Lord's Day Evening Meditations August
Some Very Good Intentions
This remarkable chapter concludes what began in
chapter 8. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 belong together as a unit. At
the beginning of chapter 8 we saw them ask Ezra to "bring
the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel."
That began a series of readings and occupation with the Word of
God which stirred their hearts, and awakened in them a strong
desire to do all that they found written there. In the days of
Nehemiah there were no miracles, no gifts, and not even prophets.
The awakening that took place, and the desires to do the will
of God was simply the result of having listened to the Word of
God. We don't have any special gifts or power today, but if we
open our hearts to the Word of God, it will work some wonderful
things in us as well.
In their prayer in chapter 9 they fully confessed
all their failures, recounting the story of all the disobedience
and rebellion of Israel. They also recounted the mercy of God
that had borne with them all the way. They justified God in all
that He had brought on them in judgment and confessed that their
very existence at that moment depended on His mercy. See chapter
9:31. Would they continue dependent on His mercy? No, they now
decided to make a covenant, an agreement with God. They wanted
to do the right thing, but they went about it the wrong way. A
man who makes an agreement with God always breaks down. It is
to claim to have strength when we have no strength. Israel at
Sinai said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do,"
and they immediately disobeyed. Peter summarized it well when
he said to those who wanted to put the new believers under the
law, "Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of
the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"
The remnant here was no exception. They really
meant well, and intended to do right, but they thought they had
the strength to do it, when the remainder of the story (chapter
13) shows that they didn't. They should have said, "This
is what we want to do; Lord, please help us." However,
apart from the way they went about it (very normal for the Old
Testament), what they intended to do was very commendable. Their
desires were right, and are very instructive to us now. We will
see what they wanted to do, and may we imitate them in their desires.
Verses 1 - 27 lists the names of the governor (Nehemiah),
priests, Levites, and chiefs of the people who took part in the
sealing of the covenant. It is interesting to find that Eliashib
the high priest (see ch. 3:1) is not listed among the priests,
but that is not surprising for we have found him to be a traitor.
Verse 28 tells us that the rest of the people, "and all
they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands
unto the law of God" also joined their leaders, and
they "entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk
in God's law … and to observe and do all the commandments of the
Lord our Lord, and His judgments and His statutes."
v.29. They solemnly promised to do all that the Lord had commanded
from Genesis to Deuteronomy! Today we have the complete Word of
God. As we listen to it, may a similar desire arise in our hearts,
to do all that our Lord desires of us, but in His strength, not
In verse 30 they began to specify the details of
what they intended to do. All the details that are found in the
remainder of the chapter have some spiritual significance for
us - much to stir our hearts likewise. The first thing was that
they would not allow intermarriages with the people of the lands.
Already they had "separated themselves from the people
of the lands," and "from the filthiness of
the heathen of the land" (Ezra 6:21), and now they
intended to maintain this separation. This was exactly according
to the law of God - see Deut. 7:1 - 4. The New Testament counterpart
of this truth is found in 2 Cor. 6:14 - 7:1. "Wherefore
come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord,
and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you."
This is a matter of love for our Lord, and how closely we want
to walk with Him. "Be not deceived: evil communications
(bad company) corrupt good manners." 1 Cor. 15:33.
The next thing was that they would observe the
Sabbath and the seventh year. v. 31. God had commanded rest for
the people every seventh day (the last day of the week), and a
rest for the land every seventh year. This rest pointed forward
to a coming rest, when Christ will reign and give true rest to
His people. The Sabbath was part of God's covenant with Israel,
and was never given to the Gentiles. We have another day, quite
different from the Sabbath, called "the Lord's Day."
In Rev. 1:10 John wrote, "I was in the Spirit on the
Lord's Day." The Lord's Day is the first day of the
week, the day in which He rose from the dead. As such it is the
day that signifies His triumph over all the power of the enemy
and the beginning of the new creation. The risen Lord first met
with His disciples on the first day of the week and again the
following Lord's Day. See John 20:19, 26. The Holy Spirit came
down on the day of Pentecost, which means fiftieth, another first
day of the week. We find that in the time of the apostles it was
the established practice to break bread on the first day of the
week: "And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples
came together to break bread." Acts 20:7.
You have maybe heard the expression, "Christian
Sabbath." There is no such thing as a Christian Sabbath,
for the Sabbath had a completely different character from the
Lord's Day. What is the character of the Lord's Day? The very
name tells it all. It is a day that belongs to Him. He has given
us six days, and has reserved one for Himself. It is not necessarily
a day of rest, like the Sabbath was, and it is certainly not a
day for self-interest and pleasure. It is a day to be kept for
the Lord and to be used for Him.
Another thing that they intended to do was to "leave
… the exaction of every debt." v. 31. This was part
of the observance of the seventh year. Read Deut. 15:1 - 6. If
a creditor had loaned something to his brother or neighbour, when
the seventh year came along, the debt was cancelled. For us, this
speaks of forgiving the personal wrongs that others may have done
to us. We were like the servant in Matt. 18:24 who owed a huge
debt, a debt of sin that we were unable to pay. God has forgiven
us that debt, fully, freely, and eternally. We are expected, then,
to forgive our brethren, as our Father has forgiven us. When we
come to remember the Lord, on the Lord's Day, do we harbour any
grudge or ill feelings towards anyone? If so, that should be removed
before coming to appear in the Lord's presence.
From verse 32 to the end we find over and over
again the phrase, "the house of our God."
The house of their God was the temple, which had recently been
rebuilt, and now they were very concerned that all that concerned
the temple and its service should be fully provided for. In other
words, God's interests were taking a foremost place in their minds
- a right thought at all times. Does God have a house today? 1
Tim. 3:15 answers that question: "The house of God, which
is the church (assembly) of the living God." Just as
the temple formed a very important part of the life of a faithful
Jew, so the assembly, gathered to the Lord's name, should be a
very important part of the life of a believer today.
The first thing they would do was to charge themselves
"the third part of a shekel" yearly for the
service of the house of God. There were the daily burnt offerings
and meat offerings; there was the showbread that must be replaced,
plus all the other offerings continually, plus the wood to burn
these offerings. All of these things had to be provided for; they
had to come from somewhere. An assembly also has needs which are
to be met by those who compose it. May the exercises of this remnant
stir our hearts to desire, as they did, to do our Lord's will
in all things. S.L.