I read the book of Nehemiah tonight. It has brought me to tears. Our church is reading through the Bible, sort of--actually a book called The Story, which is a summary of the Bible that includes actual Bible text and some fill-in commentary. We are at the end of the Old Testament, the story of God loving His people, the Israelites.
The last several weeks have been a little sad. The theme has been similar--God calls His people to obedience. They disobey. They suffer. They come back to Him. Then they get sidetracked. He calls them back again. They refuse. They suffer. They come back. And so on.
Nehemiah is the story of the Israelites finally coming back to Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple that was destroyed by their enemies. God told them to because it was important to Him for them to worship Him in a special place, in special ways that He set out for them.
When they finished, the built a special podium and one of the priests stood up high so everyone could see, and he read from the book of God. As the people listened, they fell on their faces and wept with grief. How discouraging it must have been to hear about their family constantly disappointing the God of the universe! But Nehemiah told them not to cry, but to worship! So they lifted their hands and they worshiped.
As the Book was read, they realized that they were supposed to be doing things they had completely forgotten about, so they committed (again) to doing what God asked of them as completely as possible. It was time for the Feast of Tabernacles, and they were supposed to gather palm branches and make tents to live in for those 7 days. Which is exactly what they did! And here's the beautiful part. When they put themselves into the posture of obedience, they were happier than ever! Overwhelmed with joy!
They couldn't get enough, so they worshiped and they re-told their story, this time making an edict that they would obey, and everyone signed it. They kicked out the foreigners whose hearts did not belong to God--so that they could stay true to their commitments. Nehemiah was wise to acknowledge the reality of their past, that foreign women led to worshiping foreign gods and ultimately to their demise (but never without hope for redemption!).
So many thoughts come to mind. First, I have told my precious little children in Bible class hundreds of times--God blesses obedience. If we choose disobedience, there will always be negative consequences, but if we choose to obey, we will be blessed. Bless their hearts, the Israelites have come back to that truth, praise God! (I know they will stray again, but let's celebrate the moment with them in Nehemiah!)
Second, as a mom, how committed am I to truly following God's design for my family? Am I allowing "foreigners" to infiltrate our life and affect our devotion to our God? Who (or what) needs to be kicked out? Side note here: I am struggling with my 5-year old boy who seems to be getting more and more disrespectful and angry. Is it tv? video games? preschoolmates? Or is it completely unrelated to his surroundings?
Third, if God liked having a special place of worship for His people to come to then, is that still true now? Are church buildings supposed to be that? Or does New Law dissolve the significance of "houses of worship" and elevate the significance of our bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit? Have I taught my kids to view our "house of worship"--church building--as a special place to honor God in special ways? They have a lot of fun in that building, but is it holy? Is it supposed to be?
I want to hear what God is telling me through Nehemiah. Until tonight I could have summed up my knowledge of that book as follows: Nehemiah helped rebuild the wall, and the verse, "The joy of the LORD is your strength."
By the way, near the end of the book (maybe around ch. 10? Don't have my Bible in front of me), there is an excellent summary of the story of the Old Testament.
May the joy of the LORD be our strength!