Stephen Caswell © 2000
Cleaning Out The Cobwebs
In a certain church, there was a man who always ended his prayers with, And, Lord, clean the cobwebs out of my life! Clean the cobwebs out of my life! One of the members of the church became weary of hearing this same insincere request week after week, because he saw no change in the petitioner’s life. So, the next time he heard the man pray, Lord, clean the cobwebs out of my life! he interrupted with, And while you’re at it, Lord, kill the spider!
Two weeks ago we how Israel confessed their sins to God. The Levites reviewed the nations history. They acknowledged the Greatness Of God, the Goodness Of God and the Grace Of God. They asked the Lord to be gracious and merciful and forgive them. We finished last time by seeing that their desire to renew the covenant with God. But were they sincere in doing this? It’s one thing to offer the Lord a passionate prayer of confession, such as we have in chapter 9, and quite something else to live an obedient life after we say Amen. Three things indicate that their repentance was genuine.
I. Submission To The Word Of God
II. Separation As The People Of God
III.Support For The House Of God
Firstly Submission To The Word Of God
a. They signed
When God brought Israel out of Egypt He made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai. The people promised to obey God's Law. They took an oath before God to seal their agreement. Unfortunately the people broke the covenant about 40 days later. In fact Israel renewed their covenant with God a number of times. Now this remnant desired to seal the covenant a fresh with God. They were willing to submit to God's Word. They had determined to obey the Lord. Nehemiah 9:38-10:1 And because of all this, We make a sure covenant, and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it. Now those who placed their seal on the document were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah,
With Nehemiah’s name heading the list, 84 persons put their seal on the covenant that they made with the Lord. This list included Priests, Levites, and the Leaders of the People. Many other citizens subscribed to the covenant. All the people who had heard the Word of God read and explained were committed themselves to obey what they'd heard.
b. They Were Serious
Putting a seal on this document was a serious matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the Lord. Perhaps they remembered Deuteronomy 29:10–13: All of you stand today before the Lord your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones and your wives...that you may enter into covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath, which the Lord your God makes with us today, that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Numbers 30:2 says this about oaths. When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. Since an oath involved the name and possible judgment of God, it was not to be taken lightly. Jesus warned against using empty oaths, and Solomon gave a similar warning. But Israel was sincere. They were broken before the Lord over their sin and wanted to make amends.
Submission - The Use of Broken Things - Vance Havner
God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume -- it is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.
Should believers today bind themselves with oaths as they seek to walk with the Lord and serve Him? Probably not. Our relationship to the Lord is that of children to a Father, and our Father wants our obedience to be based on love. I don’t know of any examples in the New Testament of believers taking oaths of obedience to the Lord. Our obedience should be a joyful response to all that He has done for us in Christ.
However I believe that we should evaluate our progress in the Christian life on a regular basis. We need to ask ourselves if our commitment to Christ has grown or become less over the last year. If we have gone backwards we need to humble ourselves and repent. Jesus said this to the Church at Ephesus. Revelation 2:4-5: Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works; or else I will come unto you quickly, and will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Alexander Whyte said, The victorious Christian life is a series of new beginnings. How is your Christian life going? Are you growing or going backwards? Perhaps you need to recommit your life to Christ today! Is the Lord touching your heart now? How will we respond to Him? Will we humble ourselves and submit to God's Word?
Secondly Separation As The People Of God
Nehemiah 10:28 Now the rest of the people—the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding
Separation is simply total devotion to God, no matter what the cost. The Jews separated themselves from the peoples around them and joined to the Lord and His Word. They also united with their brothers and sisters in promising to obey the Law of God. Separation that ignores God and other believers is isolation and will eventually lead to sin. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the kind of balance we need to live a godly life in this ungodly world.
Marriage Is Separation Not Isolation
When a man and woman get married, they separate themselves from all other possible mates and give themselves completely to each other. It is total commitment motivated by love, and it is a balanced decision: We separate from others so that we can give ourselves to our life’s mate. We still share with many other people, but we don't do anything to hurt our loved one.
The legalist wants to live by rules, but that style of life only keeps you immature and is dependent upon external pressure. The only way to grow in a balanced life is to give yourself totally to God and follow Him by faith. The Holy Spirit working within enables us to live in the world yet not be of the world. Separation means being holy, or set apart for God's service.
Two special areas of concern were mentioned: Marriage and the Sabbath.
a. Marriage Nehemiah 10:30 We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons;
How could a Jew, married to a Gentile, observe the dietary laws or celebrate the annual festivals? He or she would be continually ceremonially unclean. There would be constant conflict between the husband and wife, then occasional compromise, and finally complete conformity; and the Jewish mate would have abandoned their spiritual heritage. Why would Jews want to marry pagans in the first place? Apart from affection, which should have been controlled at the outset, maybe they married for social status or to get ahead in business.
