Tag: God’s Blueprint for Society

Prone to Wander

Nehemiah 13:1-31

Jewish people had experienced a return to the land, a revival (of sorts) in the church. At least it had the appearance of revival – a return to regular worship, outward conformity to the Laws of God. There was some period of faithfulness during the years while Nehemiah remained in Jerusalem. If the book ended with chapter 12 it would be easy to conclude they all lived happily ever after. But chapter 13 tells a different story. Disaster struck while Nehemiah returned to the royal court in Babylon. It’s not known how long Nehemiah was absent, it was long enough for major backsliding in several areas and consequences to have begun.

Before you roll your eyes and say/think, “There they go again, what’s the matter with those Jews”, think for a moment about your own personal experience. How often do you need to guard against excuses: only this once, yeah but, it’ll turn out all right, tomorrow (or next week), it’s too hard, I’m too tired, it’s the only opportunity. Then there’s plain old drift – little bit here, little more tomorrow, wrong turn the next day, pretty soon we’re miles away from the starting place wondering how we got there.

I was a wand’ring sheep, I did not love the fold; I did not love my Shepherd’s voice, I would not be controlled.
I was a wayward child, I did not love my home; I did not love my Father’s voice, I loved afar to roam.

If that is true before conversion, the tendency to wander certainly didn’t fully disappear when we came to faith. We still tend to wander or drift away. The account in Neh 13 is given in part to emphasize critical areas where we’re prone to wander away from God’s standard. If we heed the warning, we will be spared the consequences that befell the Jewish people. The specific problems addressed by Nehemiah put the entire city of Jerusalem and ultimately the Jewish people at risk; it ultimately began with failure to follow God’s law in church, community and family.

A. compromise in church affairs

membership v.1-3

Some were allowed to become part of the worshiping community while retaining pagan distinctives and being identified by them

They could have become legitimate members by following the true God, showing their loyalty to God through ritual obedience (Ex. 12:48); it would be equivalent to modern day confession of faith, baptism, then membership

leadership v.4-9

Eliashib was not merely related to Tobiah (Ammonite) by marriage, he had made a friendly alliance with him; this was the same Tobiah who ridiculed rebuilding of the wall, who paid Shemaiah to entrap Nehemiah (enticing him to take refuge in Temple)

Eliashib’s alliance included giving the enemy of the Jews and God storage space in God’s house

The place had been sanctified, set apart for use of God and his worship

Its use by Tobiah displaced rightful activity – storing supplies necessary for worship

support v.10-13

It seems there was a complete failure to bring in tithes and offerings – contributed to by compromises in membership guidelines & the bad behavior of the leaders

Those who retained their pagan beliefs but were part of congregation would not want to contribute

they would be more interested in contributing to their own gods

The faithful would be reluctant to contribute because of Eliashib’s alliance with Tobiah

If the leaders couldn’t be trusted to do right regarding the use of space in the church, how could they be trusted otherwise?

The church was in a sorry state – it was poorly attended, poorly led, and poorly supported. God’s Word was no longer the authority; this was the result not so much of outright rejection as of increasing neglect. Slowly, bit by bit, they had wandered away from the standard, making up their own rules along the way.

B. laxity in Lord’s Day observance v.15-22a

working v.15a

treading wine

harvesting grain, grapes, figs

loading up the “trucks”, donkeys, commercial traffic

These were not works of necessity – they could have been postponed until the next day

buying/selling v.15b-16

Grocery suppliers were bringing goods into the city, perhaps right into the Temple neighborhood

all kinds of goods that came through port city of Tyre

Traffic in both essentials and non-essentials

a day like any other

The people did not rest nor allow their work animals to rest as God had commanded

If the Sabbath was just like any other business day, worship was certainly not high on the list of priorities

They had allowed the community to set the standard rather than holding the community to God’s standard

No amount of excuses legitimize our failure to obey God’s law. In fact, not keeping the Lord’s Day as one set apart both by God’s command and his example may result in God’s opposition: we won’t earn any more, we won’t have more time to do things, we won’t accomplish more and may accomplish less than if we honored God with our time.

C. rationalizing in relationships v.23-29

I know that’s what God said – that’s not what God meant – what did God say?

