Threats to Spiritual Wholeness
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Threats to Spiritual Wholeness

Nehemiah 13:10–30  (ID: 1761)

When Nehemiah learned that persistent disobedience had crept into the lives of the people, he did not hesitate to confront the offenders. Alistair Begg explains that just as we would take threats against our physical well-being seriously, God’s people need to take action against threats to our spiritual health. We must not allow unhelpful associations, unfulfilled commitments, unkept promises or unholy marriages to strangle our spiritual growth, and leaders must be more concerned with God’s glory than the favor of others.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Nehemiah, Volume 3

God’s Glory in Our Goodness Nehemiah 9:38–13:30 Series ID: 11603

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you once again to take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to the portion of Scripture that we read in Nehemiah chapter 13. We come this morning to what I think is our twenty-third study and, God willing, our final study, for the time being, in the book of Nehemiah.

And before we look to these verses, let us look to the Lord in prayer:

Lord, it is not a matter of routine that causes us to bow before you but a matter of great need. We need your help to be able to speak and hear, to understand, and to have your Word applied to our lives. And for this we humbly beseech you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

There’s seldom a week goes by without being told by the experts of something else which poses a threat to our physical well-being. Newspapers and magazines have it on a regular basis. There are a number of things that I’ve identified at the grocery store checkout that are just about definite on the front of these magazines. Some of them I’m not prepared to mention, but one of them at the moment is an overwhelming preoccupation with our physical well-being—not that that is in itself wrong, but it is an interesting emphasis. And so it is that we discover on a regular basis something else that we shouldn’t be doing, somewhere else we shouldn’t be going, somewhere else we shouldn’t be eating, if we want to stay alive for the next year or so, at least.

And invariably, when we encounter this sort of thing, we have a reaction, which is either to immediately become the great broccoli eater of our particular development, and people can’t meet us but that we’re asking them about broccoli and how much they’ve been imbibing and how they’re doing; or, in some cases, people get into carrots and crushing carrots into oblivion and then drinking this disgusting potion, with the odd squeeze of apple, which is supposed to turn it into a delectable, gourmet drink. And all it does, actually, is it turns the palms of your hands orange and turns you into an interesting person.

I met a lady at the store some months ago, and she had these huge bags of carrots. And there was no question what she was doing with them, because she was the same color as the carrots. And the lady said, “You know, this is a more than normal amount of carrots, madam.”

And she said, “Oh, yes,” and then she began to preach to her about how important it was that she was also stomping on carrots and slugging the juice down.

Now, those of you who are into that, I know you’re going to write me a note or call me, and so I want to thank you in anticipation. And yes, I will try and drink more carrot juice in the future. Thank you. But for everyone who gets into it, there are more than a few who immediately employ what I call “the grandfather response”—namely, “Well, you never met my grandfather. Because my grandfather, he didn’t even like carrots, and he never ate many of them, and he certainly didn’t squeeze them and drink them. In point of fact, my grandfather smoked like a chimney, my grandfather gorged himself on fatty substances, and at the same time, he drank alcohol like a fish—and he lived to the ripe old age of 39.” No! “And he lived to be, you know, 110.” They’re always really ancient, patriarchal kind of figures who do nothing of the things you’re supposed to do, and so they thereby, apparently, disprove the theory. In point of fact, it’s probably not wise to take the grandfather route on any of those occasions, because you are unlikely to become one such grandfather. You’re probably likely to become one dead grandfather or never even become a grandfather.

Now, on a physical level, that’s one thing. But when it comes to the matter of spiritual wholeness and spiritual well-being, these kind of threats to our spiritual well-being need to be taken far more seriously than any threat to physical well-being, because in point of fact, it is a sad thing to see a healthy body with a sick soul.

And that’s essentially what we’re dealing with in our days: people’s preoccupation with the externals. And not that that in itself is wrong, because God has given us our bodies to take care of. But it becomes wrong when we begin to take care of the externals as if there were no internals and as if somehow or another we were going to live forever by paying attention to our physical frame. The Bible says no, it is far more imperative that we pay attention to our souls and to the matters of eternity and therefore that we would take very seriously any threats to our spiritual wholeness.

