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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ nehemiah-13.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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Nehemiah 13:1. On that day] This is to be understood in the same sense as at that time, in chap. Nehemiah 12:44. But no doubt public readings of the law took place frequently during Nehemiah’s administration. Found written] “The part of the law which forbade mingling with the other nations was specially read on the dedication-day. Deuteronomy 23:3 would naturally be read, as also Deuteronomy 7:1-6.… No Moabite or Ammonite family could be admitted to the privileges of Jewry until in the tenth generation after quitting heathenism and formally allying itself with Israel”—Crosby.
Nehemiah 13:3. They separated from Israel all the mixed multitude] Non-Israelitish people who followed the Israelites at their departure from Egypt. Here transferred to strangers living among them.
Nehemiah 13:4-5. Eliashib … Tobiah] Nehemiah left for Persia. Irregularities were permitted. Amongst them this desecration.
Nehemiah 13:6. In the two and thirtieth year of Artaxerxes, king of Babylon] “Probably the ‘time set’ by Nehemiah and approved by the king (chap. Nehemiah 2:6), was twelve years. At the expiration of this term he was obliged to leave the superintendence of affairs at Jerusalem and return to the court. Artaxerxes is called ‘king of Babylon,’ instead of ‘king of Persia,’ probably because at this time of Nehemiah’s return the court was removed to Babylon for some special state reason.”—Crosby. After certain days] No definite interval. Some expositors think a year. No proof.
Nehemiah 13:8. I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah] Nehemiah a man of decision.
Nehemiah 13:10. The Levites and the singers … were fled] Their allowance had been withheld. They fled to their own fields for livelihood.
Nehemiah 13:11. Then contended I with the rulers] They had soon forgotten their vow (chap. Nehemiah 10:39). I gathered them] The Levites.
Nehemiah 13:13. I made treasurers] Managers of the stores. Four faithful men appointed.
Nehemiah 13:14. Wipe not out] Conceives of his deeds as written in a book.
Nehemiah 13:15. In those days] When he returned to Jerusalem. Sabbath had become desecrated. Work was done and produce brought in.
Nehemiah 13:17. The nobles] Nehemiah reminded them of the unchanged law and the sufferings its visitation had brought upon their fathers (Jeremiah 17:20-27).
Nehemiah 13:20. Lodged without] The traders forbidden to enter hoped the people would come out to buy.
Nehemiah 13:22. Cleanse themselves and keep the gates] Increasing the sanctity of the Sabbath by making Levites responsible.
Nehemiah 13:23. Jews that had married] Borderers who by living near the heathen nations had formed alliances. The children’s speech was affected.
Nehemiah 13:25] The action of a governor acting officially.
Nehemiah 13:28. I chased him from me] Forced him to leave Jerusalem.
Nehemiah 13:30. Thus cleansed I them … and appointed the wards of the priests and Levites] So important did he deem the temple.
Nehemiah 13:31. Remember me] A repeated supplication. Nehemiah was great and good.
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 13
Nehemiah 13:1-3. Renewed Purification.
Nehemiah 13:1-2. The Irrevocableness of Wrong-doing.
Nehemiah 13:2. Good out of Evil.
Nehemiah 13:4-8. Reformation a Slow Work.
Nehemiah 13:17-18. Profanation of the Sabbath.
Nehemiah 13:22. Nehemiah.
Nehemiah 13:26. Solomon.
Nehemiah 13:31. Divine Remembrance.
Nehemiah 13:31. A Life’s Work Reviewed.
Nehemiah 13:1-3. 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.
The duty of the Church to purify itself constantly anew.
I. In regard to those with whom they assimilate themselves. In the Old Testament, in regard to the Ammonites, &c. In the Church, in regard to those who not only go astray, but also who will not allow themselves to be bettered, and who thus exclude themselves.
II. Whereon it grounds itself. Not only on the right of self-preservation, but also upon God’s word.
III. What it aims at. That the Church set forth more and more what it should be as Christ’s spotless bride.—Dr. Schultz.
Illustrations: The true and grand idea of a Church is a society for the purpose of making men like Christ—earth like heaven—the kingdoms of the world the kingdom of Christ.—Arnold.
THE IRREVOCABLENESS OF WRONG-DOING
Nehemiah 13:1-2. 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.
“The severe exclusion of the Moabite and Ammonite was an enacted token against sin. Even these blood relations of Israel were to be kept away as polluted, because they showed no sympathy with Israel, and made a deliberate and vile attempt to plunge Israel into sin. A permanent horror was to be erected between Israel and these monsters of iniquity. The key to many of the stern Mosaic statutes is to be found in the necessity of holding up the heinousness of sin, which men are ever ready to make light of.”—Crosby.