If rationalizing progresses far enough, it becomes “God who? why should I care about what he thinks?”

she’s a nice girl, he has a really good job, what a cute couple – considering surface and temporal qualities rather than issues of the heart

The forbidden relationships were with those who maintained their old ways of belief, cultural ways of expression, who remained enemies of the Gospel at heart

The fact they were not God-fearers is evidenced by being:

identified by their cultural heritage

described as retaining their cultural ways – children spoke their language, not that of their fathers

equated to Solomon’s liaisons with pagan women

The result was broken homes, fathers who were present but not fully involved in life of children, also vice versa

Their godly heritage was not being passed on to next generation

The values and priorities and beliefs in home went the way of the unbelieving spouse

D. need for a Nehemiah v.30a

what he did

cleaned the church v.8ff

He restored God’s standard and appointed those who would maintain it

He called the people to repentance and renewed faithfulness to God’s house and worship

secured the city v.19ff

He rebuked the leaders, secured the gates, shooed away the pagans

He implemented civil practices that would encourage Sabbath observance

restored the family v.25b

He required commitment from parents to do right in the future personally and with their children

why he succeeded v.3a, 22b, 31b

the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4)

God’s Word was the unquestioned standard for Nehemiah andthe one held up for the people

Nehemiah was constantly in prayer, seeking guidance from God, reminding self of dependence on God

why the need

O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be;
Let that grace now, like a fetter, Bind my wand’ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for thy courts above.

The challenge before us: will we live for ourselves or live for Him who died on Calvary. Is our life dedicated to serving self or serving Christ? He did not die to save us so we could continue to live for self, do those things displeasing to him and contrary to his laws. Saved us from bondage in sin so we could honestly and sincerely consecrate our lives to him, and find our joy and contentment in pleasing God rather than self.


Holy Boldness

Nehemiah 12:27-43

Everyone loves a celebration, especially at a time when things are hard and there’s not a lot to celebrate about. Much about life in Jerusalem that was difficult – city not fully restored, homes not all repaired and livable, new place with new challenges for many residents. Don’t forget, surrounded by enemies – personal, cultural, and religious. Completion of repairs on the wall did not mean Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem left the country.

Looking outward, beyond the wall of the city and the surrounding villages, great cause for uncertainty. This was where God had promised to do great things – sending a King to deliver his people. In that respect, view from the wall not very promising. Yet even in the midst of hardship and in spite of a potentially bleak forecast for the immediate future, God’s people were determined to celebrate.

>Their purpose – express joy and gladness and thanksgiving with all sorts of accompanying noise. No one was left out, no effort was spared, you could say “they pulled out all the stops” on that day of celebration. And what better reason for celebrating? The city to be dedicated once again to honor and service of God.

>Their need – holy boldness. Not just any kind of boldness. Not the kind that comes from following the crowd. Not the bold excitement of the moment. Not boldness that is self-induced or self-seeking. Holy boldness – boldness that has a holy source and holy purpose. Boldness that

A. accompanies celebration v.27-29

when it is the work of God being honored

God’s people offering praise and thanksgiving for what he had accomplished through them

visible signs of God’s promise to restore his people from their exile

God had stirred the hearts of pagan kings to do his bidding – Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes

they were in the land, temple and daily ceremonies restored, Jerusalem a legitimate city again

God had caused the plans of his enemies (the three cronies, etc.) to fail

when God’s people work in concert

the leaders: Ezra and Nehemiah, along with princes of Judah

the priests and Levites

the temple choir – all the ranks, since they served in rotation at the temple – and the marching band with cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets

the people

excitement and accompanying boldness increasing as the gathered body swells in size, encouraging one another and being encouraged as they experienced the work of God in progress

it would indeed be a concert of praise and thanksgiving to God for his wondrous works and provision

B. dedicating the entire city v.30

4 specific areas of life to be purified and dedicated:

religious – priests and Levites

to be pure worship directed by pure leaders

fit to be servants to God and examples to the people

personal – the people

God has given us a spiritual vocation — a Divine calling in Jesus Christ, and we are to walk worthy of that vocation, here — doing all worldly things in a spiritual manner, preparatory to a higher calling which shall come one day, when we shall enter upon other forms of duty and service. Binney

civil – the gates

traditionally the location of civil and family court – where disputes were settled, legal decisions made

civil affairs of city to be conducted in manner consistent with biblical principles

place where justice would prevail, where right would be done

communal – the wall

the city in its entirety, not just individual elements, dedicated to service of God

homes, businesses, neighborhood, street corners, civic organizations all to be God-focused

