Friday, February 28, 2014

The Judgment To Come

Malachi 3:16-4:6

“Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.   And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him. ” (Malachi 3:16-17) 

Some of the people feared the Lord, uniting together to serve God.  The Hasmonean family of priests led a rebellion against the Hellenistic Greek influence about 168 BC.  They were joined in their effort by the Hassidim or Jews who believed in keeping the Law.  Today traditionalists are called Hassidic Jews.

One of their Hasmonean priests, Mattathius killed a Jewish man he found offering sacrifices to the gods of the heathen nations around them about 166 BC.  In a series of battles, his son Judas Maccabee defeated the Seleucid and Syrian troops, and Syria sued for peace.  Antiochus V granted religious freedom for the Jews, and the was rededicated in Jerusalem.  The festival of Hanukah was ordained to celebrate the rededication of the temple.

 Demetrius I appointed another high priest, and Judah resisted, making an alliance with Rome.  While they successfully defeated the Selucid forces, Judah was killed, and his brother Jonathan assumed control,  He was then appointed high priest by Alexander Balas, who served as a Roman proxy, and set up his own government.  This led to a series of power struggles and ended with Jonathan being killed.  It was during this period that the apocryphal book of Judith was written.

The last surviving Macabee brother, Jonathan led a delegation to Rome.  Later, about 160 BC, he was declared to be the hereditary high priest and made governor of Israel.  It was during his administration the Hassidim formed what would become known as  the Pharisees.  The wealthy and aristocratic Jews who had adopted the Hellenistic Greek customs became known as the Sadducees.   The Essenes formed a monastic like colony, isolating themselves to worship God.  Judah would be an independent state, largely devoted to God until Simon’s death around 136 BC.

“Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.

For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. “ (Malachi 3:18-4:1)

Malachi prophesied that later God would return and separate the righteous that served God from the wicked,  and burn those that did wickedly like stubble left in the field.  After the death of Simon Macabee, His son John, known as John Hyrcanus was ratified by the Sanhedrin, and destroyed the temple that Samaritans had build after Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem.  The Samaritans wrote their own version of the Torah, or old Testament.  Conflict between the Pharisees and Sadducees resulted in civil strife.  John Hyrcanus sided with the Sadducees, and the leader of the Sanhedrin was forced to flee to Egypt.

John was succeeded by his son Aristobulus, upon his death, his widow married his brother Alexander  Jannai, who was appointed high priest.  The Pharisees were offended by his appointment and rebelled about 115 BC, leading to Roman king seizing power of the region.  While the Romans were generally tolerant toward other religions, Constant strife and rebellion in Ersatz-Israel, otherwise known as the nation of Judah, would result in ever increasing restrictions, and finally war and the total destruction of Jerusalem between 66 and 70 AD.

“But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.  And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts. 

Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments.” (Malachi 4:2-4 )

Those who feared the Lord would see Christ come offering salvation.  The believing Jews would spread like calves released from the stall, treading over the wicked who tried to stop them.  The book of Acts describes the unsuccessful efforts of those who did not believe to stop the spread of Christianity.  Those who turned to Christ were the Jews who had most closely followed the teachings of the law, not falling into the camps of either the Pharisees or the Saducees.

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6 )

While God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord, when Jesus came, the primary focus of this passage seems to be just before the Judgment during the tribulation.   Revelation 11 describes the two witnesses who will warn Israel and turn them to God during a forty two month period, displaying the same powers Elijah exhibited during his prophecies.

“And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.  These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks standing before the God of the earth.  And if any man will hurt them, fire proceedeth out of their mouth, and devoureth their enemies: and if any man will hurt them, he must in this manner be killed.  These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to smite the earth with all plagues, as often as they will.”(Revelation 11:3-6)

Some believe Elijah himself will be one of those two witnesses.

Additional Historical Notes

In 102 BC. Julius Caesar would ascend to the Roman throne and keep it until 44 BC.   Civil war would limit Caesar’s power in 88 BC, placing the senate in charge,  Alexander Jannai quarreled with the Pharisees, and killed 800 of them.  When he died his wife Alexandra Salome appointed his son Hyrcanus II as high priest..  About 76 BC, He would reinstate the Pharisees’ ordinances and their control of the temple to try get peace.

Alexandra Salome’s younger son, Aristobulus II wrested both the kingship and the priesthood from  Hyrcanus II, and both brothers appealed to rome for support in their struggle.  In 67 BC, Pompeii invaded Judea, placing Hyrcanus II as priest but stripping him of most of the civil power and ending the Hasmonean regime, finally bringing Judah fully under Roman control in 63 BC.  In 60 BC, Julius Caesar agreed to share his power with Pompeii and Crassus forming the triumvirate.  They would make Cleopatra, the last descendant of Ptolemy, Alexander the Great’s general, queen of Egypt in 51 BC.

In 48 BC Julius Caesar would  be made sole ruler of the Roman Empire for life.  In exchange for Jewish help in defeat of Egypt, Caesar would Hyrcanus II ethnarch of the Jews and Antipater procurator of Judea.  Antipater’s son Herod would defeat and execute a Jewish army in Gallilee, almost causing a civil war.   Caesar was murdered  in 44 BC, and the Jews appealed to Anthony to settle the conflict.   Hyrcanus was stripped of his political power and Herod and his brother Phasael were appointed tetrarchs in Judea.

In 43 BC, Antigonus, a son of Aristobulus assisted the Parthians in capturing Jerusalem.  Hyrcanus II and Phasael were captured and Herod fled.  Antigonus became king and high priest.  The Roman senate authorized Herod to recapture Judea and he conquered and killed Antigonus, marrying a grandaughter of Hyrcanus.  In 40 BC, the Roman army defeated the Parthians, and Herod was made king of Judea.  About 33 BC, Herod had his wife , and all the remaining members of the Hasmonean family executed to ensure they would never try to claim the throne.  About 22 BC, he had two of his own sons executed for the same reason.

Herod was a cruel and corrupt ruler, and under his reign, the priesthood was corrupted with nepotism and political abuse.  In 10 BC, the Galileans revolted and were defeated and Herod executed his son Antipater.  Herod died in in 7 BC after naming his son Archealus as his successor.  Archalaeus was confirmed by Rome as king in 6 BC.  Two years later, Caesar Augustus split the region among Herod’s three sons in an effort to prevent further revolts.

At about the same time, Hillel, one of the priests appointed by Herod proposed new rules to broaden the interpretation of the Torah or Old Testament Law.  One of the changes was toallow a court to decide ownership of land to eliminate the reversion of property to the original owners during the Sabbatical year.  This was touted as providing as great economic benefit that would allow them to compete more freely.  It eliminated the protections of the poor provided by the Old Testament Law, and was repeatedly condemned by Christ.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Unprepared For The Lord To Come

Malachi 3:1-15

“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1) 

For more than five hundred years, Israel had been looking for the coming of the Messiah, the son of David.  The prophecy in Isaiah 40 about a person going before to prepare the way of the Lord had been made about four hundred years before.  It would not be fulfilled for at least a hundred fifty more years, but the Jews would have recognized Malachi’s prophecy as referring to the same events.  

