When the walls around Jerusalem were rebuilt and Israelites celebrated with great sacrifice and great joy. Given their level of enthusiasm, it may seem surprising how quickly they broke the vows they made to God. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg warns us against judging them too quickly. In your Word, we expect to hear your voice, way beyond the voice of a man, way beyond simply the routine reading of verses. We ask that you will speak into our lives today and change us for your glory. That from our unbelief we may increasingly become committed followers of Jesus Christ. In whose name we pray. Amen.
I invite you to turn back to the portion we read a moment or two ago in Nehemiah chapter 13. The statement goes, When the cat's away, the mice will play. Every schoolteacher knows that to be true.
Even with your best substitute, it's just not the same. And when you go down the hallway for, quote, just a few moments, there's no guarantee to what you will return. Managers in offices understand it to a certain extent. Indeed, anyone in a position of leadership knows that when you absent yourself, things will be different.
Now, in many cases there will be many things that are better, but there will be a measure of playing which goes on. Nehemiah, here in chapter 13, discovered that to be actually the case. Verse 6, if you allow your eye to scan it, makes clear that while the events which we'll consider in these moments were going on, Nehemiah had not been in Jerusalem.
Now, a little historical background to this, without it being painful. Nehemiah's first governorship had lasted for twelve years. You can read about that in the middle of chapter 5, about verse 14. But during that governorship, all of the rebuilding project and most of the significant events had taken place within the first year. It had not been spread evenly throughout the twelve-year period.
And during that portion of time, there had been the opportunity for him to return to the place from which he'd departed—namely, the capital in Susa, or of Susa. Recognizing his commitment to return, in chapter 7 and verse 2, he puts his brother Hanani, or Han-ani, in charge of Jerusalem, thus making it possible for him to go back and fulfill certain obligations in the job that he had left behind. And so it was that with the strong hand of Nehemiah's leadership, removed, as it were, from the tiller of the boat, the boat began to bob and toss around in the wind and in the waves, and they began to take on board the vessel things that should never have been taken on board. So that, in the reading of chapter 13, you discover that the conditions have deteriorated rapidly from the point of Nehemiah's departure. And there was a laxness about the people of God, a toleration of things which had not previously marked their activities. And this laxness towards the importance of following hard after the principles of God's Word is dramatically demonstrated in four key areas. First of all, in verses 4–9, the deterioration is seen in their unhelpful associations. And then in verses 10–14, in their unfulfilled commitments. And then in 15–22, in their unkept promises. And then, in 23, to the end of the chapter, in their unholy marriages.
So it is in these four key areas that the declension, the deterioration, the laxness, as I have mentioned it, becomes most apparent. Now, before we consider each of these in turn, and particularly the first of these this morning, let's check back in the ninth chapter, in the thirty-eighth verse, where we discover the people of God, having opened the book of the law and reacquainted themselves with the fundamentals of the faith, if you like—the foundational elements of what it means to be the people of God—they had determined on the strength of this Bible conference which had just ensued that they would make a binding agreement to God. And in verse 38, we have the statement, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders and our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it. So it was a dramatic occasion.
It was not a sort of casual haphazard affair. There had been a clear statement of the truth of God's Word. There had been a grasp of that by the people who had gathered. They realized that there were implications to it, that the preacher—namely Ezra and some of his helpers—was not up there simply blowing steam, he was not up there giving ideas, he was not up there simply talking about possible ways of spending your life.
He was up there saying, This is what God says. Now, that, of course, is fundamentally important, because why would we waste our time coming on the average Sunday simply to hear a guy blow off steam, simply to have him give his ideas, simply to suggest to people a way to live their lives? Is it just a total futility? Nobody should be involved in it. Nobody should do it. And nobody should listen to it. It's bogus.
It may help for a moment or two, but it is absolutely non-life-changing. The only thing that should be done from the Word of God is the proclamation of the Word of God in such a way that the people see that every time the Word of God is opened up, it brings a crossroads. It demands a decision. It forces us to say, Either we're going to understand it and do it, or we're going to understand it and leave it alone. The people understood it.
