Today's 365 reading is on the redistrubution of population in Jerusalem. Now the wall has been rebuilt, there are not enough people living in Jerusalem to run and protect the city. Nehemiah asks the tribes of Benjamin and Judah to relocate 10 percent of their people back to Jerusalem to help populate the city. The book of Nehemiah is the last book of the old testament in the chronological Bible. Today I want to look at two things, one being the nature of the covenant between God and man throughout the Old Testament. Second, what we can learn from Nehemiah's prayer.
We see throughout the O.T. that God desires to live/dwell with man. God initiates this covenant, it is His idea. God says to man, if you will honor me and follow me, then I will be your God and you will be my people. He tells man, Wherever you go, I will go with you. I will make your home my place of habitation. I will dwell with you. The word Emmanuel means "God with us". Throughout time this is God's desire, to come and live with man. We will see the fulfillment of this when we arrive to the end of our 365 journey.
Rev.21-1-3 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."
It has always been God's desire to dwell with his people. One might ask, "who are God's people?" God's people are those who enter into covenant with him. We see with Israel that when they honor God and their covenant with Him, they are envied by all nations. God pours out blessings on Israel too great for them to contain. However, when Israel turns away from God and harbors sin, they become the reproach of the earth. A valuable principle is revealed here. When our lives honor God we are blessed and multiplied. When our lives do not honor God it leads to brokenness. When God brings us to brokenness, this is His grace in action. If our behavior is unpleasing to God, yet things continue to go well, we would never come to our senses(see the parable of the prodical son, Luke 15). We would never change our behavior. We are the most receptive to change in the seasons of our brokenness. It is the goodness of the Lord that leads men to repentance. When Nehemiah's writings begin, he is a cup bearer for the king in the Persian palace. Nehemiah is a slave, but he has been promoted to a position a great importance. When Nehemiah learns that one of his brothers along with other men, have just returned from Jerusalem, he is eager to question them and hear their report. Nehemiah wants to know about the progress of Jerusalem and his people. When Nehemiah learns Jerusalem's inhabitants are in great trouble and the wall is broken down, he begins to weep. This report is not what Nehemiah was expecting to hear. Why is Nehemiah so devastated over the report regarding Jerusalem? A look at Israel's timeline might help us better understand Nehemiah's perspective and hope.
Jerusalem is at it's pinnacle of prominense one thousand years before Christ. Solomon builds the temple between 960-967 B.C. Four hundred years later Jerusalem hits rock bottom. The temple is destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. For 70 years there is no temple. And then in 516 B.C.the temple is rebuilt. The rebuilding of the temple is a symbol of hope for the restoration of Jerusalem and it's people. Nehemiah rebuilds the wall in 444 B.C.
When you look at the timeline you can see how Nehemiah is hopeful that God is raising up Jerusalem once again. At the time of Nehemiah's writings it has only been 72 years since the rebuilding of the temple. The rebuilding of the temple was a tremendous symbol of hope for the people of Israel. A hope that God would intervene and redeem them from their oppressors. It has only been 76 years since the prophet Haggai prophesied the glory of the latter house would be greater than the glory of the former. When looking at the timeline it is easy to understand Nehemiah's hope.
Nehemiah is crushed with the report that comes to him from Jerusalem. Not only does he weep, but for several days he mourns, fasts and prays. I was challenged by this. I can't remember the last time I've been troubled to the point of fasting and prayer. You get the sense that Nehemiah is so disturbed that we wouldn't be able to eat even if he tried.
I was also fascinated by Nehemiah's prayer. Nehemiah repents for his sins as well as the sins of his people. Nehemiah immediately concedes guilt before God. He confesses that they have been very wicked towards God, and that they have not obeyed God. Why does Nehemiah assume guilt? Why does Nehemiah assume that they are to blame for their present circumstance?
He continues by reminding God of the word spoken to Moses long ago. How if Israel was unfaithful that God word scatter them among the nations, but if they would repent, God would once again gather them in His Holy city. See Neh.1:8-9
Nehemiah understands the responsibility of the covenant. If they were honoring God and honoring their covenant, they would not be living as a reproach in the earth. Nehemiah understands that honoring God and walking in right relationship with Him releases blessings that can not be contained. He knows the first part of God's promise to Moses has already happened. God's people have already turned away and God has scattered them. Nehemiah is reminding God how if this was to happen, God had promised to regather His people if they would repent. Nehemiah is quick to repent and seek God's forgiveness.
How can we know when it's time to pray, fast and repent? We should be able to evaluate our lives and determine if God is pouring out his blessings over us, or if He is breaking us and leading us to repentance. It is vital that we each examine our own lives. When God is pouring out His blessings it is difficult to miss, because it is always more than we can contain.
Psalm 1 reminds us what The blessed life looks like. The man who delights himself in God's law, meditating on it day an night, is like a tree planted by streams of water. And whatever he does prospers.
This is the blessed life.