The final scenes

Well, we have reached the last day in this study of the Book of Nehemiah – what did you think of it?

The next issue, for Sept/Oct 2007, is called ‘Tough Sayings from a Tender Heart’, “in this issue Selwyn looks at the hard sayings of Jesus, he shows that by ignoring them we end up with a form of Christianity that has little cutting edge and is devoid of power … ” I would say that’s a pretty good description of mainstream Christianity that we currently see in western culture.

Onto today’s study: “Nehemiah’s final reforms concerns mixed marriages, (Jewish men have married non-Jewish women). The enthusiastic Nehemiah soon completes his reforms and once again the people settle down to a period of peace and spiritual distinctiveness.”

The following is Selwyn’s summary of this entire study: “We see that without strong and capable spiritual leadership the people of God are like sheep without a shepherd. Moral and spiritual decline then soon sets in. To counteract this we must return to the Word of God, submit ourselves to its teaching, confess our failures and our shortcomings, and begin again to delight in obeying the commandments God has given us. Only then can we expect to be a people who reflect the glory of the Lord and bring honour to His name.”

It’s my view that many of the leaders of God’s people are too concerned with compromise with the world; there is a tendency to water-down the hard sayings of Jesus and the Bible in order to be more welcoming to non-Christians, in order to attract more people to their church. When people turned away and ceased to follow Jesus, he did not turn to them and say, ‘Well, dear friends, please don’t go  -I really didn’t mean my words to sound so harsh and judgmental.’ No, He had His eyes firmly fixed on Jerusalem and the cross. He was even rude to His close friend Peter, when he said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan.’, which in whatever way you look at it – was a very abrupt statement. Yet, it was an act of love, He wanted to impress upon Peter that it was essential to follow God’s will; and, any other option or compromise could never be acceptable.  Even if following God’s will, results in your death – as was the case with Jesus; choosing a nice life healing people in Galilee with His close friends, was not an option. Satan is behind nice options when they divert your attention away from God. Do you agree?

A desecrated Sabbath

Today Selwyn looks at Nehemiah 13:15-22, these verses cover Nehemiah’s actions to stop the Jewish people from working on the Sabbath; and to stop traders coming into the city on the day of rest. He goes so far as to order the gates to be shut and threatens the merchants with imprisonment if they trade outside the shut gates on the Sabbath. I think it’s worthwhile to note that he did not just use words to try and convince the people that what they were doing was wicked; he also followed through with some appropriate actions, e.g. closing the city gates before the Sabbath.

As Selwyn says in his conclusion, our society is in a state of moral decline. In general, most people don’t take any notice of God’s commandments - the percentage of people who now worship God on any one day of the week (usually Sundays) is very much, a small minority.  The real risk is, that when we don’t take time for any actions to relate to God, then God will take action to remind us of the consequences! Do you agree?

An intruder in God’s house

We are now approaching the end of the Book of Nehemiah; today, Selwyn looks at Chapter 13, verses 4 to 14. In these verses we see a common, recurring theme found in many areas of the Bible. We have a person, who is dedicated to following God’s ways and there can be no compromises - their vision is clear on what needs to be done – sometime, such a person has their own faults (e.g. Moses, David) but they generally have the ability to recognise those times (often with some form of assistance) when they have fallen short of God’s standard, honestly plead for God’s forgiveness and then seek the strength from God to walk in His ways.  The community often stays on track because of their leader’s constant vigilance, but if the leader leaves, as was the case with Nehemiah,  some form of neglect soon creeps back into the situation. 

Nehemiah on returning to Jerusalem finds some rooms in the Temple has been desecrated by the storage of Tobiah’s furniture, with the approval of the high priest; and the ‘people were no longer providing for the work of the Temple’. 

What’s his reaction? Was it to convene a meeting with the high priest; perhaps, to talk about building a storage shed behind the Temple as some sort of compromise, as some may, in error, say – acting in ‘love’ for the high priest and Tobiah? No: he throws Tobiah’s furniture out into the street! The high priest and Tobiah knew that what they did was wrong – the correct, loving act was to right the wrong, as quickly as possible, and to purify the rooms. Nehemiah’s love for his God and his people was demonstrated by his actions to immediately address their neglect, before God’s wrath was justly exercised on the negligent officials and people of the city.

Too often today, some Christians try to be ‘nice’ to Satan and anti-Christs, and seek compromises with the people of this world. The correct, loving action is to ‘throw the furniture out into the street’, that is, to declare what is right in the eyes of God and to refuse to sanction those actions which are clearly wrong. Do you agree?

Consequently, I fully agree with Selwyn’s conclusion: “How desperately we need men like Nehemiah in today’s Church. For too long we have courted the favour of the enemies of God. There are people who need rebuking and trends that need challenging. Something drastic has to happen to God’s house when the devil lives in the vestry!”


PS. In regard to – ‘there are people who need rebuking and trends that need challenging’ – it just so happened, that today, I received a comment from a representative of a group, that teach a different gospel.

I’ve followed Jesus for a number of years, and what I can say is this: the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 (first to last verse), is sufficient. It does not need to be added to, or subtracted from – there have been some minor errors and these are well known; and they do not take anything away from the spiritual truths found in this Book. 

Any group who claims to have additional knowledge (or prophet) which changes or modifies the main message found in the Bible are to be avoided – they are purveyors of falsehoods.  A Christian (follow the link for more details) is a person who can honestly say they believe the Apostles’ Creed. There are some mandatory beliefs: for example, Deuteronomy 4:35, ‘You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; beside him there is no other.’ (anywhere, including any other universe).

For me, the important belief is that Jesus is God and there is ONLY one God; in Luke 9:20, Peter responds to Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say I am?’, with the words, ‘The Christ of God.’ Jesus’ death paid the penalty for all sin (no exceptions), and the well-known – John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.‘ Finally, Jesus’ resurrection demonstrates the success and completness of His sacrifice – and our belief, can provide us with the assurance that we too will spend eternity with Him. Fairly simple and straight-forward, don’t you think?   

Opening up the Word

As good as Selwyn’s daily studies are, they can never be a substitute for reading the Bible. I know from personal experience that God uses the Bible to reveal more and more of His character to us. In addition, to taking Jesus’ hand as we walk each day with its share of good times, hard knocks and disappointments; we develop our relationship with Him as we witness God in action.

The Bible, is like a series of love letters which we can read over and over. First, we learn the major themes, then we start to see the detail with the help of the Holy Spirit, the letters start to make more and more sense as the layers of meaning pour into our hearts, just at the right time when we can fully appreciate them. It’s a Book for all seasons, when we are happy, or sad, or in tough times and dark nights or when we sit on top of the mountain watching the last rays of a brilliant sunset. It’s also a Book which grows with us, and becomes a lighter load to carry, the further we walk with our amazing Lord and God.

Selwyn’s conclusion is a good ending to this post: “Once again we notice how the public reading of the Scriptures convicted the Jewish people of their obligations and responsibilities as God’s people. We can never tell what will happen when we open up our Bibles. But the more frequently we do so, the more spiritually beneficial things are likely to happen.”

Do you agree?

How to sustain joy

Today’s study is packed with a lot of good points: first off, Selwyn introduction, “At a time of great rejoicing it is very easy to join with others and sing and even dance, but true praise is not momentary; rather, it involves honouring God continually.”

Likewise, his conclusion is worth thinking about: “When we are right with God, other things quickly fall into place. …  (we) think more in terms of Christ’s Body -the Church. … Joy can never be sustained apart from that.”

An important lesson we can take away from the verses before us today, Nehemiah 12:44-47, is that when people are united under God there is great rejoicing. Jesus, in His great love for us, is  constantly leading us into unity with each other, like a shepherd keeping his flock together. It’s only the wolves who work hard to scatter the flock and to cause division and chaos.

Israel, now united in a shared vision, “now express their concern not only for the priests but also for those who ministered alongside them – the singers and the gatekeepers. They are now aware that if they are careless and indolent they will suffer the consequences of such neglect.”

I think that we are losing our community spirit and we are lacking in spiritual unity. There is a greater focus on the individual, more so than ever before – there is division everywhere; shared concern for our various communities is not that visible these days. I would not be surprised if we soon start to suffer the consequences of our neglect for our God and our neighbour. Do you agree? There are not many who carry with them the joy of being right with God, are there?

It’s OK to be exuberant

I really like the main verse set for reading and meditation: “The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” (Nehemiah 12:43). The reason I like it is because one day I’ll hear the sound of rejoicing when in God’s presence and it will never stop! Likewise, this bit written by Selwyn is also heart warming: “Their singing can be heard a great way off, and everyone realises that the music and the singing and dancing mark a new day and a new beginning in the life of the nation.”

The closer we walk with Jesus the more exuberant we should become – we should dance, as David danced! As Selwyn says: “It is only when the fires of love in the individual heart, or that of a denomination (or a particular parish), are dying down that convention frowns on genuine exuberance.” I would only add, that sometimes people let exuberance take over their emotions and they seek the experience but not the cause (Jesus) of their exuberance.  What do you think?

Look back to the past

In this section of Nehemiah (12:1-26), there is a long list of names. Selwyn makes this important point: “As we examine these names, tedious as it may seem, we are reminded afresh of the significance of those who served the Lord before we arrived on the scene, and the importance and power of godliness in the life of a nation.”

In my view it’s essential to keep in mind that each one of us is known by God; not only that, He has prepared in advance good works for us to do, while we are following Jesus. What we do in Christ’s name is important, at some point in the future we will talk with God and discuss with Him the things we have done while on earth, to progress His kingdom. In one sense, it’s as if our name is written down on a list of those who have repaired some spiritual broken ‘walls and gates’, or some similar activity.

The most terrifying thought is if our name is not to be found on any list! Do you agree?