We're going to do it, they said. When you go into chapter 10 and verse 29, all of the people that were prepared to make this commitment gathered with their families, they joined their brothers, the nobles, and they take it almost a stage further by binding themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the law of God through Moses the servant of God. In other words, what they're saying is, If we don't do this, may a curse fall in our heads, and we make a solemn oath to you, O God, that we will complete this commitment, that we will follow the law of God given through Moses the servant of God, and to obey carefully, verse 29, all the commands, regulations, and decrees of the Lord our Lord. Now, that is a fairly sweeping, strong, stirring, dramatic commitment to obedience. And just in case any of them would not be able to articulate what the essential elements were, instead of leaving it as a sort of broad statement, a generic treatment of obedience, they actually highlight a number of areas where people will be able to say, Oh, they are doing that because of that commitment that they made.
The children will be able to say to their nonbelieving friends, I know you think we're weird, but the reason we did this is because our family made a binding commitment to God. Guys are gonna look beautiful girls in the eye and say to them, You are the most gorgeous thing I ever clapped eyes on. I think your personality is fantastic.
I like your clothes, and I love spending time with you. And I know you're gonna think this is strange, but I'm gonna have to break my heart and walk away from you because of a binding agreement that I made with the living God. In other words, this commitment was gonna cost.
And here were the areas. Verse 30, We will not give our daughters to people around us or take their daughters for our sons. This was not a racial thing. This was a theological thing.
It was not an ethnic thing. It had to do with the fact that they knew that you cannot intermarry with people of another faith without that it dilutes the commitment of faith. So they said, We're not gonna do that with our daughters. And then in verse 31, we are not going to trade on the Sabbath. And then on verse 32, we are not gonna neglect the house of God. So when everybody wants to know what our commitment is about—it is about a lot, but it's definitely about this—no intermarriage, no Sabbath trading, and no neglect of the house of God.
Now, with the ink, as it were, just drying on this binding agreement, with the seals just nestling into the wax on the back of it, turn back to chapter 13, and look at what we find them doing. We find them neglecting the temple—that's verses 10–14. We find them marrying foreign women—that is, verses 23–31.
And we find them trading on the Sabbath—that is, verses 14–19. Now, aren't you just appalled? Do you find any sense of righteous indignation rising in your heart? Do you find yourself standing, as it were, in judgment on these people and saying, Goodness gracious me, I think if I'd been there and made that kind of binding, lasting commitment and said all those things, I don't think that within such a relatively short time I would have been allowing my daughters to get married to the wrong people. I would have been trading on a Sabbath, and I would have been neglecting the house of God. Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!
Wait a minute! Do you remember last Sunday? Do we remember the commitments that we made a week ago?
How did we do? Any declension? Any deterioration? Any fudging? Any failure?
Any lack of follow-through? When I was studying at my desk this week, I found myself reacting in this way. I'm describing to you, I said, Goodness gracious, how could they do this, write this down, put the thing on it, and then blow it out in the exact three areas?
They could have chosen another three areas to mess up in. Then it was like the Lord came, just gave me a little—just a little kind of gentle cuff on the back of the head, just like, like that. I said, Hey, Al, think about it. What about you? How easily do your bold affirmations and your statements of consecration hit the fan? How many times have you made promises to me that you haven't kept? How many commitments have you made that you haven't fulfilled? How many unhelpful associations have you absorbed into your days? Who do you think you are?
Now, maybe your brain doesn't work that way, and maybe you're not like that, but just in case you are, let me stay with this for just a moment. Turn with me to Romans chapter 7, and let me put it in the terms of Paul in relationship to recognizing the fact that we don't always fulfill our commitments either. Romans chapter 7. Let's look at verse 15, first of all. This is Paul, follower of Jesus Christ. Not a pre-Christian. This is him as a Christian. He says, I don't understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
That ring any bells? How about verse 19? For what I do is not the good I want to do.
No, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now, we're all made aware of that on various levels. Many superficial levels make it clear to us as we make resolves and commitments of what we're going to do and what we're going to be. For example, you may look out on the calendar of your week and say to yourself, yeah, this is going to be the week when I increase my output and I reduce my intake.
I will eat more, I will eat less, and I was Freudian, I will eat less, and I will exercise more. So you may be right across the top of Monday for the week beginning Monday the 14th. Pizza's out, and perspiration is in. There will be less pizza and more perspiration. That's what this week is going to be about, we say to ourselves. Now, some of us don't make it past the first evening, others always get to Tuesday, a few of us reach Thursday, but most of us find ourselves saying at some point, lamenting in the week, For what I do is not the running I want to do.
No, the pizza-eating that I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now, if that's true on a superficial level, let's just think about it in spiritual terms. Let's be honest this morning. Part of the problem in getting realistic about sin in our lives is that we're not realistic about sin in our lives. That somehow or another, we feel that we have a responsibility to portray to one another such a spirit of triumphalistic success that if ever we were honest enough to say, Well, how was this week?
say, Well, I'll tell you what. You remember that Romans 715 thing? I was all over that one. I mean, the good I wanted to do, I didn't do one thing, and the bad I didn't want to do, I did it the whole week. I mean, I started off last Sunday morning, I said, I'm going to read my Bible every day.
I'm going to have a Bible for my Christmas, I'm going to read it every day. I'm going to read it every day till I get it, so I'll read someone else's. I didn't even read it on Monday. Tuesday, I didn't read it. Wednesday, I never read it. Thursday, I never read it.
Friday, I never read it the whole week. Well, I hope you don't meet a Pharisee and tell him that. He says, I'm dreadfully sorry to hear that. Sorry that your Christian life is not all that it should be. He's thinking Pharisee probably never read his Bible twice himself, but it makes him feel better.
Instead of being honest enough to say, You know what? I've got this thing, you know, through the New Testament in a year, it's got a thing with proverbs in it. You know, you can read the morning passage, the evening passage, or the proverb. The proverb's like about seventeen words. I've got to be honest, I tell you, the whole week I only read the seventeen words each day. That's all I did.
And twice I was in the bathroom, once I was brushing my teeth, and the other time I was eating cornflakes. So you make it very, very difficult for people to be honest about their struggles in the Christian life when we present to people no struggles in our Christian life. It's just downright dishonest. We make dramatic commitments that are unfulfilled, we have associations that are unhelpful, there are promises that aren't kept, and there are relationships that just shouldn't be. J. I. Packer makes this amazing statement concerning the Christian life—listen to this, write this down if you like pithy quotes. Our spiritual life is a fragile convalescence, easily disrupted. Our spiritual life is a fragile convalescence, easily disrupted. Christ, the great physician, has made certain that we will one day be in heaven, not as a result of our ability to heal ourselves but as a result of his intervention on our behalf. He has set us now on the path to wholeness, but we are not yet all that we will become. We are in the midst of a fragile convalescence, and our convalescence is set back all too easily. For many of our gains are slow, and many of our wanderings are far too frequent. Now, let's go back into chapter 13 again, then, of Nehemiah, having brought that kind of solemnizing note, and let us see that this is a word for us, not for them, because I think most of us have been prepared to notice the link here, insofar as we are not all that we would like to be.
We're not what we once were, we're not what we're going to be, but we're not all that we would like to be. And it's sometimes helpful just to admit that to one another. Now, you will notice that Nehemiah's strength of leadership is revealed in his response to these circumstances. Indeed, the strength of his response that we're going to see is such that some of us may have a hard time accepting that it is legitimate. It will perhaps help us to realize that the concern of genuine leadership, true leadership for the people under its care, must be, at its deepest level, the spiritual well-being of the people, and must recognize that what the general drift of the population may regard as marginal leadership will often view as crucial. Because leadership will see in a way that the other great masses and movements of people do not necessarily identify, and that's exactly what happened here. These people had become accepting of a general standard and ethos in much the same way as when Nehemiah had shown up in Jerusalem in the first place. The walls were broken down, there was rubble all over the place, and he came to them and he said, Do you see the trouble we're in?
