Nehemiah 13:23-31

23 Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. 24 Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. 25 I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? Among the many nations there was no king like him. He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women. 27 Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”

28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite. And I drove him away from me.

29 Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.

30 So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. 31 I also made provision for contributions of wood at designated times, and for the firstfruits.

Remember me with favor, my God.
(Nehemiah 13:23-31 NIV)

In previous passages, Nehemiah had departed Jerusalem, traveled back to Babylon to resume his duties with the king, then returned again to Jerusalem.  Upon his return, Nehemiah found three major issues, all related to assimilating into the culture of the surrounding non-Jewish people:

  • Use and operation of the Temple was not according to God’s Word
  • Not keeping the Sabbath as God’s Word commanded
  • Intermarrying with non-Jewish people, again in direct violation of God’s Word

As we discovered last time, Nehemiah dealt with the use and operation of the Temple first, then with the keeping of the Sabbath.  In today’s passage, Nehemiah confronts the issue of intermarriage with non-Jewish people.

When Nehemiah realizes that Jewish men were marrying non-Jewish women (v. 23), he sees the implications first-hand in the children of these illegal unions.  While the kids could speak the language of their mothers, none had learned the language of their fathers (v. 24).  How could these kids be expected to learn God’s ways if they could neither speak nor read Hebrew, the language of Judah?  This was not the children’s problem – this fell squarely on the shoulders of the fathers.

Nehemiah knew that this generation would be lost if they did not stop this sin immediately.   Remember the national day of repentance, fasting, Scripture reading, and prayer in chapters 9 – 10?  One of the outcomes of that day was a written document outlining how the people would obey God’s commands, signed by over 80 Jewish leaders, and agreed to by everyone in Israel.

In that document, the people took an oath to obey God and called down a curse upon themselves if they did not obey (10:29).  The first item on that list was the promise to not intermarry with non-Jewish people (10:30).  The other two issues (use and operation of the Temple, and keeping the Sabbath) were also in that document.

Ezra had dealt with this same issue (Ezra 9 – 10) and required the men to end those illegal marriages and send the women back to their homelands.  Nehemiah, as governor, took a different approach and called down the self-imposed curse in 10:29 on them.  There also appeared to be a physical altercation, and Nehemiah physically punished those who knew better but disobeyed God’s commands anyway (v. 25).

Nehemiah reminded these men about Solomon, the wisest king of all Israel, whose downfall came through disobedience to God’s command to not marry foreign (non-Jewish) women (v. 26).  If life ended badly for Solomon because of this sin, how did these men think life would end any better for them?

One of the men who intermarried was the grandson of Eliashib the high priest.  Not only had he set a bad example for the rest of Israel and Jerusalem, but he had done so with a vengeance.  This man had married a daughter of Sanballat, one of the chief antagonists and conspirators against God and His people (v. 28).  Nehemiah ran this man and his family off, expelling them from the city and from Jewish community altogether.  Nehemiah also prayed that the Lord would deal with this man and his family for being such a bad example of living in open defiance of God’s Word (v. 29).

Like his other prayers after dealing with the previous two issues, Nehemiah ended by praying that the Lord would remember the good he (Nehemiah) had done despite the sins of the people.

May we realize that the Lord has our best in mind when He gives certain commands to live by.  He is not a cosmic killjoy, but rather a loving Father that knows some things will end badly for us if we choose that thought or course of action.

May we also remember that God is sovereign, and despite our best efforts, things don’t always turn out as we had hoped.  While Nehemiah’s book ends on a certain note of sadness, it also points us forward to Christ, the great Redeemer and King.  God used Nehemiah in a mighty way, despite the choices of the Jewish people.

May we be faithful to our calling, and to His Word.

Blessings,
~kevin

Nehemiah 13:15-22

15 In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. 16 People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. 17 I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? 18 Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.”

19 When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. 20 Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21 But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will arrest you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. 22 Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.
(Nehemiah 13:15-22 NIV)

In our last passage, Nehemiah had departed Jerusalem, traveled back to Babylon to resume his duties with the king, then returned again to Jerusalem.  Upon his return, Nehemiah found three major issues, all related to assimilating into the culture of the surrounding non-Jewish people:

  • Use and operation of the Temple was in violation of God’s Word
  • Violations of keeping the Sabbath according to God’s Word
  • Intermarrying with non-Jewish people, again in direct violation of God’s Word

As we discovered last time, Nehemiah dealt with the use and operation of the Temple first.  In today’s passage, Nehemiah confronts the issue of not keeping the Sabbath.

