Review & Introduction
Once again, we are in book of Nehemiah this morning, in chapter ten, we are finally beginning to near the end of our time in this wonderful book. Last week we finished up three weeks in chapter 9. All of which shared this same title, “Confession, Renewal, and Reformation”. This morning will be the last with this title.
You’ll remember the people have gathered together on their own accord this 24th day of the month of Tishri. They separated themselves from all foreigners and assembled together with fasting and in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. For the first three hours of their gathering they read the word of God and for the next three hours they confessed their sin and worshipped the Lord, ending with the prayer that took up verses 5-37 of chapter 9. As I pointed out last week, the reason for doing this, is because they are preparing as a people, to renew their covenant with God in chapter 10. Therefore, all of this, their reverence, their putting things in proper perspective, the recounting of their history, and of their sins, and the recounting of God’s mercy and grace in discipline, is all preparatory for the renewal of the covenant beginning in verse 38 of chapter 9 and through chapter ten.
This movement towards renewal and reformation was of the utmost importance. Without it, any apparent growth and change would be quickly lost. Yes, the people have been but cut to the heart by the word, the people have been grieving over their sin, the people have great spiritual interest right now but, as James Boice said “many people have expressed sorrow for sin and acknowledged their distress without changing”.
Many sinners have wept over their sin, many sinners have trembled at the thought of eternity in hell, many sinners have, as Jesus said, have heard the word and immediately received it with joy even, but they only endure for a while, and as soon as tribulation, or persecution arises, as soon as it gets hard, immediately they fall away. There was no true lasting change. Transformation always follows justification. If there is no transformation, then there is no evidence of justification.
If this is going to be a lasting work, then there must be some transformation and reformation that follows all of this worship and confession. Right now, they are motivated and emotional, the Lord has been deeply and miraculously working in their lives. When motivation and emotions are high, spiritual reform comes rather easily.
This is one reason why every two years or so, some Christians bounce from church to church, or they go from conference to conference, constantly searching for some new spiritual experience. They are looking for some sort of external cause for motivation or emotional experience to keep them engaged. But in reality, the real work is done when both motivation and emotions are no longer there to keep you going.
Motivation is great, but its temporary. Therefore, they need to strike while the iron is hot, as Matthew Henry writes “and immediately put that good resolve in execution, when they were in a good frame, lest, if it should be delayed, it might be dropped”.
They need to strike while the iron is hot, while motivation is high, and put something in place that Lord willing, will help stay engaged once emotions and motivation wanes.
In order to move towards this end, the people make a formal commitment of renewal of the covenant with God and a formal commitment towards long-term reformation in every aspect their lives. There is no secular and sacred divide here. In a sense they are saying, as we do, All of Christ for All of Life.
We will see in this passage, first the . . .
- Presentation of the covenant in chapter 9 verse 39, second the
- Signatories of the covenant in chapter 10 verses 1-27, which include the three spheres of
- the State
- the Church
- the Family, and third we see the
- Requirements of the covenant in chapter 10 verses 28-39.
Let’s read our text. Starting in verse 38 of chapter 9.
› Read Nehemiah 9:38-10:1; 10:28-39.
1. Presentation of the Covenant
First, we see the presentation of the document in verse 38 of chapter 9. This whole event is being taken very seriously. This is about as formal of an event as you can get. We live a day where the Christian church often does not like formality in religious duties and commitments. Formality to them, ruins the spontaneity of the Holy Spirit, since to them, God only moves spontaneously. Therefore, formality quenches the Spirit. Well, the people here certainly do not share that concern and neither should we. Covenant, and the formality of it, was God’s idea, not man’s. The word is used around 280 times in the Old Testament alone.
With all of this talk on covenant, it is important to ask, what is covenant? Often times covenant is compared with or even defined as a contract of sorts, but our understanding of a “contract” falls far too short. Covenant is an important doctrine and is one that we do need to spend some time with but for this morning, a very simple definition of covenant will have to suffice. Sam Waldron defines covenant as “s sworn promise – a commitment certified by an oath.”
