We will not neglect the house of our God
8/7/2022 – Daniel Perez
Overview of Nehemiah 1-9
This morning we continue our series “Arise & Rebuild”. For those just joining us, we are
going through the book of Nehemiah. In chapters 1-6 we saw the rebuilding of the city gates and
walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah the governor is the cupbearer of the Persian King, the current ruler
of the known world. Nehemiah serves in his courts. After hearing the report that Jerusalem was
in shambles, the Lord moved Nehemiah’s heart and hands to rally his brothers and sisters to
carry out this rebuilding project. We have now been in the second half of Nehemiah where we
see that Ezra, the scribe and priest – the spiritual leader of Jerusalem – rejoins these returned
exiles and leads them through a different kind of rebuilding project.
Rebuilding the People of God
They now focus on rebuilding the people. Two weeks ago we saw that (1) rebuilding
starts with making God’s Word central in our lives. We must be people of the Book. We should
be eager to hear, receive, understand, and apply God’s Word to our lives. This is not something
we do only in private, but something we practice corporately and with our brothers and sisters in
Christ. God’s Word should be central in our lives, in our homes and Church. It should serve as a
light and lamp for us in all areas of life. Last week we saw that (2) rebuilding starts with
passionate, fervent prayer. It moves from recognizing that God is the great I am, our deliverer, to
confession of sin, followed by repentance that seeks to kill sin in our lives and honor God. This
morning we will see that (3) rebuilding starts with a formal commitment to God and one another.
Like the name of our Church, this commitment is expressed in the Bible as ‘covenant’. Spiritual
rebuilding requires that we enter into covenant relationship with God and with one another.
The Signers of the Covenant (9.38-10.27)
We have spared you the reading of the many names that signed the covenant renewal.
The list includes twenty-one priests, seventeen Levites, and forty-four lay leaders. If you were
looking for a unique baby name, then look no more. We see that this long list of the leaders of
the community is followed by “the rest of the people” (v.28). All who had knowledge and
understanding and had separated themselves to the Law of God had signed this document. They
were committed, as one people, to a renewed covenant with God. All of us go through seasons of
discouragement, but as the body of Christ we support and encourage one another. We are to bear
with one another’s burdens. We are called to correct and instruct, to rebuke where appropriate,
and to build each other up with the promises and provision of God. This morning we are being
called to a renewed covenant with God and one another. It is a shared responsibility to live by
God’s Word, to keep His commands, and to live in fellowship with Him and one another.
The Characteristics of the Covenant (9.38-10.27)
This covenant is characterized by (1) the authority of the Bible, God’s word; if God has
truly spoken to us through the Bible, then we must order our lives according to his Word. This
must be our daily bread that is deeply imprinted in our hearts and reflected in our thoughts,
words, and deeds. It must be central to our relationship with God and one another. The covenant
is also characterized by (2) the restoration of the temple – of its ministers and its ministries to the
people. This is the central place where the people worship God through the mediation of the
Levites and priests. The third characteristic of this covenant is (3) the great responsibility placed
on the people. As a reminder, they are responding to YHWH, the redeemer God who brought
them out of Persia by His mighty hand. They are responding to His grace and generosity as they
sign the covenant. This is not salvation by works. They are exercising good works and living
within God’s law in response to God’s great act of salvation. It is important that we understand
this responsibility as both corporate and individual. As God’s people, we are responsible for
keeping His word, worshiping God, and sharing His Word that others may come and worship
Him. This is our great privilege and our great responsibility as His people.
The Place and Goodness of the God’s Law
Now, we see that certain rules and boundaries are set in place which will guide their lives
that the people may understand what duty God requires of them (WSC Q3). In verse 28 through
the remainder of our passage, there is a movement from general law to specific laws that
addressed the immediate concerns of the community. Before turning to these, I want to address
the place and goodness of God’s law in our lives.
