Bags of Bran

Nehemiah’s Conservatism
November 26, 2014, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Bible, Biography

Recently I preached on Nehemiah’s reforms in Jerusalem as expressions of gratitude (ch. 12-13) as a stand-alone message for Thanksgiving.  I was initially attracted to the text because of the fascinating statement in 12:43:

and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ne 12:43.

But as I read the whole book through, I soon discovered that there was something very intriguing going on in this text: how did Nehemiah lead the people to show their gratitude? By hearkening back to David’s conscientious observation of Levitical forms. Not only did they reinstate the Levitical tradition, they also secured it for the future.

Interestingly enough, Nehemiah didn’t just appeal to the forms themselves (cf. Ezra reading the Law to the people in ch. 8), but to David’s obedience to the Law (12:24, 36, 45, 46). His appeal was also to tradition, in other words.

Nehemiah’s ordinate corporate expression of gratitude to God for the progress that had been made was only the beginning of a long chain of reforms, all of which were designed with one eye on past failures and the other on the future. Everything he did had deep roots in both Biblical tradition and historical precedent. Even 13:25.

Put yourself in the shoes of the average Jew at that time. There hadn’t been a proper Levitical priesthood for generations, and Levitical priesthoods are expensive things to maintain. The Sabbath had not been conscientiously observed in generations, and Sabbaths effectively reduce your profitability by 1/7. Both would have felt onerous, burdensome, and antiquated. Expensive. Foreign.

Yet they embraced it.



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