The immortality of evil.
I. It is done—cannot be undone. An act has passed into the irreparable past. It has become part of the constitution of things. Man may forget it, and God forgive it—but it is done. The doer may plead ignorance, prejudice, habit, custom—excuse may busy itself, and regret plead for pity, but the deed is done. Let inexperience remember and hardness ponder this.
II. It has moulded you—you can never again be the same. The dyer’s hand is subdued to what it works in. A man’s trade, profession, or calling is indicated in his features. Habit is a second nature. The beauty of the soul touches the form and face. Vice makes the doer unlovely; stamps its image and superscription upon the otherwise divine form. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked,” &c.
III. It has warped others. Their task is rendered more difficult. Their steps will henceforth be more faltering. An Ammonite may thwart Israel. “Ahab made Israel to sin.” That is his title to remembrance—he has an immortality. I am my brother’s keeper. His path and mine meet. I cannot throw off my responsibility. Doing wrong is ruinous. Sin is the great foe. The wages of sin are duly paid even to the uttermost farthing.
GOOD OUT OF EVIL
Nehemiah 13:2. Howbeit our God turned the curse into a blessing.
Nevertheless Balaam’s memory is infamous. Evil was intended though God averted it. So in life.
I. Sin. Sin is still sin albeit the sinner is forgiven. God loves not sin. “God hath turned the curse of sin into a blessing. And here it is proper to reflect upon the profound and incomprehensible wisdom of God, who hath made an advantage to us even of our sin and misery. It was truly said by one of the ancients, upon this account, that Job was a happier man upon the dunghill than Adam was in paradise. His holiness indeed was perfect, his happiness was great; but neither of them permanent and indefeasible, as our happiness by the Mediator is. So that in the same sense we may call Adam’s fall a happy fall, because ordered and overruled by the wisdom of God to our great advantage. And to this purpose Austin somewhere sweetly speaks: ‘O how happily did I fall in Adam, who rose again more happily in Christ!’ Thus did the Lord turn a poison into an antidote; thus did that dreadful fall make way for a more blessed and fixed state. Now we are so confirmed and established by Christ in the favour of God, that there can be no more such fatal breaches and dreadful jars betwixt God and his reconciled ones for ever. The bone that’s well set is stronger where ’tis knit, than it was before. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!”—Flavel.
II. Sorrow. “God has turned the curse of sorrow into a blessing. Sweet are the uses of adversity! In God’s hand indeed they are: when he puts his children into the furnace of affliction, it is that he may thoroughly purge away all their dross. A great writer has spoken with great beauty of the resources which God has placed within us for bringing good out of evil, or, at least, for greatly alleviating our trials in the cases of sickness and misfortune. ‘The cutting and irritating grain of sand,’ he says, ‘which by accident or incaution has got within the shell, incites the living inmate to secrete from its own resources the means of coating the intrusive substance. And is it not, or may it not be, even so with the irregularities and unevenness of health and fortune in our own case?’ We too may turn diseases into pearls. But how much more wonderful are the wisdom and mercy of God, in making the spiritual trials and distresses of his people their necessary discipline for their highest good, the means for the greatest perfection and stability of their characters! This is indeed a wonderful transformation. ‘God,’ says holy Leighton, ‘hath many sharp cutting instruments, and rough files for the polishing of his jewels; and those he especially esteems and means to make the most resplendent, he hath oftenest his tools upon.’ ”—Cheever.
III. Death. “God hath turned the curse of death into a blessing. It were a waste of words to attempt to prove that death is indeed a curse: it was the woe specially denounced against men as the result of transgression—the ill inflicted on the workers of iniquity. But, through the obedience and death of Christ, the Redeemer, the sting of death has been destroyed, the uncertainty of the future has been dissipated, and, by the destruction of guilt, separation from the world has been revealed, as the beginning of a perfected happiness and an enlarged blessedness to the believer. If it is indeed a blessed thing, for a spirit, weighed down with a sinking mortality, and groaning beneath the load of unnumbered ills, to flee away from its troubles, and soar amid the cloudless light of immortal day, then death has been turned into a blessing, since it merely cuts asunder the chains whereby we are bound to earth, and admits the spirit to a land of peace and joy. If it is indeed a blessed thing for a being long pent up amid the closeness of a dungeon, to exchange its pestilential air for the fragrant breath of paradise, then death has been turned into a blessing, since it serves to dissociate the children of the covenant from the pollution of this world, and advance them to the regions beyond the grave, where the Lamb shall feed them and guide them to fountains of living water, and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. I say, if God hath made death the very instrument of exchanging earth for heaven, of ending the warfare and strife of time, and crowning believers with the unspeakably precious reward, then undoubtedly, while they exultingly proclaim, ‘O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?’—they must not cease to remember that death was indeed a crying evil, a bitter curse, but that our God turned the curse into a blessing.”—M‘Naughton.