Nehemiah recognized the importance of keeping the Sabbath – not from a legalistic “obey the rules” point of view, but from a heart and relationship perspective.  Remember that God created the Sabbath for humanity to stop their work and enjoy their relationship with Him, and He with them.  The Sabbath was also a day where people demonstrated God’s ability to provide for their needs – they could enjoy one day off without worrying that they would starve or evil would befall them if they did not work on that day.  Also, setting aside the Sabbath was a distinguishing characteristic of God’s people – something that set them apart from all the other nations and showed God’s goodness and provision.

Nehemiah addressed the agricultural producers first.  They were treading grapes to make wine, loading and transporting produce, and bringing their produce to market on the Sabbath (v. 15).  As Jewish people, they knew better but still were treating the Sabbath like any other day.

Next, Nehemiah addressed the non-Jewish foreigners who were importing and selling goods on the Sabbath (v. 16).  Nehemiah rebuked the city leaders for allowing the marketplace to be open on the Sabbath (v. 17) and reminded them that this desecrating of the Sabbath was one of the things that led to Israel’s and Jerusalem’s downfall and exile (v. 18).  Had they already forgotten God’s goodness and His discipline for abandoning their relationship with Him?

Nehemiah was not simply scolding those he addressed.  In order to reinforce his point, Nehemiah ordered the city gates to be shut throughout the Sabbath to prevent any trade or merchandise to flow in and out of the city (v. 19).  A few times the merchants tried to keep the letter of Nehemiah’s command but violate the intent by setting up shop right outside the city gates.  The merchants were hoping to entice the people of Jerusalem to come outside the city on the Sabbath, buy what they wanted, then go back in the city.  Nehemiah put a stop to that and told the merchants that if they showed up again on the Sabbath, he would arrest them (vv. 20-21).  The merchants knew that Nehemiah was not joking, and they did not show up again on the Sabbath.

Finally, Nehemiah commanded the Levites to do their job as gatekeepers of Jerusalem (v. 22a).

Once again, Nehemiah ended his notes with a prayer that the Lord would remember the good he was doing and not the disobedience of the Jewish people.

While we as followers of Jesus don’t celebrate the Sabbath per se as the Old Testament people of God did, do we take time each week to ponder and meditate on God’s goodness and faithfulness?

Do we trust that the Lord will provide if we take a day off, or are we too fearful, paranoid, and dependent on our own resources to trust the Lord for a day of rest?

Let’s balance this thought by noting that Jesus said that acts of mercy and kindness on the Sabbath were not in violation of God’s Law.  If a child or an ox falls into a well on the Sabbath, it’s fine to pull them out (Luke 14:5).  God’s mercy and grace are in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

May we find joy and refreshment each week by focusing on the Lord and spending extended time with Him and other Christ followers.

May we take the time to thank the Lord for a successful past week and trust Him for the week to come and commit ourselves, the events, and the time to come for His glory.

May we remember that our relationship with the Lord transcends our fight for survival and our daily needs.  A weekly day of rest is God’s way of reminding us of the eternal rest and time with Him that awaits us in the future.

Blessings,
~kevin

Nehemiah 13:1-14

13 On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.) When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests.

But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiaha room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense.

10 I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and musicians responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields. 11 So I rebuked the officials and asked them, “Why is the house of God neglected?” Then I called them together and stationed them at their posts.

12 All Judah brought the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil into the storerooms. 13 I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zakkur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because they were considered trustworthy. They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites.

14 Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services.
(Nehemiah 13:1-14 NIV)

In our last time together, we saw Nehemiah lead the dedication of the walls and gates of Jerusalem.  While this was a solemn ceremony, the thankfulness and praise to the Lord for all He had done resulted in spontaneous worship and overwhelming joy for all!