“But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2-3)

When Messiah came he would set a standard even higher than the standard the Law required, and the Jews had not even kept that standard.  In Matthew 5:20, Jesus warned, “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  He then provided examples showing that the attitude could be sin even without the physical action even though the Law could not judge the attitudes of the heart.   Malachi was making it clear that Israel was not prepared for Christ’s coming at the time.

When the Lord comes back at the end of the tribulation period, Israel will have gone through much more severe suffering than they were going through at the time, and will finally turn wholly to the Lord.  Even the wicked attitudes will have been forsaken so that they can offer their sacrifices in complete righteousness.

“Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years.  And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts.  For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:4-6)

While he was here the first time, Jesus stood strongly against the sins listed here, but when he comes again, as the ruling king, will rule with a rod of iron, severely punishing all forms of sin.   Things will approach what they were like in the Garden of Eden, as God originally made them, because he has not changed, nor have his intentions.

“Even from the days of your fathers ye are gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of hosts. 

But ye said, Wherein shall we return? 

Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. 

But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee?

In tithes and offerings.  Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.”  (Malachi 3:7-9)

Israel had agreed to God’s covenant as God described it verbally.  While Moses was still on the mountain to get a written copy, the Jews had decided to make a golden calf to worship instead.  From that time forward there had been almost continual violations of their agreement.  Every time they played innocent , pretending they didn’t know what they had done and asking what he wanted them to do, much like a man I know who is messing around on his wife does her.

On part of the agreement was to give the tithes and offerings as a demonstration of their appreciation for his blessings and of their faith that he would supply enough to meet their needs.  Leviticus 27:30  declares, “And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the LORD'S: it is holy unto the LORD.”   In withholding those tithes and offerings, they were keeping back what was rightfully God’s, robbing him.  God was quite specific what they needed to do.

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. 

And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.  And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the LORD of hosts.”  (Malachi 3:10-12)

If they would just trust God enough to obey them, he would keep the promise he had made, to supply abundantly for them.  Leviticus 26:3-promised,  “If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; Then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.  And your threshing shall reach unto the vintage, and the vintage shall reach unto the sowing time: and ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.”

By simply putting God ahead of getting all the things the Greeks around them had, the \Jews could reach a point where they were no longer struggling just to survive.  They were impoverishing themselves in their efforts to be like the Greeks.  Sadly, many Christians today are doing the same thing.

“Your words have been stout against me, saith the LORD. 

Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? 

Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.”  (Malachi 3:13-15)

In their rebellion against God, Israel had taken a strong stand against his demands by constantly complaining that serving the Lord didn’t pay very well, and that all their efforts to serve God weren’t paying off.  They were setting those who ignored God’s rules as the examples to be emulated, even protecting them for their sin. It much like what we see commonly in America today, with so called Christians supporting gay rights, abortion, and the lifestyles of our politicians and celebrities, in many cases trying to copy them..

Most “Christians” today are equally unprepared for the Lord’s return.   Most are too busy building a career or enjoying their hobbies to take time to even attend church once a week, and those who do seldom take God’s commands very seriously.  Serving God would interfere with their other activities.

We don’t know when we may be taken through an accident or illness, and the Lord deliberately didn’t tell us when he would come because he knew how many would wait till the last moment if they knew when he was coming.  God just told us to keep serving him till he comes.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A Warning To The Priests

Malachi 2:1-17

"And now, O ye priests, this commandment is for you.  If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart.” (Malachi 2:1-2) 

By 174 BC, The Jews had largely adopted the Greek lifestyle.  Jason, the high priest offered for the people to pay extra taxes if Antiochus and the Selucid Empire would build them a gymnasium and provide certain social programs to help integrate the Jews with the Greek culture.  The priests were actively promoting the turning from God to the Greek religion, and God said he had already cursed them and would do more if they did not start listening.

“Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.” (Malachi 2:3) 

Because they were actively helping turn Israel away from God, he would cause their children to be turned away even more, and embarrass the priests for having made mere rituals of God’s feasts., finally removing them from the priesthood.

Menelaus was not descended from Aaron and thus not eligible to be a priest, but he bribed Antiochus IV to make him high priest instead of Jason.  The priest’s revolt against his action led to Antiochus banning Judaism in 169 BC and the Samaritans dis-associating themselves from the Jews and demanding they no longer be under Judean control.

“And ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.  My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name.  The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity.” (Malachi 2:4-6) 

Because of what happened, the priests would know that the prophecy was from God, as they saw it fulfilled.  They would understand the original covenant with Levi, that they were to be priests because of their fear and respect toward God.  Because they feared the Lord, he and his children would not get involved in the sin many of the Israelites were involved in, such as when they got involved with the Moabite and Middianite womn in Numbers 25.

“For the priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.  But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts.  Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as ye have not kept my ways, but have been partial in the law.(Malachi 2:7-9)

The priest’s responsibility is to represent the Lord to the people, just as the pastor today is to do.  In order to properly do his job, he needs to  find out what God expects and practice it himself.  Israel’s priests had ignored God’s commands, leading the people to violate his law, and violating God’s covenant with Levi and the priests.  Just as they had favored some and oppressed others, ignoring what was Right, God would do the same to them.

“Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?  Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the LORD which he loved, and hath married the daughter of a strange god. 

The LORD will cut off the man that doeth this, the master and the scholar, out of the tabernacles of Jacob, and him that offereth an offering unto the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 2:10-12) 

All of Israel was descended from Jacob, and they were all created by the same God.  In playing favorites the priests had encouraged the people to set some groups ahead of others, implying God loved some more than others and making a mockery of God’s covenant.  This had in turn led to people turning away from God and getting involved with worshipping other things.  God hates that attitude, will cut out the person who practices it even if he is a respected scholar, a leader, or a priest.

It is the same attitude James condemns in the church in James 2:1-12, and just as it caused the people to turn away from God to worship other gods, the practice leads to idolizing wealth and fame today.  

“And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand. 

Yet ye say, Wherefore? 

Because the LORD hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.  And did not he make one? 

Yet had he the residue of the spirit.

 And wherefore one? 

That he might seek a godly seed. 

Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.  For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the LORD of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.(Malachi 2:13-16)

Like an adulterous husband or wife, Israel had turned to other gods, and when confronted about it, denied it asking when they were supposed to have done it in an effort to make it look like they are being unfairly accused.   One of the evidences of their unfaithfulness to God was that they no longer took their marriage vows seriously.   God hates divorce, and for professing Christians to just walk away from their marriage implies they have little concern for what pleases God.

There is an old saying, that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.  Where one sin becomes apparent , there are almost always concealed sins such a domestic violence as well.  Israel as a whole, and the priests in particular, needed to look closely at what they were doing.

“Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? 

When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?(Malachi 2:17) 

God was sick and tired of their constant denials of guilt, and like the adulterous mate they asked what he was upset about.  He was upset that they were pointing to others who were doing evil and talking about how well they were doing and that God must approve or not care since he wasn’t stopping them.  It is the same attitude we see among many who claim to be Christians today, and I suspect God is just as sick and tired of it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Disrespecting God

Malachi 1:1-14

"The burden of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. 

I have loved you, saith the LORD. 

Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? 

Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.

Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places; thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever. 

