Friday, August 16, 2013

Taking Pride in Accomplishment

Scriptural Reading: Nehemiah 12:27-36, 38, 43
Devotional Reading: Psalm 96

There I was, sitting in the audience of a surprise 50th wedding anniversary. My friends, their daughters, invited me to come, and I was so happy that I did. When they arrived, the party was a surprise indeed to the couple. They were genuine in their accomplishment of fifty years of wedded bliss. Never did they expect someone to celebrate because they had accomplished the mark. They had taken their vows seriously. Now their children, family, and friends wanted them to know how the happy couples’ accomplishment had touched their lives. In the KJV it is stated at Mark 10:9, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder”. It is rephrased in the NKJV as follows, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate”. I am sure there had been obstacles thrown along the way, but God promised never to leave them (Heb 13:5). It was a beautiful celebration.

This quarter of study is entitled “God’s People Worship”. We are in Unit III – “Worshipping in Jerusalem Again (Nehemiah)” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of a four-lesson study of worship in Jerusalem after remnants of Israel returned home from exile in Babylon.

Nehemiah was the third great leader in the Jewish restoration to be included as a great leader with Zerubbabel and Ezra who were responsible for returning exiles and building and/or maintaining the Temple. He did not immediately return with the exiles due to his position as the king’s cupbearer, but he had a love for the home of his forefathers. His relative, Hanani, and others told him of the condition of the wall of Jerusalem. He was grief-stricken for the condition and security of his people (Neh 1-2). But God gave him the answer as to the walls of the city and the wisdom to cure the problem. King Artaxerxes sensed Nehemiah’s sorrow. This allowed Nehemiah to explain the reason and the king gave him what he requested; i.e. timber and letters for safe passage. The king also made him governor of Judah and sent soldiers to accompany and assist him while he supervised the people as they worked on the wall. After many obstructive attempts by the enemies, the wall was completed in fifty-two days (Neh 6:15).

In Neh 7:1-3 we find gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed after the wall was built. Nehemiah gave the charge of Jerusalem to his brother, Hanani, and Hananiah with instructions as to when to open the gates. Then he reviewed a registry of all persons who came out of captivity with Zerubbabel (Neh 7:4-73). The wall was built on the prior wall remains when the city was large, but the current population was few. In chapter 11 we see how Nehemiah and the people dealt with the problem of repopulating Jerusalem. Most of the returning remnant was from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.

Neh 8:1-10:39 deals with a great revival back to God under Ezra. They discovered feasts after hearing God’s Word read and explained to them, complied with the Word, confessed their sins when their hearts were convicted, and sealed a covenant unto God to change their wicked ways.

The security of the city, its repopulation, and the great revival of God’s people to dwell in and around Jerusalem were necessary before dedication of the walls. The city was holy (Ps 48:1-3) because God is her refuge and the walls are sacred. For this reason it had taken quite a bit of time after the completion of the walls before their dedication. It had to be a solemn occasion and there were many things that had to be set straight first. God always does things orderly, whether we know, agree, or understand it.

After the great revival everyone returned to their abode in and around Jerusalem until it was announced the time had come to dedicate the wall as declared at Neh 12:27, “Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps”. (NKJV) In the first twenty-six verses of Neh 12 is recorded the names of priests and Levites who returned to Jerusalem from captivity with Zerubbabel. The verses also indicate the genealogy of the priests and the names of the chief Levites. It is a written record of honor to the men who served God. At the time of dedication, some of these Levites were sought from their living abode to come to Jerusalem to promote a celebration of gladness or joy, thanksgiving, and singing with musical instruments (1 Chron 23:3-5)

It appears all the Levites were summoned and a purification process was held as declared at Neh 12:28-30, “And the sons of the singers gathered together from the countryside around Jerusalem, from the villages of the Netophathites, from the house of Gilgal, and from the fields of Geba and Azmaveth; for the singers had built themselves villages all around Jerusalem. Then the priests and Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, the gates, and the wall”. (NKJV) This was not an occasion where only the chief Levites participated. The sons of the singing Levites were available also. Although the Scripture does not mention it, but in the joy of the celebration in giving thanksgiving and glory to God I am sure they were assisting the congregation at some level. Some of their fathers were in the choirs on the wall (vs 31 below). We do know everyone participating had to be ceremonially cleansed. The priests and Levites purified themselves. Their hearts had to be purified. They had to be sanctified and set apart unto God to be acceptable by Him. Before they touched, consumed or said anything for God, this part of the purification process was a must for them. Then they proceeded with purifying the people. God’s people could not be receptive of His blessings if they were dirty vessels. They had to be set apart for God and cleansed. As for purifying the gates and the wall, they removed all the dirt and trash to make them acceptable unto God.

Nehemiah appointed the praise choirs of Levites to march on top of the wall as declared at Neh 12:31-37, “So I brought the leaders of Judah up on the wall, and appointed two large thanksgiving choirs, One went to the right hand on the wall toward the Refuse Gate. After them went Hoshaiah and half of the leaders of Judah, and Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah,, Jeremiah, and some of the priests’ sons with trumpets – Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph, and his brethren, Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah, and Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God. Ezra the scribe went before them. By the Fountain Gate, in front of them, they went up the stairs of the City of David, on the stairway of the wall, beyond the house of David, as far as the Water Gate eastward”. (NKJV) Sanballat, Tobiah, and their cohorts criticized the Israelites during the building process. They mocked that the completed wall would not hold the weight of a fox if they finished (Ne 4:1-3). Now the Israelites were thankful for its completion and were dedicating it to the Almighty Father, their Protector. They went up the stairs of the wall with Ezra leading the procession of leaders and choir. This thanksgiving group proceeded counterclockwise along the wall that was nine feet wide.

The second thanksgiving choir headed in the opposite direction and there was great joy in Jerusalem as declared in Neh 12:38, 40, 42b-43, “The other thanksgiving choir went the opposite way, and I was behind them with half of the people on the wall, going past the Tower of the Ovens as far as the Broad Wall, So the two thanksgiving choirs stood in the house of God, likewise I and the half of the rulers with me;…The singers sang loudly with Jezrahiah the director. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off”. (NKJV) The second choir was led by Nehemiah who proceeded clockwise around the wall. Then both choirs descended and went into the Temple, continuing to sing praises to God loudly. Great sacrifices were offered during the high praise ceremony. God had stood by them and they were thankful. They were joyful in their celebration because they had completed the task of rebuilding the holy city, not just the altar, the Temple or the wall. God had allowed them to rebuild their community. They had a reason to praise Him to be heard as far as all neighboring countries could hear their shouts of joy.

The children of Israel were sincere in their worship. Do we today become so bogged down in formality that we lose sight of the sincerity in our worship? Do we as believers understand that we must not undertake anything which is not dedicated to the Lord? It is declared at 2 Cor 7:1, “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”. (NKJV) If we put God first, we can take pride in our accomplishments.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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