Sword of the Spirit

              I.      Introduction

The wall is built around Jerusalem.  Chris taught us last week that we are all on the winning Superbowl team, even though not all of us are recognized.  We have a great quarterback, great coaches, and one awesome owner.

So… we’re done, right?  The wall is built.  What’s left to do?

How about an after-party celebration in honor of the Owner?

            II.      Nehemiah 8. The People Rejoice

Let’s open our bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8:1-10 –

All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.  He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up.  Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there.  They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Ah, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”  That phrase was with me all weekend.

In verse 9, the people were weeping as they listened to the words.  Why do you think they were weeping?

          III.      A Bad Word

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information.  For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree.   This is found in the book of Guinness, where beer was first mentioned.

After the book of Guinness comes the book of Exodus.  The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw.  Then Moses led the Israelites into the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients.  Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven.  Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says.  But the bible is a big book.  Do you know what it really says?  God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass.  The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  God speaks to us through his Word.

If we don’t know the Word, then we can be misled.  Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from a) patience, b) God, c) man’s labor.  (Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: In 2 Corinthians 4:9, Christians are persecuted but not a) depressed, b) suffering, c) abandoned.  (Answer: Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?  A)  Make hay while the sun shines, b) Eat, drink, and be merry, c) In the nick of time.  (Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?  A) fly in the ointment, b) rule of thumb, c) dyed in the wool.  (Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?  A) Money is the root of all evil, b) God helps those who help themselves, c) without rhyme or reason. (Answer: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

Let’s try something more recent, a quiz on Nehemiah.  (Hint:  It’s the book we’ve been reading for the last 6 weeks).

  1. Under which Persian king did Nehemiah return to rebuild Jerusalem? A) Artaxerxes, king of Persia, B) Cyrus, king of Persia, C) Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, D) Sennacherib, king of Assyria?  (Answer: C, Nebuchadnezzar)
  2. Nehemiah was concerned by the news he received from the land of Judah for what reason? A) Jerusalem’s walls and gates were in disrepair, B) Drought had destroyed all the crops, C) Romans had invaded the land, D) The temple was in shambles.   (Answer: a), the walls were in disrepair)
  3. Which of the following was not the name of a gate in ancient Jerusalem? A) Sheep, B) Fish, C) Pearl, D) Dung (Answer: C, Pearl)
  4. How long did it take to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah’s leadership? A) 70 weeks, B) 52 days, C) 40 days and nights, D) 13 months (Answer: b, 52 days)
  5. Who stood and read the Law after the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt by Nehemiah? A) Nehemiah, B) King David, C) Ezra, D) Moses (Answer: c, Ezra)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God is saying to you?  How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth?  If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books.  I found his books inspiring and comforting, easy to understand.  I still Like Max Lucado’s books.  But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said was God’s Word.   Why would I think Max Lucado is a better source of truth than the Source of Truth itself?  The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God through His Word for the answers.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time.  The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation.  To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7 –

“And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character.  The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.”  The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm.  Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.”  That sort of torah.  The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor.  Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments.  They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached.  Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important.  Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.  In our time, the bible is the bestselling book ever, every year.  At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone.  Worldwide sales of the top 8 bestselling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year.  Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah.  No neighborhood OfficeMax.  Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy.  So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great reading of God’s Word from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight?  I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever.  Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of reading or listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous.  Scripture can be taken out of context to prove almost any point, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear.  We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives.  The Word of God is powerful.

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God.  The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it.  Once it is revealed, we can repent.  Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God.  But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin.  We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears.  The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?”  That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all.  We can’t clean ourselves up good enough to get to heaven.  We bring our messy, filthy sins to God, confess them, and God will give us the strength and wisdom to get clean.  God does a much better job of cleaning my soul than I can do on my own.

            IV.      A Sharp Word

How does the bible do this?  It’s because the bible is not just a book.  Let’s see what the bible says about the bible –

Let’s turn to the book of John, book 1, verse 1-5, 14 –

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Right away we can see that the Word of God is more than just words in a book.  The Word of God is holy, the very words of God, the very words of Jesus, who gave His very life to live among us and to freely give His life for us that we may live.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 –

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God speaks these words, every one of them.  Not taken out of context, but all of the words.  It is useful, it corrects us, it trains us, it prepares us.  The word of God in its entirety is meant to be applied to our everyday lives.

2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The bible is not a man’s interpretation of God; the bible is directly from God through the Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit inspired the men to write the books of the Bible.   Each book may have an individual’s flair or spiritual gift influencing him – certainly the book of John is very different than the book of Luke – but the words themselves come directly from God.

Hebrews 4:12-14 –

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The word is relevant to our lives, and we discover through the word what pleases and displeases the Lord, and we are compelled to repent from sin.  But that sin is embedded into our very fabric, and giving it up isn’t easy.  The Word of God cuts like a knife, surgically removing sin from our lives.

