“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. 4 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, 5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 I became very upset and threw all of Tobiah’s belongings out of the room. 9 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?