Nehemiah is reminding his readers, in chapter 13, of four such threats. Last time, we dealt with one. This morning, we will deal with the remaining three. Last time, in verses 4–9, we saw and considered the threat of unhelpful associations, and we thought about what that might mean for us as individuals, in terms of business partnerships, what it means for us as churches, and so on. And we sought to comes to terms with it.

Unfulfilled Commitments

Now, in the tenth verse through the fourteenth verse, we come to the second of these threats, which is what I’ve referred to as the threat of unfulfilled commitments.

Now, in order to get the background to this scene, you need to turn back a page or so in your Bible to 10:39. And there the people of God, “the people of Israel, including the Levites,” said that they’re going “to bring their contributions of grain, [and] new wine and oil to the storerooms where the articles for the sanctuary are kept and where the ministering priests, [and] the gatekeepers and the singers stay.” And they said, “We will not neglect the house of our God.” They recognized that worship was vitally important. They realized that God had purposed that a certain group of people would lead in that worship. And so, in order to make it possible for them to adequately prepare and to be present on the occasions of worship, they would set them free from the considerations of their daily routine and provide them with the resources necessary to be these kind of people in leading proclamation and praise.

Well, that was chapter 10. And here, by the time Nehemiah comes back from his sortie in Susa, he discovers that the Levites are not where they should be, they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be, and indeed, they’re “back [in] their own fields,” he says at the end of verse 10. Now, the reason that they’d been forced to return to their fields is because of a lack of support. Because the people had failed to do what they said they would do. And so they had gone back to work to keep themselves from starving.

Now, Nehemiah is once again very straightforward in the way he responds. Throughout all of these threats, he exercises a pastoral care over the people. He does what Paul tells Timothy to do in 2 Timothy 4:2—although Nehemiah was never made privy to this instruction, coming, as it did, hundreds of years after he had lived. But the instruction and the example are timeless. Two Timothy 4:2: Paul says to Timothy, as a young leader and guide and preacher and teacher of the people of God, he says, “Preach the Word; be prepared when you feel like it and when you don’t feel like it.” That’s what it means: “in season and out of season.” When there’s a great opportunity; when there’s only a marginal opportunity. When you get up on the morning and you feel that you just can’t wait to preach; when you got up on the morning and wish you’d never been called to preach. “Preach the Word,” he says, “whatever else you do. And here is the way, the manner, of your preaching: you should do it correcting, rebuking, and encouraging, and do it with great patience and with careful instruction.”[1]

Now, Nehemiah shows great patience, and he’s very careful in the instruction that he provides, as you would note. And as you look through not only this threat but the remaining two, you will see that he brings correction for those whose thinking is wrong, he brings rebuke for those who are beginning to live comfortably with sin, and he brings encouragement to those whose spirits need lifted.

Now, how does he do this? Well, you’ll notice there in verse 11. First of all, he brought them together: he “called [the people] together,” and then he put them in their places, “stationed them at their posts.” He chose them, according to verse 13b, on the basis of trustworthiness. You will notice that: “because these men were considered trustworthy.” And then, in verse 14, he prayed that God would honor him for his faithful commitment to the house of God.

There’s a wonderful illustration here of what’s involved in the leadership of God’s people at every point along the way. What should the leadership be doing in Parkside Church? Seeking to bring the people together; seeking, under God, with wisdom, to put them in their place, in the sense of the place of greatest usefulness for them; choosing them for positions of responsibility not on the basis of their personality, not on the basis of familial involvement, but ultimately on the basis of trustworthiness; and then, having done those three things, coming before God in prayer and asking that he would bring honor and glory as a result of the leadership’s desire to do the right thing.