As we begin today’s text, verses 1-3 are still part of that dedication day.  As God’s Word was read as part of the dedication ceremony, the Lord had said long ago that Moabites and Ammonites could not be part of the nation of Israel because of the evil they had intended for God’s people (Deuteronomy 23:3-5).  When God’s people heard that command, they obeyed immediately and evicted the Ammonites and Moabites that were living in Israel (vv. 1-3).

Verse 6 gives us time reference for the next set of events.  The initial timeframe when Nehemiah came to Israel was in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes’ reign.  Now it was the thirty-second year of King Artaxerxes’ reign.  Scholars are divided over the implications of this date.  Did this mean that Nehemiah was in Jerusalem for 12 years straight?  Or did he leave sometime after the first year, and made check-in trips every few years?

No matter what the case, Nehemiah was back in Jerusalem to see what was going on.  Nehemiah found three issues where the people had compromised their beliefs and their practices and had made unholy alliances with their non-Jewish neighbors:

  • The use and operation of the Temple and care for the Temple staff (Levites and singers) was not according to God’s commands (vv. 4-14)
  • The Lord’s Day (the Sabbath) was not being kept according to God’s command (vv. 15-22)
  • The Jewish people had begun intermarrying with non-Jewish people again, thus violating God’s commands once more (vv. 23-31)

As we look at today’s text, we see Eliashib the priest giving Tobiah his relative a room in the Temple as an apartment.  Tobiah, not being a Jew, should never have been in the Temple to begin with – this was a violation of God’s commands. When Nehemiah discovered this issue, he immediately threw out all of Tobiah’s personal belongings, cleansed the room, and restored the room to its original purpose (vv. 4-9).

Remember also that Tobiah was one of the main critics of Nehemiah, the rebuilding of the walls and gates, and stirred up the other neighboring provinces against Israel.  For Eliashib to invite Tobiah in and give him an apartment in the Temple was unthinkable and an affront to the Jewish people and to the Lord.

Nehemiah also discovered that the Levites and singers were not being cared for according to God’s Word.  Once again the Levites and singers were overlooked and were going hungry.  In order to survive, they left their roles in the Temple and went back to subsistence farming outside the city.

Nehemiah reinstated the Levites and singers to their roles and appointed new leaders over the distribution of food and resources to the Levites and singers as God had commanded.

Nehemiah ended today’s text by asking God to remember what he (Nehemiah) had done right, not what had gone wrong.

If you have been involved in ministry, you know that things can and do go wrong.

May you, like Nehemiah,  have the strength and courage to set things right according to God’s Word.

And like Nehemiah, may you press into God’s grace and mercy for what you have done to lead well according to God’s Word and prompting, letting the choices and sins of others be on their heads, not yours.

Blessings,
~kevin

Nehemiah 12:27-47

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem—from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.

31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets,and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zakkur, the son of Asaph,36 and his associates—Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani—with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the teacher of the Law led the procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the site of David’s palace to the Water Gate on the east.

38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people—past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.

40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests—Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets— 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.

44 At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites. 45 They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did also the musicians and gatekeepers, according to the commands of David and his son Solomon.46 For long ago, in the days of David and Asaph, there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.47 So in the days of Zerubbabel and of Nehemiah, all Israel contributed the daily portions for the musicians and the gatekeepers. They also set aside the portion for the other Levites, and the Levites set aside the portion for the descendants of Aaron.
(Nehemiah 12:27-47 NIV)

Previously we studied the process used to repopulate the city of Jerusalem.  Nehemiah also used that occasion to take a census of the priests, Levites, and singers by tracing everyone’s family roots back to the exiles that came to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel.

So why did Nehemiah take this headcount?  This leads to our passage today – the dedication of the walls and gates of Jerusalem.  By taking the census, Nehemiah identified all the families that had been set aside by the Lord to serve Him in the days of King David.  Zerubbabel (and later Ezra) had pulled the family records and traced the history of the people to identify all who were of the lineage (family line) of the priests, Levites, and singers so they could participate in the dedication ceremony.   Nehemiah then used those more recent records to make an “all hands” call to the descendants of those the Lord had appointed so many centuries ago.