Doug Wilson gives a bit fuller of a definition when he defines it, he says, “A covenant is a solemn bond, sovereignly administered, between two or more persons with attendant blessings and cursings. Or put simply, covenant is the way God relates to His creatures.”
Again, a “solemn bond, sovereignly administered, between two or more persons with attendant blessings, (blessings for obedience), and attendant cursings (for disobedience).”
Israel is already in covenant with God. God made this covenant first with Abraham and the promise was to him and to his children. This “sworn promise” as says Waldron, this “solemn bond” as says Wilson, was to both Abraham and to his offspring. This covenant was renewed with the descendants of Abraham in Exodus 24 following the giving of the law.
Exodus 24:7-8 “Then he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Therefore, what we see here in Nehemiah 10 is not the people making a new covenant with God. It is not the people seeking to enter back into a covenant that they had left, rather, it was a renewal of their commitment to abide by the covenant that they were already in, as we will seen in the last half of chapter 10.
2. Signatories of the Covenant
Chapter 9 verse 38, says also that these signers were the princes, Levites, and priests. Then in chapter 10:1-27 we have listed for us all the signatories of the covenant. The signatories were to be representative of all the people. I have broken up those who signed into the three spheres of the state, the church, and the family.
First, verse 1 gives us the sphere of the state. In it we have Nehemiah, the son of Hacaliah, as governor, and Zedekiah. Zedekiah was an official who many commentators believe was also Nehemiah’s secretary.
Second, in verses 2 through 13 we have the sphere of the church. And this is given to us in two groups. The 21 names listed in verses 2 through 8 are the family names of the priests. This is followed by another 17 names of the Levites inverses 9 through 13. The priests were Levites who were also descendents of the line of Aaron. They were responsible for all of the sacrifices, offerings, and temple rights. The Levites were charged to assist the priests and to care for all of the physical needs of the temple. And both groups were to be responsible with knowing the word of God and proclaiming it to the people.
- The third and final sphere we have listed here is the sphere of the family in verses 14 through 27 with the signing of the chiefs of the people. The chiefs of the people were the elders. Not elders, as we think of in a church setting but elders of the tribes as you would think of in a patriarchal society.
These three spheres represent all of the people and are all needed if the national repentance, renewal, and reformation that has begun was going to stick.
3. Requirements of the Covenant
Starting now in verse 28 and through the rest of the chapter are the requirements of the Covenant. These requirements are nothing new. As I said just a few moments ago, this was not a new covenant, nor was this in any way an adding to the covenant. This was simply a renewal of the commitment to the covenant that had already been made. Verse 28.
› Read Nehemiah 10:28-29.
Verse 28 shows again that all the signers in the previous verses were representative of all the people. Emphasizing as well that we are speaking here about Jews, this is not all the people living in the area but those who have “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands”. In other words those who separated themselves from the pagans around them, from the gentiles who at that time were still, as Ephesians 2:11-12 says, “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”. Therefore, they separated themselves from them and notice in verse 28, not only do they separate FROM, they separate TO. They separate FROM THE PEOPLE and TO THE LAW OF GOD.
This was a return to the authority that made them stand out from the peoples around them. This was a return to the scriptures. But this was not just a return to reading the scriptures, this was not a superstitious veneration of the written texts. This was a return to OBEY the Scriptures. They were once again entering an oath just like in Exodus 24 that I quoted earlier to “walk in God’s Law, and to observe and do all the commandments of Yahweh our Lord, and his rules and his statutes.
This is followed now by what I have broken up into four areas of committed long term reformation that are necessary to remain faithful to their covenant with God. They are family reformation, vocational reformation, financial reformation, and temple reformation. The people in this covenant renewal obligated themselves to keep the whole law generally in verse 29. But have you ever noticed that it is very easy to make a general promise? General promises can be hard to measure, they can be hard to keep someone accountable to. Mankind is very slippery, and ambiguity makes promises easy to work around. Specific promises, specific commitments however can be clearly seen and measured and are therefore easier to keep someone accountable to.