C. in view of the world v.31-39

here’s where the greatest holy boldness was/is required

not done by a few people in a corner

not even done by a lot who came a few at a time to a large auditorium

the whole city with help from outside done in plain view

“up on the wall”

two large choirs leading the way, one to go around the wall in each direction

each followed by half the leaders, trumpets, marching band, half the people

giving testimony to work of God in plain sight of their enemies

uncertain of outcome and potential fallout

might be viewed as first act of rebellion, moving toward independence from Persia

could serve as cause for attack or attempted isolation by their enemies

mindset of Jewish people not to be concerned with maybes but to celebrate the definites

requires great boldness to speak and act when you’re pretty sure the message will not be well received

just as true today in our culture – what we have to celebrate, message we have to proclaim will not have a friendly reception from the world

will tend to spawn opposition and isolation, perhaps even unjust attempts to silence

to be honoring to God our boldness must be

D. sourced in God v.40-43

it was God who made them rejoice, who gave them cause for joy

God had done the great things they couldn’t

changing the hearts of kings

changing their hearts

enabling them to see God’s hand at work

giving them a desire to honor him – their enemies had seen the same things, different results and attitudes

God had provided boldness

right source – God, not self

right object of celebration – God’s mighty works, not their own

right motives – God’s glory, not their own

Nearly 500 years later – Peter and John imprisoned, threatened, finally released and told not to open their mouths about Jesus. Their response:

Acts 4:29-31 Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

That’s the kind of holy boldness we need today – to speak the word of God publicly, confidently, and persuasively that others will hear of our Redeemer and his love for us. Will you along with the hymnwriter make that commitment? God giving you that holy boldness, to sing (or if you can’t carry a tune) to speak often and confidently about God and his mighty works?


The Holy City

Nehemiah 11:1-36

Wide open spaces are wonderful – enjoy the freedom, fresh air, distant horizon, expanse of sky and stars, slower pace of life. Cities have a different character – skyline unique to the particular city, distinctive aromas, stars in neon rather than a night sky, hustle and bustle of various kinds, homes and shops and churches. But what is it that really makes the city different from wide open spaces? People. No people, no skyline, no aromas, no lights, no hustle and bustle, no homes and shops and churches – all things that require the activity and labor of people.

We’re told in Neh. 7:4 Jerusalem was a large and spacious city but with few people. Yet for God’s plan to work out, his promises to be kept, Jerusalem needed to become the center of Jewish social and religious life once again. Zech 9:9 – future King’s triumphal entry; Hag 2:9 – glory of present temple greater than Solomon’s. Twice in text Jerusalem referred to as “the holy city” – v.1 & v.18 – further indication of it’s future position in God’s plan. If that was going to happen, Wow! some huge changes must be in store for Jerusalem.

God had put the next step in Nehemiah’s heart – bring people in to repopulate the city, to continue the process of restoration begun a century before during the time of Cyrus. The physical elements were in place – streets, buildings to repair, a finished wall with gates for security, the temple rebuilt with its furnishings. Here we have God’s plan executed through the ministry of Nehemiah to satisfy the missing element – people to fill up the holy city once again.

A. a respected remnant – 10% v.1-2

only a remnant of the remnant: 4000-8000 people in city

chosen by lot – relying on God, not chance, to determine outcome

trusting God to use this means to make his will plain

expecting God would help them make good choices, select those who could make it in the city

for purposes of count – heads of homes representing family units, not individuals

would not require breaking up families

still largely agrarian society

needed laborers to work the fields, maintain family inheritances, provide food to feed those living in Jerusalem

volunteers respected

90% who got to stay home – huge sigh of relief

huge thank you card to volunteers

meant fewer had to be chosen by lot

recognized & gave acknowledgment to level of sacrifice, significance for family and livelihood

understood volunteers had put good of others above their own

B. diversity and unity v.4-20

diverse backgrounds

from at least 3 different tribes

Judah, Benjamin and Levi

Jerusalem very near the boundary between land inheritance of Judah and Benjamin

Levites had natural place within city because of Temple and their duties

evidence of God’s continuing purpose of restoration

diverse function within community

community leaders v.3, 9

temple leaders v.11

church workers v.12

skilled marksmen v.14

worship leaders v.17

gatekeepers v.19

unity of purpose

“the holy city” – required holy people

devoted to worship and service of Yahweh

God, his will and his ways central to all of life

C. concealed strength v.11, 16, 22

the house of God

failure to properly honor God and his house led to weakened society, then ultimately exile

under-valued by those on the outside

may give grudging, token acknowledgment to those whose faith regulates their lives – “I respect what you do, but it’s not for me”

fail to fully comprehend its significance

that which unified people and was true source of strength

served in that way so long as true worship was central to city life

find a place where things of God are focal point of community life and you’ll find a strong city/neighborhood