The priests, Levites, and singers came from near and far to participate in the dedication ceremony.  The leaders ceremonially purified themselves for the event, according to God’s Law (Exodus 19:10,14-15).  This ceremonial purification involved washing their clothes and themselves and abstaining from sexual intercourse.

Once all the priests, Levites, and singers were gathered near the Temple, Nehemiah split them into two groups – two mass “choirs” if you will.  One group was sent to the right of the Temple, the other to the left of the Temple.  The two groups encircled the city and stood on top of the walls.

Most of the time we think of a choir performing in the front of a church or auditorium, facing the audience.  On a few occasions, I have had the privilege of being in a worship service where the choir encircled or “ringed” the audience and sang their songs.  It was truly a “surround sound” experience.

Now imagine that “surround sound” experience at a city level, with the “choir” of priests, Levites, and singers standing on top of the city walls and the people on the ground inside the walls singing along in their praises to the Lord!  That is what happened that day.

Nehemiah noted that even though the event was a solemn dedication, there was “great joy” (v. 43), and the women and children were rejoicing and singing along with the choir!  Truly the joy of the Lord is contagious, isn’t it?  Nehemiah noted that the worship could be heard from far away.

Nehemiah also noted that there were many sacrifices offered to the Lord in the Temple, and the priests, Levites, and singers all received their allocation of food and provisions according to God’s Word.

It’s important to note that this dedication ceremony was to express their thankfulness to the Lord and show their faith in Him.  The walls and gates were important, but their hope remained in God, not in the walls and gates.

May we rejoice in what the Lord has done in our lives and give Him thanks today.

Also, take some time to use your Biblically informed imagination and put yourself back in that day and in the dedication service.  Imagine singing praises to the Lord along with the choir and the people on the ground, experiencing the joy of the Lord first-hand as an entire city worships the Lord together.

Do you have goose bumps yet?

Joyfully,
~kevin

Nehemiah 12:1-26

12 These were the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and with Joshua:

Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,

Amariah, Malluk, Hattush,

Shekaniah, Rehum, Meremoth,

Iddo, Ginnethon, Abijah,

Mijamin, Moadiah, Bilgah,

Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah,

Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah.

These were the leaders of the priests and their associates in the days of Joshua.

The Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and also Mattaniah, who, together with his associates, was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. Bakbukiah and Unni, their associates, stood opposite them in the services.

10 Joshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.

12 In the days of Joiakim, these were the heads of the priestly families:

of Seraiah’s family, Meraiah;

of Jeremiah’s, Hananiah;

13 of Ezra’s, Meshullam;

of Amariah’s, Jehohanan;

14 of Malluk’s, Jonathan;

of Shekaniah’s, Joseph;

15 of Harim’s, Adna;

of Meremoth’s, Helkai;

16 of Iddo’s, Zechariah;

of Ginnethon’s, Meshullam;

17 of Abijah’s, Zikri;

of Miniamin’s and of Moadiah’s, Piltai;

18 of Bilgah’s, Shammua;

of Shemaiah’s, Jehonathan;

19 of Joiarib’s, Mattenai;

of Jedaiah’s, Uzzi;

20 of Sallu’s, Kallai;

of Amok’s, Eber;

21 of Hilkiah’s, Hashabiah;

of Jedaiah’s, Nethanel.

22 The family heads of the Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua, as well as those of the priests, were recorded in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The family heads among the descendants of Levi up to the time of Johanan son of Eliashib were recorded in the book of the annals. 24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.

25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub were gatekeepers who guarded the storerooms at the gates. 26 They served in the days of Joiakim son of Joshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law.
(Nehemiah 12:1-26 NIV)

In our last passage, we saw the repopulation of Jerusalem from the Jewish people who lived in the surrounding villages.   One of ten Jewish families living outside the city walls moved into the city.  Having people live inside the city walls was important to creating a safe and prosperous city – physically, spiritually, and socially.  Building community is more than houses – it’s the relationships that make a city function.

Today we see the generations of priests and Levites since the exiles returned with Zerubbabel.  Verses 1 – 11 list the original priests and Levites that came with Zerubbabel; verses 12-26 list the subsequent generations of priests and Levites up to those in Nehemiah’s day.

