Today: [Nehemiah Ten] On What Basis is Obedience to God Even Possible? In this chapter Nehemiah and Ezra induce the people to take a terrible curse on themselves if they don’t obey God. Have you ever done this? Have you ever prayed “Lord whatever it takes – I want to serve you”? In reality the only thing “it takes” is a right relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We can’t add anything to our own moral or spiritual character that Jesus hasn’t already provided for through His own death, burial and resurrection. This is the lesson of Nehemiah 10.
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[Neh 10:1-39 KJV] 1 Now those that sealed [were], Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah, 4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8 Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these [were] the priests. 9 And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; 10 And their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodijah, Bani, Beninu. 14 The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur, 18 Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub, 24 Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 And Ahijah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, Baanah. 28 And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; 29 They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes;
The above passage speaks of the families of Jerusalem and Judea putting their seal on a covenant or document that included invoking a curse upon themselves if they did not walk in God’s laws. This would have been something put in writing and when they frame it as a covenant we know that blood was shed to seal the oath. Sometimes human blood was drawn for an oath but in this case it would have been animal blood through a sacrificial animal.
In making a covenant they were invoking the traditions of God making covenant with Abraham and also God making covenant through Moses with the children of Israel on Mount Sinai when they were brought out of Egypt. The men who put their seal on the document where the covenant was written included civic leaders and princes and the religious leaders, the priests, the Levites and the singers, servants and Nethinims (descendants of the Gibeonites) who were connected with temple worship.
Now let’s make a contrast to the present day. Would it be appropriate for us to pray “God curse me or kill me if I don’t do what you say….”? Words have power. Jesus said in the gospels:
[Mat 12:37 KJV] 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
Solomon spoke of the foolishness of rash oaths:
[Ecc 5:6 KJV] 6 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it [was] an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?
Why did the people enter into an oath? Because they were looking at a 1000 years of failed obedience of the people of God from Moses to Nehemiah. They were asking “what else could we possibly do to successfully submit to God and live in adherence to His law?” The conclusion was that they would induce obedience by the most dreadful oath and curse they could come up with in hopes that it would compel the people to obey God.
Was the oath successful? Was it inspired? Most commentators don’t address this. They simply record what happened and move on to other texts. Let us recall the words of Paul regarding the law:
[Gal 3:24 KJV] 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
The law was given not in expectation that man could fulfill it’s just requirements. The law was given because Adam and Eve desired to be like God independent of God. This is the inherent character of fallen nature – to declare “I don’t need God…” Therefore God gave His perfect law and put it in our hearts via our conscience in order that it could be proven – we cannot fulfill the dictates of God’s law written therein. Facing that man does one of two things: he either comes to Christ or in rebellion concludes (vainly) that there IS NO LAW that he can be subject to and totally rejects God altogether to his own destruction.
[Gal 3:10, KJV] 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
Nehemiah and Ezra induce the people to take a curse upon themselves but in so doing they are going beyond the word of God. They were attempting as many do today to put rules around God’s rules so that they wouldn’t break the rules. They were pushing themselves to the furthest extremity of the will of man to vainly attempt to do the one thing humanity can never accomplish – that of being compliant to God’s law. We cannot fulfill God’s law – it wasn’t given to us to fulfill, it was given to us to demonstrate our need of a savior.
[Gal 2:16 KJV] 16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
We are not justified in the court of heaven by religious performance or moral excellence. Most men simply reject the jurisdiction of God over their lives and set themselves up as their own judge living according to the dictates of the darkness in their own heart. For us we must ask ourselves if we believe that the man Jesus of Nazareth:
1. Existed at all.
2. Is properly portrayed in the scriptures as the living mitigation of a broken condition inherent in humanity that we call sin.
3. That it is necessary for us to acquiesce to the perceived dictates of an invisible God represented in an ancient fragmented body of texts called the bible in order to come into a right relationship to Him or face eternal punishment.
It’s not enough to be a good person. It’s not enough to have good intentions such as Nehemiah and Ezra regarding the terrible oath they are entering into. God isn’t interested in religious or moral excellence outside of total dependence upon Christ – the invisible, ethereal influence that we cannot prove exists other than in the completely individual and extremely subjective context of personal faith.
This is why men reject Christ. He is an offense to their rational minds. Man’s basic nature tells him he is his own judge and doesn’t need to submit to any arbitrary standard – least of all a supposed God represented in archaic texts thousand of years old that (in man’s view) couldn’t possibly have any relevance on his life. So you see in dealing with our fallen condition we either plunge ourselves into a works mentality or reject God altogether. Both of these choices arise from a baseline conviction that we in our humanity are masters of our fate. What is the solution? How can we break out of this humanistic delusion? The answer is we cannot – but by the grace of God.
[Jhn 6:44 KJV] 44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him and I will raise him up at the last day…
You don’t want God in your human nature. The desire to be right with God is originated in God Himself drawing you to Him – not in some moral sense or quality inherent in your human nature. Man in pursuit of God is like a mouse in pursuit of a cat. It isn’t in his nature. In the words of Jesus we see that the desire in man to pursue and have relationship to God is no less a miracle than the resurrection itself.
Therefore in reading the words of Nehemiah and the terrible oath we see the people enter into we can only empathize and grieve for them because no matter how dread the curse they call upon themselves they will only face failure because only Jesus can save them from themselves.
We can see now their error – but what about ourselves? Do we not do the same thing when we project upon God the suggestion that He uses calamity, disease, and disaster to bring us closer to Him. We have to make up our mind. Do we come to God because HE DRAWS US or because we in human wisdom decide He is worthy of our service because of the consequences of not doing so? To see our desire for God arising from dread of consequences is to suggest that we have it in ourselves (as Adam and Eve desired) to be like God independent of God. No – we come to God because He draws us.
30 And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: 31 And [if] the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, [that] we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and [that] we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt. 32 Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; 33 For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy [things], and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and [for] all the work of the house of our God. 34 And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring [it] into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as [it is] written in the law: 35 And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD: 36 Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as [it is] written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God: 37 And [that] we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage. 38 And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house. 39 For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where [are] the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.
In the book of Ezra we see Ezra rolling on the ground, pulling out his beard and at one point even leaping on the offending Jews and pulling out their hair and attempting to force them to comply with God’s perceived will. Our hearts go out to Ezra and Nehemiah. They endured these things as a statement by God who brought the record of their struggles to us as an understanding of our need of a savior. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot achieve moral or spiritual excellence independent of total reliance and surrender to God in Christ Jesus. We read of this terrible oath in Nehemiah 10 and close the chapter with the overwhelming conviction resonant in our hearts – we need a Savior.
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