Title: The Need for a New Covenant
Text: Nehemiah 9-10
Introduction: We’re in the last half of Nehemiah, specifically chapters 9-10. Two chapters, means: there is a lot of Scripture here before us this morning. I’d like to walk you through it, making some points as we make our way through it. Obviously there is no way to cover every verse; however, I’ll summarize various sections and trust you to read on your own.
The basic storyline flows:
- On the day after the Feast of Booths, the Israelites gathered to mourn and confess their sins. They stood as Scripture was read for three hours and then confessed their sins for another three hours. (9.1-4)
- At this point, the writer reviews Israel’s covenant history and their continued rebellion and inability to keep their covenants with God. (9.5-35)
- Chapter nine closes with the writer ‘up to date’ – i.e.: the current situation in Israel and the desire to re-establish their covenant with God. (9.36-39)
- Chapter 10 has the leadership listed on the seals of this covenant agreement (10.1-27) and their obligation to obey and follow God (10.28-39).
Let me give you a basic outline:
- The Opening Section: Distress (9.1-4) The Israelites recognize their failure to keep any Covenant with God.
- The Historical Section: (9.5-35) This is an Historical Review of their failures. There is a vicious cycle of failures on the part of Israel to ever keep her commitment with her God. At this point, Israel should concede defeat and fall on the mercy of God for help.
- The Current State: we’re in this mess because of our past failure to live by God’s Covenant.
- Covenant Section: An Heroic Attempt to make a firm covenant with God: (9.36-10.39)
- Acknowledging their need
- Following their leadership
- Writing out their commitment
Transition: Let’s begin with the introduction to these chapters – the section of Distress.
I. The Opening Section: Distress (9.1-4)
exp.: rd v 1a; the timing; Day 15 (8 days) – 23rd day; The 24th day – the day after the Feast of Booths has been completed. They’re doing this – there very best to follow God’s commands. Rd 1b-3;
- Sackcloth and Ashes
- Separated from foreigners
- Confessing their sins
- Standing & Worshipping
- The Levites are leading
exp.: basically, they make a day of this: ¼ of the day in reading; ¼ of the day in confession. That’s 6 hours. What these leaders say in v 5 is absolutely beautiful…a call to worship that is simply beautiful.
app.: What happens over the rest of this chapter is outlining for us a clear understanding of covenant – that God has established these covenants and has kept them perfectly. On the other hand, the people of Israel have failed miserably, unable to keep even one of these covenants.
Transition:So let’s look at part two: a history of the covenants.
II. The Historical Section: Failure (9.5-35)
exp.: What we understand about redemption – the plan of redemption – is that even before time began, God had a plan. Some folks think that God created the perfect world and put Adam and Eve in it. Then, they messed it up, and God was forced into implementing plan b.
Nothing could be further from the Truth. As we understand Salvation History, it teaches us that God had a plan before the foundation of the world. Before the 1st second ticked in the creation of time, God had a plan for redemption. We see this worked out throughout the Scriptures, and today, Nehemiah is going to take us on this journey – a journey of covenants.
- The Adamic Covenant (5-6) – Some people call this the Creation Covenant. Three parts: the sky, the ground, the seas; the beasts of the field, the birds in the heavens and all that passes through the sea. And in this perfect garden he placed Adam and Eve to care for it. But you know the story: Broken by Adam and Eve; banished from the garden, we watch as people grow wicked and even more evil, culminating in the flood; The Covenant is renewed w/ Noah. Slight changes are made – we can eat meat. In Genesis 6.8 we read of this covenant w/ Noah.
- The Abrahamic Covenant (is found in 7-8) – Gen 15; God is going to create a people for himself – the Israelites. God does so and liberates them from captivity in Egypt. He takes them to Mount Sinai and establishes a 3rd
- The Mosaic Covenant (9-31) – Like Adam, Israel was now God’s son. But again, they failed to keep the covenant as outlined by Moses. Here you see the cycle of sin:
- Blessing (25)
- Rebellion (26)
- Suffering (27a)
- Repentance (27b)
- Deliverance (27c)
- Blessing again (28a)
- Rinse. Repeat.
