#13 “Book of Nehemiah” Series
"CHOICES: CALAMITY OR CLEANSING!"
TEXT: Nehemiah 13:1-31
INTRO: One of the greatest gifts outside of salvation that God has given all human beings is the gift of CHOICE! Unlike the animals who operate on a level of mostly instinctive behavior humans have very few instincts outside of some simple basic ones: SURVIVAL, SUCKLING, and NURTURE BY FOOD & WATER.
Most of the other areas in our lives involve the need to make CHOICES. Life is really a series of choices ... if we choose wisely we often find joy and self-respect. If we choose unwisely we often suffer many sorrows from those poor choices ... some sorrows lasting a lifetime.
ILLUS: We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. -- Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 41.
Even when we choose unwisely ... once we realize it, how we choose to respond to if can mean the difference of learning from it or becoming bitter over it!
The ability to choose will be with us the rest of our lives ... it is a powerful and awesome gift ... with powerful impact upon our lives and those closest to us.
PROP. SENT: Nehemiah upon his return had discovered the people had made a series of poor choices that had a cumulative affect upon the whole population of Israel that had driven them from their commitment to God! It was time to call them back to make the right choices NOW ... or suffer the consequences that time has shown again and again leads to captivity and bondage!
I. CONDITION OF CALL 13:1-3
A. Criteria 13:1-2
1. This paragraph is not necessarily a part of the material that follows in verses 4ff on ... but indicates a time when God’s Word was read to them to let them know what choices they were to make if they wanted God's best!
2. The very basis of wise decisions would come from God's Word ... the best source of information!
a. Knowledge sits within our intellect.
b. Wisdom sits within our hearts and will!
c. No wonder Solomon spent so much time advocating getting WISDOM, even more than knowledge!
3. Knowledge can give someone a head full of ideas and impress others with the accumulation and articulation of that knowledge!
4. BUT, wisdom is the ability to take knowledge and properly apply it by wise choices!
a. This is why it is possible for some very intelligent people to be so ignorant.
b. And why some very uneducated people can be so wise!
c. Godliness and the commitment of obedience to God's Word is the very HEART OF WISDOM!
5. The criteria of healthy choices come from acceptance of God's instructions from His Word ... and the application of those Words to our life!
6. NOTICE NO ONE WAS INCLUDED IN THE “ASSEMBLY OF GOD” unless they were obedient servants of the Word! (See vs. 1!)
a. Was it just the nationality that was excluded here? I think not, Ruth was a Moabitess ... she was accepted by God within the Israelite community...
ILLUS: After a great gathering of Christian youth, the offering was being counted. At the bottom of the offering, the counters found a picture of a teenage girl. They all made the same immediate assumption. Some boy had taken a girl's wallet, taken out the picture and thrown it in the offering basket as a practical joke. That's the kind of thing teenagers sometimes do. Then someone turned the picture over. There was something written on the back. "I have nothing to give, but I give myself." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
b. Therefore the rejection of these people mentioned was because of clear evidence that they had helped Israel make choices contrary to God's declared Word. GET RID OF THEM was the command!
c. It was not just strictly ethnic issues at stake; it was obedience to God’s Word that was at stake.
B. Commitment! 13:3
1. The only smart choice was to remove the influence of evil among them!
2. Rather than influencing these evil people just the opposite had happened as we shall discover later in this chapter around verses 23-27.
3. It would mean the CHOICE of breaking off relationships with those who only helped lead them into corruption, a people who had earlier ignored helping Israel in the desert ... in other words a type of people who only thought of their own needs.
ILLUS: One of the ancient fathers, we are told, had lived with a woman before his conversion, and a short time after she accosted him as usual. Knowing how likely he was to fall into sin, he ran away with all his might, and she ran after him, crying, "Why do you run away? It's only me."
He answered, "I run away because I am not myself. I am a new man." -- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon, (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, Inc, 1990)
4. Israel didn't need help in becoming more selfish, human nature already is bent this way, they needed to make a commitment based on the knowledge of God's Word ... in other words: TO CHOOSE WISELY!
II. CONNECTION TO CORRUPTION 13:4-5; 1 Tim. 6:10
A. Compromise 13:4; 1 Tim. 6:10
1. For the sake of advantage the high priest had compromised himself and all Israel by allowing Tobiah an ungodly man to live within the temple structure, something strictly forbidden by God's Word!
2. This compromise had a material or monetary aspect to it!
3. Allowing this brought all
kinds of trade and goods into
4. Sometimes however the choices we make to get so much of the world’s goods can end up compromising our commitment to be faithful to God ... perhaps even in our giving!
a. 1 TIM. 6:10 Pastor Timothy was instructed by Paul to warn the rich within the church ... in fact not just the rich but those who were making the choice to get rich:
b. …“for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and PIERCED THEMSELVES THROUGH WITH MANY GRIEFS!”
