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Sergeant Law

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Soon after I finished high school at the age of seventeen I joined the U.S. Army. It was an exciting time in life and I truly appreciate what being in the Army has done for me. But at seventeen I did find myself in a very real situation, I was “in the Army now!” Not even seconds after arriving for Basic and Advanced Infantry Training at Ft. Benning Georgia did I experience my first encounter with Drill Sergeants. I’m sure you all know what I am talking about, though most of you will have never had to undergo such an experience. These guys were brutal!!! It was their job to break you down to nothing and then just leave you wallowing in the mire of your own self-pity; and they all loved their job! There is not a single Drill Sergeant who knows how to speak in a soft voice. All they know to do is holler and yell as loud as they can. As soon as we stepped off the bus they yelled at us to pick up a duffel bag and run across this dirt lot so that we could line up in formation. At the induction station we all received our allotted clothing and duffel bags that had our names stenciled onto them. So it made sense to all of us recruits that we were to find and grab “our” bag. But that is not what the Drill Sergeants told us, they told us that we were to grab “a” bag. And that was our first mistake! They all started yelling at us, kicking the dirt, we recruits would be trying to pick up a bag and they would pull the bag with great force causing us to fall to the ground. They knew how to break us.

This went on for sixteen weeks, no mercy (ok, maybe a little after we transitioned from Basic Training to Advanced Infantry Training)! They would be yelling at us at 3:30 in the morning and we all would have night mares of them at night when we tried to sleep. Now what most people do not realize is that the Drill Sergeants were not there to teach us many skills, like how to fire a weapon, throw a hand grenade, or what the international rules of engagement were. There were instructors who taught us all of that! The Drill Sergeants responsibility was to break us down and teach us discipline. They taught us how to March after which they would march us to training areas, ranges, or some classroom where we received instructions from the actual instructors. I will never forget the day that we graduated from Basic Training (AIT), the relationship changed from darkness to light. In the few hours that we had to interact with them, before we shipped out to our first duty assignments, they all became real. They were proud of us and treated us solders with respect. They are the ones who changed us from being recruits to soldiers.

This morning we will conclude our study of the Book of Nehemiah by trying to gain an overview of what is taking place in chapter thirteen. Before we delve into chapter thirteen we need to set the stage so as to assist you in understanding why the events of chapter thirteen are actually taking place. We will look a little at “what” is taking place, but I am more interested in helping you understand “why,” and then later you can go back into the chapter and dig deeper into the “what.” There are two items we need to clarify, and the first will require us to flip over to Galatians chapter three, so turn there if you will.

In Galatians three Paul is trying to help the Galatian believers understand the purpose of the Old Testament Law and how that purpose interacts with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the latter part of the chapter Paul uses two different analogies to help the reader understand the purpose of the law. The first centers on being confined and Paul draws the analogy from prisons. The last time I taught I used a prison allegory to begin my message so let’s look at the second image that Paul utilizes for his illustration.

In Galatians 3:24-25 Paul uses a term that is translated in my Bible as “tutor.” Some translations use the word “guardian,” others use a verb “supervision,” others “schoolmaster,” or “teacher.” The closest translation would likely be the New Revised Standard Version which uses the word “disciplinarian.” (Galatians 3:24-25 NRSV) The actual Greek word (παιδαγωγός paidagōgós) has no modern English or Tagalog equivalent, and the closest would likely be as I just mentioned, “disciplinarian.” (The English “pedagogue” would be close but it has infused the concept of teaching, which was not a part of the work of the paidagōgós, plus it is a word that is no longer used outside of academia.) The concept for whom we are talking about is derived from Roman culture and would entail a slave or household helper, usually male, to take charge of the young boys in the house and both “teach them discipline” and “oversee” them as they went about their daily affairs. The paidagōgós would make sure the boys got up in time, got dressed and ate their meals, got them to school where others would teach or tutor them, and they would even whip the boy’s and yell at them to teach them discipline. The paidagōgós was not responsible for the boys’ education, but was responsible for the boy’s mastery over all areas of their lives. Once the boys were grown and became men, the paidagōgós had no more authority over the boys. Conceptually the closest thing would be the Drill Sergeant that I described earlier. (Note: A sergeant does always have general authority over those of lesser rank thus the analogy does break down.)

