Establishing a Vision (Part 1 of 2)Nehemiah 1:1-2:10
Most of us have faced trials that threatened to break us. The same was true for Nehemiah and God’s people in ancient days as well. On Truth For Life, Alistair Begg considers how and why Nehemiah’s response to hard times made such a difference.
Made for Good Works
You are not here by chance but by God’s choosing. You did not invent yourself, nor did you have any part in your own creation. You were intricately knit together in the womb (Psalm 139:13). The hand of God formed you to be the person that you are; He created you at the exact moment that He desired, and He has placed you at this point in history so that you, in Christ, by grace, through faith, might do good deeds—good deeds which He has planned for you to do (Ephesians 2:10).
In other words, you have received grace upon grace that you might do good.
While the concept of “doing good” may not be our first thought when we consider the impact on ourselves of God’s transforming grace, it was virtually number one on the apostle Paul’s list. In his letter to Titus, he writes that God, in Jesus, “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14, emphasis added). This emphasis appears several times throughout the letter, culminating in Paul’s closing exhortation: “Let our people learn to devote themselves to good works.”
Paul’s particular zeal for good works was and is completely countercultural, both in his day and in our own. We live in a world that is full of enticements to pursue self-centered lives of leisure. How, then, are we to imitate Paul and excel in good deeds?
First, we need to be clear that our pursuit of good deeds does not earn God’s favor. We do not do good to be saved but because we’re saved. Without grace as its foundation, the call to virtuous living is pure externalism and will either exhaust us or puff us up. Second, we need to remember that our pursuit of good deeds does bring God pleasure; we live “not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (1 Thessalonians 2:4). So, we are to be marked by God-honoring, Christ-exalting goodness as a living testimony to our great salvation.
Our ability to do good is also, Paul says, a learned behavior. We are called to “learn to devote” ourselves to goodness. Our actions shouldn’t just be the result of an emotional surge or come about only when we feel like it. Instead, we are to endeavor on a daily basis to do the kingdom work that God has planned for each one of us, and do it intentionally and habitually. And we are to look at those further on in their faith who live this kind of life and seek to learn from them.
In Christ, all of your days and all of your deeds may be good for someone and for something. Learn to begin each day asking for His help to do good to others as a response to His grace to you, trusting that He will graciously enable you to give evidence of your beliefs by your actions.
27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
The Sin of Partiality
1My brothers,1 show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Ponder the Things of God
I will meditate on your precepts.
There are times when solitude is better than company, and silence is wiser than speech. We would be better Christians if we were alone more often, waiting on God and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for service in His kingdom. We ought to ponder the things of God, because that is how we get the real nutriment out of them.
Truth is something like the cluster of the vine: In order to have wine from it, we must bruise it; we must press and squeeze it many times. The bruiser’s feet must come down joyfully on the bunches or else the juice will not flow; and the grapes must be properly tread or else much of the precious liquid will be wasted. So we must, by meditation, tread the clusters of truth if we desire the wine of consolation from them.
Our bodies are not supported by merely taking food into the mouth, but the process that really supplies the muscle and the nerve and the sinew and the bone is the process of digestion. It is by digestion that the outward food becomes assimilated with the inner life. Our souls are not nourished merely by listening for a while to this and then to that and then to the other part of divine truth. Hearing, reading, marking, and learning all require inward digesting to complete their usefulness, and the inward digesting of the truth lies mainly in meditating upon it.
Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make only slow advances in the Christian life? Because they neglect their closets and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they want the corn, but they will not go out into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs on the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it.
Deliver us, O Lord, from such folly, and may this be our resolve this morning: “I will meditate on your precepts.”
Abijam Reigns in Judah
1Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah. 2He reigned for three years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. 3And he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father. 4Nevertheless, for David's sake the Lord his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem, setting up his son after him, and establishing Jerusalem, 5because David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. 6Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life. 7The rest of the acts of Abijam and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And there was war between Abijam and Jeroboam. 8And Abijam slept with his fathers, and they buried him in the city of David. And Asa his son reigned in his place.
Asa Reigns in Judah
9In the twentieth year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Asa began to reign over Judah, 10and he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. 11And Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as David his father had done. 12He put away the male cult prostitutes out of the land and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. 13He also removed Maacah his mother from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah. And Asa cut down her image and burned it at the brook Kidron. 14But the high places were not taken away. Nevertheless, the heart of Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days. 15And he brought into the house of the Lord the sacred gifts of his father and his own sacred gifts, silver, and gold, and vessels.
16And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days. 17Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. 18Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house and gave them into the hands of his servants. And King Asa sent them to Ben-hadad the son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Syria, who lived in Damascus, saying, 19“Let there be a covenant1 between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you a present of silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me.” 20And Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel and conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-beth-maacah, and all Chinneroth, with all the land of Naphtali. 21And when Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and he lived in Tirzah. 22Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah, none was exempt, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them King Asa built Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah. 23Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, all his might, and all that he did, and the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased in his feet. 24And Asa slept with his fathers and was buried with his fathers in the city of David his father, and Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his place.
Nadab Reigns in Israel
25Nadab the son of Jeroboam began to reign over Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 26He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of his father, and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.
27Baasha the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar, conspired against him. And Baasha struck him down at Gibbethon, which belonged to the Philistines, for Nadab and all Israel were laying siege to Gibbethon. 28So Baasha killed him in the third year of Asa king of Judah and reigned in his place. 29And as soon as he was king, he killed all the house of Jeroboam. He left to the house of Jeroboam not one that breathed, until he had destroyed it, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by his servant Ahijah the Shilonite. 30It was for the sins of Jeroboam that he sinned and that he made Israel to sin, and because of the anger to which he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel.
31Now the rest of the acts of Nadab and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel? 32And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days.
Baasha Reigns in Israel
33In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha the son of Ahijah began to reign over all Israel at Tirzah, and he reigned twenty-four years. 34He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and walked in the way of Jeroboam and in his sin which he made Israel to sin.
1For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
Alive in Christ
6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits1 of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities2 and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.3
Let No One Disqualify You
16Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions,4 puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—21“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22(referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The Holy District
1“When you allot the land as an inheritance, you shall set apart for the Lord a portion of the land as a holy district, 25,000 cubits1 long and 20,0002 cubits broad. It shall be holy throughout its whole extent. 2Of this a square plot of 500 by 500 cubits shall be for the sanctuary, with fifty cubits for an open space around it. 3And from this measured district you shall measure off a section 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 broad, in which shall be the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place. 4It shall be the holy portion of the land. It shall be for the priests, who minister in the sanctuary and approach the Lord to minister to him, and it shall be a place for their houses and a holy place for the sanctuary. 5Another section, 25,000 cubits long and 10,000 cubits broad, shall be for the Levites who minister at the temple, as their possession for cities to live in.3
6“Alongside the portion set apart as the holy district you shall assign for the property of the city an area 5,000 cubits broad and 25,000 cubits long. It shall belong to the whole house of Israel.
The Portion for the Prince
7“And to the prince shall belong the land on both sides of the holy district and the property of the city, alongside the holy district and the property of the city, on the west and on the east, corresponding in length to one of the tribal portions, and extending from the western to the eastern boundary 8of the land. It is to be his property in Israel. And my princes shall no more oppress my people, but they shall let the house of Israel have the land according to their tribes.
9“Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God.
10“You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath.4 11The ephah and the bath shall be of the same measure, the bath containing one tenth of a homer,5 and the ephah one tenth of a homer; the homer shall be the standard measure. 12The shekel shall be twenty gerahs;6 twenty shekels plus twenty-five shekels plus fifteen shekels shall be your mina.7
13“This is the offering that you shall make: one sixth of an ephah from each homer of wheat, and one sixth of an ephah from each homer of barley, 14and as the fixed portion of oil, measured in baths, one tenth of a bath from each cor8 (the cor, like the homer, contains ten baths).9 15And one sheep from every flock of two hundred, from the watering places of Israel for grain offering, burnt offering, and peace offerings, to make atonement for them, declares the Lord God. 16All the people of the land shall be obliged to give this offering to the prince in Israel. 17It shall be the prince's duty to furnish the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offerings, at the feasts, the new moons, and the Sabbaths, all the appointed feasts of the house of Israel: he shall provide the sin offerings, grain offerings, burnt offerings, and peace offerings, to make atonement on behalf of the house of Israel.
18“Thus says the Lord God: In the first month, on the first day of the month, you shall take a bull from the herd without blemish, and purify the sanctuary. 19The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering and put it on the doorposts of the temple, the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and the posts of the gate of the inner court. 20You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who has sinned through error or ignorance; so you shall make atonement for the temple.
21“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall celebrate the Feast of the Passover, and for seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten. 22On that day the prince shall provide for himself and all the people of the land a young bull for a sin offering. 23And on the seven days of the festival he shall provide as a burnt offering to the Lord seven young bulls and seven rams without blemish, on each of the seven days; and a male goat daily for a sin offering. 24And he shall provide as a grain offering an ephah for each bull, an ephah for each ram, and a hin10 of oil to each ephah. 25In the seventh month, on the fifteenth day of the month and for the seven days of the feast, he shall make the same provision for sin offerings, burnt offerings, and grain offerings, and for the oil.
The Lord Our God Is Holy
1The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3Let them praise your great and awesome name!
Holy is he!
4The King in his might loves justice.1
You have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5Exalt the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
6Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the Lord, and he answered them.
7In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
8O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9Exalt the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy!
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
A Psalm for giving thanks.
1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
2Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;1
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
I Will Walk with Integrity
A Psalm of David.
1I will sing of steadfast love and justice;
to you, O Lord, I will make music.
2I will ponder the way that is blameless.
Oh when will you come to me?
I will walk with integrity of heart
within my house;
3I will not set before my eyes
anything that is worthless.
I hate the work of those who fall away;
it shall not cling to me.
4A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.
5Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly
I will destroy.
Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart
I will not endure.
6I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
that they may dwell with me;
he who walks in the way that is blameless
shall minister to me.
7No one who practices deceit
shall dwell in my house;
no one who utters lies
shall continue before my eyes.
8Morning by morning I will destroy
all the wicked in the land,
cutting off all the evildoers
from the city of the Lord.
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