The book of Hebrews is a masterful document written to Jewish people in the first century who were evaluating Jesus or struggling with this new faith. Judaism expressed true worship and devotion to God. The commandments and rituals along with the prophets described God’s promises and revealed the way to forgiveness and salvation. But what was needed was the understanding when Jesus came he came fulfilling the law and the prophets, conquering sin, shattering all barriers to God, and freely providing eternal life to all who believe in Him. This message was difficult for many Jewish people to accept. Even though they had looked for the Messiah for centuries it was hard to change their thinking and traditional forms of worship. These chapters carefully explain that Jesus completes the hope of Israel, that Chirst is the superior high priest and is sufficient for our salvation. Interestingly, we do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we do know that it was written before A.D. 70 when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed which brought an end to the Jewish sacrficial system. (NIV Audio Bible)
Vs. 3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” I love how the author of Hebrews doesn’t waste anytime with getting to the point about who Jesus is. While God has spoken to us through the various ways in the past…it all comes together with Jesus. We are also reminded of angels…and while they have their place in God’s will, Jesus is far superior to angels. In this chapter, there are seven Old Testament passages to expound on why Jesus is superior.
Regarding application…Eternal. Vs. 11, “They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.” “They” meaning the earth and all that is in it. We live in a world where we are beginning to realize how temporary our possessions are. As most of you know, the whole world economy is suffering. People are losing their homes, people are losing their finances, people are even losing their loves ones…but we as Christians must have an eternal perspective. It definitely would behoove us to not put our satisfaction on worldly things. In fact, those who tend to lose everything from disasters realize how important the other things are…health and loved ones! Of course, that’s easy to say…but hopefully if our faith is tested, we will pass! Take some time to appreciate your loved ones today!
***We will go back to the NT book of Hebrews tomorrow***
Vs. 6-7, “But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God.” During the time between chapter 12 and 13…Nehemiah returned to Persia. But while he was gone, some disaapointing events transpired. God’s people were to be seperated from the foreigners, but they allowed the negative influences of the enemy to infiltrate their ranks. Also, the Eliashib, the high priest was allowing Tobiah (He was one of the men who had tried to keep the wall from being rebulit) to live in one of the rooms of the temple. Another concern were the people’s disobedience to the Sabbath by working and gaining profit on the day of rest. Nehemiah would also have to contend with the marrying of foreigners…he took swift action and no one was above the law.
Regarding application…Supporting Ministry. Vs. 10, “I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.” The Levites who served in the temple were not being supported enough, therefore they had to work in the fields. Brothers & Sisters, this is a nice wake up call for all of us…no matter what age you may be. The people had promised to support the ministry of the temple, but failed in doing so. Tithing and giving can be a litmus test to our spirituallity. When we are walking with the Lord, we give generously to His ministry. Tithing biblically is giving 10%…Abraham gave a tenth to Melchizedek, Jacob vowed 10% to God, etc. In the New Testament, tithing is mentioned eight times, but all of those times refer to the Old Testament or the Jewish practices of that time. While we are not commanded to tithe, the New Testament does exhort us to give generously (I Cor. 16:1-3, II Cor. 8-9).
Just like in Old Testament times, God’s people and ministry needed to be supported…and that hasn’t changed to this day. I myself adhere to giving 10% gross (before taxes). Financially, it is really hard to give above that at this time. But we are to give with joy and do our part in supporting the local churches and beyond. Praise God if we can give above and beyond that. All that we have doesn’t belong to us anyways, so why not give both monetarily and serving?
Vs. 27, “At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.” The walls were completed, the people moved in and now it was a time for celebration! They celebrated on the walls for that was a testimony to God’s protection. As I was reading the specific details of dedication…it it just awesome to comprehend. I hope God will show us a replay of some of these events that transpired in the Bible! I wonder what the music and choir sounded like…it must have been so beautiful! The enemy tried to keep these walls down, but God’s people endured and prevailed!
Regarding application…Being Heard. Vs. 43, “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” There was so much rejoicing that the rest of the surrounding land heard from far away. This reminds me of when A.J. was telling me she could hear fireworks going off every night at her school in Chapman. Chapman is close to Disneyland…and so all neighborhood gets to hear it and some see it every night. The fireworks at Disney is a celebration as all the tourists get to put a final exclamation point on a magical day at Disney. There’s a good chance that some of the neighbors of Disney probably don’t like to hear all the commotion and noise every night. But the point is…everyone is so happy at Disney that they can’t help but celebrate. If we could harness even a small amount of rejoicing and awe at our churches every Sunday, than perhaps the world would hear and be intrigued to see what causes such joy.
