Nehemiah 5-6, Hebrews 8
Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honor beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven. There he ministers in the heavenly Tabernacle, the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands. – Hebrews 8:1-2 NLT
It is amazing to think that God had restored the people of Judah to the land – in spite of their ongoing disobedience and unfaithfulness. He had delivered them from their captivity in Babylon and miraculous arranged for a pagan king to orchestrate and underwrite the entire venture. And when they arrived back in the land, while they found a city that was still in ruins and the constant presence of their enemies, they also were able to witness the ongoing presence and provision of God. And yet, they continued to be unfaithful. It came to Nehemiah's attention that there were serious inequities and injustices going on among the people of God. Their greatest threat was not from without, but from within. According to the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were to care for their own. In fact, God had told them, “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year for canceling debts is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the Lord, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need” (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 NLT). God had made it clear that the Israelites were to treat the poor with dignity and respect. In fact, while God had made it perfectly okay for one Jew to lend to another, He had arranged that every seven years those debts would be wiped clean. Whatever had not been paid was to be completely voided from the books. If a fellow Jew was forced to sell himself as a slave because of a debt, the one who bought him was to set him free every seventh year. The picture was one of mutual care and concern. But in Nehemiah's day, the people were taking advantage of one another's difficult circumstances. Their were few paying jobs and a famine in the land. So the more well-to-do Jews were buying as slaves the children of those who were in desperate need. They were charging high interest on loans made to those who could barely make ends meet. And Nehemiah became incensed.
What does this passage reveal about God?
God's standards had never changed. While the circumstances were quite different than when He had given Moses the Law, the expectations remained the same. He wanted His people to treat one another with love and mutual respect. He wanted them to care for their own and live with a sense of community and mutual responsibility. God's intention had always been that “there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess” (Deuteronomy 15:4 NLT). Even all these years later, God still intended for His people to care and provide for one another. No one should go hungry. No one should go without. God's blessing would be great enough for all to benefit, not just some. The abundance of a few was intended to be shared with the many. God would give so that others might receive. It reminds me of the scene that took place in the early days of the Church recorded in the book of Acts. “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need” (Acts 2:44-45 NLT). No one lacked anything, because they shared all in common. That was what God had intended to be the case even in the days of Nehemiah.
What does this passage reveal about man?
It's interesting to note that Nehemiah “brought charges against the nobles and officials” (Nehemiah 5:7 ESV). He accused them of exacting interest. He sarcastically accused them of enslaving and oppressing those whom God had just set from the slavery and oppression of Babylon. Evidently, some of the worst offenders were the leaders of the people of Judah. The most influential were the most guilty. So Nehemiah charged them, “Ought you not to walk in the feat of our God?” (Nehemiah 5:9 ESV). Their actions exhibited a disregard for God's law and a flippancy toward God's justice. They had no fear of God's retribution. And yet Nehemiah was a living example of what God had expected. He feared God. He showed it by his actions. Rather than live off the salary made available to him as governor, he paid his own way. Not only that, he fed and provided for 150 people – out of his own money. And as governor, he didn't sit in his palace overseeing the work of rebuilding the wall. He got his hands dirty. He worked right alongside the people. He had to put up with the daily threats of his enemies. He had to deny their vicious rumors and continue to encourage the people to remain strong and faithful to their God-given task. And his efforts proved successful. The wall was completed in only 52 days.
But while Nehemiah was faithful, there were others who were compromising and caving in to the constant temptations to trust the world rather than God. One of the more glaring examples was Shecaniah, who according to chapter 12 was a member of the priestly order and was possibly a Levite. This man had allowed his daughter to marry Tobiah, an Ammonite and one of the most vocal enemies of Nehemiah. Later on, in chapter 13, we will find out about another priest named Eliashib, who had also married into the family of Tobiah and had even provided this non-Hebrew with his own apartment in the Temple of God. It seems that even the very men who had been set aside by God to act as His mediators had compromised their convictions and sold out to the enemy.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
But the good news is that God has always had a plan for man's persistent problem of unfaithfulness. He knew that His people would prove to be unfaithful. He knew His priests would prove to be incapable of remaining pure and dedicated to acting on His behalf. Which is why He provided a sacrificial system that would cleanse them from sin so they could effectively stand before God on behalf of the people. But in Hebrews we read about an even better plan God had in mind. It involved His own Son. From before the foundations of the world, God had planned to send His Son as the answer to man's persistent problem of sin and unfaithfulness. In essence, Jesus became our High Priest, our mediator before God, who offered an acceptable sacrifice for our sin. It just so happened that the sacrifice He offered was His own sinless life. The writer of Hebrews described Jesus as “a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2 ESV). Jesus' offering didn't take place in some man-made Temple, but in the inner recesses of heaven itself. And because His sacrifice was acceptable to God, Jesus now sits on a throne in heaven seated right next to His heavenly Father. He accomplished what no earthly priest could have ever done. He lived a completely faithful, sinless life; then offered that life as a sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. And some day, Jesus is going to accomplish for the people of Israel what they were totally unsuccessful at doing. In spite of their unfaithfulness, God has promised them, “I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10 NLT). This will be accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ. The great High Priest will restore the people of God to a right relationship with God – once and for all. Unlike the priests in Nehemiah's day, Jesus Christ will accomplish the will of His Father and fulfill the promises of the God of Israel.
Father, Your Son is the faithful, righteous, totally obedient High Priest who has offered the once-for-all sacrifice for my sins. He has done what no man could have ever done. He has satisfied Your holiness and paid the price due for my sins. He offered the sacrifice that was beyond value – His own sinless life on my behalf. And one day He is going to fulfill Your promise to the people of Israel, because You are a faithful God and Your Son is a faithful High Priest. Amen