Nehemiah - People, Praise and Promises


Today we will continue on with our series on Nehemiah.  We have journeyed with Nehemiah and those returning to Jerusalem.  Ezra succeeded in rebuilding the Temple and Nehemiah was able to repair and rebuild the walls and gates surrounding the city.  They overcame their fears and their enemies, worked hard and cried out to God in prayer.  The work on the walls and gates was completed in 52 days followed by a time of renewing their covenant with God.  This was a time of weeping and joy and more weeping as the people confessed, prayed and came into agreement as to how they should follow God in light of their situation; marriage concerns, obeying the Sabbath and financially taking care of God’s work.  

It has been quite the journey for us as well.  I was very blessed when we were able as a church to write our gifts and talents on our very own “Nehemiah Wall.”

This morning we will look at chapters 11 and 12 of Nehemiah and discover how the people gave themselves to God, how the shout of praise was heard and how important are promises.  

Let our People Arise (Neh 11 - 12:26)
One of the main messages of Christianity is this - people are important.  In Gen 1-2 we see the significance of Adam and Eve above the rest of creation.  The Garden of Eden was for their lifelong enjoyment however their pleasure was cut short by their disobedience and rebellion.  However God made it very clear that he put people first in the sending of his Son Jesus Christ to die for the sins of mankind.  

In Nehemiah’s situation, he also realized that people mattered.  Even though the temple was restored and the walls and gates of Jerusalem were made new, it was important that people live in the city of Jerusalem.  What is the point of all their hard work if people were not going to inhabit the city.  So by example, the Leaders along with Nehemiah were the first ones to settle in Jerusalem.  The rest of the communities surrounding Jerusalem cast lots to bring one family out of every ten to live in Jerusalem - 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 (Neh 11:1).

The remnant had returned to Jerusalem because God had a special purpose for them.  They were to dwell in the city and be part of reclaiming Israel’s destiny.  God needed living bodies to fill the homes, maintain the city and to be fruitful and multiply.  They were not simply taking up space but were an integral part of God’s plan and chosen by lot, in other words, chosen by God’s will.  Just being physically present is important to God, whether or not, you contribute in any significant way.  There were the people who were “drafted” so to speak and then there was the people who “volunteered” to help fill the city with future residents were serving God and the generations to come.  We are told they were commended, favoured, blessed by the people for their willingness to settle in Jerusalem - The people commended all the men who volunteered to live in Jerusalem (Neh 11:2).

Jerusalem had suffered from years of wars and opposition from their enemies.  God had sent them into captivity and now God was restoring their land.  However, as in any war of attrition, victory is fully seen when the people begin to resettle the cities and begin to enjoy a level of abundant life once again.  The remnant was now home in Jerusalem.  Nehemiah then goes onto record the list of those leaders and families who settled in Jerusalem.  

As we began our study in Nehemiah I mentioned the importance of all the people who served with their various gifts and talents.  All of the people now inhabiting Jerusalem brought their strengths to serve God and each other.  Rom 12:1 states, 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.  We know that Paul goes onto list various gifts of the Spirit present in the Body of Christ; prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading and showing mercy.  God utilizes many different people with a variety of gifts to get his work done.  

In Nehemiah’s situation there were people needed in the service of the Temple.  There were people who could continue to rebuild the house within the city.  They needed watchmen on the walls and gatekeepers to direct traffic, so to speak.  There were those who were to guard the city, the Temple and its well-being.  It took many people, with unique individual skills, to help keep the city of Jerusalem safe and thriving.

Let our Praise arise (Neh 12:27-43)
The story now picks up where Neh 11:2 left off, after Nehemiah completed to list all the people involved in the resettling of Jerusalem.  We have seen in previous chapters the great amount of work required in rebuilding Jerusalem.  The people were working on the walls and around the gates with a shovel in one hand and a sword in the other.  Now with the walls completed Nehemiah directs “worshipers” to station themselves on the walls, play their musical instruments and sing… 

At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The singers also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem (Neh 12:27-28).  This dedication probably takes place within a month or two of the completion of the wall.
Warren Wiersbe states, “The people had been dedicated (Neh 8–10); now it was time to dedicate the work that the people had done. This is the correct order, for what good are dedicated walls and gates without dedicated people?”
Nehemiah, cup-bearer, visionary leader, governor, warrior, now becomes the worship director.  I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks (Neh 12:31); Ezra led one of the choirs and Nehemiah the other.  It is most likely the choirs started out from the Valley Gate; Ezra heading towards the Dung Gate and Nehemiah the opposite direction.  Both groups would have ended at the East Gate which was the entrance towards the Temple.  In this passage the emphasis was on joyful praise; singing (8 times), thanksgiving (6 times), rejoicing (7 times) and musical instruments (3 times).
Why would Ezra and Nehemiah organize such an extraordinary time of praise?  A dedication involves a time of celebration and enthusiasm.  The walls and gates, now finished, were tangible and could literally be touched by the people; praise to God was an appropriate action.  As well, this dedication was testifying of God’s faithfulness and provision in his plans and purposes.  It was a joyous time of declaring the greatness of God before everyone including the enemies of Jerusalem. 
By following Nehemiah’s directions the people encircled Jerusalem seeing the outcome of their hard work.  They sang, gave thanks, rejoiced, played their instruments and step by step celebrated what God had accomplished.  They walked together side by side looking towards God for the greater vision concerning Jerusalem. 
When they finally came to the Temple - “they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away” (Neh 12:43).  The dedication was not a time for quiet worship but a time of declaring God’s praise loudly so that everyone could hear…  The dedication involved not just the “worship team”, so to speak, but everyone, men, women and the children. 
This reminds me of Hebrews 13:15 - Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.  We must never let the ministry of worship leaders to take the place of our praise to the Lord.  If we do, our gathering together simply becomes a concert whereby we are entertained in the “name of the Lord”.

Let our Promises Arise (Neh 12:44-47)
The Scriptures are full of promises that encourage and strengthen us as we follow the ways of the Lord.   Now we see in the Book of Nehemiah the people fulfilling their promises and vows to God.  Back in Chapter 10 the people covenanted to obey God in three ways:
Submission to God’s Word
Separation from the ways of the world in the area of Marriage and the Sabbath.
Support for the House of God.

On this day of dedication the people end their journey at the Temple.  This was a perfect reminder for them to remain true to the promises they had made earlier, especially towards the upkeep of the Temple Ministries.  

We are told at that time - men were appointed to be in charge of the storerooms for the contributions, firstfruits and tithes. From the fields around the towns they were to bring into the storerooms the portions required by the Law for the priests and the Levites, for Judah was pleased with the ministering priests and Levites (Neh 12:44).  We discover here that Nehemiah made sure there was some order with regards to the contribution, tithes and offerings made towards the Temple.  We are told that the people fulfilled their promises because they were “pleased with the ministering priests and Levites”.  This tells me that the leaders within the Temple ministry were conducting themselves with integrity, not fulfilling their own dreams but seeking to bring true praise and glory to God.  Their Temple Worship was in obedience to the directions given by David and Solomon and Asaph (Neh 12:45-46).

As a result of the integrity of the leaders, the celebration and the dedication and their great joy, people brought ample supplies to sustain the work of ministry. 
In Conclusion
The Book of Nehemiah offers a combination of both practical and spiritual values to be put into action today.  We can never underestimate the importance of the gifts and talents of the people connected to Christian ministry.  For every upfront leader there are many support workers behind the scenes.  Our gifts and talents are really spiritual sacrifices to the Lord.  We must learn how to serve one another in the right spirit so as to be a sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God (Phil 4:18). 

The church can arise to a new level maturity when the people praise God.  People and praise open the doors to a greater ministry of the Holy Spirit in their midst.  We are reminded that “the  kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17).  We see from Nehemiah that there was great praise resulting in great joy for the people.  

Lastly, Nehemiah’s people gave towards the musicians and singers as well as the Levites taking care of the Temple.  As we bring our material gifts to the Lord, we must also give ourselves to God.  In the New Testament, Paul commended the churches of Macedonia because they “they gave themselves first to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5), before they shared in the missionary offering he was receiving for the needy believers in Jerusalem.  Our financial gifts cannot be a substitute for ourselves.  

The people joining in this day of dedication celebrated with great joy and gave themselves towards the ministry of the Temple.  This was a day of revival, so to speak, and brought great encouragement to the people of Jerusalem.  

I believe there is a longing within the hearts of God’s people for a continual experience of God’s presence.  I would call this a lifestyle of revival. We need to value the people of God in our midst and arise with praise in our hearts and be committed in our generosity towards God’s work and his people.  

Let’s pray for God’s work to continue in our lives and congregation…