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EXPLANATORY NOTES.] Nehemiah 10:1-27.] “First came the name of the governor, the Tirshatha; next Zidkijah, perhaps the secretary to the governor. Then follow twenty-one names of priests, seventeen Levites, and forty-four of the chief of the people.”
Nehemiah 10:28. The rest of the people] Represented by the heads of the nations who had sealed the covenant. These sealed; those swore. All they that had separated themselves] “The descendants of those Israelites who had been left in the land, and who now joined the new community.”—Keil.
Nehemiah 10:30-31.] “Besides the general obligation to observe all the commandments, judgments, and statutes of God, two points, then frequently transgressed, are specially mentioned. In Nehemiah 10:30, that we would not give our daughters to the people of the lands, nor take their daughters for our sons. In Nehemiah 10:31, that if the people of the land brought wares or any victuals on the Sabbath day to sell, we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and would let the seventh year lie, and the loan of every hand. To the sanctification of the Sabbath pertained the celebration of the Sabbatical year in which the land was to lie untilled and unsown” (Exodus 23:10).—Keil.
Nehemiah 10:32-39.] Having agreed to keep the law they then resolved to maintain the Temple service.
Nehemiah 10:32. The third part of a shekel] The law required half a shekel; perhaps reduced to one-third in consequence of the people’s poverty. Ver.
Nehemiah 10:34. We cast the lots for the wood offering] “The carrying of the wood had formerly been the work of the Nethinims. But few of them having returned, the duty was assigned as stated in the text. The practice afterwards rose into great importance, and Josephus speaks of the Xylophoria, or certain stated and solemn times, at which the people brought up wood to the Temple.”—Jamieson.
Nehemiah 10:38. The priest shall be with the Levites when they take tithes] A prudential arrangement. The presence of a dignified priest would prevent the people deceiving the Levites, or the Levites defrauding the priests.—Jamieson. The tithe of the tithes] The Levites, having received a tenth of all land produce, were required to give a tenth of this to the priests. The Levites were charged with the additional obligation to carry the tithes when received, and deposit them in the Temple stores, for the use of the priests.—Jamieson.
Nehemiah 10:39. We will not forsake the house] The people swore to maintain, the priests and Levites to serve, the Temple.
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 10
Nehemiah 10:28-31. Unworldliness.
Nehemiah 10:29. Moses.
Nehemiah 10:32-39. Voluntary Taxation.
Nehemiah 10:39. Zeal for the Sanctuary.
Nehemiah 10:39. Zeal for God’s House expressed in a holy resolution not to forsake it.
Nehemiah 10:28-31. 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.
THEY did not pray to be taken out of the world; they did resolve to keep themselves from its evil. Is that biblical unworldliness? St. James says, “The friendship of the world is enmity with God; whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” Does the Apostle stand alone in this? Is he carried away by the vehemence of his feelings as public speakers sometimes are? He was pre-eminently a calm man. He weighed his words. The men of his age styled him “the just.” He was a man of weight. And the key-note of his epistle is struck in the sermon on the mount. Let us listen to the teaching of Jesus, so tranquil in its tone: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works.” Unfortunately use has dulled the edge of these beautiful words. Could we listen to them as they deserve to be heard they would sound strangely. They distinguish between things that differ—the world and God. They separate the worshippers of the world from the worshippers of God. They tell of a reciprocal influence. If we turn from Christ to Paul the strain is the same. “Be not conformed to this world, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” “The time is short: it remaineth, that they that weep be as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.” Take one more step—from Paul to John. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
I. What is the forbidden world?
1. Not the material world. “Every creature of God is good.” The world is God’s: he made it; he gloried in it; he upholds it. It is a mark of God’s likeness to enjoy this beautiful world. In the world God is mirrored. When night draws its curtain and hangs up its silvery lamps,
All things are calm, and fair, and passive. Earth
Looks as if lulled upon an angel’s lap
Into a breathless dewy sleep: so still
That we can only say of things, they be!
It is said that the first Napoleon was once on the deck of a vessel surveying such a scene when he overheard two of his officers in discussion, and one denying the existence of God. Going towards them he said, “Gentlemen, I heard one of you say there is no God; then pray tell me who made all this?” pointing as he spoke to “the beads of light strung o’er night’s dark brow.” Think you God has forbidden us to love this beautiful world? Why has he hidden it from us? Why has he made science, art, health, life itself, dependent on the study of it? Is it not that he would have us cultivate its friendship and worm out its secret? and whether we gaze with awe on the worlds upon worlds circling in distant space, or the worlds within worlds in each the minutest creation of God, rise from our daily contemplation, as he rose on the first day of its existence, with the words upon our lips—“It is very good;” “He hath done all things well.”