It is this concept of a disciplinarian, whom we can understand in the concept of a drill sergeant, is what Paul used to convey to the Galatians what the purpose of the Law was. According to Paul, in Galatians three this was, and is, the purpose of the law – to break us down by means of discipline so as to allow us to be built back up. For this time of teaching we will call the “Old Testament Law”… Sergeant Law!

Now the second item that needs clarity is the timeline for the events of Nehemiah thirteen. Now it may surprise you to discover but Nehemiah thirteen is most likely the very last story to take place in the Old Testament era - chronologically. Anywhere from two to ten years is the time span between Nehemiah chapter ten and Nehemiah chapter thirteen. The story of the Book of Esther has already transpired, the ministry of Malachi has recently concluded, and this story concludes all of the stories of the Old Testament. Knowing this will help bring insight into how we should correlate several difficult passages that have stumped many Bible students over the years. With this in mind let us now turn our attention to the text and glance at some high points.

In Nehemiah 13:1-3 we discover that the Jewish people were engaged in a study of God’s word; and this is good! In their study they came across, more than likely, Deuteronomy 23:3–6, which pronounces the judgment on two particular peoples, expressly for the way that they treated Israel when they came out of Egypt. But notice after the study, when it came time to apply God’s Word, exactly how Israel responded. In the latter part of verse three we discover that the Jews excluded all foreigners form Israel. Allow me to ask you Church, do you think that this was God’s perfect and revealed will? That is, were the Jews in complete compliance to what God had already revealed in His word? I do not believe so! The nation of Israel should have already known the stories of Rahab and Ruth. If you read the prayer of dedication for the Temple given by Solomon in 1 Kings 8:41-43, then you will see that it was assumed that foreigners would visit the Temple. Even the Law expected foreigners to live in the land as derived from the passages that deal with how to interact with the “aliens” that live in Israel, such as those found in Leviticus chapters seventeen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-two, and twenty-five.

The Law acknowledged that aliens would live in the land. The Law also prohibited Jews from marrying aliens as this was an inroad for false religion to influence the Jews. Furthermore, the law prohibited the Ammonites and Moabites from living in Israel. Yet the people stepped beyond what was prescribed in the Law and put all foreigners out here in Nehemiah thirteen. This act will typify some of the acts that we will soon discover. To go beyond the Law was a problem as much as disregarding the Law. Verses one through three are a prelude to all of chapter thirteen, especially when we cross reference with sections of Ezra and Malachi, and how the Jews have been either underreacting or overreacting to God’s Law. The bottom line is that they wanted to do things their way and did not pay close attention to what God was telling them. Yet the wisdom of God will be demonstrated when we too see and understand the marvels of God turning curses into blessing, such as was proclaimed at the end of Nehemiah 13:2.

The bulk of Nehemiah 13 deals with four broken promises, three of which are as follows; (1) The Jewish people abandoned the tithe, as seen in Nehemiah 13:4-14, which allowed the storehouse to be unutilized thus giving a place for Tobiah (an enemy of Israel) to reside. As well the people were not storing the rations allotted to the Levities, thus forcing them to leave the Temple so as to gain livelihood as farmers. This abandonment is in violation to their covenant made in Nehemiah 10:37. (2) Then they broke the Sabbath as seen in Nehemiah 13:15-22, and were in violation to their promise made in Nehemiah 10:31. (3) Then in Nehemiah 13:23-29, the Jews were inter-marrying foreign women, which was in violation of their promise made in Nehemiah 10:30. Let’s look at the ancient premises for each promise that was made in chapter ten, then at the actual promise, and then at the failures to keep the promises as seen here in out text as well as in the Book of Malachi.

