Theme: It’s About Courage
Lesson text: Nehemiah 10:28-39
Supplemental texts: Nehemiah 8:8-18; 12:43-47; Colossians 3:12-17; Numbers 18:8-32; Leviticus 23:33-36; Malachi 3:8-12
Aim: Courageously restore righteousness lost.
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By Mark Scott
Nehemiah conducted his own “restoration movement.” Rebuilding walls can take people only so far. At some point a love for the Word of God must be restored for genuine revival to take place. Nehemiah knew that, and so he enlisted Ezra to teach the Scriptures (Nehemiah 8:8). The revival of Nehemiah 8 led to the prayer of contrition in Nehemiah 9, which in turn led to the commitment of the people in Nehemiah 10.
Restoration of the Separation
When Ezra and his helpers exposed the written word, it did not take the people long to realize they were way wide of God’s mark for their lives. They had not celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles “completely” since the days of Joshua the son of Nun (Nehemiah 8:13-18). And they realized that by intermarrying with peoples from other nations they had run the risk of syncretism of their faith.
This was serious on several fronts. First, their faith would be diluted. Second, their witness to the watching world would be compromised. Third, they would be misrepresenting God in the world. Fourth, they would fail to be God’s peculiar people. Fifth, they would even forget the language of their forefathers (i.e., Hebrew). Sixth—and most significant—the promise of God to save the world through Christ could be derailed.
The time had not yet come for the kingdom of this world to be assumed into the larger kingdom of Christ (Revelation 11:15). For now, separation was still needed to ensure a pure messianic line. There was a grassroots movement to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord. It came from priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, and temple servants. These had separated (divided or made a distinction between) themselves from the neighboring peoples (people of the land; ragamuffins of other faith traditions).
Two areas of obedience were promised. The first was purity of marriage. The family was in crisis in post-exilic Israel. Intermarriage—which God can still work through (e.g., Ruth and Boaz)—ran the risk of causing God’s person in the marriage to cave into idolatry. The Israelites committed to having pure blood lines.
The second was keeping the Sabbath. That also was a huge problem in post-exilic times. The latter sections of Nehemiah showed how severe that was (Nehemiah 13:19-22). Ezra pulled his hair out with the obstinacies of the people of God (Ezra 9:3), but Nehemiah pulled other peoples’ hair out (Nehemiah 13:25). Israel had allowed the neighboring peoples to bring their goods to sell on the Sabbath. With Nehemiah’s admonition, they committed not to do that anymore. Nehemiah led the people into allowing every seventh year to be a “do over” (like Jubilee).
Restoration of the Sanctuary
One problem of post-exilic Israel was the neglect of the temple. People cared more about their own houses (see Haggai and Zechariah). Nehemiah challenged the people to make the house of our God a priority again. This demanded resourcing it with money. The people agreed on the price of a third of a shekel each year. They started bringing the firstfruits of crops and fruit trees. They also resourced the Table of Shewbread by setting out fresh bread on it regularly. Offerings, sacrifices, and observing special festival days were also enjoined. Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) was reinstituted.
The right people were also put in the right places. Priests and Levites prepared to butcher animals and teach the people. They cast lots to determine which families would supply the temple with wood to burn on the altar of the Lord. (It would require lots of wood for the sacrifices and offerings that were to be made.) They also honored the commandment of the “firstborn.” Sons, cattle, herds, and flocks were brought to the priests so that the firstborn commandment could be honored.
The storerooms of the temple (which both Ezra and Nehemiah had a perpetual problem keeping clean and in order) were restored for their rightful purposes of housing grain, fruit, wine, and olive oil. The bringing of the tithes was a big step toward restoring things (Malachi 3:10). This would provide for the workers of the temple. A similar principle was espoused by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. God’s kingdom advances when certain workers are freed from other job constraints.
Commitments are sometimes short-lived. But it is still healthy to make them because we do not have restoration without them. The people (with a shout?) said, “We will not neglect the house of God.” The second temple would pave the way for the third one (John 2:21).