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Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah.
Covenanting with God -
I. The parties entering the covenant.
1. Nehemiah the governor. This is true greatness in the sight of God, to be foremost in consecration to the service of religion, and to stand among His people in trying times.
2. The priests. It is remarkable that the name of Eliashib, the high-priest does not appear in this list. It is honourable to the rest of the priests that notwithstanding this defection of their chief, so many of them set their hands to this holy bond.
3. The Levites. We observe among them almost all the names of those who took part in the previous solemnities of this memorable day. It is well, when those who are eminent in devotion are also eminent for devotedness. It sometimes happens that those who are gifted in prayer are not distinguished for holy practice.
4. The chiefs of the nation. This fidelity to the cause of truth adds a lustre to all earthly glory, and sets an ornament of grace on the noblest brow.
5. The rest of the people. It is a blessed thing when whole families thus unite together in the faith of Christ and the life of religion.
II. The engagements of the covenant.
1. Sins to be renounced. It is vain to make loud profession of spiritual experience, and of devotion to the Saviour, unless besetting sins are abandoned and a new course of obedience begun.
2. Duties to be performed.
(1) To give to God.
(2) To work for God (verse 34).
All vow to work for God, each in his own place, according to the Divine will, at the appointed times, and unwearied in well-doing. Henry Martyn wrote: “With resignation and peace, I can look forward to a life of labour and seclusion from earthly comforts, while Jesus stands near changing me into His holy image. How happy and honoured am I in being suffered to be a missionary.” And Levi Parsons testified: “I can subscribe with my hand to be for ever the Lord’s, to be sent anywhere, to do anything, to endure any hardship, live and die a missionary.”
(3) To wait on God.
III. The inferences deducible from the covenant.
1. We here see the propriety of religious covenanting.
2. The obligation in covenanting established. When you devote yourself to the Lord in covenant, to obey the precepts of His Word, your essential obligation is not strengthened or altered; it is merely recognised by you, and promised to be fulfilled.
3. The benefits from covenanting illustrated. (W. Ritchie.)
Christmas Evans, after being sorely tried, was led to enter afresh into personal, covenant,, with God; and such was the joy in God which followed, that he said of it, After forming this covenant I felt great calmness and peace. I had the feelings of a poor man who has just come under the protection of the Royal Family, and has obtained a pension for life, the dreadful tear of poverty and want having left his house for ever. I felt the safety and shelter which the little chickens feel under the wings of the hen.” (The Thinker.)
A national covenant
On February 25, 1688, a memorable scene was witnessed in the churchyard of Greyfriars, Edinburgh. The National Covenant to maintain Presbyterianism, and to resist contrary errors, having been numerously signed within the church, the parchment was subsequently placed upon the flat tombstone, still extant, of Boswell of Auchinleck, where many others, to show their determination to die rather than yield, signed it with blood from their arms. History testifies that numbers of them endured much suffering rather than violate their pledge. If frail men will so keep their promise, much more must the Omnipotent (God honour His covenant. (The Thinker.)
And all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God.
A genuine revival
1. The crucial test of any revival is the extent to which it actually purifies and reforms the lives of those who come under its influence.
2. This is the kind of revival which ever and again we all need. For we are constantly liable to fall below the level of our Christian privileges. We are also apt to grow blind to out” own defects, and to under-estimate the extent of our own shortcomings. We have need to bring our lives into the light of God’s holy law, and into the light of the life of Christ, that our consciences may be awakened to a truer and deeper penitence.
3. A repentance which is the fruit of A true revival of the religious life naturally goes into the details of conduct. (T. Campbell Finlayson.)
And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land.
Marriage and purity
Wherever I find a purely savage life, which means life eaten up by impure sin, there I also find no capacity in the life to advance and grow. You have an instance in the case of Africa, the life of which has not moved for a couple of thousand years, simply because it is soaked with impurity. Turning to the earliest efforts of civilisation, as recorded in the Bible, I find men making effort after effort, getting a little way, and then each effort vanishing in a sink of impure sin. Life ought to grow if natural, but if impurity is natural, it is natural to stagnate, never to grow, to fall to pieces, and for civilisations to be swept out by weakness and impotence. The history of our European civilisation is the history of the gradual rise in the idea of marriage and purity. (Canon Scott-Holland.)
