Tuesday, 17 June 2008 06:14

Relevant Instruction [1]

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We come now to the last chapter in the book of Nehemiah. In our series on this book, you might say Nehemiah 13 comes as something of a letdown or disappointment as Nehemiah again has to deal with the covenant people of God being unfaithful and living in disobedience in various ways. If this book was written just by a human author, it would have been much more positive simply to end it at chapter 13:3 telling about the ongoing reforms under Nehemiah. But the Bible is an honest book, inspired by the Holy Spirit, along with all the other 65 books pointing to Christ Jesus the Saviour we all so desperately need, the Redeemer and Reformer and Ruler above all.

What can we learn from this last chapter of Nehemiah which tells what he met with when he returned to Jerusalem and how he dealt with it all after he had been away from the city for some years, working again for the king in Persia. The theme for this message and next week is, Take Note! Let us together take note of the sad decline Nehemiah met with when he returned to Jerusalem after some years away, the serious disciplines he administered, and the saintly devotion he showed. Today we will only bring out the sad decline Nehemiah met with on his return to Jerusalem.

To learn about this sad decline, we can easily divide the chapter into four sections for Nehemiah dealt with four serious problems, four grievous departures from Gods ways. In verses 4-9 we learn about the dangerous compromises and friendships made with the heathens. You would hardly believe what happened if it was not recorded in the Bible. Remember Tobiah the Ammonite, the friend of Sanballat and Geshem, among the passionate leading enemies and scoffers of the people of God? In Nehemiahs absence, Eliashib, the high priest in Jerusalem, gave Tobiah a suite to live in which was in the very temple complex of buildings! There was a section of the temple complex where the collection of goods for the Levites and priests was collected and stored, both for the temple sacrifices and for the maintenance of the Levites and priests. A large section of that area was being reserved now instead for a suite for Tobiah where he could stay free of charge whenever he visited the city. What an unbelievable compromise with evil this was. As one put it, this was like having a possum [fox] in a chicken coop! You could also compare it to a church in town giving living space in their church building for someone very opposed to the gospel and an open enemy against the church.

How could this happen, and in a matter of several years, just after Nehemiahs departure? We do not know for certain how many years Nehemiah was away from Jerusalem before he returned again. But it could well have been more than ten years. We all know how quickly people forget past blessings, and in a period of ten years and more, so much changes from one generation to the next. There is also the fact that all throughout the history of Israel, again and again, it was evident that not all who said they were following the Lord were actually doing so in spirit and truth. Also with Nehemiahs reform period the first time, there were those not genuine in the faith and not truly repentant before God. We have to say this about Eliashib, the high priest, who allowed private living quarters in the temple for enemies of Gods people. Obviously he was a hypocrite and as a wolf in sheeps clothing in the camp of Israel. He was in the priestly family and became high priest but he was not a man of God, but a man of the world and he allowed this evil compromise to take place.

Another factor in the sad decline might have been the passing away and/or pushing aside some of the godly leaders in the city that Nehemiah had appointed years before, men like Hanani and Hananiah mentioned in chapter 7:2 for instance. It is also quite likely that following Nehemiahs departure there came a pendulum swing to the left in the whole society of Jerusalem. The natural man, born in sin, resists Gods ways and holy pursuits after righteousness, and we are all inclined, left to ourselves, to the way of compromise and down the slippery slope of sin. Maybe the people said, Look, our policy of staying alienated from our neighbors isnt doing anyone a lot of good. It could help us also economically surely to build closer ties with our surrounding neighbors so this gesture of having a suite available for Tobiah when he comes to our citywhat can be wrong with that? Isnt it a friendly deed even, in line with being kind to our neighbors? Cant you just imagine the rationalizations that would be given in defense of this matter?

When Nehemiah realizes this decline upon returning to Jerusalem, we read in chapter 13:8 that he says, And it grieved me sore. If you lived in this time in Israel, would you like Nehemiah have been grieved bitterly about this decline and felt something needs to change here, or would you have simply shrugged your shoulders about it all and by your silence let the slide downwards just continue? Too many are too often complacent in the history of the church. What about you in this regard? Are you aware how slipping in one area will mean slipping in other ways as well? Without question, it is always so!

