Nehemiah - Chapter 10
Following In The Footsteps of Those Who Have Gone Before Us
Hebrews 12:1 tells us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith Hebrews 12:1-2
We have much to learn from the people of God who have gone before us - both Old Testament saints as well as those in the New Testament.
As we continue our study of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah we want to hear what these particular people of God have to say to us. I love the narratives of the Old Testament, for in them we see a people much like ourselves. We see in these two books, a people who experienced great times of revival and devotion to God. The Lord was at work stirring them up to return to their homeland and rebuild the temple and the city of God. They encountered opposition to their work for the Lord and went through times of considerable, prolonged discouragement. There were also times of blatant sin towards God and one another. Even in this the Lord worked godly sorrow among many of them. They were not perfect examples but in the end because of God’s faithfulness the temple was restored, the walls were rebuilt and Jerusalem was inhabited by the people of God.
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. I Corinthians 10: 11-12
We want to continue to look deeply into this book and learn that which was written down for our instruction. We have much to learn from and emulate the people of God in the book of Nehemiah and the covenant they made together in chapter 10. Through humility and wisdom we can learn from their story so that we too can accomplish God’s purposes in our day.
B. The Importance of Our Calling: .
What can we learn from God’s people in chapter 10: Here are three things we see in the text.
In covering those three points I may reiterate truths that have been covered in previous teachings from this series. Have you ever noticed how the Lord likes to repeat himself! In fact in the verses we are going to cover in point three the writer uses the same or similar phrase six times. Aren’t you glad that God tells us things more than once! (Parents)
What can we learn from the people of God in Nehemiah? It’s the same question we ask whenever we look at the lives of believers in the Bible. What errors and sins can we avoid and what evidences of grace can we emulate and build upon. How have they imitated Christ and how haven’t they.
We read at the end of chapter nine, the covenant they were about to make:
“Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests. Nehemiah 9:30
Covenant language is used throughout the Bible. Sometimes it’s implied and sometimes it’s explicit as in the book of Hebrews where the word covenant is mentioned 17 times.
A covenant is an agreement between two parties that defines the nature of the relationship between those parties. Daniel Baker
Most of the covenants in the Bible were between God and man. And most of them were instituted by the Lord. However in our passage today the people have initiated this covenant with the Lord.
They sought to do this after their recounting in C9 the history of Israel and how their idolatry and sin resulted in their nation being under the earthly rule of Gentile kings. (Great joy and great sadness)
Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:36-37
This pact they entered into, that which they had pledged themselves to, was a response to the godly sorrow they felt for the sins of Israel both past and present. God was at work among them and this covenant was a way of saying this is the way forward towards a new beginning. A fresh start at following and honoring the Lord. And it was tied into their sense of calling as the people of God.
They had a small but important part to play in salvation and redemption history - As do we. We don’t want to overlook their contribution. You might think you have an interesting or unique “journey” and maybe you do. But it’s good to remember what these folks did in response to God’s moving among them.
They uprooted from their homes and traveled back 900 miles or so (4 months) to Jerusalem. They were described in Ezra 1:5 as those who the Lord had stirred up to rebuild the house of God. They weren’t perfect but God’s people this side of glory never are. We should appreciate God’s grace in them as they responded to his calling
In Ephesians 1 in one of Paul’s prayers he prays that we might know (eyes of our heart enlightened-dimly lit room) the hope to which he has called us to. It’s imperative to know the hope of our calling - it’s our identity as the people of God. Now this calling for Christians is a calling first of all to salvation through Christ; a calling to come and be part of the people of God through the work of Christ.
And secondly our calling as God’s people is to live out our faith in this world. What we see in chapter ten of Nehemiah is a focus on calling two. Being a sanctified or set apart people for God and his glory. That’s a testimony in and of itself.
This is what the people were covenanting to do. Or to be. Their actions were rooted in their sense of their calling as the people of God
Each one of us has a calling as a believer. We are called to serve and build up other believers and to affect non-Christians with the gospel of Christ (word and deed). And this is a high and holy calling! What we do has eternal significance in our lives and the lives of those we minister to.
In verses 1-27 the names of the governor, the priests and the Levites and the chiefs/leaders of the people are listed. This highlights the significance of leaders among God’s people.
We need strong leaders in the Body of Christ to help us fulfill the calling of God. We see in these two books the godly example of two leaders Ezra and Nehemiah - and how God used them to lead and equip and teach the people (and sometimes reprove them). You get the feel that both Ezra and Nehemiah were respected by the Artaxerxes because of their wisdom and godliness. These men had a reputation with the king based on their lives and devotion to godliness.
