Summary: Sermon #6 in Nehemiah series from chapter 13 focuses on the junk that we often allow to accumulate in our finances, our calendar, or our relationships that messes up our commitment to God.
#6 in the Nehemiah series: Nehemiah chapter 13
CHCC: June 8, 2008
This is the final sermon in the Ezra and Nehemiah series that we’ve gone through this spring. So it’s a good time for a quick review. The Book of Ezra told about groups of Babylonian exiles who returned to Israel. They resettled the area, rebuilt the temple, and reinstated Temple Worship under Ezra’s leadership.
Then, in Nehemiah we learn how the walls of Jerusalem were finally rebuilt. In chapter 1, we learned that Nehemiah had a high position in Persia as the King’s Cup Bearer. When Nehemiah’s brother told him that the walls of Jerusalem had never been repaired, Nehemiah asked the King for permission to take a new group of Exiles to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls.
Nehemiah was appointed governor of Judea, and he served for 12 years. During that time the walls were rebuilt. Chapters 8 – 12 tell about the gathering of all the people to hear the reading of God’s Law. The people made Vows to follow God’s word. And then the city held a great celebration.
Nehemiah returned to his position in Babylon with the sounds of celebration ringing in his ears. Now, in chapter 13, Nehemiah is excited about returning to Jerusalem. It is likely that he is now ready to retire and he looks forward to living in the Holy City that he helped to build. But Nehemiah was in for a rude awakening.
In chapter 10, the Israelites had made 4 Sacred Vows.
They vowed to follow God’s Laws
• They swore that they would NOT intermarry with idol-worshipping nations around them
• They promised to carefully observe the Sabbath
• And they vowed to faithfully give the tithe so that the Priests and Levites could continue to conduct worship in God’s Temple.
Nehemiah returned to find that the people had broken all 4 of those vows. None of them probably set out to break their vows. It wasn’t that these people decided, I don’t care about keeping my word. I’m going to try to break every promise I made! So what went wrong?
We get some insight into what went wrong verses 4 and 5. It says that while Nehemiah was away … Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah …
If you recall, we met Tobiah way back in Chapter 1. He and Sanballot and a few others tried everything they could to stop Nehemiah from rebuilding the walls. Now Tobiah is at it again. He weaseled his way into the good graces of one of the Priests … and that Priest gave Tobiah the use of one of the rooms in the Temple.
This storage room was set apart to hold the tithes of grain, new wine, and oil. It was like the Bank Vault of the Temple. But instead of filling it with offerings, Tobiah filled this room with his own personal stuff … Which is where I got the idea for the title of this sermon: Tobiah’s JUNK.
I think Tobiah’s Junk is a good metaphor for why WE sometimes break our own sacred vows. We don’t break promises because we DECIDE to. We break promises when they get crowded out by the JUNK of life. So today, I want to ask this question: What kind of JUNK is causing YOU to break promises you have made to God and to others?
One kind of JUNK that messed up the Israelites was what we’ll call JUNKY FINANCES.
1. Junky Finances
When Nehemiah found out how the Temple treasury was being misused, the first thing he did was to throw all Tobiah’s JUNK out of the room. Then he purified the room … and put back all the offerings, incense, and Temple equipment.
But you have to wonder, Why was that room empty in the first place? If the room had been filled with tithes and offerings like it should have been, there would have been no room for Tobiah’s JUNK. The Temple was filled with JUNK because the people broke their Promise to Give.
It was probably a gradual thing. At first they probably made a big point of bringing in a tenth of their grain and their livestock. But gradually they got distracted. Maybe the harvest wasn’t as big as they hoped or their taxes were higher than they anticipated. Whatever the reason, they just sort of forgot to give the tithe. I’m sure they figured they’d get back to it soon. But meanwhile, the people who depended on their giving were suffering.
Those tithes and offerings paid wages to the Priests and Levites and singers and others who worked full-time in the Temple. It wasn’t long before the Worship leaders had to leave the Temple Duties and go back to their Farms. You see, when the people stopped giving, God’s Work fell by the wayside. And with the Temple Treasury empty, there was plenty of room for Tobiah’s JUNK.