5. Eliashib had not had his hands twisted behind his back and forced to make this choice ... he chose personal gratification over personal discipline, and the choice would cost him ... but then all choices in life always do: EITHER FOR GOOD RESULTS OR EVIL!
ILLUS: Jan Paderewski was asked by a fellow pianist if he could be ready to play a recital on short notice. The famous musician replied, "I am always ready. I have practiced eight hours daily for forty years." The other pianist said, "I wish I had been born with such determination." Paderewski replied, "We are all born with it. I just used mine." -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 159-160.
6. This single compromise of the high priest would have results that spread throughout all of Jerusalem!
B. Callus 13:5
1. Gradually as they continued to make the choices to ignore what was right and continue choosing what they knew to be wrong their hearts got harder and harder until they could rationalize just about any choice they made that was contrary to God's Word!
2. This still happens today ... the more we choose incorrectly, the easier it gets and the reduction of guilt becomes a very real consequence!
3. Our hearts become more and more callus toward real righteousness!
4. The callus hearts of the leaders at this point crept throughout the people of Jerusalem so that they stopped giving ... and thus the Levites and singers could no longer be paid their salaries; thus they were forced to choose returning to their plots of land and growing grain to subsist on, and so there was no time for the temple services!
5. The choice of one man, a main leader had now spread throughout the entire city, this was the same people who had celebrated so mightily the finished walls in chapter 12 and had earlier made fierce commitments to NEVER NEGLECT THE HOUSE OF GOD! (Neh. 10:39b "…We will not neglect the house of our God.")
6. Yet, through compromise which bred callousness they were doing that very thing ... NEGLECTING THE HOUSE OF GOD ... all because they now were just trying to survive financially.
a. Their unwise choices for prosperity had just the opposite effect!
b. Each struggled just to stay afloat!
c. God's servants the Levites couldn't be paid due to the lack of giving of tithes by the people so that the Levites had to make a living off the land!
d. They were too busy surviving to do any serving.
7. When you're too busy for God ... you are too busy!
8. Business had become more important than tithes and offerings ... so they cleared the storage room for a business man to live in, thus desecrating the HOUSE OF GOD!
ILLUS: It seems that more people today have a greater desire to live long than they do to live well. -- Croft M. Pentz, The Complete Book of Zingers (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1990).
9. It is interesting to note that Nehemiah wasn't in town during this slip back into compromised living!
III. CALAMITY OR CLEANSING! 13:6-31
A. Correction 13:6-9
1. Nehemiah returns only to be shocked by what he finds ... a people who had made all the right decisions when he had left – to a people who now had changed their minds and had made choices that were bringing calamity upon them!
2. He knew that soon God's judgment would fall upon them and any hope of being restored would disappear!
3. The only thing to do ... bring correction!
4. Since the corruption had started from the top down ... this is where he begins!
5. We find him going to the HOUSE OF GOD and throwing out all of the belongings of Tobiah the business man! There came a time when Nehemiah and God constituted the majority vote for action!
ILLUS: At the board meeting: "So the vote is as follows: Larry, Ruth, Dan, Sid, and Marcia are for the proposal. God and I are against." -- Cartoonist Joseph Farris in Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 3.
a. The scene was reminiscent of the picture of Jesus throwing the money changers out of the temple!
b. There comes a time to challenge poor choices ... this was it!
6. Correction involved 3 things:
a. CLEANSING THE GARBAGE OUT OF THE HOUSE OF GOD.
b. PURIFYING AGAIN THE HOUSE OF GOD ... RECOGNIZING THE SACREDNESS OF THE HOUSE OF GOD.
c. RESTORING THE PROPER EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES SO THAT THE LEVITES COULD RETURN TO MINISTRY FULL TIME!
7. These were hard choices, but Nehemiah was prepared to make them and act upon them! THAT'S THE SECRET TO SUCCESS ... ACT UPON THEM!
a. It is not enough to want to make the right choice ... we must DO SO and then ACT ON THOSE CHOICES!
b. Desire changes very little ... action changes all!
B. Consequences 13:10-11
1. The poor choices of the leaders after Nehemiah had left town resulted in a domino effect ... the emphasis upon natural success and the choices toward that goal had the consequences of pouring all their resources into business and neglecting the HOUSE OF GOD!
2. This had led to no income for the Levites who then had to search for a job to stay alive ... farming became the only means of survival ... this led to NO WORD FROM GOD for the people ... so they experienced the consequences also!
3. This is the irony of one person’s poor choices ... they can have a whole string of effects upon others close to them that bring pain and suffering or compromise!
4. The choices we make in life are CRITICAL to both us and those around us! There are VERY REAL CONSEQUENCES TO MAKING IMPROPER CHOICES!
ILLUS: One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. ... In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility. -- Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) - Edythe Draper, Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1992). Entry 1148.
