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THE DISCIPLINE OF THE CITY
In the closing chapter we learn that the practical holiness of the city can only be maintained by the exercise of a discipline that deals with the different corruptions as they arise. Nor is it otherwise to-day. Without the exercise of discipline according to the word of God, holiness cannot be maintained in the Assemblies of God's people when once evil has made itself manifest.
The first difficulty the remnant had to meet was the corrupting influence of "the mixed multitude" (1-3). They appear to represent those who in our day would like to stand well with the people of God in the path of separation, and yet maintain their links with corrupt Christendom. In Nehemiah's day there were Israelites on the one hand and Ammonites and Moabites on the other; but there were also "the mixed multitude," a class who were neither definitely Israelites nor heathen, but sought to have links with both. The remnant realized from the word of God that not only the heathen were not to be admitted to the congregation of the Lord, but that they could not tolerate those who maintained links with the heathen - the mixed multitude.
The second difficulty was the corruption of the house of God by a leader (4-9). Eliashib uses his position as priest to further the interest of his friend, and thus introduces among the people of God one who brings into the house of God that which is defiling. Nehemiah deals in a drastic way with this evil, wholly undeterred by the high position of the offender. Nothing can be more solemn than for a leader in the Assembly of God to set aside the principles of God's Assembly to further the interests of a personal friend, and at the same time count upon his position to silence all opposition. Evil of such a character calls indeed for drastic action without respect of persons.
The third trial is neglect of the house of God (10-14). Those who devoted themselves to the service of the house of God were neglected, and hence they were compelled to return to secular work - they "fled every one to his field;" the result being the house of God was forsaken. This appears to have been the direct outcome of the corruption of Eliashib who had introduced, and made provision for, an enemy to the house of God, to the detriment of the true servants of God. Nehemiah is not content with casting out the offender and his defilements, but he re-instates the true servants and sees that provision is made for their need. We too must not be content with excluding those who are false, but must also see that provision is made to maintain the true servants. Moreover it is significant that Nehemiah does not say "Why are the Levites neglected?" as we might expect, but, "Why is the house of God forsaken?" He recognises that the neglect of God's servants is an indication of that which is yet more serious - the neglect of God's house.
The fourth difficulty was the desecration of the Sabbath (15-22). When the house is forsaken the Sabbath will be profaned. Instead of being set apart for Jehovah it was used to further the temporal interests of the people and turned into a common day. And in our day those who neglect God's Assembly will have but slight respect for the Lord's Day. If like Nehemiah we have the Assembly of God at heart we shall see that we shut the gates against all that would divert us from the Lord's service on the Lord's Day (19).
The fifth trial was unfaithfulness to God (23-31). In this particular case it was manifested in the unholy alliances between the people of God and the surrounding nations. In this evil the family of the high priest take a leading part. Again Nehemiah drastically deals with the evil, and thus seeks to maintain the purity of God's people.
It is noticeable that these disciplinary measures deal not only with those within the city, but also with those without (15), and moreover apply to every class. The priests use their holy office to further the interest of the enemy of God (4). The rulers neglect the house of God (11). The nobles take the lead in profaning the Sabbath (17). And the people form unholy alliances (23). But the faithfulness of one man leads to these evils being dealt with in discipline without respect of persons, and thus the holiness of God's house is maintained.
In as much as the disciplinary measures relate to all that had returned to God's Land, and not simply to the dwellers in Jerusalem, it becomes clear they take for granted that the interest of every Israelite is identified with the prosperity of the house; and further that the dwellers in the province are as necessary for the upkeep of the house as those who dwelt within the city. The priests and Levites within the walls may be more directly concerned with the service of the house, but the story makes it abundantly clear that those within the walls were dependent upon those without for their daily food. The picture presents a people united in the upkeep of a house, which is surrounded by city walls to maintain its holy character.
It will also be noticed that in the main the evils dealt with are those which the people had, but a short while before, bound themselves, by a covenant with oath and curse, to avoid. How soon they have to 'prove their own weakness, and in consequence, the weakness of the law to either improve or restrain the flesh. For the moment these evils are dealt with through the faithfulness of one man. But with the passing of Nehemiah these evils will re-assert themselves until in the days of Malachi they characterise the mass, and the only hope left for the godly is the coming of the Lord. The remnant of Malachi's day feared the Lord and thought upon His Name, and so we may surely say they surrendered no principle of the house of God, but they made no covenant to maintain the integrity of the house. For them there was no call to make provision for their future good conduct, for they looked to the Son of righteousness to arise with healing in His wings. All behind them was failure, all around them corruption, but all before them glory.
