[otw_shortcode_info_box border_type=”bordered” border_color_class=”otw-black-border” border_style=”bordered” shadow=”shadow-down-right” rounded_corners=”rounded-10″]This sermon is part of the Expository Preaching Collective on the Book of Nehemiah. Follow the link below to know more about What Expository preaching is and Why is it important to us. (Click here)[/otw_shortcode_info_box]
Read Nehemiah 7:5-73
v4 – Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt.
v5 – So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there….
v73 – The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns. When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns
The city walls have been rebuilt, and miraculously in a record 52 days! However, when Nehemiah looks around he sees that the land is spacious and large but there’s nobody living in it. (v4) God then stirs his heart to bring together all the nobles, officials and people and get them registered so that they can begin to inhabit Jerusalem. He’s helped by a genealogical record of the first returnees. (v5)
[bctt tweet=”What does it mean to be in a covenant relationship with God?” username=”gatheringmumbai”]
I believe this passage highlights the covenant keeping character of God. That’s why the context is very essential.
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With regards to this, we can learn two things:
1) God zealously desires His worship
2) God lovingly pursues His people
1. God zealously desires His worship
At the outset when we look at this passage it may only seem like a story about repopulating and inheriting the land. Prior to this, the story may have appeared to only be a story of rebuilding broken walls. And that’s what we may think when we look at the surface: Construction and Inhabitation. However, when we dig deeper we find out that there’s something very significant that we can know about God and about ourselves through this passage.
The truth of the matter is that by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and by re-populating the city, the ultimate goal was to establish the worship of Yahweh!
Firstly, when we look at their history we understand that the very reason why they were exiled was due to idolatry! The people’s hearts were corrupted and they quickly turned away from God. Most of the Kings who ruled over them were wicked and caused them to worship idols. Every practice that was considered wicked in the eyes of the Lord was now being practiced among the Israelites – people who were supposed to be set apart for God!
1 Kings 14:22-24
“And Judah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they provoked him to jealousy with their sins that they committed, more than all that their fathers had done. For they also built for themselves high places and pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree, and there were also male cult prostitutes in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations that the Lord drove out before the people of Israel.”
So God gave them up to their enemies in order to be captured and they were exiled.
2 Kings 24:18-20
Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hamutal the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that Jehoiakim had done. For because of the anger of the Lord it came to the point in Jerusalem and Judah that he cast them out from his presence.
Verse 20 is a very depressing statement when we look at Judah because they were the people of God, God shared a very special relationship with them, God dwelt among them, through them God was going to bless all the other nations. However, we see how miserably they failed in their worship of God. After everything God did for them, how they responded in disobedience and rebellion. It echoes the statement in Genesis when it talks how Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden because of their sin.
I remember reading through 1 Kings and 2 Kings and just feeling so depressed. The kings who were put in their place by God to lead people to worship were the very ones who turned the people away from God. At some moments I would think “Why do they do that to God? Why do they need to bow down to other idols? Why can’t they obey God? They deserve to be judged”. Just then I realized how my heart also bows to other idols. The biggest idol factory is located in our hearts. Every time we look at our family, friends, relationships, jobs, money, food, things we can buy, our possessions, fame, pride and find greater pleasure in them than God, we are bowing down to idols. Every time we find our identity in the affirmations of people and in the things that we do, we bow down to idols. Every time we find our ultimate security in our bank account, our homes, our jobs and relationships we bow down to idols.
But why would God give up His people and judge His people for worshipping other Gods? Why does He demand His full and complete worship?
And sometimes we feel God is being too harsh on this disloyalty thing. So this illustration helps me understand why the worship and fidelity to God cannot be shared or compromised:
What would you do if your 5 year old child went about calling everyone else “Daddy” or “Mommy”? You may warn him a few times but it’s going to get you really angry beyond a point because that title of a “Dad” or “Mom” belongs to you. It cannot be shared with anyone else. If that’s the relationship and the expectation of a child from the parent, can we actually reserve our worship for anyone else except our God, the one who fashioned and created us?
Secondly, when we look at the professional group of classes of people returning from exile: Priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers, temple servants, we can infer that worship was a priority and was being emphasized.
What did Jerusalem mean to God and the people?
1. It signified God’s protective reign over His people.
2. It meant that God would dwell among His people.
3. It would be the place where God would meet His people (forgive, demonstrate justice, provide help, show mercy and grace) 1 Kings 8
The idea of the temple and Jerusalem was that it would be like God’s throne from where He would rule His people.
The main reason why the people were brought back into the city of Jerusalem to settle in was not because they were homeless, or because there was a better opportunity for living out there, but because He wanted to re-establish His worship among the people.
It’s so encouraging to know that we worship God who is zealous about His Worship. What would it mean for us to see his worship of the One true God be established in our lives personally? It would mean that we need to repent of the idols in our hearts. How can Christ be the One in whom we find our ultimate pleasure, identity and security? What would it mean for us to see the worship of the One true God be established in Mumbai? It’s a huge question. We’re all trying to figure it out. Definitely through the gospel and by confronting the idols of not only wood and stone but also of the culture.
What idols do you come across through your conversations with your friends, family and colleagues?
What creative ways can you use to confront them?
2. God lovingly pursues His people
v5 – Then my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy. And I found the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first, and I found written in it
Nehemiah makes it explicitly clear in this book that it’s not his own initiative but the desire that God put in his heart to bring all this about.
…..And I told no one what my God had put into my heart to do for Jerusalem. (v5, Nehemiah 2:12)
Not only does God zealously desire His worship but He also lovingly pursues His people when they fall away. As we read in those passages in 1 and 2 Kings, Judah and Israel blew it. Yet God was so patient with them. He didn’t immediately destroy them but delayed the judgment. King after King came and acted wickedly against God. If we were in God’s place, we would’ve probably destroyed the people and created a new nation all over again. But no, God keeps His covenant that He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They are His people. So what does He do? He remains faithful to His covenant and keeps a remnant for Himself. They are exiled but not completely destroyed. And then He pursues them with love and brings them back to the Promise Land. It’s walls are broken and gates are burned, so God rebuilds the walls…(for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God – Neh 6:16). Isn’t that so amazing and loving of our God?
That’s a picture of the gospel right there. We all deserve the judgment of God as a result of our sin. But God lovingly pursues us. He comes to us. God became man – Jesus. Lived the perfect, impeccable life. Unlike us he didn’t sin. He worshipped God fully and completely. But He shows His love for us by dying in our place as our substitute. So that by His sacrifice every single barrier that separated you from God: sin, Satan and death could be completely defeated. He remains faithful till the end.
Praise God for loving kindness and faithfulness!
Doesn’t that encourage us today? You may think you’ve blown it in your relationship with God. But the encouragement is in knowing that God lovingly pursues us. What He desires is repentance and full trust in what Christ accomplished for you.
Also, another application as we go about sharing the gospel and making disciples is in knowing that it’s not our initiative that changes people but it’s the loving pursuit of our God that’s going to change them. The moment people realize and see what God has done for them, how He’s pursued them in spite of their rebellion, that’s what’s going to transform them. So the pressure is off. You don’t need to feel the pressure of having those “numbers” but can freely, gladly and willingly share about His love and faithfulness! And God who is faithful will bring that about.