The people vow to keep God at the center of their lives as they move back into Jerusalem both by choice and by draft.
- Chapter 1: Nehemiah is caught in the tension of two worlds: cup bearer to the king and brother to the exiles.
- Chapter 2: Nehemiah faces three moments where he must rely on the word of God and speak out boldly.
- Chapter 3: paints a picture of community, including the main point that we should begin serving the body by working on “the broken wall in front of our own house.”
- Chapter 4: details the opposition the builders faced, including primarily their own internal ridicule, defeat and shattered faith. Nehemiah provides an example of a godly leader by speaking God about the people and to the people about God. He taught both to trust and to fight.
- Chapter 5: records the problems the community was having internally. Nehemiah rebukes them for their actions and calls them back to fearing God.
- Chapter 6: Nehemiah faces 3 tests of his character, as his enemies seek to kill him by appealing to his desire to be appreciated, his ambitions and his fears. In each case he resists because he knows that God is fighting for him and he does not have to put himself first or place too much importance on himself.
- Chapter 7-8: We learn that the city is has been rebuilt, but is not alive. Having been used by God, the people now long to know God. Then ask Ezra to teach them the Bible, so that they might know and understand their God. Understanding the word of God produces a great grief over their sin, but also a tremendous joy over their salvation. They end the section by celebrating the feast of tabernacles and realizing that this earthly city is not their home.
- Chapter 9: records the people’s prayer in which they recount the history of God dealing with Israel and confesses their sins. The main point is summarized in 9:33 In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.
Chapter 9 ends with this statement,
Neh 9:38 “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.” Then there’s the long list of names of people who sign the vow. And then in verse 29
Neh 10:29 “(all these) join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord and his rules and his statutes. ” Then they enumerate the specifics of the vow.
They’ve just said that throughout Israel’s history, God was faithful and the people were faithless. So what do they do? They make a vow they must know that they will break.
Why make a vow?
If I desire to do what is good, but I lack the ability to carry it out, are vows of any use? I think the answer is yes and no. No, making a vow won’t enable you to keep it. But it can play a positive role.
- The declaration of a vow makes us say something precise, and that invites God to walk alongside us in those particular issues.
- Vows make us specific and focused.
- Vows keep us honest about our sin
- Vows express our love for God.
There were three specific vows that the people in Nehemiah’s time made. They concerned marriage, Sabbath-keeping, and provision of what was needed for temple worship. The content of the promise they made begins in 10:30-33:
10:30We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. 31And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt. 32 “We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.
- The first vow concerned keeping focused on God alone.
- The second concerned preserving their differences.
- The third vow is that the temple should flourish at the heart of Israel.
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