“We Will Not Neglect The House Of Our God”
Nehemiah 10:39b-11:36 (10:39b-11:4)
Key verse 10:39b
“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
What Nehemiah was given to do by God was nearly impossible. But he served his mission well. The wall had been built. Worship had been restored to the people. The people had finally gathered to listen to the word of God. in the word of God they heard what they had never heard before. They heard the law God had passed down to Moses. They heard how their ancestors had violated the Law of God. How they had sinned against God, and how God had disciplined them by sending a nation against them to conquer them and to take them into exile. They also heard how God had promised that he would bring them back home to reestablish them as a nation. They themselves were that nation which God had promised to restore. And when they had acknowledged their ancestors’ sins and their sins before God, they had repented and made some serious decisions of faith to obey and to follow the word of God. In the last chapter, Nehemiah recounts to us what decisions the people had made to obey and to follow the word of God. One of the decisions of faith they had seriously made were these last words of chapter 10. “We will not neglect the house of God.”
Neglecting the house of God had been a very serious matter in the life of the nation Israel, the nation God himself had born to himself so many generations ago. Ever since God called Abraham to leave his country, and people and his father’s household and to go to the promised land, God had in mind to build a people for himself, a people God would build up into a nation that would serve his world redemptive purpose. In other words, God wanted to build a people he would call his own, and through whom he would reach the world with his words and hope for salvation. And God build up for himself a nation out of them. And he called them his very own people. And he helped them build in their midst a place for himself where he would dwell with them. It was the “House of God”. It was the most holy place not only among them but in the whole world because it was the place where God chose to dwell in order to make his presence known to them as well as to the people of the whole world.
The “House of God” also called the “Temple” became a symbol of God’s presence among his people. God dwelled there, and throughout the generations he accepted sacrifices there in his house in order to atone for their sins. How precious was that one place on earth that symbolically was the place where God’s people could come and atone for their sins and pray to God. it was a privilege unlike any privilege any other peoples on earth ever had or could imagine, for the loving God— unlike any other— dwelled with his people and communed with them as they communed with him. But somehow, many times throughout history and their life as a people of God, they had neglected this house of God. And in many cases they even abandoned the house of God for other things that seemed to them more precious and more important than God’s house and presence among them.
Whenever they were in distress God and his house was the single most important place for them. But whenever they were content and their lives were peaceful and prosperous, they had abandoned the house of God. Recently they had once again abandoned God and the house of God, and they were conquered and the house of God was demolished by their enemies. And they were taken into exile. It is only natural and upon their return, their hearts once again went out to God and to his house. They built up the house of God even before they built the walls and they longed once again to have God Almighty dwell among them. And now that the walls were built and the house of God stood there empty, they longed to fill it with the same life it once had in the past in the times of their father David. In the previous chapters that we studied, they had succeeded in calling out to service all those who were associated with the house of God— the priests and the Levites, the singers and the musicians and all those who were lawful servants to serve the house of God. And they had decided firmly that they would be careful to keep the house of God equipped for service. They had vowed to tithe properly and to bring in the sacrifices that the house of God would need in order to celebrate worship. They wanted to make sure that God Almighty be pleased with them and visit them and dwell with them. Of all the decisions of faith they had made at the time to obey and follow the word of God, the decision to not neglect the house of God was most urgent. They stood there and vowed to God that they would not neglect the house of God. It was a decision not to neglect the word of God. It was a decision not to neglect God himself. It was a decision not welcome God into their midst all over again.
The house of God had always been the one most precious place in the world because it symbolized the presence of God with his people. The last physical house of God had been rebuilt some years before the advent of our Lord Jesus. And demolished after the ascension of our Lord Jesus to heaven after his glorious death and resurrection. That house of God, or temple was completely destroyed never to rise again when the Romans sacked Jerusalem and quelled the rebellion of the Jewish people. But sacking the temple that time did not end the dwelling of God with his people. It did not end the hope that God would dwell with his people— with those whom he loves and has called his own. Actually the house of God or the temple grace ended the moment our Lord Jesus declared these timeless words: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days.” (John 2:19) These words revolutionized the concept of the temple and house of God once for all. When Jesus declared “destroy this temple” he was declaring the old temple obsolete and the new temple— himself— as the temple through which men and women would now come and commune with God. Jesus declared himself the New Temple, the new house of God whereby the people of grace can come and have fellowship with God.
