28 “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand—29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.
30 “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.
31 “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.
32 “We assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands to give a third of a shekel each year for the service of the house of our God:33 for the bread set out on the table; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God.
(Nehemiah 10:28-33 NIV)
On this national day of revival, the Jewish people participated in Scripture reading, prayer, confession of sin, and repentance. Over 80 leaders also drafted a document and signed it, stating their obedience to God and their intention to live in a restored relationship with Him.
Nehemiah recorded who signed the document first before he told us what the document said. This record of the “who” before the “what” showed the leaders’ heart and desire to have a right relationship with God. Over the next two days, we’ll take a look at what the Jewish people promised to be and to do.
While over 80 people signed this document, its impact and influence was intended for all Jewish people. Verse 28 begins by listing everyone involved – men, women, sons, daughters, anyone of age who claimed to follow God was included.
Verse 29 identifies the intensity of the Jewish peoples’ commitment to the Lord. This was a serious oath they were making before God. They promised to live in accordance with God’s Law or have a curse upon them if they did not. This was not an attempt to appease an angry deity, nor was it an attempt to merit salvation. Rather, this oath was an act of their will to honor God with their lives.
Verses 30 – 39 contain the terms of the oath. We’ll take a look at the first few verses today, and follow up with the remaining verses the next day.
Verse 30 starts with the promise to not intermarry with non-Jewish people, according to God’s command (Exodus 34:16). This command was not to maintain racial or genetic purity – this was to maintain spiritual purity, worshipping God alone.
Verse 31 contains three promises:
- no commerce or trade (doing business) on Sabbaths and other holy days, as ordained by God (Exodus 20:8-11)
- Giving the agricultural lands a rest every seven years (Exodus 23:10-11)
- Forgiveness of debt every seven years (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)
Verses 32-33 contain the last promise we’ll look at today – that of gathering a self-imposed annual “tax” that will provide for the operation of God’s house (Exodus 30:11-16). This was a flat tax; the rich were not to give more, nor were the poor to give less.
Remember that a shekel represented a day’s wages. Scholars note that the Lord asked for half a shekel, but this oath stated a third of a shekel. The discrepancy appeared to be a difference in exchange rates between the Jewish economy and the economy of their captors; the monetary amount seemed to be expressed in their captors’ currency.
If we were to write a similar letter to the Lord in our day, what would we hear God calling us to be and to do? What would our choices be?
And most importantly, what would our attitude be? Would this be outward compliance to “look good” in other people’s eyes or in God’s eyes, to please God or someone else?
Or would this willingness to write and sign such a document be an inward willingness to honor God with our lives and resources?