2. Not the men who are in the world. If the world is dear to God because he made it and sustains it, how much more man, whom he has redeemed with his Son’s most precious blood? We have been on the Mount with Christ. Let us revisit it. He shall teach us our relations to the world of men. “Ye are the salt of the earth.” “Ye are the light of the world.” Did Christ scorn men? He scorned, hated, recoiled from, denounced sin; but the sinner he sought, soothed, taught, won, and rejoiced over. Christ had human affections. Broad enough to embrace a world was the love of Christ, and yet he needed human love. And in selected homes and from selected hearts he got what he wanted. God has not outlawed our affections. They will outlast death. Love is of God. Love is eternal. “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a lair: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.”
3. But the spirit of the world. Our Lord styled it “the evil.”; St. John phrases it, “the lust of the world.” The maxims, the tone, the tendency of a life that shuts out God, ignores death, buries the thought of another life, the godlessness of the world—this is forbidden. The World’s Final Court of Appeal is Opinion; the Christian’s is God’s Word. The one anxiously asks, “What will society say?” The other fearlessly asks, “What has God said?” “Will it be discovered? will shame follow?” that is one way of meeting a temptation. “Is it right?” that is the other, the more excellent, way.
II. Importance of a correct answer to the question, What is the forbidden world? A mistake here is fatal.
1. Some have looked upon this world as accursed. They have betaken themselves to monasteries and sisterhoods, oblivious of the fact that
The trivial round, the common task,
Would furnish all we ought to ask:
Room to deny ourselves; a road
To bring us daily nearer God.
2. Some have supposed the evil to be in our business. Here temptation arises; but the place where the fire breaks out is not the cause of the fire. To be unworldly does not mean to be out of the world. “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” St. Paul did not give up tent-making, nor St. Peter relinquish fishing, when they became apostles. They taught their converts to “abide” in their callings. Business is not outside religion; it must be religiously attended to. The shop should be as sacred as a sanctuary. Work done with right motives and aims is a ceaseless litany. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”
Illustrations:—Let us use worldly things as wise pilgrims do their staves and other necessaries convenient for their journey. So long as they help us forward in our way, let us make use of them, and accordingly esteem them. But if they become troublesome hindrances and cumbersome burdens, let us leave them behind us or cast them away.—Downame.
All the water is waste that runs beside the mill; so all thy thoughts and words are waste which are not to the glory of God. A bee will not sit on a flower where no honey can be sucked; neither should the Christian engage in anything but for his soul’s good and God’s honour.—Gurnall.
Christianity allows us to use the world, provided we do not abuse it. It docs not spread before us a delicious banquet, and then come with a “Touch not, taste not, handle not.”—Porteous.
A Christian is like Jacob’s ladder: while his body, that lower part, stands on the ground, the top, his higher and better part, is in heaven. He that hath the living waters of Jesus flowing in his heart, is mad if he stoop to the puddles of vanity, or seek content in the world. Yea, such a one will scarce descend to lawful pleasures, but for God’s allowance and nature’s necessity; and then but as the eagle, who lives aloft, and stoops not but for her prey.—Adams.
Nehemiah 10:29. Moses, the servant of God
Three periods of forty years:—agreeing with his life in Egypt, Arabia, and the wilderness of the wandering.
I. Birth and education. Tyranny and cowardice twin-sisters. Pharaoh enslaved the people. Unrighteous power is uncertain power. Pharaoh knew this. Dreading the increasing numbers of the children of Israel, he issued an edict that all the male children should be strangled at birth. Fearing political intrigue, he placed over them Egyptian task-masters. Anxious to crush their spirits, he increased their burdens. Then Moses was born. Jewish proverb says, “When the tale of bricks is doubled then comes Moses.” “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” The story of the child’s salvation. His mother his educator. Mother’s influence. Augustine and Monica. The mother of the Wesleys. Cowper’s poem on seeing his mother’s picture. Boyhood of Moses not detailed. Nor childhood of Jesus. Two anecdotes in Stephen’s speech. Flight now necessary.
II. Moses kept the flock in the desert near Horeb. Desert voices—solitude and thought. Burning bush—a lesson to the eye; “My people are in the fire; they shall not be burned.” Voice—a command and a commission. Reluctance. Moses and Aaron. Our dependence upon each other. Goes to Pharaoh.
