Title: The Need for Reform
Text: Nehemiah 12.44-13.31
Introduction: Context: 1-6; 7, 8, 9, 10; The three major areas of commitment:
- We won’t give our daughters in marriage to foreigners; v30; this isn’t racism, this is about idolatry;
- The Sabbath; v31; We won’t buy or sell, even when foreigners come in to do so, on the Sabbath; we’ll give the ground rest every 7 years and cancel every debt;
- We will take care of God’s House and the people who care for it; v32-39.
This gives us context for our passage. Remember these three major commitments.
So now we pick up in 12.44-13.3; I think this is a review of what has happened; 12.44 – on that day…The priests and the Levites are given their responsibilities. Every matter of the Temple is taken care of and the people are committed to taking care of the priests. 2nd, beginning in 13.1 – also, on that day…the people have separated themselves from the foreigners, in order that they might protect themselves against idolatrous ways.
Here’s what happens in this last section. Verse 4 gives us a time frame & I think the HCSB translates this best and easiest for us to understand: 4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. Translation is hard. In the original language, there are no periods, no punctuation to help us. For the most part, this is easy – but at times like this it can be rather difficult. Added to the difficulty is when literal translations use a word-to-word format. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am most in favor of the literal translations: NASB, ESV, HCSB; however, literal is hard to understand when in the context of foreign idioms and colloquialism. That’s why I love what the HCSB has done for us. 4 Now before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. This establishes for us our timeline.
- The Wall is finished
- The Wall is dedicated
- The people are committed through covenant
- The Priests and Levites and Temple workers are established and set.
Now, v 6 tells us that
- Nehemiah goes back to Babylon – to serve King Artaxerxes. The work in Jerusalem is done and Nehemiah returns to the service of Artaxerxes. Rd v 6a: 6 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king.
Then, for some reason, he returns to Jerusalem. Why? Dunno: Maybe he had heard what they were doing; Maybe he was curious and longing for his homeland; dunno! However, he returns and what does he find?
rd 6b & 7a: And after some time I asked leave of the king 7 and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered … So, what we’re going to look at this morning is what Nehemiah found after he returned to Artaxerxes, spent some time in his service and then took leave of the King once again – to return to Jerusalem;
What Nehemiah discovers or finds when he returns is what he has told us in the preceding verses and in the following verses. Each infraction is outlined in the following manner:
- What he finds or discovers. The Sin is identified.
- What he then does in response to the infraction: A Demonstration of Repentance
- What he commands be done in light of this response: A Solution to be Installed.
We will follow these three steps through each discovery. Let me list them for you:
- Foreigners in the Temple
- The Tithe
- The Sabbath
Transition: So now we’ll look at each infraction and the three steps Nehemiah takes each time.
I. Foreigners (4-9)
exp.: rd v 4-5; rd v 8;
- The Sin is identified: Eliahshib has brought Foreigners brought into the Temple of God; rd v 8;
- Repentance is demonstrated: get him out of there! Removal of all his belongings; that’s a pretty simple definition of repentance. Stop doing the wrong thing! Get what’s being done wrong out of there. rd v 9;
- A Solution is put into place: Cleansing takes place by the priests – mainly in order that these chambers might be used as God intended.
Ill.: Can I make a suggestion here? If there is sin in your life – stop moping about it and do something! Make the necessary changes. Maybe it is as simple as getting your priorities straight. For these Jews, they’re not being obedient to their covenant because of this one action, which in turn, gets everything else out of alignment.
App.: if your problem is a person who is leading you astray. Get a new friend, sit somewhere else, find another ride. If your problem is something you have at home – say your computer, say your tv, whatever it is – get rid of it. Take it outside and take a baseball bat to it! Men, have your wife put a passcode on your tv, computer, whatever. Take action.
Transition: this infraction alone, messes up everything else that follows. 2nd infraction:
II. Tithe (1-14)
exp.: rd v 10
- The sin is identified: The Portions were no longer brought to the Levites and the Temple workers; how could they? The rooms were turned into office space for this enemy – Tobiah. Therefore, the Levites and Temple workers had to go back to their villages to work their fields and get their food. They had to take matters into their hands and provide for their families. Work isn’t being done in the House of God because the workers have left. Well, this must be great for Tobiah – he has more office space now! Rd v 11;
- The demonstration of repentance: He confronted the leadership and set them in their stations; He put them back to work – doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Rd v 12-13
- A solution is installed: He then gathered the tithe into the storehouse;
ill.: Can I take a moment to express the importance of obedience to this matter. You may think that we don’t need your little gift. But, let me tell you that we are never more than just a few months away from closing our doors. We were short $10,000 last month in giving. It wasn’t a big expenditure or something like that. It’s just that giving was waaaayyy down.