REFORMATION A SLOW WORK
Nehemiah 13:4-8. And before this, Eliashib the priest, &c.
When Nehemiah returned to Persia he left the people penitent and devoted; the temple restored; the priests and Levites at their posts. All were loyal to conscience and God. When Nehemiah came back again to Jerusalem he found Tobiah in the temple, Levites in the fields, tithes in the people’s hands, the house of God forsaken, and the Sabbath of God desecrated. And it grieved him sore. He had to build again from the foundations.
I. Reformers are sanguine men. They see the evil, and the needs-be for its removal. Too often they overlook the herculean task that lies before them.
II. Reformation meets with opposition. The reformers propose to destroy. They confront the selfishness of human nature, and war against the passions of men.
III. Reformation must build up after it has destroyed. Building up is slower than pulling down. All reformers have been disappointed. Those whom they have striven to help have been their most determined hinderers. Faith, hope, and courage are indispensable.
PROFANATION OF THE SABBATH
Nehemiah 13:17-18. 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.
INTRODUCTION. Historical. Nehemiah absent; disorder ensued. Among other irregularities profanation of the Sabbath became frequent and flagrant. It moved the spirit of Nehemiah not so much that the men of Tyre sold their fish and wares on the Sabbath, which in consideration of their being heathen they might be expected to do, as that they sold them to “the men of Judah,” the visible worshippers of God, and “in Jerusalem,” the seat of his worship; coming up to the very threshold of his house with their merchandise, as if in contempt of his presence and authority. But we have a more serious concern in this matter than merely to vent our indignation against “the men of Tyre.” Our first and main concern is to see that our own garments are clean. Nor is it sufficient that our own habits in respect to our personal observation of the Sabbath are correct. In this respect the nobles of Judah, for aught that appears, were without fault. Yet Nehemiah did not hesitate to charge them with the guilt of the profanations which they witnessed. “What evil thing is this that ye do,” said he, “and profane the Sabbath day?” He said this on the assumption that they had the power to prevent the sin, and were answerable for the consequences of their neglect. Hence I derive the sentiment that—
MEN OF AUTHORITY AND INFLUENCE INCUR GREAT GUILT, AND BRING WRATH UPON THE COMMUNITY, BY CONNIVING AT PROFANATIONS OF THE SABBATH.
Men of authority and influence, because in all countries where the people are the source of power, men in authority can do but little unsupported by men of influence. As men of all classes have their share of influence the responsibility rests in a measure upon all. By whatever means the influence of individuals is increased, their responsibility also is enhanced.
I. Profanation of the Sabbath is a great sin. The Sabbath is a Divine institution. At the creation, God by His express appointment set it apart from a common to a sacred use. This appointment He confirmed and renewed at Mount Sinai. Our Saviour, by the authority vested by him in his apostles, added his sanction to the appointment and made it a law of his kingdom, after the obligation of the Jewish ritual had ceased, with only the circumstantial change of the first instead of the seventh in the series, as the day of rest, in commemoration of his resurrection. Consecrated peculiarly to God’s service. Wantonly to profane the Sabbath is open contempt of God. This is not a sin of ignorance. A few men there may be who seriously disbelieve in the moral obligation of the Sabbath, and others are blinded by custom in regard to the guilt of certain common violations of it, but the great mass know what they do. This sin is an outrage on the rights of men. It opens the door to universal licentiousness; enfeebles the laws of society; tends to destroy our best blessings and blot out our dearest hopes. The Sabbath is necessary to the perpetuation of true religion. Some, while they think lightly of religion, profess highly to value free institutions. They boast of liberty, and of the sciences, the arts, the enterprise, the universal education of the people, and the general prosperity and happiness which they claim to be its fruits. And what is liberty? The unrestricted enjoyment of our rights, so far as this is consistent with the wellbeing of society. What liberty then can there be among depraved men, without law to restrain their appetites and passions? or what efficacy can there be in law, without a corresponding moral sentiment in the community to sustain it? or what efficacious moral sentiment without religion? or what religion without the Sabbath? Turn your eyes on those regions of the earth where the Sabbath is unknown, and what do you find the moral, social, and civil condition of men there? See also those portions of the world where the Sabbath is now abandoned, or given up to pastime.
