Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God


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36. Confronting Compromise – Part 2

Nehemiah 13:1-9 ;23-30

On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly. Before this had happened, Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal. The room had previously been used for storing the grain offerings, the frankincense, various articles for the Temple, and the tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil (which were prescribed for the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers), as well as the offerings for the priests. I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to King Artaxerxes of Babylon in the thirty-second year of his reign, though I later asked his permission to return. When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.

23 About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 Furthermore, half their children spoke the language of Ashdod or of some other people and could not speak the language of Judah at all. 25 So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land.26 “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. 27 How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?” 28 One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest had married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite, so I banished him from my presence. 29 Remember them, O my God, for they have defiled the priesthood and the solemn vows of the priests and Levites.30 So I purged out everything foreign and assigned tasks to the priests and Levites, making certain that each knew his work. 31 I also made sure that the supply of wood for the altar and the first portions of the harvest were brought at the proper times.

Because chapter 13 is best understood in light of chapter 10, I am going to follow the same outline as I did in chapter 10 as we see in detail each of the four broken promises:

  1. Submission Promise

In chapter 10 they had promised to submit to scripture, verse 29: “…to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our God.” But in verse 1 of chapter 13 we read a description of Israel’s carelessness concerning God’s clear command given in the Book of Moses concerning the purity of their worship: “On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God…” As the Scripture was read publicly those present realized how sloppy they had been about their submission to God’s Word. Instead of obeying the Word and setting themselves apart for God’s service they had surrounded themselves with people who polluted praise. You see when they listened to the words of Moses, they remembered what had happened to their ancestors when they were on the brink of the Promised Land. The Ammonites refused to give the Israelites food and water and the Moabites had hired Balaam to call a curse down on the Israelites. Both the Moabites and Ammonites were notorious for infiltrating Israel and causing their worship to become diluted. While they had become lax in their love for God’s Word the good news here is that as soon as the Israelites heard what God’s Word had to say, they obeyed it. The application for us is that as soon as we realize we are being disobedient to God’s word we need to repent and obey. No matter how disobedient we are we can always repent and return to God. Which is why you need to be in the bible, so that you can see sin and stop submitting to it. Is there anything you need to stop doing, any sin that is preventing you from submission to God’s Word?  Second, we see the:

  1. Separation Promise

In verses 4-9, we discover that one of these Ammonites was actually living in the Jewish temple. Nehemiah was horrified to find that not only was there a fox in the hen house but that the high priest was the one who had prepared a place in the temple for Tobiah the enemy. In order to make room for Tobiah they had to remove the tithes. Worship was displaced by wickedness.  Here was an archenemy of God’s people who was allowed access to the very heart of worship. From this position he could influence everyone. What about you, are you letting a traitor into the Temple? Verse 4 reveals the reason why the High Priest had replaced the tithes with a traitor, Tobiah was now a relative. When we cultivate wrong relationships, we set ourselves up for an infiltration of sin. As a result, Nehemiah’s nemesis, the one who had opposed God’s work was now living in God’s house. Nehemiah responds with righteous rage and rightly so. They are some things we need to get angry over, look we can’t be passive when it comes to purity. Nehemiah teaches us that when sin takes up residence it’s time for a spring cleaning. Nehemiah does three things, first he throws out the putrid, second, he purifies, and third he replaces what has been removed with what should be filling the space, worship. I have watched so many Christians make the mistake of stopping short at just removing sin but never replacing it. When we don’t replace it, we end up with a void and it’s only a matter of time before some other sin slips in. Now Nehemiah is not alone when it comes to spring-cleaning and removing the rancid and replacing it with what is right. A few hundred years later, Jesus tossed the money changers out of the temple. We need to take note of both the reaction of Nehemiah and Jesus. Because it is a reminder to us of how infrequently we express outrage over evil. There are times when evil must be confronted, yet too often we allow sin to fester and compromise our faith. When we tolerate trash, we end up in trouble. Where did the mess start, mixed marriages. Today some of you are toying with trouble by dating an unbeliever. The problem is they are influencing you more than you are influencing them, and they are causing you to compromise your Christian beliefs. There are others of you that are being seduced by sin, you are swallowing sin hook line and sinker. So how did Nehemiah respond to their rebellion, he called curses down, he slapped them silly and pulled out their hair. This may seem strange and even inappropriate behavior for a man of God, but you need to realize that this sin was the primary reason the people were taken into Babylonian captivity. Sin always leads to slavery and we need to take it seriously. Some of us need to be slapped today because we are shacking up with sin. We are not just messing around with sin it’s become our mistress. Look God didn’t call us to marry sin he called us to murder sin. To put it to death not to date it. What about you are you married to your mistress, are you fooling around with fire?