And your eyes shall see, and ye shall say, The LORD will be magnified from the border of Israel.” (Malachi 1:1-5)

After the death of Artaxerxes, the Greeks had steadily taken an ever larger role in controlling the old Persian Empire.  Just about eighty years later, if the historians are correct and Darius II was co-regent with Artaxerxes, or one hundred years if not, Alexander the Great had seized total control of the political system.  Fifty years later, Antiochus had seized control of the religious system as well, replacing the descendants of Levi with men of his own choosing.  Many of the Jews had openly rejected Judaism, even undoing their circumcision in order to be accepted by the Greeks.

When more traditional Jews protested Menelaus’ appointment as high priest by Antiochus, he treated it as an act of treason, outlawing the practice of Judaism, and defiling the temple by offering pigs on the altar contrary to the Levitical law.  Many Jews were killed while others fled west to Egypt or north to the Macedonia to escape from the Selucid Empire.

As they had done so many times before, the Jews blamed God for their trouble, questioning whether he loved them.  God reminded them of the difference in his treatment of Jacob who he loved and Esau, who he hated.   Because their land straddled the old silk road which reached from Morroco to China, almost every conquering army passed through their land on their way to attack other countries, taking what they wanted along he way.  The Edomite people had been enslaved by every group around them including the Jews.

God had blessed the Jews, giving them freedom and wealth the Edomites had never experienced, yet the Jews were griping about God’s lack of love and giving up hope while the Edomites had not given up hope, even though they were fighting God himself and could not possibly win.  If the Jews could stop complaining long enough to look, they would see God’s power displayed in what was happening to the countries around them.

“A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master: if then I be a father, where is mine honour? and if I be a master, where is my fear? saith the LORD of hosts unto you, O priests, that despise my name. 

And ye say, Wherein have we despised thy name? 

Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD is contemptible.

 And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:6-8)

A child will respect his parents enough to do what they want, and an employee will respect his employer, but Israel had refused to show similar respect toward God.  They were deliberately trying to hide any relationship with God by undoing their circumcision and adopting the Hellenistic Greek customs, language, and religion.

They no longer considered God worthy of the best, offering instead those sick animals that no one else would buy.  If they offered the same things to the governor of the land, it would be seen as an insult and cause them trouble, yet they thought God ought to be thrilled to get it.  It is like having a waiter serve you really well so you give him a penny for a tip.  He probably won’t try as hard to please you the next time.

“And now, I pray you, beseech God that he will be gracious unto us: this hath been by your means: will he regard your persons? saith the LORD of hosts.  Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought? neither do ye kindle fire on mine altar for nought.” (Malachi  1:9-10a)

After showing such disrespect toward Gdo, what right do they have to demand he give them the respect they feel they deserve.  None of them would even close the door of light a fire on God’s altar unless they expected a reward for doing it.  Why should God do what they want, knowing they don’t appreciate it enough to make it worth his while?

I have no pleasure in you, saith the LORD of hosts, neither will I accept an offering at your hand.  For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:10b-11)

God no longer found pleasure in doing things for Israel because they were so unappreciative.  The Gentile people would be appreciative of his efforts and show him respect for what he was doing.

“But ye have profaned it, in that ye say, The table of the LORD is polluted; and the fruit thereof, even his meat, is contemptible.  Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts; and ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the LORD.” (Malachi 1:12-13)

Rather than appreciating what God did for them, the Jews were complaining about how much of a nuisance it was to have to give him the offerings and that they didn’t see why he had been so strict in his requirements when no body would get sick from sacrificing a sick animal instead of a healthy one.  They were a lot like Christians today who complain about being expected to live up to such a high moral standard or having to go to church all the time, and decide it doesn’t really matter.

“But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the LORD of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen.” (Malachi 1:14)

A person who something good to offer God but chooses to give him the worst has no respect toward God and doesn’t appreciate what he does.  Most people would be upset by someone spitting in their face and might retaliate.  God is similarly upset by such actions, and curses those who disrespect him in such a fashion.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Historical Notes About Malachi’s Time

Artaxerxes reigned almost forty one years.  According to Herodotus, the Greek historian considered the father of modern history, he was succeeded by three of his sons, Xerxes II, Sogdanius, and Darius II.  Fighting among themselves resulted in the others being killed, and Darius II taking the kingdom.   Because some of the subject countries do not mention Darius II at all and others only in connection with artaxerxes, some scholars suspect he may in fact have been co-regent with Artaxerxes, rather than a separated king, and there is nothing in Persian records to dispute this conclusion.  It was a fairly common practice

If true, this would place Artaxerxes’ reign as commencing about 444 BC, rather than 465 BC, and ending around 404 BC instead of 424 BC.  We know from Roman records that Herod died in 7 BC, and his son Archalaeus was named king early in 6 BC.   Matthew 2:13-16 makes it clear that Jesus birth was more probably more than two years before Herods’s death, around 9-10 BC.  “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.  When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son."  

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.”

This places the start of Artaxerxes reign approximately 434 years before the birth of Christ, the 62 weeks of Daniel 9:26.  Combined with the forty nine years from Cyrus’ command to rebuild Jerusalem  to the Death of Darius, it explains how the wisemen were able to identify the star the followed to Jerusalem.  The record of their coming indicates that it is probably true.

Daniel 11:2-4 prophesies, “And now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.  And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.  And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.”

After the end of the Peloponnesian war in 404 BC, the greek colony of Sparta began to extend Greek influence to other countries, allowing Persian kings to rule under their oversight.  Philip of Macedon would consolidate Greek power by 338 BC.  His son Alexander the great would finally depose the Persian rulers and claim the throne shortly before his death in 323 BC.

After the death of Alexander the great, the Greek empire would eventually be split among his generals, fulfilling Daniel’s prophecy that there would only be four independent kings of Persia, and how the Greek empire would be broken up.  These would become the Selucid empire, the  Antigonoid kingdom, and the Ptolemaic Kingdom, while the original Greeks formed a largely independent kingdom.  By 146 BC, all four parts would be under Roman domination although the Southern or Ptolemaic Kingdom, including Egypt would retain their own rulers until 30 BC.  

Under Greek rule, the Jews were largely left alone to worship and serve God as they pleased, and were given status as citizens.  About 300 BC. Simon the Just became leader, rebuilding and refortifying the walls and repairing the temple.

About 241 BC, the High priest Orias II  had stopped paying taxes to Ptolemy III, expecting him to be defeated.  In retaliation. Ptolemy transferred his power to Tobias family, who began to turn Jerusalem into a center of Greek Hellenism and commerce.  Simon the Just became the last high priest with an undisputed connection to the position about 221 BC.  He struggled to stop the increasing turn to Greek culture.  A couple of years later, war between the Ptolemaic kingdom and Selucid Empires resulted in serious damage to Jerusalem.  Antiochus III reduced taxes and made plans to restore the Temple, encouraging the Jews to preserve their worship of God and traditional Law.

Around 195 BC, Antiochus Epiphanies offered citizenship to Jews who would adopt the Hellenistic lifestyle and forgo their Jewish customs.  Some even tried to undo their circumcision in order to take part in their games.

Jason, a son of Orias III offered to pay increased tribute to Antiochus if he would provide a gymnasium and continue to promote Hellenistic conversion.  Menelaus bribed Antiochus to make him high priest instead, despite his lacking the proper pedigree.  Jason attempted to overthrow Menelaus, and Antiochus perceived his actions as a rebellion.  He plundered the temple, forbidding the Jews to practice Judaism and offering a pig on the altar of the temple, in 169 BC.