III. His work. Eighty years of preparation. How God can wait! Our impatience if harvest ripens slowly. Moses became deliverer. Difficulties from Pharaoh; from people’s accustom edness to bondage. Human sagacity and Divine help. The order of their march he indicated, but Hobab a guide. With the sagacity of a leader Moses united the courage of a warrior. He was the patriarch and judge. Difficulties he surmounted, and doubts he resolved. How he bore with them the history tells. His speech sometimes song. The poet of the nation. Passage of the Red Sea (Psalms 90:0). Farewell (Deuteronomy 32:33). The scenes of this history have passed into proverbs. Our conceptions of the journey of a human soul from this land of exile to its home with God are borrowed from this narrative. Horeb, Sinai, and Nebo speak a language understood by thousands. The Red Sea, the city of palm trees, and the cleft rock have suggested thoughts of God which have inspired untold myriads in their pilgrimage. Such a history can never again be written. “A man of like passions.” Penalty of passion. He was to see, but not to enter the land. Forty years he had toiled to bring them there, and now he must die outside. How many coveted objects get just within our reach, and then are removed as by invisible hands. A few lines sum up a human life. “Moses, the servant of the Lord.” Few words, but 120 years in them—the victories and defeats, fears and hopes, temptations and resistances, dangers and deliverances of a lifetime. Moses died: God buried him. The people wept: Joshua arose. Moses died, but his work remained—remains. His life is ours to study. His laws are at the base of English and American jurisprudence; and he is with those who have gotten the victory, who stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God; and sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb.
Illustrations:—“The life of Moses is probably the most complete of any man’s, either in the Old Testament or the New—a great, noble, growing life to the very end, and most clearly and graphically depicted in the word of God. But not a single ray of light falls upon his death, and no man attends his funeral. We only know that it was well cared for; “the Lord buried him.”—Ker.
Moses, pre-eminently one of the greatest men of all time. Coming from the lowest ranks of life,—born a slave under the iron tyranny of an Eastern despot,—he rose to become the emancipator of his people from that bondage, and the founder of a nation that held the light of heaven through the darkness of ages; and which, of all nations, has had the mightiest influence in advancing the true progress of the world.—E. L. Hull.
Nehemiah 10:32-39. 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, &c.
The old law required the offerings; but it had been long unread. In the enthusiasm of the Reformation under Nehemiah they accepted the neglected law, and adapted it to their new conditions. Not to enter upon the thorny path of endowed or voluntary religion, nor to inquire whether tithes are coeval with the first man, and binding upon the present age, let us maintain—
I. That a Church supposes an edifice. “No particular sort of building, style of architecture, or ceremony of preparation is essential. An upper room in Jerusalem, the abode of the eleven, is the first-mentioned place of Christian consolation. The place of pentecostal concourse is not exactly mentioned, but is called a house. Afterwards the Christians met in the temple, probably for public worship; and celebrated the eucharist or broke the bread in the house. Perhaps it was in the same place in which the eleven abode that the pentecostal assemblage was held, that the eucharistic bread was broken, that the deacons were installed, and that the apostolic council was held, and which was ‘shaken’ in answer to prayer.”—Manly. God may be worshipped in any house. Experience has taught the convenience and value of a house of God. The edifice must be built and maintained.
II. That a Church requires a minister. “All elders are worthy of honour, the elders that rule well of double honour, the elders that labour in the word and doctrine of special honour. The honour consists of either obedience, or maintenance, or of both together. The labourer is worthy of his reward. No man can rightly labour in the word and doctrine without diligent and habitual biblical study; no man can conduct such study without the renunciation of secular pursuits; no man can abandon such pursuits without an adequate and guaranteed salary from the Church in which he teaches and for which he labours; and accordingly it is a wise arrangement, an equitable exchange, a Divine direction, that the bishops or ministers of the churches should be adequately sustained and paid. An unpaid ministry must always be an occasional and defective ministry; and a Church that relies on it will droop and decline. It is simple justice; and it is God’s law that he who is taught in the word should communicate to him that teacheth in all good things.”—Manly. The ministry must be sustained.
III. That a Church is a brotherhood. “The rich and poor meet together.” “The poor ye have always with you.” In a Church sense, “if any provide not for his own house he hath denied the faith.” “All ye are brethren.”
IV. That a Church is a missionary organization. It has duties both at home and abroad. The word of God must be translated, the masses evangelized, society leavened. This is the only “needs-be” for a Church. It gets to give; exists for what it does. A praying Church must also be a working Church. A working Church must of necessity be a generous Church. Jesus stood over against the treasury and saw the rich men casting in their gifts. And he saw also a certain widow casting in the two mites. “If there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.” “God loveth the cheerful giver.”