D. the new Holy City

parallels between holy city of Jerusalem and new Holy City, the church of Christ – the one anticipates the other

re-populated by God’s action of saving grace (Psa. 87:6)

once had two perfect members, then came the Fall

Adam and Eve restored by grace purchased by Christ on cross, millions more added since then in the same way

diversely spans the global community (Rev. 5:9)

all diversity of humanity represented in the Church

sin caused dispersion of people across face of globe, grace causes re-gathering of people into the Church “from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth” (Mark 13:27)

Christ declared that when he was crucified, lifted up, he would “draw all peoples to himself” (John 12:32)

strength in the inner man (Eph. 3:16)

concealed source of strength, visible outworking

indwelling Holy Spirit enables believer to handle adversity

comes from knowing, experiencing the love of Christ and comprehending its greatness

being filled with all the fulness of God

May we recognize the treasure we have in Christ, the blessings given to us through the Church; may we more fully understand the measure of God’s grace to us and respond to it in ways that please Him – obeying him more joyfully, serving him more faithfully, seeking him and his kingdom more diligently.

Sanctification Requires Separation

Nehemiah 10:1-39

being inclusive a badge of honor – girls can play Little League, boys can be cheerleaders, organizations promote themselves as the “church of the open door and open mind”, many Christian university campus groups must allow members of all faiths or no faith. Not just that anything goes, everything goes. To maintain any sort of exclusivity is highly unpopular, barely tolerated.

Sanctification is exclusive, it’s also what God requires.

1 Thess. 4:3-7 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. ESV

To be sanctified, made holy, is to be “set apart for special use by God” (Mounce). God’s blueprint for society requires a holy people, those who are devoted to God’s use. Not talking about a special class of people – pastors, church leaders, Sunday School teachers, etc. – this is God’s expectation of all who claim allegiance to Him.

The principle here – one that requires careful understanding – IS separation, set apart, distinct from; NOT isolation, monastic life, Christians having no contact or interaction with non-Christians. Paul put it as “do not be conformed to the pattern of this world”, do not be pushed into the mold of the world, but be transformed – experience a metamorphosis from one kind of person to another. Jewish people, v. 28, separated themselves FROM the world’s way of doing things TO the Law of God, God’s way of doing things. This was how all those who had heard the preaching of God’s Word responded; everyone who could understand what God had said acted:

considered what they heard, considered how they were thinking and behaving

saw there was a discrepancy between the two – were closer to world’s standard than God’s

committed to moving themselves from nearness to one standard toward nearness to the other

a move taken seriously enough to bind themselves with an oath and curse v.29

That required separating themselves:

A. from fellowship with the world

I. in personal relationships v.30

not about Jews marrying Gentiles, one race marrying another; God isn’t racist, remember we’re all descended from Adam and Eve, from Noah and Mrs. Noah, we all belong to the human race

is about those who are committed to following God marrying those who are committed to following idols

idol – anything other than God that receives the honor, loyalty and reverence rightfully due to God

God not being mean, simply knows human nature; general truism – if the one we love worships a false god, we will also eventually; if not us, then almost certainly our children

in today’s terms, those who are born-again followers of Christ should strive to maintain close personal relationships with others of like mind

applies to close personal friendships including marriage, business partnerships, and the like

II. in improper business relationships v.31a

“stores” being open for business on the Day of Rest nothing new; common practice for millennia among those who do not follow God’s laws

successful business model does not require being open on the Lord’s Day – see Chick-Fil-A

God has provided six days for conducting business and will prosper those who honor his laws

he knows our needs and can be counted on to give adequate strength, time, opportunity to complete necessary tasks without dishonoring his day

he also knows our design, that we were designed from the beginning for a six-day work, one-day rest cycle; we deviate from that pattern to our detriment, we don’t actually accomplish more and we enjoy a shorter life less.

