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Rebuilding Our Faith Series #16

THE REWARD OF OBEDIENCE

Nehemiah 8:13-18

A. Learning God's Word (8:13-14)
B. Obeying God's Word (8:14-17)
C. Celebration of God's Word (8:18)

Have you ever read God's Word and not really understood it but just never followed it up? Maybe it was in your devotional Bible reading of the day or it was something the pastor or Sunday School teacher said. But in the back of your mind you decided not to pursue the matter. You just let it go and busy yourself with the many other matters wrestling for your time. What makes us put the Bible down and forget something we don't really understand? Why is it that some of you have not done in depth studies of God's Word? Hebrews 5:13-14 summarizes this mentality saying,

"For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil."

The key issue undermining your whole pursuit or non-pursuit of understanding God's Word is whether you think that understanding God's Word makes a difference in your life. But there is even a more important issue behind this one. We acknowledge some people study the Bible just to know the Bible better. For example, they want to master different kinds of literature. This is not what really will drive a person to want to understand these pieces of writing from thousand years ago. What we need to identify is the driving force of these Israelites that brought them back on the second day to sincerely understand the meaning and application of God's Word. After all, they had their party.

They listened to what God had to say. But they came back another day so they could really understand what was in God' Word. The reason is not very difficult. They wanted to obey God. They feared God. They reckoned that if they obeyed, they would be greatly blessed. But on the other side, if they disobeyed, they would be cursed. Perhaps the section on the day before about "blessed are ... ," and then "cursed are you if you ....," stuck in their hearts an minds. Deuteronomy 27:14-28.6 says,

"The Levites shall then answer and say to all the men of Israel with a loud voice, 'Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.' And all the people shall answer and say, 'Amen.' 'Cursed is he who dishonors his father or mother.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' 'Cursed is he who moves his neighbor's boundary mark.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' 'Cursed is he who misleads a blind person on the road.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'"

"Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the LORD your God. "Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. "Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. "Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. "Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out."

They had a sensitive heart towards God. They knew it made a difference if they obeyed God or not. They needed to know God's Word to obey it.

In a moment we are going to scout over one particular area of life in which they were particularly convicted. But we need to remember it is not the knowing of the law that makes the real difference in their lives but the doing of it. And this is one of the greatest difficulties we have as Christians. We are not attentive to God's Word like when you look at your grades on your report card, or what your friend wrote in that note, or the news that the stock market dropped 100 points at opening. We do not believe it really makes a difference. It comes to an issue of belief or unbelief. You say the Bible is important but you never stay up to 1:00 a.m. studying the Bible because you might miss out on something and disobey God, do you? For you boss, your teacher, your parent you will do these things but not for the Lord. This is because you don't believe Him. Not really. No doubt the Israelites were like this too until the revival at the Water Gate. Something woke up inside them. No one could explain it. It was as if the light was turned on in the dark room. They suddenly had a new fresh belief that if they neglected God's Word, then they were going to miss out on the best and receive the very worse. They believed God's Word. So in Nehemiah 8:13 the leaders needed to get back and clarify some things that didn't seem like the right thing going on.

Look at the pattern: Learning -> Obeying -> Learning More.

A. Learning God's Word (8:13-14)

As we already mentioned the leaders gathered together on the second day, the day after the revival started, to hear more. One might think that they only were merely curious or that they came out of obligation. This is clearly not the case. Later on in 8:16 we see once things have been clarified for the people, they responded to the teachings. This is the difference between belief and curiosity or tradition. Belief brings obedience but tradition brings no response.

But then you are wondering why they did not bring everyone together the second day. The crowd was too great. Maybe without portable potties and sound systems they actually found many difficulties holding such a big rally. Besides not being able to care for the people, there was larger principle at hand. One which we can learn from. Just think of an army. You do not tell all the soldiers the plan at once. You tell the leaders and the leaders tell the regular soldiers. Good communication and follow up does not just depend on one leader or good teacher like Ezra the scribe.

In fact, what you have here is a workable model of training. When certain individuals believe a certain teaching or training is important, then the interpreter, the trainer, can have great impact on the lives of many people. Note who came out to the training sessions. Fathers of greater households, probably more like the old grandfathers or patriarchs of different family clans, priests who served the temple and Levites who served around the temple.

Their purpose was clear. They were there to "gain insight into the words of the law." They actually thought that it would make a difference to know God's words. They knew that they would get insight into the law and that this insight would change their lives. That is why they were there. They did not want to know these things for knowledge sake. Instead they were willing for the scriptures to directly shape their lives. They knew something had to be done in their lives, but they were not quite sure. They needed to find what these things were.

Application Think of the difference between the person reading God's Word because it is going to make a difference in their lives and the person who reads it because someone told him he should. Do you have this unquenchable desire to know God's Word? Do you possess this belief that God's Word is very relevant to your lives? Have you gone back for a second look at a passage because you feared out missing what God might be saying to you at that particular time? Have you as a father, actually looked at the scriptures seeing what is necessary for you to do? Have you wife taken the Word of the world or the Word of the Lord more seriously? Have you Sunday School teacher actually taken the children beyond the story to the reason what the story was written?

