Today’s Reading: Nehemiah 13
Today’s Reflection: Nehemiah 13:19
As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day.
After the worship of the God of Israel was re-established in Judah there was still much work to be done among the people. Despite his reforms and the instructions in following the law (and following on Ezra’s previous work) Nehemiah continued to find many transgressions. One of the most serious was people working and conducting business on the Sabbath day. The foreign Tyrians were basically setting up their markets on the Sabbath to sell to the people of Judah.
Nehemiah moved swiftly to curtail this behaviour, reminding the Jews that it was disobedience like this that had led to the end of their kingdom, exile, and domination by foreign powers. He commanded that the walls of the city of Jerusalem be shut before Sabbath and kept locked until Sabbath was over. When merchants set up outside the locked gates on Sabbath Nehemiah sent men to drive them off. Then he ordered the Levites to purify themselves from sin and commissioned them to guard the gates.
When something is precious you don’t treat it lightly. You protect and guard it.
The sanctity of the Sabbath was a critical element of God’s dominion over the Jews. It set them apart from the people around them and pointed them back to God, His role as creator, and the laws He instituted. The Sabbath helped keep the Jews connected to their God, so when this symbol was threatened Nehemiah ensured the Sabbath was secured. Likewise, we need to defend things in our lives that link us to God: times for prayer and bible study; prohibiting behaviours that displease God; keeping our thought lives pure. All of these things are open to attack by a world hostile to God and obedience to His laws. If we want to maintain our relationships with God we need to actively defend the things that keep us connected to him.
1) Understand the threat: Nehemiah knew that disobeying the Sabbath, bad enough as it was, would only lead to even more heinous sins as the people disregarded God’s authority. You need to understand that your relationship with God is your lifeline. You may think you can survive without maintaining it consistently. You would be wrong. Any ‘break’ from communion with God can easily become habitual.
2) Remember what you’ve committed to: Nehemiah reminded the Jews both of the laws which they had committed to keep, the penalties their ancestors had suffered for their disobedience, and reminded the Levites of their solemn duty to guard the keeping of God’s law. You know what you have become convicted of, what you know you need to do to be faithful and obedient to God. You need to remember how these beliefs and actions played a role in God’s leading in your life and maintain your commitments. If you do break from obedience, recommit. We serve a God who is faithful to forgive our sins. An important note: the purpose of guarding beliefs here is to keep people who have made commitments to God accountable, NOT to impose our faith convictions on non-believers. Nehemiah confront the Tyrians for selling in Jerusalem on the Sabbath, not for conducting business on the Sabbath in general; he confronted the Jews for breaking the Sabbath and thus violating their covenant with God.
1 John 1:9 – If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
3) Take decisive action: Nehemiah took clear, bold steps to return the Jews to obedience of the Sabbath, and guarded the city to ensure temptations to work and do business were eliminated. We too must take immediate, decisive action to shore up our personal walls of faith.
Proverbs 25:28 – A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.