John 8:31-32 –

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Often we don’t even know we are a slave to sin.  We can be very sincere about our beliefs, but sincerity is not enough.  Religious people can be wrong.  But following the teachings of Jesus, becoming a follower of Jesus, is the only way to eternal freedom.

Acts 17:10-12,

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue.  Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Don’t believe what you are told.  If I teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if what I said is true.  If Theresa or Libby or especially Chris teach you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If Dr. Young teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  If the Apostle Paul himself appears before you in a great flash of light and teaches you something, read the bible for yourself to see if it’s true.  God doesn’t mind if you question what you’re told.  In fact, he will consider you noble if you read the bible for yourself.

And finally, our class anthem, Ephesians 6:17,

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The Word of God does more than protect us; it allows us to go on the offense against the powers of darkness.  It is a double-edged sword of the Spirit.  We are well equipped with the Word of God.

              V.      A Good Word

At the end of Nehemiah 8, in verse 9, the people have heard the word of God, they have been cut by the double-edged sword of God, their thoughts and attitudes of the heart have been judged.  And the people are weeping.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

They realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen.  But let’s look back at Nehemiah verse 2 for a second.  What day is this?  It’s the first day of the seventh month.  Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.  Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin.  Talk about opening the floodgates.  This is a holy day, a Sabbath day.  A day made for rest, a day made for feasting.  It’s a day for celebration.  Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

            VI.      Conclusion

Celebrate that we have read the Word, that we are on a path to understand God’s unique will for us.  Nehemiah 8:10-12,

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians.  We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery?  Why should it be a bad thing to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards?  We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Instead, it should be an opportunity.  Celebrate!  With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us.  If we repent of our sin, that is great news!  That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord.  The angels rejoice at the news of our repentance.  Luke 15:10, Jesus says,

there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities.  That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated.  They went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”  So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections.  Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.”  1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.”  God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word.  If you’re not experiencing joy when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right.  Ask the Lord to help.  Go to Him in prayer and ask Him.  Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life.  Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.”  God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.  And let us sing the praises of Christ our Savior for His Word and His beautiful mercy and grace, for the joy of the Lord is our strength.

To God be the glory.

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Rebuilding the Walls

              I.      Introduction

Nehemiah 1 Rebuilding the Walls

We covered Esther in two weeks and Ezra in two weeks, like we were in a hurry.  But we’re going to slow down and spend the next several weeks in Nehemiah.  Let’s dive right in with an introduction to Nehemiah, who he is and what he’s doing.

            II.      Background History

The Jewish people had sinned and God had judged them; it was approximately 605 years before Christ.  God used Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, to invade Judah and lay siege to Jerusalem.  In 597 BC, the prophet Ezekiel (who we studied just 2 months ago), documented the pillaging of Jerusalem and the deportation of Jews to Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar installed Zedekiah as the tributary king of Judah.  However, despite Ezekiel’s warning, Zedekiah entered into an alliance with Pharoah Hophra of Egypt.  Nebuchadnezzar II responded by sacking Jerusalem a second time in 587 BC and destroying Solomon’s temple. The Jewish king Zedekiah was forced to watch his two sons executed, then the king’s eyes were put out and the king was imprisoned until his death.  The remaining healthy Jews still in the city were taken to Babylon, leaving behind only the weak, the poor, the sick.  The city of Jerusalem was raised to the ground.

Thus began the Diaspora of the Jews which continues to this day.  The Diaspora refers to Jews that live outside of the Kingdom of Judah.  Today, about 44% of the world’s Jewish population lives in Israel, the rest are the Diaspora, Jews scattered mostly in the US and Western European countries.

The Jewish people lived as servants in Babylon, and many, like Daniel, Mordecai and Esther, and Nehemiah proved themselves trustworthy and faithful.  They understood the exile as a consequence for their sins.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah

Fifty years go by, and the king of Babylon is now Cyrus the great.  In 538 BC, Cyrus’s Declaration was issued which permitted Jews to return to the land of Israel.  Then began the return to Zion, called Aliyah by the Jews, which continues to this day.

In Nehemiah’s time, there were 4 waves of Aliyah, returning to Zion, after Cyrus’s Declaration.  The prophet Ezra tell us the first Aliyah was small, approximately 1000 young Jews led by Sheshbazzar to rebuild the holy temple on the temple mount in 538 BC.  The second Aliyah was larger, later that same year, and led by Zerubbabel, and totaled nearly 50,000 people.

A third Aliyah was led by Ezra himself when Ezra was an old man, years later in 458 BC, and 5000 additional Jews returned to Zion.  Ezra strengthened religious laws and the use of the Hebrew alphabet which was critical to the identity of the Jewish people as separate and holy.

Nehemiah 1 Diaspora and Aliyah 2

The book of Nehemiah chronicles the life of Nehemiah and the fourth wave of Aliyah.  In the book of Nehemiah, chapter 1, Nehemiah identifies a mission, a service to the Lord, and we can learn much about how he learns of his mission, how he prepares for his mission, and how he executes his mission.  Let’s look at Chapter 1, and I love the way this book begins.  It identifies Nehemiah’s mission and right away how he approaches God.