III. in setting priorities v.31b

some things are more important than squeezing last ounce of production from a resource, the last dime (or dollar with inflation!) of profit from a transaction

again, faithfulness to God’s laws must be #1; he is a good God, his laws reflect his character, when followed they bring glory to him and good to us

our responsibility – from Creation Mandate Gen. 1:28 – is to manage God’s creation and resources entrusted to us wisely

true in every sphere of responsibility, and priority must be honoring God in how we use his stuff

Primary motivation in all this – love for God, desire to be like the Lord Jesus, wanting to please our Heavenly Father

B. to fellowship with God’s people

I. within the family structure v.28

the people… with their wives, sons & daughters

entire families being drawn together by commitment to a specific way of life

only possible when both dad and mom love the same God and are determined to obey him

if pleasing and loving God is goal of all members in the family, as they come closer to that goal they also come closer to one another

II. within the “church” community v.28-29

the entire covenant community renewing their side of the covenant with God – binding themselves to its terms and conditions

calling on God as witness that they will keep the covenant, expecting consequences from him if they fail to keep it

people from all walks of life, all ages, all economic circumstances united in determination to honor God

III. including members of society at large

the “nobles” – the leaders of the community

no separation of church from the state here

officials committing to follow the Law of God as given through Moses

probably meant far more but, as minimum, govern in a manner consistent with God’s ordinance

what the Law of God commands, civil law must sanction and encourage; what it forbids, civil law must discourage

Not simple separation or distancing from something; greatest emphasis is on what they were separated to – conscious movement toward, loyalty to God’s principles, God’s practices, God’s people, God’s priorities

C. to the support of God’s house

along with commitment to home and community came commitment to the church, promising to support the activities of the Lord’s House with their material resources as well as with their presence.

I. its practical needs v.32–34

money for supplies and maintenance – yearly tax intended to meet regular ongoing needs of Temple operation

weekly supply of loaves for the table in the Holy Place; weekly, monthly, and special occasion burnt offerings

sacrifices on Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement

whatever consumable supplies, maintenance and repairs were needed for the Temple

laborers for work

a rotation to help priests and Levites with physical labor of supplying wood for altar

once the fire was lit, it was kept burning around the clock (Lev. 6:8-13)

committed to providing whatever help/assistance necessary for worship to continue as God had ordained, in a way that would be a good testimony

II. the required sacrifices v.35–37a

yes, they were required, but…. we’re poor, you know, don’t have enough to make ends meet…

no, committed to bringing the firstfruits (4x)

the first, off the top, belongs to God, not the leftovers

if they honored God, showing they recognized all they had came from him, he could be trusted to make the rest enough for their needs

III. with tithes and offerings v.37b–39

following God’s ordinance for the support of Temple staff

making sure their spiritual leaders were adequately and properly cared for, that material and physical needs were met

picture of great liberality even in the midst of poverty – people promising to bring all necessary for the Lord’s service

How will we respond to what we know is God’s will for us – our sanctification? Will we do as Nehemiah and his countrymen did, committing to “observe and do all the commandments of the Lord”? Will we pray:

Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord,
By the power of grace divine;
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope,
And my will be lost in Thine.

You Are God

Nehemiah 9:1-38

Feast of Tabernacles ended, the following day they held a solemn formal worship service, treated as a Sabbath day (no regular work done, a day of complete rest, sacrifice and worship, etc.) It had been a period of great celebration, rejoicing, reminiscing about God’s faithfulness to his people – in the wilderness, during the exile, while Jerusalem’s temple and wall were rebuilt. Now, two days later, God’s people had gathered together again and the mood was not one of celebration. People there with dirt on their heads, wearing sackcloth: “material of goat or camel hair used for making grain bags”, publicly expressing their intense grief and sorrow.

Once again heard from God’s Word – three hours (v.3) of reading and preaching, followed by three hours of corporate confession and worship. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, if I’d been lectured for a week-and-a-half about God’s Law and how He expects this and I’ve done that and what an obvious loser I am, of course I’d be depressed. A person can only take just so much, you know.” True, they had been instructed from the Law; they did understand what God had commanded them to do, and they did recognize how not only they but their ancestors had failed.

BUT, and this is a big deal, they had come to understand far more from the Law than simply a list of rules and regs. Not that the rules are unimportant; more important is what they represent, better, Who they represent. In being taught from the Book of the Law, they had come face to face with God – they were grieving, not because they had broken a whole host of rules, but because they had displeased their God. Half the day is spent, they have confessed their sins and received forgiveness, now it is time to “Stand up and bless the Lord your God”, to offer corporate praise in prayer to the one true God. (Sometimes we need to just list who God is and what he has done without going down all the theological rabbit trails – that’s what happened here in this public prayer.)

A. glorious

I. eternal v.5

“bless the LORD your God from everlasting [eternity past] to everlasting [eternity future]

God is “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15), the one who does not change (Mal. 3:6); what was true about his being and character in Nehemiah’s day is true today. Circumstances may be a little different but God isn’t and we can say “Amen” to this prayer also.

