Read His Words Before Ours!
Throughout this Journey Theme, we have witnessed Nehemiah, a devoted man of God, courageously leading the Jews through the difficult work of rebuilding Jerusalem following their return from exile. They have encountered significant odds and great opposition, but God protected them and granted them favor.
In today’s portion of Scripture, we gather with the remnant of Israel as they celebrate the completion of the wall of Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 12) Can you imagine? After a brilliant procession around the wall, joy-filled songs resound off nearby hills as the people gather to offer sacrifices, praising God for all He’s done.
While the procession, music, and festive clothing were undoubtedly beautiful, one of the most stunning aspects of the Jew’s celebration was the way it honored God. They were not merely celebrating their success and hard work, they were celebrating the incredible, impossible feats the Lord had accomplished through their hands.
We do this, too! Have you ever celebrated your accomplishments while giving glory to God? Of course, we no longer offer animal sacrifices, but we can honor God through our prayer, praise, and parties. Whether we gather as a church family for a night of worship or invite a few friends to celebrate in our home, we can honor God’s sovereignty, grace, and faithfulness by thanking Him publicly for all He has done.
A Bright Beginning
This was a new beginning for the Israelites, another opportunity to live in the presence of the Lord, to be His people, and serve Him well. They were hopeful for the Lord’s restoration and their obedience as they recommitted themselves to the Lord and gathered together to listen to His Law.
Since the time of Moses, God had instructed His people to read the Law aloud regularly, especially during festivals and celebrations. (Deuteronomy 31:9-13) God knew the forgetfulness of the human heart, and He intended this practice to serve as an anchor, lest His people become swept away by the festivities and fall into sin.
Indeed, when the Jews read the Word of God that day, they encountered a forgotten section: the command for no Moabite or Ammonite may worship among them as their hearts would be led away to worship foreign idols. We see them repent and respond immediately, ejecting foreigners from their temple. Their swift action revealed hearts responsive to God.
A Disappointing Ending
After such a beautiful celebration and communal time in God’s Word, it is tempting to imagine the Jews living happily ever after in the presence of the Lord. Instead, chapter 13 opens to a shocking turn of events. After leaving Jerusalem to serve the Persian king, Nehemiah returns to find everything he’d established just a few years before has been upended.
– The Temple storeroom, once overflowing with tithes of oil, new wine, and grain offerings, had been handed over as a personal “playroom” for Nehemiah’s enemy, Tobiah. (Nehemiah 6:1-2)
– With the storeroom occupied and nowhere else to bring their tithes, the people stopped giving, leaving the Levites in a lurch. Unable to provide for their families, the Levites were forced to neglect their temple duties and find work in the fields.
– Not only had the Levites abandoned their duties, but the Jewish merchants had abandoned the Sabbath, spending the holy day conducting business. And business was the least of it: the high priest’s own son had taken a pagan bride!
This is a painful and anti-climatic ending to what should have been a story of celebration and hope. What happened? What are we to glean from such a depressing ending?
The first lesson is this: even when things don’t turn out the way we expect, we can still praise God. Yes, the Jews quickly fell away from their fervent vows of obedience. However, their unfaithfulness does not diminish God’s faithfulness to them. God chooses to accomplish His plans through sinful people knowing we will stumble along the way.
The second lesson is this: even the greatest Bible teachers and the most beautiful churches cannot guarantee devotion to God. Nehemiah was a great leader and a righteous man, who accomplished many remarkable things! Yet, he couldn’t give the people what they needed most. More than a new temple, or a new wall, they needed new hearts.
While the book of Nehemiah leaves us wanting, that desire for redemption leads us to Jesus.
The Coming Kingdom
Some 400 years after Nehemiah, God sent a new Leader to establish a new Kingdom. Jesus. Like Nehemiah, Jesus would hold the Jewish people accountable and accomplish incredible works through the power of God.
While it took the Jews forty-six years to rebuild the temple, Jesus rebuilt it in three days. (John 2:19-21, Zechariah 6:12) Christ’s Kingdom, unlike Nehemiah’s, will be free from sin. In Nehemiah’s day, foreigners were excluded from worship, but in Jesus’ day, people from every nation and tribe will worship God together. (Revelation 7:9-10)
We began our journey with an amazing celebration between God and His people, but it didn’t last long. Thankfully, there is good news. Jesus will return, and when He does, a new era of rejoicing will dawn. Until then, Jesus is building a community of believers from all over the world, including you and me! One day we, too, will gather together and worship God for the incredible, amazing things He built through us . . . and that celebration will never end.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!