Lordís Day Evening Meditations - December 7, 2003

Nehemiah 13:10-31

Further Difficulties

Weíve been following a little remnant of Israel who were concerned about doing the will of God, when the majority of the descendants of Jacob were off in other places with no time, no interest, or no concern about those things. Within that remnant we have seen individuals who were trying to be faithful: Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah were some of them. If God recorded their mistakes, it was not to advertise the faults of His people, but rather to use them as instruction and warning for all who would follow, including ourselves today.

As we saw at the beginning of the chapter, when Nehemiah returned from Babylon, he found that things had gone wrong. "Why is the house of God forsaken?" he asked. v. 11. The portions of the Levites had not been given to them, and so they had "fled every one to his field." v. 10. It was in chapter 10, not all that long before, that they had made the promise, "We will not forsake the house of our God." v. 39. They had promised to bring the firstfruits, the firstborn, and the tithes to the house of God, and thus support the Levites. But this had all stopped, and so the Levites, with no support, had had to go to their own fields to earn their living. That meant that the sacrifices had stopped, the praise was silent and there was no one to guard the doors and gates. The house of God was forsaken, and that after such a promise as we find in chapter 10!

But this was nothing new. When the people of Israel stood before Mount Sinai, they said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do," but they never did it. "What is man?" the prophet asked. Man in himself is helpless, and promises prove it. God holds us to promises that we make. But if I make a promise I am claiming to have the strength or resources to carry it out, when the truth is what the Lord Jesus said, "Without Me ye can do nothing." It is good to realize our complete helplessness, and therefore our total dependence on the Lord. James tells us that "Ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this or that." James 4:15. When Paul hoped to go to Philippi, he said, "I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly." Phil. 2:24.

Nehemiah soon re-established all the service of the house of God. The people once again brought in the tithes, etc., and Nehemiah appointed officers to oversee the treasuries (storehouses), and the distribution of the goods to the right people so that once again the priests and Levites could perform their function in the house of God, and God could again receive what was rightfully His. vs. 11 - 13.

But something else was seriously wrong. Some Jews were busy working on the Sabbath day and others were buying from merchants of Tyre who came to Jerusalem to sell their goods on the Sabbath day. Again, they were doing exactly what, not long before, they had promised they would not do. See ch. 10:31. Well, Nehemiah soon restored the sanctity of the Sabbath. He reminded the rulers that it was because of just such behaviour by their forefathers that they were suffering such affliction and reproach. Would they now do the same thing and bring down more judgment on themselves? He commanded the gates of the city to be closed for the entire Sabbath day and chased away the merchants who waited outside.

There are three things here that Nehemiah corrected, and there is a progression in their order: 1) the house of God forsaken, 2) the Sabbath profaned, and 3) mixed marriages. According to the law of God, all work was forbidden on the Sabbath day. But when people got fully taken up with their own things, working, making money, getting ahead, etc. so that they neglected the claims of the house of God, it naturally followed that they needed more time for their ambition, and therefore six days were not enough; they must have seven. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "For all seek their own (interests), not the things of Jesus Christ." Phil. 2:21. That is the way it was in Paulís day; sadly, our day is no different.

The next thing followed naturally - the strange wives. When the Lordís people neglect His things and do like the world, the next step is to join them. Nehemiah corrected this abuse in quite a rough manner. "And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, etc." v. 25. In the time of law in which he lived, and with his authority as governor, that was right. That is what law is; it is the enforcing of a rule by authority, on pain of punishment. In a short time Nehemiah had everything back into outward order.

For us, in this time of grace, not law, these three things: neglect of the house of God, profanation of the Sabbath, and strange wives, are instruction in picture form. All through the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we have been seeing the temple as representing the assembly. It speaks of gathering around the Lord, in His name, and rendering to Him the praise, the remembrance, the service that He is so worthy of. We are not to seek our own interests first, but rather those of our Lord. Speaking of another time the Lord said, "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life." Luke 21:34. Not only evil things can take up our time; legitimate things can take up too much time also, and then the Lord doesnít get His portion.

The Sabbath day does not apply to us. We have a day that is much higher, holier, and more blessed than the Sabbath - the Lordís Day, the first day of the week. It is established on a basis of grace, not of law, and is not a day of rest like the Sabbath was. The name itself, the Lordís Day tells us that it is a day that belongs to the Lord and thus it is a day to use for Him and not for ourselves. The early disciples came together on the first day of the week to "break bread." Acts 20:7. The Lord understands that certain jobs, such as the care of the sick, must go on seven days a week, but generally, the thought is, that that day is His, and we are to reserve it for Him.

The "strange wives" speaks of attraction of heart to wrong objects, though there is the literal application, even in this day of grace: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers." A believer should not marry an unbeliever. But in the general aspect, we must guard our hearts from the many evil attractions around us. Solomon wrote, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life." Prov. 4:23. I like the way the French translation expresses it something like this, "Guard (keep) your heart more than anything else that you keep, because on that depends how your life turns out." If we do Prov. 23:26 - "My son, give Me thine heart," and let the Lord Jesus fill our hearts, then all will be well.

In verse 24, the children of these strange marriages couldnít speak the Jewsí language; they learned the languages of the nations instead. That meant that when the law of their God was read, as in chapter 8, they wouldnít understand a thing! Children brought up in Christian homes and in regular attendance at meetings, become familiar with the vocabulary of the Bible. They know about Abraham, about David, Paul, epistles, the Holy Spirit, etc. Children of the world know nothing of this. They know all about hockey teams and players, singers, actors, and all the latest cartoon characters on TV. Which language do our children speak?

Our chapter closes with Nehemiahís prayer - "Remember me, O my God, for good." He had prayed a similar prayer in verses 14 and 22. Nehemiah didnít have the New Testament, and so he didnít know many of the things that we do. However, it is beautiful to see how God answered that prayer. The faithful service that Nehemiah rendered has been recorded in Godís eternal book, and thus will never be forgotten. For us, we know that whatever is done for the Lordís sake, not only will not be forgotten, but it will have its reward. S.L.