Dear radio friends,
Today we turn to Nehemiah 7 in our continued series on the book of Nehemiah, the man who returned to Jerusalem to build the walls of Zion. Chapter 7 is going to announce to us that the walls are completed.
At first glance, as we peruse chapter 7, we might think that there is not really much for a solid spiritual meal in the chapter. It is interesting, perhaps. Nehemiah is going to appoint gatekeepers and singers and Levites to their various tasks. He is going to assign men to give instruction within the city and to draw up a schedule for guard duty. He is going to find a registry of the people who returned from Babylon to find out the demographics of the people in the hope of repopulating the city and encouraging the people to enter into the city and make the city their home. And then the chapter is going to end with contributions made for what we would call the general budget of the church, the funding of the work of the Lord in Jerusalem. We might conclude that there is not much here as food for our souls in our spiritual pilgrimage. But that is not so. Every word of God is tried and true. In fact, we often receive some of the richest and most satisfying spiritual food for the hungry soul where we would least expect to find it.
The significance of the chapter, I believe, is best explained by comparing it to what we read in Titus 1:5: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee.” There Paul speaks to Titus and says, “You must establish the order of the church, the things that are yet lacking that must be established.” God has established an order for His church, and that order is crucial. Nehemiah knew that order. Immediately upon the completion of the walls he goes about to put things in order for the well-being of God’s people.
We must understand that there is an order that the Almighty has given for the well-being of His church and people. And those things must be kept in order in the church – the worship of the church, the preaching of the church, the discipline of the church, the care of the people of God, providing for the needs of the kingdom of God, the budget of the kingdom of God – all these things, according to God’s own word, are crucial for the well-being, for the life, of the people of God and for the spread of that Word.
What was the first thing that needed to be done? The walls, we read, are up. A great work has been accomplished. We would be inclined to imagine that Nehemiah would want to take a vacation, that we would find him sitting back and saying, “Whew, it’s done. We made it!” But not Nehemiah. Nehemiah saw accomplishment of one task as the stepping stone for the next. Now the question before him is: “What’s next? What is the essential thing to do next?”
These were the questions confronting Nehemiah when the walls were up. God had strengthened his hands to carry on the building project through much opposition, both within and without. But Nehemiah knew that walls of stone provide no protection without guards on the wall. And well-guarded walls mean nothing if there are no people living behind them enjoying fellowship. It was the spiritual life and the well-being of God’s people that was the work of his hands—not concrete walls, not blocks and mortar. What was the next step?
We face the same question, as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps you hear this Word of God today and, by His mercy, you are a member of the church of Jesus Christ—a church that takes the Word of God seriously. If that is so, you might ask the question, “What’s the next thing? We have the creeds. We have the establishment of the truth. The congregation is gathering on the Lord’s Day. Marriages are being established. Family and children are there. Now what must be done to maintain that? What must be done in order that all of those things serve their purpose to build us up and to prepare us for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, to inspire us to live in godliness and to be faithful witnesses throughout the world of His truth?”
Nehemiah sees three things. He assigns three priorities, three essential things, for the maintaining of the church. These are the things that must be set in order. Number one: Nehemiah sees the need for defense, through men appointed to guard and rule. Number two: He sees the need of worship, through the Word of God. Number three: He sees the need of teaching, through men ordained of God. Let us look at those three things.
Number one. Nehemiah saw the need for the appointment of men for the guard and rule of the city or, what we read in verses 2 and 3 of Nehemiah 7, porters. Porters were gatekeepers. They were guards.
Now, do not think of them in terms of bellhops at the Palmer House or of men wearing elaborate costumes and carrying long-necked trumpets. They were, in those days, elite guards, trained, having a high degree of loyalty, men of courage. In the days of David and Solomon, they were Cherithites and Pelethites, orders of an exclusive, elite, trained guard. They were to check those who came in, opening the gates to citizens they recognized. They had to have a sixth sense for danger. They had moral responsibilities. Nehemiah tells them, for example, that they were not (chapter 13) to allow the heathen traders to congregate by the gates in the last hours of the Sabbath Day.