C. Changes! 13:12-14
1. With just one man making again the proper choices things begin to reverse themselves, change begins taking place as the people once again make the RIGHT CHOICES!
2. Soon the people are bringing their tithes back knowing that the storeroom is empty and Tobiah is kicked out of town!
3. This change allows for the return of the Levites to ministry, a change which would again allow for the people to be challenged to make the right choices again based on God's Word!
4. This time however, Nehemiah has 4 men appointed to make sure the collections are properly handled and this makes less chance of failure this way!
5. This new concept of mutual accountability would help reduce the possibility of the effects of just one person’s poor choices influencing the rest of God's people!
6. It is interesting what Nehemiah prays for at the end of restoring these people to proper choices: "REMEMBER ME FOR THIS, 0 MY GOD!"
ILLUS: Boston preacher James Freeman Clarke said, "It may make a difference to all eternity whether we do right or wrong today." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
a. NOT "REWARD ME..."
b. NOT "YOU PEOPLE OWE ME..."
7. Also notice Nehemiah's words in the later part of this verse: "I HAVE SO FAITHFULLY DONE..."
a. This is not a spiritual pride comment ... literally translated, the idea is this:
b. "A QUALITY WHICH ACCEPTS OBLIGATION AND HONORS IT, COME WHAT MAY!" The idea: Make the right choices no matter how they feel, or what others might say or do!
c. They understand the importance of properly choosing the right, willing to accept any criticism or mockery ... knowing right choices brings securing God's favor even when that seems unimportant to others!
D. Consecration 13:15-22
1. The people during his absence had also neglected the weekly worship time, using instead the Sabbath as just another day to get richer!
2. This had been a very unwise choice spiritually, although it seemed to make sense financially! (Many today still think this way!)
3. Nehemiah takes a firm hand in
shutting down the neglect of GOD'S
4. Nehemiah also reminds the leaders of Israel that it was this very practice of ignoring God on the Sabbath that had led to their father’s captivity ... in other words, you guys have made a very dumb decision ... guess where it will take you if you don't change!?
5. At first the traders and business men still come, they think that Nehemiah will give in soon and so they wait below the gates for a few Sabbaths thinking, “HE CAN'T REALLY MEAN IT ... OR THE PEOPLE WILL TIRE OF THIS OLD-TIMER AND HIS COMMITMENT TO GOD!”
6. They picked the wrong guy to bet on! Nehemiah out waited them! ... Finally he shouts down to them, HEY GUYS, “IF YOU STAY THERE AGAIN I MYSELF WILL COME DOWN AND LAY HANDS ON YOU!” THEY MADE A WISE CHOICE, they quit coming!
7. A mad prophet on God's side can be a scary thing!
8. Again, success by the right choice ... Nehemiah asks God to remember him for his commitment and stance here! The only one he is concerned to have approval from was God!
ILLUS: A true leader is committed to the cause, and does not become the cause. Staying personally dedicated to the cause can become extremely difficult, particularly if the cause succeeds. A subtle change in thinking can overtake the leader of a successful ministry. He or she begins "needing" certain things to carry on the ministry -- things that were not needed earlier. I admire Mother Teresa, who decided after winning the Nobel Prize that she would not go to accept any more recognition because it interfered with her work. She knew she was not in the business of accepting prizes; she was in the business of serving the poor of Calcutta. She maintained her dedication to the cause by refusing unrelated honors. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 311.
9. Making the right choices in life is much easier when you know that it is God's approval you should seek, and not man's!
E. Catastrophe! 13:23-29; Ezra 9:3-4
1. The choice to ignore God's
call not to marry unbelievers had a devastating affect upon the entire nation
and witness of
a. Nehemiah as he travels through town realizes that the people had chosen once again to ignore God's call to not marry the unbelievers and he witnesses the large impact already on the new generation of kids born by hearing them speaking in their mother's native tongues rather than the Jewish tongue of Hebrew!
b. Why get bent out of shape
over this? It meant that the
c. The pagan influence was beating out the godly influence; the evidence was in the kid's language!
2. Could there be an important lesson here for us! YES! It is critical that we teach our children HOW VERY IMPORTANT it is that they identify themselves WITH CHRIST and not this world, their language should give away what they are most being influenced by!
3. DADS AND MOMS ... we have never lived in a day that IS AS IMPORTANT AS OUR COMMITMENT TO GOD IS TODAY. YOUR KIDS WILL BECOME THE ADULTS OF THEIR GREATEST INFLUENCES TODAY! WHAT LANGUAGE ARE THEY SPEAKING!?