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

 In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Then I said:

 “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.  Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

 I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah learns that the place of his ancestors is in poor condition and in need of help, and it moves Nehemiah to tears.  Nehemiah cried and fasted and prayed to God, and his prayer is a study on how to pray.  There is praise and worship, there is confession, there is adoration and supplication and application of scripture.  Nehemiah was a man of prayer which is also why I believe he was also a man of action.  God was with Nehemiah because Nehemiah was constantly with God.  Nehemiah did not act without praying first, and did not pray without acting.

Nehemiah is the king’s cupbearer, a position of no small importance.  Wine presented to the king would first pass through Nehemiah, who would taste the wine for signs of poison.  Nehemiah, as cupbearer, would be in nearly constant presence of the king, and so would also be an unofficial advisor with the king’s ear.

Nehemiah Hebrew Calendar

Months go by without an answer from God.  Chapter 1 says Nehemiah starts praying in the month of Kislev.  He prays throughout the month of Tevet, the month of Shvat, the month of Adar, the month of Nisan.  And in the month of Nisan, Nehemiah is in the presence of King Artaxerxes, looking sad.  The king must have been very familiar with Nehemiah’s presence, notices Nehemiah’s sad face and asks why.  Nehemiah explains that he is sad because the city of Jerusalem is in ruins.  Chapter 2, verse 4, the king said, “What is it you want?”

And again Nehemiah shows us why he is such a man of God.  He’s been praying for 4 straight months, but when he is finally in the right place, right time, in front of the king, verse 4 says Nehemiah first prayed to the God of heaven, and then answered the king.  We don’t know the content of this prayer, but by necessity it had to be a short prayer.  Maybe it was “Lord have mercy” or “Thank you O Lord” or “Lord be with me” or “Your will be done, O Lord.”  It shows that Nehemiah knows this meeting with the king is the answer to his prayer in Chapter 1, and Nehemiah is going to go to the Lord before he says or does anything.

          III.      Power of Prayer and Patience

Prayer is powerful, and I confess I do not fully understand why.  I am a flawed man, full of sin and selfish pride.  God’s judgment and wrath rightfully belongs on me for my sin, but instead, God has extended His grace to me, given me mercy by sacrificing His own son for me.  It is only because of the blood of Jesus that I can approach God and His holiness at all, and when I do approach God, God listens to me.  He cares for me.  He loves me.  And He loves it that I pray to Him.  I have nothing to offer God except me, and I only exist because God willed it. And yet, God loves prayer.  Proverbs 15:29 says,

“The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.”

And James 5:13-16 says,

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

We are only righteous because of our faith and obedience to Christ Jesus, not of our own doing.  But it pleases the Lord to answer the prayers of the righteous.

Nehemiah prayed for months.  Sometimes he prayed aloud, other times he prayed silently.  Nehemiah prayed patiently for 4 months.

How long is patience?  Is being patient waiting for 4 months?  While 4 months is a long time, you and I may have prayers that last longer than that.  I know I do, and I have unanswered prayers that go on for years.  How long is patience?  I think it’s always 1 more month.  Or 1 more year.  Or 1 more whatever.  Just keep praying.

God always answers prayer.  Sometimes the answer is “no” or maybe the answer is “not yet,” and it’s not the answer we were looking for.  But we go to God in prayer, in faith that the Creator God of the Universe can answer it.

That’s how Nehemiah prayed.  And the Lord God moved the heart of King Artaxerxes to provide all the materials necessary for Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem.  But not all were pleased to see the Lord answering prayers; Nehemiah 2:10 says,

“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.”

Even when the Lord is answering prayer, obstacles may still exist.  Often those obstacles are people, naysayers, they tell you it cannot be done or that it’s not worth doing.  Or that your God is a little god and isn’t really on your side.

But our God is an all-consuming fire.  We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  And when God is for us, who can be against it?  Nehemiah led the fourth Aliyah to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, knowing God was answering prayers.

            IV.      Twelve Gates of Jerusalem

Let’s take some time out to examine the work before Nehemiah.  He’s rebuilding the city walls for two reasons.  One is to protect the small Jewish community that returned to Jerusalem from attack; the walls had collapsed or been torn down, leaving little or no defense.  The other reason is to bring glory to God; this was city of the temple of the Lord.

You might think Nehemiah chapter 3 looks boring with its list of gates and builders.  And if you read Nehemiah 3 by itself, I might agree with you.  I’d rather watch old reruns of “home Improvement” with Tim Allen that read this old boring list of people building gates.  But you may have heard that every word of the bible is important, so let’s dig a little further and see if twelve gates of Jerusalem are described anywhere else in the bible.  If we read all the way to the end of the bible, we find the twelve gates of Jerusalem are described in Revelation 21.