And of course, the answer was, Well, we see it, but we don't see it. And it took leadership to say, Look, this can be cleaned up, this will be cleaned up, this wall will be raised up, and we will magnify God on the top of this wall. And all that had been done. Nehemiah's away. The people say, Hey, we did it. We made a binding agreement.
We marched on the wall. Everybody knows. The surrounding countryside knows. Now, surely, one or two little things like, you know, Tobiah in the house of God and stuff like that, they don't matter. And Nehemiah comes back and says, Yeah, they do. He addresses, first of all, this issue of unhelpful associations. Now, the first three verses provide a helpful background to the event that follows, because they speak to the issue that the people of God, having discovered in the law of God—you can read this in Deuteronomy 23—had realized that they weren't supposed to do certain things. Deuteronomy 23, 3, No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. Kind of categorical. No Ammonite and no Moabite for ten subsequent generations is allowed to come in here. Now, you don't have to be brilliant to understand that. That's a categorical statement.
No way you're coming in here. Not that people had understood that. Remember they said, We make a binding agreement to be committed to all the law of God? And part of that involved this, and here they are in a relatively short period of time.
They say, Hey, you know what? It doesn't really matter. I mean, it's not a big issue. It's not a huge issue.
I mean, it's just one guy in a couple of rooms, and it won't really have much of an effect. Because in verse 4 and following, you realize that this chap, Eliashib, had decided to provide a room in the courts of the house of God. Eliashib was the priest who had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of God. As a result of one of the other problems, namely the neglect of the house of God, there wasn't a tremendous amount of produce coming in to be stored in the house. So in the absence of what should be there, there was a vacuum.
And into that vacuum, Eliashib decided he would put what shouldn't be there. It's the same in our lives. If we do not fill our lives with what God says we're to fill them with, then there is a vacuum, and they will be filled with other junk. And that is the reason that some of us live our lives all junked up—because we are not filled with all the fullness of God. We understand the Bible says we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and we're just leaking all over the place.
And in the vacuum created by the leak, we are filling our lives with all kinds of nonsense. You're listening to Truth for Life, and that is Alistair Begg challenging us to be honest with ourselves and with others about the struggles of the Christian life. We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. In addition to the daily Bible teaching you hear on Truth for Life, we also spend time selecting high-quality books that we can recommend to you to help you and your family understand and live godly lives. Today we want to recommend a book called The Big Book of Questions and Answers About Jesus. This is a book for adults to work through with children ages 5 to 10. The author is Alistair's good friend, Bible teacher Sinclair Ferguson. Sinclair presents more than 30 questions and answers about Jesus, questions that children commonly ask, like how did Jesus know what God wanted him to do?
What was Jesus' childhood like? Each question and answer is presented in a colorful two-page spread, and the language is relatable to young children. That'll help you engage them in earnest gospel conversations.
Sinclair also provides additional suggestions with each lesson, including a verse to memorize, a prayer, a scripture reference, pictures your children can draw to help them remember what they've learned. This is a fun and meaningful way to help school-aged children get a deeper, more personal relationship with Jesus. Ask for your copy of The Big Book of Questions and Answers About Jesus today when you donate to support the teaching ministry of Truth for Life. You can give online at truthforlife.org slash donate, use our mobile app, or call 888-588-7884. And if you'd rather mail your donation along with your request for the book, write to Truth for Life at P.O.
Box 398000, Cleveland, Ohio 44139. Thanks for listening today. In Western culture, words like tolerance and acceptance are often dominated by public conversations. Tomorrow, we'll learn from Nehemiah that sometimes, it's best to stand firm against the prevailing tide. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-21 07:36:16 / 2023-11-21 07:45:29 / 9