The New Covenant
After the month long process of spiritual rejuvenation, the Israelites were now making a binding agreement and putting it in writing with their leaders affixing the seals to it. The long list of leaders (Nehemiah 10:1-27) along with the rest of the people who had separated themselves from their neighbours, joined together to bind themselves in this new covenant with a curse and an oath so that they may follow all the commands, regulations and decrees of God.
Like the new age ‘fire and ice balms’ that target our sore muscles with both heat and cold, a curse and an oath, bound different types of Israelites to the new covenant. People are motivated in different ways. While some are coerced into obedience, there are some who are scared into submission. The leaders used both the carrot and the stick method to ensure that the people stuck to these new covenants. While some did not want to disappoint the God who brought them out of hardships by going back to their old ways, others needed to be reminded about the wrath of God that had come upon their ancestors in order for them to be obedient to these laws.
Even today, there are churches that focus only on the love of God and do not warn their people about the consequences of disobeying God. But when churches only preach about the wrath of God, they are belittling the sacrifice that He made for us on the cross. We must always look for the unfailing love of our Father but never forget His wrath. He is not a ‘Yes Man’ but a loving Father who will punish us when we disobey Him.
Having listened to the book of laws over the last month, the people listed down all the commandments that they wanted to renew and bind themselves to follow. Among these were the commandments that prohibited inter-marriage and called for a strict adherence of Sabbath by the people. They also renewed their vows regarding sacrifices and offerings as per what was mentioned in the book of laws. They all joined in this covenant along with priests and Levites and promised to collectively look after the need of the temple and its workers.
…We will not neglect the house of our God.Nehemiah 10:39
People wanted to renew some of the commandments that they had been listening to when the book of Laws was being read out by Ezra. In the beginning of all such great endeavours, people like the novelty of the idea of following the commands that their ancestors had followed but slowly overtime these renewals of oaths turn into mere customs of obligations.
Unlike the returning exiles, we must renew our faith in Christ everyday and not wait for such moments to make us realise the need for God in our lives. Let our oaths and promises be only to God and not a tradition that we need to follow for the sake of our families.
The New Residents
Similar to the list of residents mentioned in the book of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 9:2-12), the author is trying to resemble the same with these new residents in the post-exile period. About three thousand men of standing are recorded by the author, apart from the leaders who were drafted to stay in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is a hill city whose major industry had always been tourism, drummed up by the year-round pilgrims visiting the temple. Given the current state of affairs, living in Jerusalem will bring with it a whole bunch of uncertainties in the lives of its new residents. The lack of employment opportunities along with the constant worry with regards to their neighbours intents to overthrow the city but above all, the fear of separation. Separation from one’s family, tribe and even land had always been a mental block for the Israelites to answer God’s call.
Even for us, our comfort zones are the biggest barriers to do the will of God. We are tempted by satan, either by fear, as he brings out people in our lives who will list down the challenges that we will face if we continue in God’s path or by love, where he reminds us of our families and friends and how we would let them down.
We must never be tempted to go away from the path that God has planned for us and make way for satan’s mind games. If God is directing our paths, rest assured everything will be taken care of by Him. Like the exiles were suddenly allowed to go back to their homeland, rebuild their city and worship their own God, we too will see the impossible happen when we place our trust on God.
Unchanging God: The Only Constant
When visiting different churches we would have noticed the large wooden plaques strategically placed near their most busiest exit doors. They serve as a roll of honour listing down all the pastors who have served the church over the years. As the name suggests, it is a way for the congregation members to honour the people who have served in their church but also a way to remind the next generation of the contributions made by the elders in their church.
Listing down of the priests and Levites who had served through this ordeal served as a means to honour them but it might have more to do with motivating their families to continue in their priestly lineage. It could have also been a way to bind the people to work in the temple as they were already short of Levites.
Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to JerusalemNehemiah 12:27
The Israelites celebrated and dedicated the wall with playing of musical instruments as prescribed by David, the man of God. They gathered all around the wall and on that day they offered great sacrifices to God. The reason for their celebrations was because God had given them great joy and the sound of their joy could be heard by all their enemies that surrounded their city. This served as a testament to their neighbours that the Israelites had returned not only to Jerusalem but back to the fold of God.