There continues to be a wave of “spiritual” teaching that views the law of God as binding
and expired. Some view the law as dead and empty. Even loveless. This lie is not new, in fact it
has existed and it has been promoted from the very beginning. In the opening chapters of
Genesis, we see that the serpent in the garden hisses a lie that questions God’s goodness. He
emphasizes God’s restrictions and how He aims to constrain and control. The serpent tells Adam
and Eve that God’s law serves to rob them of greater joy and happiness and it restricts their
freedom. Here, we can fall into the same lie. The same trap. God offers His law not to steal our
joy, time, or money but to free us from the mastery of this world, from the mastery of money,
from the mastery of a career. He frees us from other masters that leave us empty and wanting.
God wants us to find joy and happiness and purpose and identity in Him because He is the true
fountain and wellspring of life and joy. He is the divine purpose giver that imprints His image on
us and gives us new hearts to love and serve Him. God’s law ultimately points us to Jesus as the
way, truth, and life. What we can learn from the garden is that His law is good. It expresses
God’s will and it calls us to live in covenant with Him. All other ways are traps and lies. As
Adam and Eve quickly learned, it is the absence of God’s law that leads them to misery and sin.
It is the absence of God’s law that leaves us broken and empty. Returning to our text, without the
law of God, those gathered in Jerusalem would not know how to worship God, how to love Him
or live for Him. Praise the Lord that He has given us His Law! Amen.
Set Apart from The World (10.28-31)
We see in our text this morning that the law of God is given that we may be set apart
from the world and set apart for God. During the long readings and instruction that the people
received, they might have read from Leviticus 20.26 “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the
LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” The Lord is concerned
with the purity of His people and their holiness. He is concerned with the choices we make and
with the holiness of all our lives. He is concerned with the holiness of Christ Covenant Church.
He is not silent or indifferent on these matters, but He speaks clearly and openly. It is our task
and responsibility, through the grace and guidance of the Spirit, to live holy lives onto the Lord.
The Problem of Mixed Marriages
We see in verses 28-29 that the people take an oath to separate themselves to the law of
God and observe all His commandments, ordinances, and statues. As I mentioned earlier, our
text moves from walking in God’s law (general) to specific instructions in verse 30-31. These
specific instructions further guide us how we are to live holy lives onto God. In verse 30 the
people declare with one voice “we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take
their daughters for our sons”. Let us first understand that the bible does not condemn mixed
marriages based on racial or ethnic grounds. That is found nowhere in the scriptures! We see that
Rahab was from Jericho, a foreign nation, and she believed and worshiped the living and true
God. Moses, the great mediator and redeemer of God’s people in Egypt, married a Cushite
woman. What is being forbidden in our text, and throughout the scriptures, is marriage with non-
believers. Those in Jerusalem were to break from mixed marriages with the peoples of the land
based on religious grounds. In those times, foreign people and nations were primarily pagan,
giving themselves to idolatrous practices and the worship of false gods. When they were under
the rule of the King of Persia, he didn’t care. But our God cares. We must align our values with
God’s values and God’s law because we have come under His kingdom.
Israel’s History of Mixed Marriages
This problem of mixed marriages with pagan people is a large part of the downfall of
Jerusalem, and both Ezra and Nehemiah knew that this would continue to bring ruin and
destruction on God’s people if this sin was not addressed and dealt with properly. A brief glance
at the Davidic Monarchy prior to the exile will help us better understand this problem. The rise
of David to the throne is primarily marked by great success and prosperity. His one blemish, his
sin against Bathsheba, brings him great personal trouble and marks the beginning of the downfall
of Israel and the monarchy. After some internal conflict, Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, ascends the
throne as David grows old and weak. This account of the transition of power from father to son,
recorded for us in 1 Kings, is very positive. Solomon seeks the Lord, he prays for wisdom, he
carries out many mighty works in constructing a temple, dedicating it to God, and building a
great nation and army. He is blessed beyond measure and, for a moment, we seem to forget the
sin of his father David.
