Synopsis Nehemiah 12:25-40 8/14/2020
After the people fully reconstructed Jerusalem’s walls, Nehemiah held a dedication ceremony. In this assembly, Nehemiah gathered all the Levite song leaders from around the region. He split the song leaders into two groups. And these he directed to stand on top of the city’s newly constructed walls.
Along with the singers, he ordered the city’s administrators to stand on top of the wall. And Nehemiah also chose to stand on top of the wall in front of the great assembly to celebrate.
Dedication of Jerusalem’s Walls
The Dedication Ceremony served as a moment to publicly commit to using the walls, and the city, exclusively for the glory of God. In other words, with the walls, the people intended to glorify God.
If you really believe that God made you with purpose, then commit to that purpose.
“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” Rom 12:1-2
Synopsis Nehemiah 11:30-12:24 8/13/2020
During his time in Jerusalem, Nehemiah carefully reported the Levites and the priests. Specifically, he gave special attention to documenting the lineage of each of these men. And, he carefully cited the reference documents he used to validate the various lines.
Line of Succession
For the priests and Levites, succession and lineage were important. In fact, the laws governing ritual sacrifices under the Law of Moses required that priests come exclusively from the line of Aaron.
Similarly, the attendants of the Temple came exclusively from descendants of the tribe of Levi. So, the Israelites carefully documented the lineage of those who served.
Laying on of Hands
It is a tenant of the Catholic church that ministers of the sacrifice are the recipients of this office through the laying on of hands. From the hands of Christ, through the hands of St. Peter and downward we trace a legacy of impartation of the Holy Spirit.
And this comes down to us through baptism, confirmation and for those specially called, ordination. In every case, we enjoy the benefit of this impartation of the Holy Spirit as an unbroken chain of blessing.
“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.” 1Tim 4:14
Synopsis Nehemiah 11:9-29 8/12/2020
As a part of his record, Nehemiah identified the people who moved to Jerusalem. Additionally, he wrote down each person’s role and responsibility.
Singers on a Schedule
Professional singers and song leaders were an integrated part of the Israelites system of praise. At least from the time of King David, Jewish Temple worship required professional song leaders. It seems that praise and worship were baked into the ancient rites.
Sing Your Praise to the Lord
As a matter of traditional understanding, we are all made to praise God through some overt act, like singing.
And it doesn’t matter if my song is sad or happy. Make it honest and direct it to God. And in this way, I tune my heart to remain in harmony with the Creator – the King of the Universe.
“Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, bless his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.” Psa 96:1-2
Synopsis Nehemiah 10:36-11:8 8/11/2020
During Nehemiah’s time in Jerusalem, the people came together in a great assembly. Once there, they recommitted themselves to serving God and the community. A part of this commitment was to tithe faithfully.
Soon afterward, it became obvious that the newly reconstructed city needed to be populated. And so, the Israelites came up with a plan whereby one out of every ten men living in other Israelite cities would move to Jerusalem.
Jerusalem Waiting to Be Filled
Jerusalem was suddenly a viable, fortified city with a functioning temple. Based on its historical precedent, the city likely to grow quickly. For many, this may have seemed like a real opportunity.
Cities Waiting to Be Filled
Historically, it isn’t common for a city to be built before the citizens come to live there. Usually, the process is more organic. Villages grow into towns and towns grow into cities, that sort of process.
But God has promised to go before us to prepare a permanent dwelling for us. He has built a city. And one fine day, He will fill it with the Authentic Community.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” John 14:3
Synopsis Nehemiah 9:18-27 8/6/2020
The people had come together for a great assembly. It was a solemn event. And through it the community acknowledged God’s goodness despite the their and their ancestor’s unfaithlessness.
Specifically, the Levites recounted how their Israelite ancestors had remained stubborn throughout the exodus from Egypt. And how, even after entering the Promised Land, the people received the many blessings from God but then faithlessly disregarded Him.
The Levites recounted for the people how God eventually gave their faithless ancestors over to foreign oppressors. But, at the same time, He always had mercy on the people if they repented.
The Cycle of Sin and Relief
The history of Israel had devolved into a cycle of sin and relief. So much so, that the cycle had become predictable. And the leaders of the returned Israelite exiles recognized the pattern.
First, the people accepted the benefits of following God. Then, they disregarded God’s laws and commands. Next, God rebuked them through incremental corrections. And then, the pain of correction caused the people to repent. Finally, because of their reluctant repentance, God forgave and restored them.
But up to the time of Nehemiah, they had never really made the decision to serve God first. As a community, they had never really made serving God their chief priority.
The Decision to Live For God
Almost invariably, those of us who have come to God have done so because we wanted something. Maybe I wanted health. Or maybe I was after a particular relationship. Whatever it was, I came to God because He can do anything. So, my hope in coming was that He might do what I want.
And very often, it seems like He does. He answers these kinds of prayers.
But as the relationship goes on, the natural progression inevitably leads to a decision point. Eventually, we are each confronted with the challenge of God-centeredness. At that moment, the questions becomes: Will I continue to serve God without regard to what’s in it for me?
This is a necessary moment of breakthrough – a sign of growth. This is the shoot from Jesse.
Synopsis Nehemiah 9:6-17 8/5/2020
In Jerusalem, an assembly convened for a solemn assembly. The people came in mourning cloths. And together, they recommitted themselves to serving God alone. And they committed to separating themselves from the non-Israelite people who lived around them.