Illustration:—Men may say they prefer to give their missionary money nearer home, where they see what becomes of it. But remember that it is by setting up standards and beacons, getting hold of a few here and there and Christianizing them, even when results look small, that a great testimony to Christ is finally given. Make the gospel “witness to all nations,” before the end comes. The apostles travelled and sailed, casting their bread upon the waters, not too anxious to count up visible results. The great commission was, “Go, preach the gospel to all nations.” There is no knowing where the fruit will spring.—Bishop Huntington.
ZEAL FOR THE SANCTUARY
Nehemiah 10:39. We will not forsake the house of our God
Israel ordained the guardians of God’s spiritual worship, and the repositories of his lively oracles. So long as they kept oracles undefiled and maintained worship undebased God was with them; when they profaned or abandoned the place where his honour dwelt—defiling his worship with superstition and idolatry—he turned to be their adversary. He gave up their city to destruction, and their beautiful house, where their fathers had praised him, to utter desolation. They were carried away captive into Babylon. After seventy years of tribulation, God hearkened to their cries. He caused Cyrus to issue a decree of return. Multitudes hastened back. Having rebuilt the temple they kept a solemn festival. They made confessions, and renewed their covenant with God. They bound themselves to restore the tithes and sacrifices which the law ordained. Though impoverished and oppressed they undertook to give such things as were needful for the full service of the temple. The whole assembly, in unison with their governor, protested with one mind and one mouth, WE WILL NOT FORSAKE THE HOUSE OF OUR GOD.
Why you should say of “the habitation of God’s house,” we will not forsake it?
1. God has clearly ordained public worship. He made man to be social—social in virtue of his sorrows, his joys, his wants, his affections, his relationships. But if he formed men to be social in things natural, he no less formed them to be social in things spiritual. The isolation of selfishness is of sin; the union of love is of God. But union is cherished by communion, and communion strengthened by united worship. The faithful ought therefore to assemble themselves together in their Master’s name. Accordingly, fellowship in worship may be traced from the earliest period. It seems not improbable that, as our great poet has represented, even in paradise the primitive pair had some chosen bower whither they resorted to offer up their stated homage to their Maker. But be that as it may, no sooner do we find men calling upon the Lord after the fall, than we find them calling upon him in fellowship. Where the patriarch pitched his tent, there he built his altar. As soon as ever God had singled out a people for himself, he bade them raise a tabernacle of witness and of worship, giving the minutest instructions for its construction, its furniture, and its ordinances. He added this memorable promise, which remains in all its force, “Wherever I record my name I will come to thee and bless thee.” And gloriously did he record his name—first in the tabernacle, and afterwards more gloriously still in the temple. He dwelt between the cherubim, over the mercy-seat, and poured his blessing on all who truly sought him there. Jesus honoured the temple. He loved to resort to his Father’s house. He was very jealous of its desecration; the zeal of it ate him up. There he was wont to teach; there he wrought mighty miracles. His disciples met for worship, sometimes in the synagogue, sometimes in the upper chamber, sometimes at the river-side: and no sooner did opportunity serve than they set apart holy places for the ordinances and worship of God. The faithful in every ago have desired to dwell in the house of the Lord. If, therefore, any man have the mind of the Spirit; if he love the Saviour and those whom the Saviour loves—he cannot but say of the solemn assembly, “I will not forsake the house of my God.”
2. The special manifestations of the Divine presence, vouchsafed in the congregations of the saints, ought to endear to us such privileged scenes. Never has the promise failed, “Where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” His chosen have sought and seen his “power and glory in the sanctuary.” The history of the Church in all ages is rich in the illustration of this fact. The patriarchal altar was many a time illumined from on high. The cloud of glory often rested on the tabernacle of witness. The mystic splendour which shone between the wings of the cherubim, reflecting a radiance on the mercy-seat—that symbol of the propitiation of Jesus—testified that “God dwelt with man on the earth,”—that “his dwelling-place was in Zion. There, by voices and by visions, by Urim and Thummim,” and by secret communications of his grace, he revealed himself to his people. And now—what though the temple with its magnificent ceremonial and impressive ordinances has passed away—what though no visible Shekinah irradiates the simple house of prayer—have we no signs, no tokens left? Have we not the substance instead of the shadow? the spirit in lieu of the letter? If the carnal worshipper sees less—does not the spiritual worshipper see more—abundant glory? “If the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.” Are there not still memorials of a present Lord amongst us—memorials sublimely simple, exquisitely expressive?—his blessed gospel—his living sacraments—the preaching of his word? Neither are there lacking demonstrations of his power and love. True it is that they who come not in faith find him not here; but those who come believingly hear a voice the unbelieving do not hear—feel a presence the unbelieving do not feel—enjoy a blessing the unbelieving cannot receive. If, then, God manifests himself surpassingly in the sanctuary; if he has never failed to bestow his special favour towards the social services of his children, it follows that they who love the Lord and love to meet him cannot but say, “We will not forsake the house of our God.”