So why are these records important and included in Nehemiah’s book?  The next passage (12:27 – 13:3) describe the official dedication of Jerusalem’s walls and gates, and the priests and Levites had a leading role in that celebration.  In seeking to obey the Lord, Nehemiah wanted to follow God’s ordinances laid out during the days of King David (v. 24).  Making sure that the families God ordained in David’s reign were present and leading the people was part of that obedience.

Remember that many of these Biblical ordinances that Nehemiah reinstated had been forgotten over the centuries.  It was only through the reading of God’s Word that the people were reminded of what God had established long ago for their good and His glory.

May we spend time in God’s Word to remind us of His great love for us, and his purpose and plan for our lives.

Blessings,
~kevin

Nehemiah 11:1-36

11 Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.

These are the provincial leaders who settled in Jerusalem (now some Israelites, priests, Levites, temple servants and descendants of Solomon’s servants lived in the towns of Judah, each on their own property in the various towns, while other people from both Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem):

From the descendants of Judah:

Athaiah son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, a descendant of Perez; and Maaseiah son of Baruch, the son of Kol-Hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, a descendant of Shelah. The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 men of standing.

From the descendants of Benjamin:

Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah,and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men. Joel son of Zikri was their chief officer, and Judah son of Hassenuah was over the New Quarter of the city.

10 From the priests:

Jedaiah; the son of Joiarib; Jakin; 11 Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub,the official in charge of the house of God, 12 and their associates, who carried on work for the temple—822 men; Adaiah son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malkijah, 13 and his associates, who were heads of families—242 men; Amashsai son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, 14 and his associates, who were men of standing—128. Their chief officer was Zabdiel son of Haggedolim.

15 From the Levites:

Shemaiah son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; 16 Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God;17 Mattaniah son of Mika, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer; Bakbukiah, second among his associates; and Abda son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. 18 The Levites in the holy city totaled 284.

19 The gatekeepers:

Akkub, Talmon and their associates, who kept watch at the gates—172 men.

20 The rest of the Israelites, with the priests and Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, each on their ancestral property.

21 The temple servants lived on the hill of Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of them.

22 The chief officer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mika. Uzzi was one of Asaph’s descendants, who were the musicians responsible for the service of the house of God. 23 The musicians were under the king’s orders, which regulated their daily activity.

24 Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, one of the descendants of Zerah son of Judah, was the king’s agent in all affairs relating to the people.

25 As for the villages with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath Arba and its surrounding settlements, in Dibon and its settlements, in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 in Jeshua, in Moladah, in Beth Pelet, 27 in Hazar Shual, in Beersheba and its settlements, 28 in Ziklag, in Mekonah and its settlements, 29 in En Rimmon, in Zorah, in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam and their villages, in Lachish and its fields, and in Azekah and its settlements. So they were living all the way from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom.

31 The descendants of the Benjamites from Geba lived in Mikmash, Aija, Bethel and its settlements, 32 in Anathoth, Nob and Ananiah, 33 in Hazor,Ramah and Gittaim, 34 in Hadid, Zeboim and Neballat, 35 in Lod and Ono, and in Ge Harashim.

36 Some of the divisions of the Levites of Judah settled in Benjamin.
(Nehemiah 11:1-36 NIV)

The Jewish people held a national day of revival, with fasting, Scripture reading, confession of sin, and prayer. The leaders also wrote and signed a document outlining a list of things they promised to do in obedience to God’s Word.  These promises were not to appease God or earn salvation or other right standing before the Lord.  Rather, these promises were to show their humble appreciation for all that God had done for them.

In today’s text, we see the Jewish people living out their faith.  Remember Nehemiah 7:4, where Nehemiah commented, “Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.“?  Today’s text addresses that issue.

Verse 1 outlines the plan to repopulate Jerusalem.  One in ten families were to move to Jerusalem from their surrounding towns and villages.  How did they determine who stayed and who moved?  They put the decision in the Lord’s hands by “casting lots”.  The process was simple:  they would pray, then flip a coin, draw straws, roll dice, pull numbers out of a hat, etc.  Solomon wisely acknowledged many centuries before that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” (Proverbs 16:33 NIV).

Once the selection process was complete, the nine-tenths of the people in the communities then gathered around the one-tenth who volunteered to move and prayed over them and blessed them (v. 2).