2. Civil laws to protect the Sabbath from open violation, are just and proper. In Jewish national code the law of the Sabbath was enforced by civil penalties. On this ground it was that Nehemiah went to the magistrates of Jerusalem and charged them with guilt in forbearing to exercise the authority which God had vested in them to restrain profanations of the day. Equally incumbent is it on every other community, which has authority over its own members, whether it be a family or an empire, to protect the Sabbath from desecration. Nor is there anything in this unjust. To enforce a spiritual observation of the Sabbath is not indeed the province of civil authority. With duties appropriately religious it has no direct concern. These it must leave to the higher authority of God, and the conscience of every individual. But to protect those who are disposed religiously to observe the Sabbath, in the peaceful enjoyment of the privilege, is no less just and proper, than it is to protect them in the enjoyment of any other right or privilege. They too are the mass of the community. Ninety-nine hundred probably would consider a general disregard of the Sabbath destructive to their best interests. Such being the fact, to require that no laws for the protection of the Sabbath be made, or that having been made, they be a dead letter; to require that the mass of our citizens yield to the few, and be governed by their wishes, is a position which, on any other subject of legislation, would not for a moment be tolerated.
3. For a due execution of these laws, men clothed with the authority and the influence to do this, are answerable to God, and incur great guilt by neglecting it. They are ministers of God. They have taken official oaths. The fact of their being clothed with office, binds them to discharge its duties.
1. To the friends of Sabbath.
2. To fathers and mothers.
3. To the young.—Noah Porter, D.D.; abridged.
Illustrations:—“Each should do what his talent and influence in society enjoin and permit. It is the principle upon which I insist. If we cannot absolutely shut the gates of our great cities to the entrance of merchandise, we may do something to lessen the evil. We may shut the door of our houses—we may prohibit the purchase or reception of articles of consumption by our servants and dependants—we may encourage those upon whom we have any influence, to observe the sacred day. Let only the zeal, the courage, the firmness, the disinterestedness of Ezra and Nehemiah be connected with their piety and love to the house of their God, and much would be done.”—Bishop Wilson.
“We find from the beginning of the Christian Church that all days were not alike to Christians, but that one day, the first-day of the week, was singled out and separated from the others as their day of worship. The end of the Paschal Lamb was accomplished in the sacrifice of our Lord; the end of the one Temple has been accomplished; but the end of the Sabbath has not been accomplished, and will not be till toil, and trouble, and sin, and sorrow shall cease. Then it will be merged in the eternal Sabbatism which remains for the people of God. But till then the solemn words of our Lord are as a wall of fire around it, to protect its sacredness and integrity. ‘Verily I say unto you. till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.’ ”—John Kennedy, D.D.
“The Sabbath is the guardian of every other Divine institution. The sin of profaning the Sabbath stamps in the individual, the family, or the nation, which is guilty of it, the character of irreligious, and speedily ripens them for the judgments of God. This is the danger of being any way concerned in this iniquity, we are furthering an evil which would ultimately destroy religion itself, and which will assuredly prove as ruinous to the temporal renown, as the spiritual interests, of our country.”—Rev. J. A. Wylie.
“It is a most important sentiment, and ought to be kept constantly before the public mind, that religion is the most direct and powerful cause of national comfort, prosperity, and security, and that in its absence all their other causes must be limited and transient in their effects. If religion were a mere abstraction of devotion, confined to the closet and the sanctuary, and restricted in its influence to the imagination and the taste, but not having any necessary control over the conscience, the heart, and the life, and not intended to regulate the intercourse of society; if it consisted merely in attendance on the rites and forms of the Church, and began and ended upon the threshold of the house of God, then it would be difficult to point out what a connection such a religion had with the welfare of a country. It would, in that case, resemble the ivy, which, though it add a picturesque effect to a venerable fabric, imparts neither stability to its walls, nor convenience to its apartments. But if religion be indeed a principle of the heart, an element of the character, the habit of thinking, feeling, and acting aright in all our social relations, the basis of every virtue, and the main prop of every excellence; if it be indeed the fear of the Lord by which men depart from evil; if it be faith working by love; if it be such a belief in the gospel of Christ as leads to a conformity to his example, religion being such as this must secure the welfare of any country. There is not one single influence, whether of law, of science, of art, of learning, tending to the well-being of society, which true religion does not guard and strengthen.”—James.
