Nehemiah 12:43 (MSG)
That day they offered great sacrifices,
an exuberant celebration
because God had filled them
with great joy.
The women and children
raised their happy voices
with all the rest.
was heard far and wide.
What great Christian celebrations do you remember?
- Baptisms – expressions of faith
- Dedication of a new building – sacred space
- Commissioning – a life of service
- A community crusade – folks gathered to hear from God
Exciting events like this stay with us. We recall the joy of the mountaintop. But if we step back and look more closely, we sometimes see it all roll back downhill. The high isn’t sustained. Things go back to the less-memorable normal.
That’s exactly what we find in Nehemiah.
Courage and hard work finished the wall and gates. The dedication was a testimony of praise to the workers and to God, the Provider of the plan and Protector of the workers.
Read about the celebration in Nehemiah 12.
Nehemiah 12:27 and following (NIV)
At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres . . . When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.
I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of the wall to the right, toward the Dung Gate. Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them . . .
The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of the wall, together with half the people . . .
The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, as well as the priests . . . And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.
At that time men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites.
It was a joyous celebration: mission accomplished, God’s will was done!
Chapter 12 concludes with a mountaintop rush of glory to God.
And chapter 13 is another story. Nehemiah, his assignment from God completed, goes back to his old job.
Nehemiah 13:6-7 (NIV)
I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem.
It was not a happy visit. Nehemiah found the walls encircling a bunch of backsliders.
Remember Nehemiah’s nemesis, Tobiah? He reappeared, in the least likely spot.
Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles.
Nehemiah was furious.
I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense.
Here again, Nehemiah foreshadows Christ, this time with his zeal for the Temple:
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”
Nehemiah found more trouble. The people were working on the Sabbath. They were intermarrying and forgetting their heritage—many of the children didn’t even speak the Jewish language. A grandson of the high priest was married to the daughter of Sanballat, Tobiah’s faithful sidekick. The offerings that were supposed to sustain the Temple were unpaid or misused. The Levites and musicians left the ministry and returned to their fields.
Remember the people’s promise:
“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
“When God’s people start to decline spiritually, one of the first places it shows up is in their giving. ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Mat 6:21). The believer who is happy in the Lord and walking in his will has a generous heart and wants to share with others. Giving is both the ‘thermostat’ and the ‘thermometer’ of the Christian life. It measures our spiritual ‘temperature’ and also helps send it at the right level.”
Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, 2007
Giving—of our treasure, time and talent—is the measure and motive of our commitment to God.
This passage calls for some soul-searching.
Am I less generous than I used to be?
Am I stingy with my time, looking out for #1 and neglecting God’s house?
Am I using my talents only for my benefit and not for the Lord?
My quick response is “all is well.” I should double-check my facts:
- Look at my checkbook and charge accounts
- Check my calendar and my to-do list
- See what I have to show for my efforts
More important, I must listen carefully for God’s answers to my questions. And I should ask one more.
How do I measure up in your eyes, Lord? It isn’t just doing better than I did last year. It’s about obeying you today.
As a leader, Nehemiah was a good example. But he wasn’t content to just live the good and proper life himself.
As a person in authority, he called out the backsliders. He restored godly order.
Nehemiah 13:17, 19, 25
I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day?”
. . . When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day.
. . . I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves.”
Nehemiah didn’t believe in “to each his own.” He called out the backsliders. In public. The truth, with consequences.
If there’d been pollsters back then, they might have declared that Nehemiah’s “unfavorable” rating was too high. But he cared about just one opinion.
The book of Nehemiah ends with this prayer:
Remember me with favor, my God.
What would you like God to “remember with favor” about you?
I hope that God remembers the words I write here with favor.