October 16, 2016 – manuscript

The power of influence is demonstrated throughout Nehemiah.  I will point out specific steps Nehemiah takes in restoring the Biblical influence that had faded during the short period he went back to Babylon.  But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves; look at verse one.

Scripture Text: Nehemiah 13:1-3 (ESV) – 1On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.

The nation of Israel has gathered together on a special occasion for the public reading of the Book of Moses.  In this passage, attention is given to Deuteronomy 23:3-5 and Deuteronomy 7:1-6.  There are at least two reasons why the public reading of Scripture is important.  First, the public reading of the law was designed to pour out knowledge and reverence for God among the nation of Israel.  As we have seen through Nehemiah, the Israelites had various gatherings for the public reading of Scripture.  Second, the public reading of Scripture removed errors and corruption that might have crept in to Jewish practices.  Look at verse three, “As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.”  Just as the public reading of Scripture brought correction to the nation of Israel, the Word of God should bring correction to each of our lives also.

We don’t have to look around the Bible for very long before we realize how often Israel needed reminders to align themselves with the Book of Moses.  The Law was their standard of living.  God made it very clear that Israel was supposed to function differently than other nations.  The Book of Moses was to be the focal point for everything about their lives.  How often do we need reminders that the Word of God should be the focal point of our lives?  You may never take the time to read Deuteronomy or Leviticus, but most of us will read several books in the New Testament.  As we read Scripture, God makes it clear to us that we are supposed to function differently than those who do not know Jesus Christ personally.  When the Word of God is not the focal point, God’s people look like everybody else.  When the Word of God is not the centrality of your life, your family or your church, the kingdom of God suffers and we need to be realigned and restored.

Misalignment happened to Eliashib, the priest, and it is possible in each of our lives.  In fact, I would leave on the table than WHEN misalignment happens is more realistic than IF misalignment happens.  Let’s look at the next section of Nehemiah 13.

Scripture Text: Nehemiah 13:4-9 (ESV) – Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.

Eliashib was the high priest in Jerusalem and had the final say over religious matters.  We don’t know when misalignment happened, but we see indicators that the spiritual leader of Jerusalem needed realignment and restoration.  The first indicator of misalignment is his relationship to Tobiah.  There are times when people prioritize their family relationships over their relationship with God.  You might recall Tobiah was one of the three outspoken enemies of Nehemiah and the rebuilding efforts.  Scholars believe Eliashib’s grandson married Tobiah’s daughter.  According to the Book of Moses, they should have never been related because Tobiah was an Ammonite.  Marriage between nations was prohibited.  By allowing this marriage, Eliashib allowed his principles to be compromised.  The second indicator of misalignment is that he prepared living quarters for Tobiah inside the house of God.  Look at verse one, “no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God.”  As an Ammonite, Tobiah should not have been in these chambers.  If that wasn’t enough, verse five says Eliashib renovated several rooms into one large space for Tobiah.  Rooms that were reserved to hold worship components were replaced by a man God forbid to enter the space.  Eliashib traded the blessings of God for the acknowledgment and honor of one man.  Small compromises lead to large compromises, which always lead to misalignment.  In verse 7, Nehemiah calls Eliashib’s actions evil.  When the Word of God is not the focal point, church leaders act with ungodly motives.  When such is the situation, verses 8-9 instruct our actions.  Nehemiah became angry and cleaned house.  He then purified the chambers and restored them to their proper function.  If ungodly motive or compromise has crept into the house of God, the people of God have the responsibility to purify and restore the building to its proper use.

Scripture Text: Nehemiah 13:1-18 (ESV) – 10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. 16 Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! 17 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? 18 Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

As Nehemiah continues realigning Jerusalem, he discovered the Israelites weren’t tithing.  It’s more than not tithing, the meaning behind the phrase is that people made the intentional decision to withhold their tithe because they weren’t happy.  As a result, the Levites became bi-vocational.  When the Word of God is not the focal point, spiritual oversight is vacant.  When the Word of God is not the focal point of your life, your family and your church, churches dwindle to nothing more than a common meeting space.  This progression actually happens very quickly and often without congregations recognizing the shift.

In verse 11, Nehemiah confronts the spiritual overseers.  His one recorded question for them is “Why is the House of God forsaken?”  Last week, we read Nehemiah 10:39.  “We will not neglect the house of our God.”  In a very short period of time, about a year, the House of God had been neglected and Nehemiah puts the blame on the spiritual overseers.

In verse 17, Nehemiah confronted the nobles; the people who had enough influence to shift the culture.  Nehemiah’s question for them was, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day?”  In other words, what God declared to be holy no longer remained holy in their lives.  The progression doesn’t take long.

In verse 18, Nehemiah digs a little deeper. “Did not your fathers acts in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city?  Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.”

Didn’t you learn from those who went before you?  The answer to the question is yes we do learn from those you have gone before us.  We learned how church is done from the previous generations.  We often think it worked for them, so it should work for us too.

Let me challenge you with one thing this morning.  If the Word of God is not the focal point, you might do good things but never do God things.  Doing good things makes you look like everybody else.  Doing good things allow church leaders to act with ungodly motives.  Doing good things can push a church to shift to a common meeting space.  God asks us to do good things, but God things should be the motivation behind the good things we do.  Is the Word of God the focal point?