3. As the sanctuary has been the place of the Lord’s rest, so has it been the scene where he has imparted the richest gifts to his worshippers. On the day of Pentecost, it was “when they were all with one accord in one place,” that “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as a of rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” Examine the history of the Church ever since, and you will find that of the multitudes of the believing, the largest proportion have been born for eternity in the house of God. If not begotten in the sanctuary, the saints have at least been nursed and nourished there. Many a time has the devout worshipper entered the sanctuary in darkness, and left it full of light; entered sorely beset with temptations, returned from it with the snare of the fowler broken; come perplexed, departed assured; come burdened, gone back enlarged; come prostrate, gone back exalted; come mourning, returned rejoicing; come cold, gone back enkindled; come secularized, gone back spiritualized; come weary, gone back revived; come earthly-minded, gone back heavenly-minded.
4. The servant of God will love the courts of the Lord and not forsake them, because in them he tastes most of heaven below. You cannot form a better conception of heaven than by fixing on the happiest Sabbath, and the happiest hour of worship on the happiest Sabbath, you ever enjoyed in the assembly of the saints. Then and there, withdrawn from the world’s vanities and disquietudes; then and there, abstracted from things seen and temporal, and absorbed in things unseen and eternal; then and there, when all was tranquillity without, and all was calm within; then and there, faith almost turned into sight and hope into fruition—all earthly distinctions forgotten, the poor and the rich blended in fellowship and love, the whole assembly worshipping in unison, like many instruments all true to one key-note; then and there, you had a miniature of heaven, you reached the very vestibule of that temple not made with hands, where congregations never break up, and Sabbaths never end. He then who loves not such scenes on earth—how could he love the heavenly habitation of holiness? He who has no taste for the communion and the songs of the saints below, how would he weary of the ceaseless thanksgiving and the eternal communion of the glorified in immortality! Of all men, the busy, harassed, weary mercantile man—forced to plunge daily into the dust and din of the world’s mart—is the very man who most requires the refreshment and savour of the sanctuary. A Sunday passed in worship has an influence on the days of toil. Many are witnesses that, when on the evening of the stated service which forms the half-way well in the week, they have gone up to the house of the Lord, rich has been the return of blessing and comfort. These services interrupt the current of earthly care, and suspend for a little the play of the overwrought machinery of the mind. Alas! with what punctuality do many frequent the counting-house who are seldom seen in the solemn assembly! What numbers who never think of contenting themselves with a single visit to the warehouse on the Monday, yet content themselves with a solitary attendance at church on the Sunday. What numbers are all alive and alert in the exchange, who are sluggish and uninterested in waiting on God—as though the toys and shadows of time and earth surpassed in magnitude and moment the illimitable realities of immortality.—Canon Stowell, abridged.
ZEAL FOR GOD’S HOUSE, EXPRESSED IN A HOLY RESOLUTION NOT TO FORSAKE IT
Nehemiah 10:39. And we will not forsake the house of our God
INTRODUCTION. Consider these words as they relate to the Jews at that time. The house of God was once the tabernacle, after that the temple. Tabernacle was forsaken: temple destroyed: worshippers carried away into captivity.
I. A resolution well becoming Christians themselves. “We will not forsake the house of our God.” The same zeal and affection which this people expressed to the temple, should be manifested by us to the Church and ordinances of Christ. The material temple was the centre of their unity. Under the gospel there is no such house, unto which all are obliged to repair, and any parts of divine worship are confined. Our house not a material building of wood and stones, of silver and gold, and cedar work; but a mystical building, a spiritual house, whose maker is the living God, and whose materials are living stones: whose house are we. By this house I mean the Church of God, as it is composed of the faithful in all ages and places of the world; comprehending his worship and ordinances, with all the concerns of his kingdom, and interests among men. This is that house which we should resolve never to forsake. There is doubtless much more intended than is expressed in such forms of speech, and in its full extent this resolution comprehends the three following particulars:—
1. That we will never cast off the profession of our faith, nor make a defection from the truths and ways of the gospel, for any cause nor upon any account whatsoever. It’s so rare a thing for a nation to change their gods (though really no gods) that the prophet challenges his people to produce a single instance of its being ever done—Hath a nation changed their gods? But to the everlasting reproach of Israel, they had changed their glory for that which did not profit. They that were the only people under heaven who had no cause to change their God, were of all others the people that had done it. Now it’s this defection from the true God and his worship which this people covenanted against.