Both Jason and Menelaus were intent on turning the Jews toward the Hellenistic culture and religion, but they were neither one willing to allow the other to have control.  It is against this backdrop that the book of MalachI was written, although we do not know exactly when.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Fixing The Problems

Nehemiah 13:15-31

“In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.  There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 13:15-16)

When Nehemiah returned, not only had Tobiah taken over the temple, but the people were no longer obeying the law.  Some of them were squeezing the grapes on the Sabbath day, while others were harvesting crops or hauling their produce to market, in violation of the law.  Phoenician businessmen were opening their stores on the Sabbath,

After completing the wall, in Nehemiah 10:29-31, they had agreed  to do obey God’s law “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; And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: 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."  

Twelve years after making the agreement, people seemed to have forgotten.  Nehemiah tried reminding them of the agreement, but it didn’t have mush effect.

“Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day?  Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:17-18)

Finally, Nehemiah confronted his brother and the other leaders, demanding why they had ignored the agreement, knowing that they were violating their contract(covenant) with God>  Didn’t they understand that the struggles they had had for a hundred fifty years were the result of not keeping God’s law,  By doing the same thing again, they would only cause themselves more problems.

“And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.” (Nehemiah 13:19)

Exercising his authority as governor, Nehemiah ordered that the gates of the city be closed at sundown before the Sabbath and not reopened until daylight the day after to prevent people going out to their fields or bringing in loads of produce.

 “So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice.  Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:20-21)

Blocked by the closed gates, the traders and farmers camped around the city to wait for them to open the gates.  After a couple of weeks, Nehemiah warned them that they were trespassing and would be arrested if they continued to camp there.  After that they decided it wasn’t worth coming on the Sabbath.

“And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.” (Nehemiah 13:22)

He placed the Levites in charge of seeing that the gates were shut as part of their service for God, taking the authority away from the political leaders.  It was not a popular move but he was trusting God to take care of him.

“In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people.  And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.  Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? yet among many nations was there no king like him, who was beloved of his God, and God made him king over all Israel: nevertheless even him did outlandish women cause to sin.  Shall we then hearken unto you to do all this great evil, to transgress against our God in marrying strange wives?” (Nehemiah 13:23-27)

Part of the agreement in Nehemiah 10:29-31 was that they would not get intermarry with the people around them and forget about God, and especially not the Ammonites or Moabites.  When Nehemiah returned, he found that many had married into those groups, and were not even teaching their children the Hebrew language.  Obviously they weren’t teaching them to follow the Jewish customs if they didn’t think it worth learning the language.

He reminded them how Solomon got in trouble as a result of his messing around with women who didn’t worship God.  It wouldn’t be very smart to just go along with what they were doing.

“And one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was son in law to Sanballat the Horonite: therefore I chased him from me.” (Nehemiah 13:28)

Eliashib, the high priest had allowed Tobiah the Ammonite to take over part of the temple.  One of priests was his grandson, and was married to Sanballat the Horonite’s daughter.  Leviticus 21:14 was specific who a priest was allowed to marry.  “A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife.”  Nehemiah removed him from the priesthood because he wasn’t qualified.

“Remember them, O my God, because they have defiled the priesthood, and the covenant of the priesthood, and of the Levites.” (Nehemiah 13:29)

By allowing a man who wasn’t qualified to serve as priest, they had defiled the priesthood, making a mockery of  God’s covenant with the Levites, and with the priests. The main reason for writing my book, The Man For The Job: Choosing A Shepherd For God’s Flock was that so many churches are bringing reproach on the Lord by choosing men who are not qualified as pastors.  Nehemiah Took God’s guidelines seriously.  

“Thus cleansed I them from all strangers, and appointed the wards of the priests and the Levites, every one in his business; And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.” (Nehemiah 13:30-31)

Though his actions were unpopular, they had to be done if Israel was to please God.  In the process, he eliminated others who were not qualified and made the priests and Levites  understand what their responsibilities were.  He also made sure the people understood their responsibilities.    

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Takeover Attempt

Nehemiah 13:1-14

“On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever; Because they met not the children of Israel with bread and with water, but hired Balaam against them, that he should curse them: howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.  Now it came to pass, when they had heard the law, that they separated from Israel all the mixed multitude.” (Nehemiah 13:1-3)

Immediately after completing the wall, during the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, Judah had read and studied the entire law.  As a result they had made major changes in how things were done.

A computer is fast and efficient when dealing with only one or two programs or sources of input.  As the number of programs and amount of input increases it becomes slower, forced to make decisions as to where the material goes.  The human brain is very similar, and while a lot is said about multi-tasking today, increased input and multiple demands decrease the speed and efficiency of our thinking.  As a result, it takes time to absorb all the information we are presented.

Once they had resolved some of the issues about obeying the law, they were able to focus on others.  They discovered that because of the attitude of the Ammonites and Moabites in trying to use their faith in god to destroy Israel, God had commanded that they were never to be absorbed into the Jewish culture.  Though they had intermarried with these groups for centuries, that old attitude still persisted and the Ammonites under Tobiah were still their biggest enemies.

Understanding what God had commanded, most of the Jews separated themselves from the groups who didn’t believe in God.

“And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah: And he had prepared for him a great chamber, where aforetime they laid the meat offerings, the frankincense, and the vessels, and the tithes of the corn, the new wine, and the oil, which was commanded to be given to the Levites, and the singers, and the porters; and the offerings of the priests.” (Nehemiah 13:4-5)

Eliashib, one of the chief priests had been a friend and ally of Tobiah the Ammonite, converting one of the storerooms in the temple to an apartment for Tobiah to use when he came to Jerusalem.  He provided a ready source of information for Tobiah against the nation.

“But in all this time was not I at Jerusalem: for in the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon came I unto the king, and after certain days obtained I leave of the king:  And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God.” (Nehemiah 13:6-7)

After completing the wall, and overseeing the changes to bring things in line with God’s law, Nehemiah returned to Babylon to his position as head of the king’s security, leaving his brother Hanani and the a man named Hananiah in charge of Jerusalem according to Nehemiah 7:2.  Twelve years after his first trip, Nehemiah obtained permission to return to Jerusalem, where he learned what Eliashib was doing.

“And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.  Then I commanded, and they cleansed the chambers: and thither brought I again the vessels of the house of God, with the meat offering and the frankincense.” (Nehemiah 13:8-9)

Upset that the temple of God was being used as a base for an Ammonite espionage ring, Nehemiah threw out Tobiah’s personal belongings, and ordered that the rooms be cleansed and restored to their original purpose.

“And I perceived that the portions of the Levites had not been given them: for the Levites and the singers, that did the work, were fled every one to his field.  Then contended I with the rulers, and said, Why is the house of God forsaken? And I gathered them together, and set them in their place.” (Nehemiah 13:10-11)

The tithes and offerings were intended to be used to pay the temple workers and make repairs.  Instead they had been diverted for other purposes to force out those who didn’t support Tobiah’s agenda out.  They had been forced to seek other employment to survive.  Nehemiah confronted the leaders about their misuse of God’s temple, and rehired the temple workers.  As the people saw the priests and temple workers they knew and trusted forced out, they began to distrust the chief priests, and cut back on their giving.

