We’ve reached the end of the Nehemiah study with SheReadsTruth and the challenge today is to consider the way that the book of Nehemiah ends. The city of Jerusalem and its walls have been rebuilt, the temple has been rededicated and the people have worshipped God enthusiastically and vowed to keep his law again.
Nehemiah returns to his old job in the service of the king in Babylon. Some time later he discovers that all is not well in Jerusalem. The people have been neglecting their offerings to the Levites, so the priests have been forced to abandon their work and return to their fields; the Sabbath has become just another regular working and trading day; the men of Judah had married foreign wives from the surrounding pagan nations, and their children couldn’t even understand Hebrew (so they would have no chance of being able to understand the word of God). Tobiah (him again!) has been given a room in the temple by one of the priests (a relative) and he’s using it to store his household furniture!
Nehemiah is very angry.
He does some chasing and chastising and cleansing and even some hair pulling!
Even at the end of the book, when he’s reclaimed the temple back for God and reinstated the priests, the reader is left with the feeling that things are unlikely to continue to go well…
So why does the book end in this way?
I’ve considered three possible reasons:
1) God wants to show us that this pattern of enthusiasm followed by complacency and backsliding will always be a risk for his people whilst they live in a fallen world. Whilst we’re sin-prone humans, we will continue to mess up. We easily forget, we look away from God’s face, we get distracted by the shiny things in the world around us.
2) God wants to show us our need for Nehemiah-types. We need people who will stand up against wrongdoing and complacency in the church and get angry and pull some hair! We need to be called back by prophetic voices and shaken up when we’re wandering in the wrong direction.
3) Most of all, I think the message of Nehemiah is like the message of all the other books in the Old Testament. It’s the recurring story of all the heroes of Genesis, Exodus, Judges, Kings. We need something greater. We need a greater Moses, a greater Joshua, a greater Joseph, a greater David, a greater Nehemiah.
We need somebody greater.
When Jesus arrives in Jerusalem before the Passover, he enters the courts of the temple and finds them to be full of people trading, swindling and robbing the poor in the name of religious effort (John 2:13-22).
Jesus is very angry.
He does some chasing and chastising and cleansing and even some whip cracking!
Jesus promised to rebuild the temple of his body in three days when it was destroyed. This claim was misquoted against him in his trial before his crucifixion. When Jesus died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. He came to finish the work, to remove the yoke of atonement-by-law-keeping from his people. When he died, it was finished.
The message echoing through the pages of the Old Testament is the need for a permanent solution to the perpetual problem of sin. Jesus comes to provide this permanent solution.
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.