Lord's Day Evening Meditations August 24, 2003

Nehemiah 10:1-39

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?" Acts 15:10.

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 our own.

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.