Then we find this one line in 1 Kings 11 that unravels everything, “Now King Solomon
loved many foreign women”. We read in the following verses “You shall not associate with
them, nor shall they associate with you, for they will surely turn your heart away after their
gods.” What did Solomon, a man full of wisdom, choose? “He had seven hundred wives,
princesses, and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned his heart away. For when
Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart away after other gods; and his heart was not wholly
devoted to the LORD his God.” In just six words, “King Solomon loved many foreign women”,
the whole story turns and Israel begins its descent. Like Adam in the garden, Solomon chose the
forbidden fruit that brought sin and misery, not just to himself but to all God’s people. He gave
into the hissing enticement of the serpent which brought destruction and exile.
Who can observe all the commandments of our Lord?
While this matter of mixed marriages only receives half a verse in our text, it carries a lot
of baggage and history for these people. Sadly, even after the exile, this continues to be a
problem with the people of God. The books of Ezra and Nehemiah as well as Malachi, a prophet
in the post-exilic times, address mixed marriages with pagan people and called the people to
holiness. Even though the people make a formal covenant, the question is raised, who can
overcome their sins? Who can fully devote themselves to the Lord? Who can overcome our sins?
Solomon was the wisest man in his times but he acted foolishly. Nehemiah was a great governor
but he was on borrowed time and eventually had to return to the courts of Persia and carry out
his duties. So again, where is the hope of those gathered in Jerusalem? Where is our hope?
Brothers and sisters, in the very words of Jesus “someone greater than Solomon is here”
(Matt. 12.42). He is the One that is wiser than Solomon. A greater governor who will never leave
us. One who rules, not just externally, but rules our hearts. We have a greater spiritual leader and
mediator that can changes us from the inside – who gives us new hearts and seals us with His
Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus Christ was tempted in every way; He was tempted in all things like
Solomon and like us, yet He remained sinless. In the garden the serpent hissed and tried to entice
Jesus with his lies, yet He remained faithful to God, entrusting Himself to the Father. Why? He
did it for us. He remained faithful and He suffered for us. This morning, we are called to cast
ourselves on Jesus Christ and receive Him as Lord and Savior. We have the privilege to receive
Jesus by faith and with love, to follow Him and His example. The devil will always tempt us to
join hands with him, to align our values with the kingdom of darkness and flee from the promises
of God. We can stand strong this morning, and every day, because Jesus has overcome the world,
the flesh and the devil. Amen.
Mixed Marriages Today
The burden to keep the law is too great for us and it is too great for those gathered before
Ezra and Nehemiah, but they also looked forward to the Messiah, the One that would be fully
devoted to God. At the same time, this does not mean that, just because Jesus has done all things
in our place, we are free from obeying and submitting to the law of God. Although we are saved
by grace, Jesus did not teach us to live outside of the law but within it (Breneman). Let us also
not think that this is just an OT practice or problem. Paul leaves no room for confusion when he
tells us “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and
lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with
Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple
of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God”.
As God’s people, we should seek to marry others that love and obey the Lord. Others that
worship the true and living God. We should seek to grow our families as a household of faith,
united by the Word and promises of God. A household that, with one voice, confesses that Jesus
is Lord of our lives. God warns and continues to warn of a divided household, calling us to marry
“in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7).
We also see that these prohibitions and instruction are not just limited to mixed
marriages. They extend also to personal relationships; who we associate with. To the
Corinthians, Paul reminded them elsewhere that “bad company ruins good morals”. So yes,
certain relationships and friendships will damage our faith and they will affect our hearts and
worship of God. It is better for us to abandon these relationships and “come out from their
midst and be separate” so that we will not participate in their sins and lifestyle (2 Cor. 6.17, Isa.
52.11, Rev. 18.4). John urges us in his epistles not to love the world or anything in it which
might destroy our distinctive witness to Christ in the world. James, the brother of Jesus, directly
tells us ‘friendship with the world is hatred towards God.’ Peter calls us live in this world as
‘aliens and strangers’ destined for eternity as God’s servants, not the slaves of this world
(Brown). Let us flee, this morning, from the lies of the serpent that tells us that our
relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ are boring. The lie that marriage with other
believers is antiquated and unkind. Being holy as the Lord is holy demands that we have Christ
as central in our homes, in our marriages, and in all relationships in life.
