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Nehemiah 12:43: An explosion of joy

43 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.“NIV

Before moving on, I want to linger over this 43rd verse and savour it. If every church were like this, how magnetic our influence would be. I do not think most people would automatically connect the words ‘joy’ and ‘church’. As noted previously, C.S. Lewis described joy as ‘the serious business of heaven’. But, as someone said, when people look at the church, they tend to see those who have ‘managed to extract all the bubbles from the champagne of life!’

We note here that their joy was:

  • A consummate joy: It was ‘’great joy’’. It was a God-given joy. We can surely say it was the fruit of the Spirit, long before Paul wrote about it. Peter writes about being ‘’filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy’’ (1 Peter 1:8). What do we know of this? Dare we ask to experience it? Might we too find, like D.L.Moody did, that it’s almost too much for a physical frame to take?
  • It was a comprehensive joy: It wasn’t just for the adults. The ‘children’ also felt it. On the night I became a Christian – around the age of 7 or 8 – I was aware of a joy was so intense I wanted to bounce up and down on my bed with the sheer exhilaration! The memory of it lingers years later. Oh, may God bless our children with His joy which will be their strength.
  • It was a contagious joy: The impact was far-reaching, as you can see from the final sentence. Joyful saints are a powerful advert for the gospel.  The ‘’great sacrifices’’ offered in the Old Testament were but a foretaste of the finished work of Jesus on the cross. How much more joy is now possible for those who trust in Christ.

PRAYER: Lord, please fill us with your joy.

Nehemiah 12:31-43: Leading by example

31 I had the leaders of Judah go up on top of the wall. I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks. One was to proceed on top of  the wall to the right, towards the Dung Gate. 32 Hoshaiah and half the leaders of Judah followed them, 33 along with Azariah, Ezra, Meshullam, 34 Judah, Benjamin, Shemaiah, Jeremiah, 35 as well as some priests with trumpets, and also Zechariah son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Micaiah, the son of Zakkur, the son of Asaph, 36 and his associates – Shemaiah, Azarel, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethanel, Judah and Hanani – with musical instruments prescribed by David the man of God. Ezra the teacher of the Law led the procession. 37 At the Fountain Gate they continued directly up the steps of the City of David on the ascent to the wall and passed above the site of David’s palace to the Water Gate on the east.38 The second choir proceeded in the opposite direction. I followed them on top of[c] the wall, together with half the people – past the Tower of the Ovens to the Broad Wall, 39 over the Gate of Ephraim, the Jeshanah Gate, the Fish Gate, the Tower of Hananel and the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Sheep Gate. At the Gate of the Guard they stopped.40 The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, 41 as well as the priests – Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Micaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah and Hananiah with their trumpets – 42 and also Maaseiah, Shemaiah, Eleazar, Uzzi, Jehohanan, Malkijah, Elam and Ezer. The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. 43 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.

In this wonderful depiction of the procession to the temple, I noticed these two small details:

‘’Ezra the scribe led the procession’’ (36b).

‘’I followed them on top of the wall…’’ (38a).

‘’The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials…’’ (40).

We know that Ezra and Nehemiah were strong, big-name leaders. But here they were among the people, taking their place in the crowd. Their leadership had significantly helped to bring about this moment, but they did not dominate the occasion. They did not tell everyone else what to do while they stood apart from it. They led by example.

Leadership in the footsteps of Jesus is not just by word but by deed, not only by exhortation but by example. So may God help us all for ‘’…who is equal to such a task?’’ (2 Corinthians 2:16).

Leaders and led are on level ground in the ‘temple’ – before God and at the foot of Christ’s Cross.

Nehemiah 12:27-30: Purifying yourself

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem – from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem. 30 When the priests and Levites had purified themselves ceremonially, they purified the people, the gates and the wall.“NIV

Just because you have the singers and musicians in place, and you’re starting to make a good sound, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re offering God acceptable worship. As Matt Redman observed in one of his songs, the Lord looks for more than a song, for a song in itself is not what He requires. He searches much deeper within, looking into the heart. He wants not merely the praise of lips, but that of lives devoted to Him (30).

Am I saying we can’t worship God unless we are totally pure? Of course not. If that were the case then who could worship Him? But intrinsic to genuine worship is the desire to please God in every way. It is incongruous to think that anyone would deliberately go and play in the mud and then come to His table with unwashed hands. Thank God, on-going cleansing is available through Jesus’ blood.

‘’Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure’’ (1 John 3:3)

Nehemiah 12:27-29: ‘The serious business of heaven’

27 At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. 28 The musicians also were brought together from the region around Jerusalem – from the villages of the Netophathites, 29 from Beth Gilgal, and from the area of Geba and Azmaveth, for the musicians had built villages for themselves around Jerusalem.“NIV

C.S. Lewis referred to joy as ‘the serious business of heaven.’

In looking for a quote from Blaise Pascal, I also found a wonderful introduction to it written by John Piper. He says:

‘’Blaise Pascal was a French mathematical genius who was born June 19, 1623. After running from God until he was 31 years old, on November 23, 1654 at 10:30 pm, Pascal met God and was profoundly and unshakably converted to Jesus Christ. He wrote it down on a piece of parchment and sewed into his coat where it was found after his death eight years later. It said,

Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. “My God and your God.” . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy. . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him.’ ‘’

In the church we are thankful to God for musicians and singers; for those who devote these talents to the service of the God who first bestowed them. But if there is a missing note in much church worship, it may be a lack of the ‘’joy’’ that is ‘’the fruit of the Spirit’’ (Galatians 5:22). Superficial bounciness and rhythmic movement are not necessarily to be equated with joy, and they cannot compensate for it. Without authentic joy you can still have polished performances, but we need more than this. With joy you can still hit a few duff notes, but still have the all-important note.

As I try to pray my way through this book of Nehemiah, I have found myself praying that we will all be filled with the joy God wants us to have. In today’s reading we see singers, musicians, instruments and joy! That is an unbeatable combination.

PRAYER: Lord God, please cause us to experience your joy which will be our strength

Nehemiah 12:24b: David the man of God

24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.” NIV

It’s obvious that at this time they were endeavouring to organise their worship according to God’s Word. Note the words in (24b): ‘’…as prescribed by David the man of God.’’ (See also 36, 37, 45, 46).

I remember a line in a song by John Pantry.  It was entitled ‘Empty Handed’. The line I’m thinking about goes, ‘Oh how I wanted to be godly…’ There’s such longing in these words.

Don’t you also feel that longing  – to be a man, a woman, of faith, of prayer, of the Word and of the Spirit – to be a man, or woman, of God? I know there is a deep cry in my heart in this direction. At times great waves wash over it, as if to carry it away; as if to destroy it. Yet I find it is always there, just below the surface.

Being a man, or woman of God doesn’t mean you will never mess up. It doesn’t mean you will be flawless. Read David’s story from beginning to end. He did not always cover himself in glory. Yet in spite of his many sins, failures and glaring faults, his heart was for God.

‘How long the influence of David has lingered over the world, like the afterglow of a sunset!. Mark the characteristic in him which laid the foundation of his supremacy over the hearts of his countrymen. He was pre-eminently ‘’a man of God.’’ Notwithstanding his terrible fall, his people recognised that his salient characteristic was Godward.’ F.B.Meyer: ‘Great verses through the Bible’, p.171.

Meyer goes on to quote these words, ‘It is not what we give to Jesus, but what we take from Him, that makes us strong, helpful, and victorious day by day.’ Then he adds this comment, ‘Accept this as a fact, that in Jesus God has made all his fullness dwell. There is nothing we require, for life or godliness, that is not stored in Him; but the terrible loss of our lives is that we take so little.’

PRAYER: Lord, thank you that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. So, cause me to be hungry and thirsty, for Jesus’ sake, Amen

Nehemiah 12:24: Responding to one another

24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.“NIV

This seems to describe a kind of antiphonal singing, with ‘’one section responding to the other’’.

One of the beautiful things about corporate worship is the blessing we experience from the contributions of other believers. In our public gatherings we are, ideally, learning to be sensitive to God and to each other. We are constantly discovering how to respond ‘’to the other’’. This is not restricted to music, nor is it confined to Sundays. Worship is a 7 day a week activity. It’s a way of life – a whole lifestyle. It goes way beyond the physical gatherings. It includes how we relate to one another.

Thank God, many can still ‘meet’ digitally. But we’re conscious that we miss quite a lot when we’re not in the same room. Nevertheless, we are blessed to still be able to see one another, to listen to each other, and share in prayer. It is still possible to respond to one another in ways which honour God and build up His church. In so doing, the Spirit composes in us, and sings through us, a beautiful love song to God. We all get to be in this ‘choir’ – even the ones who are tone deaf!

PRAYER: Lord make us a symphony, a symphony of worship…

Nehemiah 12:1-26: What’s in a name?