- The Davidic Covenant (9.29-35) – this covenant isn’t as plain and clear in the text as the others. The David Covenant was established in 2 Samuel 7. David had wanted to build a Temple for God, but God said no. Instead, God promised to build a house for David – a promise to keep a descendant of his as King of Israel always. You see this covenant represented in v32 (upon our kings), v 34, Our kings, v 35 our Kingdom;
app.: v 33 is the summation of this section: 33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.
t.s.: Every single time, God has been faithful. Every single time, the Israelites have failed. So, what must be done about it?
III. Their Current State and Desire to make a covenant (9.36-38)
exp.: they recognize their utter failure and the failure of every one of their descendants from them back to Abraham. Furthermore, they recognize their current state is due to those failures. Rd v 36-37; So, what are we gonna do about it? rd v 38; I know, we’ll make a covenant with you this time that is firm. And, we’ll sign it! You see their signatures there in 10.1-27.
t.s.: Isn’t it funny how human these people are. I suppose I’d be right there with them. I have before. My guess is that you have, too. We promise God his or that and break the covenant. Well, let’s look at this covenant that they want to make firm …
IV. Obligations of the Covenant (10.28-39)
exp.: I’ve listed 8 specific obligations the Israelites are fixing upon themselves to enter into a curse and an oath to walk Law – the law given to them by God through Moses.
- 30: They will not marry non-believers. Deals w/ idols – the gods of the foreigners in the land. Exodus 34.12-16
- 31: Sabbath1
- Observance of the Sabbath – Exodus 34.21
- Sabbath year’s rest for the land – Exodus 23.10ff
- 32-33: Temple Tax to care for the Temple – Exodus 30.13
- 34: Perpetual Fire – Leviticus 6.12
- 35: Firstfruits – Exodus 34.26
- 36: Firstborn – Exodus 13 (Passover)
- 37: Tithes – Leviticus 23.17; Numbers 15.20-21; 18.12; Deuteronomy 18.4
exp.: Here’s what they’re saying: As in Exodus 34 when the covenant was renewed and in Deuteronomy, when the law was given again for a new generation inheriting the land that their forefathers didn’t want through rebellion and disbelief, these Israelites are making the same commitment. They’re going to live by the law.
app.: Can I let you in on a little secret? This is nice and all. I mean, you’ve got to admire their desire and determination. However, we won’t make it out of this book before they fail to keep this covenant. One by one, this commitment to observe and keep these obligations, will fail.
t.s.: So what can we make of all of this? And even more, what does this mean for us?
Conclusion: I think they’re making the right decision for where they are? However, I think what Nehemiah is telling us in his book is that we can never perfectly follow a set of rules and regulations. One infraction makes the covenant null and void. The penalty then is death.
There is a term, maybe you’re familiar with it: cutting a covenant. There are dozens and dozens of covenants we see. David and Jonathan, Joshua with the Gibeonites. The list goes on. A covenant was a binding agreement between two parties. They would take an animal, say a bull, and cut it in half. Then each party would walk between the two parts and declare that if they broke the covenant or failed to keep their word on their part, then may they become as that animal. Dead.
There is a man standing here with these folks. He’s participating in all of these events. We see his name in Ezra 6.14; and in Nehemiah 8.4. This man will prophesy and write in his book, the book of Zechariah, about a coming king. This coming king will establish a new covenant – a covenant of blood. You can read about it in Zechariah 9. This covenant is mentioned in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, too. This covenant is called the Eternal Covenant, the Covenant of Peace and the New Covenant.
This covenant was needed because of exactly what Nehemiah is telling us. We could never, ever keep our end of the bargain. We’re sinners and prone to sin. We need this new covenant of blood.
You see the same penalty remains on you and me, today. As it was with Adam – if you eat of the fruit you shall surely die. And with Moses: death was the penalty, but sacrifices could be made to atone for that sin. And today, with this new covenant, Christ has made the sacrifice for you.
- Acknowledge you’re a sinner – we see this in the opening section. We are unable to obey God perfectly. Romans 3.23 – for all have sinned.
- Believe that Christ died for your sin. Romans 5.8 God demonstrates his love toward us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
- Confess your sin and need for Christ.
- Romans 6.23 says that the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.
I offer you this gift today. If you’ve never accepted this free gift, won’t you?
Romans 10.9-10 says, that if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with the heart that you believe and are justified and it is with the mouth that you confess and are saved.