Now, you will notice that in doing this, Nehemiah is not seeking to curry favor. There’s many a young man who start strong, and by the time he’s gone through a few cycles in leadership, he begins to let it go. The things that were vital to him he begins to grow weak on; the things with which he began and were great concerns he begins to diminish in. And I’m not talking now about the young man growing to maturity and learning the distinction between a priority and something that is a secondary issue. I’m talking about somebody either being beaten down through the course of ministry or just losing their way. And it is a great danger.

And that is one of the great benefits, you see, of a plurality of leadership, so that those who are, if you like, running at the front of the line—or, if we may use a cycling analogy, who are cycling and breaking the wind, and they are there and there and there, and they are taking all the wind in their faces and making it easier for the two or three bikes that come behind—it is vital that somebody keeps riding up to the front of that line, because the guy cannot cycle at the front all the time and take everything that comes their way. That’s why God has ordained that there would be plurality in leadership: so as to safeguard any kind of unjustifiable desire for the front place, and also to prevent somebody being stuck in that place in a way that would be harmful to them.

Now, Nehemiah had brought others around him. He’d delegated it. He found that they’d kind of let him down. And so he comes back, and the question he faces is “Should I let it go?” “Should I let it go?” It’s what guys face every day in the office. They come in. They find that the last week, when they went on a business trip, went totally south. It’s now another week. It’s kind of gone. “Should I let it go?” Well, what’s the easiest thing to do? Probably let it go. What’s the hardest thing to do? Sit the people down and say, “What the world’s going on?” And the real question is: What’s the right thing to do? Not the easy thing, the hard thing, but the right thing.

Nehemiah is a principled individual. He must have asked himself, “Now, what’s the right thing to do here?” He says, “The right thing to do is not to become a man pleaser but to continue to please God. I can please these people by just allowing this to pass me by, or I can confront them on it.” And so he says he confronts them. Verse 11: “Why is the house of God neglected?” he says. “Why in world are you doing this?” It’s a lesson for all who lead: being prepared to take “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”[2] which come as a result of standing at the front of the line.

The establishing of holy habits and the establishing of kept promises is imperative to spiritual wholeness.

And also, in this threat we see a question that needs to be faced. Because the threat is unfulfilled commitment. Question: “Are there any unfulfilled commitments in my life this morning?” Take a sheet of paper, put at the top “Any Unfulfilled Commitments.” “Well, I said I’d clean my room. I didn’t clean it.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. “Well, I said that I would call my father, and I didn’t.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. “I said that I would pray for my missionary family on Friday, and I haven’t.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. “I said that I would serve the Lord in the next six months, in the final six months of the year, wholeheartedly, unmistakably, and that I would serve them by never absenting myself, apart from illness, from the opportunities of worship amongst the people of God. And I haven’t done it.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. “I joined this church, and I committed myself, unstintingly, to give of my time, of my gifts, and of my resources. And I haven’t.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. “I made a commitment to the Lord that I would forgive people from my heart unreservedly. And I’m sitting in worship this morning, and there are at least five people of whom I can think that I have an ongoing grudge deal with.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. “I told my children that I would be home at least three days out of the week and I would do their homework with them. And I haven’t done it.” That’s an unfulfilled commitment. Make no mistake about it: one of the greatest impediments to spiritual wholeness is when we go before God and we tell him we’re going to do something, and then we flat-out disregard it.

Unkept Promises

Threat number one: unhelpful associations. Threat number two: unfulfilled commitments. And threat number three, which is akin to the second: unkept promises.

Go back to chapter 10. Again, we’ll set this in context. Chapter 10 and verse 31: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day.” And we don’t need to read further than that. “When the people come to town, the traders come to town, on the Sabbath, we’re not going to buy their stuff.” And then the great crescendo statement at the end of chapter 10: “We will not neglect the house of our God.” They had previously said that “we will carefully obey all the commands and regulations and decrees of the Lord our God.”[3]

Now, you see, this is not legalism to do this. The establishing of holy habits is not legalism. The establishing of holy habits and the establishing of kept promises is imperative to spiritual wholeness. When we married, we made a commitment to holy habits. When we married, we made a commitment to certain foundational promises. And the keeping of these promises is absolutely crucial to the well-being of the relationship which we enjoy with our spouse. Therefore, someone encouraging us to maintain such promises is in no way doing us a disservice, is in no way calling us into some kind of legalistic lifestyle, but is seeking, by their encouragement, to bring us into all the fullness and all the benefits of what that relationship might mean.

In the same way, when we say that we will follow hard after Christ, when we commit ourselves to obeying fully all of his law, not so that we might be accepted by him—because we know that that could not be—but on account of the fact that we have been accepted by grace through faith and made righteous in his sight…

I cannot work my soul to save,
For that my Lord has done;
But I will work like any slave
For love of God’s dear Son.

So that our commitment to the promises are not in order to gain acceptance but are on the basis of the fact that God in his mercy has reached down to us.

And some of us, frankly, are poor promise keepers. We are great promise makers and poor keepers. And God looks upon us this morning, in his love and in his kindness but with his searching gaze, and he says, “Listen, you got any unkept promises?”

Now, the particular emphasis here we need be in no doubt about. It is simply this issue of what they were going to do on the Sabbath. And they had said, “We are not going to monkey around with the Sabbath thing.” But the traders had come into town. They’re up to their old tricks. Presumably, they began to say to one another, “You know, there’s no reason to be so strict and particular about this. After all, God knows that we have responsibilities. The Lord knows that we have children. We have to buy them shoes. The Lord knows that it would be nice for us to have a little extension over here. And therefore, we’re not concerned about acts of mercy here. We’re not talking about getting animals out of ditches. We’re not talking about being involved in emergency surgery. We’re just talking about deciding that we are not going to worship on the Lord’s Day, because we’ve made a commitment to working on the Lord’s Day, and on Sunday evenings, that’s when we do our ironing; and on Sunday evenings, that’s when we do the laundry; and on Sunday evenings, that’s when we do our thing.” Now, I’m not talking about single moms here. I’m just talking about people who decided that we would play around with this whole issue.

Nehemiah says, “That’s a bad move.” Look at the progression in verse 15: “In [these] days I saw men in Judah,” and they were “treading winepresses on the Sabbath.” So he doesn’t let it go. No nondirective counseling on the part of Nehemiah. At the end of verse 15 he says, “I warned them against selling food on that day.” And then there were some people from Tyre who “were bringing in fish”—it’s pretty hard to bring in fish and conceal it—“and all kinds of merchandise,” and they were “selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.” So he went to the leaders of the people of Judah, the nobles of Judah, and he said to them, “What’s the wicked thing you’re doing?”

If you’re going to walk up to people and say, “You’re doing wicked things,” they’re not going to really like you. People don’t like that. “Don’t tell me I’m doing wicked things. You see, I came. I put my money in. I’m here. Isn’t that good enough, for crying out loud? Now I’ve got to sit and find out that the Bible says I’m doing wicked things? I don’t like to know I’m doing wicked things! I just want to know I’m doing good things. Just tell me about good things, good things, good things.”

“Well,” Nehemiah says, “when you’re doing a lot of good things, I’ll tell you good things. But at the moment, I’m telling you about some things that you shouldn’t be doing. And one of them is this issue.” So he rebuked them. It didn’t make him popular, but he wasn’t concerned about being popular. And in verse 19 he took practical action, and he stationed some people there at the gates. He wasn’t one of these kind of naïve liberal sort of individuals who said, “Oh, I’m sure they’re a bunch of nice people, and now that I’m back in town, they won’t do this anymore.” He said, “No, I bet they’d keep trying to do it, especially under cover of darkness. So I’ll get some of my own boys, I’ll put them down at the gates, and I’ll make sure nobody comes in and nobody goes out. And furthermore, I’ll pop up onto the wall, because some of these merchants and sellers have been pitching their tent outside Jerusalem in the evenings, obviously hoping for a chance to make a border crossing or maybe to make some kind of clandestine trading. And so I’ll get up on the wall.” And as it says in verse 21, “I warned them and I said, ‘Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I’ll come down, and I’ll thump you.’” That’s what he said. “Do this again, I’m going to punch your nose.”