These were the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and with Joshua:Seraiah, Jeremiah, Ezra,Amariah, Malluk, Hattush,Shekaniah, Rehum, Meremoth,Iddo, Ginnethon, Abijah,Mijamin, Moadiah, Bilgah,Shemaiah, Joiarib, Jedaiah,Sallu, Amok, Hilkiah and Jedaiah.These were the leaders of the priests and their associates in the days of Joshua.The Levites were Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and also Mattaniah, who, together with his associates, was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. Bakbukiah and Unni, their associates, stood opposite them in the services.10 Joshua was the father of Joiakim, Joiakim the father of Eliashib, Eliashib the father of Joiada, 11 Joiada the father of Jonathan, and Jonathan the father of Jaddua.12 In the days of Joiakim, these were the heads of the priestly families:…………………..22 The family heads of the Levites in the days of Eliashib, Joiada, Johanan and Jaddua, as well as those of the priests, were recorded in the reign of Darius the Persian. 23 The family heads among the descendants of Levi up to the time of Johanan son of Eliashib were recorded in the book of the annals. 24 And the leaders of the Levites were Hashabiah, Sherebiah, Jeshua son of Kadmiel, and their associates, who stood opposite them to give praise and thanksgiving, one section responding to the other, as prescribed by David the man of God.25 Mattaniah, Bakbukiah, Obadiah, Meshullam, Talmon and Akkub were gatekeepers who guarded the storerooms at the gates. 26 They served in the days of Joiakim son of Joshua, the son of Jozadak, and in the days of Nehemiah the governor and of Ezra the priest, the teacher of the Law.

“Progo,’ Meg asked. ‘You memorized the names of all the stars – how many are there?’

How many? Great heavens, earthling. I haven’t the faintest idea.’

But you said your last assignment was to memorize the names of all of them.’

I did. All the stars in all the galaxies. And that’s a great many.’

But how many?’

What difference does it make? I know their names. I don’t know how many there are. It’s their names that matter.”

(Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door.)

Here on planet earth, names matter because people matter. I believe it’s important to try to remember names, if possible, and it can even feel like a blessing to someone to use their name in speaking to them.

In the Bible we occasionally come across lists like this. Superficially, we may not find them all that inspiring, but they always have a purpose. These verses provide a list of the priests and Levites who returned from exile under the leadership of Zerubbabel the governor and Joshua the priest (Ezra 3:2; 5:2) It’s been suggested these names may have been recorded as a kind of roll of honour – to remember those  involved in leading a ‘revival’ in their day. Also, they may be there to inspire future generations of leaders  to great exploits in God. When I read Christian biography I am invariably stirred by the possibilities suggested by these exemplary lives. They are a challenge and an encouragement to climb higher, to scale the heights with God.

 A Steve Green song says,

‘Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful; may the fire of our devotion light their way.

May the footprints that we leave, lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey.

Oh may all who come behind us find us faithful.’

Seemingly dry lists from the past may act as fire lighters! Bring your life a little closer to the flame.

PRAYER: Lord, we pray we may live the kinds of lives worth writing about, even though our stories may not be written. Help us to live in such a way that we inspire the next generation, for your glory.

Nehemiah 11:20-36: The King’s singers!

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 Arba and its surrounding settlements, in Dibon and 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

We are continuing to look at this section which lists the various towns where the remaining people of Judah and Benjamin had settled, each on his ‘’ancestral property’’ (20), i.e.the land originally allotted to each family back in in the days of Joshua (Joshua 15:1;18:11).

When I first read verse 23 I thought it to be a picture of living under the Lordship of Christ. The King’s ‘’orders’’ should regulate our ‘’daily activity’’. This, of course is true. It is how we should live as Christians – under the authority of the King of all kings. We don’t take off our Christianity with our Sunday clothes. It must affect every part of our daily lives.

But although this is a correct observation, I came to see that it isn’t what the verse is getting at. It’s actual about the King providing for these ‘’singers’’. F.B. Meyer brings this out well:

‘It was the king’s command, and it was very right and sensible, because they enlivened and quickened the life of the entire community. A mere utilitarian spirit might have refused to maintain them, because they did not contribute to the handicrafts of the community. They only sang the praises of God; but they fulfilled a very important part in the life of the city, and they deserved the portion which was regularly contributed to them.’

Meyer goes on to apply this principle quite beautifully:

‘You sometimes feel your life to be comparatively useless. You can only say a kind word to those who are doing the main business of the world…But it is well. You are needed in God’s world…The King will see to it that ye do not miss your maintenance, your portion day by day.’ (‘Great verses through the Bible’, p.171).

PRAYER: Bountiful God, I take encouragement from knowing that your work done in your way will never lack your provision.

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.

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