Then Nehemiah, in addition, appointed two men as rulers over Jerusalem, responsible for its defense: Hanani (“my brother,” says Nehemiah) and Hananiah. These two men were chosen because they were faithful and feared God among many. They were reverent and reliable. Nehemiah gave them instructions for defense. He told them when the gates were to be closed, when they were to be opened, and that they were to appoint watchers of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Every man must assign a watch that was over against his own house.
So for us. God has appointed men for the good order of the church. This is what must be set in order for the church. He appoints men for the defense of the church, through their discipline and rule from the Word of God, namely, elders and pastors. Isaiah 62:6, “I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.” Let us emphasize that these are to be men in the office of elder and deacon and pastor. The Word of God teaches that men are to occupy these positions—not women, but men who are given the gift of faithfulness, reliability, and reverence for God—to keep false teaching out of the church and to defend and to care for the people of God—men of loyalty, men of courage, men of love to God, willing to serve, not for their own advancement, not for their own name, but as true servants of God who see their own unworthiness and inability but have a love for God and for His people and for His church.
There is an application also to you fathers over your own house. We notice that Nehemiah says that everyone in his watch was to be over against his own house. The guard that was appointed at a section of the wall was appointed to guard the wall next to his house. He was not sent two blocks down, but over against his own house. The children sleeping behind him in the house that he could turn around and look at were his own. Each husband is assigned by God to be the guard of his family, to be the defender of his daughters’ purity, of his sons’ manhood, and to deliver them from the impurity of the devil. He is a defender of his wife, a defender of all that goes forth from and goes on in his home. He is to be the leader in the teaching of his children, joining with other Christian men to form Christian schools. He must not be, as a father, drowsy in this world, preoccupied with business and sports and leisure. He must guard the wall over against his own family.
The second thing that Nehemiah did to set things in order was to organize the worship through the Word of God. He says (v. 1), “I set up singers.” If you follow the idea of singers through the Old Testament, you will find it fascinating. We do not have time to go into that fascinating history, but let me say that it is very plain from the Word of God that singing was an important aspect of the worship of God. Nehemiah wants to set this in order. He wants to set in order worship, centered in praise, to the Almighty. He wants to hear arising from Jerusalem the voice of singing and melody, of praises to the Lord.
Singers. You ask, “Is that a priority? Is that essential?” Yes, it is. God says in the prophecy of Isaiah, “This people have I formed for myself. They shall show forth my praise.” The purpose of God in establishing His church, separated from the world, is that they might show forth the praises of Him who hath called them out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9). What has priority in the church? The worship of God through His Word. The setting down of the order God has prescribed in His Word for worship. And then joining together in that worship to praise God, to sing, to lift up our souls in voices, to praise God for all of His goodness.
The third thing that we must have set in order is teaching through ordained servants of God. We read that Nehemiah set up the Levites.
The Levites were appointed not only for temple service, but to be Israel’s teachers and pastors, to convey to the people the great realities of their faith. Remember that Joshua assigned 48 cities for the Levites. They were to travel throughout those cities teaching and preaching and instructing God’s people in the hope of Jesus Christ. God had made this a priority. Malachi 2:7: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” The priest was to show the people what God had said, and bring to the people the knowledge of the Word of God.
So also for the good order of the church today. We must have (1) men who rule – God-fearing elders and deacons and pastors; (2) sound, biblical worship, centered in the praise of the living God; (3) pastors and teachers. So we read in Ephesians 4 that God gave some to be pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. That is a priority. That must be set in order. That must, above all things, be there. We must not allow anything to frustrate or to hinder that. There must be in the church regular preaching and teaching and instruction of our children in catechism. So we pray for more pastors and for more preachers of the gospel.
Then we place ourselves under the preaching and the teaching of the Word of God by the church. We clear the calendar, we keep back the obligations. We prepare for Sunday. We are present in the church. We make Bible class a priority during the week. We receive the Word as it is taught by the appointed servants of God.
Now here are the things that must be in order if the church on earth is to prosper. We must appoint men to rule and govern in their office under the Word of God. We must have the worship of God, according to His Word, in Spirit and in truth. And we must have regular instruction by His servants. These are the essentials. These are the priorities. This is what Nehemiah set in order.
Nehemiah did this because he had a heart for the people of God. In the chapter we learn that underneath all of these things that he was doing was an abiding love for God’s people and a desire that the people of God be spiritually blessed within God’s city. We read that the city was large and great but that the people were few therein and the houses were not builded. The Jews who returned to the land had not repopulated the city. The homes that were there were dilapidated. Economically it was very hard to make a go of it by living within that city. Rather, the Jews had spread over the countryside in order to make a living.
Now Nehemiah, to remedy this, goes and gets a registry of all those who have returned. He finds out where these people are in order that he might now induce them to move into the city. We read in Nehemiah 11:1, 2, “And the rulers of the people dwelt at Jerusalem: the rest of the people also cast lots, to bring one of ten to dwell in Jerusalem the holy city, and nine parts to dwell in other cities. And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.” This was extremely important. From a human point of view, if Jerusalem was to be strong it needed a population, an economy, homes, buildings.
But remember that all of this was a picture of the church. This is representing the thriving of the people of God within the instituted church of Jesus Christ. That needs to be put in order in our day. It needs to be understood that there must be a living membership in the church, the body of Jesus Christ, a registry of those whom God has brought out of the bondage of sin and who are now listed among those who dwell in Jerusalem. People say, “Well, the church can’t save you.” No. No Scripture ever said that it could. But the saved are in the church. You and I must be convicted that it is the will of the Almighty that we be members of the true church of Jesus Christ, that God’s fellowship, joy, blessings are to be enjoyed there.
How men can, today, pride themselves about living in a city—New York or Chicago or Tokyo or Singapore! But the church is God’s own city. Populate her. Stay within the church of God. Marry in the church of God. Bring up families in the church of God. Labor for the blessing of the church of God. The church must not be desolate. The church must not simply be filled with old people. The church must not be a vacant home. Grow up in the church. Have your children grow up in the church. Throw in your lot with the people of God. Be decisive in your commitment to the church of Jesus Christ. Be involved in evangelism in your own congregation. Invite your friends to come to church. Explain to them the glorious and wonderful privileges of being a member of the body of Christ. The church is to be populated with the repentant children of God, with the grateful redeemed, with those who have been delivered out of the bondage of sin.
Not many left Babylon. A small percentage of the Jews came back. Most of the Jews desired the prosperity and the comforts of Babylon rather than the land of promise and the city of God that was decimated. It was the redeemed. It was those who knew the grace of God. They were the lowly outcasts. They were the little ones of the earth. Yet, they were the ones whom God had gathered and brought into His glorious church and kingdom.
This must be set in order among Christians today. Love the church. Enter her. Be a faithful member in the church —the church where the Word of God is honored, preached, confessed.
If things are to be so, then we must willingly give for the funding of the work of the Lord. We read in verses 70-73 that the chief of the fathers gave to the treasurer of the work and gave for priests’ garments. They willingly supported the work with their offerings, their finances. We call that in the instituted church the general budget. We have offerings for the general budget, for foreign missions, for mission assistants, for evangelism, for various works in the kingdom of God represented both by the local congregation and throughout the world, wherever God’s church is found. That is putting things in order.
The offerings for the causes of God’s church are the expression of gratitude. I’m here in the church to support that, to give as the Lord has prospered me, because I want the work of God to prosper in His church. Those offerings tell of the direction of our life. They reflect the love of our heart. They tell people where we are at. If you want to know where a person is at, find out about how he uses his money and what comes first. That will tell you where he is at. You say, “Oh, no. That won’t tell where I’m at. I’m in the pew every Sunday morning and evening.” No, this will tell you where you are at—what comes first in your checkbook. That will tell the direction of your life. Are you tight-fisted to the kingdom of God and open-handed to your own desires? Then you need to put things in order in the kingdom of God. You need, with me, to budget your money – first the church, first the kingdom of Christ, first the poor—not first CDs, not first clothes, not first hair, not first boats, not first ourselves, not first that a young family have this big house. That should not be the goal. The goal is the church.
The church is the Lord’s house. It is God’s cause. We love her, and with Nehemiah we desire that things be in good order, that God may be glorified.
Let us pray.
Father, we again thank Thee for Thy Word. We pray that it may enter into our hearts with joy and conviction. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.