Now, that doesn’t go well with our caricature of the average servant of God. The average servant of God looks as though a good meal would scare him, looks as though he’s never seen the sun in about forty years. He’s white, somewhat emaciated, and he can’t chew on hardly anything at all. He has to suck toast for most of his days. And the people of God like those kind of people, by and large. And when someone comes out, as Nehemiah did, like a raging bull, the response is “Who in the world does this guy think he is?” The answer is he’s the servant of God, who will stand before God for what was going on in Jerusalem, and he’ll give an answer for his leadership in Jerusalem. So if he comes in and says, “Hey, it’s up to you! You want to do this on the Sabbath? It’s not a problem. You want to do this in relationship to unfulfilled commitments? Hey, that’s not a problem. You want to neglect the house of God? That’s not a problem. As long as I get my money, as long as I get my clothes, and as long as I can just go through life fairly okay, I don’t really care.” That’s not leadership. That’s just acquiescent hogwash.

If you wonder at the state of the church in America in our day, look at the average commitment on the leadership’s part. It’s committed to pleasing itself, committed to pleasing men, committed to the accolades of men, committed to being in the mainstream, committed to being prepared—thought well of by all the people around. Any dead fish can go with the downstream flow. Only living fish can swim against the stream. And Nehemiah stands out in his day as one who would swim against the stream.

Now, the issue in terms of this promise is the promise to keep the Sabbath. Why is it so important? Well, let me tell you five reasons why it was so important. And actually, they’re all applicable. I’m just going to mention them; I’m not going to expound them.

The reason that this promise was so significant is, first of all, because Sabbath observance set the Jews apart as the people of God in a secularized and commercialized society. So if you want to take a note: “set them apart.” That’s it. Number one: it’s important because this day set them apart.

Number two: by what they did on this day, they acknowledged the Lord as Creator, which the surrounding nations did not do—which the Ammonites and the Moabites and Ashdodites did not do. They worshipped other deities, but they did not worship the God Jehovah. And so they were not committed on a regular basis to say, “We thank you, Father, that you are the creator of the universe. And on this one day in the week, we pause and acknowledge this: that in six days, you made the world and everything in them, and on the seventh day, you rested. And we rest today in acknowledgement of your creatorship.”

Thirdly: “We, by our resting today, give you credit for all the blessings of the week that is gone.”

Fourthly, we give recognition to the fact that the spiritual dimensions of life are more significant, more urgent than the material demands of life. And every time we do what everybody else does on the Lord’s Day, we miss the opportunity to make this wonderful point: that it is time well spent to take a complete twenty-four-hour period and to use it saying, “Spiritual things matter more than physical things. My Bible matters more than my newspaper. My soul matters more than my exercise. My family, under God, and their spiritual well-being matters more than my bank balance. My congregating with the people of God matters more than how high my grass is. My singing in the choir matters more than whether my car is clean or dirty.” And so we go through the process.

And fifthly, it provided rest from their usual work and recreation for their body and their souls.

Now, let me just suggest to you that here, without trying to make a direct application from the Jewish context into our Christian day, let me at least say this to you: consider each of these five things in relationship to the average Lord’s Day in amongst the people of God in late twentieth-century America. And we are so far removed from this as for it to be absolutely incredible! And yet at the same time, we’re on the receiving end of all kinds of calls and all kinds of commands to unite so that we might show the world who we are and what we’re for and what we believe in and what we’re about—each of these things unquestionably significant, probably profitable, and likely necessary.

But God must look from heaven and say, “How in the world is it that you have to come up with five of your own, and you neglect one of the ten that I gave you? I mean, I only gave you ten in the first place! You’ve knocked that down to nine. And while allowing everybody to assume that the one out of the ten is irrelevant, you’re then coming up with more of your own. So you’ve got it back up to fourteen or fifteen! And,” he says, “if you want to be distinctive, I’ll tell you what to do: take a day, and employ it in such a way as will mark you out as different in a commercialized and secularized society. Take a day that allows you to say to your family, to your neighbors and your friends, ‘God is the Creator. All of this “Earth” stuff is bogus. God is the creator of the ends of the earth.’” And on the Lord’s Day, we declare that.