The first issue was that the people of Israel abandoned the tithe. As we have studied several times before we know that the word tithe does have its origins in the number ten - but it is not talking about 10%. Israel was a theocracy and the combination of civil and religious responsibilities required a taxation greater than 10%; this fact being drawn from an overall understanding of the Law. We see that the tithing system was given progressively in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy and that the purpose of the tithe was to sustain the priests, levities, and their families, as well as the central government which was at first comprised of judges but later included a monarchy. At times the people were told to pay a flat tax, and other times a percentage, at times a one-time tax, and at times a yearly tax. The tax base was also expanded during the times of the Kings. Then in Nehemiah 10:32 we see the people committing to reinstate one portion of the overall tithe system, and that is a contribution that was designated in Exodus 30:13. The Jewish leaders expanded the tax found in Exodus 30:13 into what did eventually become the Temple Tax that we see in Matthew 17:24. Yet notice the discrepancies between the Law, which asked for a one-time tax, and is what theologians believe to be the basis for what is taking place in Nehemiah, found in Exodus thirty, and the recommitment found in Nehemiah ten:

“This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD." (Exodus 30:13)

"We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God." (Nehemiah 10:32)

So the Law told the people to pay a one-time tax of a half shekel; note that it states “half.” In time, as mentioned, the nation of Israel transformed the Law into a temple tax. During the time of Christ the tax became a half shekel. The people of Nehemiah ten read the Law and it, like that Drill Sergeant, confronts them and screams “what are you going to do about it?” So then in Nehemiah 10:32 they make a commitment to contribute a third of a shekel. But is this what the Law required? The actual law was a one-time tax, but, the amount stated in Exodus was higher than what the people committed themselves to pay in Nehemiah ten. It was a noble gesture that the people were willing to pay a tax, but it could also become a burden. As for only committing to a third of a shekel it would be easy for us to reason that the people have just returned to the Promised Land and that their income was insufficient to pay the full half shekel as they observed in the Law (but the Law was not actually requiring it of them). They choose to expand the one-time tax and yet they read that it was a half shekel and thus decided to pay a lesser amount. They formed a conviction which their conscience will now hold them to. We do something’s similar all the time!

How often have we excused ourselves from bringing food during the “Pot Luck” because we barley have enough food at home to care for ourselves, and we know that the church will provide as they do not want anyone to leave hungry? Or maybe we tell ourselves “the Lord does not need my tithe as there are plenty of wealthy families in the church.” Or if you are wealthy, you may say “there are plenty of other wealthy families in the church.” Often we forget that ‘it is true’ that the Lord does not ‘need’ our gifts; He owns it all! Giving is never about need, it is always about trust. God knows people have different levels of income. When God asked the people to pay the tax in Exodus thirty it was not solely about providing for the ministry or the ministry workers, but it was also about exposing the heart of the people; and in the case of this tax, it was likely the heart of the poor.

Let’s look deeper into Exodus thirty; verse fifteen states “The rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves." (Exodus 30:15) It would have been easy for the rich to pay Php 5,400 (US$ 120) which would be close to a modern equivalent. But for some that would be a lot of extra cash to pay out. Yet God knows that! What He wants us to see is our faith! So Sergeant Law screams in the face of the Jewish people to fulfill their vow and pay the tithe they developed from Exodus thirty, the people commit “we will, but we do not have enough money to pay the full amount” as demonstrated in Nehemiah ten, and now what does God think of all that is taking place?

I introduced earlier that Malachi has already finished his ministry. His ministry took place between Nehemiah chapter ten and Nehemiah chapter thirteen, and he ministered to these same people. His prophetic book is our insight into what God was thinking at how the people were responding; and there in his book we discover that an all too familiar text actually applies to this situation. Does this verse look familiar?

““Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”” Malachi 3:10

The people freely made a covenant in Nehemiah ten pledging to bring in only a third of a shekel rather than a half shekel. When the Prophet Malachi came onto the scene he challenged the people to test, or trust, God and obey His Law – and fulfill their vow. But by the time Nehemiah thirteen takes place not only had the people abandoned their vow and the tithe that they themselves drummed up, but the storehouse was empty, a pagan enemy had moved in, and the ministry workers were off plowing their fields. Sergeant Law would have been screaming “where is the peoples’ faith?”

Would we do the same? Allow me to ask these three simple questions; 1) Would you come to a Bible Study at the church if we provided for you a meal each time we met? Sure! Why not!!! 2) Would you come to a Bible Study at the church if there was no physical food, no meal, but you would receive a good spiritual meal teaching about the Bread of Life? I would like to think that we would? 3) But how about this, would you come if it were a Pot Luck every week and you were expected to bring food ever time? Sergeant Law is now screaming “Bring the whole tithe, bring the whole tithe.”