And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to all
The profit of Sabbath-keeping
John Brand was an old Cornish fisherman.
The fishing had not been good for some days, the water had been wild and stormy; but at length, on the Sunday, the weather became fine, and the other fishermen said, “We would keep Sunday--but--we have had so few fish lately; and we are sorry to go out to-day--but--the weather is so good. It is a pity; we would not go if we were not so poor.” “What!” said honest John, “are you going to break God’s laws with your ifs and buts? Better be poor than be wicked. My religion is not the kind that shifts with the wind. ‘Thou shalt remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’--that is enough for me.” So he persuaded them, and they took his advice, and spent the day in worshipping God. And it was well they did so; for that night, just when the boats would have been coming back, a terrible storm suddenly burst over the deep, and lasted two days. Any boat out in that weather would certainly have been wrecked. But two days after the beautiful weather returned, and more fish were taken then than had been caught for weeks before. No; no one ever yet lost by obeying God. Be you like John Brand; be thorough, honest, and God-fearing in and out; do not have a religion like a weathercock that shifts with the wind, or one that can be broken with An “if” or a “but.” (J. Reid Howatt.)
The Sabbath beneficial
In a prize essay on the Sabbath written by a journeyman printer in Scotland, there appears the following striking passage: “Yoke-fellows, think how the abstraction of the Sabbath would hopelessly enslave the working-classes with whom we are identified. Think of the labour thus going on in one monotonous, and continuous, and eternal cycle--limbs for ever on the rack, the fingers for ever plying, the eyeballs for ever straining, the brow for ever sweating, the feet for ever plodding, the brain for ever throbbing, the shoulders for ever drooping, the loins for ever aching, and the restless mind for ever scheming! Think of the beauty it would efface, of the merry-heartedness it would extinguish, of the giant strength it would tame, of the resources of nature it would exhaust, of the aspirations it would crush, of the sickness it would breed, of the projects it would wreck, of the groans it would extort, of the lives it would immolate, of the cheerless graves it would prematurely dig! See them toiling and moiling, sweating and fretting, grinding and hewing, weaving and spinning, sowing and gathering, mowing and reaping, raising mad building, digging mad planting, unloading and storing, striving and struggling--in the garden and in the field, in the granary and in the barn, in the factory and in the mill, in the warehouse and in the shop, on the mountain and in the ditch, on the roadside and in the wood, in the city and in the country, on the sea and on the shore, on the earth in days of brightness and of gloom. What a sad picture would the world present if we had no Sabbath!”
Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel.
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 the church supposes an edifice. 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. “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, for which he labours.” 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.”
IV. That a church is a missionary organisation. It has duties both at home and abroad. The Word of God must be translated, the masses evangelised, society leavened. A true Church must of necessity be a generous Church. It gets to give (Homiletical Commentary.)
And to bring the first-fruits of our ground.
We notice in this text--
I. Willinghood. “And to bring.” It was no tax. Love is its own tax-levier, and it ever gathers the richest, the ripest, and the best fruit. When a Church or a community is filled with love you need have no fear for revenue.
II. Precedence “First-fruits.” In all things Christ must have the “pre-eminence.” He must be Alpha.
III. Universal lordship. First-fruits of “all trees.” He is Lord of all. So it is with the fruit of our souls. Jesus claims tribute from all provinces of our nature. He is not satisfied with actions. He claims the captivity of our thoughts. He wants not only the first-fruits of our emotions, of penitence, but also of our gratitude, our adoration, our trust, and our love. Let us see that His flag is waving over every province of our nature, and that we give to Him the first-fruits of conscience and meditation, of imagination and memory, of ardent love and submissive will.
IV. Annual offering. “Year by year.” We should lose the consciousness of advancing time if it were not for our birthdays. We should miss much of occasions for gratitude if it were not for Iced-time and harvest, summer and winter. The living earth reminds us of the living God, who supplies all we need. (W. M. Statham.)
And the tithes.
Without inquiring into the reason for which the number ten has been so frequently preferred as a number of selection in the ones 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 his property, according to the Syrian and Arabic versions of Hebrews 7:1-28., but as the passages themselves appear to show, of the spoils of his victory, to Melchisedek (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:2-6).
2. Jacob, after his vision at Luz, devoting a tenth of all his property to God in case 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 he found of the practice of heathen nations, Greeks, Ronians, 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. (Smith’s Bible Dictionary.)