 

 


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35. Confronting Compromise – Part 1

Nehemiah 13:1-9

“On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly. Before this had happened, Eliashib the priest, who had been appointed as supervisor of the storerooms of the Temple of our God and who was also a relative of Tobiah, had converted a large storage room and placed it at Tobiah’s disposal. The room had previously been used for storing the grain offerings, the frankincense, various articles for the Temple, and the tithes of grain, new wine, and olive oil (which were prescribed for the Levites, the singers, and the gatekeepers), as well as the offerings for the priests. I was not in Jerusalem at that time, for I had returned to King Artaxerxes of Babylon in the thirty-second year of his reign, though I later asked his permission to return. When I arrived back in Jerusalem, I learned about Eliashib’s evil deed in providing Tobiah with a room in the courtyards of the Temple of God. I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. Then I demanded that the rooms be purified, and I brought back the articles for God’s Temple, the grain offerings, and the frankincense.”

As we continue in our series “Building in the Battle” in the book of Nehemiah we come to the last chapter in the book. It’s here that we come face-to-face with some big-time backsliders. Now one would think that the last chapter of this great book would contain encouraging and compelling stories of how God’s people took their spiritual commitment to the next level. But the book does not have a happy ending because within a relatively short period of time, the children of Israel returned to their old ways. They violated God’s laws, allowing the world’s system instead of the Word to press them into its mold. It’s here as we see Nehemiah confronting compromise head on that we are forced to ask ourselves a difficult question, are we committed Christians or compromising ones? Sometimes we need to learn to compromise but sometimes we need to confront compromise. A hunter raised his rifle and took careful aim at a large bear. When he was about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft soothing voice, “Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let’s negotiate the matter.” Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied, “I want a fur coat.” “Good,” said the bear, “that is a negotiable item. I only want a full stomach, so let us sit down and negotiate a compromise.” So, they sat down to negotiate and after a time the bear walked away, alone. The negotiations had been successful. The bear had a full stomach, and the hunter had his fur coat! Why did I share that silly story because sometimes compromise will kill you.  As we study chapter 13 my prayer is that we will all come to the same conclusion, that like Nehemiah we will have the courage to confront compromise and not become comfortably complacent in our Christian walk. As we see their commitment being replaced with compromise Nehemiah reminds us about the importance of our promises. When it comes to promises we are all guilty of failing to keep our pledges. Our good intentions and plans often fall by the wayside. Sometimes we blatantly break our promises but other times, we just kind of drift away, a little at a time. So often moral failure and spiritual decline are a lot like a flat tire. Most flat tires don’t occur as a result of a blowout, they get flat because air leaks out over time, often imperceptibly. Many times, we don’t even notice that we are going flat until our life becomes difficult to steer. Within a relatively short period of time, the children of Israel went spiritually flat, returning to their old ways of doing things. This leads us to a simple but sobering lesson, Good beginnings are not a guarantee of happy endings. At the end of chapter 12 Nehemiah went back to Persia to fulfill his commitment to the king. He had come to Jerusalem because he had a powerful prayer life and clearly heard God’s call to come and not only rebuild the walls but to rebuild worship. For 12 years Nehemiah invested his life into God’s people, leading them to not only listen to God but to live for and love God. Nehemiah left amid great revival and rejoicing, chapter 12:43 says that the “sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away” yet he returns to find the walls intact and the worship in ruins. Just like them we can spend more time on our buildings than our beliefs. Can you imagine how Nehemiah must have felt? He comes back planning to enjoy his retirement years only to find God’s people living in rebellion. The work on the walls may have come to an end but his work leading God’s people in worship was far from over. You see Faith is like a fire; it needs to be fed to keep it aflame. Now there is a literary link between chapter 10 and chapter 13 where we saw God’s people making 4 promises. First, they pledged to submit to God’s Word, second, they vowed to live separate from the world; third, they promised to Savor the Sabbath, and fourth, they agreed to support God’s work. Sadly, by the time we get to chapter 13, each of these promises has been broken. So, let me ask you are feeding the fire of faith or compromising and letting it go out?