Vs. 1, “Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns.” They certainly did things different back then, huh? It was important that Jerusalem be fully inhabited to help protect and grow the city they had rebuilt. Some casted lots while other volunteered. The people had tithed 10% and now the people were literally being tithed to the city. Imagine if 10% of Christians went forth into the world specifically to do God’s will (make disciples)…because that was essentially those who obeyed the casting of lots did. They were doing God’s will.
Regarding application…Volunteering. Vs. 2, “The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.” I think it’s safe to say we probably don’t do enough volunteering in our own lives. Yes, perhaps some of them were very excited to join the city of Jerusalem and relocate…but there were those who were commended because they were willing to volunteer to do God’s will. While it’s important to serve the community, volunteer for different charity organziations, help schools, etc…I believe there is a gross negligence on our (Christians) part when it comes to volunteering to the church. Many go to church to be served…not to serve. The church I currently go to (The Promise) has been such a blessing because there were a select amount of people that chose/volunteered to move and relocate churches to do God’s will. It’s not easy work and the weekends can be long with volunteer ministry, but what a blessing it is to see.
Vs. 29, “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.” It was time to stop talking and start walking. Eighty-four names (priests, Levites, and other leaders) headed up this list of people who put their oath in this covenant. These names represented their families as well. This was to not be taken lightly and it most definitely was the of the utmost importance. Bear in mind, this was an Old Testament practice and doesn’t necessarily apply to our time today.
Regarding application…Promises. “We don’t succeed as Christians because we make promises to God, but because we believe the promises of God and act upon them.” – Warren Wiersbe. Thankfully, the success of our Christian lives do not depend upon our ability to keep an oath/promise. If it did, all of us would certainly be failures. I think of how the book of James exhorts us not to boast about what we will be doing in the future. We can’t make too many promises because we don’t know our future. We can make every effort and do our best to achieve a goal, but it would be perhaps wise to not not make binding promises in our lives today. We live on God’s promises not our promises.
Vs. 33, “In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.” While their was a time of joy, there was also a time of repentance among the people. The Word of God convicted their hearts as they reflected upon all that God had done for them over the centuries. Ezra gives in incredible account of history of God’ people. It’s amazing that ¼ of the day (about 3 hours in Jewish time) was spent in reading the Word and another ¼ of the day in confession and worship. When they took the time to reflect upon their past, they couldn’t help but confess.
Regarding application…Abounding Love. Vs. 17b, “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.” It’s amazing when we read how often they failed God, yet his abounding love would hold steadfast. But I would venture to say we have our own times of wilderness and captivity when we introspectively look at our own lives. Our friends David & Nancy just had their baby this past week and our pastor and his wife are expecting in July…I’m not yet a parent, but I would venture this is the closest example we will ever get to understanding what abundant love is. Those of you who are parents can probably agree and those of you who are not, take sometime to appreciate the love that your parents have given you. Thankfully, we even have a better example in our Lord Jesus!
Vs. 5, “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 comes to join Nehemiah upon completion of the walls. This was also the Jewish equivalent of New Years and the seventh month included the Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles all celebrated for what God had done and is doing in their lives. I love this passage and the reverence given to God’s holy Word as the people stand to hear Ezra read from it. We are a short attention spanned society these days, notice how he preached for hours and days and the people attentively listened. Many of the people didn’t have the Scripture in their homes, so this was very exciting for them. Most of us have multiple Bibles and some collecting dust in our homes.
Regarding application…Weeping. Vs. 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.” Why did they weep? Because in this passage there are several times it states they understood. They wept because they understood what the Scriptures were telling them, they understood their past and what brought them here, they understood they were sinners before God. One of the former Presidents of Multnomah Bible College was Joe Aldrich (who just passed away yesterday). His last year was my first year at Bible College. This man taught many of us how impactful the Word of God is. He would preach weekly at our school’s devotional times and it was something we all looked forward to. Without a doubt, I would say well over half the students would be crying at everyone of his messages. It wasn’t that they were all sad or depresssing messages, it was that Joe Aldrich had such a reverence and love for the Word and it was so powerfully conveyed to us. Over the years, I find myself weeping and crying far more often than I did was a in my early twenties. As the years go by in our lives, the magnitude of God’s Word grows ever more sweeter in our hearts. Amen!
