Wednesday, 18 June 2014

(170) June 19: Nehemiah 6-8 & Acts 3

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note what is commended in the hearing of the law.

To ponder:
With the work almost finished the opposition is now against Nehemiah himself. Four times his opponents sought to entice him out of the city to harm him. Then Sanballat did the same, suggesting Nehemiah was planning to revolt and become king. This sought to worry him sufficiently to meet Sanballat in order to defend himself, or at least to cease the work so people didn’t get the wrong idea (6v9). Another time, it seems a man hired by Nehemiah’s enemies pretended to prophesy that he should meet him in the temple to escape harm. This would have brought Nehemiah into conflict with the godly Jews, as priests alone were allowed to enter. Each time, however, seeing through the ruse, Nehemiah found a way to dismiss the suggestion. It is futile for the Christian to engage those seeking to trip them up. Better to maintain focus on serving the LORD, and leave one’s defence to him (6v14).
            Seeing the work completed in just 52 days, the Jews’ enemies and the surrounding nations became afraid, recognising that God must be with the people. Nevertheless, the Jewish nobles who had refused to help the work colluded with Tobiah, being on oath to serve him (6v17-19). Likewise, Christians should be wary that some even in the church may seek to serve those opposing God’s people for their own gain.
            In the light of all this, alongside appointing gatekeepers and singers, Nehemiah placed his brother in charge, affirming the need to choose those of integrity and fear of God for positions of responsibility. His instructions about keeping the doors of the city shut at night were about security, as were those regarding guards.
            The registration of the people may have been to allot houses as they were rebuilt, or just to acknowledge those inhabiting the city when it’s rebuilding was completed (7v4-5). Whatever the reason, Nehemiah saw his idea and desires as something God “put into” his “heart” (see also 2v12). Discerning whether a strong concern is from God or just our own enthusiasm is notoriously hard, and often only known in hindsight after prayer sees it come to fruition. But we should recognise that God does at times lead his people this way.
            The list of returnees is almost identical to Ezra 2, stressing continuity with historic Israel and its glory days under Solomon, and a concern with the purity of the nation and priesthood. It also commends a readiness to give financially to rebuilding the city, as with the Christian and the building of the New Jerusalem, the church.
            7v73b-12v31 is a distinct section focused on Ezra, but placed here to affirm the commitment of the people before God. After people had settled and in the month the feast of tabernacles is celebrated in remembrance of God’s provision, the people assembled and reaffirmed their commitment to God’s law and so covenant. Much is learnt here about the attitude we should have to God’s word. The people take the initiative in seeking out Ezra to bring out “the book of the law” (probably Deuteronomy). And he read from it, to “all who could understand,” which implies not just men and women, but children at least of a certain age too. And it wasn’t a brief sermon accommodated to attention spans! It was read from daybreak to noon. And the people “listened attentively.” So often the reason for inattentiveness is not inability, but disinterest. The people stood when the book was opened, to display reverence, responding to Ezra’s praise of God by bowing down in worship. Yet, the book was not just read. Levites instructed people, “making clear” and “giving the meaning” so they could understand – a model for the role of the Bible teacher. The people were convicted of their sin and wept in response. However, they were encouraged to rejoice instead, because the day was “sacred” (ie. set-apart) as one of recommitment to the LORD. The fact they could rejoice was a sign of his gracious acceptance of the people because of their current disposition. Whatever our past sins, if we return, we need no longer mourn. Yet there was joy too simply in understanding God’s word (8v12) – a challenge to those who take this knowledge for granted.  
            The book was read every day for the seven days of the feast - although perhaps on the remaining days just to the family heads, priests and Levites (8v13). Nevertheless, on the second day, when hearing God’s command to live in booths during the feast as a reminder of the desert journey after the Exodus, they spread the word and ensured the people obeyed in a way that hadn’t been done since Joshua. It affirms the responsibility of key members of families and churches to take the initiative in leading others in obedience to God. And it marks what would have felt like a new start for God’s people in their newly rebuilt city with its rebuilt temple.
Praying it home:
Praise God for his word and those he has provided to teach it. Pray that you would show reverence for him by seeking out good Bible teachers and displaying a reverence and attentiveness to his word.

Thinking further:
None today.
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