Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 26 2019 - Nehemiah 10:28-39 – Renewed commitment

In the previous chapter we read of the rehearsal of Israel's history before the assembly of all the people, through which they were reminded of God's faithfulness towards them despite their frequent rebellions against him. They acknowledged God's justice in the destruction of Jerusalem and in the exile. Now they have returned and the city and temple have been rebuilt, but in one sense the exile is still not over; they remain subject to the authority of a foreign king and feel like slaves in their own land, forced to work for the prosperity of others.

At the end of chapter nine we read the people's determination to bind themselves by a written agreement. Disobedience resulted in exile – an exile that is still not over; perhaps obedience will lead to freedom from foreign oppression, unfettered freedom to serve the Lord their God.

Chapter ten lists those who signed the agreement, beginning with Nehemiah. Today's reading then gives the contents of the document, beginning with a solemn "oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord" (v. 29). This is followed by a series of specific promises of obedience:

The people promise not to allow intermarriage with foreigners who do not worship the Lord their God; they promise to observe the weekly Sabbath and the seven year land Sabbath; they will make the required regular contributions for the support of the temple and its sacrifices, including the offering of firstfruits at harvest time and the firstborn of their flocks and herds. The Levites also vowed to perform their duties by lot in the temple, and the people promised to pay their tithes to the Levites to support them in their work. They will not neglect the house of God.

We can be impressed by this renewed and united desire on the part of the returned exiles to be scrupulously obedient to God's law. No doubt they fully intended to keep their promises and to be the people God called them to be. But a determination to do better is not enough. We know this from our own experience. Law does not have the power to transform the heart.

We can see how this covenant made in the days of Nehemiah led eventually to the Pharisees in the time of the New Testament. They also were a people acutely aware that the exile was not really over; they were slaves in their own land, subject to foreign powers – this time the Roman Empire. They also believed that, as disobedience had led to God giving them over to servitude, detailed obedience would lead to God setting them free. The Pharisees, in their zeal to be obedient to the Law, expanded and applied it to every detail of daily life – lists of what you could and could not do on the Sabbath, the necessity of tithing even the least of the herbs in your garden etc. They not only determined to observe these laws for themselves, they determined also to impose them on others. In seeking to escape slavery to foreign oppression they imposed a slavery to Law.

The apostle Paul, previously Saul the Pharisee, discovered that Jesus Christ alone can give freedom. He frees us from the condemnation of the Law by bearing the full weight of its judgment in his own death upon the cross. He frees us from the power of sin by his resurrection from the dead. By his Spirit poured out into our hearts, he enables us to live a life of obedience that the Law was powerless to deliver (see Romans 8:1-4).

Father God, thank you that in the Lord Jesus you have set us free to live as your redeemed people. Help us to rejoice in that freedom and not to allow ourselves to be bound again by all manner of human restrictions. Help us to live and walk by the direction, wisdom and power of your Spirit so that our lives may become increasingly conformed to the beautiful character we see in your Son. May our lives and words speak powerfully into a world of those seeking to live by their own desires and their own power. May many be drawn out of slavery to self to find freedom in Christ.

Peter Misselbrook