Summary: How can this great book on leadership end this way? This chapter is a reflection on everything that has gone on up until this point. But it’s not a rose-colored reflection. It is an honest look at how quickly the remnant fell away and it demands an hones
That was a lot to read, so I want to briefly give you an overview of what’s going on here. Sometime, either before the chapter, or after verse 3, Nehemiah leaves town to fulfill the promise he made to the king back in chapter 2. We don’t really know exactly how long Nehemiah was gone. It could have been 8 or nine years, but that’s just an educated guess. But things did not go well while Nehemiah was gone. While the cat was away, the mice played. The question is—how in the world can the remnant go from the grand celebrations that we have just seen in chapter 12 to where we are in chapter 13? How can this great book on leadership end this way? There is one word that is repeated throughout this passage. That is the word “remember.” This chapter is a reflection on everything that has gone on up until this point. But it’s not a rose-colored reflection on what’s happened. If it was, the book would have ended in chapter 12. We could have called Nehemiah a hero, built him a statue and moved on. But this last word to us is not a hero-summary. It is an honest look at how quickly the remnant fell away and and it demands an honest look at what got them to that point. As we look at this passage, there are four things we need to remember. We need to remember the people’s failure. We need to remember the preacher’s frustration. We need to remember the leader’s flaws. And we need to remember the Father’s forgiveness. First, let’s remember the people’s failure.
The people’s failure is really obvious, isn’t it? I mean, as soon as Nehemiah left town, they went wild. When you look back to chapter 10, you remember that the people had just finished that great time of listening to God’s Word preached by Ezra. And immediately after they heard God’s Word preached, they applied it to their lives. They applied it by gathering together and celebrating the Feast of the Tabernacles. And then they applied it by making a public commitment to obey the Law. They actually went beyond that and wrote out a covenant. And in that covenant there were certain things that they called attention to. They said that they would separate themselves from the other nations. They would keep their sons and daughters pure and separate from the other nations. They also specifically said that they would be extra-faithful to keep the Sabbath day. Another thing that they wrote in their covenant was that they would be sure and pay their tithes and offerings. Can’t you just picture that document? #1. We promise that we will be separate. #2. We promise that we will keep the Sabbath. #3. We promise that we will pay our tithes and offerings. And then by the time we get over to chapter 13, they broke every one of their vows. In reverse order. Verse 10—broke vow #3. Verse 15—broke vow #2. Verse 23—broke vow #1. They broke them all. And not just in a small way—they went big! How did that happen? How did they go from the penthouse to the outhouse in such a short time? I mean, verses 1-3 tells us that they were still studying the Bible. So, how could that happen? The answer is back in 10:29. 10:29 says, “They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.” What I want you to notice is the last part. They swore with everything that they had. And what did they swear to? They swore to keep ALL the commandments of God. ALL of His law. ALL of His judgments. ALL of His statutes. Does that sound familiar? That’s exactly what the Israelites said when they first stood at the foot of Mount Sinai. As Moses was going up to meet with God, they said, “Give us the Law. Give us everything that God requires for us to be holy like He is. And when you give it to us, we can do it. We have the ability within ourselves to live with all of the holiness and righteousness of God.” Do you know what that is? It’s pride. It’s the same pride that Adam and Eve showed in the Garden of Eden when they took the fruit in order that they might be like God. And that pride led the remnant down the downward spiral of sin. To the point where they were doing things that were completely unimaginable to them just a few years before. What was the people’s failure? They pridefully thought that they could achieve righteousness on their own. They thought that they could work for it. They thought it was within their grasp. But it wasn’t. Because righteousness is not something to be grasped or achieved or obtained. Righteousness is only as a result of God’s grace. We will never be able to accomplish anything on our own. We can work and work and work. We can even accomplish some “good” things. We can grow. We can preach. We can witness. But if we do those things in our own strength, it’s not going to last long. We will miserably fail, specifically at every point where we thought we were accomplishing something. We need to remember the people’s failure. We also need to remember the preacher’s frustration.