In closing this brief outline of the Book of Nehemiah a few additional remarks, as to its application to present day conditions, may not be out of place.
In regard to Israel it was God's purpose to have His house in the city of Jerusalem, in the midst of a people dwelling in His Land. Connected with this purpose are three important principles. With the house there is the thought of God dwelling; with the city God ruling; and with the Nation and the Land God blessing. Where God dwells there God must rule; and when God rules, God blesses. It is thus God's purpose to dwell in the midst of a redeemed people, ruling over them for their blessing. This purpose will be realised in a day to come.
The Book of Nehemiah presents the story of a remnant of the nation acting in the light of God's original purpose for the whole nation, while waiting for the future fulfilment in the Millennial day.
To-day the "material" in Israel has its "spiritual" counterpart in the Assembly of God. We know that the Assembly of God is presented as the house of God ( 1Ti_3:3 ); and as the city of the living God ( Heb_12:22 ; Rev. 21 .). Moreover believers are viewed as "an holy nation" ( 1Pe_2:9 ). So that again, we may say, it is God's thought to dwell in the midst of a redeemed people, ruling them for their blessing. God's purpose for the Assembly will be fully realised in the heavenly Jerusalem, as it will be for Israel in the earthly Jerusalem.
With the truth before us we are able to realize how far Christendom has departed from God's purpose for His Assembly. Instead of God dwelling in the midst of a redeemed people, and ruling for their blessing we see a vast religious system in which every principle of God is set aside. It has its most pronounced expression in a great ecclesiastical organisation (composed, for the most part of unregenerate professors of Christianity instead of the redeemed), which, in place of being the habitation of God, will shortly become "the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird" ( Rev_18:2 ). Moreover its rule, instead of being a blessing to man, has corrupted the earth and persecuted the saints ( Rev_16:18 ; Rev_17:24 ; Rev_19:2 ).
Further we see that the vast majority of God's people have been taken captive in this great Babylonish system, though, by the grace of God, a few have been set free by having their eyes opened to see the truth of God's Assembly as the house of God. The latter have sought to walk in the truth of God's original thought for the Assembly while waiting for its full realisation in glory.
Such, like the remnant in Nehemiah's day, find themselves in circumstances of great weakness, faced with opposition and difficulties, and beset with snares. In the face of all difficulties they seek to maintain the holiness of God's house, the rule of the city, and the blessing of God's people. However the maintenance of the principles of God's house would be their first charge; administration, or rule, would follow, and, if rightly used, would be directly under the influence of the house and in harmony with its character and order; therefore for the blessing of God's people.
It was thus In the Days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The revival of the house under Zerubbabel and others, and the restitution of its order through Ezra, was the first care of the remnant. Later the house was encircled by the city walls, and administration, or rule established in relation to the house. From the first the house was always accessible to every Israelite from every part of the Land, always supposing title and moral suitability, and conformity to the ordinances of the house. There was no question of its being restricted to the few actually dwelling within the city walls. If such had been the case it would have been a grave misuse of the walls, and have falsified the true character of the house by limiting its privileges to a select and self-constituted company.
On the other hand to ignore administration, or rule, consistent with the order and sanctity of the house, would be equally serious, leading to every man doing what is right in his own eyes; the failure to maintain the holiness of God's house; and the loss of blessing to the people.
Thus we are warned that the holiness of God's house and the blessing of God's people, can be equally lost either by ultra-exclusivism on the one hand or latitudinarianism on the other.
If we desire to know God's mind for the moment in which we live, we shall do well to go over these themes with God, remembering that, while "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," yet certain scriptures have a very definite message for a day of ruin. Of such scriptures none, perhaps, have a more important place than the Book of Nehemiah in the Old Testament and the 2nd Epistle to Timothy in the New. May God give us grace to diligently seek His mind, in His word, and unreservedly submit to it. Thus only shall we be able to hold fast that which we have that no man take our crown.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter