(We are posting these ‘small, unforgettable scriptures’ in sections of five each. This is the sixth. The first was posted on February 22, 2015. To find it, go to www.joemckeever.com and scroll back to that date. Scroll forward for subsequent segments. Eventually, we intend to have 20 segments for a total of 100 “scriptural delights.”)
26) No generation gap in our worship. Ezra 3:10-13.
Pastors find such wonderful preaching values (i.e., texts that speak to God’s people) in Ezra and Nehemiah that there is little point in my calling attention to anything. However, here are a couple of small insights that may be overlooked.
The remnant who have returned from exile in Babylon are working to rebuild the Temple which Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. The work is backbreaking and slow, the resources slim, and the enemies and critics plentiful. So, at the point when they had completed rebuilding the foundation–perhaps nothing more than clearing it off and hosing it down!–they paused for a celebration. This was the holiest ground in the entire nation and now it was available once more for worship.
(Note: Wise pastors know that celebrating small victories encourages faith and determination in God’s people.)
Something unusual happened as they worshiped.
The old people–“the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice.” They looked back and remembered. They were overcome with praise and gratitude, and doubtless a certain sadness. The first temple had been huge and glorious; this one would be the economy model. But still, they were home, and that was something.
“Yet many shouted aloud for joy.” These are the younger folk, those who know the first temple only from stories. They are looking to the future, glad that something is finally being done, delighted to have this project underway, anticipating better days ahead.
“The people (i.e., outsiders) could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people” (Ezra 3:13).
Some were weeping and others were laughing. Some were overcome with memories and the others were thrilled with anticipation.
Do not miss this. The worship of the young and old intermingled and rose heavenward as a single offering of praise and worship. And up in Heaven, God was pleased.
Did anyone complain because the oldsters remembered and wept? Did anyone complain because the youngsters laughed and rejoiced? Of course not.
Pity the church which has no use for one group and pours all its resources and energies into the other. The old expression carries a great truth. We need both groups: “The old for roots; the young for wings.”
27. “Your strength comes from rejoicing in the Lord.” Nehemiah 8:10-11. No weeping allowed.
Some verses are so good, we lift them right out of context and use them in a thousand circumstances and eventually forget where we first stumbled across that treasure. But here it is, in its original setting, Nehemiah 8:10. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The exiled Israelis were returning home in droves. The priests were beginning to put the worship routine back on track. Nehemiah was the governor, Ezra was the priest and scribe, and the Levites were organizing matters. They came together for a day of dedication, celebration, and worship. First they read the Scripture. For half the day, Ezra read it! (Neh. 8:3). He would read a passage, then pause while some of his assistants spoke about what that meant (8:7-8).
(Note: God’s people have always welcomed good exposition of the Word. What they do not need, however, is to be upbraided by unthinking pastors and teachers for their unwillingness to sit through long sermons and lessons by using Nehemiah 8:3 as the standard. Our people today hear God’s messages every week. Many of those people had lived their entire lives without hearing Heaven’s message!)
The people were so hungry for God’s Word. Remember, they did not own personal copies the way we do. Times they heard the Word read in public were so rare, they treasured the moments and worked to retain all they heard. Not surprisingly, their hearts broke from the sheer joy. “For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law” (8:9). (I expect this is a characteristic of the faithful, that tells the story on each of us: Whether we love His word.)
Finally, the leadership called a halt to the proceedings. “Hey, stop this crying! This is a good day! It’s not a day for mourning or weeping.”
“We’re finished here,” said the leaders. “Go on home.”
After all, the people had been “in church” all morning.
“Go have yourself a good time. Eat the fat, drink the sweet! And share with those who have nothing. This is a time for celebration!”
“Let’s have no sorrowing. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
How good is that.
There is a time to weep (Ecclesiastes 3:4) and a time to laugh. It’s a wise person who knows what time it is. Scripture says we are to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
One function of leaders in a worship service is to tell the people of the Lord the proper time. While it is always true that “This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24), sometimes we come together to weep and comfort one another and other times to celebrate. Both are needed in certain situations; each is valid.
28. “We will not neglect the house of our God.” Nehemiah 10:39 and 13:11.
How many preachers have had to remind their congregations that “the church is not a building, but the people of God”? The denomination calling itself “The Church of Christ” was attempting to address this confusion when its leaders decided aeons ago that signs in front of their buildings would say “The Church of Christ meets here.”
And yet, that building where believers meet is important. In the case of the Jews, first the Tabernacle and later the Temple represented the very presence of the Lord in the midst of the people. Throughout the wilderness travels, the Shekinah glory led the way, in the daytime as a cloud and at night as a pillar of fire. When the Tabernacle was erected, God showed that He accepted it as a place of worship by moving in (see Exodus 40:34-38).