Vs. 1, “After the wall had been rebuilt and I had set the doors in place, the gatekeepers and the singers and the Levites were appointed.” Praise God for the walls were now complete. Like any good leader, Nehemiah would spend this time delegate all the responsibilities out to others. Nehemiah would turn over the leadership to two Godly men in his brother Hanani and Hanaiah. While it may be boring to read the list of names and numbers in the rest of the chapter, it is important that we understand its significance. Genealogies help link the past, but it also helps link the future for the coming Messiah. Each person was counted and important.
Regarding application…Letting Go. Vs. 2, “I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.” Nehemiah was a great leader who had many of the qualities we look for; brave, courageous, strong, fearless, etc. He could have easily allowed his reputation and significance go to his head. But he was willing to let go of that which he helped build. He was able to do this because he realized it was not truly him, but God who was working through him. Those who know me realize that this is not an easy application for me. It’s hard for me to let go and not be in control. Whether it is mundane things or as serious as leaving a ministry of over a decade, my human side of me feels like I should always be a part of it. But that’s where God reminds me that we have the body of Christ for a reason. Let me illustrate…say your child is dangling on a cliff held up only by a rope that you are grasping onto. It’s up to you to pull your child up to safety…but all of the sudden you are asked to help nearby with something else and another person comes to state they will be one who will take over for you. I don’t know about you, but that would be really hard to do. Yet, as extreme as that example is…sometimes I feel like that is what God asks us to do. We must trust in His ways and others that come into our lives. We must learn to let go and let God do His will.
Vs. 2, “Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me.” What a fascinating chapter in seeing a glimpse of the schemes the enemy attempts to use. The ridicule seemed to not work, so the enemy tried some different tactics. Nehemiah was discerning enough to say no, but the enemy would continue to send the same message unti they realized it wasn’t working. On the fifth message they (Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, etc.) concocted an outright lie stating they knew that Nehemiah was planning on becoming King. But Nehemiah would stay resolute and not allow the distractions of the enemy. But, here is where it gets interesting…the enemy would employ one of Nehemiah’s own in Shemaiah to convince him his life was in danger and to flee to the safety of God’s temple. The magnitude of this scheme was to discredit Nehemiah (vs. 13) and therefore crush any hope and strength God’s people were gaining as the completion was near. Even after the walls were completed, the enemy would continue to try to intimidate Nehemiah.
Regarding application…Courage. Vs. 11, “But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Or should one like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go!” I love it! Nehemiah was a courageous person who would not allow lies & intimidation to hinder him from God’s work. Nehemiah knew God’s law well enough to know that going into the temple was against the law (Num. 3:10)…but in the face of fear, he could have easily made justifications. Jesus is both a picture of the Lion and the Lamb. And in this instance, like Nehemiah…we are to have the courage of a Lion. I recently saw “The Wizard of Oz” again and the comical relief is the cowardly lion. It’s a oxymoron. It seemed ludicrous that a lion would be scared of the little dog ToTo….but the Lion had forgotten what he was made of. While we are to be followers and dependant on the Shepherd, we are also to be as courageous as Lions in the heat of battle.
Vs. 3, “Others were saying, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” An all too familiar scenario as we face our own economic crises. There was not enough food to feed the people and loans & taxes were too high. Inflation was increasing and the rich were getting richer while the poor were getting poorer. Usury is the act of lending money an an incredibly high rate…i.e. credit cards of today. Nehemiah was a good leader and helped to change their economic crisis.
Regarding application…Exploitation. Vs. 10, “I and my brothers and my men are also lending the people money and grain. But let the exacting of usury stop!” It isn’t that the economic crisis was a horrible sin, it was how God’s people were treating each other. They were exploiting each other for personal gain. Money lenders were lending at rates so high that people couldn’t afford it and they were losing their land, possession, and even selling their children into slavery. Greed was taking over. Fortunately, we do not have many opportunities to ever exploit somoene, but just remember that the money God has blessed us with is not ours in the first place.