Like some believers today who marry unbelievers, these Jews may have argued that marriage would give them opportunity to convert their mate to the true faith. The truth is 99% of the time it is the other way around. God had a great purpose for Israel to fulfill, and the Jews’ compromise with sin polluted the nation. This in fact happened many times through out Jewish history. What does the Bible have to say to Christians considering marriage? 1 Corinthians 7:39 A wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes; only in the Lord. 2 Corinthians 6:14; Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? and what communion has light with darkness?
The Bible says that Christians shouldn't marry non Christians. Why? Because the non Christian will lead the Christian away from the Lord. In fact I would go as far as to say that a committed Christian shouldn't marry a non committed one. The non committed one pulls the other down to their own level. I have seen this happen many times. The committed Christian wants to attend Church regularly and get involved. They have a regular quiet time and enjoy Christian fellowship and service. The non committed Christian doesn't have these desires and has lower standards. This causes friction and compromise. The result is misery for all. If someone you like is uncommitted to Christ now things won't change after you marry them. If anything they will let their guard down and become even less committed than present.
Nehemiah 10:31 If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.
The observance of the Sabbath was a distinctively Jewish practice; the Gentiles around Jerusalem would treat the seventh day of the week like any other day and want to socialize and do business. While the Jewish Sabbath was not to be a day of bondage and misery, it was a day devoted to rest and contemplation of things spiritual. It was a weekly reminder to the nation that they were Jews and had a special calling in the world. Some of the Jewish merchants would be especially interested in getting business from the Gentiles, and to close up business on a day when people were shopping seemed a waste.
Moses didn’t spell out specific rules for observing the Sabbath, but there was a precedent for not engaging in unnecessary work. They were not to light any fires on the Sabbath, and one man was stoned because he gathered wood on the Sabbath. Often the Jews traded goods on the Lord's day. They treated it like any other day. They didn't remember to keep it holy. God gave them the Sabbath as a day of rest and reflection. People need rest from work or they become ill. People also need a quiet day to remember the Lord and reflect on spiritual things. The prophets often rebuked Israel for breaking the Sabbath Day.
Quizzing my preschool class about the story of Creation, I asked them what God did on the seventh day. A dark-eyed three-year-old raised her hand and said, I think he mowed the yard.
Are Christians bound by the law of the Sabbath? Yes & No! No we not required to meet together on the seventh day of the week. But yes, believers are required to meet together on the Lord's Day. Sunday is the day we meet in remembrance of Christ's resurrection. Hebrews 10:25 says: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some; but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching. Believers are told to meet together on the Lord's day. Sometimes sickness keeps us from attending. But our desire should be to meet together as often as we can!
What about working on Sunday? Should Christians work on Sunday? In some cases they have no choice. But if they can at all avoid it they should. If you choose to work on Sunday simply to earn more money then this is wrong. Should Christians play sport, work in the yard, go shopping or work in the yard on Sunday? No! Although the Bible doesn't directly address these issues, I believe the principle of keeping it holy still applies. We should take the opportunity to enjoy Christian fellowship at Church, with our family at home, or with our brethren. If we don't take the time to reflect on our relationship with God on Sunday, when will we do it? The rest of the week is far busier. Let's keep the Lord's day holy!
Are you living a separated life as a child of God? Are your close relationships strengthening your faith or pulling it down? Young people can I urge you to pray that God will provide a committed Christian partner for you. The wrong choice now can bring misery to your life. How important is Church worship to you? Are you remembering the Lord's Day? Or are you forsaking the Church services for sport, recreation, work or sleep? The word Church means called out ones or assembly. God has called the Church out to be His holy people. Are you living up to your calling? Will we be a separated people for God?
Thirdly Support For The House Of God
The phrase house of our God is used nine times in this section and refers to the restored temple. The people were promising God that they would obey His laws and provide what was needed for the ministry at the temple. G. Campbell Morgan said: Whereas the house of God today is no longer material but spiritual, the material is still a very real symbol of the spiritual. When the Church of God in any place is careless about the place of its worship and its work, it is a sign and evidence that its life is at a low ebb. G. Campbell Morgan is right. However, Israel promised not to forsake the house of their God. verse 39
a. The Temple tax
Nehemiah 10:32-33 Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God.
