Nehemiah 10:28-30 (MSG)
The rest of the people, priests, Levites,
security guards, singers, Temple staff,
and all who separated themselves
from the foreign neighbors
to keep The Revelation of God,
together with their wives, sons, daughters
—everyone old enough to understand—
all joined their noble kinsmen
in a binding oath to follow
The Revelation of God
given through Moses the servant of God,
to keep and carry out
all the commandments of God our Master,
all his decisions and standards.
Perhaps you, or someone you know, made a pledge to God. How did that work out?
- U-turn. A life was changed for the better
- One of many promises made and broken
- Half a pledge is better than none
We all know folks who had a Road-to-Damascus encounter that forever divides their lives into before and after. And we know others who promised God that if he rescued them “just this once,” they would serve him forever—and God’s “once” become their “never.”
I don’t fall into either category. Or more accurately, I fall into both.
I made some good decisions. I asked Jesus into my heart at a very young age. I wanted him to be my Savior. In college, I stepped up the commitment. I wanted him to be my Lord.
These were life-changing decisions, and I haven’t turned my back on either one.
But truth be told, I make all kinds of promises to God that I fail to keep:
I will be a better mother. I won’t screech at my children.
I will get up early tomorrow and pray.
I won’t gossip about this.
I will admit my mistake.
This will be the last potato chip today.
Granted, some of my pledges are unrealistic. I won’t screech. That is, until my son splashes through the orange juice he just spilled, tracking it into the next room.
The last potato chip? I know I can’t eat just one.
As for the rest? I say with Paul, confessing my failures:
Romans 7:19 (NIV)
For I do not do the good I want to do,
but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.
But enough about me. Let’s go back to Nehemiah and our friends in Jerusalem.
They heard God’s Word. They confessed their sins. And they pledged to follow God’s commands. Some of them are listed by name. Others are unidentified members of the crowd:
Nehemiah 10:10:30 NIV)
. . . all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord.
This scene brings to mind an earlier similar gathering.
Joshua 24:1 (NIV)
Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
Joshua led the people of God into the Promised Land. Before he died, he called the leaders together for a review of God’s covenant.
“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!”
Joshua expressed his doubts, but the people insisted. Joshua wrote it down for them. And he gave them a visual reminder.
On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.
“See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”
The repeat performance in Nehemiah’s time was a testimony to the Israelites’ earlier failure to keep the pledge.
Would Nehemiah’s generation learn from the failure of their parents and grandparents? Would they do better than the generations before them?
I don’t doubt their sincerity. They pledged to keep their end of the covenant (read all of chapter 10 for the details):
- We won’t intermarry, we will be faithful.
- We won’t do business on the Sabbath, we will keep it holy.
- We won’t be greedy, we will follow God’s compassionate economic plan.
- We will bring our sacrifices, we won’t make excuses.
- We will bring our first-fruits, we won’t keep them for ourselves.
- We will dedicate our first-born to God, we won’t claim ownership.
- We will bring our offerings, we won’t forget.
“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Promises, promises! Soon-to-be-broken promises.
Truth is, if God was as casual about keeping promises as we are, we wouldn’t be here. There would have been no manger, no cross, no resurrection, no coming of the Holy Spirit.
Think about it. Old Testament, old promise.
They will be my people, and I will be their God.
New Testament, new promise.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood,
which is poured out for you.
We cannot keep our side of the old covenant.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
We mustn’t be too hard on Joshua’s and Nehemiah’s multitudes and their failure to keep their promises. Had we been there, we too would have failed. Thankfully, we live under the new covenant.
But just because we live under the new covenant, the covenant of salvation through the blood of Christ, we mustn’t use it to excuse our behavior.
Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!
There’s a name for that kind of thinking. It’s called “cheap grace.” And grace isn’t cheap. It came at a very high price: the cross.
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), The Cost of Discipleship
We think twice before we sign on the line for a car or a mortgage. We pledge monthly payments until the covenant is fulfilled. We understand that it is a long-term commitment.
Jesus pledged his all for the new covenant. Shouldn’t we do likewise? Shouldn’t we pledge our all in response?
Strive with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength to keep your promises to God. Put it all on the line.