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. 2 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. 3 When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly.
Its here in the last chapter of the book of Nehemiah 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 that we see Nehemiah confronting compromise head on and calling out those who were living in compromise. Which forces us to ask ourselves a difficult question, are we living life as committed Christians or compromising ones? Now there are times when we need to learn to compromise but more often than not we need to confront compromise. The story is told of a hunter who raised his rifle and took careful aim at a large bear. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke to him in a soft soothing voice, “Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let’s negotiate the matter.” The bear said. So 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. While this is a funny joke compromise is not, because the truth is that sometime compromises will kill you. My prayer for Christians is that they will come to the same conclusion as Nehemiah, and will have the courage to confront compromise and not become comfortably complacent in their 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. Often you don’t even know that you’re going flat until your life becomes difficult to steer. This is the slow fade, where one compromise is followed by another until the only thing we are following is failure. Within a relatively short period of time, the children of Israel went spiritually flat, returning to their old ways of doing things which leads us to a simple but sobering lesson; Good beginnings are not a guarantee of great 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 had clearly heard God’s call to come and not only rebuild the walls of Jerusalem but to rebuild its 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. He left Jerusalem amid great revival and rejoicing and in Nehemiah 12:43 we read that the “sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away” yet when he returns he 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 in worship with God’s people, but instead of finding them in a right relationship with God he finds them 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. So how are you doing at tending the flame, are you cultivating your relationship with God or compromising and killing it? Now there is a literary link between chapter 10 and chapter 13 where God’s people making 4 promises. In chapter 10 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. Chapter 13 is best understood in light of chapter 10, and so in the coming lessons we will see how each of these four promises are broken. So where are you at today? Are you living in the blessing of God’s promises or in the pain of broken promises? Are you living a faithful life or a failed life? There are a lot of Christians who start strong but then fade away one compromise at a time. God’s plan is for us to live a life of commitment not compromise, so are you clinging to His promises or are you clinging to your compromises?