The new temple— Jesus— is the one and only way in which any man or woman, can come to God. It does not eliminate the necessity of having a house of God where God’s people can come to commune with one another and with God. God’s people need a place to get together and worship God. But the whole concept of house of God changes whereby we have a temple through whom we come to God and he — Jesus — is sitting now at the right hand of God and interceding for us his people. However, the house of God and temple are still as meaningful as it ever was in the days of Nehemiah when people vowed not to neglect the house of God any longer. As Christians we have a privilege of having a house of God, a symbolic place where we worship, where we come before God as a body to pray and to serve him. As Christians we glory that there is a body of believers who constitute a house of God, where all of God’s children can come to be loved and served and to healed of the wounds the world inflicts on them. the house of God is as important in our lives as it was in the times when Nehemiah’s returned exiles vowed to upkeep it for the sake of having an anchor and a place from which we can lift our voices to God in prayer and where we can share his words with each other and the world.
No one has described the house of God, or the church, as saint Paul did in his letter to Timothy, giving it the best description of all time. He says: “God’s household, the church of the living God.” (1 Tim. 3:15) These are indeed timeless words that give us an understanding of how God dwelling place, the church in the new testament, in the age of grace. The church, the house of God, is not only the dwelling place of God and the abode of all his children— it is God’s household. It is God’s family. The house of God is God’s family, getting together in order to fulfill the Lord’s will, in order to listen to his word, in order to do what God the Father would do for his suffering children. It is a place we cannot ever dare neglect because in neglecting the house of God, we neglect God and his household. How precious a description this is for today’s house of God, God’s household. God would have us be a family. Loving each other. Serving God and each other. Taking care of the house and the household of the Lord, who sacrificed his very life in order to purchase this family for himself. When we view the house of God with the eyes of God, we too realize how important it is for us to view it in the same way. When we do, we then can recommit ourselves to taking care of the household of God with love and with awe and respect.
Nehemiah’s returned exiles truly made a heart decision not to neglect the house of God. And one of the first decisions they made to carry our their vow not to neglect the house of God, is to call people to serving the house of God sacrificially. In the last chapter Nehemiah tells us that the people decided to financially support and house of God. In this chapter he tells us that they needed to support the house of God by physically being there. It is one thing to sacrifice to God with one’s own material possessions, and a completely different thing to sacrifice with one’s own self. Look at what they had done. Read 11:1-2. “Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem, and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”
The people had vowed to not neglect the house of God. They had vowed to support the house of God with their tithes and offerings. But if there is no one to physically take care of the house of God, all the offerings and tithes may come to nothing. God was rebuilding the nation. The walls of the city were rebuilt. The house of God was rebuilt. But there were not many people willing to actually live in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the heart of the nation. So without a heart, the nation cannot be a nation. People needed to come and settle in the city of Jerusalem in order for the life of nation to begin. But it seems that there were not many willing to live in Jerusalem. Yet there were some who made a decision of faith to settle in Jerusalem without being told to do so. Their sacrifice was truly great. They may have needed to give up lands and property in the vicinity of Jerusalem or in the towns they used to live in. But they sacrificed in order to move to Jerusalem— the city of God. And even with their sacrifices, it was not enough to repopulate the city. So they resorted to divine lot to choose one of every ten people or families to move to Jerusalem. They cast lots and those on whom the lot fell, became the ones who moved to Jerusalem by divine will of God. Repopulating Jerusalem, was perhaps not a not a strategic move, but a spiritual one. In verse 1, Nehemiah calls the city of Jerusalem, the holy city of Jerusalem. It was holy because it was the city of God. it was holy because God would dwell there in his temple. It was holy mostly because it was the heart of a nation God was rebuilding in order to bring about one of the most holy events of history— the coming of his Son, the Savior— our Lord Jesus.