2. That we will not neglect the ordinances of Divine worship, nor be wanting in our attendance on them whenever we are called, and have an opportunity of appearing before God in his house. Thus much is contained in this resolution of these devout and reforming Jews. And the same should be our resolution with respect to the house and worship of God under the gospel; we certainly are under no less obligations to frequent Christian assemblies and keep up public worship than they were; we stand in as much need of these helps and advantages as they did. Jesus Christ, as lord of his own house, has appointed divers ordinances to be observed. There must be an assembly of people meeting together for the public administration of these holy ordinances. There must be some proper and convenient places appointed and agreed upon for such religious assemblies where they can be had. Some have learned to condemn all assemblies but their own, and every way of worship but what agrees with theirs. I shall leave it to every man’s conscience where (according to the best light he can get) he thinks himself obliged ordinarily to worship God. There are particular times and seasons for the holding these religious assemblies. Reason tells us, if God is to be worshipped there must be a set time for it. Which day of the week is designed, and ought to be observed, for this stated worship is not agreed among all those that yet are heartily affected to the worship of God itself. Seventh day? First day? There are certain persons, whose work and duty it is to go before others in these holy administrations. Who they are that have this authority I list not now to contend. Some have the charity as well as modesty to nullify all administrations besides their own.
3. That we will promote as far as in us lies the interests of religion, and spread the kingdom of Christ in the world. It’s not the good of this or that particular Church and society only, but the whole interest of Christ as opposed to the devil’s kingdom in the world, whose welfare and prosperity we are bound to seek.
II. It is not only lawful, but may be useful and expedient, for Christians in societies to engage themselves to God, and the duties they owe to him and one another. This people agreed together as one man, and bound themselves by a solemn covenant, which was written and subscribed, sealed and sworn to, that they would never forsake the house of the Lord their God. What I would gather from this instance is, that as this people did, Christians may voluntarily agree together, and engage themselves in particular societies to carry on a work for God in such a way as is warranted by his word, and judged by themselves most likely to promote some valuable end. I shall,
III. Offer reasons both for making this resolution and obliging ourselves to make it good.
1. Because it is God’s house. Everything that is his should be sacred and dear to us. It is his house we are to frequent; they are his ordinances on which we attend. His word is preached and heard. His interest we oblige ourselves to support. They carry his image and superscription; this gives them their worth and value.
(1) To forsake God’s house would be to forsake our own mercies, and deprive ourselves of the most valuable blessing in the whole world. In God’s house we are sure to meet with the truest pleasure and satisfaction. They that come crowding to God’s house, shall be sent away rejoicing to their own, with the greatest benefit and advantage. Here we may hope to have our doubts resolved, our darkness scattered, and temptations most effectually vanquished. With that which will prove the firmest and most effectual support to us under all the troubles of life and at the near approach of death.
(2) To leave this house is to forsake the place which God himself hath chosen, and where he delights to dwell. He loveth the gates of Zion. Is it not good for us to be near to God? Has he said, Here will I dwell?—and should not we for that reason say, Here will we dwell?
(3) To forsake this house is to forsake God himself. We cannot quit the inheritance of the Lord but in effect we go and serve other gods. To what houses will they resort that have once forsaken God’s house? With what company will they associate, and in what assemblies may we expect to find those that have renounced the communion of saints?
2. Because our particular good is lodged in the public interest. In seeking this we seek ourselves. At the same time that we discharge our duty we consult our interests. No service performed to Christ shall lose its reward. No man shall kindle a fire on God’s altar, or shut a door in his house, for nought. It is then likely to go well with our own houses when due care is taken that it may go well with God’s house.
3. This is the noblest way of imitating the great God himself, and conforming to the example of our blessed Saviour. Thou art good, O Lord, and thou doest good. To be like God is our truest glory, and should be our highest ambition. Herein also we imitate the shining example of Jesus Christ. “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” His anger at the profanation of the temple rose up to an holy indignation.
4. This makes men real blessings to the world. However they may be esteemed by others, they really are the strength and security of a nation; the stay and support of the public interest: they bear up the pillars of the earth, and keep it from being quite dissolved. For their sakes God sometimes preserves others from those judgments which their crying sins would otherwise pull down upon their guilty heads. Sodom had been preserved for the sake of ten righteous persons, could so many have been found in the place.
