Tuesday, October 15, 2013

CXC - Wrapping Up Nehemiah

In the previous post we saw how the Israelites observed the "Feast of the Tabernacles" with as much celebration and festivity as they could, even extending the time of the celebration beyond that which was stated in the Law.  We saw that upon the conclusion of this celebration that a group of Levites lead the people in an audible prayer.  They "called out with loud voices to the Lord their God".  The prayer was a brief History of the Israelite people since the time of Abraham.  They went on to seal their re-dedication to God with an official binding agreement.  The entirety of chapter 10 was to tell of the sincerity of these people toward God after Ezra had taught them the Scriptures.  Chapter 11 told us how Nehemiah took steps to re-populate the city of Jerusalem with Israelites from the territories of Judah and Benjamin.

As we finish our study of Nehemiah, we'll see in these last two chapters (12-13) that a whole lot is going to happen and a lot of time will have elapsed.  At the risk of being redundant with this phrase, we're going to see once again how much "LEADERSHIP MATTERS".

Chapter 12:1-9

After the wall has been rebuilt and Nehemiah has taken steps to return Jerusalem to its previous glory, he takes this opportunity of relative quiet to update records.  He recorded the names of the first priests and Levites to return from exile with Zerubbabel ninety-three years before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem.  Note the name Jeshua as the chief priest at that time.

Then in verses 10-11 Nehemiah recorded the family of the chief priest. As I've mentioned before, it was important for Jews to know about their ancestors, especially the priests.  These family records had to be accurately maintained because according to the Mosaic Law, a man could only become a priest if he was genuinely documented as a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses. Therefore, the chief priests came from one family.  Then he goes on in verses 12-21 and records the names of the priests during his own time.  Verses 22-26 lists some of the Levites of prominence.  Important to note is that the only people who could serve as Levites must be documented to be descendants of Levi, the third son of Jacob by his first wife Leah.  (Aaron and Moses were of course descendants of Levi.)

Verses 31-37  -  The Dedication of the Wall

Try to picture in your mind the scene described in verses 31-37.  Nehemiah wants to have a dedication ceremony for the wall everyone had worked so hard to rebuild.  Nehemiah took the leaders of the people onto the top of the wall. He divided them into two groups. One group led by Nehemiah himself marched clockwise around the wall.  The other group led by Ezra marched counter-clockwise.  {Remember, the wall was 2.5 miles long.}  As they marched, they thanked and praised God.  The priests played musical instruments.  The entire population cheered them the whole way.  It says the celebration could be heard from far away (vs 43).  {Before the people had started to rebuild the wall, their enemies had laughed at them.  Tobiah had even said that a fox running on the wall would make it collapse.  Now the wall was so large and strong that large groups of people could march on it.}

Verses 40-43 - Both groups, having completed the march around the entire wall, met again at the Temple where they began.  I can only imagine the scene when both groups arrived at the Temple, one led by Nehemiah and the other led by Ezra.  Verses 44-47 tells of the people recommitting themselves to keeping the Temple, as they did in chapter 10:32-39.  They also made arrangements for the giving and collecting of tithes.  The poeple were in such a festive spirit, they gave additional gifts to other Levites such as the gatekeepers and musicians.

