Summary: Exposition of the last chapter of Nehemiah regarding his righteous indignation at the failure of the people to maintain faith convictions while he was away for some ten years
Text: Nehemiah 13:1-31, Title: Fit to be Tied, Date/Place: NRBC, 2/17/08, PM
A. Opening illustration: Imagine that you poured your life into a business. Spent forty-plus years starting, building, and spurring that company on to greatness. You made the Fortune 500 list. You outgrew four building facilities. You established a company that will provide for three or four of your future generations. But suddenly you are called up to serve our country in the role of an ambassador to Iraq, to assist them economically to be strong enough to ally with the US on certain things. So you decided to leave the company in good hands, and laid out for them instructions of exactly what to do, and even got all the board of directors and CEOs in the company to sign them. But when you came back 10 years later…
B. Background to passage: After this big celebration and dedication ceremony, life returns to normal, and somewhere along the way, Nehemiah has to make an extended trip back to Babylon to report to the king. He leaves in 433 BC but doesn’t return until 525-520 BC. So during the ten or so years that he is gone, exactly what he doesn’t want to happen happens. And God sends the prophet Malachi to the people during Nehemiah’s absence to proclaim His displeasure. Then when Nehemiah comes back, he is completely appalled at what has occurred in his beloved city. And in a last effort, even in his late sixties, Nehemiah makes some sweeping reforms with uncompromising vigor.
C. Main thought: I want to look at three truths arising from this text about prolonging spiritual well-being.
A. Prone to Wander
1. As one commentator noted, it wasn’t that Nehemiah came back to a whole new set of problems that they had forgotten to deal with. He came back to the same old stuff. Quickly run down through the areas of failure—impure worship with foreigners (1-3), desecration of the temple with the priest’s approval (4-9), forsaking of the Levites and Temple (10-14), dishonoring the Sabbath (15-22), intermarrying and multi-generational unfaithfulness (23-28). Notice all of these things are things that they covenanted to do back in chapter ten. The people were so fired up in the revival. And yet, now they seemed so far from him
2. Gen 6:5, 8:21 Jer 17:9, Ps 53:3, Matt 15:19, Rom 3:10-18, 7:18,
3. Illustration: as the song said “…prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…” tell the story about the man who wrote it. Tell about one of those dreams or thoughts that you have after which you wonder how a saved person could ever come up with such things, tell about how after the girls’ birthday party I was compelled to walk up behind Michael with a balloon and a thumb tact,
4. This just demonstrates to us the wickedness of our own hearts. You will hear people say to follow your heart, or your heart won’t steer you wrong, but those are lies. Truth is that he heart is desperately wicked. It will deceive you, and lead you down a wrong path. The only true help we see is the Word of God. It will not lead us astray. Listen to the Spirit of God if you want to listen to something or someone. You can turn over all the new leaves that you want, make a the new year’s resolutions that you want, begin new diets or workout schedules, or jobs, or have another baby, but you cannot change yourself. Without the power of the Spirit and the Word within, you will fail. Because you are fighting a battle that you can never win with a natural man. Why are you telling us this, it’s depressing. We will talk about what to do about it later, but we must begin with an understanding of how bad we really are, lest we underestimate ourselves. For most of us think that we are pretty good overall. The preacher telling the other preachers that the reason that we don’t witness to our moral, but lost neighbors is because in our heart of hearts we don’t think they deserve hell, nor do we deserve it. But we are not! We are only a decision away from flushing our lives and testimony right down the sewer. We are all capable of doing atrocious things. This is why we never look down upon one who is caught in a sin, let alone someone who has not the capacity to defend himself.
B. Righteous Indignation
1. Nehemiah was righteously angry. He uses terms like “grieved bitterly” to describe his feelings. But his words and actions speak the loudest. He says at least three times that he “contended” with certain people, which means that he bitterly disputed with them. He told them “don’t you know this is the kind of stuff that got us sent to Babylon in the first place.” He threatened some with physical violence. He beat some of them, drove some of them out of town, he pulled some of their hair out, and threw some of their stuff out on the sidewalk. He pronounced prophetic curses upon them, and made them swear oaths. But, note his prayerfulness. This gives us an indication that this was not a loss of control, but a purposeful, careful, calculated, thoughtful plan that was an attempt to restore the honor of God’s fame in Jerusalem