5. This will be our rejoicing and comfort another day. Having made this resolution we must oblige ourselves to make it good. Because of the deceitfulness and inconstancy of our hearts. Such engagements will help to fix us more firmly in the interests of religion, and make us more successful in resisting all temptations to apostasy. Hereby we are rendered more capable of serving the interests of religion. A force when united becomes the stronger. The joint concurrence of many give a great advantage to a design, and a better prospect of success.—Matthew Clarke 1715; abridged.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 10
Without inquiring into the reason for which the number ten has been so frequently preferred as a number of selection in the cases of tribute offerings, both sacred and secular, voluntary and compulsory, we may remark that numerous instances of its use are found both in profane and also in Biblical history, prior to, or independently of, the appointment of the Levitical tithes under the law. In Biblical history the two prominent instances are—
1. Abram presenting the tenth of all his property, according to the Syrian and Arabic versions of Hebrews 7:0, but as the passages themselves appear to show, of the spoils of his victory, to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:2; Hebrews 7:6).
2. Jacob, after his vision at Luz, devoting a tenth of all his property to God in caso he should return home in safety (Genesis 28:22). These instances bear witness to the antiquity of tithes, in some shape or other, previous to the Mosaic tithe system. But numerous instances are to be found of the practice of heathen nations, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Arabians, of applying tenths derived from property in general, from spoil, from confiscated goods, or from commercial profits, to sacred, and quasi-sacred, and also to fiscal, purposes, viz. as consecrated to a deity, presented as a reward to a successful general, set apart as a tribute to a sovereign, or as a permanent source of revenue.…
The first enactment of the law in respect of tithes is the declaration that the tenth of all produce, as well as of flocks and cattle, belongs to Jehovah, and must be offered to him.
2. That the tithe was to be paid in kind, or, if redeemed, with an addition of one-fifth to its value (Leviticus 27:30-33). This tenth is ordered to be assigned to the Levites, as the reward of their service, and it is ordered further, that they are themselves to dedicate to the Lord a tenth of these receipts, which is to be devoted to the maintenance of the high priest (Numbers 18:21-28).
This legislation is modified or extended in the Book of Deuteronomy, i.e. from thirty-eight to forty years later. Commands are given to the people—
1. To bring their tithes, together with their votive and other offerings and first-fruits, to the chosen centre of worship, the metropolis, there to be eaten in festive celebration, in company with their children, their servants, and the Levites (Deuteronomy 12:5-18).
2. After warnings against idolatrous, or virtually idolatrous, practices, and the definition of clean as distinguished from unclean animals, among which latter class the swine is of obvious importance in reference to the subject of tithes, the legislator proceeds to direct that all the produce of the soil shall be tithed every year (Nehemiah 10:17 seems to show that corn, wine, and oil, alone are intended), and that these tithes, with the firstlings of the flock and herd, are to be eaten in the metropolis.
3. But in case of distance, permission is given to convert the produce into money, which is to be taken to the appointed place, and there laid out in the purchase of food for a festal celebration, in which the Levite is, by special command, to be included (Deuteronomy 14:22-27).
4. Then follows the direction, that at the end of three years, i.e. in the course of the third and sixth years of the Sabbatical period, all the tithe of that year is to be gathered and laid up “within the gates,” i.e. probably in some central place in each district, not at the metropolis; and that a festival is to be held, in which the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, together with the Levite, are to partake.
5. Lastly, it is ordered that after taking the tithe in each third year, “which is the year of tithing,” an exculpatory declaration is to be made by every Israelite that he has done his best to fulfil the Divine command (Deuteronomy 26:12-14). From all this we gather—