Chapter 13

Twelve years after the wall of Jerusalem was completed, Nehemiah returned to Persia.  I'm uncertain of the exact timing, but at some time later (vs 6), he asked the king to allow him to return to Judah. Upon his arrival, Nehemiah discovered that the people had gone astray.  That quickly.  {The proper leadership must be in place for a group of people, small or large, to conduct themselves properly and responsibly.  More on this down the road.}  In this chapter, we'll see just a few of the problems that had come about and how Nehemiah dealt with them.  This chapter opens with some ambiguous timing.  This seems to mean a particular day after Nehemiah returned to Judah. It seems that, until then, the people had neglected to read the law of God.  But on that particular day, they were confronted with the reading of the Law.  Then they knew that they had not obeyed God’s commands.  For example, God’s law said that they must never intermarry with the Ammonites and Moabites.  {The Ammonites and Moabites were descendants of Moab and Benammi, the sons of Lot (Abraham's nephew.  Remember Sodom?).  Moab and Benammi were born after Lot’s daughters made him sin (Genesis 19:10-38). The Ammonites and Moabites were always the enemies of the Jews, and when intermarriage with them took place, the respective Israelite families would always follow the pagan ungodly practices, leading them to dishonor God by committing the very practice God repeatedly warned them against.}  So, upon learning how wrong this was, the people obeyed God and
once again separated out all of those who intermarried.  {Back in previous posts on Nehemiah, we saw that they did not expel the families that had intermarried and accomplished assimilation from the foreigners that had entered into their families.  God still cared about the people from other nations.  In fact, God’s plan was to use the Israelites to bring all nations to a saving knowledge of God (Genesis 12:3).  So people from other nations could still serve the real God.  For example, Ruth was a Moabitess, but she became an ancestor of Jesus.  So God even allowed Moabites to join his chosen people if they believed, worshiped, and obeyed His commands.  (Ruth 1:16-22; 4:13-17; Luke 3:23-32.)}

Verses 4-9 tell of an irresponsible priest, Eliashib.  While Nehemiah was in Persia this priest allowed Tobiah (remember him?) to use a large room in the temple. It doesn't say exactly what Tobiah was using the room for, but all of the Temple rooms were to be used for the work of the Lord.  {Allow me a moment on this.  A member of Eliashib's family married into Tobiah's family  Tobiah was an Ammonite.  This is another great example of the how strong pagan influence can be.  Eiashib was the HIGH PRIEST!  The very one who should have been setting an example for the citizens of Judah and Benjamin.  Shortly before, all of the Israelites promised not to marry foreigners (Nehemiah 10:30)  Even the High Priest was behaving in an ungodly manner.}  Nehemiah must have been livid when he saw what was happening to the Temple.  Verse 8 tells me that Nehemiah actually acted out with his anger, which I would consider "righteous indignation".  He threw all Tobiah’s things out of the room, then had the Levites purify it.

Verses 10-13 tells of another problem Nehemiah discovered:  The people were not paying their tithes, which was in direct disobedience to God, plus the Levites were suffering shortages of provender as a result.  {The people should maintain the Law, but I place a lot of this blame on Eliashib the High Priest.  The people probably did not trust their tithes would be dealt with properly.  And along the same line, perhaps the room  that was given to Tobiah was a room that was supposed to be used for storing some of the tithes, making a shortage of space.  People notice and/or hear about things like this.  People in leadership positions MUST hold themselves to the highest of standards.}  I believe we see in verse 14 Nehemiah uttering a prayer out of frustration.  To paraphrase, He asks God not to let all his work go in vain.  He must be discouraged at this point.  Agree?

Verses 15-22  -  Another problem.  The people were not observing the Sabbath.  Business was being conducted on the Sabbath as though it was just another day.  Nehemiah ordered all marketing people and their wares to be removed from Jerusalem at the beginning of each Sabbath.  He then set guards at the gates.  The gates were to be closed and locked during the entirety of each Sabbath Day.  In the remaining verses of this book we see how out-of-control intermarriage had become and the destruction it was causing.  Nehemiah scolded these people who had allowed foreigners to influence them so much that half of the children (vs 24) spoke foreign languages instead of Hebrew.  Nehemiah was so disgusted he actually "beat some of the men and pulled out their hair".  In his frustration he spoke of the great Solomon.  To paraphrase, he told them that a man as great and Godly as Solomon wasn't immune from the evil influences of wives who were reared in a pagan family.  In verse 28 he mentions that the son of the High Priest was the son-in-law of Sanballat.  How saddened the beloved Nehemiah must have been.

Nehemiah ends this great book with a short and simple prayer, "Remember me with favor, my God".

Next Post  -  Esther

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