Giving as a means of character culture
God carries on His cause in the world by the aid of His people. He is constantly calling on us to give, now to this cause and now to that. Why so? Surely He to whom the silver and gold belong has no need of us to help forward His work. He could, if He would, do it much more efficiently without us. But He is striving to educate us into resemblance to Christ and meetness for heaven. If a father could place his child where he would be habitually giving, giving, in the expression of a benevolent sympathy and helpfulness, he would be putting him under the most efficient of all means for the development in him of a truly Christian, or Christlike, spirit. He would be conferring on him one of the richest possible blessings. This is the blessing which our heavenly Father is trying to bestow upon us, in surrounding us as He does with those who need our sympathy and help. If we gratefully recognise our Father’s wise and loving design, and, so far as we can, give our help with a truly Christian spirit, our contributions will do more good to us who give than to those who receive them. Every such expression of Christian love will leave an impress on our character which we shall carry with us for ever. It will develop into augmented power and more absolute supremacy within us that Christlike spirit without which we can never walk the golden streets. We need, then, to cultivate the habit of giving as much as the habit of praying.
And we will not forsake the house of our God.
Zeal for the sanctuary
Why should we 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, joys, wants, affections, and relationships. He also made man to be social in things spiritual. The isolation of selfishness is sin. Union is cherished by communion, and communion strengthened by public worship. Jesus honoured the temple. The faithful in every age have desired to dwell in the house of the Lord.
2. The special manifestations of the Divine presence, vouch-salad in the congregations of the saints, ought to endear to us such privileged scenes.
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.
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. (Canon Stowell.)
Zeal for God’s house expressed in a holy resolution not to forsake it
I. A resolution well becoming Christians themselves. This resolution comprehends the following particulars:
1. That we will never cast off the profession of our faith, nor make a defection from the truth and ways of the gospel, for any cause, nor upon any account whatsoever.
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.
(1) Jesus Christ, as Lord of His own house, has appointed divers ordinances to be observed.
(2) There must be an assembly of people meeting together for the public administration of these holy ordinances.
(3) There must be some proper and convenient places appointed and agreed upon for such religious assemblies where they can be had.
(4) There are particular times and seasons for the holding these religious assemblies.
(5) There are certain persons whose work and duty it is to go before others in these holy administrations.
3. That we will promote as far as in us lies the interests of religion, and spread the kingdom of Christ in the world.
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.
III. Offer reasons both for making this resolution and obliging ourselves to make it good.
1. Because it is God’s house.
(1) To forsake God’s house would be to forsake our own mercies.
(2) To leave this house is to forsake the place which God Himself hath chosen and where He delights to 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.
2. Because our particular good is lodged in the public interest.
3. This is the noblest way of imitating the great God Himself, and conforming to the example of our blessed Saviour.
4. This makes men real blessings to the world. Such men really are the strength and security of a nation. 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 men, could so many have been found in the place.
5. This will be our rejoicing and comfort another day. Application: Having made this resolution, we must oblige ourselves to make it good. Because of the inconstancy and deceitfulness 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 gives a great advantage to a design, and a better prospect of success. (Matthew Clarke.)
Attachment to God’s house
I. The resolution itself: “We will not forsake,” etc. This resolution includes--
1. Constant and regular attendance.
2. A lively interest in its welfare and prosperity.
II. The grounds of this resolution.
1. Our gracious union with God. All connected with God should be dear and sacred to us--His Word, ordinances, people; therefore His house.
2. Our clear and imperative duty. Public worship is of His own appointment.
3. Our public profession.
4. The special advantages we shall derive from it. Exaltation of desires; soul elevation; enlargement of mind; soul enrichment with all spiritual blessings in Christ. “A day in Thy courts is better than a thousand,” etc. “They that wait upon the Lord,” etc.
5. The connection of the house of God with the celestial world. It is “the gate of heaven.”
1. Where professors are indifferent to the welfare of God’s house, it is an unfailing indication that the heart is not right with God.
2. Let the subject inspire the sincere friends of Christ to more ardent zeal for the diffusion of the Divine glory.
3. How suited is God’s house to every description. The reckless here are warned, the supine aroused, the inquirer directed, the mourner comforted, the faithful established, etc. (J. Burns, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Nehemiah 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent