men with His Spirit to provide warnings of judgments, as well as reminders of His promises to restore. Even those who were sent to rebuke Israel were also found speaking words of hope concerning God’s faithfulness to revive and restore His people after His discipline.
The elders in Judah praised God because they recognized that their opportunity to live and dwell in Jerusalem was because of God’s great mercy. Knowing the history of their people, they knew that God would have been right to obliterate Israel off the face of the earth like He did Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet God did not utterly consume them. He preserved a faithful remnant in every generation so that He would prove the supremacy of His mercy, grace, and faithful power to judge AND restore unto blessings according to His original promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This testimony shows that, though all of God’s people continually deny Him, rebel against Him, are indifferent to Him, and reject His spiritual purposes in order to pursue corrupted ambitions, God is truly willing to suffer long while dealing with those He chose to be His. His mercy truly endures forever and His discipline against His people is clearly for the purpose of correction, not utter destruction. Since this is true for all of God’s people, all of God’s people would be wise to respond as the elders of Judah did at the time of Nehemiah – with great praise, worship, and gratitude for the God whose favor transcends all human ability and understanding!