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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Month

November 2020

Nehemiah 11:20-36: Salt and light

20 The rest of the Israelites, with the priests and Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, each on their ancestral property.21 The temple servants lived on the hill of Ophel, and Ziha and Gishpa were in charge of them.22 The chief officer of the Levites in Jerusalem was Uzzi son of Bani, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Mika. Uzzi was one of Asaph’s descendants, who were the musicians responsible for the service of the house of God. 23 The musicians were under the king’s orders, which regulated their daily activity.24 Pethahiah son of Meshezabel, one of the descendants of Zerah son of Judah, was the king’s agent in all affairs relating to the people.25 As for the villages with their fields, some of the people of Judah lived in Kiriath Arbaand its surrounding settlements, in Dibonand its settlements, in Jekabzeel and its villages, 26 in Jeshua, in Moladah, in Beth Pelet, 27 in Hazar Shual, in Beersheba and its settlements, 28 in Ziklag, in Mekonah and its settlements, 29 in En Rimmon, in Zorah, in Jarmuth, 30 Zanoah, Adullam and their villages, in Lachish and its fields, and in Azekah and its settlements. So they were living all the way from Beersheba to the Valley of Hinnom.31 The descendants of the Benjamites from Geba lived in Mikmash, Aija, Bethel and its settlements, 32 in Anathoth, Nob and Ananiah, 33 in Hazor, Ramah and Gittaim,34 in Hadid, Zeboim and Neballat, 35 in Lod and Ono, and in Ge Harashim.36 Some of the divisions of the Levites of Judah settled in Benjamin.“NIV

‘Having given an account of the principal persons that dwelt in Jerusalem (a larger account of whom he had before, 1 Chr. 9:2, etc.), Nehemiah, in these verses, gives us some account of the other cities, in which dwelt the residue of Israel, v. 20. It was requisite that Jerusalem should be replenished, yet not so as to drain the country. The king himself is served of the field, which will do little service if there be not hands to manage it. Let there therefore be no strife, no envy, no contempt, no ill will, between the inhabitants of the cities and those of the villages; both are needful, both useful, and neither can be spared.’ Matthew Henry

I was thinking that, ideally, God’s people should be ‘sprinkled’, like salt, into every part of every land. Primarily, we will influence and shine where we are, and not where we are not!

Recognise that wherever God has planted you in city, town, village, or hamlet, ‘There’s a work for Jesus (there) none but you can do.’ It may not be a spectacular work; it may largely go unnoticed. But it’s so important.

I remember how, in Sunday School, we used to sing, ‘Jesus bids us shine’, with the well-known words, ‘You in your small corner, and I in mine.’ Well, your corner may or may not be ‘small’, but you are definitely called to shine there.

Everywhere is a mission field, so everywhere require missionaries!

PRAYER: I’m grateful, Lord, for where you have placed me. Please use me here for your glory.

Nehemiah 11:10-5-18: Balanced ministry

15 From the Levites:

Shemaiah son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; 16 Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God;17 Mattaniah son of Mika, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer; Bakbukiah, second among his associates; and Abda son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. 18 The Levites in the holy citytotaled 284.“NIV

How we thank God for the ‘Levites’ who teach the church; we praise Him for that ministry of preaching and teaching which builds up the body of Christ. We are so grateful for those who lead ‘’in thanksgiving and prayer’’ (17). At the same time, how thankful we are for those who deal with ‘’the outside work of the house of God’’ (16) – for the people who faithfully and effectively look after administrative concerns of the church. They take care of ‘paper-work’ and deal with matters of finance and fabric. Oftentimes they work so quietly and efficiently that their efforts are hardly noticed. We see from Acts 6 how important it was for the apostles to be able to give themselves ‘’to prayer and the ministry of the word’’ (Acts 6:4), while other godly men took care of the ‘foodbank’. This was not to be regarded as an inferior ministry. It was to be properly taken care of. But, ideally, in the church, we need a balanced ministry so that each one can give full expression to their gifts.

‘Those who take care of the outward concerns of the church, the serving of its tables, are as necessary in their place as those who take care of its inward concerns, who give themselves to the word and prayer.’ Matthew Henry

Nehemiah 11:10-19: Spreading the Word

10 From the priests:Jedaiah; the son of Joiarib; Jakin;11 Seraiah son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the official in charge of the house of God, 12 and their associates, who carried on work for the temple—822 men; Adaiah son of Jeroham, the son of Pelaliah, the son of Amzi, the son of Zechariah, the son of Pashhur, the son of Malkijah, 13 and his associates, who were heads of families—242 men; Amashsai son of Azarel, the son of Ahzai, the son of Meshillemoth, the son of Immer,14 and his[a] associates, who were men of standing—128. Their chief officer was Zabdiel son of Haggedolim.15 From the Levites:Shemaiah son of Hasshub, the son of Azrikam, the son of Hashabiah, the son of Bunni; 16 Shabbethai and Jozabad, two of the heads of the Levites, who had charge of the outside work of the house of God;17 Mattaniah son of Mika, the son of Zabdi, the son of Asaph, the director who led in thanksgiving and prayer; Bakbukiah, second among his associates; and Abda son of Shammua, the son of Galal, the son of Jeduthun. 18 The Levites in the holy citytotaled 284.19 The gatekeepers:Akkub, Talmon and their associates, who kept watch at the gates—172 men.“V NI

‘Some of the Levites came and dwelt at Jerusalem, yet but few in comparison…for much of their work was to teach the good knowledge of God up and down the country, for which purpose they were to be scattered in Israel.’ Matthew Henry.

It is a cause for concern to see that across our nationmany chapels are closing their doors, and these buildings are being sold to become private homes, or for other purposes. Of course, we know that the closure of a building does not equate with the closure of the church. Christ’s church is not a physical building, although we use such facilities for worship. However, many of these chapels once housed thriving congregations. These have gradually declined in numbers; they have shrunk as people have aged, and died, and not been replaced.

Jilly and I have a special concern for the Yorkshire Dales. We see evidence of these sorts of closures all around us. But my prayer is that God will raise up a new generation of fiery evangelists who will blaze a trail for the gospel across the Dales. Buildings may close but may Christ’s church be built, and His Kingdom extended.

The Israelites were to be scattered throughout the land. God’s Word is to be known everywhere.

 Please join me in prayer that in every town, village and hamlet of the UK (as well as every city) there will be living expressions of the church, shining like stars sparkling with clarity above the desert landscape.

Nehemiah 11:3-9: ‘Able men’

These are the provincial leaders who settled in Jerusalem (now some Israelites, priests, Levites, temple servants and descendants of Solomon’s servants lived in the towns of Judah, each on their own property in the various towns, while other people from both Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem):From the descendants of Judah:Athaiah son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, a descendant of Perez; and Maaseiah son of Baruch, the son of Kol-Hozeh, the son of Hazaiah, the son of Adaiah, the son of Joiarib, the son of Zechariah, a descendant of Shelah. The descendants of Perez who lived in Jerusalem totaled 468 men of standing.From the descendants of Benjamin:Sallu son of Meshullam, the son of Joed, the son of Pedaiah, the son of Kolaiah, the son of Maaseiah, the son of Ithiel, the son of Jeshaiah, and his followers, Gabbai and Sallai—928 men. Joel son of Zikri was their chief officer, and Judah son of Hassenuah was over the New Quarter of the city” NIV

Matthew Henry explains:

‘Many of the children of Judah and Benjamin dwelt there; for, originally, part of the city lay in the lot of one of those tribes, and part in that lot of the other; but the greater part was in the lot of Benjamin, and therefore here we find of the children of Judah only 468 families in Jerusalem (v.6), but of Benjamin 928, v.7,8.’

Note the expression ‘’able men’’ (6b). It is also used in (14). One thing we can be sure of: they didn’t all have the same abilities, but they were all able. If you’re going to build something significant under God’s leadership, and if you’re going to have to build in the middle of a battle, while you are under attack, it will take the combined abilities of a team to get things done.

In my understanding, the whole church is made up of men and women, children and young people who are ‘’able’’. They are able because God has blessed them (and blesses others through them) with abilities. When everyone plays their part the church grows. (Ephesians 4: 15,16)

As someone observed, the church is not a cruise liner in which we lie back and relax as ‘passengers’. No, it is a warship at battle stations, and we are all ‘crew’.

You didn’t move into Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day to enjoy an easy life. But as people pulled their weight, using what God had invested in them, the city was built in spite of strong opposition.

PRAYER: Lord, I want to offer to you afresh the abilities you have given me, that, in the power of your Spirit, and in collaboration with my brothers and sisters, I may play my special part on your Building site.

Nehemiah 11:1: The importance of place

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns.“NIV

Note that it is said of those who were to live in Jerusalem that they ‘should be determined by lot, the disposal whereof, all knew, was of the Lord’ Matthew Henry.

The ‘lot’ was a means of obtaining God’s guidance in the Old Testament era. The principle to emphasise is that God’s guidance can extend to the places where He wants us to live and serve. As I studied this chapter, and sought to turn it into prayer, I felt grateful that, since I left Bible College in 1978, I have had a strong sense of God’s Hand on my movements from one place to another. I am also aware of the Lord’s providential ordering of my parents’ movements, so that I came under the influences He intended in my formative years. In seeking God, I always want to know, ‘Where do you want us to be?’ Not just, ‘What do you want us to do?’ but ‘Where would you have us be?’ That remains the case to this day.

These words from Richard Foster’s excellent book on ‘Prayer’ seem relevant:

‘No teaching flowing out of the Sabbath principle is more important than the centrality of our resting in God. Instead of striving to make this or that happen, we learn trust in a heavenly Father who loves to give. This does not promote inactivity, but it does promote dependent activity. No longer do we take things into our own hands. Rather, we place all things into divine hands then act out of inner promptings’ (p.100).

Of course, there are other important factors involved in seeking guidance, but the thing I want to stress is that the leading of God can include where you are to live.

PRAYER: Lord teach me the way you would have me to go. I trust in you.

Nehemiah 11:1-4: Life in the danger zone

Now the leaders of the people settled in Jerusalem. The rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of every ten of them to live in Jerusalem, the holy city, while the remaining nine were to stay in their own towns. The people commended all who volunteered to live in Jerusalem.These are the provincial leaders who settled in Jerusalem (now some Israelites, priests, Levites, temple servants and descendants of Solomon’s servants lived in the towns of Judah, each on their own property in the various towns, while other people from both Judah and Benjamin lived in Jerusalem):From the descendants of Judah:Athaiah son of Uzziah, the son of Zechariah, the son of Amariah, the son of Shephatiah, the son of Mahalalel, a descendant of Perez;“NIV

‘’ Now the city was large and spacious, but there were few people in it, and the houses had not yet been rebuilt’’ (Nehemiah 7:4).

Tom Hale explains: ‘Therefore, Nehemiah and the other leaders made a plan to increase Jerusalem’s population; their plan was to choose by lot one out of every ten Jewish families living in the towns of Judah and Benjamin and have them move to Jerusalem. In addition to the people chosen by lot, many others volunteered to live in Jerusalem, and they were commended for it. One purpose in increasing Jerusalem’s population was to provide additional defenders in the event of an attack. A second purpose was to increase the number of priests and Levites available to serve in the temple…

Jerusalem had suffered the greatest loss of life during the Babylonian attacks; thus among the returning exiles, there were relatively few who had originally come from the city. Most exiles settled in their former towns outside Jerusalem, thereby leaving the city underpopulated.’ ‘The Applied Old Testament Commentary’, p.764.

Matthew Henry comes at this from a slightly different angle. He suggests 3 reasons why some people may have been reluctant to live in Jerusalem:

  1. It was the ‘holy’ city, and therefore a stricter holiness was required of its residents;
  2. It was a place of greater danger, being such a focus of special attention from Israel’s enemies. (‘Fear of persecution and reproach, keep many out of the holy city, and makes them backward to appear for God and religion…’);
  3. There was more opportunity for trading and making money in the countryside than in this city.

Whether we agree with all Henry’s points or not, I would certainly accede that:

  • There are some believers who don’t particularly want all God has for them. They would identify with the ironic prayer, ‘Lord make me holy, but not yet!’
  • There are certainly those in the ranks of the professing church who are more concerned for self-preservation and self-advantage than they are to display Kingdom boldness and sacrifice.

PRAYER: Lord, you know we are not yet perfect, and we thank you that you don’t write us off because we are flawed. Self rears its ugly head in our lives more often than we want to admit. But we do confess our self-centredness and lack of godliness. Teach us Lord to ‘’hunger and thirst’’ for righteousness, knowing you will ‘fill’ us.

