Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14

Read Genesis 19, Nehemiah 8, Matthew 14 today. This devotional is about Nehemiah 8.

There are (roughly) three kinds of sermons:

  • Topical: A topical sermon is one where the preacher chooses a topic, studies that topic from all the relevant scripture passages, then organizes the sermon as he sees fit and delivers it. Topical sermons usually reference many different passages from the Bible. In my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical.
  • Textual: A textual message happens when the preacher takes one verse (usually) which provides the main point (Big Idea) of the message. Sometimes one or more points of the message is also drawn from the same verse as the Big Idea. But other passages of scripture are brought in to develop the Big Idea. I don’t do a lot of textual preaching but my series on prayer titled How to Talk So that God Will Listen has several textual messages. In that series, each line of the Lord’s Prayer provides the Big Idea like, “Our Father in heaven,” but I went to other scripture passages to explain what the Bible says about God as Father.
  • Expository: An expository message is about one passage of scripture, usually an entire paragraph of scripture. The paragraph that is chosen provides most, if not all,  the biblical content for the sermon–the Big Idea, the main points, the sub-points, and so on are all drawn from the same paragraph and are explained in the message. Preachers often quote or reference other scripture passages in an expository sermon, but those quotes/references are used to clarify, explain, illustrate, or apply the truth in the main paragraph of scripture.

Most of my preaching is expository. Even in a series or message that is topical, I will usually spend extended time in the message in one passage of scripture. I wrote above that in my series, God: Who Is He, most of the messages were topical. That is true; however, my message on God’s eternality is mostly an exposition of Psalm 90. And the series I’ve done preaching through Genesis, Luke, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and many other books are all examples of expository messages. They go paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse, explaining and applying God’s word until every passage in that book has been explained and applied.

What does any of this have to do with Nehemiah 8? Consider:

At the end of Nehemiah 7, which we read yesterday, verse 73 told us that “When the seventh month came….” but the end of that sentence is here in Nehemiah 8 which we read today. What happened in “the seventh month” (7:73) is that “all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.”

Why did they do this? Because they were celebrating the Feast of Trumpets which is commanded in Leviticus 23:23-25 to happen “on the first day of the seventh month” (Lev 23:24b). Leviticus 23 doesn’t say much about this feast. All it commands is “trumpet blasts” (Lev 23:24c), “a day of sabbath rest” (Lev 23:24b) and “a food offering to the LORD” (Lev 23:25).

As the people observed this festival, they wanted to hear God’s word. So they asked Ezra to read the scripture to them. Verse 3 here in Nehemiah 7 told us that “he read it aloud.” But verses 7-8 told us that he and other Levites did two more things in addition to reading God’s word aloud:

  1. They translated the Hebrew text into Aramaic which was the common spoken language of God’s people at that time. The phrase, “making it clear” in verse 8b refers to that translation.
  2. They explained the passages they were reading. The phrase, “giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read” in verse 8c refers that explanation.

What they were doing was, in basic form, expository preaching. They read the text and then explained it.

This is what I try to do in every message I preach: read God’s word, then explain it. I also try to apply it and that happened, too, in verses 13-18.

Why do I preach this way? Because it feeds God’s people. When a true believer hears God’s word read, explained, and apply, they are nourished in their faith and in the truth of God’s word.

Topical and textual messages have their place; when they are done properly, they teach God’s word, too. But the paragraph by paragraph, verse by verse teaching of God’s word is what God’s people need to grow. They needed it here in Nehemiah after they returned to Jerusalem from exile.

You and I need it, too. So come to our Sunday assemblies hungry for truth and ready to be taught God’s word. It’s the best thing for you and your faith.

Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, Matthew 9

Today read Genesis 12, Nehemiah 1, and Matthew 9. This devotional is about Nehemiah 1.

The last sentence we read in Nehemiah 1 was, “I was cupbearer to the king.” This sentence is a key piece of information for understanding what is happening in this passage of scripture.

  1. It explains why Nehemiah was “in the citadel of Susa” (v. 1c). Verses 2-4 demonstrate how much Nehemiah cared about Jerusalem, so what was he doing in Susa–the capital of Persia? The answer is that during the exile Nehemiah had been elevated to a key cabinet position in the Persian government. Like Daniel before him, God had put Nehemiah in a humanly-strategic place.
  2. It explains why Nehemiah was in a position to assist and lead Jerusalem but that comes in later chapters in this book. Nehemiah was in a position of trust serving the most powerful man in his region. This position at first made Nehemiah feel like it was impossible to leave and return to Jerusalem but later, as we’ll see, he came to understand that it gave him a unique opportunity to serve God.