II. glorious

Ex. 40:35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. NET

2 Chron. 7:2 The priests were unable to enter the Lord’s temple because the Lord’s splendor filled the Lord’s temple. NET

III. exalted

man’s attempts to bless and praise the Sovereign Lord of the universe don’t even come close to what he deserves – we MUST bless and praise him and we MUST recognize our inability

B. glorious in His power

I. creator of the universe and everything in it v.6

spoke everything into existence by his powerful word, creatio ex nihilo, and all very good; displaying not only his power but also demonstrating the glory of his eternal wisdom, and goodness.

II. preserver of all that inhabits the universe

sustainer of life – in him we live and move and have our being Acts 17:28

III. the rightful object of worship by the angelic army

Isa. 6:1-4 esp. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”

C. …providence

I. leading and protecting His people v.7, 12

guided Abraham safely from his ancestral home to the land of Canaan; gave light and direction and protection to his people in the wilderness by his very presence in pillar of cloud and fire

II. feeding and sustaining His people v. 15, 20-21

water from a rock, manna and quail from heaven, all they had to do was gather; every material and physical need met in all sorts of circumstances, under all conditions

D. …righteousness

I. kept His word with seed of Abraham v.8

promised them a land, kept his promise and gave it to them; earthly token of heavenly inheritance – see Hebrews 11:10 “city with foundations whose builder and maker is God” – an inheritance still waiting for us, the spiritual seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29)

II. keeps covenant and mercy v.32

lovingly faithful in keeping his promises to his people even when they respond wrongly; if the covenant is broken, not on God’s part – He always does the right thing, acts righteously regardless of peoples’ response

E. …mercy

I. continued preservation in the wilderness v. 18–1 9

days before: plagues, Red Sea crossing, Pharaoh’s army destroyed; then a golden calf and lies about it to boot. Because of Moses’ intercession, God did not destroy them as he threatened.

II. deliverance after repentance v.28

repeatedly – the cycle found in Judges (Relapse, Retribution, Repentance, Rescue), yet God never tired of teaching his people their need for mercy

III. did not utterly consume or forsake them v.31

had just cause to do either, it was what they deserved; instead showed grace and mercy, not giving what was merited, giving instead what could never be earned

F. …goodness

I. kingdoms v.22

a home, place where they could be secure and provide for families and future generations; another step in redemption history toward Bethlehem

II. children v.23

future of a culture rests with children, more than simple replacement; multiplied rapidly, especially in Egypt

III. possessions v.25

material resources necessary to prosper; all a measure of God’s great goodness to his people

G. …justice

I. established good laws v.13–14

didn’t leave them on their own to figure out how to relate to one another or how to relate to God; remember the first 2 commandments – Love God, love your neighbor

II. exercised discipline, not punishment v.29

God’s purpose – not to drive his people away but bring them back to his way of living

III. taught truth by inspiration of Holy Spirit v.20, 30

sent his prophets, eventually his Son, accompanied by Holy Spirit to teach truth, his expectations, how to please God

H. Summary – v.17

Declaring – You are God, the God who made a covenant with Moses and your people (Ex. 34:27), the God who showed his goodness to Moses (Ex. 33:19;34:6-7) proclaiming his name and declaring his character.

forgiving gracious merciful long-suffering kind faithful

not some generic undefined and undefinable god to whom anyone can pray, the one true Sovereign eternal creator God of the universe revealed in the Bible

Are we any different from God’s ancient people, the Jews? Of course not. We are just as sinful and rebellious as they, as much in need of God’s mercy and grace. Do you know this God? Has he forgiven you and graciously saved you from your sin? Is he moment by moment showing his patience and kindness to you? Have you been overwhelmed by God’s steadfast love? Are you at a loss for words, a proper way to respond to the Great God of the Universe who loves you in this way? Then start with these words and let the meditations of your heart take it from there:

Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul;
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole;
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.

God-Honoring Worship

Nehemiah 8:1-18

“What does worship mean to you?” Ask 6 people and get 6 different answers. Can provide interesting data for a study on individual approach to worship, but, not the best question. The most important issue: “What does worship mean to God?” If God has revealed in his Word the answer to that question, we must know and understand it. Failing to do so will result in worship that does not properly honor God and will not be pleasing to him; if our worship is not God-honoring, it will not achieve for us what God designed it to accomplish.