THOUGHT: We are at this moment as close to God as we choose to be (J.O.Sanders)

Nehemiah 10:35-39: The blessing of giving

35 ‘We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.36 ‘As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there.37 ‘Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and olive oil to the storerooms, where the articles for the sanctuary and for the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the musicians are also kept.“NIV

‘We will not neglect the house of our God.’

‘There is no truer test of a man’s spirituality than his attitude to his possessions.’

Jesus taught: ‘’It is more blessed to give than to receive’’ (Acts 20:35).

As we read the Bible, we will find that there is a lot of teaching there about ‘stuff’ about material possessions, money and giving. If we have open hearts, we will start to form convictions about how and what we should give. For myself, I have come to believe that, as someone put it, the tithe (ten per cent) should be ‘the floor’ and not ‘the ceiling’ of Christian giving.

As these people came under the sound of God’s Word (36), they recognised their need to repent of their financial/material ‘’negelct’’ of God’s House (39b), and they made a commitment to do something about this.

‘Though they paid great taxes to the kings of Persia, and had much hardship put upon them, they would not make that an excuse for not paying their tithes, but would render to God the things that were his, as well as to Caesar the things that were his.’ Matthew Henry.

To give as the Bible teaches we should, takes faith – and at sometimes more than another – but it is one of the main ways we ‘’prove’’ God’s reality for ourselves(Malachi 3:10ff), and it is ‘’more blessed’’ than getting.

Nehemiah 10:34: Contributing to the fire

34 ‘We – the priests, the Levites and the people – have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law.“NIV

At some point in the past, I wrote this note in the margin of my Bible, next to verse 34:

‘Let each worshipper bring his or her own contribution to the fire.’

Although, currently, there are limitations placed upon us with reference to physical gathering, we are still the church. The contribution of each one still matters. If you have the Holy Spirit (‘’…an anointing from the Holy One…and as that anointing is real…’’ 1 John 2:20, 27) you have something to bring, to offer, to give. You can still help to feed and fuel the fire in the local church.

‘There’s a work for Jesus only you can do.’

Don’t see this as time off because you can’t turn up ‘at church’ week by week. Your church needs you! Keep in touch with the Spirit. Be alert to His prodding. Listen for His promptings. Do what he shows you, however small.

I was impressed by this sentence in Arthur Paul Boer’s book, ‘The way is made by walking’:

‘If a few words lighten someone’s journey then I want to offer such a blessing. Small talk is not necessarily trivial.’

You have wood to contribute to the fire. Don’t store it up in your shed.

PRAYER: Lord, please show me how you would have me spend my days, my hours, my minutes. Help me to give whatever you ask.

Nehemiah 10:32-35: Taking responsibility

32 ‘We assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands to give a third of a shekel each year for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the bread set out on the table; for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God.34 ‘We – the priests, the Levites and the people – have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law.35 ‘We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lordeach year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree.” NIV

It concerns me that we increasingly seem to find ourselves in an age in which every other person is a victim. Don’t get me wrong. I know what it is to be wounded, and some hurts go very deep. I think we will all say the same. But if we’re not very careful, we can start to assume the role of the victim, in which we make excuses, and play the blame game, instead of taking responsibility for our own actions. Part of this may also mean facing up to the fact that we ourselves have hurt others. Maybe not intentionally, but the reality is that we probably have.

I am struck by these words in today’s passage: ‘’We assume the responsibility…We also assume responsibility…’’ (32,35). Here were people facing up to the fact that they’d gone wrong, and taking responsibility to put things right. They weren’t blaming heredity or environment or anything else for their sins. Here, they were taking responsibility to rectify their giving according to what they had seen in God’s Word. They weren’t making excuses for their previous behaviour, but they were determined to set things right. Matthew Henry makes the point that the people were not forced to do this by taxation, but they took themselves in hand. They ‘made it an ordinance for themselves,and charged themselves with it.’

Perhaps the first step we need to take towards financial responsibility is to commit to giving according to Biblical principles. As Jesus said:

‘’But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well’’ (Matthew 6:33).

‘If everyone will act, and everyone will give, though but little, towards a good work, the whole amount will be considerable.’ Matthew Henry

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