With this, the Levites who led the assembly began crying out praise to God. And they recounted God’s miraculous faithfulness to the sons of Israel.
Praise for God
The Levites led the people in shouts of praise for God. But their praises were not merely exclamations of God’s virtuous qualities. Instead, their praises recounted the salvation story of God’s faithfulness to His Chosen People.
The praise of the Levites was loud and in context.
My Praise for God
My praise is not different. Loud is OK. And recounting the good things that God has done for me and my ancestors is still the best context.
“Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; cry out to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with a song of praise, joyfully sing out our psalms.” Psa 95:1-2
Synopsis Nehemiah 8:13-9:5 8/4/2020
Nehemiah recorded how the people celebrated the Feast of Booths. In all, the feast lasted seven days. Each day, the leaders read from the book of the Law of Moses. And, Nehemiah noted how this particular feast was greater than any of the celebrations done before it.
Later in the same month, after the feast was complete, the people came back together. This time the words of the law were read again. But on this occasion, the people acknowledged their sin in having united with foreigners. And they committed to leaving all relationships that did not conform to the Law of Moses.
Ezra & Feast of Booths
God established the Feast of Booths as one of the three principle Israelite feasts. Each year in the fall, Israelites practice the feast by living in temporary outdoor structures. Although Messiah layered the feast with previously hidden meaning, God originally intended it to serve as a reminder for the Israelites.
Before they entered the Promised Land, the Israelites dwelt in tents. During the exodus from Egypt, they were sojourners without permanent homes. As such, they were utterly dependent on God for everything from food to military protection. And He never failed them.
Sojourners In The Land
I am a sojourner in this land. Of course, there’s always the temptation to think that what I have now is all there is. Especially when things are going well.
But the reality is different. Like Abraham, God called me. And He really has promised a new land. Accordingly, the temporary things I find here are useful to teach my reluctant heart to trust God completely.
So, we are.
Searching for the pilgrim’s heart.
By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;” Heb 11:9
Synopsis Nehemiah 8:2-12 8/3/2020
Nehemiah reported that the people came together as one great assembly. Once assembled, Ezra the priest brought out the book of the law. And he read the law to the entire assembly.
When he opened the scroll, the entire assembly stood. In this way, Ezra read the book and interpreted it for the people. Afterward, Ezra, Nehemiah and the leaders declared a feast.
Although many people felt convicted in their hearts when the law was read, the leaders forbid anyone to lament. Instead, a feast was declared. And the entire assembly ate rich foods. And they drank sweet drinks. Regardless of the things that had been, the feast was seen as a kind of renewal of the covenant with God.
Renewal was bittersweet for the people. Though they longed for the renewed presence of God, the prospect of being restored in relationship with God unavoidably came with the reminder of their own sins.
However, the leaders would not allow the people to remain downcast. Instead, they made a commemorative feast as a reminder of the goodness of God.
Reconciliation is always more than the mere forgiveness of sins. In fact, the forgiveness of sins isn’t really the goal. Instead, God’s forgiveness of my sins is a necessary step in the process of being restored in relationship. But, restored relationship is always the main goal.
So, the next time you experience reconciliation, remember to celebrate. Sing a song. Or, perhaps even indulge in a small treat to remind yourself of the sweetness of being restored in relationship with the God of all creation.
Praise the LORD, for he is good; for his mercy endures forever;” Psa 134:1
Synopsis Nehemiah 7:31-60 7/29/2020
Nehemiah led the returned exiles in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. However, there were men and women who had returned from exile many years before him. And so, he chose to include the census taken when they returned as part of his official record.
Nehemiah Preserves the Record
Nehemiah included the names of the first exiles to return in his official record. He wanted to ensure they were not forgotten.
We Work to Remember
When a loved one dies in my family, we generally inscribe the person’s name, birthdate and dying day on a stone marker near their grave. Sometimes, we return to the grave to remember and reflect on who the person was.
But I’m often struck by the inadequacy of this effort. Even stones of granite seem to fade over decades and centuries. And even those who make effort seem to eventually forget.
But God never forgets. His eternal perspective and His ongoing presence never leave.
And this only makes sense. After all, you are an eternal being. So, for Him it’s never a matter of forgetting. He is always with you. Forever, your name is written in the palm of His hand.
You cannot be forgotten.
“See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you;your walls are ever before me.” Isaiah 49:16
Synopsis Nehemiah 7:4-30 7/28/2020
After completing his reconstruction project in Jerusalem, Nehemiah noted that not many people were actually living in the city. So, he decided to confer with the leaders in Jerusalem concerning the disposition of the property in the city.
As he did, he discovered a census that the earliest returning exiles had taken. And so, he entered this into his own record of his time in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah wanted to preserve the census as a part of the historical record. After having completed the Jerusalem building project, he recognized God’s hand in a more comprehensive way. And so, the record was more than simply an accounting of his time. For him, it was a testimony to the wisdom, power and glory of God.
Additionally, remembering those Jewish exiles who had returned in the earliest years, and who had rebuilt the Temple, was a reminder. As successful as Nehemiah was, he recognized that God had set up the circumstances of his success through the efforts of faithful men and women who come many years before.
And this was what was worth preserving.
One way of thinking about meaning is in relation to story. The meaning of my life comes from how I fit into God’s larger story.
That’s one of the reasons we celebrate the lives of saints. Because faithful men and women have gone before us and shown us the way. This is God’s order and a part of His grace into my life.
It is worth celebrating.