Revelation 21:9-14

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.  It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.  It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.  There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.  The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

The twelve gates of the New Jerusalem have their origins in the twelve gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, and suddenly we realize that we’re not just studying Nehemiah restoring Jerusalem, but it is also a prophetic picture of God restoring His church, the spiritual City of God.  Revelation goes on to describe each door as a single pearl, but we also know that Jesus is the pearl of great price.

Revelation is written with some amazing imagery and symbolism, and the one of the keys to understanding Revelation is to understand the Old Testament picture first.   Each gate had specific meaning to Jews in their daily life, and each gate has a spiritual meaning for Christians.

Nehemiah Twelve Gates

The Sheep Gate, rebuilt by Eliashab the high priest.  The Sheep gate led to the sheep markets where lambs were sold for sacrifice in the Temple.  The gate also led to Golgotha, the path Jesus walked to His crucifixion.  For Christians, the Sheep Gate is the first gate into our lives, where we accept Jesus as the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus is the door by which everyone must enter to be saved.  And if we read all the way to the end of Nehemiah 3, the last gate mentioned is the Sheep Gate.  We’ve come full circle around the walls of Jerusalem, and realize that everything starts and ends with Jesus’ death on the cross.  Jesus is our high priest that restores our relationship with the Lord.

It’s interesting to me that when Eliashab rebuilt the Sheep Gate, Nehemiah 3 says they “dedicated it and set its doors in place.”  Every other door we’re going to study says they rebuilt their gate and set the doors and bolts and bars in place.  The Sheep Gate has no locks on it.  The sacrifice of Jesus is always open to every sinner, and access to the other gates is impossible without first accepting Jesus.

Also, look how much work Eliashab did rebuilding the Sheep Gate.  They went as far as the Tower of the Me’ah or the Tower of the One Hundred and to the Tower of Hananel which means “God’s mercy.”  Remember when Jesus said if a shepherd loses a sheep, he’ll leave the other 99 and go look for it?  Between the Tower of God’s Mercy and Jesus looking for His lost sheep, God is calling to us.  And we’re 3 verses into this list of gates and builders and we realize there is great meaning in this list of gates and builders.  The Sheep Gate is the Gate of Salvation.

Next to the Sheep Gate is the Fish Gate where merchants brought fish to the fish market.  Jesus told Peter, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  After receiving the Lamb of God through the Sheep Gate, God begins to use us to reach other unbelievers.  The Fish Gate represents the Gate of Witnessing, of spreading the message.  And if you look at verse 5, the fish gate was “repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work. “  Jesus didn’t come to spread the good news to the rich, but was born in a manger, among the common people.  During the ministry of Jesus, He gave us many warnings how wealth can hinder our walk with Him.  Whether rich or poor, the message is for everybody.

The third gate is the Jeshanah Gate which means the Old Gate.   This is where elders of the city would meet to discuss important matters and issue judgments on disputes.  God’s truth never changes, it’s as old as time itself.  Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  And the wisdom of our elders should be respected.  Let’s call this gate a Gate of Foundation.  I started thinking of it as the Gate of the Old Testament.

The Valley Gate led out to two main valleys that divided Jerusalem.   To the west was the Hinnom Valley.  The Ammonites had built an altar here to Molek and sacrificed children by fire.  Josiah rendered the valley ceremonially unclean by spreading human bones over it in 2 Kings 23.  The name itself “Ge Hinnom” is also used for hell itself, the Lake of Fire.  The other valley is Kidron that Jesus crossed to go to the Garden of Gethsemane.  In 1st and 2nd Kings, this valley was used to burn pagan altars and images during the cleansings of Jerusalem.  The Valley Gate is a Gate of Suffering for Spiritual Growth, as Jesus showed us the night before his crucifixion.  But though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

The Dung Gate.  Yuck.  The garbage of the city was taken out of this gate.  Notice it also leads to the unclean Hinnom valley.  It represents the sin in our lives.  But the blood of Jesus cleanses us of all sin if we just accept Him.  Then we can place all of our sin and shame at the feet of Jesus, whose blood cleanses us of all sin.

The Fountain Gate, primary access to the Gihon Spring, the sole source of water to Jerusalem.  All of the fountains like the Pool of Shiloah were fed from this spring.  What do you think this represents to us?  Jesus is the Fountain of Living Water.  If anyone is thirsty, let them come to Him and drink.

The Water Gate is the 7th gate, and 7 is the Bible number for perfection.  This gate needed no repair.  The water symbolizes the washing by the Holy Spirit.  Later, in Nehemiah 8, Ezra will stand in front of the Water Gate and read from the Book of the Law to the people.

The Horse Gate, where the King’s chariot passed through.  In the bible, the horse represents both discipline (James 3:3) and warfare (Zechariah 10:3).  Make no mistake, we are in a spiritual battle, for which we must put on the full Armor of God.