But God’s call is not only to leaders but to each of his people. Look at verse 28-29:
“The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord Nehemiah 10:28-29
That’s us = the rest of the people. Even under the Old Covenant it wasn’t just the Priests and Prophets and Kings that had a calling. It was all the people of God. Throughout the rest of the chapter as you read the covenant they had written it declares We will do this or We will not do this. In verse 34 it reads We, the priests, the Levites, and the people,
The calling of God is upon all of us and the people of God that we read about in Nehemiah 10 are to be emulated in their commitment to the Lord and to his purposes.
It has always been God’s intention even under the Old Covenant to have a people for his own possession.
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6
(In Christ that’s true for us as well) Throughout both Ezra and Nehemiah there is a deliberate listing of the names of either the individuals or families that came back from the exile either with Zerubbabel or with Ezra or those who under Nehemiah helped rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. Their lives mattered, their contribution to salvation history mattered. Their name is written in holy scripture.
I read a story about a guy named Paul Morin who makes pens. All types of different handcrafted writing instruments.
He makes pens that look like animals, glow in the night pens, fancy fountain pens Whatever your interest, quirks, or preferences, Morin probably has a pen to match it. Everything from scuba diving to aromatherapy. World Magazine
But you know what’s his favorite? I love Bic pens. They’re very inexpensive. You can buy 100 of them at WAL-MART.
The Master pen maker uses Bic pens. He’s emulating our God who loves to use ordinary people like you and me. He could have used angels or archangels, or raised up many more men like Charles Spurgeon or BillyGraham or women like Amy Carmichel the great missionary to India. But he chose to call and use people like you and me.
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. I Corinthians 1:26
God loves to use everyday people like us. Though we are not everyday people: - we have the Spirit of God in us! The Father and the Son have come to make their home in our hearts through the indwelling Spirit. (Superheroes)
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
Have you ever had someone of importance make it a point of talking with you or giving you attention? Ian. How does that make you feel?
O that we may know the hope of our calling! And the glory of the one who has called us. We have a great calling in Jesus Christ and may it motivate us to live for him.
C. The Importance of the Word of God:
What else can we learn about being the people of God from chapter 10 of Nehemiah?
Throughout both Ezra and Nehemiah there is an exaltation of the Word of God and how it affected God’s people. God’s people have always been the people of the book and the people of Israel in our passage were no exception.
Let’s look at verses 28-29
“The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes. Nehemiah 10:28-29
The importance of God’s word has been mentioned in other sermons and here we see it again in our text. These verses are a good description of what happens when a person either comes to faith or renews his/her’s commitment to the Lord in a deeper way.
Through this covenant the people are separating themselves from the peoples of the land (not necessarily physically but spiritually, morally and culturally) They separated themselves from the culture to the Law of God to walk in it and to observe and obey it.
This is what it means to follow Jesus - both for the new convert and for the seasoned saint. One’s true commitment to God is seen in their commitment to love and obey the commandments in God’s Word. Not perfectly but genuinely.
Isn’t it amazing that when a person obeys the clear teachings of Scripture that it appears to be a radical thing to the world. The covenant that the people entered into was a serious commitment but basically it was a covenant to obey the clear word of God. They were renewing their covenant to the law of Moses - to be governed by it.
At the end of Matthew 7 which is the climax of the Sermon on the Mount - a major teaching in which Jesus laid out to his followers what it looks like to be a citizen in the kingdom of God he says:
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” Matthew 7:24-27
Jesus is promising us that the rain will come, floods will come, the wind will come and the true nature of our spiritual life will be revealed. We don’t know when the storms of life will come to us either personally or corporately as a church or as a nation. But they will come. Our Savior is telling us it is wisdom to hear and to obey his word. It is the way of a disciple of his. It is a foundation to a healthy, happy and safe life. It won’t keep us from the storms of life but it will keep us from having those storms wreak havoc spiritually to us.
The commitment they made in this covenant was to all of the laws of Moses. The Lordship of Christ is accepted by surrounding to all of his word. However in their covenant they do specify some specific commands that seem to be “hot button” issues of their day. We see this in verses 30 and 31.
We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. Nehemiah 10: 30-31
We are called to seek to obey all of Scripture (even though we often miss the mark-we’re aiming for it!). But also we need to be aware of specific ways that our culture is seeking to influence us and lead us away from obedience to God’s word. There were no government laws requiring marriage to non-Israelites. There were no laws requiring the people to trade with others on the Sabbath. But it was the world, the surrounding culture and its values that were creeping into the life of Israel.