From the church’s perspective the safest place is not to place ourselves under a burden of structuring all Small Groups to be built upon food provided from our budget. We should have equality and if we end up having twenty-five, or fifty, or a hundred Small Groups, and we need to provide food for all groups, this could become a burden and hurt the church. From a participant’s perspective, it is better not to commit to bring food each time as this will become your burden. If you do not have food to bring you will likely stop going to the Bible study! Both the church, and the church members, need to be careful in making a commitment otherwise we will end up like the Jews in Nehemiah thirteen. The safest position is to bring free-will offerings. If you have enough, bring for all freely, otherwise commit to a Bible Study for the purpose of Spiritual growth.

Now you may be thinking “is your statement consistent with Malachi 3:10?” “Where is your faith?” We all want blessing to be poured out upon us, but Malachi 3:10 is a conditional statement. First we must bring in the “whole” tithe. To apply this to the scenario that I just painted would be to say that we should have Pot Lucks at all of our Bible studies and that “all of you” “should always” bring food! In His time, and I emphasize “His time,” God will pour out His blessings. Yet, Israel was unable to keep the law, do we think that we are better than Israel and we will keep the burden that we place ourselves under? Paul did not think that this would be the case in a similar situation that was taking place in Corinth and told them to eat at home before proceeding to the Love Feast. (1 Corinthians 11:34)

The second broken promise that we discover Israel made is found in Nehemiah 13:15-22 and it concerns the Sabbath. Before we uncover the actual breaking of the promise it is important for us to step back and gain an overview of the purpose of the Sabbath itself. The Sabbath Laws are a series of laws and ordinances given in the Mosaic Law, to Israel, to serve as a sign or indication of being under the Law. It was given to Israel as a part of the Law. Now I’m sure some of you are thinking “Isn’t the Sabbath a universal ordinance established at creation?” In Genesis 2:2-3 we read:

"And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."

Note that there is no command in these verses but rather just an observation of what God did on the seventh day of creation. There is no Old Testament record of the Sabbath being practiced prior to it being established in Exodus 20:8-11. Plus the New Testament treats the seventh day of creation as a shadow of the substance which is our rest in Christ, beginning now as believers and furthermore creation’s rest in the Millennium Kingdom of Christ.

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest...” (Hebrews 4:9-11)

"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." (Romans 8:19-21)

The Sabbath ordinances were given in the Law and to the Jewish people! They were given so that the Jew would remember and reflect on fact that they are under the Law, and to take a day off from work to rest. The Law had a set number of ordinances for the Jew to follow, anything beyond that number was a man-made law. With this in mind let us now return to Nehemiah and discover how Israel of Old treated the Sabbath.

In Nehemiah 13:15 we see that people were completely ignoring the Sabbath. They were both treading their wine presses, which is an act of manufacturing, as well as moving commerce into Jerusalem. It is likely that the Jewish people did not know all the Sabbath ordinances, nor were able to distinguish between what is of the Law and what was their own tradition. Then in Nehemiah 13:16 we discover that gentile merchants were bringing in their products and engaging in commerce on the Sabbath. Back in Nehemiah 10:31 the people made a covenant that they would not do business with the peoples of the land, that is the non-Jews. Yet is that what the Law prohibits? Sergeant Law would have been blaring “the Sabbath is your sign of being under the Law and a time for you to rest.” Yet the covenant that the people made in Nehemiah ten was “we will not engage in trade with non-Jews.” They missed the point when they recommitted back in Nehemiah chapter ten. Some may even be able to accuse the Jews of racism! In Nehemiah 13:18 the governor even reminds the people that their forefathers were guilty of the same. The problem was that the Jews were not treating the Sabbath ordinances as being holy; they would have been adding a little here, taking a little from there, and coming up with their own set of laws. This in part is what Sergeant Law was shouting through the prophet Jeremiah! Now here in Nehemiah thirteen Sergeant Law sees the people engaged in business and commerce, and he sees the non-Jews encouraging such practice.

Yet the problem was not just that gentiles businesses were open for business, and it was not even that the Jews broke their promise made in chapter ten; the promise made in chapter ten was not in line with the Law to begin with. Sergeant Law would have been kicking dirt because the people were not treating the Sabbath as holy. In Nehemiah 13:17 Nehemiah takes on the role of Sergeant Law and is reprimanding the nobles, those who were older and respected due to their age, for their actions. The people should have recognized that they were in the wrong. Later in Nehemiah 13:19 he is roaring that the gates are to be shut. Two verses later (Nehemiah 13:21) he is standing right in there face shouting warnings and threats at the merchants.