The East Gate is also called the Golden or Beautiful Gate and it symbolizes the return of our Messiah and waiting on the Lord.  In Zechariah 14:4 it says, “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south.”  The week before His crucifixion, Jesus spent each night on the Mount of Olives . Each morning he would enter through the East Gate.  He later ascended to heaven from the Mount of Olives and will return the same way He left. At that time He will again pass through the East Gate into the city of Jerusalem.

The Miphkad Gate.  Miphkad apparently is a difficult word to translate, it means meeting place, muster point, appointment, numbering in a census, or inspection.   Appointed Place or Inspection seems the best translation, and this is the final gate before the entrance to the Temple.  It is the place where God calls his people together at the final judgment.

The other two gates are mentioned later in Nehemiah.  The Ephraim Gate is described in Nehemiah 12 and was associated with the Feast of Tabernacles which is God’s feast for the harvest of the last days.  It means “Doubly Fruitful” and could refer to “Jew and Gentile” or “Earthly and Heavenly”.

Prison Gate, in Act 12 Peter is led by an angel through this gate.  All wickedness will be judged, and only those who have accepted Christ Jesus as their advocate escape punishment.

The order of the twelve gates represents our spiritual growth. We begin at the Sheep Gate by the forgiveness of our sins by the sacrifice of our Savior.  We become fishers of men at the Fish Gate and tell everybody about the Christ Jesus.  The Old Gate is our foundation of our faith, the Valley Gate is our purification.  The Dung gate is the rejection of our old life and sinful ways.  The Fountain Gate as we drink from the Living Water of Christ Jesus, the washing of our sins by the Holy Spirit at the Water Gate.  We put on the full Armor of God at the Horse gate to stand ready to fight the spiritual battles.  We await the return of our Messiah at the East Gate.  The final Miphkad Gate is a gathering of God’s people at the final judgment for eternal life, paid for by the blood of Jesus at the Sheep Gate.

              V.      Conclusion

The diaspora of God’s people.  We have been separated from God by our sins.  The Aliyah of God’s people.  We return to the Lord, our sins paid for by the blood of the Christ.  We are patient and prayerful until His final return, we gather for an eternity with Him inside the Twelve Gates of the New Jerusalem.

Revelation 21 again, verse 1:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

When will this day come, the day of our resurrection and dwelling in New Jerusalem forever?  We must continue to pray and be patient, for however long “patient” lasts.  The day will come when I will stand with you, my brothers and sisters, inside the walls of the New Jerusalem and sing the praises of Christ our Savior.

Nehemiah New Jerusalem

To God be the glory.

Rededicating Lives

Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise.

The bible is full of interesting, life-changing information. For instance, we know that Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. Adam gave Eve a rib; Eve gave Adam an apple, then made a wonderful marinated BBQ ribs out of apple sauce. This is found in the book of Guinness.

After the book of Guiness comes the book of Exodus. The Israelites became upset with the Egyptians because the Pharaoh made them make their beds without straw. Then Moses led the Israelites to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Later, Moses went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments which were also known as manners from heaven. Sadly, Moses died before ever reaching Canada, which Joshua conquered during the battle of Geritol.

After the book of Exodus is the book of Laxatives which tells us what we can and cannot eat. Lunch today is at Thai Spice Buffett, by the way.

I know this was silly but the reason it’s silly is because, at least in these examples, we know what the bible really says. But the bible is a big book. Do you know what it really says?

God shows his glory in many ways, through the wonders of the heavens to the tiny miracle in a simple leaf of grass. The wonders we see tell us there is a God – but a leaf of grass cannot tell us “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” or “first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” God speaks to us through his Word, God-breathed through men as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

If you don’t know the Word yourself, then you can be easily misled. Let me ask you some questions and see how you do. Let’s take a little quiz –

Question 1: House and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from
a) patience
b) God
c) man’s labor.
(Answer: Proverbs 19:14, Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a good wife comes from the Lord.)

Question 2: Christians are persecuted but not
a) depressed
b) suffering
c) abandoned.
(Answer: 2 Corinthians 4:9, Persecuted but not abandoned).

Question 3: Which phrase originated in the bible?
a) Make hay while the sun shines
b) Eat, drink, and be merry
c) In the nick of time.
(Answer: Luke 12:19, Eat drink and be merry. Taken out of context, by the way.)

Question 4: Which expression originated in the bible?
a) fly in the ointment
b) rule of thumb
c) dyed in the wool.
(Answer: Ecclesiastes 10:1, fly in the ointment.)

Question 5: Which expression is *not* in the bible?
a) Money is the root of all evil
b) God helps those who help themselves
c) without rhyme or reason.
(A: Actually none of those are in the bible.)

If you don’t know what’s in the bible, how do you know what God says? How do you know if a preacher is telling the truth? If a preacher tells you to turn to Matthew 27:5, “Judas went and hanged himself,” then tells you to turn to Luke 10:37, “Jesus says, “Go and do likewise,” will you follow the scripture as told to you by man?

