The continuing restoration — Nehemiah 10-13

Sadly, just like in the days of the kings of Judah, restoration was a constant process. Things would be properly restored, but ‘ere long a new generation would neglect the Temple and the Law or engage in the corruptions all over again. Every generation needs to be brought back to God’s teachings. Nehemiah effectively pressed restoration of God’s Law — as difficult as it sometimes was — in our reading today.

Taking a vow to do right — You know, it’s one thing to have someone tell you what you ought to be doing. It’s another thing to make a personal, deliberate promise to do them. These Jews, like all other Jews of the world, were born into the Mosaic covenant, the sign of circumcision being the mark that they are part of it — even though they never agreed to it personally. After hearing the Law of God and realizing how far off the mark they had gone, these Jews had decided to take a positive vow to obey the things they had read in the Law: keep the Law, not intermarry, observe the Sabbath Day, observe the Sabbath year, supply the Temple properly, yield their first fruits as they should, and give their tithes.

Now, as Christians we deliberately enter into covenant with God, we aren’t merely born into it without a choice. But even more than that we’re supposed to be reminded about the covenant each first day of the week. As we partake of the cup, representative of the new covenant in Christ’s blood, we should be reminded of the covenant of obedience that we have with full knowledge made before God. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take similar silent vows before God, like Nehemiah’s people did that day. How would your life be different, if you did?

Dedicating the wall — There is a pretty obvious answer to this question, but why did the Jews need a wall around Jerusalem? Why was it such a priority to Nehemiah? To keep out the enemies of God’s people, foreigners and other polluters of Israel. An unwalled city was open to attack, to plunder, and all her residents were unsafe. It was like leaving your doors and windows wide open all the time. Once done, Nehemiah wanted to have a dedication ceremony to celebrate. The heavenly Jerusalem (Rev. 21:15-17) has walls and the sinful and impure (21:27) cannot go inside.

Our day may view this as being a bit exclusive (a serious social misstep), but there really are walls around God’s people the church. The word of God itself delineates the separation between the people in Christ and those outside of Christ (Eph. 1 and 2). Despite the world’s view that, especially in Christendom, there really shouldn’t be any walls at all, God’s word disagrees. Paul demanded that an immoral man (1 Cor.5) be expelled, excluded from the body of Christ, for his repentant sin. And the New Testament writers consistently speak of those outside of Christ as being “Gentiles” — indicating clearly that we should recognize a difference between those who are obedient disciples and those who are disobedient or disciples in name only. Let the denominationalists and the inclusivists rail against God’s “line in the sand”, His wall, if they want; it will, in the end, change nothing with God, and only condemn their souls.

Sabbath restored — Sabbath was important in Mosaic law, even though it was often disobeyed. It was one of the “markers” of Judaism in the rest of the world, along with food taboos and male circumcision. In the New Testament Sabbath observance has been done away with: “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Colossians 2:16, 17, NAS95. But that having been clearly stated, the idea behind the Sabbath, to meditate on God’s will in our lives, is still a great idea. Sunday is not the same thing as Sabbath; there seems to be evidence “between the lines” in Scripture (1 Cor. 11 and Acts 20:7) that slaves often had to work on Sundays, delaying communion to mid or late evening on the Lord’s Day — so don’t confuse them or get the idea that I’m suggesting a direct correlation between them. But I would encourage every Christian to prioritize Sunday worship. Fifty or sixty years ago many laws forbade all but the most essential commerce on Sunday to accommodate Christian worshippers. We’re not that fortunate today, but Christians can still make the good and wise choices for their soul’s encouragement and edification. Take the time assembly with the church each first day of the week.

Mixed marriages removed — You’d think that folks would have gotten the message by the time Nehemiah removes the mixed marriages — this wasn’t the first time that this had come up in the post-exilic period. Mixed marriages were dangerous and forbidden. They were Solomon’s downfall, the reason Ahab was as evil as he was, and were the fountainhead of much of Israel’s misery. Yet people still, then and now, have their hearts captured by someone outside the faith, fantasizing that love will conquer all or that they will change the other person — only to get changed themselves. Be careful before saying, “I do” to anyone, but really beware of religiously mixed marriages — they are often the seed of great heartbreak and spiritual pollution.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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