Sacrificing materially in support of the work of God is not only God given, but also commendable. However God requires that we sacrifice not only our materials but ourselves in doing God’s work. Giving of what we have is not enough and cannot be justified in the end. God requires that every one of his children sacrifice themselves in Gospel history. For this reason Paul tells the church, the household of God, God’s people who are called by Holy Spirit grace these words in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God— this is your spiritual act of worship.” These words teach us that God would have us offer our bodies, our selves, in the work of God. And he calls it sacrifice because God knows that giving of ourselves to the work of God is not easy. It is a sacrifice. It is a sacrifice worth making because in the long run, the work of God cannot be done only by offering of our materials to God, but by participating in the work of God ourselves. In history the work of God had always been done by those willing to give of themselves to the work. The work of up-keeping the house of God, the work of serving the needs of others, the work of helping the helpless, the work of church building— all need that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices.
Jerusalem needed to be repopulated. There were many volunteers. But there weren’t enough. They had to cast divine lot and pray for God’s intervention to choose those who would physically move to the holy city. The words of verse 2 tell us how precious it was that volunteers were willing to offer their bodies as living sacrifices, rather than be told the will of God: “The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.”
If we review the rest of the chapter and a large part of the next chapter as well, chapter 12, we see countless names. These names were the names of mostly those who settled in Jerusalem, the volunteers as well as those chosen by divine lot. We also find the names of those who had some special position or mission among the people. We wonder how meticulous Nehemiah was in recording the names of the people who settled in Jerusalem and of those with special mission. Name after name is recorded and preserved in the annals of the history of the Israelites who returned from the exile, and who eventually settled in the holy city— the very people who were the pioneers of this new nation God was rebuilding for his own glory. The list of names may have served many good purposes in the history of the Jewish people. But we cannot ignore the fact that it also reflects the heart and mind of God.
God Almighty is an orderly God, who also keeps records of many things. The Bible is a record of events from the Creation to Revelation which tells the story of God’s great love for all people, and especially of God’s greatest sacrifice of all which the Son of God— Jesus— fulfilled on the cross and in his resurrection. God is a God who keeps records, that is a certainly that most people do not know. We cannot ignore the record which says in Revelation 20:12-15, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books… If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” And again in Revelation 21:27, “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Surely God keeps records. And may he keep a record of our names in the book of life through faith in the sacrifice of his Son Jesus on our behalf.
The record of the names found in those chapters are the names of the pioneers who settled in Jerusalem especially, according to the will of God to take care of the city of God and the house of God. These were the name of the ancestors of faith, the ones who pioneered the land and returned even though it was so difficult to be uprooted from their land of exile where they had built lives and had businesses and where their children had grown, married and had children of their own. Yet, they had left the land of their comfort, and had come to rebuild the city of God, and to take care of the house of God. They were indeed the pioneers through whom God worked to rebuild his nation and to raise it again as a nation of faith leading to the advent of the Messiah. And they had served a good purpose. Even if their ancestors failed to welcome the Messiah and their city and temple ransacked again, we cannot ignore their sacrifice. God is still working through his Son, and through the Holy Spirit to draw men and women to himself, to invite them into his household and to make them his people. God is still working to bring the salvation of Christ to the hearts of all people. And he works through the church, through the church which is founded and rooted in the word of God, and who proclaims God’s grace to the world. And pioneers are still needed. And taking care of the house of God is still needed to fulfill this great purpose. May God give us hearts to do so— to be pioneers in being the first to volunteer to serve God even with our own lives. And may God also give us hearts to not neglect the house— which must always serve as a home for God’s children, whom God would call back to himself. Read 10:39b. “We will not neglect the house of our God.” Amen.