Putting God's Word into Practice…

Notes from Nehemiah (13:15-22)

on January 15, 2015

Flashback to the Israel’s covenant they made in chapter 10:

  • WE WILL NOT give our daughters to godless, foreigners as wives or take their daughters for our sons.
  • WE WILL NOT do business on the Sabbath or Holy Days.
  • WE WILL let the land rest and cancel all debts every seven years.
  • WE OBLIGATE OURSELVES to pay the temple tax.
  • WE OBLIGATE OURSELVES to bring the firstborn and firstfruits of everything to the temple.
  • WE WILL NOT neglect the house of our God.

In those days, I saw in Judah people treading winepresses ON THE SABBATH, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem ON THE SABBATH DAY. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians, also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them ON THE SABBATH to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! (vs. 15-16)

In Exodus 20:8-11 it says, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within you gates.  For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

The Israelites in Jerusalem were breaking the Sabbath commandment in every way!  They were working, their donkeys were working, and the foreigners in the city were working!  Nehemiah called it “profaning the Sabbath.”  Profaning means to violate, to defile, to treat as unholy; yet God said the Sabbath was set apart as holy.  They were making their own way instead of following God’s way.

Maybe you think, “A little work on every day of the week is not a big deal.”  But it was a very big deal.  The Sabbath was about more than ceasing from labor, it was a sign of a covenant between the LORD and His people that they were trusting Him to sanctify them–set them apart as holy.  In Exodus 31:13b-14a it says, “ABOVE ALL you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you.  Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death.”

Just one chapter prior in Nehemiah the people were having a robust celebration of dedication of the city to the Lord, now they were taking it back to do with it as they pleased!  Nehemiah was not going to stand for it!  He cautioned the merchants, confronted the nobles, and commanded the Levites to restore the sanctity of the Sabbath.  ONE MAN changed a town with righteous indignation, commitment to truth, steadfastness to the Lord’s ways, and bold confrontation.

But what does it mean for us?  Jesus Christ called himself Lord of the Sabbath in the New Testament.  He is the Lord of “ceasing of work.”  When we put our trust in Jesus for our salvation, we cease from working to earn our salvation and rest in His grace alone to sanctify us.  The problem we face is that many of us subtly disregard His grace over the course of time and work for our sanctification.  In Galatians 3:3 Paul wrote: “Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”  In our own way, that is the definition of “profaning the Sabbath.”  Resting in Christ’s grace leads to eternal life.  Disregarding His sanctification and working to earn something for ourselves leads to spiritual death.

Are there any areas of my life where I am trusting in my own strength to provide for myself what I can really only find in Christ?  Do I need to cease from striving and rest in grace?

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