1. That one-tenth of the whole produce of the soil was to be assigned for the maintenance of the Levites.
2. That out of this the Levites were to dedicate a tenth to God, for the use of the high priest.
3. That a tithe, in all probability a second tithe, was to be applied to festival purposes.
4. That in every third year, either this festival tithe or a third tenth was to be eaten in company with the poor and the Levites.…
Ewald thinks that under the kings the ecclesiastical tithe system reverted to what he supposes to have been its original free-will character. It is plain that during that period the tithe system partook of the general neglect into which the observance of the law declined, and that Hezekiah, among his other reforms, took effectual means to revive its use (2 Chronicles 31:5; 2 Chronicles 31:12; 2 Chronicles 31:19). Similar measures were taken after the Captivity by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 12:44), and in both these cases special officers were appointed to take charge of the stores and store-houses for the purpose. The practice of tithing especially for relief of the poor appears to have subsisted even in Israel, for the prophet Amos speaks of it, though in an ironical tone, as existing in his day (Amos 4:4). But as any degeneracy in the national faith would be likely to have an effect on the tithe-system, we find complaint of neglect in this respect made by the prophet Malachi (Nehemiah 3:8; Nehemiah 3:10.) Yet, notwithstanding partial evasion or omission, the system itself was continued to a late period in Jewish history, and was even carried to excess by those who, like the Pharisees, affected peculiar exactness in observance of the law (Hebrews 7:5; Hebrews 7:8; Matthew 23:23; Luke 18:12). Among details relating to the tithe payments mentioned by Rabbinical writers may be noticed:
(1) That in reference to the permission given in case of distance (Deuteronomy 14:24), Jews dwelling in Babylonia, Ammon, Moab, and Egypt, were considered as subject to the law of tithe in kind.
(2) In tithing sheep the custom was to enclose them in a pen, and as the sheep went out at the opening, every tenth animal was marked with a rod dipped in vermilion. This was “the passing under the rod.” The law ordered that no inquiry should be made whether the animal were good or bad, and that if the owner changed it, both the original and the changeling were to be regarded as devoted (Leviticus 27:32-33; Jeremiah 33:13).
(3) Cattle were tithed in and after August, corn in and after September, fruits of trees in and after January.
(4) “Corners” were exempt from tithe.
(5) The general rule was, that all edible articles not purchased were titheable, but that products not specified in Deuteronomy 14:23 were regarded as doubtful. Tithe of them was not forbidden, but was not required.—Rev. H. W. Phillot, M.A., in Smith’s ‘Bible Dictionary.’
SENTENCES FROM OLD WRITERS
Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah the Tirshatha.—“He is first mentioned, not as a priest, but as a provost; and one that held it an honour to be first in so good a matter. The life of the prince is the load-star of the people, upon which most men fix their eyes and shape their courses. Great men draw many by their examples; they are as looking-glasses by which others dress themselves. And hence Nehemiah’s forwardness here to seal first.” “Those that are above others in dignity and power should go before them in the way of God.” The priests.—“They that lead in prayers should lead in every other good work.” The chief of the people.—“Great men never look so great as when they encourage religion.” “They that have interest must use it for God.” All they that had separated themselves.—“In St. Paul’s sense ‘come out from among them;’ from such stand off; stand up from the dead; save yourselves from this untoward generation; shun their sins, lest ye share in their plagues. These holy separates, or proselytes, sealed the covenant, and became free denizens of the commonwealth of Israel.” Entered into a curse.—“The more to confirm the oath, and to keep their deceitful hearts close to God.” “If he that firmly purposeth often faileth, what shall he do that seldom purposeth any thing, or with little resolvedness?” To walk in God’s law.—“To walk accurately and exactly by line and by rule in all the commandments so far as God should assist them. The bowls of the candlestick have no oil but what droppeth from the olive branches. Condition with the Lord for his strength and grace.” That they would, not intermarry.—“In our covenants with God we should engage particularly against those sins that we have been most frequently overtaken in and damaged by. They that resolve to keep the commandments of God must say to evil doers, Depart.” “By the rib, as by a ladder, Satan oft climbs to the heart and corrupts it.” “Every man when he marrieth, brings either a good or an evil spirit into his house, and so make it either a heaven or a hell.” If the people of the land bring ware on the Sabbath day, &c.—“The Sabbath is a market day for our souls.” And the exaction of every debt we would leave.—“Those are stubborn children indeed that will not mend the fault which they have been particularly corrected for.” Also we made ordinances for us.—“Having covenanted against the sins they had been guilty of, they proceed in obliging themselves to revive and observe the duties they had neglected. We must not only cease to do evil, but learn to do well.” The temple service.—“Let not any people expect the blessing of God unless they make conscience of observing his ordinances.” The third part of a shekel.—“Thankfulness is measured, both by God and good men, not by the weight, but by the will, of the retributor. God doth highly accept the small offerings of his weak servants when he seeth them to proceed from great love.” The wood offering.—“They provided the fire and the wood as well as the lambs for a burnt-offering.” The first-fruits.—“God required to be honoured with the firstlings of all; to show how he sets by our young services.” To bring to the house of our God unto the priests.—“No man might offer his own sacrifice, though it were never so good, but present it to the priest, who was to offer as well the poor man’s lamb as the rich man’s ox.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 10". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent