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A Call to Consecration
It would be impossible for us to study the Book of Nehemiah in the detail which it demands. We are necessarily limited in space, and must seek to grasp the deeper message which God has for us. It is our purpose today to carry you through the remaining chapters of Nehemiah in this, our third study of this marvelous message.
In beginning this study, we will give you some side lights on the 6th chapter under the theme, "The Tactics of the Enemies." We remember how Nehemiah had come to Jerusalem in order to rebuild the walls. From the beginning he found many obstacles. Now, the walls are nearing completion, and as the enemy sees the goal in sight, they put forth every effort to hinder the completion of the great task.
1. Criticism and persecution. We noticed in former studies the plan of the enemy. They mocked Nehemiah and ridiculed him. This is still the natural strategy of Satan. The Bible tells us, that in the last days mockers will come.
2. Flattery and affiliation. When Sanballat and Tobiah and the rest of the enemies saw that the work was going on to a wonderful completion, they changed their tactics, and began to urge Nehemiah to come down and confer with them. Here are their words: "Come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono."
Such a message they sent to Nehemiah four times. If they could not succeed by ridicule and criticism, they would try to inveigle the leader of the Israelites into an unholy alliance and an evil affiliation with them. They would outwardly profess to be friends, and not foes. They would even offer to cooperate in 'the work. They would use flattery instead of frowns.
Many a man of God has fallen under this attack of the enemy. Under great criticism and faultfinding he stood firm, but when he was approached with words of praise, and appointed to some place of honor by the enemy, he succumbed.
3. Misrepresentation. When the enemy found that their first two methods failed in the case of Nehemiah they began to threaten him. They sent him a letter which read, "It is reported among the heathen, * * that thou and the Jews think to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king, according to these words."
They began to start false reports, and lies concerning Nehemiah's objective, stating that he was against the king. We remember that this method was used against Christ. The rulers asked Him whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not. They wanted Him to say it was not lawful. Then they would have accused Him before the king. However, had He said, "It is lawful," they would have accused Him of being untrue to the Jews. The scribes and Pharisees never hesitated to say anything in their attempt to entangle Christ. They gave out ail kinds of false reports. They even said He was a winebibber and a drunkard.
We who serve the Lord may expect to be maligned and misrepresented.
4. They hired Nehemiah's friends to scare him. This is seen in Nehemiah 6:13 where we read of a certain Jew, "Therefore was he hired, that I should be afraid, and do so, and sin." Satan is willing to turn from one method to another, and to work from any and every angle in order to swerve saints from their fidelity to Christ. If he cannot move them by criticism, or by flattery, or misrepresentation, he will work upon their friends to try to scare them away from their fidelity.
I. NEHEMIAH'S RESPONSE TO HIS ENEMIES (Nehemiah 6:3 ; Nehemiah 6:11 )
To each attempt to drag Nehemiah into a conference with the enemy one message was sent in reply. Here it is: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down." When they tried to scare Nehemiah through a hired envoy, and to advise him to flee to the temple and shut the door because he was apt to be killed, he said, "Should such a man as I flee? and who is there, that, being as I am, would go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in." In both of these attitudes Nehemiah has taught us striking lessons.
1. God's call to service makes impossible any affiliation with the enemy. We are doing a great work, and what right have we to join hands with those who oppose it? Shall we step aside from our mission in order to advise with the enemy? Is the enemy ready and able to tell us how to do the work of God? We believe that God's children should be so busy in service for Him, doing a great work, that they will have no time to confer with the enemy.
2. God's call to service demands absolute loyalty. Nehemiah said, "Should such a man as I flee?" Beloved, if we are going to carry the banner of our Lord to successful victory, if we are going to complete the work which He gives us to do, we must not run away, at every flare of the enemy.
God give us men who would rather go into a lions' den, than to refuse to pray; who would rather be cast into a burning furnace than to bow the knee to the gods of this earth.
We leave with the young people the message of Hebrews 11:32-40 as an example of loyalty and of service without fear.
II. READING THE LAW (Nehemiah 8:1-2 )
A wonderful day came in the experience of Nehemiah. It was when the walls were finished, the gates were swung, and the work done. Then, a great convocation was called. We ask you to turn aside with us and spend a little while as we join this great gathering of people.
Ezra now is seen as he brings in the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel. He stands upon a high pulpit of wood prepared for the purpose. There in the presence of all the people, the service proceeds.
1. Ezra read the law from morning until midday. What could he have done better than this? What can we, who preach, do better than to read the Word of God, and to teach it unto the people? The Bible is our food. It gives us strength, and builds up our spiritual lives. It lightens our pathway, and becomes a lamp unto our feet. The Bible transforms our lives as we ponder its pages and study its message. It is unto us as the snow that comes down, and as the rain from Heaven. As it touches our hearts it makes us fruitful in every good word and work.
2. The Levites caused the people to understand the Law. We find this in Nehemiah 8:8 : "So they read in the Book in the Law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading." This is another province, not only of the pulpit, but of every believer. We are all priests of God, and we should make the Word plain, read it distinctly, rightly dividing its message, and causing the people to know its testimony.
3. Ezra not only read from the Book, but, in Nehemiah 8:6 , we see that he blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, "Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground."
Let this be the object of our preaching, that we may lead the people into the sense of the nearness of God, and into the attitude of worshipful praise.
III. REJOICING IN THE LORD (Nehemiah 8:10 )
The first effect of the great gathering, and of the hours spent in reading of the Law to the people, was this: the people wept. They worshiped to be sure. They answered "Amen, Amen," but, as they did this, the sense of their own sinful hearts overwhelmed them, and they wept.
Nehemiah immediately said unto them, "This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep." It was a time for rejoicing. It was the time for praise. God had given them a wonderful deliverance, and had manifested His mercy. The walls were rebuilded; the gates were hung. Nehemiah, therefore, gave a command that the people should rejoice.
1. The call to joy. Is not this the voice of the New Testament? "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace," but, not peace alone, for, we "rejoice in the hope of the glory of God." In Isaiah 55:1-13 we have much of sorrow, and of hunger and loss. It is thus that the chapter opens. Then in the middle of the chapter we pass through the wicket gate of confession and forgiveness, and into the joy of the Lord: "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."
On the Day of Pentecost, they ate their meat with gladness and with singleness of heart, praising God .
2. Joy is the secret of strength. Do not overlook the last clause of Nehemiah 8:10 . "This day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
When the Lord wanted to give victory to a certain army He put the singers and the instruments of music at the head of the army, and they went forth praising God. Another scripture says, "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice." A saint has more power singing, than sobbing. We may weep over our sins, to be sure, but when our sins are gone, and our work is done, let us enter into His presence with singing.
IV. THE FEAST OF BOOTHS (Nehemiah 8:14 )
As the people read that day in the words of the Law they found where it was written that the Children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month. Thus, in the seventh month, the command went forth that they should bring olive branches, and pine branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of thick trees, and make them booths. So they made booths, and for seven days they read the Book of the Law of God, and they kept the feast as a solemn assembly. We read in Nehemiah 8:17 , "And there was very great gladness."
Beloved, this feast following the completion of the walls in the days of Nehemiah anticipates another day when Israel shall be saved from their enemies, and restored from among the nations whither they have been driven. In the city of Jerusalem, and throughout all the promised land, they will gather to keep the feast of tabernacles. That feast carries the message that "God * * will dwell with them." It seems to say, "The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing." This is the meaning of the feast of booths.
To us, however, who are Christians, there comes the promise, "We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him." The additional promise is given, "My Father will love him." Do you marvel, therefore, at the statement of Nehemiah 8:17 , "And there was very great gladness"? Should we not have gladness in our hearts when the Lord dwells with us?
V. PRAYER AND FASTING (Nehemiah 9:1-3 )
We enter now into the 9th chapter where a solemn feast has been proclaimed, and the Children of Israel were called to confession. It is from this chapter that we have taken the subject of our study. Let us examine it under four suggestive headings.
1. Separation. The 2nd verse reads, "And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers." Is not this the first Divine call in consecration? When we speak of the word, "consecration," we think of "dedication," or of "sanctification," and this is well. However, dedication must at all times be preceded by separation. We must come out before we can come in. We must be "separated from" before we can be "consecrated to." Separation is the call of the whole Bible. The very plight in which Israel had found herself in the days of Nehemiah, with her walls broken down and her gates burned, was due to the fact that she had mingled among the nations and had been untrue to her vows instead of being a people separated unto God.
2. Confession. The same verse that tells us they separated themselves, also tells us that they confessed their sins. Do you not think before we come into the presence of God for dedication and consecration, that we need to confess the evil of our lives. We who would come into the presence of God must come with clean hearts and pure minds. We must be washed of all our filthiness, and made clean. Our God is a holy God. As we approach His courts, our lips cannot be unholy.
3. Worship. Nehemiah 9:3 says, "they confessed, and worshipped the Lord their God." Beloved, a people who are separated, and cleansed, are ready to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. In fact, do you think that any believer can come before God acceptable to Him, when his hands are stained with sin and his heart is impure?