Yet is the root of the problem the merchants? Yes, the Jews were in violation of breaking their own covenant, but is it the fault of the non-Jewish sellers? Would the sellers open their business if they never made a sale on a particular day each week? In this case the problem was not the selling, the problem was the buying. Why did the people not utilize the storehouse principle and save extra food each day prior to the Sabbath? They were prohibited from cooking in the homes (build a fire: Exodus 35:3) thus they would have eaten what was left over from the day before. No need to shop, just take a day to rest. As for Sergeant Law, yes he is angry, and as we will soon see, he will continue to shout at the Jewish people.

The Sabbath was for Israel of Old what the Lord’s Supper is for the Church. A Covenant ordinance given as a sign as being under a particular covenant. For us, the lesson that we can learn from the mistakes that Israel made is that we need to treat the Lord’s Supper with reverence and as a holy ordinance. It is also wise if we take time off to rest!

This now brings us to our third broken promise that can be found in Nehemiah 13:23-29. As Nehemiah was observing the people of the city he realized that many of the children were not speaking the Hebrew dialect. On a basic level this was an indication that they were losing some of their culture, but the greater issue was they were losing their religion. This was a result of the men marrying foreign women, and even Jewish women marrying foreign men, as indicated by the statement that the people were giving both their sons and daughters in marriage (Nehemiah 13:25). The Jewish people were warned in Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Joshua not to marry foreign women. The reason why they were not to do so was clear, and that is, if they do they will be led astray and worship foreign gods. We know that this is what happened to King Solomon. King Solomon even went so far so as to build temples for foreign gods, just as he built the Temple for God in Jerusalem. Then in Ezra chapter nine we discover that the people were indeed marrying foreigners, and this angered Ezra. At that time, Ezra prayed for wisdom regarding how they should respond, and thereafter he and the people started to put out the foreign women. Over in Nehemiah 10:30 the people made a promise not to do so anymore. Back in Ezra 10:3, the original language used by Ezra does not say that they divorced the women but rather they wanted to “put away” their foreign wives. The commentaries are mixed as to what this all means. Did God approve of this action? We cannot know from the book of Ezra itself as God was silent during this situation; but God was not silent! God sent His prophet Malachi who then addressed the issue. In Malachi we read:

“Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. As for the man who does this, may the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob everyone who awakes and answers, or who presents an offering to the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 2:11-12)

The Lord’s response was harsh compared to the response of the people in Ezra. In Ezra they wanted to punish the foreign women but Malachi says, no, punish the one who has done the wrong. Furthermore, in verse twelve we see a proverbial expression, “everyone who awakes and answers,” which means everyone who sees and hears of the transgressions. This is to say not only are the violators to be punished but their accomplices as well! The Lord was upset with the people of Israel more than with the foreign women. This is consistent with the Law where God warns the people that "the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you" as discovered in Deuteronomy 7:4. This warning is regarding the sins of marrying foreigners and the punishment is directed towards the Jewish people. The punishment of the foreign mates would have taken place, but it would have been secondary and in conjunction with the offender being put out of the congregation.

Right after the Lord tells the people that He will cut off from the tents of Jacob, or in other words excommunicate the offenders and their accomplices, all those who are guilty in Malachi 2:12, we then read that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16). The old maxim is true in that “two wrongs don’t make a right!” Yes, it was wrong to marry the foreigner, but it was also wrong to put them out and not the fathers who were giving their children in marriage nor the children who desired to be wed to the sons and daughters of foreign gods. In Ezra, the people should not having been thinking of “divorce,” or “putting away” the foreigner, but rather excommunicating all those involved in the offense.

So now let’s step back and take a look at Sergeant Law: In Deuteronomy 7:4 Sergeant Law commands that the people do not intermarry and then growls out the warning that he will destroy them if they do. Then in Ezra Sergeant Law discovers that the people have violated his command and in a rage he states: “…when I heard about this matter, I tore my garment and my robe, and pulled some of the hair from my head and my beard.” (Ezra 9:3)(I’ve seen a Drill Sergeant get so mad at a recruit that he took off his “Round Brown” hat and was stomping on it.) The people responded by putting out the foreign women, but this was not the answer, and Sergeant Law then tells the people in Malachi 2:12 that he is going to throw them out of the camp. Again, in Nehemiah thirteen he discovers that the people were marrying foreign women and he responds: "So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair." (Nehemiah 13:25) And then in Nehemiah 13:28 Sergeant Law makes good on his promise and drives a son of a High priest out. With veins bulging from his neck Sergeant Law is now in a full frenzy and he stands in their face and screams out “Do you know what you need?” “Do you know what you need?”

"Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." (Galatians 3:24)

The problem for Israel is that they thought that they could actually keep the Law. Yet the Law is a reflection of God’s holiness and we are but sinful man. It is inevitable that we will break the Law as holiness is perfection and we have the freedom to choose. It is impossible for creatures whom are not innately holy to always make the right choice; and only God is innately holy, and those whom He graciously chooses to extend His holiness onto. When we do make a wrong choice (in other words “missed the mark”), the Law’s intent is to open our eyes to the fact that we have done so and are thus sinners. Only when we acknowledge that we are sinners are we willing to receive the gift of a Savior. That was true for Israel; and that is just as true for us today. For us as Christians, Galatians 3:25-26 become a reality, which is: "…now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." The relationship between us Army recruits changed on the day that we graduated from Basic Training. In like manner our relationship with God changes when we, by faith, receive the gift of Jesus Christ. We are now children of God! Prior to us placing faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ we were of the Devil, and the Law was acting as that Drill Sergeant. How many times did we tell ourselves (or maybe some of us still do?) that we don’t feel like going to church because it will just make us feel bad? Or, you found that being a Christian was difficult because of all of the rules? That’s Sergeant Law standing in your face informing you that you need a savior; but in Christ there is freedom!

As Christians we are still under a law; God is still holy and morally perfect. But for us it is the Law of Christ, which is to Love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Yes, we will sin, but yes we by faith believe that we are forgiven. It is not for us to be bogged down by rules that we are still unable to keep fully, but rather to grow in the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Nehemiah thirteen is an example for us to see how chaotic our lives will be outside of Christ. It is also an example of how we cloud the issue when we try to form our own rules when it comes to being holy. Israel of Old was under the Old Covenant, which was the Mosaic Law. From the time of Christ and the beginning of the Church we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life. We are now under a New Covenant in Christ. Israel had no chance in keeping the Law! Before you judge Israel harshly in your minds you should understand that in some ways it is, hypothetically speaking, a more precarious position that we stand in than it was for Israel of Old; we already have the Holy Spirit, and we too make many of the same mistakes that Israel made; so now what is our excuse? Our mistakes may not revolve around the Old Testament’s ceremonial or civil laws, but we do sin against our conscience, and we do grieve the Holy Spirit. Israel of Old was under the Old Covenant and had the Law, which came to them through mediators, we as the Church were given the Holy Spirit sent from the Father Himself. Israel of Old made a mockery of the Law, parts of the Church today are making a mockery of the Holy Spirit. What was given to Israel, the Law, to help them receive salvation was not treated as holy. He whom has been given to the Church to help us receive salvation, in like manner, is not being treated as holy!

However the solution is the same for both Israel of Old and the Church, and that is the grace of God. God knows our failings, and is willing to forgive. God knows the failings of Israel, and again He was (is) willing to forgive. The source of that forgiveness is His grace, and His grace alone!

God is able to turn curses into blessing, and He wanted Israel to understand this as well. Look at the very last verse of our study, Nehemiah 13:31. Nehemiah arranged for the supply of wood, the wood used for the sacrifices. The fourth promise that the Jews made in Nehemiah chapter ten, but had broken by the time of Nehemiah chapter thirteen, was to keep the wood supply for the sacrifices well stocked. From one of the very first stories of the Old Testament we see God providing a covering for Adam and Eve. We know that this covering is the covering for our sins, our failures, that are shouted back at us by Sergeant Law; our failures that Jesus Christ died for so that our sins may be covered.

The last story of the Old Testament ends with Nehemiah arranging for the supply of the wood that will be used for the sacrifice. With that the Old Testament stories come to an end; and with that our sermon series in Nehemiah also comes to an end, and with that, this message now comes to its end.

To God be the Glory!

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