4. If we lose our children to the world it might reflect a series of poor choices on our hands ... not always, but many times our choices will find their impact in our children!
a. If we take the HOUSE OF GOD lightly they are likely to treat it so too!
b. If we take the WORSHIP OF OUR LORD as something we do when we have extra time then our children will reflect that attitude.
c. IF WE SPEAK evil of our brethren, our children will also!
d. IF WE IGNORE OUR GIVING they will probably do so also!
e. THE CHILDREN ARE OUR GREATEST GIFT FOR THE CHURCH'S continuation, IT SHOULD DRIVE US to make choices that reflect our desire to teach them not just the knowledge of God's Word but show them the wisdom of those choices by practicing that knowledge in our lifestyle!
f. The results can be catastrophic otherwise!
ILLUS: Max Jukes lived in New York. He did not believe in Christ or in Christian training. He refused to take his children to church, even when they asked to go. He has had 1,026 descendants; 300 were sent to prison for an average term of thirteen years; 190 were public prostitutes; 680 were admitted alcoholics. His family, thus far, has cost the state in excess of $420,000. They made no contribution to society.
Jonathan Edwards lived in the same state, at the same time as Jukes. He loved the Lord and saw that his children were in church every Sunday, as he served the Lord to the best of his ability. He has had 929 descendants, and of these 430 were ministers; 86 became university professors; 13 became university presidents; 75 authored good books; 7 were elected to the United States Congress. One was vice president of his nation. His family never cost the state one cent but has contributed immeasurably to the life of plenty in this land today. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 195.
5. NEHEMIAH DOESN’T BEAT AROUND THE BUSH ... he takes action.
a. He grabs a few of the men (they were in authority and should have shown the way!) and beat a few of them!
b. Then he pulled their hair out! (not the recommended style of discipline today obviously!)
c. Nehemiah reflects a different style of ministry from that of Ezra who had the same problem earlier: SEE EZRA 9:3-4 … Here Ezra sat down AND PULLED HIS OWN HAIR OUT … this had scared the Jews who then turned around, NEHEMIAH FIGURES THE SECOND TIME A NEW TACTIC SHOULD FRIGHTEN THEM ... HE BEATS THEM AND TEARS THEIR HAIR OUT INSTEAD OF HIS OWN!
d. Well different prophets with different styles ... but both were used by God to be effective ... different styles worked because the choices were both the correct one ... be dramatic to prevent a catastrophe!
e. Solomon is used as an example of someone with great knowledge – but his wisdom was corrupted by ungodly bonds, foreign women; if such a wise man chose wrongly how do they think they could choose the same wrong and escape catastrophe?
F. Commendable 13:30-31
1. Nehemiah comes now to the close of his ministry, his only interest during his lifetime: TO CHOOSE RIGHT:
a. For himself!
b. And for his brethren who he had authority over!
2. Nehemiah knew the proper choices would bring God's blessings upon His people and those they would then influence in the world as a great people serving a great God!
3. Their constant ability to make the wrong choices however led them through cycle after cycle of catastrophe and pain, bondage to bondage!
4. We will discover the same truth today!
5. Knowing God's Word is not the same as the Wisdom of doing God's Word!
ILLUS: Always, love is a choice. You come up against scores of opportunities every day to love or not to love. You encounter hundreds of small chances to please your friends, delight your Lord and encourage your family. That's why love and obedience are intimately linked -- you can't have one without the other. -- Joni Eareckson Tada, from Diamonds in the Dust (copyrights 1993 by Joni Eareckson Tada). Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Marriage Partnership, Vol. 11, no. 3.
6. Right choices will reward the soul with satisfaction and joy, and the knowledge that God will take care of all our needs!
7. THE SIMPLE DYNAMIC OF CHOICE will make or break your life, CHOOSE WISELY THAT YOU MIGHT LIVE!
8. NEHEMIAH’S LIFE CAN BE SUMMED UP IN 3 THINGS OR 3 CHOICES – and these contrast so much to the 3 CHOICES MADE BY THE GREAT CAESAR who said,
a. "I CAME... "
b. "I SAW... "
c. "I CONQUERED!" (And thus bondage resulted for most people!)
9. NEHEMIAH'S LIFE WAS:
a. "I CLEANSED... "
b. "I ESTABLISHED... "
c. "I PROVIDED..." (These are all found here at the end of the book ... choices he made that brought freedom and cleansing to God's people!)
10. Nehemiah's life was that of making the proper choices, first for himself and then for his people ... the result was a renewal of God's people and the blessings of God upon them until once again when a new generation grew up who knew not the Lord and the cycle of poor choices brought in fresh condemnation and bondage!
CONCLUSION: The choices we make have consequences to them, either good or bad. Those consequences rarely affect only our own lives; others are often impacted by them also. This is also true of good choices, they not only bless us, and they impact others by blessing them too! The right choices result in cleansing; the wrong choices result in calamity! Be wise, not just smart ... choose correctly and enjoy the fruit of God's blessings and the joy that comes from honoring God!