4. Dedication. Following separation, confession, and worship, came one of the most remarkable prayers recorded in the Word of God. This we will develop under successive studies. However, at the close of the prayer comes, in Nehemiah 9:38 , this glorious statement, "because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and * * seal unto it." Here is a verse on consecration, and dedication unsurpassed in the Bible. God grant that we may make a sure covenant, and write it, and seal it in the sight of God.
VI. THE PRAYER OF THE LEVITES (Nehemiah 9:6-7 )
We now enter into the marvelous prayer which stands before us in such beauty and power. We cannot develop it as we would. However, we will consider it from two viewpoints: (1) From the viewpoint of adoration the attitude of the people toward God, (2) We will consider the same prayer from the attitude of confession of sins. On the former, we have three things to say.
1. God was worshiped as Creator. This is set forth in the opening verse of the prayer. First, there is the salutation which reads: "Bless the Lord your God for ever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious Name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise." Then comes the acknowledgment of God as Creator: "Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone; Thou hast made Heaven, the Heaven of Heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all; and the host of Heaven worshippeth Thee."
How marvelous are these words! How great was their spirit of worship! Thus do we need always to approach the Father.
2. God was recognized as the Founder of the nation. Nehemiah 9:7 follows the acclamation of God the Creator, and the prayer continues thus: "Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham." Thus they recognized their own nationality as beginning under the hand of God.
3. God was ascribed as Israel's deliverer. Nehemiah 9:8-15 tell of how wonderfully the Lord brought Israel out of Egypt, how He showed his sons unto Pharaoh, how the sea divided, and how they were led out by God. They tell of how the Lord conducted them by the pillar of cloud and of fire, of how He spake unto them on Mount Sinai, and made known unto them His statutes and laws; and of how He gave them bread from Heaven for their hunger and water out of the rock for their thirst.
When we pray, would that we might utter such praise as this: "O that men would praise the Lord."
VII. THE CONFESSION OF SIN (Nehemiah 9:16 ; Nehemiah 9:26 ; Nehemiah 9:33 )
In the remarkable prayer before us the Levites first praised God as Creator, then as their Deliverer, and then afterward they confessed their sins.
1. They acknowledged the sins of their fathers. Nehemiah 9:16 says, "Our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to Thy commandments, and refused to obey, neither were mindful of Thy wonders that Thou didst among them; but hardened their necks."
In this confession of their sins they acknowledged that God was gracious and ready to pardon; merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; for, in spite of the sins of their fathers, when they cried unto God, and God forgave them, and, when they acknowledged their sins God delivered them.
2. They confessed their own sins. Let us quote for you Nehemiah 9:33 : "Thou art just in all that is brought upon us: for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly."
Beloved, if we want to have victory in prayer, we will never find it in self-justification. In the prayers of that day, the people acknowledged God's graciousness to Israel of old when they had sinned. They also acknowledged that their own plight was due to their own wickedness. They, nor their kings, nor their princes, nor their priests had kept the Law, nor hearkened unto God's testimonies. It was for that cause they acknowledged that their city had been taken, her walls had been thrown down, and her people had been led into captivity.
Beloved, our great plea in this matter to young people, is that you will make a full consecration, and will acknowledge your own sins. If we have sinned, let us confess it. If there is evil in our lives, let us put it far from us. As we stand before God, let us, likewise, confess His goodness and His greatness. Let us thank Him for all His mercy, and then with all this done, let us do what they did in the days of Nehemiah. Let us make our covenant. They wrote down their names. Will you, on the flyleaf of your own Bible, write down your covenant of consecration? Will you put in writing that from this day your life will be His, and His only? Then, seal it with your signature, and every day henceforth as you open your Bible and your eye falls upon your pledge, you will remember the day you placed your all on the altar.
Nehemiah was Israel's stay. He was like an Alpine guide who safely holds the travelers about to fall away.
When travelers climb uncertain, dangerous precipices in Switzerland, they frequently go tied together and all fastened to the guide, who steps carefully and climbs most cautiously up and down the dangerous part of the mountain.
A company of tourists climbing one day made rapid progress until suddenly one of them slipped. He pulled down the second, and he the third, and so on until it seemed as if all would be dashed to death, over the precipice. But the guide knew exactly what to do. With gigantic strength he wielded the peculiar ice-pick that he carried, and struck it deep into the ice; and, when the strain came upon him, the rope tightened and all were saved.
We are thus bound together by the cord of influence. One slipping is likely to pull down another, but it is a possible thing for the awful power of the downward tendency to be averted if just one man in a company or one member in a household is planted firmly on the Rock of Ages. Whether we will or no, we are our brother's keepers. J. W. Chapman.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26