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B. Obeying God's Word (8:14-17)

As they came back to get further understanding in verse 14, they found in the law that the Lord had commanded them through Moses that they, the sons of Israel, the Jews, should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. What is this thing they were suppose to do?

We can look and find this described in the Book of Moses in two places, both in Leviticus 23 and Deuteronomy 16. It just so happened when the revival started it was on the first day of the seventh month in the Hebrew calendar. See 8:2. How timely! It seemed that God was giving extra grace in calling His people together. In fact we know that the people of Israel are to call the people together on that day for a holy meeting. There is no mention of the horns. The way 8:1 is phrased, it seems that this meeting was unusual. There was no mention of the Feast of Trumpets which started on that day. Why would they ask the priests to do certain things unless no one knew what to do. If they didn't know about the Feast of Booths, there is the obvious conclusion that they did not know about the Feast of Trumpets either. Leviticus 23:24 says,

"Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'In the seventh month on the first of the month, you shall have a rest, a reminder by blowing [of trumpets], a holy convocation."

After they heard the Word of God, they then realized that they have missed out on no just the Feast of Trumpets but also all the Feasts. This is also the reason they were not allowed to mourn on that day. They were to feast because it was a feast day, a holy day. Actually there were three out of seven feasts in the seventh month. These were the last ones of the year. Let me summarize them. What is particularly mentioned in this chapter is the Feast of Booths ore the Feast of Tents, the last feast of the year.

1 Feast of Trumpets # 5 in month 7 Tishri September-October Early Autumn
Rosh Hashanah {According to Jewish teachings, this begins ten days of judgment when all the children of men pass before the Creator. Ten days is given for repentance. A solemn assembly called by trumpets to prepare for the Day of Atonement. Though Rosen says stands for Christ's return, it seems to better represent the going forth of the gospel into all the lands calling people to faith in Christ before the great Judgment Day.

10 Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) # 6 in month 7 Tishri September-October Autumn A solemn assembly of repentance and forgiveness representing the Day of Judgment when the sheep are separated from the wolves (Zech 12:10; 13:1). Christ will appear and forever His people will be in God's presence.

15-21 Feast of Tabernacles; Feast of Booths # 7 in month 7 Tishri September October Autumn Harvest celebration and memorial of the wilderness traveling. Final harvest of God's people from all ages gathered together. Earth's pilgrimage is over; rest in heaven; the eternal sabbath (He 4).

I should mention that this year is the jubilee of jubilee, the 50th year. This is why the Promise Keepers rally in Washington D.C. was started with a Jewish Christian blowing the horn. It was not the first day but it was in the first ten days. It is believed that God called these men together in a very special way. If you were there, you would have to believe this too. It was incredible the way these men came from so far to put their faces on the ground in humble subjection to the Lord.

But we need to focus on the last feast, the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. Let me read from Leviticus 23:39-41,

"On exactly the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the crops of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the LORD for seven days, with a rest on the first day and a rest on the eighth day. 'Now on the first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage of beautiful trees, palm branches and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. 'You shall thus celebrate it as a feast to the LORD for seven days in the year. It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you shall celebrate it in the seventh month."

Let me summarize what conclusions they came to after studying God's Law. On the seventh month there should be a feast. Furthermore, what would characterize this time is the living in booths or tents. The environmentalists would love Nehemiah 8:15,

"So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, "Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches, and wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written."

Actually, I want you to know that pruning and cutting back in the fall is one of the best things for trees so that they can be strengthened and protected from a hard winter. Obedience doesn't ask if we understand nature and pruning. It is a step of faith that God takes care of everything well if we go by His will. An environmentalist is an extreme and dangerous person because he only takes in a narrow understanding of the world. The godly person takes into all the considerations and necessities of life as they live obediently to God. Everyone was going to take down the limbs and branches to make a habitation for a week for their family. Family camping was built right into the Law of God. Lev 23:44 says,
"...So that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in booths when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God." This is to represent that our times on earth are so temporary. Heaven is our home.

What a wonderful teaching during the rebuilding of a city. We can so emphasize programs and buildings that we neglect the people. The moral fabric of the people are most important. Our lives here are temporary. You can buy and build but remember that none of it can be taken with you. If we care for the bodies and skill training of our children but neglect their souls, what a horrible mistake. We have only so many important matters.

Obedience does require a change of behavior. Without the right frame of mind, one will find numerous objections to carrying out this command or any command in the scriptures. I am not an Israelite, but I still can think of several objections. (Maybe I have practiced this a lot in the past).