The Lord’s Day.—Stations on the line of your journey are not your journey’s end, but each one brings you nearer. Such are our Lord’s Days. A haven is not home, but it is a place of quiet and rest, where the rough waves are stayed. Such is the “Lord’s Day.” A garden is a piece of common land, and yet it has ceased to be common land. It is an effort to regain Paradise. Such is “The Lord’s Day.” A bud is not a flower, but it is the promise of a flower. Such is “The Lord’s Day.” The world’s week tempts you to sell your soul to the flesh and the world: “The Lord’s Day” calls you to remembrance, and begs you rather to sacrifice earth to heaven and time to eternity, than heaven to earth and eternity to time. The six days not only claim you as captives of the earth, but do their best to keep the prison-doors shut that you may forget the way out. “The Lord’s Day” sets before you an open door. Samson has carried the gates away. “The Lord’s Day” summons you to the threshold of your house of bondage, to look forth unto immortality, your immortality. The true Lord’s Day is the Eternal life; but a type of it is given to you on earth, that you may be refreshed with the anticipation and foretaste of your rest.—John Pulsford.
Nehemiah 13:22. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy
INTRODUCTION. Historical. Every part of Nehemiah’s short history shows that the fear and love of God formed the principal motive with Nehemiah. Here is, first—
I. An appeal to God’s approbation. “Remember me, O my God, concerning this also.” Nehemiah often makes appeals of this kind. This manner of speaking was an appeal to God—
1. From man’s judgment. His distinguished abilities had hitherto recommended him to notice in the royal palace, notwithstanding the disgrace of his Jewish faith. But he had now engaged in an undertaking which was likely enough to appear enthusiastic and contemptible in the eyes of his Persian acquaintance. But what then? It was for God’s honour, and therefore he despises this shame, casting himself upon the approbation of God. This principle it was that influenced Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul. It is the principle of faith rendering an unseen God visible. Such men look for a future “recompense of reward,” promised by Him who cannot lie. When misunderstood, and undervalued, and misrepresented by the world, they can appeal to God. “Let them curse, but bless thou.” Nehemiah makes his appeal to God, secondly—
2. From man’s enmity. While one party satisfied themselves with despising, there was another party in Jerusalem itself, who hated and opposed, his proceedings. These were they who, being Jews, had connected themselves by marriage with heathen families—or the offspring of such marriages. To such persons, the revival of pure Jewish manners was very provoking. Others found that their worldly interests were interfered with by Nehemiah’s strict enforcing of the Sabbath. It is in reference to their enmity that the appeal in the text is made. Modem enmity. Nehemiah appeals, thirdly—
3. From man’s ingratitude. It was here that this zealous servant of God found his greatest trial. He might easily have disregarded man’s judgment; or have endured man’s enmity. But how painful, when the very persons, whom in God’s name he sought to benefit, were cold, reluctant, unfeeling! Nehemiah’s was no solitary case.
Is there no danger lest appeals of this kind should lead us to trust in ourselves that we are righteous, and despise others? Not if we make them in the spirit of Nehemiah: for you find in close connection with this appeal—
II. A contrite prayer for God’s forgiveness. “Spare me, according to the greatness of thy mercy.” Every real believer, while he habitually labours to have a conscience void of offence, maintains at the same time a deep feeling of humility and of his need of unsparing mercy. Let us endeavour to trace the course of this feeling.
1. After all that he has done for God’s service, Nehemiah cannot forget that there is a load of original and actual sin recorded against him, for which no subsequent obedience can make satisfaction.
2. Nehemiah finds even his religious actions so stained with sin, that though he may appeal from man, he cannot make them a plea of merit before God.
3. He casts himself, with a steadfast faith, on the free grace and covenanted mercies of the Lord.
APPLICATION. If the despised believer may thus appeal from man to God, what hope can there be for those who compel him so to do?
If the repenting and believing sinner is so graciously spared, how active should he be in serving the Lord, amid a gainsaying and perverse generation!—Rev. Joseph Jowett, M.A.; abridged.
Nehemiah 13:26. 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.
“It may appear remarkable that one who fell so grievously should contribute at all to the Book of God, nor is there any other instance of the kind; but his sad history adds a peculiar weight of warning to his words; nor are there any books more strongly marked by the finger of God.”
“Solomon was chosen of God, and afterwards rejected as Saul had been; he was full of wisdom and understanding, and, what is far more, of holiness and goodness. There is perhaps no one of whom the early promise of good seemed so decisive.”
“It has been said, as by St. Augustine, that Solomon was more injured by prosperity than profited by wisdom. Yet we may observe, that his falling away is not in Scripture attributed to his wealth, his power and honour.”
“We cannot conclude that Solomon himself did not at last repent; but this has always been considered by the Church as very doubtful, to say the least. All we know is, that Scripture has fully made known to us his falling away from God, but has said nothing of his repentance. The very silence is awful and impressive.” “What more melancholy than the fall of one so great—so wise? What words could have been spoken to him more powerful than his own? What eloquence could describe his fall with more feeling and beauty than his own words? What could more powerfully paint the loveliness of that holiness from which he fell? What the overpowering sweetness of that Divine love which he has consented to give up to feed on ashes? Who can describe the temptations to those very sins by which he was ensnared in a more searching manner than he has done?… How must his own sweet and Divine words sound to him like music of Paradise to the lost spirits; yea, as songs of heaven would come back to fallen angels in sad remembrance?.… It is very awful to think how God may use men as instruments of good that his Spirit may teach them, and through them teach others, and guide them to the living fountains of waters, yet they themselves at last fail of the prize of their high calling. What a warning for fear.”—From Rev. Isaac Williams’ ‘Characters of the Old Testament.’
Nehemiah 13:31. Remember me, O my God, for good
Our Protestant forefathers were fond of the maxim—“They who observe Providences shall never want Providences to observe.” The truth of this is eminently seen in the rescue of the Church from the Babylonish Captivity; in the rebuilding of the temple; and in the restoration of the people to the Holy Land. High political considerations rather than religious ones no doubt actuated Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes, but “the hearts of kings are in the hand of God.” So in the Reformation it has been said that God put little thoughts into Henry VIII’s mind for great purposes, just as the preservation of the Church in Esther’s time was brought about by a single sleepless night of Ahasuerus the king. “This also cometh from the Lord of Hosts, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” The Life and Times of Nehemiah are of much more consequence to the history of the Jewish Church than ordinary readers suppose. Great men are born for great occasions, and eventful times form the training school for public men. Our text is Nehemiah’s last recorded prayer, showing us the secret of his strength. It expresses much, but it implies more.
I. Nehemiah’s delight in the remembrance of God. The remembrance of God the habit of his life. Note the instructive occasions on which the prayer was uttered. Not in the closet for private devotion; not in the family for domestic contemplation; not in the sanctuary for public worship; but in the daily walks of life—amidst the toils of his office, amidst the reforms he was carrying on, amidst the hot enmity of the world, amidst the plots that were formed against his life. Again and again he prays, “Remember me, O God.” He was in the habit of remembering God, or such a prayer would not have risen spontaneously to his lips.
1. A test of religious character. The manner and degree in which devout thoughts mingle with daily thoughts and incorporate themselves with worldly employments the special mark of a child of God. Nehemiah specifies this as the distinctive mark of those holy ones who were associated with him—“thy servants, who desire to fear thy name.” And Malachi tells us that “a book of remembrance was written for those who feared the Lord, and thought upon his name;” and were thus the patterns of distinguished excellence in most degenerate times. Throughout Scripture the remembrance of God is set forth as the active principle of all vice. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”
2. A voluntary remembrance. Not enforced. The result of a principle. When Solomon says, “Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth,” he appeals to the first and best affections of the human heart, under the impressions of early piety. “In the days of thy youth” some render “in the days of thy choice.” Religion is choice. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” Not an appeal to fear. God might have compelled our remembrance—by awful judgments; by outward demonstrations of his power. He asks where he might command; entreats when he might enforce. “My son, give me thine heart.” So when Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” he appeals to the more generous emotion of inward piety which disposed them to obey at a touch, and yield to the gentler insinuations of Divine grace. Nehemiah’s remembrance of God was spontaneous and free: it sprang up on all occasions; like water from a fountain, or music from a bird, or light from the sun. It was part of a life—the life of faith and devotion; a life hid with Christ in God. In your best moments you say, “The love of Christ constraineth us.”
3. A blessed, though difficult, exercise. It is difficult amidst the active duties of life to keep up a devout remembrance of God; but the blessedness more than compensates its difficulty. It is the advantage of any useful habit that when once formed it becomes easy and spontaneous; and would require an effort to forego or counteract it. “Use is second nature.” Same law holds in Christian life. That which we have once determined upon by principle and by choice we continue to do by preference and by affection. Well for us when the remembrance of God is the solace and delight of the mind in active and in solitary hours. “Yea, in the way of thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for thee; the desire of our soul is to thy name, and to the remembrance of thee.”
Not an easy attainment. All good men are painfully conscious how great an effort it requires, whilst sedulously engaged with the concerns of time, to give their best hopes and affections to heaven; to carry the spirit of the sanctuary into the cares and vexations of each returning day. It is difficult to mind the business of two worlds and to do justice to both: to be in the fear of God all the day long.
Difficult: not impossible. God enjoins nothing which his strengthening aids will not enable the faithful to achieve. “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” The history of the long cloud of witnesses attests the practicability of the religious life amidst all the agitation of this world’s cares. Patriarchs, prophets, reformers, and martyrs had as many hindrances in their way to heaven as we have in ours.
