Summary: Make the effort to stay faithful (winning over complacency) and make the choice to obey God (winning over compromise).
It easy to make promises, but to keep them is another matter altogether.
• You may be passionate and sincere when you make a stand, but to stay on course requires much, much more.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, say this: “It is in the nature of a fire to go out, you must keep it stirred and fed and the ashes removed.”
• He is talking about the passion for God. You need to keep it burning and alive, and get rid of anything that can possibly quench it.
• I will share on these 2 pointers: MAKE THE EFFORT (against complacency) and MAKE THE CHOICE (against compromise).
After 12 longs years as the motivator and leader of the people, having rebuilt the wall and rebuilt the faith of the people, Nehemiah went back to Persia.
• We do not know how long he was gone, probably a few years.
• But while he was away, the people began to slide back to their old ways and went back on their commitments, made in Chapter 10.
Chapter 13 records what Nehemiah discovered when he returns:
• (1) the priests had become corrupt, (2) the tithes were ignored, (3) the Sabbath was not observed, and (4) the people had intermarried with foreigners.
• Let’s read what happen from the account in Chapter 13.
(1) Corrupt priesthood – 13:4-9 - the priest abused his authority; what was meant for God’s work was taken for personal gain.
(2) Tithing ignored – 13:10-11 - the Levites and singers had to leave the Temple and work in the fields to survive. The house of God was neglected, which was what they had vowed would not happen (last line of Chapter 10).
Malachi (a contemporary of Nehemiah) records in Malachi 3 that the people were “robbing God” by failing to give to the work of God’s house. Mal 3:10-11 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
(3) Sabbath was not honoured – 13:15-22 - they were more concerned about doing business than worshipping God. The Puritans called Sunday “the market-day of the soul”, when the soul’s business was to be done, with that taking precedence over all other business.
(4) Intermarried with foreigners – 13:23-27 – in fact, yesterday’s enemies (Ammonites and men of Ashdod, 4:7-8) had become today’s marriage partners.
This law was given to prevent the influence of idolatry (Deut 7:3-4). God’s issue is not mixed-race marriages, but mixed-faith marriages.
Now if the children know only the foreign language, they will have a difficulty time understanding God’s Law.
(1) MAKE THE EFFORT to set things right
Nehemiah got into the act and set things right. He reprimanded the wrongdoers and showed them what to do to make changes.
• See what he did to get the people to observe Sabbath and worship God:
He reprimanded the people for doing business on the Sabbath
He rebuked the nobles for allowing it.
He locked the gates to the city, so no merchandise can come in, and he got rid of the overnight campers who were trying to beat the system or finding ways to get around the restrictions.
He set Levites to guard the gates.
• He set up people and systems to make sure that God’s Laws are heeded and God’s ways are followed.
It’s never too late to do what is right.
• Even though God’s people had messed up pretty badly, it did not disqualify them from serving God or having a good relationship with Him.
• Don’t let your past keep you from doing what is right. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve done.
• What matters is that you begin right now to renew your walk with God.
Everyone fails in one way or another.
• Abraham attempted to deceive the King about his wife; Jacob cheated and gained his father’s blessing; Moses lost his temper, broke God’s tablets and hit the rock twice; David committed adultery and murder; Peter lied 3 times.
• What is important is to have the wisdom to know you’ve failed and the courage to admit it, and then take the steps to renew your walk with God.
(2) MAKE THE CHOICE to honour God above all else – the power is in your hand.
The people had reached a “spiritual high” in Chapter 10-12, but that does not automatically translate to a lifetime of faithful commitment to God.
Nehemiah and the people faced the same environment, issues and temptations.
• They had the same enemies, the same obstacles, and the same difficulties. They worship the same God, read the same Law, and had to abide by the same rules.