Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Wednesday, December 24th Nehemiah 13

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Zechariah 3-4, Revelation 18
Today's scripture focus is Nehemiah 13

Nehemiah 13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Nehemiah's Final Reforms

13 On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God,for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.
Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.
15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself!17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”
19 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. 21 But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.
23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, andMoab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?”
28 And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. 29 Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites.
30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; 31 and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits.
Remember me, O my God, for good.
Accompanying Ray Stedman sermons: Looking for a Few Good Men and Preventing Burnout and Preserving Power 
Accompanying Matt Chandler sermon: Rebuilding a Day at a Time

After the Israelites finish the wall, dedicate it, and resolve to follow God's commands, Nehemiah returns to the "real job".  Some time later he returns, and finds all those reforms are quickly deteriorating.  Tobiah, who had been a thorn in Nehemiah's side during the rebuilding of the wall, has one of the caretakers of the temple clear out aspects of worship to God in order make a "home" himself.

Chandler points out that it is human nature and human tendency to gradually drift away from the pursuit of holiness.  Oftentimes not even with extremely serious issues, but that we give something that is morally neutral a place in our lives and hearts that should belong to God.  We allow things to distract us from pursuing relationship with Him.

To help us combat this tendency God has given us His Word, and also a community of faith.  People who step in an shine light onto our blind spots - because by very definition, we can't see them.  This is, of course, a dangerous thing to do.  This type of confrontation is most often met with justification and then accusation.  We justify our sin, and point out their sin in return.  But this is why we need to invest in relationship with fellow believers, so that we can build the kind of relationships where we can hold each other accountable, and encourage each other towards holiness.

In the next portion of the passage we find that the Israelites had not been tithing to the Levites.  Chandler points out that the next area we tend to slide is in regards to submitting to authority - especially authority within the church.

Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

We tend to rebel against the very thought of authority figures over us.  When we join a church, we are to submit to the leaders - joyfully, without grumbling.  When they preach and proclaim the Word, we need to obey and submit.   There is far more weight on the elders than on you.  They have a huge responsibility keeping watch over our souls and having to give an account to God.   God has given us His bride, the church, to encourage and edify and challenge us.  We cannot claim to love God and hate His bride.  We need to find a Bible believing church and be intentional about developing relationships that will encourage us in our walk with God.

The next portion of our passage talks about the Israelites disregard for the Sabbath.  Nehemiah was appalled and reminded them that they had been there, done that, and suffered the consequences innumerable times before.

Chandler points out that another area we're prone to drift is that we tend to focus on doing instead of being.  We can't handle the fact that we can't earn our salvation, and our identity so often becomes wrapped up in what we do or accomplish. The Sabbath is God's reminder to us that we need to stop and just be. Our identity isn't found in any of our accomplishments, but rather in the adopting work of Jesus Christ.   It's such a hard line, because yes we need to pursue holiness and be purposeful about fleeing whatever area of weakness we have (whether that's lust or addition or pride, etc) but success in that is not what saves us.  We can't become so consumed with serving or working for God that we neglect our very relationship with Him, and yet that is our tendency.  We need to stop and just be, reminding ourselves of our identity in Christ and that our salvation comes through His grace alone.

In the last portion of our passage Nehemiah is chastising the Israelites for intermarrying with the Canaanites, another lesson they apparently hadn't learned.  The point, obviously, is not that God is against interracial marriages, but rather that people of faith should not marry non believers.  When we date, when we pursue marriage, our concern needs to be godliness.  But we tend to get lazy when it comes to prioritizing the things of God.

Though there are many areas we have a tendency to drift spiritually, thankfully we serve a God of mercy and grace.   We need to take this reminder to heart, and be purposeful about allowing God to move powerfully in our lives.

Monday's scripture focus: Psalm 9
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Zechariah 5-6, Revelation 19
Friday's passage:  Zechariah 7-8, Revelation 20
Saturday's passage: Zechariah 9-10
Sunday's passage: Zechariah 11-12
Monday's passage: Zechariah 13-14, Revelation 21

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