The fact that they highlight these specific areas also show us that they believed these were some of the areas that needed their immediate attention.
a. Family Reformation
First, they begin with the family. Verse 30
› Read Nehemiah 10:30.
As I mentioned earlier with the people separating themselves from the peoples of the lands, this was not a racially motivated commitment , rather this was a religiously motivated commitment. Foreign wives are what turned the wisest man to every live’s heart away from the Lord. 1 Kings 11:1-4 “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods . . . ”
This was a major problem for Israel throughout their history, it is what caused thousands to die at Baal Peor in the book of Numbers, it was an issue that Ezra had to deal with in the book of Ezra a few years earlier and it is still an issue that Nehemiah will have to deal with in a couple of chapters. But again the motivation here was so that the hearts of the people would not turn from God. We have this same command repeated in the New Testament in 2 Corinthians 6:14 “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
It is important to note, as James Boice says in his commentary, that
“There is a reason the defense of godly families comes first in this list of concerns: the family is the basic unit of society, godly or otherwise. In fact, all great social institutions have come from it. The home was the original seat of education, the first school. So grammar and high schools, colleges, universities, and other kinds of training centers owe their existence to this basic family function. The home was the first hospital. Indeed, for centuries it was the only place for the care of the sick and dying. All medical facilities owe their existence to the home. So also with government. Patriarchal societies, monarchies, and democracies have developed from the home. The significance of this is that if the family stands, society will stand. But if the family is destroyed, the nation will deteriorate rapidly.
It works the other way too. When a culture goes into moral decline, the family structure grows weak. This is why Communist and other revolutionary governments have been so anxious to weaken or destroy the family, setting children against parents and sometimes physically separating children, husbands, and wives. They know that the family is a strong unit of its own and that if they can destroy it, they will have greater success in building a correspondingly strong allegiance to the state. It is also why Christians must defend the family, in spite of many contemporary attempts to tear it down. We must do it for the good of our country and for Christianity itself.”
b. Vocational Reformation
The second area of reform is vocational reform.
› Read Nehemiah 10:31.
If we are going to truly seek to live all of life for the glory of God, then that will impact every area of our life. And this should be especially seen in our work life. In verse 31, the commitment to keep the sabbath is not merely a matter of worship but is a matter of vocation. God rested on the seventh day from his work and therefore they too will rest. Notice also, not only are they committing to keep the sabbath day they are also committing to keep the seventh-year Sabbath of the land. For a full year they would give the land its rest.
c. Financial Reformation
Third, we have financial reform.
› Read Nehemiah 10:31b-33.
You can learn an awful lot about someone by looking at what they spend their money on. Many hearts could be exposed by a simple reading of bank statements.
The people here are committing on the seventh year to forgive debt, you’ll remember that has been a serious issue for the Israelites, it was one of the reasons for sending them into captivity 160 years earlier and it was a source of major conflict back in chapter 5 of Nehemiah.
The Israelites here are also committing to the give yearly temple tax as commanded in Exodus 30 to provide for the service of the house of God.
› Read Nehemiah 10:34-39.
The temple needed a lot more provisions then could be provided through just the temple tax therefore the people committed to provide various other items for the temple. In verse 34 they actually cast lots to set up a rotation, to schedule people to be responsible to provide the wood that was needed to keep the fires burning on the altar. They commit again in verse 35 and verse 37-38 to return to bringing the first fruits of the ground, and of all fruit of every tree, to bring the first of their dough, wine, and oil. From all of it they were going to bring it in as a tithe to provide for the temple. They were going to show by their money and by their first fruits that the worship of God was their greatest priority.
And they end with this final resolve at the end of verse 39 “We will not neglect the house of our God”.