Thirdly, we recognize that every good and perfect gift that we’ve enjoyed comes from his hand, and therefore, we will rejoice in his provision.

Fourthly, we want everyone to know that the spiritual dimension of our lives is more important than the physical.

And fifthly, we want the people to know that here is a provision of God for us, for our good.

Now, the interesting thing is that Nehemiah got angry about this. He got real angry about it. And the reason he got angry was because, he said, if you look down at verse 18, “Didn’t your forefathers do the same things? And wasn’t that why God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? I mean, just think it out,” he says. “We started this deal off, years ago, trying to rebuild the broken-down walls. In the process of that, you made these commitments to the Lord. Now you’re reneging on your commitments to the Lord, and the walls are going to start falling down again.”

Is that your Christian life today? Five years ago, ten years ago, you were baptized; you made these undying resolutions about what you were going to be, how you were going to be a part of the people of God here, how you were going to give your time and your resources and your gifts. And now you show up once in a blue moon. You show up once a day. Sunday morning is your gig, and you’re gone. What does that speak to concerning undying commitment? What indication is there to the watching world that this is something important to you? That’s no different from another large percentage of North America. People have no problem with that. They don’t care, in order to keep the culture a little stabilized, if thirty-five or forty million people go out and worship on a Sunday morning. There’s nothing bizarre about that. That’s fairly acceptable. But when they invite you over for dinner, and you say, “No, on the Lord’s Day evening, we’re involved with our children, and we have an opportunity to teach a little choir, and we usually are part of worship”—say, “Hey, get out of here! What’s that about?” It’s about keeping promises. It’s about being different. It’s about radical Christianity.

Unholy Marriages

The last issue and the last threat is the threat of unholy marriages—23–31.

Why is he so concerned about these people marrying other people? This is a not a racial thing. Don’t let anybody teach you that. The issue here is not between races. The issue is a spiritual thing. The people had absorbed another culture. They’d begun to listen to the other culture. They had begun to marry with the culture. Consequently, their children didn’t know who they were or what they were. They began to grow up with the language of Ashdod. They did not know the language of God. Therefore, they couldn’t read the book of God. If they couldn’t read the book of God, then they couldn’t do what God wanted them to do. And it would only take a couple of generations, and there’d be no Jewish nation at all.

So, Nehemiah is ticked. I mean, “ticked” doesn’t do it justice. Look at verse 25: “I rebuked them and called [down curses] on them. I beat some of the men and [I] pulled out their hair.” “I said, ‘You know, I’m not going to suffer for this. As long as I’m the leader here, this is not going to happen,’” he says. And he says, “If you’ve got any doubts, just think about Solomon. He was a big king. He had a lot of big deals. Nobody was admired more than Solomon. But he ended his days totally trivialized and trashed as a result of failing at this one point: because his heart became wedded to foreign women, and the foreign women turned his heart away from God, and he began to build altars to foreign deities. And although he had begun so well, he ended up so poorly.”

Think about this! Where did many of the mainline churches start? They started with a total commitment to this book, to the deity of Jesus Christ, to the inerrancy of Scripture, to the absolute faithfulness of God’s promises, to the certainty of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

Now, what happened? Well, somebody got married with somebody else. Somebody got in bed with somebody else that they shouldn’t. And they began to say, “Well, maybe that’s not as important as it once was. Maybe that’s not as significant. Maybe people shouldn’t be making a fuss about that.” And gradually, as you watch the great declension, you discover that they are where they are today not just as a result of a dramatic, wholescale disengagement of truth but as a result of a slow leak and a slow bleed over the years, down to where we are left with virtually nothing at all.