In my years as a pastor, I have seen this same scenario played out many times, in churches, in business, and in government.  A man like Tobiah, who is more concerned with his own agenda than with God’s or the people’s wishes, seeks to establish a relation with some of the leaders and get some influence.  He then uses that influence to force out those who are dedicated to the original intent of the organization.

A pastor in Farmington convinced the church that they could not afford to pay the associate what they had been paying him, forcing him to take on a part time job.  He then used the money they were saving to hire an new music director who was in sympathy with his goals.  Another pastor announced that anyone who had not completed a discipleship program he was starting would not be allowed to teach.  A deacon in a church attempted to take over by spreading doubt about the pastor’s qualifications and recommending a man he thought would be more likely to do what he said.

That effort to eliminate any different ideas is a sure sign the man behind it is focused on his own agenda rather than the good of the organization or people.  People who are dedicated to the original goals stop supporting the leadership, voting against the direction they are going, first with their money, and if it doesn‘t change, with their feet, by leaving because they feel they are no longer welcome and that things are out of control.

This trend can only be reversed if the leader who set this in motion is displaced, and there is a return to the old values.  If not the church or organization may well collapse as a result of lost support, or it may take on a whole new identity.

“Then brought all Judah the tithe of the corn and the new wine and the oil unto the treasuries.  And I made treasurers over the treasuries, Shelemiah the priest, and Zadok the scribe, and of the Levites, Pedaiah: and next to them was Hanan the son of Zaccur, the son of Mattaniah: for they were counted faithful, and their office was to distribute unto their brethren.” (Nehemiah 13:12-13)

Nehemiah took the control of the donations away from the priests, selecting men who were respected by the people for their faith as treasurers to see that it was used properly, rather than keeping it under his own control.  When the people saw Nehemiah restore known leaders to their positions, and were assured that the donations would be used as they were supposed to, they gave gladly.  Without confidence in the direction of the organization, people don’t dare invest money or energy.

“Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof. “ (Nehemiah 13:14)

Restoring a church or other organization to their original goals is harder than starting a new one.  When starting a new church or organization, one has the opportunity to develop an organizational attitude from the beginning.  Rebuilding one, it is necessary to change the old attitudes that led to the problem, that people have adopted to varying degrees.  The results are seldom spectacular and it is easy to discount the work of those who have done it.  Fortunately it is God who is keeping the record.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dedicating The Wall

Nehemiah 12:1-47

“Now these are the priests and the Levites that went up with Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua: Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Amariah, Malluch, Hattush, Shechaniah, Rehum, Meremoth, Iddo, Ginnetho, Abijah, Miamin, Maadiah, Bilgah, Shemaiah, and Joiarib, Jedaiah, Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah, Jedaiah. These were the chief of the priests and of their brethren in the days of Jeshua. 

Moreover the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, which was over the thanksgiving, he and his brethren.  Also Bakbukiah and Unni, their brethren, were over against them in the watches.” (Nehemiah 12:1-9)

When Cyrus had given the order to rebuild the temple, these were the priests and Levites who had accompanied Zerubbabel, in Ezra 2.  The high priest at the time was Jeshua.

“And Jeshua begat Joiakim, Joiakim also begat Eliashib, and Eliashib begat Joiada, And Joiada begat Jonathan, and Jonathan begat Jaddua.  And in the days of Joiakim were priests, the chief of the fathers: of Seraiah, Meraiah; of Jeremiah, Hananiah; Of Ezra, Meshullam; of Amariah, Jehohanan; Of Melicu, Jonathan; of Shebaniah, Joseph; Of Harim, Adna; of Meraioth, Helkai; Of Iddo, Zechariah; of Ginnethon, Meshullam; Of Abijah, Zichri; of Miniamin, of Moadiah, Piltai; Of Bilgah, Shammua; of Shemaiah, Jehonathan; And of Joiarib, Mattenai; of Jedaiah, Uzzi; Of Sallai, Kallai; of Amok, Eber; Of Hilkiah, Hashabiah; of Jedaiah, Nethaneel. 

The Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, and Johanan, and Jaddua, were recorded chief of the fathers: also the priests, to the reign of Darius the Persian.” (Nehemiah 12:10-22)

Darius’ reign ended forty nine years after Cyrus gave the command to rebuild the temple.  During that time many of the old priests and Levites, including Jeshua, had retired or died, and their sons had taken their place.  Records were kept of their lineage.

 “The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the days of Johanan the son of Eliashib.  And the chief of the Levites: Hashabiah, Sherebiah, and Jeshua the son of Kadmiel, with their brethren over against them, to praise and to give thanks, according to the commandment of David the man of God, ward over against ward. 

Mattaniah, and Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon, Akkub, were porters keeping the ward at the thresholds of the gates.  These were in the days of Joiakim the son of Jeshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor, and of Ezra the priest, the scribe.” (Nehemiah 12:23-26)

Chronicles or records of the lineage of the priests from Levi, Aaron’s son until the time of Johanan, Jeshua’s great grandson.  Twenty years after Darius’ death, when Nehemiah became governor, Ezra was a priest and scribe, and Jehoiakim was serving as priest.  The descendants of the old priests were still following the pattern established in David’s day.

“And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps.  And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had builded them villages round about Jerusalem. 

And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall.” (Nehemiah 12:27-30)

When they got ready to dedicate the wall of Jerusalem after everything was completed, they called on these descendants of the Levites to come and serve from the various places they had taken up residence.  Because of the kings provision for the musicians, the singers and musicians had built farming communities around Jerusalem so they would be available when they were needed.  The priests and Levites made sure they were prepared to offer the sacrifices.

“Then I brought up the princes of Judah upon the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand upon the wall toward the dung gate: And after them went Hoshaiah, and half of the princes of Judah, And Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam, Judah, and Benjamin, and Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, And certain of the priests' sons with trumpets; namely, Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph: And his brethren, Shemaiah, and Azarael, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethaneel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them. 

And at the fountain gate, which was over against them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the going up of the wall, above the house of David, even unto the water gate eastward.  And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people upon the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even unto the broad wall; And from above the gate of Ephraim, and above the old gate, and above the fish gate, and the tower of Hananeel, and the tower of Meah, even unto the sheep gate: and they stood still in the prison gate. 

So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me: And the priests; Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; And Maaseiah, and Shemaiah, and Eleazar, and Uzzi, and Jehohanan, and Malchijah, and Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer. ” (Nehemiah 12:31-42)

At the dedication of the wall, Nehemiah divided the people into two groups to stand on the wall on either side of the city.  The priests and singers then led them in alternately singing and praising God, thanking him for the things he was doing for them.

“Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.” (Nehemiah 12:43)

There was a great celebration, with a lot of sacrifices offered because they no longer had to fear attacks by small groups of raiders.  The entire nation joined in the celebration.

“And at that time were some appointed over the chambers for the treasures, for the offerings, for the firstfruits, and for the tithes, to gather into them out of the fields of the cities the portions of the law for the priests and Levites: for Judah rejoiced for the priests and for the Levites that waited. 

And both the singers and the porters kept the ward of their God, and the ward of the purification, according to the commandment of David, and of Solomon his son.  For in the days of David and Asaph of old there were chief of the singers, and songs of praise and thanksgiving unto God. “ (Nehemiah 12:44-46)

There was a concerted effort to get back to doing everything according to the way David and Solomon had specified when the temple was originally built.  They designated men to keep the treasury and see that the Levites, the musicians, and the priests were provided for.  People were designated for various other jobs around the temple as well.

