Nehemiah: Dedication of the Walls

Today’s reading is Nehemiah 12:27-43Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

Available from 6am Sunday.

Hannah Moore, the great 18th Century anti-slavery and social justice campaigner, once said, ‘A slowness to applaud betrays a cold temper or an envious spirit.’

A dictionary definition of ‘praise’ is, ‘to express admiration or approval of the achievements or characteristics of a person or thing.’

As we end our short mini-series on the book of Nehemiah, today we are going to focus on some verses towards the end, in chapter 12, which are all about the response of Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem, when the walls if the city were finally re-built—a response of praise and thanksgiving.

But before we do this, we shall have a quick canter through the central chapters of Nehemiah.

In our series, we focused on the first four chapters, because this is where much of the action happens, and where we learn so much from the initial challenges Nehemiah faced, and the responses he gave. As I said last week, I warmly commend the whole book to you. It isn’t long. Read it through, and digest more of what it reveals, to teach and encourage.

Last week we looked at chapter 4, the opposition Nehemiah and the people encountered as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. We thought about their response of prayer, keeping going, and remembering God’s faithfulness.

In chapter 5, Nehemiah shows his godly leadership in more ways, through his vigorous response to issues of social justice and help of the poor. As governor of Jerusalem, he publicly stood up to the exploitation of the poor which was going on—excess taxes, overly high interest rates, the exploitation and enslaving of the poor and vulnerable. Nehemiah was unafraid to call this out publicly, a s well as ensuring those in leadership with him practised and modelled fairness and justice.

Chapter 6 finds Sanballat and Tobiah renewing their opposition. It never seemed to stop. But Nehemiah and the people, kept praying, kept going, and kept remembering God’s faithfulness. In spite of this persistent and increasingly desperate opposition, the wall was finally renewed, re-built and completed.

We then read of the list of exiles who returned to Jerusalem—all those who had been taken into exile and captivity in Babylon. Following this prayer led and faithful commitment—‘from the first light of dawn until the stars came out’ (Nehemiah 4:21Open Link in New Window), the people returned in their thousands to the holy city. The city of God was being re-filled, re-populated again. Praise God!

In chapter 8 we meet the scribe Ezra in a significant passage. The walls are re-built. The people of God re-gathered and re-stored to their city, homes and to the temple of God. They are then re-minded, and re-taught the Law of God. The Book of the Law of Moses is brought out before the people. (Nehemiah 8:5-6Open Link in New Window) ‘Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him…; and as he opened it, the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. begins to read aloud and all listened.’

Such is the holiness of the Word of God—treated with total reverence, wonder and worship. While away in exile, maybe some had drifted away from their relationship with God, maybe they had neglected time God’s life giving Word. Regathered as the people of God, together, they renewed their understating of and commitment to God’s purposes and God’s ways in his holy Word.

Having done so, and having been reminded of God’s grace, goodness, faithfulness and holiness, chapter 9 sees a corporate confession of their sins. Last week we read that Nehemiah encouraged the people to remember God’s faithfulness. When we do that, we are encouraged, inspired and renewed. We are also more aware of the times when our love for God and for each other has gone cold, and when we are in need of God’s forgiveness—when we are in need of a new start, and the slate wiped clean for us, because of the cross of Christ.

God’s people remembered all that had led to their exile in Babylon for those many years, and they said, ‘(Nehemiah 9:33Open Link in New Window) ‘In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.’

As the apostle John said, ‘If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9Open Link in New Window).

Chapter 10 sees the people re-commit to a binding agreement to the laws of God. In chapters 11 and 12 we read about the re-populating of the city with new residents and the return of the Priests and the Levites—those who looked after God’s temple and the experts in the law.

Continuity is a big theme running through the book of Nehemiah. In spite of the huge disruption to their lives—the destruction of Jerusalem and their exile far away from home, God’s ways, God’s purposes and God’s people endure—restored, re-built, renewed, revived.

Phew…

We now come to chapter 12. After all the challenges, opposition, fears, doubts, weariness, exhaustion etc… the walls are re-built, the gates restored. The people turned back to God’s Word and renewed their covenant with God. The city is now repopulated. It’s time to celebrate God’s goodness and give thanks. Eventually they overcame all odds and completed the rebuilding in 52 days. We can see the hand of God in all that has happened…

It’s time to celebrate God’s goodness and give thanks. Two things stand out here—SINGING and JOY. (Nehemiah 12:27-30Open Link in New Window).

The purpose of the gathering is clear—to give thanks to God. Nehemiah 12:27Open Link in New Window—They are “to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres.”

Before their services of praise and thanksgiving, they PREPARED themselves. For the Jews, this involved a ritual of purification. We may not have those rituals or purification, but I ask us all. How do we prepare for worship of the one true and living God?

Today, because of the work of Christ on the cross, we prepare ourselves not by doing some ritual but in confession and repentance. We examine our hearts and confess our sin. We admit our wrongs and repent, honestly and without pretence. We come before God with clean hands and pure hearts. Quiet time before our services in preparation, and giving ourselves time for preparation makes all the difference to how we approach praise and worship. Is there perhaps space in your life to come a bit early, for some quiet time in the chapel, or your seats in prayer?

The people of God came to worship God Almighty in the temple, and they prepared for this hugely important time.

They PREPARED for time with God, and they PRAISED God with THANKSGIVING.

There was no messing about here. Nehemiah organised choirs and processions around the walls—those same walls they had been mocked for trying to build, and intimidated as they did so. The people are happily singing and making music to God for what they see. And what are they seeing? The fully restored city of Jerusalem. The act of God!

If we have a hard time worshipping God, it is sometimes because we are not seeing—we are not seeing the character of God and we are not seeing the acts of God in our lives.

If we are oblivious to WHO He is and WHAT He has done or is doing, then we have nothing to sing about. But when we see the risen Jesus, we understand the cross of Christ, we know the overwhelming, never-ending love of God for us—the victory of Christ for all eternity over sin and death. ‘It is done’ / ‘It is finished’—our hearts are full to bursting with love and thanksgiving for the goodness of God.

This is why the key themes of our mission at St Matthews are Discipleship, Outreach and Community. We go deeper in our personal relationship with God, and we go out to proclaim the Gospel to the world, so more people will know who God is and what he has done—and also live lives filled with praise and thanksgiving. There are many ways of doing this, and one important one for us is of course the Alpha Course. Please continue to pray and listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit about who to invite and bring along.

In Jerusalem, no one is a spectator. No one is watching. Everyone is engaged in praising God, and they are doing it with great joy! Nehemiah 12.27Open Link in New Window: read… And this JOY, Nehemiah says, comes from God. God had given them great joy.

Joy goes beyond just happy occasions. It is a gift from God, not dependent on external circumstances. Habakkuk 3:17-19Open Link in New Window“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.”

It’s not our circumstances; it’s Him. God is present in our lives. The Sovereign Lord is our strength. And we can be GLAD because of that.

Prepare for Praise and Thanksgiving. After their journey from exile, through challenges of restoration and renewal, they were a revived and re-invigorated community—all because of the grace and love of God. Nehemiah said, The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10Open Link in New Window).

There will be a video version of the service.

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