And listen, and listen carefully: Parkside Church can go the exact same way within a generation. All you need are leaders who will not hold true to the Scriptures. All you need are leaders who want to be men pleasers. All you need are leaders who are prepared to go with the flow and flush with the drift. And within a generation, this church will not be known, because God has exalted above all things his name and his word.[4] It may be known for a lot of social things, it may be known for a lot of good things, but it will no longer be a player in the great economy of God.

And when we apply it immediately to our own families, let’s be honest: we cannot marry our children to pagans and have Christian homes from that. You have pagan homes from that. “Oh, but you don’t understand, ’cause your oldest is only sixteen, and you’ve never been there.” I acknowledge that. I know that. I live with a locomotive coming up my back here, 110 miles an hour. I understand that. Sue and I understand that. We’re praying, you’re praying, and we’re going a day at a time. So we may face things that we don’t know about even today. But I also understand the Bible, and I also understand my role as dad. And I, God helping me, am not going to end up as one of these guys who says, “Oh, well, you know, there’s just nothing you can do, you know. They just make their friends, and they do their things.” No. No! I’m sorry. Rubbish!

I did it with my sisters. I told you before: I threw guys out my house for my sisters’ sake. Threw roses in the bin for my sisters’ sake. Why? ’Cause I didn’t want a stinking brother-in-law who was a pagan, selfishly. And I didn’t want my sister setting up home with someone who would draw her away from Christ. And that’s the issue here. And that is a radical issue in our day, where tolerance is on the throne and truth has been dethroned. Therefore, if you speak to the issue of truth, people say, “You’re a crank! You’re a crackpot! Next thing, you’re going to start beating people and pulling out their hairs.” Maybe! Maybe! Why? For the sake of eternity. For the sake of the kingdom. In order that we might do God’s work in God’s way.

This was so messed up that the high priest’s grandson was married to Sanballat’s daughter. That’s how rotten the things were in the state of Israel. Who is it says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”?[5] Is that Prince Hamlet? And Nehemiah comes back to Jerusalem, and he says, “Something is rotten in the state of Jerusalem.” Because you’ve got the leadership kowtowing to the day.

Where are the Nehemiahs of our day? Where are the guys that are prepared to stand up and just take it on the chin, even though the whole world is against them? I love Athanasius. “Athanasius, the whole world is against you.” Athanasius says, “Then I am against the whole world.” That’s tough. But that, I think, is the issue to which many of us are going to be called before this decade is out. The new relationships in America are not being formed on the basis of denominationalism. They are not running down old traditional lines. The new relationships are being formed on the basis of truth and error, light and darkness, a commitment to the promises, a commitment to the principles, a commitment to truth. And only those who are prepared to stand with Nehemiah will be able to stand on that day.

There’s a lovely wee finish to the book, isn’t there, where it says… What does it say? So he goes nuts, and he does all these things, and then he “purifie[s] the priests.” And then, in verse 31, he makes “provision for the contributions of wood” and “the firstfruits.” And then he prays. A man committed to purity, a man committed to practicality, and a man committed to prayer. Said, “We’re going to purify. We’re going make sure there’s enough wood and there’s enough fruit and stuff in here. And then we’re going to do at the end of the book what we did at the beginning of book: we’re going to get down on our knees, and we’re going to say, ‘O God, we’re not perfect. We’re far from it. O God, we’re not all we should be. O God, we’re having a hard time here in so many areas. But we want to ask that you will remember us with favor.’”

May these studies stir our hearts and guide our lives, for our good and for God’s glory. Let us commit one another to God’s care as we pray together:

“O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,”[6] we pray that from the example of Nehemiah we may draw strength, from the poor example of the people we may distance ourselves. Save us from unhelpful associations, from unfulfilled commitments, from unkept promises, and from unholy marriages. Help us to know what it means to do God’s work God’s way. For God’s glory we ask it. Amen.

[1] 2 Timothy 4:2 (paraphrased).

[2] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 3.1.

[3] Nehemiah 10:29 (paraphrased).

[4] See Psalm 138:2.

[5] Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.4.

[6] Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” (1719).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.