"Thus I [Nehemiah] cleansed [the Jewish priesthood] from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work, and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good." - Nehemiah 13:30-31
Nehemiah 13 pictures Nehemiah as a stubborn reformer who is doing everything he can as leader to get the Jewish people, and especially the Jewish leaders, to follow the requirements of the Mosaic law regarding relations with neighbouring peoples, the duties of the priests and Levites, the payment of the tithe, and the observance of the Sabbath. He is a brave leader, but he is struggling against human nature. The people don't seem to be able to hold the line, to follow all the dictates of the Mosaic law, which they promised to do in Nehemiah 10:29. The Jewish people have returned from exile to the land of Israel, but the same problems are happening again. As a whole people, the Jews are simply unable to keep the Torah. Nehemiah does the best he can to get everyone in line, but his attempts are ultimately futile. All he can say to God is, "Remember me for what I tried to do. Reward me in the next life for the stands that I took for you, even though they seemingly made little difference."
There are some huge life lessons here for us today: (1) attempts to form a perfect, God-honouring society in this life are absolutely futile; (2) human beings simply cannot fulfil God's law on their own; (3) God's leaders can and should try to keep things in line as much as they can; but (4) in the end all they can do is throw up their hands and say, "Remember what I tried to do, Lord." The message of the book of Nehemiah seems to be that Israel, though back in her land with a temple and walls around her capital city, still needs a Saviour to provide her righteousness. Again, we see that the whole point of the Old Testament is this: humanity needs a Messiah!
Father, how much should we try to reform our nation and our churches? Those who truly love you and your word seem to fight a loosing battle all the time. Even in times of revival, the ability of Christians to maintain consistent obedience is so weak. The revival lasts a short time; then we are back to our old ways of living. We may try to bring New Zealand churches away from Liberalism, Neo-Orthodoxy, and Progressive Christianity, but the majority of ministers simply won't return to belief in the Bible. We do fight a loosing battle. Should we stop trying? Should we lay down our arms and give up? Or should we take a firm public stand for the Bible, as Nehemiah did? Father, please remember those today who are taking a firm stand for you, especially in the Church. Finally, be with our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan today who are facing extremely severe persecution by the Taliban. Father, open a way for these families to be protected, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Please moderate the Taliban leaders so that they will allow Christians some limited freedom without harassment. Father, our eyes are on you. Help us to faith-rest in your promises. In Jesus' name, amen.
- Jeff Coleman