Studies in Nehemiah. The Need Of Vigilance Chapter 13v1-31. Introduction.
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Without doubt the greatest danger that can affect both the individual or the church fellowship is a spirit of complacency. Such a spirit often springs from a false sense of security. The environment in which complacency most commonly grows is not one of oppression and persecution but periods of unprecedented blessing and success.
Spiritual complacency was the real temptress that caused Samson’s downfall and it followed a long period of success against the Philistines. David’s complacency which contributed to his adultery with Bathsheba was also preceded by a period of unprecedented success and blessing in the establishment of his kingdom.
The blessing of God can wrongly suggest to us that our position is unassailable and that we are spiritually secure. We lower our guard. We remove our spiritual armour. We become complacent. We act presumptuously and before we know it our lives begin to crash around us.
This is precisely what happened in Jerusalem. The work had been successfully completed. The celebrations of praise had been held. Nehemiah had returned to Babylon and soon the people of Jerusalem had grown complacent.
It is a great thing, when the people of God determine, like the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to live under the discipline of God’s Word.
But that decision once made requires great vigilance and effort to maintain it. It is demanding to live this kind of life.
Now the more public we make our stand for God, the bigger the target we become. There is a tempter who wants to see us drown in a morass of backsliding and disobedience. And very quickly we lose the cutting edge of our commitment. This is why we must guard against complacency.
In the first flush of our re-consecration to God we give a notice to quite to the sinful squatters harming our spiritual lives and our restored fellowship with God. We can and should in, God’s strength, drive out from our lives all that we know to be unholy just as the people in Jerusalem had previously done.
However, these things can stealthily creep back in again. Subtly and slowly they infiltrate our lives until the flag proclaiming God’s rule is gradually lowered once more.
[See Bunyan’s ‘Holy War’]
Are we surprised at the speed of spiritual decline of God’s people so quickly after Nehemiah’s returned to Babylon? You may ask, ‘Where are the flames of intensity which had so recently marked this people’s consecration to God?’
How quickly they succumbed and allowed authorities, other than the Word of God, to rule our lives. Indeed, we may want to question just how deeply they had allowed God’s Word to take root in their hearts. It is all to easy to be caught up in the spiritual excitement of a work of God without our own hearts being deeply affected by it. It is possible to piggyback ride on the work of grace God is doing in the lives of others.
Think of Jesus’ parable of the soils. Some seed, which showed initial signs of growth and fruitfulness withered and died. Where there is no deep root then the withering takes place very quickly. But even when the work of God in a person’s life is deep rooted this does not mean that they are impervious to the pull of the world. They can surprise others, usually before they surprise themselves, that they do not have the commitment to God they once had.
Remove a strong leader like Nehemiah, upon whom some may have begun to lean, or move an individual from the warmth of a home church fellowship and a person’s true spiritual level is often found.
There were four areas where the people of God in Jerusalem had failed.
They made room for Tobiah the enemy of God’s people in the very heart of the work, in the temple v4-9.
They failed to provide materially for the work of God v10-14.
They failed to take God’s day seriously v15-22.
They failed to take their own consecration seriously they pursued intermarriage with unbelieving heathen neighbours v22ff.
1. It is hard to understand why they allowed Tobiah, who had constantly opposed God’s work, not only residence in Jerusalem but quarters in the temple - the house of God.
The mind-blowing nature of this decision could be compared to the Jews in Berlin in the late 1930s building an extension on to their synagogue for Hitler’s use!
Did the people of Jerusalem fail to see how dangerous Tobiah was to God’s work? Did they think Nehemiah was paranoid in identifying Tobiah as a real and present danger? Did they think that because he was related to Eliashib the priest he could be restrained from doing them any harm?
This ‘trickle’ of compromise opened up the flood gates for all the others that would follow. Once the enemy is admitted to the heart of the work then spiritual erosion on a sudden and dramatic scale is only to be expected.
It should therefore come as no surprise to us that Nehemiah upon his return to Jerusalem made it a priority to throw Tobiah out into the streets with all his stuff. There was no period of grace until a removal van could be arranged.
The action was immediate.
This is the pattern we must follow as we apply the spiritual lesson which this passage teaches. Our hearts are God’s temples. We must throw out, the enemy with all his furniture, immediately we are aware of his presence.
We are to engage in radical surgery. Do not put what you recognise to be wrong in your life, sinful practices and attitudes, on a surgical waiting list! This is an emergency procedure! Some things require urgent attention because of the immediate danger they present.
2. The people also failed to provide for the Levites who were responsible for God’s work in the temple. As a result the Levites returned to their fields in order grow sufficient food for their needs. The work of God suffered as a result. The people of God were guilty of neglect.
Note Nehemiah question ‘Why is the house of God neglected? ’ v11. The people had promised, ‘We will not neglect the house of our God’ 10v39. But this is precisely what they had done. And in the process they broken vows once made with full and grateful hearts.
Their hearts had begun to grow cold. They had given room to the enemy and his influence is seen in a cooling of their commitment.
There is a challenge here for all who have promised to support God’s work in their local fellowship. Promises made when hearts were warm and full.
Are we guilty of neglect? Does the work suffer because we have withdrawn our support, be it the commitment of our time, our talent, our material resources. Have we stopped commending Christ to family and friends? Are we embarrassed by the vows we once made?
Next consider their failure to keep God’s day special. Warning bells should ring when we begin to find God’s day irksome, binding and restricting . That is a sure indication that we have lost sight of the fact that this is a day of grace and of immense blessing.
The Sabbath has great importance in scripture. As far as God’s OT. people was concerned, keeping the Sabbath was a sign of their special relationship with him. Therefore to neglect the Sabbath was a paramount to neglecting God himself. It was breaking the covenant he had made with them.
Before we dismiss the Sabbath as something belonging exclusively to the OT church, remember that the Sabbath principle was built into human history at the dawn of creation. It is a creation ordinance and as such the principle continues to hold good. To neglect the Lord’s Day is not only to neglect the blessing that God is eager to bestow but it is a neglect of God himself. If you think that forgetting God’s day is unimportant then ask yourself how you feel if a member of your family forgets your birthday or your wedding anniversary. To forget God’s day is a slight upon him.
The final issue that reveals the people’s coldness of heart relates to mixed marriages. Israel through intermarriage with heathen peoples was saying, ‘We do not consider it important that we remain a distinctive people, separated to God’. And as a result of that decision they began to fail in their calling to be a holy people. The word ‘holiness’ has two basic meanings; separation and brightness and the one is dependant on the other. When separation goes so does brightness. In next to no time the people of God are not recognised as different from anyone else. The world says, ‘We would never have known that you were a Christian’.
How quickly this people’s consecration evaporated. Their once vibrant praise began to sound hollow and lifeless. The lesson that we must surely learn from all this is to resist giving the enemy access to our hearts. Once he is settled there his baneful influence soon begins to spread.
If this passage excites a spirit of vigilance in your heart then it has accomplished its purpose. If it breaks the hypnotic spell of spiritual complacency then that too is good. There is no height of spiritual consecration from which it is impossible to fall.
Do not assume that this pattern of declension and restoration is an inevitable and relentless part of spiritual experience. It is not inevitable that our lives will constantly blow hot and cold for God. The power of God’s indwelling Spirit, is more than sufficient to equip us to maintain a constant temperature.
The tempter whispers, ‘You must yield to
my temptation, you cannot help yourself.
Make things easier and give in now’.
We need to see that for the lie that it is
and learn to resist it in the power of the
indwelling Christ. He is the one who is
‘able to keep us from falling and to
present us faultless before the presence
of his glory with exceeding joy’. Jude 1v24