Worship described/defined (capsule form):

Psalm 95:6-7 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.


is a corporate gathering – come, let us worship

is active – bow down, let us kneel

has an object – before the LORD, our Maker

acknowledges relationship –God and people; God and sheep; authority and submission, ownership and responsibility

is expectant – pasture: nourishment and rest; hand: correction, direction, and protection

In our text an eyewitness account by participant in a worship service that turned into a revival.

“This ceremony reflects the form of Israelite worship that had developed in exile. Almost the same elements that characterized the synagogue services begun then appear here. The people assembled, there was a request for the reading of the Torah, someone opened the scroll, and the people stood. Then someone (Ezra) offered praise, the people responded, and they received instruction (a sermon). Finally the law was read, an oral explanation and exhortation followed, and the people departed for a fellowship meal.” Constable’s Notes

This account is preserved for our learning – that we might know how to worship rightly; for our encouragement – that we might worship expectantly, confident that if we properly honor God he will meet us and shepherd us.

A. who attended v.1-3

First of the 7th month (Tisri, mid-September), Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashanah, celebrated September 9 this year (2010)

Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, celebrated September 18 and first day of Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) will be September 23, time to give thanks for the harvest, commemorate God’s provision during 40 years of wandering

all the people (v.1) gathered as one: one body with one desire and one purpose

one desire – to hear from God, at length

not there for sound bites – at least four hour event: “morning until midday” or “daybreak till noon” NIV and for the entire week (see v.18)

thirst for spiritual refreshment, hunger for spiritual nourishment

one purpose – to be instructed and then respond

men, women, all who could understand what they heard (v.2)

family-integrated church, cross-generational ministry nothing new

God expects all who can hear his word with understanding to be present in corporate worship

much of what is in Bible can be comprehended by small children, some was even written to them specifically – Honor your father and mother (OT); children obey your parents (NT)

important note: from beginning of description, God’s Word is central to worship

second important note: the people listened attentively to God’s Word, recognized it was God himself communicating to them

B. the order of service v.4-8

all present actively involved in worship – priest/leader acted, people responded

the priest stood, accompanied by helpers because of crowd size

the Word opened before the people

people stood to hear

the priest prayed

people responded with “Amen, Amen”, lifted hands, bowed heads => worshiped

the priest ministered the Word

model of expository preaching: read, explain, apply

this is what it says, what it means, how it applies in this culture and these circumstances

steps that are necessary for truth to be assimilated (taken in, absorbed, utilized)

response to preached Word to be far more than simple hearing

people actively responded when they understood what God had said to them

C. how they responded v.9-12

both congregation and leaders responded to God’s truth

the one being used as God’s instrument of communication is not deaf; he is a hearer of the preaching along with the people

people responded with weeping

understood God’s requirements in the Law, recognized their failures

overcome with grief because they had offended God

natural response of one truly seeking to honor God in worship

message from the leaders not simply “the Law”

included a message of grace – “this is not a day for mourning or weeping”

gentle and compassionate interaction – quieted all the people

“there is joy beyond sorrow”; it doesn’t end with failure to satisfy God’s demands

“rejoicing in God in the manner prescribed in his word, or serving him with cheerfulness and thankfulness, which is your duty always, but now especially, will give you that strength both of mind and body which you greatly need, both to perform all the duties required of you, and to endure and oppose all the crafty counsels and malicious designs of your enemies against you.” Matthew Poole

people responded with new obedience to God’s commands

good Baptists – eat and drink, sharing with those who had none: it’s a fellowship dinner, come and enjoy whether you have anything to bring or not

rejoicing because of increased spiritual understanding

D. day after day v.13-18

not a one day flash in the pan

the second day, people returned

desired more teaching from the Word of God

goal was understanding what God had revealed to his people

intent was to respond to that understanding with compliance, obedience

heard a message of great joy, responded with great gladness

remember what God has done for his people

rejoice over his provision for his ancient people in the wilderness, his present people in a newly secured city

it was worship, not entertainment

people were participants, not spectators

came to be nourished so they would grow; not simply to kill an hour or two and satisfy a cultural expectation

The same kind of worship honors and pleases God today – active involvement, participating in prayer, hearing and assimilating truth from his Word, responding in sorrow and grief over sin, experiencing joy because of the Lord’s provision, gaining strength by rejoicing in the Lord. Did you come to worship expecting to meet God here? Have you received blessings from the Lord? Then there should be gladness in your soul today, because he is your God, you are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand, and you are the object of his tender care.

