Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Arc de Triumph

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chronological Reading Plan for Sep 28, Neh 11-13

Readings for today are Neh 11-13, Psalm 126. Tomorrow's are Malachi 1-4.

Neh 11 depicts the completed re-population of the city. It started with those who descended from families who lived in the city during the time of David and re-established the continuity of the ancestral homes. Nehemiah brings them to live in the city in this order: the leaders, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers and watchers. Land was apportioned outside the city.  The workers and servers in the Temple were provided for. Those descendants of the two tribes that occupied this area previously, Judah and Benjamin, are relocated to their respective lands.

The genealogies of the priests, Levites and the High Priest are verified in Neh 12, affirming their qualifications to fill those offices. The Jews are being very careful to observe services in the Temple according to the law. The walls are dedicated during an elaborate ceremony giving thanks to God for His provision and protection. Contributions are made to support those who serve in the Temple. This will be an ongoing practice as was established when Joshua apportioned the land to the twelve tribes,

The law is read in Neh 13. In hearing the law, the people are convicted that prohibited foreigners, sworn enemies of Judah are living among them. As a result the Ammonites and Moabites are deported. Then Nehemiah leaves to go back to the king of Persia. 

Oh, oh!

While he is gone, the people backslide! Tobiah  (remember him? He was a compatriot of Shanballat, the Samaritan) is given a room to live in in the Temple, the room that was allocated to storing the tithe for the Levites and priests! The tithe ceases. Not only are people working on the Sabbath, foreign merchants are selling goods on the Sabbath, in Jerusalem, right under the noses of those left in charge! 

Nehemiah returns, chastises the leaders and begins cleaning things up. It's not easy, though. The merchants are sneaky and the people want the merchandise they sell! Furthermore, the people are intermarrying again, to the Ammonites, Moabites and Philistines (Ashdod). It's absolutely incredible.

Nehemiah struggles to clean it all up and re-establish order. He concludes by asking God to remember him. Nehemiah most likely felt alone and frustrated. Perhaps he wondered if what he was doing had any value. But, his heart was to serve the Lord and do what was right for the people, even if they did not appreciate it. The net result? Here we are, nearly 5,000 years later reading about Nehemiah's faithfulness and the shortcomings of those he served.

What Nehamiah finds upon his return is an amazing indictment of the leaders and the people of Judah, who were given such amazing grace and so easily take it for granted, slipping back into sinful behavior. Sadly, the repeating pattern of blessing-sin-grace is not over. Malachi has much to reveal about that.

Psalm 126 is a hymn of "Ascents". As you read it, imagine the dedication  of the rebuilt temple.  The people ascend the main stairway to the temple, the Southern Steps, one step at a time while reciting the psalm one line at a time. I had the opportunity to recreate this with a study group. It was an eye-opening and awesome experience.

If we see anything at all in the Old Testament, as we come to its end, we should see God's unending grace freely given to those who are unable to make themselves holy through their own efforts. The Jews are constantly blessed then fall back into sin. God incessantly rescues them, showing them grace with every stumble, refining them, never giving up on them, always being there for them, loving them, exhibiting supernatural patience with them. Lest we become judgmental of Israel, we should see that their story is our story. The same unchanging, all-powerful, loving, patient and gracious God of Israel is our God and Savior as well.

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