If we had 4 more months like that last month in this year, we would deplete our general fund. And, be into our emergency funds – what we have in savings. We have about ¾ or 75% of a month’s needs in our savings. No money means cutting ministry workers;
app.: Now, I don’t expect that to happen, but you can see how a people who begin to neglect the House of God for a few months can send their workers packing and looking for other ways to feed their family. Are you beginning to see the snowball effect here: Eliashib gives office space in the Temple to his Father-in-law, taking away valuable chamber space for the grain, the wine, the oil, etc. And it goes downhill from there! People stop bringing their tithes into the storehouses and those who used to work that area head out to their towns and villages to find work to feed their families.
t.s.: But it doesn’t stop there: now, they’ll start trading on the Sabbath and neglecting that commitment.
III. The Sabbath (15-22)
exp.: rd v 15-16;
- The Sin is identified: neglecting to honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy. They have to, because they need to do the work – at least that is the way they see it. They’re not taking the rest required of God, but instead buying, selling, and trading. Do you remember their covenant back in ch. 10?
The three major areas of commitment:
- We won’t give our daughters in marriage to foreigners
- The Sabbath
- We will take care of God’s House and the people who care for it
App.: They’ve broken their covenant with God. Step by step, one move at a time, they’re back to where they were in exile. Oh, and what’s worse, is that it won’t take long before they’ll be chasing after foreign gods, idols. So, what does Nehemiah do? How does he demonstrate repentance? rd 17-19;
- A Demonstration of Repentance: shut the gates! Don’t let the merchants in! Do more than that: set guards over the entrances! But that won’t stop them. rd v 20; they’re loitering around outside, just trying to get in! rd v21 – when he says lay hands on you, he’s not saying lightly and pray for them! He’s saying he’s going to punch their lights out! He’s angry! He is taking drastic steps to make matters right.
When was the last time you got angry about sin? No, Christians are supposed to be like that! Can I tell you about what Jesus did in the Temple when he saw how the people had turned the House of God into a supermarket? He made a whip of cords and drove the money changers out of the Temple. He turned the tables over and set the animals free.
App.: Brothers and Sisters, get serious about your sin. Get angry over it and make a change! Rd v 22 –
- A Solution to be installed: Purify yourselves and set a guard!
- Identify the sin
- Make the change
- Clean yourself up and set a guard in place.
t.s.: No foreigners were to be in the Temple and it was to be used as promised: They’d made a covenant to care for the Temple and its workers. Now, because Nehemiah has made these changes – the things of God were important, the day of rest as commanded by God was re-instituted, but Nehemiah finds another problem:
IV. Inter-marriage (23-28)
exp.: rd v 23-24; This is the same problem as the 1st,
- The Sin is identified: they have married the daughters of foreigners, bringing in idolatry among the Jews. This, again, is something they promised they wouldn’t do! So, what does Nehemiah do about it? he goes all “Jesus in the Temple” on them; rd 25
- A Demonstration of Repentance: man! He beat them! and Cursed them! most pastors wouldn’t make it very far if they did that! He made them take an oath & he uses Solomon as an example of where this sin leads. Look at what he does to the High Priest! Rd v 28; Man, Nehemiah gets serious about reforms.
- A Solution to be installed: rd v 30; Purification – we’ve seen that a lot in this passage; cleansed; established, provided;
Conclusion: So what can we conclude from all of this?
I think the point Nehemiah is getting to, after all of this, is that we cannot live out our commitments perfectly – it is impossible; therefore, we need to revisit and evaluate our condition consistently. And get Angry over the sin in our lives! Don’t let it reign over us!
So, how do you do that? How do you measure this?
- Am I letting foreigners into the Temple? Am I keeping the priorities of my faith in tact?
- Am I bringing the whole Tithe into the Storehouse? Or, am I using the money that is to be set aside for ministry on things of the world?
- Am I keeping the Sabbath Day holy to the Lord? Am I resting as I should or am I making money? Am I basking in the glory of my Savior or feeding my selfish desires. The Sabbath is really about focus. Is it on you or God?
- Am I keeping my relationship pure? Or that of my descendants?
- We must revisit our relationship with God everyday. – to ensure that nothing is a higher priority. The problem isn’t that God is going anywhere – the problem is you! I am the problem! If we think we don’t have a problem, we’re fooling ourselves. Maybe I should say ‘fellowship’
- We need accountability. It shouldn’t be our spouse. Accountability means to ‘open our books’ to someone else and let them do an audit of our lives.
- When you are confronted with your sin and brought to a place of repentance (deeds in keeping w/ repentance), you are experiencing the mercy of God.
Won’t you respond to his mercy today!