The rest of the chapter is a list of the families who moved:

  • The tribes of Judah and Benjamin (vv. 4b-9)
  • The priests (vv. 10-14)
  • The Levites (vv. 15-18)
  • Others (vv. 19-36)

This was not an easy move for any of the families involved.  Jerusalem was still a dangerous place, even with the walls and gates rebuilt.  There was still a tremendous hatred of the city and the Jewish people from the surrounding regions.  This move would be akin to moving into an inner city environment where the buildings were run down or non-existent, and threats of violence were all around.

This was also a move away from family, starting over by finding new friends, rebuilding a house, etc.  There were no financial incentives for this move, just obedience to the Lord.

What are we willing to do in our adventure with God?

First of all, are we even willing to consider what the Lord might do in and through us, or do we pull our name out of consideration altogether?

If we are willing to see where God will move in and through us, what might that look like?  What might that adventure manifest into?

God works uniquely and individually in each person’s life; here are a few examples of what God has done in the lives of others:

  • Learning a new skill or relational attribute to minister to a family member
  • Making a new friend that the Lord brought into their life
  • Stepping into a new role in their church, to build or rebuild) a ministry or role
  • Moving to a new community to plant a new church, not as a pastor or church staff, but as a member
  • Moving to a new place as a missionary

Change is no fun – it’s messy, hard, painful, and it forces us to confront our illusion of control over our lives.  Change forces us to depend on the Lord instead of ourselves.

But with change comes growth in the Lord and in relationships with others.

May we not fear the change, but rather, embrace the adventure that awaits as we love the Lord and love others that cross our paths.

Blessings,
~kevin

Nehemiah 10:34-39

34 “We—the priests, the Levites and the people—have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law.

35 “We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.

36 “As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there.

37 “Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and olive oil to the storerooms, where the articles for the sanctuary and for the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the musicians are also kept.

“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
(Nehemiah 10:34-39 NIV)

As part of a national day of revival, Jewish people committed their hearts and lives to living for the Lord.  As part of that commitment, the leaders wrote and signed a document detailing specifics of their obedience to the Lord.

In our previous time together, we studied the first details of their obedience.  Today, we will take a look at the remainder of their promises to the Lord.

In yesterday’s passage, we saw the leaders committed to honoring God in their personal lives.  In today’s text, we see the leaders commit to honoring the Lord in the Jewish community as well as their personal lives.

This commitment to honor God in the Jewish community focused on obeying God in bringing their tithes and offerings to the Lord.  From our study of Ezra chapter 8, we know that the Levites were not given an inheritance of land in Israel or Judah.  They were to be fully dedicated to serving the Lord, and not have to spend time working to earn a living.  The Levites were somewhat similar to pastors and church staff in our day – supported by the funds of the church attendees.  In the case of the Levites, their food allowance came from the generosity and obedience of the people and the priests.

When Ezra prepared to leave Babylon, he noticed there were no Levites among the returning exiles.  The Levites had been so mistreated over the years (some of them nearly starved to death) that none were initially willing to volunteer for more hardship.  The lack of care and concern for the Levites reflected the overall spiritual condition of the people and Jewish leadership.  Ezra prayerfully requested that some Levites go with the returning exiles, and the Lord changed the hearts of some Levites who then volunteered to go.

As we see the Jewish leaders and people commit to bringing their tithes and offerings to the Lord, we see the change in their hearts reflected in their finances and provisions.  The Levites would now be properly cared for, as the Lord originally intended.  This was a positive sign of change in the Jewish people.

The principle of “first fruits” mentioned several times in today’s passage was a sign of faith in the Lord.  By giving the Lord the first part of the harvest, the people were showing their thankfulness to the Lord for His provision and telling the Lord that they trusted Him for the remainder of the harvest.

What does living in a community of faith look like in our day?

Is it all about us and what we can benefit from our association with a local church, or is there a deeper commitment to the Lord and to His work, including the sharing of the resources the Lord has provided to us?

May we exhibit generosity to others, just as the Lord has shown generosity to us in His protection, His provision, and His care and feeding of us along life’s way, as well as His ultimate provision of eternal life through His Son’s death and resurrection.

Blessings,
~kevin