We see that also in our text passage for related to this first matter of decline is this second matter spoken of in verses 10-14. There we are told about the failure of the people to support the work of the temple and the temple workers, especially the Levites. Earlier, according to chapter 12, the people under Nehemiahs time in the city did tithe and give faithfully. But after Nehemiahs departure, the people began again to stop giving faithfully, and the temple workers went back to daily jobs just to survive for themselves. Always when love for God grows cold and love for the world increases, then the financial support for the cause and work of God and His church begins to diminish and fall away. Lack of regular and faithful tithing for the Lord is a matter of spiritual decline. In Malachi, the last book of the Bible, the prophet living around this time in history complained too of the people robbing God in not bringing their firstfruits to Him. They were not remembering God as the Giver of all their blessings, and with their sacrifices they were giving to God just their leftover change and their sickly and blemished sheep, etc. They were not showing first love for God and His cause by any means. I wonder if that is also true of you.

It is a known fact that a lot of confessing Christians and many church goers do not give faithfully to the Lord. All too many do not tithe, not giving at least ten percent of all their earnings for Gods church and kingdom work. There is something wrong with the heart when that is the case. If the heart is converted, the purse is inverted, wrote someone correctly. But when there is not a heart for God and good, you can always find reasons not to give God the firstfruits and to rob God while you fill your own pockets and build your own empires here on earth. Nehemiah couldnt and didnt accept this sad trend that had taken place of people not giving faithfully for the church and its needs, as represented in the temple then, and he confronted the people on this matter too as we shall see next time.

But let us notice the third and fourth matters yet showing sad decline of spiritual life. Verses 15-22 tell of the failure to keep the Sabbath day holy and how the people allowed and involved themselves in all kinds of selling and shopping on that day. Again the almighty dollar became the defense for breaking the Sabbath day and allowing, for economic reasons, the desecration of this day. I mentioned before from an earlier dealing with this matter in the book of Nehemiah how the fourth commandment is such a thermometer reading of our spiritual life and health. The people here failed miserably in this regard and their failure to keep the Sabbath set apart for worship and rest in the Lord proved so much their low spiritual condition and their wayward state once again. It is the same still today. People may rationalize and argue against it in all kinds of ways, even with well worked out, seemingly Biblically grounded, arguments. Yet, how you spend and keep the Lords Day will tell and prove whether you have a heart for God and His Word and cause or not. When people start slipping in wholeheartedly seeking and serving the Lord, lack of careful joyful and faithful adherence to the fourth commandment is one of the first indicators. Mark my words, no, mark Scriptures revelation about this!

Then again, very related to this all is the fourth area of sad decline that we are told about in verses 23-28, namely of intermarriage with unbelievers and its sad effects on godly family life. In verse 24 we read that Nehemiah met with covenant families where the children spoke the language of the heathens around them and could not speak in the Jews language, but according to the language of each people. This brings to our attention that this problem of having marriages with the people of the world around them was happening even among the religious leaders, and we are told that the grandson of compromising high priest Eliashib was married to a daughter of Sanballat, one of the other arch enemies of Gods people mentioned all through the book of Nehemiah as such a foe to Gods cause. Do you see the slippery slope syndrome here? Eliashib allowed a room for Tobiah in the temple complex and his grandson was married to a daughter of Sanballat!

In the book of Malachi the Lord, through His prophet, also complains of how the people were unfaithful in their marriages and not being careful that there would be a godly seed in the next generation. There is no substitute for a godly home but the people of Israel were not being careful about this and the results were there that within one generation the truths of God and His will and worship was being forgotten, and the ways of the world being followed instead. In this way as one put it, A single generations compromise could undo the work of centuries. Nehemiah came back and saw this happening and was most displeased. What Nehemiah was concerned about here is something so important for our times as well, thinking of the Christian church. As never before, we need godly fathers and mothers committed to each other and to the Christian upbringing of their children by godly teaching and godly example.

Today we only identified the four main problems Nehemiah came up against regarding the sad spiritual decline of Israel. Next time we will see how he dealt with it in Gods Name. In the meantime just considering this message, wont you agree how extremely relevant Holy Scripture is, also for our times? If you will be wise, the Bible will be for you a lamp to your feet, and a light upon your path. Is it so? Amen.

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