A Large and Spacious City

Nehemiah 7:1-4

On August 22, 1912 Mayor Curtis began his address at the dedication of the new Portland City Hall with these statements

“To be enduring in its character a city must be endowed with certain specific qualifications, through natural origin, to enable it to fortify itself against adversity and disaster.

Such attributes will afford it a basic constitution to withstand any disturbance, whether it be through the neglect, carelessness or warfare of man or the possible displeasure of a higher power, as viewed from human eyes…

Cities are not made in a day, but grow only through a long process of physical and commercial development, made possible by their geographical location, their facilities, their affiliations, their climate, their people and their country…”

Jerusalem, in September of 445 BC, possessed some of these qualifications but was lacking in others. God in his great love and wisdom would use Nehemiah as his agent in working to satisfy the rest of Jerusalem’s needs so that it might be an enduring city once again.

For nearly 140 years the Holy City had been insecure and indefensible – large breaches in the wall, doors missing from their places in the gates, barely any inhabitants. Once again, though, in God’s perfect time the city was –

A. finally secured v.1

wall completed

in 4:6, breaches had been repaired/filled in up to half height

in 6:1, breaches had been completely repaired to full height

at each stage of completion, city is more easily defended and protected

doors hung in their openings

heavy two-leaved wooden doors, held together with iron bands, perhaps covered with metal sheathing to make them fireproof

secured on the inside with bars to hold them closed

strong enough to withstand all but the most determined assault

gatekeepers appointed

perhaps from the ranks of those normally serving at the temple

would be trained & skilled for that kind of work

would be able to train others to help maintain security

worship revived

properly functioning church essential to secure city and strong families

ultimately God’s protection has greater significance than safety of walls

can only be counted on when people are honoring God in their worship and daily actions

B. faithfully governed v.2

given charge of the city

a healthy secure city requires leadership, someone in charge

pure democracy doesn’t work because man’s heart isn’t pure

everyone deciding everything ends up with no one in charge of anything, at worst, anarchy with every man for himself

so that wouldn’t happen, Nehemiah assigned leadership, hand-picked men

faithful and God-fearing

two considerations – experience AND character

both men had track record – Hanani, trip to Shushan to request help from Nehemiah; Hananiah, in charge of the viceroy’s “palace” in Jerusalem where Nehemiah and others in his capacity lived

by their actions, both had demonstrated their character

done their jobs well without giving up or abusing position; had shown themselves faithful with a little, could be trusted with more

had a reputation for godliness that made them stand out in a crowd

C. alertly guarded v.3

selected from residents

those who had a stake in their own protection – in their own best interests to do a good job

would generally be most trustworthy, reliable

some at guard stations

on duty at the gates

making sure (to limit of human discernment) that all who entered

had a right to do so – people to see, business to conduct, worship at the temple

meant no harm to residents of the city

some near homes

second line of security

against those who escaped notice at the gate

against those who climbed over the wall

specific instructions

not left unguarded, open only during peak business hours

demonstrate to all who observed they were taking security seriously

D. largely unfilled v.4

large and spacious but few people

far fewer returned from exile than were taken into captivity

many of those who returned to the city didn’t stay there

moved into the outlying towns for safety and financial reasons

for city to remain healthy and prosper, needed people

those who would be permanent residents – building houses

those who would contribute to the life of the city – civic, economic, religious, social

It isn’t a great stretch to see a model for the church in the Holy City, that is, Zion. The church is large and spacious with room for all who will turn to Christ in faith. Jude’s epistle tells us of Enoch, Old Testament saint, who prophesied saying “Behold, the Lord comes with myriads [ten thousands] of his saints” Jude 1:14 When the Lord Jesus returns in glory he will be accompanied by a throng of saints too many to number. Each has been purchased by the blood of Christ, adopted by the Father into his family, made holy by the Spirit of God, nourished and matured in Christ’s church.

We pray for that day to come, we sing of our longing for the Lord to return, and so we should. We must understand that in order for that prayer to be answered, Christ’s church must be filled; so long as there is one empty space he waits patiently while he draws to himself “with gentle cords, with bands of love” (Hosea 11:4) those who belong to him, “a great multitude that no one [can] number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). We must have a passion for the lost, a determination to do our part as the means God is pleased to use as he continues to build his church. Expressed by the hymn-writer:

Pity the nations, O our God,
Constrain the earth to come;
Send thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing thy redeeming grace.

May God grant us the privilege of being his means to bring the world to Christ, with loving zeal, with fervent prayer.