The tax was a reminder to the people that God had redeemed them and paid a price to set them free, and that they should behave like people who belonged to God. The original tax was used to make silver sockets and hooks for the tabernacle, but in subsequent years it helped pay the expenses of the ministry. Nehemiah 10:33 describes how the money would be spent: to provide what was needed for the regular and special ministries at the temple, all of which were part of the work of the house of our God. If the nation was to be in a right relationship with the Lord, the priests had to carry on their ministry faithfully.
b. The Wood Offering
Nehemiah 10:34 We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God as it is written in the Law.
Since the fire on the brazen altar was to be kept burning constantly, it required a steady supply of wood; and wood was a precious commodity. The leaders drew lots and assigned the various clans the times when they were to bring wood for the altar. That such a humble thing as wood was important to God’s service and could be sanctified for His glory is an encouragement to me. Not everybody in Israel could be a priest or Levite, or donate lambs or oxen for sacrifices, but everybody could bring some wood and help keep the fire burning.
c. The Firstfruits
Nehemiah 10:35-37a And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the Lord; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God;
The Jews were taught to give God the first and the best, and this is a good example for us to follow today. Proverbs 3:9 says: Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase. Because God saved the firstborn Jews from death in the land of Egypt, the firstborn of man and beast belonged to the Lord. The firstborn son had to be redeemed by a sacrifice because that child belonged to God. Nowhere does Scripture tell us how much of the firstfruits the people were to bring to the temple, but the offering was to be brought before the people did anything else with their harvests. These were stored for the use of the temple servants. No doubt their offering was in response to God's blessing upon them.
d. The Tithes
Nehemiah 10:37b-39 and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.
The word tithe means a tenth. The Jews were to bring a tenth of their produce to the Lord each year for the support of the Levites. The Jews were also to tithe the 90 percent that was left and take it to the temple for the annual feasts. To these two tithes was added a third tithe, received every third year for the poor. While there is no express command in the New Testament that God’s people should tithe today, proportionate giving is certainly commended in 1 Corinthians 16:1–3. We are stewards of God’s wealth and must make wise use of what He gives us. Tithing can be a great blessing, but those who tithe must avoid 3 dangers:
1. Giving with the wrong motive, out of a sense of duty, fear, or greed. If I tithe, God must prosper me! Generally He will, but that's not our motivation. Love and devotion should be.
2. Thinking that they can do what they please with the 90 % that remains; God wants us to be wise stewards of all we have!
3. Giving only the tithe and failing to give love offerings to the Lord. God wants us to be cheerful givers. Always ready to meet needs and support His work as we are able.
We Mustn't Neglect God's House
In light of all that God has done for us, how can we rob Him of the offerings that rightly belong to Him? Years before, the Prophet Haggai had rebuked the people because they were so busy taking care of their own houses they had neglected the house of God; and this warning needs to be heralded today. Where there is true spiritual revival, it will reveal itself in the way we support God’s work, beginning in our own local church. It isn’t enough to pray or even commit ourselves to faith promises or pledges. We must so love the Lord that generous giving will be a normal and joyful part of our lives.
Sir Winston Churchill said, We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. Jesus said, For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Do you support the house of God? Today the house is God's people! Will you support the work here by giving to the Lord's work each week? Will you give over and above this to support the work further a field? Will you give a free will offerings to support missionary work and evangelists? The mission box is one way that you can do this? There are many other missions that we can support and pray for. When you give an account to the Lord one day will He approve of your stewardship? Will He say to you, you have been faithful with a few things here be in charge of much more?
Today we have seen that Israel's repentance was genuine. Three things highlighted this.
I. Submission To The Word Of God - They signed the covenant.
II. Separation As The People Of God - They kept the Sabbath and wouldn't marry pagans.
III.Support For The House Of God - They promised not to neglect God's house.
Jesus gave us a solemn warning on the last days in Matthew 24:12: Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. A strong commitment to Christ is the only thing that will keep our love for Christ from growing cold. Obedience to God's Word, Separation as God's people, Remembering the Lord's day, Supporting God's house are all indicators of our zeal for Christ. How do we measure on these? Has your love for Christ grown cold?
Perhaps God has touched your heart today on some of these issues. If so can I encourage you to recommit your life to Christ. I have prepared a slip titled, My Commitment To Christ. Can I encourage you to take this home and prayerfully consider this commitment with your family. It may be that you are doing these things. If so then keep it as a reminder to keep going. It may be that you have let some of these things slip. I don't want you to give this commitment slip back to me or the deacons. But keep it at home as a reminder of your desire to serve the Lord. I don't need to know. However you may want to share it with a trusted Christian friend and ask them to keep you accountable. God bless you as you honor Him.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is he that calls you, who also will do it.