Nehemiah Pt 8: A People of Covenant.
Lets look at what we have learned so far.
Th Exiled people of Israel had returned from Babylon/Persia in three waves
1st - over 100 years before Nehemiah under Zerubbabel who was of royal descent. They set about rebuilding the Temple.
2nd – 14 years before Nehemiah under Ezra the priest with the Levites . They set about restoring the religious practices,
3rd - under Nehemiah with workers and craftsmen. They set about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
The current situation
A gradual and spasmodic return from exile over a period of over 100 years (540 – 430BC).
Temple was built (not as glorious as Solomon’s), walls rebuilt, people being settled back etc. So life was great once again! Do you think so?
What was life like then? Read Ch 9:35-38.
“We are slaves and in deep distress”
They are slaves – serving the King – who has all the rich pickings of our land. They were not free, they were not enjoying the liberty and the fullness of the land.
What were they to do?
Even though they were a new generation from those who had been exiled, they knew their history. It would have been passed down to them. They knew why they had been exiled and had lived in a foreign land. They knew that obedience to God brought blessing – prosperity, well-being, peace, victory over enemies, and that disobedience to God brought curse – disaster, defeat, poverty, distress, slavery.
So what did they do?
They realised that they too needed to be rebuilt! They made a powerful decision to obey God, to turn back to Him and live the way He told them to. They agreed together, the leaders, the priests, and the people, to wholeheartedly reform their national and personal lives. It was the only way – they had messed up big time and they had to put it right.
So they made a written covenant with God – like a massive Act of Parliament or a Treaty – and all the important people – princes, priests, Levites, chiefs, signed it.
The put their name to it. This made it personal as well as national. That’s why their names are listed. They can be identified. It was a covenant of reform, of Rededication and Recommitment to the Law of God.
In Chapter 10 (verses 30 – 39) we have a resume of what the covenant contained:-
What relevance do these topics which related to a mainly small rural occupied country in the Middle East in the 5th Century BC have to the mainly urban mobile hi-tech world of today? Look at the topics again, they cover:-
Honouring the Sabbath and Holy Days
Honouring the Seventh year rule
Payment of the Temple tax
Collection of Wood for burnt offerings
Dedication of the First Fruits
Payment of Tithes
Authority of Scripture
Christian life and witness in a pluralistic society
Sanctity and stability of marriage
Human and animal rights
Conservation “green” issues
Does this ring any bells???
The people had allowed their spiritual lives and the life of the nation to be compromised and polluted. They had failed to live up to God’s standards. God’s laws were not designed to give them a hard time, to keep them in some sort of miserable servitude. They were to enable them to be the people He wanted them to be. He was looking for a people who would be holy “you shall be holy, as I am holy” a people who would acknowledge Him in all their ways not some of their ways, who would love and worship Him, who would love and serve one another, and who would be His witnesses in a fallen and sinful world.
God is still looking for the people who will live like this today, and you know what? Here we are!! We are the new Israel, the Church of Jesus, the believers of today.
Question: Are we also compromised or polluted?
It wasn’t easy for the people in Nehemiah’s day to undertake the reforms, the rededication, contained in this covenant. It was hard for them. It was going to cost them in terms of relationships, money, time, effort, energy. Discipleship is costly today as Jesus told us, “he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me, he who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:38-39).
Do you ever feel like a slave, being made to conform to so-called political correctness, being told what you can and cannot say and do when it comes to our walk with God? Are we allowed to quote the Bible, to speak up for God and His Word, or are we gradually being muzzled? Do you ever feel distressed about what is going on? Are we like the people of Nehemiah “slaves and in distress”?
In a way our situation is not unlike that of Nehemiah’s time. Like them we are not in control of the world, Satan is. The difference is we live in a democratic country, others live in a bureaucratic republic or under a dictatorship. Israel was a Theocracy, God ruled. They didn’t elect political leaders as we are about to do. Their leaders were God appointed. Until Jesus returns and establishes His rule and reign we are stuck with the world we live in. But and it’s a big but we are the Church of Jesus and we have been transferred to the Kingdom of God where He does rule and reign. We should make every effort to influence our nation and to demonstrate the love and power of God wherever and whenever possible.
How then shall we live? How holy are we?
Living in the world we are challenged everyday to uphold the standards of Biblical lifestyle. There are areas where we can so easily become compromised or polluted in our faith and relationship with God. We face the danger of becoming spiritually weak or casual both in what we do that is not good as well as when we fail to do what we know we should do. (Sounds like confession).
Taking a lead from Nehemiah, is there a time and place for spiritual check-ups, maybe on a regular basis; to take stock, review, and ask ourselves how am I doing, an honest and sincere examination. Where we find we are lacking then to recommit that part of our lives. This we can do as individuals and as a church.
Is there a time and place e.g. once a year, for our agreed statement of faith to be restated and signed by all who are part of it. To put our names to it.
The Church of Jesus is a living body – organic and dynamic. We are an entity, separate from the world although in it, but not of it. As a body made up of individuals we are to represent God, to shine as lights in darkness. Our collective persona is to be an example and demonstration of Godliness. We are not just a cosy lovey-dovey club. We are to reach out, to go into the darkness, doing our best to serve our Lord.
We will get messy out there, dirt can stick, smell can linger. We can become stressed, tired and weary. We will often need to come home for a clean-up and to be refreshed and re-energised.
The church community has so much to offer. Our meeting times can be uplifting to our spirits and we can feel better for just standing with our bothers and sisters praising God and hearing His Word. We are blessed when, like me, we belong to a close and caring home group and can share our lives with confidence and receive genuine care. Also to have personal prayer partners who can be contacted for prayer support at any time. I also have three couples who regularly invite me into their homes and who embrace me, warts and all, with such support, and who also challenge and stimulate me.
I’m putting my name down to being part of a community like that, are you? I do not intend to let myself become a slave or in distress, do you?