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.

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