The second specific law addressed in our text is honoring the Sabbath day. We read in
verse 31 “As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to
sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the
seventh year and the exaction of every debt”.
Keeping the Sabbath
The people in Jerusalem would suffer great financial losses. Many foreign merchants
came to trade in Jerusalem, especially on the Sabbath. Some tried to get around this law by
saying that as long as they were not purchasing anything, just selling goods, then they were not
conducting any business. The history of Israel is marked by an abandonment of this
commandment and great craftiness that tried to keep the doors open for business. The whole
point of the Sabbath rest is not just to take a nap, but to find rest in God and separate from
worldly affairs and concerns. They were to devote their day completely to God in corporate
worship and fellowship of God in their homes. Resting in God meant depending on Him to
provide for their needs. To their unbelieving neighbors it may have been puzzling but it
declared that God is first. All of these laws that call us to separate from the world and their
practices might not make sense to those on the outside but it declares to the watching world
that honoring God comes first in our lives.
For Christians, our Sabbath rest is found not at the end of the week, Saturday, but at the
beginning of the week, on Sunday. Jesus sanctified the first day of the week when He was
raised from the grave on Sunday. The old Sabbath day marked the first creation of Genesis
while the new Sabbath day marks the second creation, or the new creation in Jesus Christ (John
3, 1 Cor. 15). Despite this change, the charge remains the same for us today. We are to honor
the Sabbath day of our Lord. One way we do this, taken directly from our text, is to set aside
business practices that we may be devoted to the worship of God with the people of God. But,
beyond this one point, we need to ask ourselves, what lifestyles and habits are we adopting to
be able to honor the Sabbath and gather with God’s people. What kind of standards and rules
are we setting up in our lives on Sundays? We all need to examine our hearts and examine our
schedules and commitments, identifying areas where we are taken away from the worship of
God and fellowship with one another.
Set Apart for God (10.32-39a)
As we read in our text, the people were not only to set a day apart for the service and
worship of God, they were also to set their monies and resources aside for the service and
worship of God. They placed themselves under obligation to contribute yearly to the service of
the house of the Lord. Their tithes and offerings to the service of the house of the Lord were to
support the Lord’s ministers and the Lord’s ministries. With only 2% of the Jews leaving Persia
and returning to Jerusalem, this placed a great burden on the people. The temple upkeep along
with the financial support of the Levites was a great responsibility that fell on those that returned.
One could easily say “I will keep working on the Sabbath to support the work of God” or
something along those lines. It is also true that the Kings of Persia provided for the worship and
religious practices of those they captured. As these people covenanted with God and one another,
they were deciding to bear this great responsibility on their own without foreign aid. Why? They
were under a new kingdom and a new king. God’s kingdom works differently so their lives
looked different. They were to reflect the holiness of God in the way they steward their money,
in the way they manage their time, in their marital and business practices and the relationships
and friendships they were building.
Brothers and sisters, we are under a new kingdom. We are under a new king. How would
you live in light of these changes? Shouldn’t people see a difference in us? Shouldn’t outsiders
walk through those doors and see that we/us are different? Does our giving look different from
the world? Does our Sunday look different from the rest of the world? As Jesus instructed us,
where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. If you value the things of this life more God,
then any amount of money towards the things of the Lord will seem too great. Any amount of
time given to serve in the church will seem too long. But when we treasure the Lord above all
else, then our time and money will reflect what we truly value.
Conclusion – We Will Not Neglect the House of the Lord (10.39b)
These last three messages have focused on rebuilding the people. As I mentioned at the
beginning, rebuilding starts with making God’s Word central in our lives, rebuilding starts with
fervent prayer, and rebuilding starts with formal commitment to God and one another. Our
passage end with the verse “Thus we will not neglect the house of our God”.
May we recommit ourselves to the Lord this morning, living according to His Word. May
we commit to rightly order our households, to rightly order our time and our money for the
purposes of God and His glory. May we sign our names on the dotted line and say yes, as for me
and my household, we will serve the Lord. May we be a people that do not neglect the Word of
the Lord, the house of the Lord or the people of the Lord.