“And all Israel in the days of Zerubbabel, and in the days of Nehemiah, gave the portions of the singers and the porters, every day his portion: and they sanctified holy things unto the Levites; and the Levites sanctified them unto the children of Aaron.” (Nehemiah 12:47)

Under Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, Israel provided for their priests and temple workers daily so they were not forced to earn a living money elsewhere, as God had directed..  That freed them to focus on serving God as he had instructed.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Population Of The Land

Nehemiah 11:1-36

“And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities.  And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 11:1-2)

Because Jerusalem had no walls for protection, most of the people had settled in the smaller towns where the walls were intact, leaving Jerusalem with too small a resident population to defend the city once the walls were completed.  It was decided that one tenth of the population should move to Jerusalem and lots were cast to determine who needed to move.  Some people volunteered to live at Jerusalem, allowing others to remain where they were, which was greatly appreciated by the others.

“Now these are the chief of the province that dwelt in Jerusalem: but in the cities of Judah dwelt every one in his possession in their cities, to wit, Israel, the priests, and the Levites, and the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants.” (Nehemiah 11:3)

While most of the people  reclaimed their family possessions, those who had traditionally served in the temple, the priests, the Levites, the Nethinims or people like Samuel who their parents had dedicated to the Lord,  and children of Solomon’s servants, the porters or maintenance crews were expected to reside in Jerusalem, as part of their duties.

“And at Jerusalem dwelt certain of the children of Judah, and of the children of Benjamin. Of the children of Judah; Athaiah the son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalaleel, of the children of Perez; And Maaseiah the son of Baruch, the son of Colhozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, the son of Shiloni.   All the sons of Perez that dwelt at Jerusalem were four hundred threescore and eight valiant men. 

And these are the sons of Benjamin; Sallu the son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jesaiah.  And after him Gabbai, Sallai, nine hundred twenty and eight.  And Joel the son of Zichri was their overseer: and Judah the son of Senuah was second over the city.” (Nehemiah 11:4-9)

These were the families from the tribes o f Judah and Benjamin that chose to live in Jerusalem.  Each group had their own leaders.

“Of the priests: Jedaiah the son of Joiarib, Jachin.  Seraiah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, was the ruler of the house of God.  And their brethren that did the work of the house were eight hundred twenty and two: and Adaiah the son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashur, the son of Malchiah, And his brethren, chief of the fathers, two hundred forty and two: and Amashai the son of Azareel, the son of Ahasai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer, And their brethren, mighty men of valour, an hundred twenty and eight: and their overseer was Zabdiel, the son of one of the great men.

Also of the Levites: Shemaiah the son of Hashub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; And Shabbethai and Jozabad, of the chief of the Levites, had the oversight of the outward business of the house of God.  And Mattaniah the son of Micha, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, was the principal to begin the thanksgiving in prayer: and Bakbukiah the second among his brethren, and Abda the son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun.  All the Levites in the holy city were two hundred fourscore and four. 

Moreover the porters, Akkub, Talmon, and their brethren that kept the gates, were an hundred seventy and two.  And the residue of Israel, of the priests, and the Levites, were in all the cities of Judah, every one in his inheritance.  But the Nethinims dwelt in Ophel: and Ziha and Gispa were over the Nethinims.  The overseer also of the Levites at Jerusalem was Uzzi the son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micha. 

Of the sons of Asaph, the singers were over the business of the house of God.  For it was the king's commandment concerning them, that a certain portion should be for the singers, due for every day.” (Nehemiah 11:10-23)

Because of their duties, and Artaxerxes had provided a certain stipend for the choir and musicians to be paid daily, they lived in Jerusalem.  The various special group who served in the Temple are enumerated.

“And Pethahiah the son of Meshezabeel, of the children of Zerah the son of Judah, was at the king's hand in all matters concerning the people.” (Nehemiah 11:24)

A special official to represent the people before the government was established in Jerusalem in an effort to ensure the people had access.

“And for the villages, with their fields, some of the children of Judah dwelt at Kirjatharba, and in the villages thereof, and at Dibon, and in the villages thereof, and at Jekabzeel, and in the villages thereof, And at Jeshua, and at Moladah, and at Bethphelet, And at Hazarshual, and at Beersheba, and in the villages thereof, And at Ziklag, and at Mekonah, and in the villages thereof, And at Enrimmon, and at Zareah, and at Jarmuth,  Zanoah, Adullam, and in their villages, at Lachish, and the fields thereof, at Azekah, and in the villages thereof. And they dwelt from Beersheba unto the valley of Hinnom. 

The children also of Benjamin from Geba dwelt at Michmash, and Aija, and Bethel, and in their villages, And at Anathoth, Nob, Ananiah, Hazor, Ramah, Gittaim, Hadid, Zeboim, Neballat, Lod, and Ono, the valley of craftsmen.  And of the Levites were divisions in Judah, and in Benjamin.” (Nehemiah 11:25-36)

The Jews occupied most of the land Judah had once held, including some of the old Philistine lands along the Mediterranean coast.  There were Levite communities in various places in Judah and Benjamin to teach the people.  Nebuchadnezzar had transplanted a large number of skilled Artisans to Telabib in Syria,  When they returned, most of them settled in the Ajalon river valley, which quickly became known for the goods they produced.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Written Commitment To God

Nehemiah 9:32-10:39

“Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. 

Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them.  For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works.” (Nehemiah 9:32-35)

In their prayer of praise and worship led by the Levites, they had recounted the many times God had blessed them in spite of repeated rejection and rebellion by the nation of Israel.  Time after time he had allowed them to be taken into captivity because of their sin, but when they repented, every time, he had delivered them and resumed his blessings.

The longest and most severe judgment had begun when the Assyrians had conquered Samaria and the northern nation known as Israel more than two hundred years before.  The Assyrians had attempted to conquer Judah for time, and later Egypt had control for a short time, before Nebuchadnezzar had taken them into captivity a hundred forty years before.

They acknowledged that God was being totally fair in the punishment, but they were asking him not to think it wasn’t enough.  They realized that they had not given God much reason to trust them.

“Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.  And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” (Nehemiah 9:36-38)

They recognized that what they had was actually pretty good and that they owed it all to him.  Because the recognized this, they made a written commitment to obey him.  It would be signed by their leaders, the Levites, and the priests.

“Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Ne 10:3 Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these were the priests. 

And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; And their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Bani, Beninu. 

The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,  Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur, Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub, Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, And Ahijah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah.” (Nehemiah 10:1-27) 

These were the ones who would be leading in keeping the agreement to serve God.  The list started with Nehemiah, the governor, and included the priests who were to administer the Law, the Levites who were responsible for teaching it and the leaders who were to enforce it’s provisions.

“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; 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; And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: 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.” (Nehemiah 10:28-31)

They committed themselves to not becoming involved with the other peoples aroung them in marriage or their religion, but would concentrate on following God’s law. Even to the point of not buying from them on the Sabbath or other holy days.  They would keep the laws relating to letting the land lie fallow that their ancestors had never followed, and would bring their laws about lending into accordance with god’s commands.  Obeying God would take precedence over making a profit.