There are seven excuses, one for each day of the week. See how easy it is to bypass the importance of keeping God's Word with the many concerns we have. We can always find excuses to disobey God. We think we are wise when we are actually foolish. I agree that some things don't seem as if they make sense, but who cares if we understand them if we are pleasing the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The things that make us look different as the people of God are the actual things that mark us as the people of God, whether it is tithing, worshiping together, spending time praying with your family, reading God's Word, etc. We for the most part have tried to live like the world and still please God. It will never work. And if you don't believe Him, just keep disobeying Him nd you will find the necessary consequences troubling your life.

Only when we have the right perspective toward God and His Word, will we or they obey. When they went back twice to understand God's Word, it showed they took it seriously.

Application My question is when you hear God's Word, have you really seriously obeyed it. These people have neglected celebrating the Feasts of Booths for over 900 years, from Joshua's time. They didn't think it very important. They didn't believe it would make a difference. But did it? You bet.The last line of 8:17 says, "And there was great rejoicing." Obedience will bring a joy into your life that you never even thought existed. Are your moaning, bitter and depressed? There is a good chance that you have put off some serious steps of obedience. Medicines will never substitute obedience. Psychiatrists will never absolve you from your sin. Obedience is. Give up your big spending and tithe. Shut off that television and start taking God's Word and prayer seriously. Read to be changed. You will never be the same.

C. Celebration of God's Word (8:18)

So they did celebrate. God created moral community as they centered around His Word. Some people think that morals create sad people, but as we see here, that the happiest people are those who have and live by morals. They live by God's standards. Think about your neighbors or friends. Which ones enjoy life the most? The ones stealing, disobedient to their parents, skipping classes, cheating on papers? Of course not. There is a generation of sad and depressed people that are mad angry. They feel cheated out of life. This is why there is so much violence. The children that obey are the happiest. The parents and young people who are committed to obedience shine like a bright light in this dark world. This is the joy stemming from obedience.

Some people think that morals are imposed upon us from the outside. This is true to only a limited extent. Although morals must be imposed upon us, it is this imposing or the instruction of them that forces us to learn them. The real joy comes when as you mature, you can say these are not only things my parents believe but what I believe. Once you live by these principles of God on your own, then you are indeed free. Each year there was the reminder of the Law. But if the people disobeyed God, they would not come. They would not ever find the joy in obeying them. Laws help but you can always get around them. Morals are those right choices that guide your lives even in very strenuous times.

Application During the feast, they lived in God's Word. They met together. They ate together. They celebrated together. And in obedience, they had a solemn assembly as required on the very last day. They did not get carried away with the feasting but found there was a purpose in it all. Their Creator was calling them to a time of judgment after their wanderings on earth. They needed to get their life in order now. Many religions provide a second chance. Christianity does not. If they refused to live in the tents, then they would face severe consequences. We are not Jews. We do not need to live in tents. But there is a figurative truth with even greater significance. The tents stand for the temporal things of earth. We are like pilgrims just passing through. But if you live for the world, if you have made it your permanent home, then you have refused to live as a pilgrim. You have refused to leave the world and follow Christ. Surely your judgment will not be just some consequence on earth but eternal in nature.

Conclusion One last application and conclusion. Have you taken God's Word seriously? Have you been convinced of the truth of God's Word so that you go back a second time? I might look foolish to my friends; I might not be able to send my children to prestigious schools. But the real difference is whether I have set my heart on the Lord and what He says. The important issue is whether we have listened with such intensity as to obey what we have heard. The world is perishing. The world is depressed. Come to the Words of Life and find new life and purpose in Jesus.

Book of Nehemiah Index: Rebuilding Your Faith

Nehemiah

REVIVAL AT THE WATER GATE

Nehemiah Overview and Notes | Nehemiah Outline | Also see notes on Ezra

Nehemiah Historical Introduction | Nehemiah Rebuilding the Walls

Nehemiah 1:1-2:5 | Nehemiah 1:1-4 Love for God

Nehemiah 1:11-2.8 God's will | Nehemiah 2.9-20 Prepare

Prayer: Prayers that Changes the World 1:4-11 | Nehemiah 1:1-11 Prayer | Nehemiah 1:05-11 Prayer

Nehemiah 3:1-32 (1/2) Hope | Nehemiah 3:1-32 (2/2) Gates

Nehemiah 3 Jerusalem Map (pdf)

Nehemiah 4:1-6 Anger & Despair | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Anger & Fears

Nehemiah 4:7-23 Threats | Nehemiah 4:7-23 Overcoming Fear

Nehemiah 5:1-05 Loans | Nehemiah 5:1-19 Counts

Nehemiah 6:1-19 Rumors | Nehemiah 7:1-73 Restore

Nehemiah 8:1-12 Revival | Nehemiah 8:13-18 Obedience

Nehemiah 9:1-38| Strength & Direction in Life | Confess

Nehemiah 10-12 Covenant | Nehemiah 13:1-31 Restoration

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