I like Dr. Young; he teaches from the bible, relies heavily on scripture. He preaches on joy, responsibility, peace, promises from God. How many of you have ever read of Fred Phelps? If you have a weak constitution, don’t google him. He, too, preaches from the bible, but a completely different message. Fred Phelps says Jesus only died for those who believe. John 3:16, “”For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” He says that “God loves everyone” is the greatest lie ever told and backs it up with scripture about they type of people God hates. He and his church of about 100 people protest at the funerals of soldiers, saying it is their duty to warn others of God’s anger. President Bush recently signed “the Respect for America’s Fallen Heroes Act” which prevent protest within 300 feet of cemetery from 60 minutes before to 60 minutes after a funeral because of Fred Phelps. Fred Phelps runs a website targeting homosexuals as the worthy of God’s wrath and that the world is doomed because of them. He and his church have been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Who is right, Dr. Young or Fred Phelps? And how do you know since they both quote scripture? When I first became a Christian, I read a lot of Max Lucado books. I found his books inspiring and comforting. But I realized I wasn’t relying on God’s Word – I was relying on what somebody else said God was saying. Why would I think Max is a better source for what God says than God Himself is? The only way to discern between truth and lies is to go directly to God for the answers.

In the book of Nehemiah – oh, yes, we’re studying the book of Nehemiah today. Last week Fred located our place in history – after the relocation from Babylon, after laying the foundation of the temple, and brought us up to rebuilding the walls for protection and how stressed out that made Nehemiah. And now it’s the next day.

The Israelites have had some tough times. They have repeatedly over the last few hundred years demonstrated disobedience to God, and God’s wrath brings them back to righteousness. The destruction of Jerusalem had taught them the importance of obeying God, and the struggles of rebuilding the walls of the city had reinforced this lesson. God’s people were learning the importance of God’s Word.

Now, the Old Testament was not yet complete in Nehemiah’s time. The first 5 books – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were the only books recognized at the time as divine revelation. To the Israelites, the heart of the events in these 5 books were God’s description of Himself, such as Exodus 34:6-7, “And [God] passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” God’s judgment, wrath, redemption, and laws all flow naturally from God’s own character. The Hebrew word for “law” is torah, and it comes from a verb that means “to throw or shoot.” The idea is that the torah comes from a higher authority, a memo from the boss like “Please note our business hours are from 8am to 5pm. Be at your desk and ready to work by 8:00am or you’re fired.” That sort of torah. The torah can be used for teaching, for instruction, or decisions, from raising children to how to get along with your neighbor. Some of these legal codes were very general in nature, like the Ten Commandments. They are very broad, apply to everyone, and no specific penalty or consequence is attached. Some are very specific, like jaywalking, and applied the Ten Commandments to a specific case and the penalty that goes with it.

In the eight chapter of Nehemiah, Israelites were concerned they would repeat the mistakes of their ancestors, and consequently God’s written Word had become quite important. Without knowing God’s word, they were doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. In our time, the bible is the best selling book ever, every year. At least 20 million bibles are sold every year in the US alone. Worldwide sales of the top 8 best selling bibles sell well over 100 million bibles a year. Then add the bible distributed freely and for missions – the Gideons distribute 70 million bibles every year, and the Bible Society, biblesociety.org, distributes nearly 400 million bibles or portions of the bible every year.

But in Nehemiah’s time, there was no way to mass produce the torah. No neighborhood Kinko’s. Scripture was copied by hand onto expensive parchment scrolls and took years to produce a single copy. So how do you get the word out to all of God’s people?

Nehemiah 8:1, I almost got distracted from the lesson when I was working on Nehemiah 8:1. This book starts in the middle of a sentence. The first half of the sentence ends at the bottom of Nehemiah 7. Must be an English translation thing. Let’s read Nehemiah 8:1-3

all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Notice that it was the people asking Ezra to read the scripture. They had been in captivity for 70 years and public speaking of the Word was probably prohibited. They were eager to hear what God had to say. “All the people assembled as one man” shows the unity and reverence of the people for the law. This was important stuff! If you don’t want a smiting from the Lord again, better find out why the Lord has been smiting! Ezra brought the Law of Moses out to the people and conducted a great bible reading from sunup to noon, at least 5 hours straight, and all the people, those who were able to understand, listened attentively.

Can you imagine standing and listening to the bible for 5 hours straight? I could teach for 5 hours straight, I think, and the miracle is that all of you will live forever. Or at least it’ll seem that way to you.

The value of listening to the Word of God for 5 hours straight is enormous. I demonstrated earlier how scripture can be extracted piecemeal to prove almost any point you want, but when the scripture is read continuously in a long session, the biblical context is clear. We are untainted by somebody else’s vision, we hear God’s word directly, we can get a better understanding of why a particular sentence exists, and we have a better understanding of how to apply it to our lives. This is powerful. Hebrews 4:12 says the word of God is active, sharper than a two edged sword. It opens our heart and lays bare our soul before God. It exposes our sin to the Lord, it convicts us. We cannot make excuses to the Lord for a selfish sin we want to keep when we read God’s word directly into our hearts. We begin to see our own sinful actions laid bare next to God’s perfect Word. Do we justify lust to ourselves? Is it ok for us men to ogle other women, is it harmless? Is a little flirting with the opposite sex ok as long as nothing comes of it? Is it ok for a woman to explain to her husband what he’s doing wrong, to criticize him, to use her tongue as a whip, after all, she’s just trying to make her husband a better person. The answer to both of these questions is in here, the bible. We can justify it to ourselves that we’re good decent people, we cannot justify it God. He does not entertain our excuses; He judges and He convicts in His loving and perfect way.

The people gathered near the Water Gate which was on the southeastern side of Jerusalem, between the temple mount and the Gihon spring. If the reading of the Word was held in the temple, Mosaic Law limited entrance to the inner court to men. The people gathered outside so men, women, and the older children could hear and understand. Previously, worship consisted almost entirely of sacrificial worship to the Lord, but during the rebuilding of the temple, a new form of worship began that consisted of public reading and teaching of scripture. The location outside the temple emphasizes that the people needed to understand that faithful obedience in daily life was far more important than mere attendance at temple services and offering sacrifices. Sacrificial worship, of course, still took place, but the addition of reading and teaching enabled people to realize the true nature of scripture. Scripture originates with God, not man. The people referred to the first five books as the Law of Moses, but they believed God had given them to Israel. 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 says the bible is God-breathed, inspired by God, and did not come about because of man’s will. Through scripture, God speaks to humanity and reveals Himself to us. This was true in Nehemiah’s time and it’s true today.

Nehemiah 8:4-5 describes the scene and the amount of preparation they put into it. A high wooden platform was built specially for the occasion, and Ezra the scribe stood on it surrounded by 13 men. This allowed Ezra’s voice to project farther and clearer. Ezra opens the torah parchment in full view of all the people, and all the people stood up in reverence. Before reading, Ezra praises God, our Father, the Lord Almighty, and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then the people bowed down with their faces to the ground and worshipped the Lord.

In preparation for hearing the Word, the people first lifted their hands. The lifting of the hands was symbolic during prayer; in Ezra and Psalms 28:2, lifting of the hands symbolized their dependence on God to supply all their needs.

Second, the worshippers said a double “amen.” Sometimes I hear preachers use “amen” like a question. “We’re all going to attend Wednesday night service, amen?” That irritates me; “amen” has a particular meaning that the preacher is misusing. And if he’s misusing a single word, is he misusing the rest of the bible? The Greek Old Testament usually translates “amen” to mean, “So be it” or “truly.” The Jews are taught that “Amen” means “God who is trustworthy.” It’s a statement that this is perfect truth. Jesus refers to Himself in Revelation as “the Amen, the faithful and true witness.” Amen is not a word to be taken lightly. The worshippers said a double amen because they recognized they were going to hear the truth of the Lord firsthand, and they were acknowledging their responsibility to obey the Word they were about to hear.

Thirdly, they bowed down and worshipped with their face toward the ground. People bowed before rules, before kings, to show their submission to one in authority. They recognized God’s authority over them.

In verse 7 & 8, the people are ready to receive God’s Word. Ezra is up high on the platform where everybody can see. The Levitical priests are among the crowd, and as Ezra reads the Word, the priests repeat the Word, then help make the Word clear to the people. “Do you understand?” Sort of like in Acts 8 where the apostle Philip meets the Ethiopian eunuch and asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

After hearing the Word, let’s look at verse 9,

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Q: Why do you suppose the people were weeping after hearing the Law read to them?

The people, upon hearing the Word, realize that they have been disobedient to God. The light of the Word does that, it shines on our sin, revealing it. Once it is revealed, we can repent. Too often we try to do it the other way around – we try to repent first, and then come to God. But we need to see our sin as God sees our sin, not as we would like to see our own sin. We sort of scrub ourselves up a little and think we’re clean, but we can still grow potatoes behind our ears. The Word of God shines into places in our soul we can’t reach on our own.

You know that song they sing at 11:11, “Come Just As You Are?” That’s the way God wants us to come, dirty sins and all. You can’t clean yourself up good enough to get to heaven. Bring your sins to God, confess them, and God will give you the strength and wisdom to clean you. God will do a much better job of cleaning your soul than you can do on your own.