II. Nehemiah’s devout desire for God’s remembrance of him.
1. He set a very high value upon the friendship of God. Not a matter of indifference to him whether he possessed it or not. It was vital to his enjoyment, vital to his prosperity, vital to his existence. Like a crust to a starving man; like a plank to the shipwrecked is the love of Christ to a Christian. “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, therefore my soul seeketh thee.” The Psalmist prayed, “Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation.” Luther protested that he would not be put off with common things. Much emphasis is in the words, “That I may see the good of thy chosen, and rejoice with thine inheritance”—that I may see it, and partake of it; have the vision and the fruition of this great goodness.
2. He had nothing to claim in the way of merit, but everything to hope for in the way of mercy. Not a touch of the Pharisee in Nehemiah. The deepest humiliation characterized his first prayer and his last; a spirit of self-renunciation and dependence. “I beseech thee, O Lord, the great and terrible God, that keepest covenant and mercy.” The only word that seems to look the other way is Nehemiah 13:14, “Remember me, O my God, for good, and wipe not out the remembrance of my good deeds:” but this was only an earnest appeal to God for his integrity in resisting the tyranny of the nobles of Judah, and maintaining the cause of the poorer among the Levites. As there is a book of remembrance written before God, Nehemiah would not be wiped out of that book. He only says, Remember me—not reward it, not record it—yet he was remembered and rewarded too, and his good deeds were recorded as well as remembered. As says Matthew Henry, “Deeds done for the house of God and the offices of it, for the support and encouragement of religion, are good deeds; there is both righteousness and godliness in them; and God will certainly remember them, and not wipe them out.”
3. He possessed a happy consciousness of his personal interest in the Divine regards. Again and again he utters the words, “My God.”
4. He attached much importance to the service of the sanctuary. He maintained altar and priest.
APPLICATION. HOW to attain amidst the business of life this pervading principle of spiritual piety. No fixed and invariable rules. Every man with the Bible before him must in some respects be a law to himself. Generally—
1. Stated seasons of retirement ought to be appointed.
2. Occupy the thoughts in the morning with some leading truth or text of Scripture.
3. Form the habit of ejaculatory prayer.
4. Make conscience of your thoughts.—Thodey.
A LIFE’S WORK REVIEWED
Nehemiah 13:31. Remember me, O my God, for good
I. The review is coming. All days point on to the day of judgment.
II. A review is desirable. It elevates a man to take a retrospect of his life, judge his motives, broaden his field of vision. To realize the grace of God within him, to mark the purpose of God towards him, and note the work God has given him to do; all this is well. But here is no elation. Rather is he humbled. God is great, and we know him not. That he should employ me—such a man may say—is not matter for pride or self-boasting. I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies which he has shown unto his servant. And so he prays for mercy and grace to be found faithful. Reverence and trust, fear and hope, are in the man who thus pleads with God.—Enlarged from Dr. Schultz.
Accusing cry of humanity, 114
Adversaries of the Church, craft and cruelty of, 101
Anger, 96 et seq., 117
Bad men praised, 170
Beginning again, 103
Benevolence, 13, 40
Bible—preciousness of, 201 et seq.; how to read 203; read, and expounded, 204
Book, the marvel of a, 244
Brotherhood, of man, 182
Certitude, value of, 152
Christians criticized by the world, 123
Church—common service of, 190; an edifice, 225; requires a ministry, 226; a missionary institution, 226; a brotherhood, 226; dwelling-place of God, 227; place where God and man meet, 228
Church revival, prayer for, 22
Church, enemies of, 63
City, Holy, replenished, 234 et seq.; symbolism of the, 236
City of God—Christ the door of, 79; spaciousness of, 178; emptiness of, 179
Classes, fusion of, 84
Clergy, origin of the Christian, 76
Conviction, courage from, 149
Courage, Christian, 92
David, the Jewish hero, 85
Day-book, the workmen’s, 87
Derision, 60, 67
Detraction, 147; sin of, 148
Devotion, habit of, 152
Elect—place and people, 30; people, 38
Equality of men in the sight of God, 34
Ezra’s preaching, effect of, 192
Ezra reading the Law, 194
Faithful Promiser, the, 216
Family, idea of, 180; family history, 181
Fasting, the duty of, 18
Fasting and Feasting, 220
Fear and Faith, 150 et seq.
Foes—140; foiled, 173
Forethought, prudence of, 48
Generation, a—history of, 217; task of, 217; responsibility of, 217
Generosity, enthusiasm of, 181
God—majesty and mercy of, 23; interposition of, 42; the hand of, 49; faith in, a condition of success, 62; the overruling, 165; world’s acknowledgment of, 167; Hebrew conceptions of, 206; in history, 207; in nature, 208; in lives of men, 208; a personal, 209; mercy of, 214, 215
Good out of evil, 249
Goodness, modesty of, 33, 40
Greatness, perilous, 135
Greed and its corrections, 108
Handicraft, honourable, 81
Hananiah and Hanani, 177, 178, 188
Hebrew character, Egyptian influence on, 210
Hebrew history, God in, 209 et seq.
Honour, responsibility of, 219
Hostility active, frustrated, 93
House of God—resolve concerning the, 229; importance of attending the, 230
Idleness, a life of, 81
Inconsistency, 121 et seq.
Influence, baneful effects of, 167
Injustice, social, 114
James, St., 222
Jerusalem, modern, 89
Joy—defined, 200; Christian, 195 et seq.; strength of the Christian, 197; supporting virtue, 198, 199; result of faith, 200; within our power, 201; God its object, 205; true, 245
Judah, defection of, 106
Kingdoms ruined by sin, 35
Labour—division of, 72, 74; sacredness of, 73; duty of, 74; rewarded, 75
Language, origin of, 71
Life—work and warfare of, 103 et seq.; review of, 133, 256
Man, a true, 86, 177
Memory—forgotten sins recalled to remembrance, 26, 37, of God, 27, 221; work and anticipation, 82
Moses, 224 et seq.
Nation’s prayer, a, 211
Names—significance of, 69; Hebrew, 70; marking periods in Hebrew History, 70
Nehemiah—biographical sketch of, 1; the reformer, 5 et seq.; unselfish sorrow of, 16 et seq.; his love for the Church, 43; honouring the king, 44; the secret of his presence of mind, 45; retirement of, 54; inspecting the decayed walls, 55; appealing for help, 57; praying, 106; his watchfulness, 106; his policy and appeal, 107; his loyalty to conscience, 129, 130; an inspired man, 189; a general view of his motives, 253
Nehemiah, Book of, 2 et seq.; topography of the, 87
Opposition, the laws of, 95
Past, the, 247
Piety and position, 9 et seq.
Poor, the—the work of, 81; claim of, 182
Possessions, the meaning of, 113
Posthumous influence, 244
Power, the passion for, 113
Prayer—intercessory. 20; importunity in, 25; why unanswered, 33; submission in, 40; ejaculatory, 46, 153
Praying and working, 99
Prescience, human, 160
Priesthood, ideal, 75, 77
Prophets, false, 172
Providence, world preserved by, 212
Public worship, divine ordination of, 227
Punishment and penitence, 28
Purification, 244, 248
Reformation—the difficulty of beginning a, 50; slow growth of, 250
Rejoicing, a great, 245
Remembrance, Divine, desired, 254
Resolution, clenching a good, 125
Rest, 183 et seq.
Retirement, the importance of, 65
Revivals, hindrances to, 142
Rich and poor, 81
Rich man, empire of the, 113
Rights and duties, 128
Rival classes, 80
Sabbath, 250 et seq.
Sacred and secular, 237
Sacred service, 205
Saint’s support, 132
Sanballat, 106, 173
Sanctuary, zeal for, 226
Satan, subtlety of, 102, 160
Secrecy, importance of, 56
Secular power, place of the, 52
Self, communion with, 119 et seq.
Self, respect for, 159
Service of song, 238 et seq.
Silence and speech, 146
Singularity, 129, 130
Sin, the destructiveness of, 15, 254
Sinners, an assembly convoked against, 120
Slander, 143, 146
Small things, day of, 98
Steadiness, the secret of, 153
Sundays—a year of, 162; needed by busy men, 228
Taxation, voluntary, 225
Testimonial, the best, 172, 176
Thanksgiving, 64; thanks-living the best, 246
Tobiah, 106, 173
Tongue, the, its use and abuse, 145 et seq.
Union, strength of, 59
Unknown future, working for the, 80
Unrighteousness, doom of, 106
Unworldliness, 169, 223 et seq.
Vocation, life a, 77
Wall—the Church a broad, 82; completion of the, 188; dedication of the, 242
Warrior builders, 94
Women, famous, 83; influence of, 83
Work, conditions of success in, 78 et seq.; the great, 140; Divinely inspired, 163; finished, 174; unfinished, 175 et seq.
Workers Divinely helped, 164
Worship Christian, 75
Wrong-doing, inexcuseableness of, 124; irrevocableness of, 248