Book of Nehemiah Chapter Ten Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Separation And Giving
Verses 1-27 contain a list of names, mostly not recognized now, but they were well known at the time, and especially, they, like you, are KNOWN, now and forever, by Almighty God: "Now on the sealed document were the names of: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, 4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8 Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah. These were the priests. 9 And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; 10 also their brothers Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. 14 The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluch, Harim, Baanah."
Would you like to be on a list of special people—perhaps like this one? Well, if you have faith in the Lord, you are on a very special list indeed. Those named made a pledge, an oath separating themselves and their families from the sins of this world, no longer relying on their own decisions, but instead upon God, who knows what He is doing. When you say "Yes" to the Lord Jesus Christ, it is an act of separation from this world. Trusting in Him, you not only receive God's benefits, including eternal life, forgiveness of sin and the gift of His Holy Spirit, but you also make a pledge of your life to Him. Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life for you, and you are to give yours to Him in return. It's not unlike being desperately poor, having almost nothing, and then comes a knock at the door. It's your rich Neighbor, with the incredible news that He is giving you everything He has, in exchange for all that you have. God gave you everything in Christ Jesus—an inheritance that lasts forever—and you give Him your life and perishing assets in return.
Verse 28 deals with those who are called "clergy," people who are intended to represent God to the people, and the people to God: "Now the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the law of God, their wives, their sons and their daughters, all those who had knowledge and understanding," and isn't it interesting to note that these are merely people like everybody else. During the years I taught in convalescent homes, there were inevitably those who called me "Reverend Ron," when making a point or asking a question. I had difficulty with it because the term "Reverend," for me, applies to God only and not to a human being. The idea continues to political leaders, such as those in Verse 29, who are also human beings like everybody else. It was reported about them that they, "are joining with their kinsmen, their nobles, and are taking on themselves a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law, which was given through Moses, God’s servant, and to keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes..."
These were people in God-given positions of authority who pledged to "keep and to observe all the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes..." That's amazing because a look into history and around the world makes it clear that people can't and often won't keep the Law of God. The Book of Romans examines the Law, and Romans 3:10 sums up our human abilities in relation to it with these words: "There is none righteous, no not one." That is God's perspective of humanity. If you want to know His expectations for you, read Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 and study the Ten Commandments. Paul the Apostle did exactly that, leading that very religious man who attempted to completely obey God's Law, to conclude about himself in Romans 7:24-25, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?" And then he shared in the verse that followed, Verse 25, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" What Paul could not do, what we can't do, God the Son did on the cross. He paid the price in His own blood, dying to save us from the penalty of the Law. His faithfulness is the only cure for the lawlessness that permeates all in humanity.
The people of Israel pledged to themselves, to one another and to God that they would be separate from the activities of the tribes and nations that surrounded them, as glimpsed in Verses 30-31: "and that we will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. 31 As for the peoples of the land who bring wares or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the sabbath or a holy day; and we will forego the crops the seventh year and the exaction of every debt." If you have faith in the Lord, it is a very good thing, for yourself and those around you. It includes a pledge to separate yourself from the sins of this world, which is difficult because of your inability to carry out the pledge. Only God is without sin, but mercifully there is a process within those who trust in the Lord, in which we find ourselves being delivered from the power of darkness, one sin at a time.
Part of that process is that we not only care for our own needs, but we also are increasingly drawn to help others, even those who are not close relatives, as in Verses 32-33: "We also placed ourselves under obligation to contribute yearly one third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the showbread, for the continual grain offering, for the continual burnt offering, the sabbaths, the new moon, for the appointed times, for the holy things and for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God." We begin to see that those who enter the ministry take the risk that commitment to God is also a vow of poverty, entrusting ourselves to Him to provide. And so we as clergy, contribute what is needed as led by God.
What can be done if you want to follow God, but don't personally know what it is to be led by Him? For many in Israel, the answer was in actions like the casting of "lots" in Verses 34-36: "Likewise we cast lots for the supply of wood among the priests, the Levites and the people so that they might bring it to the house of our God, according to our fathers’ households, at fixed times annually, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the law; 35 and that they might bring the first fruits of our ground and the first fruits of all the fruit of every tree to the house of the Lord annually, 36 and bring to the house of our God the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks as it is written in the law, for the priests who are ministering in the house of our God." The trust, the hope, was that God would take the "lots" and make the outcome His will, His choice. We look to the Lord in Scripture, in prayer, and to the leading of the Holy Spirit through faith in the Lord. The intention here was good, in that it was a pledge to do God's will to the best possible extent, and we today have an affirmative obligation to do His will also. We don't cast lots, but instead prayerfully look to Him who makes all outcomes become His will.
Verse 37: "We will also bring the first of our dough, our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the new wine and the oil to the priests at the chambers of the house of our God, and the tithe of our ground to the Levites, for the Levites are they who receive the tithes in all the rural towns." Proverbs 3:9-10, is a command similar to this verse in Nehemiah—we are to make the Lord's will our first priority. Before we buy food or pay our bills, we give to the work of the Lord, knowing that He who loves us will also provide, not only for the work, but also for our own needs as well. This is faith in action.
And those who receive the tithes are to give also. Receiving does not exempt us from giving, as in Verses 38-39: "The priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. 39 For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of the grain, the new wine and the oil to the chambers; there are the utensils of the sanctuary, the priests who are ministering, the gatekeepers and the singers. Thus we will not neglect the house of our God." Jesus promised in Luke 6:38, "Give and it shall be given to you..." If you are drawn to give, do it, trusting that He who prompts you to do it will distribute it appropriately and also provide for you.
Father, we long to do Your will. We confess that we have failed in many ways, if not in our actions, then certainly in our thoughts. We confess our sins and place our trust in You. Please show us the way we should go, and help us to do it. In Jesus Name. Amen.