God has a plan for each and every one of us. The plan God has for you is unique; the plan God has for me is unique. To find the unique plan God has for you, you have to read and ask your own tough questions. And when you read God’s plan for you, you cannot help but realize that you’re not quite measuring up to God’s standard. In fact, we’re downright disobedient sometimes. When questioned, we’re all quick to say, “Oh, I’m not perfect.” We’re dismissive of it, it’s no big deal. Well, ok, so how, precisely, are you imperfect? How are you being disobedient, how are you missing the mark God has planned for you? What is your sin? Don’t trivialize it. Recognize it. No matter how small the sin is, it offends God. If you’re not sure what sin you have, as Dr. Young says, just guess. You’ll probably get it right the first time.

So Nehemiah’s people are upset, crying, weeping, as they realize how far short of God’s will they had fallen. But let’s look back at verse 2 for a second. What day is this? It’s the first day of the seventh month. Let’s hop over to Leviticus 23:23-25, which describes the Feast of Trumpets:

The LORD said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the LORD by fire.’ “

First they were weeping because they were convicted of their sin; now they find out even the weeping on this particular day is a sin. Talk about opening the floodgates. This is a holy day, a Sabbath day. A day made for rest, a day made for feasting. It’s a day for celebration. Sort of like crying on Christmas, it’s just not right.

I think this is reflective of how we should live as Christians. We should read the bible to be convicted of our sin – but why should this conviction lead to misery? Why should it a bad things to discover something in ourselves that doesn’t meet God’s standards? We know already that we are not perfect, so why should imperfection make us weep?

Question: What is the value in confessing our sins? Why does God think confessing our sins is important?

Instead, it should be an opportunity. Celebrate! With the Lord’s guidance, our sin has been revealed to us. If we repent of our sin, hurray! That’s a step towards righteousness, a better person for the Lord. Instead of being upset that we’re not perfect, praise the Lord that He has revealed our iniquities. That’s just what the Israelites did – they celebrated. Look at verse 12, “Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.” So rejoice at the Word of God that shows us our imperfections. Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice.” 1 John 1:4, “And these things we write unto you, that your joy may be full.” God doesn’t want you to have a little fun, He wants you to have a whole lot of fun reading and studying His word. If you’re not having fun when you read the bible, something isn’t quite right. Ask the Lord to help. Go to Him in prayer and ask Him. Say, “Lord, I want your Word to bring joy to my life. Show me why I am not joyful, remove whatever keeps me from joy when I study your word.” God will answer that prayer when you are honestly praying to God for His will in your life.

In Nehemiah 9, two and a half weeks later, the people returned to assemble together. They spent the day fasting to help them become attuned to God speaking to them. They wore sackcloth as a sign of humility, like wearing uncomfortable burlap against your bare skin. They put dust on their heads, which was a sign of mourning, they way we wear black at funerals. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. They did not blame their fathers for their trouble, but acknowledging that sins are passed from one generation to another. The children duplicate the sins their fathers taught them, and it’s passed from generation to generation until either repentance or judgment comes.

The people were serious about their study. This wasn’t a half hour bible study that has to last us for a week. They read from the bible for three hours, then spent the next 3 hours confessing their sins and worshipping the Lord. “Blessed be your glorious name,” they praised Him.

Now starting in Nehemiah 9, verse 6, they recap the entire bible. You want the Cliff Notes version of the Old Testament, here it is. From creation to Abraham to the exodus out of Egypt and the miracles against the Pharoah, just read Nehemiah 9, you get all the headlines. And then to summarize, they give praise to God for His mercy and judgment. In verse 38, they make a binding agreement and put it in writing, and all the leaders signed it; they’re all listed in Nehemiah 10. I’m not going to read these names, but they’re impressive. Perhaps if you or a relative is going to have a baby, I could recommend one of these names, like Meshullam or Shebeniah. In Nehemiah 10:28, the rest of the people signed a binding agreement:

“The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand- all these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord.”

My, all of this from reading the bible. These were God’s chosen people, but they realized how far short of the mark they had fallen.

Question: Why is rededication to God sometimes necessary?

Ponder something for a moment: what sort of covenant do you have with God? If you sat down and penned a letter to God with the promises you make to the almighty Creator, what sort of things would you promise to do? What sort of things would you promise not to do? Would you be willing to write it down on a piece of paper? “Dear Lord, I promise to… Dear Lord, I promise not to… “. And then sign your name to it? People sign up for a lot of things – a lease on their apartment, a loan on a car – and then they sign their name to it. What sort of changes do you need to make in your life to align your life with God’s will? What sort of promise are you willing to make to God?

The Israelites read the bible and were filled with the Word of God. They realized they were hypocrites, claiming to be good people while sinning against the Lord. They wept and mourned and were convinced of their sin. They rejoiced and celebrated that the Lord was with them and He was merciful to them in their sin. They praised God, they studied some more, and they made a personal promise to God to obey the Lord, all the commands and decrees. And then they signed their name to it, Amen. Consider this week doing the same. Read. Study. Mourn. Celebrate. Repent. Promise. Then, write a letter to the Lord and sign your name to it. I recommend placing this letter in your bible, right here in Nehemiah 10, where you’ll eventually read it again. See how the Lord will work in your life.