What is most impressive in this chapter, however, is Nehemiah’s prayer in verses 4-11. Nehemiah was personally interested in the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the re-formation of Judah as a nation. Once he heard that project was not going well and that his Jewish brothers were exposed to danger, he was emotionally devastated (v. 4). He dealt with that devastation by calling out to God for help.

Notice that his call to God for help was layered with Biblical truth. Note:

  • Nehemiah described God biblically in verse 5, calling him by his covenant name LORD (YHWH) and describing him as “God of heaven,” “great and awesome,” and covenant-keeping.
  • Nehemiah echoed the words of Solomon. Nehemiah’s “let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night” in verse 6 sounds a lot like Solomon’s prayer dedicating the temple in 2 Chronicles 6:40: “Now, my God, may your eyes be open and your ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”
  • Nehemiah confessed his sins and the sins of his nation (vv. 6-7).
  • Nehemiah quoted Moses to God (vv. 8-9) including the promise that He would restore his people to the promised land if they repented.

Only then did Nehemiah ask God to fulfill these promises of his word (v. 11).

God loves to hear his word prayed back to him. When we repeat God’s promises back to him in prayer and call on him to keep those promises to us, we are showing our faith. It shows that we have internalized God’s word–we haven’t just read it but we recieve it for our souls and believe it to be true.

Praying God’s word and promises back to him also demonstrates that we believe God really exists and that he can and will do what he promised. That glorifies God in ways that only true faith can.

So, what are you praying for? Are your requests biblical in the sense that they tie directly to what is important to God? Are you reminding God of his word and asking him to deliver on his promises? This is the kind of prayer that God is pleased to hear and answer.

Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23

Today’s readings are Genesis 24, Nehemiah 13, Psalm 23.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 13.

Nehemiah was a real jerk. At least, that’s how other people probably regarded him. He insisted on obedience to God’s word. When he found out that others were letting disobedience slide, Nehemiah reacted strongly and emotionally. Consider these incidents:

  1. When a priest allowed one of God’s enemies to have a big apartment in the temple, Nehemiah personally carried his belongings out and threw them on the front lawn (v. 8). When he found out that God’s servants weren’t being paid, Nehemiah called out the civic leaders and made them pay up (vv. 10-12), even designating some stand-up guys to be responsible for this in the future (v. 13).

  2. When he learned that non-Jews who lived in Jerusalem were selling stuff on Saturday (the Sabbath), Nehemiah “rebuked the nobles of Judah” (v. 17), stopped the city gates from opening so that nothing could come in for sale (v. 19) and threatened to arrest those who still came hoping to sell (vv. 20-22).

  3. When he found out that men of Judah had married foreign wives, he “rebuked them and called curses down on them… beat some of the men and pulled out their hair “(v. 25)!

Yep, he was a jerk if it was your hair that he was pulling out. The thing is, he had scriptural reasons for everything he did. He also had some anxiety about it. I say that because of these repeated statements:

  • “Remember me for this, my God, and do not blot out what I have so faithfully done for the house of my God and its services” (v. 14).
  • “Remember me for this also, my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love” (v. 22b).
  • “Remember them, my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites” (v. 29).
  • “Remember me with favor, my God” (v. 31b).

If you want to live a godly life, you will be forced to choose, at times, either (a) to say nothing in order to preserve your reputation and likability or (b) to speak up about sin and be thought a jerk. When Nehemiah asked God to remember him after these incidents, he is showing us the human side of doing what is right. He paid a price in his relationships in order to lead God’s people to obedience; but he did that because he believed in God’s word and trusted in God to reward him for doing the right thing.

Are you up to that? Have you been looking the other way when people sin around you so that people will like you? Nehemiah understood the pressure. I do, too; in fact, I wish I could say I was better and more consistent about showing the kind of moral leadership that Nehemiah showed. May the Lord help us all to be bolder in our stand for His commands.

[Probably not necessary to beat anyone or pull out his/her hair….]

Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22

Today, read Genesis 23, Nehemiah 12, Psalm 22.

This devotional is about Nehemiah 12, particularly verses 27-47.

God was doing something in Jerusalem. Compared to the growth and expansion of the kingdom that David and Solomon saw, what Nehemiah and his countrymen were doing was small. But, compared to the ruin that Jerusalem had been for 70 years and the powerlessness and exile that God’s people had experienced for a generation, the days of Nehemiah and Ezra were amazing. They were more hopeful than successful, like a sprout from the ground on a farm that hadn’t produced anything in years. A sprout is not the same as an acre of corn ready to be harvested, but it is a reason to be hopeful. Every acre of corn began with a spout, after all.