How Israel treated God’s house–whether it was a movable tent or a permanent edifice–mattered greatly to Him. In fact, it fairly well paralleled their devotion to Him. When they loved the Lord, they filled His house and supported its work with their offerings. When they were rebellious and fell into sin, the first place to register the change was the Lord’s House.
I suspect that is still the case.
Find a house of worship that is dirty and neglected, where the grass needs mowing and the roof needs patching and the bathroom could use a thorough cleaning, and invariably we will find a people lax in their devotion to the Lord. This is an never-failing principle.
So, when Israel said, “We will not neglect the house of God” (Neh. 10:39), it represented a new devotion to the Lord. The fact that they brought offerings demonstrated the point.
Do the offerings indicate dedication in the same way that cleanliness of the Lord’s House registers spirituality? Absolutely. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food (provisions) in my house,” said the Lord in Malachi 3:10.
Love me; love my house.
Later, Governor Nehemiah laid the wood to the leaders of God’s people on this very score. “Why is the house of God forsaken?” (Neh. 13:11)
Yes, it is possible to go to the other extreme, and history provides all the instances of this we would ever need of man’s tendency to get these things out of balance. A small poverty-stricken community surrounds a cathedral stuffed with gold figures and silver vessels, each worth a small fortune. To “not neglect the house of God” does not call for ornate furnishings and gold-plated domes, but rather for God’s people to gather there regularly for worship, to make sure that place represents the Lord well, and to be faithful in giving to His work and doing His will.
29. We must not give the enemy his own room in our house. Nehemiah 13:7. See Ephesians 4:27.
I do not want to leave Nehemiah without noting this. Ephesians 4:27 tells us to “Give no place to the devil” and on a similar note, Romans 13:14 says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil its lusts.”
When they rebuilt the Temple after the return from Babylonian exile, they included an apartment for the enemy. Really. No exaggeration.
“Now, Eliashib the (high) priest, having authority over the storerooms of the house of our God, was allied with Tobiah” (Nehemiah 13:4). For the history of this evil man, go back and read Nehemiah 2:10,19; 4:3,7 and 6:1. Tobiah was a Samaritan magistrate, not a Jew. Not a believer. And not sympathetic at all to the return of the Jews.
“(Eliashib) had prepared for (Tobiah) a large room, where previously they had stored the grain offerings…” (Nehemiah 13:5).
When Governor Nehemiah returned town and learned that Tobiah is living in the temple of all places, “it grieved me bitterly; therefore, I threw all the household goods of Tobiah out of the room. Then I commanded them to cleanse the rooms, and I brought back into them the articles of the house of God…” (13:8-9).
Do you find this as incredulous as I do that the high priest would turn over a portion of God’s house to the harshest critic and greatest obstacle of God’s work? Then, look at your own heart, my friend. See if you have reserved a small portion–just an apartment in the back!–for the enemy.
We are told why Eliashib compromised in this way. “One of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was a son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite; therefore I drove him from me” (13:28). Sanballat, you will recall from the rest of the story, was a partner of Tobiah in all his evil ways.
I live in New Orleans. Regularly, we hear reports of officials looking after certain contractors or suppliers because of family ties. Our pentitentiaries are regularly being populated by crooked leaders who forgot their oaths of office, neglected their duties to God and man, and put brothers-in-law into office and included a daughter-in-law’s sham charity in the state budget. To our everlasting shame and their lasting embarrassment.
God help us to learn our own lessons from the Eliashib shenanigans. Leave the enemy no room in your life. Give him no beachhead from which to spread his tentacles. Cleanse the temple of the Lord. (see I Corinthians 6:12-20 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.)
30. The amazing power of words. Job 4:4.
Words are mighty important. They can cut you down; they can build you up.
Words can be meaningless, just so much talk. The line from I John 3:18 which says “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” makes that point, although I’m confident that the word “only” is implied. (“Let us not love in word only….”)
It’s good to speak loving words, but just not enough by itself.
“Take with you words and return to me,” God said through Hosea (14:2). Words matter. Illustrating this point, James says the tongue is like the bit in a horse’s mouth, the rudder of a ship, and a forest fire (James 3:1-12). Personally, I pray the prayer of Psalm 141:3 almost every day of my life: “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Job’s friend Eliphaz was setting him up to knock him down. “You were really something in your former days, Job.” Back in those good days–back when you were faithful, Job, when God was using you–your words really meant something. You spoke and people who had been hurt in life were given hope. Your words stood them to their feet.”
“Someone was in danger of falling, Job, and a word from you made the difference. So, now look at you. What happened?”
We will not digress into the theology these men were tossing around. We will stand in awe of the back-handed tribute Eliphaz paid to Job. That anyone could speak such words of power and encouragement as to stand the fallen to their feet is as great a compliment as can be made.
Those of us who live by the word–preaching it, speaking it, writing it–could take no finer verse for our life purpose than Job 4:4.