“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; For the showbread, 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.” (Nehemiah 10:32-33)

They also committed to paying a nominal  annual fee, worth about ten dollars in today’s money, for the maintenance of the temple, similar to what God had commanded in Exodus 30:13-16, although there it was to be a half shekel, rather than a third.  The money was to be used to pay for the shewbread and various offerings for the nation as a whole, as well as any necessary repairs.  Personal sacrifices and offerings were to be paid for by the individual.  

“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: 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: 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: 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.” (Nehemiah 10:34-37)

As part of their fee, each family committed to bring firewood for offering the sacrifices.  They were assigned the times to bring it randomly. They agreed to bring the tithes, and first fruits as commanded by the law, to be given to the priests and Levites in payment for their service to God for the people.

“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.  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.” (Nehemiah 10:38-39)

Out of the tithe they received, the priests and Levites were to pay a tithe just as the people did.  It was to be placed with the other offerings to be used as needed in the services so that their would always be supplies for the worship of God, so there would never be an excuse for not serving him.

Joshua had led Israel to make a similar commitment to God in Joshua 23-24.  As a result, Joshua 24:31 tells us, “And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.”

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Praising God For His Mercy

Nehemiah 9:1-32

“Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.   And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.  And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.” ” (Nehemiah 9:1) 

The feast of tabernacles started on the fourteenth day of the seventh month and ran to the twenty first day.  They were celebrating it because in reading the law, they had discovered that they supposed to.  Every day during the feast they had spent time reading and explaining the meaning of the law.  In the process they learned that there were a lot of other things they hadn’t even known about and decided to start doing them.

When the feast ended they remained, confessing their sin, and the deliberate disobedience of their forefathers, spending several hours each day in Bible study.  This led to several more hours in confessing sin and worshipping God and seprating themselves from the practices of people who didn’t worship God.  With a clean conscience, they were ready to praise and worship God freely.

“Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God. 

Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.” (Nehemiah 9:4-5)

The Levites  then led the people in praising and worshiping God in a prayerful song like review of what God had done for them.

“Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. 

Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous: And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea; And showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day. 

 And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.  Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go. 

Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant: And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them.” (Nehemiah 9:6-15)

They started by acknowledging God as creator of the universe.   They then recounted how he had chosen Abraham, declaring him righteous because of his faith, and promised to give his descendants the land of Canaan.  They reviewed how he had delivered them from Egypt, Leading them with the cloud and fire and miraculously separating the Red Sea and providing manna and water.  They also recognized that he had given them specific instructions as to what eh expected from them in exchange for his blessings.

“But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. 

Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations; Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to show them light, and the way wherein they should go.” (Nehemiah 9:16-19)

Just a couple of months after being delivered from Egypt and only a few days after God had given them the basic outline of the Law, while Moses was still on the mountain getting the final version written,  the people of Israel rebelled against God making the golden calf and deciding to go back to Egypt, claiming it was the calf that enabled the escape Egypt.

God did not turn his back on them, but continued to guide them with the pillar of cloud by day and or fire by night, even though they had completely rejected all he had done for them.

 “Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.  Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.  Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.

Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.  So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would.  And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness.” (Nehemiah 9:20-25)

During the forty years in the wilderness, God had continued to provide food and water, giving them land of their own on the east side of Jordan even before they went into Canaan.  They thrived even during that time while God was trying to teach them to trust him.

“Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. 

Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.  

But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies; And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear.” (Nehemiah 9:26-29)

Time after time, the Israelites rejected God’s law, often even killing his prophets for telling them they were wrong.  As a result God had allowed them to be subjugated by various groups, thirteen times in the book of Judges alone.  When they would acknowledge God, each time he sent them a leader to set them free again.   Each time after a brief respite, they repeated their rejection of God, refusing to listen.

“Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.  Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.” (Nehemiah 9:30-32)

In spite of the their repeated rebellion, and the punishment they so richly deserved, God had continued to love them and refused to give up on them simply because he is a loving and merciful God.  According to Hebrews 13:15 praise is thanking God for what he has done, and to this point, that is exactly what this has been about, thanking God for what he had done for Israel.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Demonstrating Their Love For God

Nehemiah 8:1-18

“And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel.” (Nehemiah 8:1)

Thanks to Nehemiah’s example in trusting the lord and setting out to do what he believed God wanted despite the opposition, the people had been encouraged to follow God.  Excited by the results, they wanted to know more about God and what he expected and asked Ezra to read the Law to them.  They were not content to settle for what their parents had taught them.

In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  A few verses later, in John 14:21, he said, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”  Unless we know what God’s commands and expectations are, we will not be able to demonstrate our love by doing hat he would like us to.   People who really love him will want to know what he expects.  It is a sad commentary on today’s Christians that many have little or no interest in what God has said.

“And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month.  And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

For about four hours, Ezra just read the law to all the people old enough to listen and understand what it said.   There was no music, no jokes or entertainment of any kind, not even for the children.  They just read the scriptures.  How many today would walk out or not come back if we just read the scriptures for a half hour one Sunday?  The first step in finding out what God wants is to read his word.

“And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 

And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. 

And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” (Nehemiah 8:4-6)

Ezra stood on a raised wooden platform so his voice would carry farther, and so the people could see he was reading from the book, not merely making things up as he went.  The prophets and priests stood by him, identifying with what he read.  As he read various promises, he blessed the Lord, giving thanks for them.  The people were thanking the Lord as well, saying “Amen” or “let it be so” and raising their hands in supplication before falling on their faces in worship.  

“Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place.  So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” (Nehemiah 8:7-8)

The priests and Levites then took the time to carefully explain the meaning of each part of the law so the people understood what it meant, and the people gladly stayed to learn.  Sadly, in our day many people lack the background to understand what they are reading, and pastors or teachers are so busy promoting a topic they don’t take time to make sure they understand the entire passage.  Apparently we think we know more about what people need to know than God does.

In expository preaching, we are explaining what God has said, using his outline and putting things together the way he said it.  In topical sermons we choose a topic to preach about.  It doesn’t even have to be a biblical topic, although we may use some verses in presenting it.  In textual sermons we chose a text and use some of it’s statements as topics for our sermon.   Neither topical or textual preaching provide as much protection against false teaching as Expository teaching.

“And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. “ (Nehemiah 8:9)

When the people heard and understood the Law, they realized how badly they had broken it.  Nehemiah, as the governor, and Exra as priest and scribe, the Levites encouraged the people that God was a forgiving God, and would forgive their sin.

“Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. 

So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. 

And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them.” (Nehemiah 8:10-12) 

Rather than spending all their time sorrowing over past mistakes, Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged them to focus on doing better in the future.  They should celebrate what God had done for them at the moment and not miss the present blessing by crying over past mistakes.

“And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law. 

And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.” (Nehemiah 8:13-15) 

The following day, the leaders got together to better understand God’s law themselves.  As they were studying, they discovered the command for the feast of tabernacles in Leviticus 23:39-43.  “Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.  And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.  And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a statute for ever in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month.  Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelites born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

God had commanded that every year after the Day of Atonement, they were to have a national campout to remind them of the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness as a result of their disobedience, and of how much they had been blessed since.

“So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.  And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness.” (Nehemiah 8:16-17)

Israel had not regularly kept the feast of tabernacles since the days of Joshua, celebrating it only three or four times in intervening thousand years.  When they realized what God had commanded, the people rejoiced to celebrate it.  How often we miss God’s blessings because we didn’t consider something he said as very important.   These people demonstrated their love by keeping this command.  In John 14:23-24, “Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.”  Our failure to find out and do what God says demonstrates a lack of love for God.

“Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner.” (Nehemiah 8:18)

Filled with love for God, the people couldn’t get enough of his word.  They were not like the church in Ephesus as described in Revelation 2:1-7.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Reminder Of Where They Came From

Nehemiah 7:1-73

“Now it came to pass, when the wall was built, and I had set up the doors, and the porters and the singers and the Levites were appointed, That I gave my brother Hanani, and Hananiah the ruler of the palace, charge over Jerusalem: for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many.

 And I said unto them, Let not the gates of Jerusalem be opened until the sun be hot; and while they stand by, let them shut the doors, and bar them: and appoint watches of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, every one in his watch, and every one to be over against his house.  Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded” (Nehemiah 7:1-4)

Prior to the completion of the wall, people hesitated to move to Jerusalem because of the danger from roving gangs of raiders, and those who lived there didn’t bother to fix up their homes, leaving the areas much like our ghettos of today.   With the wall to protect them from the gangs, Nehemiah appointed his brother and another man to take responsibility of keeping piece in the city, much like a good police force today.

They hired security guards and instituted a neighborhood watch system because while the area was large, the population was comparatively small, and many of the houses were still just abandoned ruins.  They were not to open the gates until the sun was fully up and people were out and about to prevent raids.  For the first time since they had gone into captivity a hundred forty years before, they could really consider themselves safe.

“And my God put into mine heart to gather together the nobles, and the rulers, and the people, that they might be reckoned by genealogy. And I found a register of the genealogy of them which came up at the first, and found written therein, These are the children of the province, that went up out of the captivity, of those that had been carried away, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away, and came again to Jerusalem and to Judah, every one unto his city; Who came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum, Baanah.” (Numbers 7:5-7a) 

Seventy years after Cyrus had given the command to rebuild Jerusalem, God led Nehemiah to recount the people and verify their family trees.  In the process, he found the list of those who had originally returned from Babylon from Ezra 2.

"The number, I say, of the men of the people of Israel was this; The children of Parosh, two thousand an hundred seventy and two.  The children of Shephatiah, three hundred seventy and two.  The children of Arah, six hundred fifty and two.  The children of Pahathmoab, of the children of Jeshua and Joab, two thousand and eight hundred and eighteen. 

The children of Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four.  The children of Zattu, eight hundred forty and five.  The children of Zaccai, seven hundred and threescore.  The children of Binnui, six hundred forty and eight.  The children of Bebai, six hundred twenty and eight.  The children of Azgad, two thousand three hundred twenty and two.  The children of Adonikam, six hundred threescore and seven.  The children of Bigvai, two thousand threescore and seven. 

The children of Adin, six hundred fifty and five.  The children of Ater of Hezekiah, ninety and eight.  The children of Hashum, three hundred twenty and eight.  The children of Bezai, three hundred twenty and four.  The children of Hariph, an hundred and twelve.  The children of Gibeon, ninety and five.  The men of Bethlehem and Netophah, an hundred fourscore and eight.  The men of Anathoth, an hundred twenty and eight.  The men of Bethazmaveth, forty and two.  The men of Kirjathjearim, Chephirah, and Beeroth, seven hundred forty and three. 

The men of Ramah and Gaba, six hundred twenty and one.  The men of Michmas, an hundred and twenty and two.  The men of Bethel and Ai, an hundred twenty and three.  The men of the other Nebo, fifty and two.  The children of the other Elam, a thousand two hundred fifty and four.  The children of Harim, three hundred and twenty.  The children of Jericho, three hundred forty and five.  The children of Lod, Hadid, and Ono, seven hundred twenty and one.  The children of Senaah, three thousand nine hundred and thirty. 

The priests: the children of Jedaiah, of the house of Jeshua, nine hundred seventy and three. Ne 7:40 The children of Immer, a thousand fifty and two.  The children of Pashur, a thousand two hundred forty and seven.  The children of Harim, a thousand and seventeen.  The Levites: the children of Jeshua, of Kadmiel, and of the children of Hodevah, seventy and four. 

The singers: the children of Asaph, an hundred forty and eight.  The porters: the children of Shallum, the children of Ater, the children of Talmon, the children of Akkub, the children of Hatita, the children of Shobai, an hundred thirty and eight. 

The Nethinims: the children of Ziha, the children of Hashupha, the children of Tabbaoth, The children of Keros, the children of Sia, the children of Padon, The children of Lebana, the children of Hagaba, the children of Shalmai, The children of Hanan, the children of Giddel, the children of Gahar, The children of Reaiah, the children of Rezin, the children of Nekoda, The children of Gazzam, the children of Uzza, the children of Phaseah, The children of Besai, the children of Meunim, the children of Nephishesim, The children of Bakbuk, the children of Hakupha, the children of Harhur, The children of Bazlith, the children of Mehida, the children of Harsha, The children of Barkos, the children of Sisera, the children of Tamah, The children of Neziah, the children of Hatipha. 

The children of Solomon's servants: the children of Sotai, the children of Sophereth, the children of Perida, The children of Jaala, the children of Darkon, the children of Giddel, The children of Shephatiah, the children of Hattil, the children of Pochereth of Zebaim, the children of Amon.  All the Nethinims, and the children of Solomon's servants, were three hundred ninety and two. 

And these were they which went up also from Telmelah, Telharesha, Cherub, Addon, and Immer: but they could not show their father's house, nor their seed, whether they were of Israel.  The children of Delaiah, the children of Tobiah, the children of Nekoda, six hundred forty and two. 

And of the priests: the children of Habaiah, the children of Koz, the children of Barzillai, which took one of the daughters of Barzillai the Gileadite to wife, and was called after their name.  These sought their register among those that were reckoned by genealogy, but it was not found: therefore were they, as polluted, put from the priesthood. 

 And the Tirshatha said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till there stood up a priest with Urim and Thummim. 

The whole congregation together was forty and two thousand three hundred and threescore, Beside their manservants and their maidservants, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty and seven: and they had two hundred forty and five singing men and singing women.  Their horses, seven hundred thirty and six: their mules, two hundred forty and five: Their camels, four hundred thirty and five: six thousand seven hundred and twenty asses.” (Nehemiah 7:8-6)

This list would greatly simplify identifying the families of the descendants of those who had originally returned to Jerusalem.  It would be no problem identifying those who had come with Ezra, thirteen years before.  The record included the donations the various people had made for the construction of the temple.

 “And some of the chief of the fathers gave unto the work. The Tirshatha gave to the treasure a thousand drams of gold, fifty basins, five hundred and thirty priests' garments. Ne 7:71 And some of the chief of the fathers gave to the treasure of the work twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand and two hundred pound of silver. 

And that which the rest of the people gave was twenty thousand drams of gold, and two thousand pound of silver, and threescore and seven priests' garments. 

So the priests, and the Levites, and the porters, and the singers, and some of the people, and the Nethinims, and all Israel, dwelt in their cities; and when the seventh month came, the children of Israel were in their cities.” (Nehemiah 7:70-73)

It was a powerful reminder of their ancestors’ past efforts to serve God, and that they were not the only ones.  Without reminders of where we’ve come from, people lose their sense of direction.  As the saying goes, those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.