“Because of all this we are entering into a binding covenant in written form; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests have affixed their names on the sealed document.” Nehemiah 9:38
The reading and teaching of God’s law exposed how far the Israelites had strayed from God’s commands, they responded by confessing their sins and now they renew their covenant with God which reveals their genuine repentance. They write an agreement which their leaders sign and the remaining Israelites swear an oath to follow God’s commands in these specific areas. This is not a new covenant with new laws; the Israelites are renewing the Covenant that God made with them and their ancestors at Mount Sinai.
They agree that they would do the following things:
- They will not marry their sons and daughters to non-Jewish neighbors (10:30),
- They will observe the Sabbath (10:31),
- They will observe every seventh year as a Sabbath year for the land and debts (10:31),
- They will pay the Temple tax (10:32, 33),
- They will supply wood for the burnt offerings in the Temple (10:34),
- They will pay their tithe to the Temple (10:35-38).
“If God’s chosen people were going to witness for him in a pagan world, they needed united, God-fearing families. They also needed to avoid any enticements to worship the idols of the people who lived around them. This was why God prohibited marriage between Israelites and the pagan inhabitants of the land. But Israelites and pagans often intermarried anyway, and the results were disastrous for the families and for the nation. Time after time, marrying foreigners led God’s people into idolatry. Whenever the nation turned its back on God, it also lost its prosperity and influence for good”. LIFE Application
“When you drift in a boat you often don’t even notice that you have moved. It is so easy for us to drift from walking in the light of God’s truth”. The Israelites had drifted away from God’s commands; they like their ancestors made marriage alliances with their pagan neighbors and did not realize how far they were from God’s intended purpose. This was also true about the Sabbath observance; one of the consequences of Israel’s sin was that they no longer had control over who lived and operated in the province. Their non-Jewish neighbors brought their goods into Jerusalem to sell on the Sabbath, the Israelites were tempted to participate to both buy and sell on the Sabbath. God set up the Sabbath as a reminder of His special relationship with the Israelites; they were to behave differently than the nations that surrounded them. This is a visible sign, the Sabbath rest, which reflected the image and character of God. God set a rhythm of life in creation and His people should adopt this same rhythm in their work and rest.
“The promise to stop the sin of trading inside the city on the Sabbath was an application of the fourth commandment. The people recognized that the lure of money would conflict with the need for a day of rest, keeping the Sabbath holy. By deciding to honor God first, the Israelites would be refusing to make money their god. Our culture often makes us choose between convenience and profit on the one hand, and putting God first on the other. Look at your work and worship habits: Is God really first?” LIFE Application
God’s Sabbath command was that no one was to work on the 7th day of the week, because God set that day apart as holy. Notice how different this was to the pagans around them, everyone rested, even their sons and daughters, their servants and their animals. This rhythm of work and rest that God built into creation was not just another day off, it is a day for worship and to remember the goodness of God. The Sabbath was both a command and a gift. Jesus reminds of this gift saying, “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath. For this reason the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
“We exhale all week long as we give of ourselves to our jobs, families, and other responsibilities. When we practice a rhythm of Sabbath restfulness, we inhale rest, joy, and delight, and we exhale tension, worry, and grief”. The Foundry Publishing blog
Here’s some ideas for Sabbath practices, surrender to God your worries; exhale your worry, inhale God’s peace. Celebrate you accomplishments, exhale your to do list, leave that list for the next day. Enjoy your day, do the things that refresh you, that promote peace and fill your time with those you love.
The Israelites also committed to apply the Sabbath rest to the land that God gave them. “We will let the fields lie fallow every seventh year, and we will cancel every loan”. These limitations make us nervous, but God provided for the land as well as the people. He commanded that every 7th year the land must lie fallow, but He also promised that they could eat from the land and that He would provide for their needs during this Sabbath year.
Additionally, the Jews were to cancel the outstanding debts of their fellow Jews in the 7th year. God’s plan was that the Israelites would keep short accounts with their fellow Jews; this would prohibit unending generational debt that would force them to sell their children into slavery. It also kept the tribal lands in the possession of the Israelites that God gave as an inheritance. God promised that if they carefully followed His commandments, “there should not be any poor among you, for the LORD will surely bless you in the land that he is giving you as an inheritance.”
“Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years”. Leviticus 25:18-21
The Israelites also promised to pay the Temple tax of a third of a shekel each year; this was the funds that the Levites used to maintain the Bread on the table of Presence, for making various offerings, for celebrating monthly and annual festivals and for their other duties. The Israelites also promised to supply the needed wood for the sacrifices which burned continually.
The Israelites promised to bring their first-fruits of the land, every fruit tree, grain harvest, olive oil press and wine, to the Temple as an offering to the LORD. The first tenth of the harvest, the best and the sweetest was dedicated to God; also the firstborn of their sons, the cattle and their flocks belonged to the LORD.
“This practice was instituted at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. The people needed to relearn the importance of dedicating the first part of their yield to God. Nehemiah was simply reinstating this practice from the early days of the nation. Although this principle was not carried over to New Testament times, the concept of giving God the first portion of our time, treasure, and talent still remains”. LIFE Application
The priests and Levites collected the tithe from the Israelites, and from that collection they tithed one tenth to the Temple of the LORD, to the storerooms and treasury. The remainder of the harvest collection was for the Levites, priests and their families to eat, this was their wages for their service in the Temple.
“There, then, are the goals for successful living. That is what both Testaments teach us. Let me review them quickly for you:
Marry in the faith. Do not choose a mate who does not know the Lord. Learn to work and live out of rest. Learn that God will pick up what you do and use it far greater than you were able to do. Expect him to do so and rest on that fact. Do not strain or worry, and feel it all depends on you to produce success. Frequently remind yourself of the cost of your redemption. Do not forget the precious blood of Jesus. We are all sinners by nature. We have not done anything that can make us acceptable to God, but we have acceptance because of the blood of Jesus. Daily remember that you are not your own. We are responsible to the Lord to follow His guidelines, to obey His words, and to honor him. Support the ministry out of gratitude — do so out of a sense of blessing and thanksgiving. And, finally, do not neglect meeting with others for mutual support, worship and prayer. That is the way to make a success of the Christian life. How wonderfully practical it is!” JOY of Living notes on Nehemiah 10