So, these were not Judah’s greatest days politically or economically. But spiritually, they were powerful. God was moving in his people and for his people again. He was working in the hearts of pagan kings and governors to protect and provide for his people. The people were expressing repentance for their disobedience to his word and were publicly recommitting themselves to obey his covenant. And what was result of all of this work God was doing in Jerusalem? Singing!

The wall around Jerusalem was a defense mechanism. It had no real spiritual purpose, like the altar and the temple did. It was there to protect the inhabitants of the city from enemy attacks. Nehemiah saw the repair and rebuilding of this wall as a spiritual act, however, because Jerusalem was God’s city. It was the place where his temple was, where his name would dwell, and eventually where his Messiah would reign. So, when the wall was finished, Nehemiah organized a ceremony to dedicate it (v. 27). And, one of the key features of that dedication ceremony was singing. “Two large choirs” (v. 31) were organized “that gave thanks” (vv. 31, by singing during this ceremony (v. 40). They were joined by “musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God” (v. 36). The two choirs stood on top of the wall to give thanks, then they came together to continue that singing in the temple (v. 40). The result of all of this music was joy. Look at how verse 43 described it: “And on that day 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.”

The music offered to God on that day had such a powerful affect that people wanted it to continue. People brought provisions to the temple (v. 44) to provide for musicians and singers (vv. 46-47). This shows what a key, important role music has in the worship of God’s people. When God is working in people’s lives, they want to praise him in song. Music lifts our hearts when they are wounded and it gives us a way to express our joy when we are glad and thankful for what God has done. This can be part of your walk with God as well. Not only can we be thankful for Nick Slayton and all the worship team members who lead us in worship each Sunday, we in this age have the gift of recorded music to help us worship in our private devotional times, to encourage us when we are down, and to help set our hearts to thankfulness and praise as we go to work each day. Given that it is Monday and you may not like what you will face this week, why not pick an uplifting song of praise to listen to on your way to work? Sing along and let the Lord use this gift to help you start the week off in dedication and praise to him.

Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, Psalm 14

Today we’re scheduled to read Genesis 15, Nehemiah 4, and Psalm 14.

Nehemiah lived and led Jerusalem as a civic leader at the same time that Ezra was leading the people spiritually. As we read the book of Ezra, we saw how the temple was rebuilt, worship was reinstated, and God’s word was instructed and applied by Ezra the priest.

There were more problems in Jerusalem than the ones Ezra was called to address. The city was virtually defenseless because the wall that had surrounded it was demolished and gates were burned beyond usefulness. God had placed Nehemiah in a position of influence over king of Persia and then God burdened Nehemiah’s heart with a desire to help rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That’s a summary of what we’ve been reading the past few days in Nehemiah 1-3.

Here in chapter 4, some of Israel’s enemies engaged in psychological warfare, scorning the people of Jerusalem in hopes of discouraging them so that they would quit (vv. 1-3). In response to their taunts, Nehemiah prayed (vv. 4-5) and asked God to treat them justly for how they had abused his people.

Progress was made on the walls (v. 6), so things got worse–not better–in spite of Nehemiah’s prayers. The enemies of God conspired together to attack Jerusalem physically (vv. 7-8). What did Nehemiah do this time? Verse 9 says, “we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.”

There are times in life when trusting human solutions presents a bad testimony. Ezra felt this in Ezra 8:22-23: “I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.”

But most of the time in scripture, the human leaders God appointed see no tension between trusting God and asking him for protection and taking human measures to defend themselves. Nehemiah prayed and posted a guard. Later, Nehemiah took some men off the project and had them stand guard (v. 16) and he even armed the men who were working in case of an attack.

You and I can learn from this in our own walk with God. Don’t put all your confidence in human measures. God is not honored when we ignore him and are too proud to ask for his help and favor. But asking for God’s help is usually not the opposite of using human means. God created us to make tools–including weapons–so that we can defend ourselves. He works, through divine providence, within human means. In fact, most of the time God’s work is done through providence, not through miraculous works. So there is nothing wrong with praying about your health concern AND seeing a doctor for treatment. There is nothing unspiritual about trusting God for your daily needs AND saving money and preparing for retirement. Be wise in the way that you live your life even while you ask God to help you and protect you daily. That’s a godly way to live and lead, just as Nehemiah did.