For each one of us we must be aware of how we are tempted to love the world and not love God? How can we arm ourselves with the grace of God that comes to us through Scripture as we hide it in our hearts and minds. Parents, in v 28 it mentions sons and daughters. Are you having discussions with them not only about what’s happening in our culture but also what is happening in their hearts.
How can we practically apply this call to obey all of scripture?
Both James and Peter in the NT tell us that God gives grace to the humble. We should humbly come to God’s word. We are dependent creatures - first in understanding scripture and then in obeying it. We should put our trust/confidence in God that he will help us know what his word is calling us to. And that he will give us power to begin to walk it out.
Also we should make time in our schedule for hearing/reading God’s word and reflecting on it. We do so with an orientation to be learners and doers of the word. When you rush through the reading of Scripture you can rush through the practice of hearing with the ear of a disciple.
It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian. —Thomas Brooks
Remember, it is not hasty reading, but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths, that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul. —Thomas Brooks
We should be reading through the Bible on a regular basis. But there is also the spiritual discipline of meditation or reflection that helps internalize the truths of the Scripture into our inner life. Take 5 minutes a day and think, ponder, ask questions about what you read or about a specific passage you are memorizing.
D. The Importance of The Church:
The third way that we can emulate the people of God in Nehemiah was their stated commitment to the house of our God. This is a phrase that is used six times in verses 32-39 one of which reads the house of the Lord.
Now for the Old Testament people there was a special presence of God in the city of God which was Jerusalem and more specifically in the temple that was there. So their commitment to the temple (the house of our God) mirrors our commitment in the New Testament to the church.
Under the New Covenant the temple of God is individually our bodies and corporately the church. Our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit; Christ dwells within us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And there is a greater manifestation of his presence in the local church when Christians come together in worship, ministry, to hear God’s word and fellowship. .
Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2: 20b - 22
In our text we see the people of God with a zeal for the house of their God. The very last verse in this passage reads ``We will not neglect the house of our God.” This is very apparent when we look at our text. In it we see their commitment to the place where God’s presence was dwelling.
“We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. We, the priests, the Levites, and the people… obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord; Nehemiah 10:32-35
They were serious about their commitment to the house of the Lord and so should we. We should be motivated by their example. In Ezra when the people laid the foundation of the temple we get a snapshot into their love and zeal for the house of our God.
They were emotional and zealous about the house of God, the place where his glory was to dwell. For a Jew the city of Jerusalem and the temple within it was one their highest joys. The people who made a covenant in chapter 10 were part of those who returned from Babylon to the land of Israel. They rebuilt the temple and the walls of the city. And now they are making a commitment to work for the ongoing good of the house of their God.
And so should we. There is a phrase that goes Think Globally, Act Locally. As Christians we should be aware of the Body of Christ throughout the earth. We should pray for Christians in other countries and give financially to them as we have the opportunity to do so. We should even consider going to other nations on mission trips to serve and minister.
Though in terms of our everyday practical involvement and connection we should love and be committed to and have zeal for God’s glory and presence in the local church. Charles Spurgeon said this of the local church
Give yourself to the Church. You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us… All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people. How else is there to be a Church on the earth? Charles Spurgeon
It’s not that our local church or any local church is that special except that it is the one God has placed us in. We celebrated our 30th anniversary as a church this summer. We are grateful for God’s mercy to us throughout those years. We’ve had our ups and downs but it’s still the dearest place on earth. Think about it, our individual lives and our corporate life together is one of the places where the presence of God is manifested in a special way.
It’s a testimony to the work of our Savior. The fact that God’s presence dwells among sinful, fallen people highlights the greatness and sufficiency of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So how can we help contribute to our local church being a part of the dearest place on earth?
First we should pray. Pray for our leaders, they need your prayers. Pray for the fruitfulness of our church’s ministry (including yours) to others. Unless the Lord builds the house we labor in vain.
Second, evaluate where and how you serve in the church. Ministry at Cornerstone goes on in many different ways. We have too many ministry teams for me to list. We have everything from the decorating team, coffee team, sound team, AV team, greeting team, prayer team, CM team, youth group, Rangers and Keepers and many more.
Connect, Ministry Teams list
Then there is also the “informal” (organic) ways that ministry happens at Cornerstone and a lot of local churches. Things like caring for people during health issues, financial help, yardwork, repairs, friendship, prayer, hospitality, transportation, encouragement, comfort and counseling.
I think that our text would call us to ask the question: Do you serve in the same spirit and attitude that the Israelites expressed in their covenant in chapter 10? Do you need to make any course corrections in your heart? Do you need to call out to God to have the same zeal the people had in the book of Nehemiah? Is there any new place God is calling you to serve?
In asking those questions I am also wanting to thank you for all you do in our church. Let’s pray.
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