Dear radio friends,
We have arrived at chapter 12:27-47 of the book of Nehemiah. Please open your Bible to that passage to follow along. We come here to the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem. The passage that is before us is really the culmination of Nehemiah’s work, as well as the spiritual high-water mark of the book. It is the record of a joyful dedication ceremony.
Nehemiah had waited a bit, after the walls had been completed, for the dedication service. The reason for this wait (some seven to eight weeks) was, first of all, that things could be put in order and that Jerusalem could be repopulated with families before the dedicatory service and ceremony. But now the walls are completed. He has placed things back in order. He has sought the good of the people and has called the people to repopulate the city. Now he will stand upon the top of the walls surrounding the city. And on those walls he will lead the people of God in a great service of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem.
What does all of this say to us? I believe there will be many lessons for us today. First of all, it should be a great encouragement to us. We see here that the blessing of God ever rests upon His people in their faithful labors. Whenever God’s people, by His grace, are committed to do His will, to love His cause, and to love His church and to serve Him faithfully in their individual callings, God’s blessing is resting upon them. That work may be very discouraging to you. In fact, the work of the Lord is always, to the flesh, discouraging. But here we have great encouragement to the faithful, true church, to the elders, to deacons, pastors, families, husbands and wives, to those who are enthusiastically involved in evangelism, to those who are battling personally against struggles, against sin, and against sorrows. Here we see the blessing of God resting upon His people in their faithful labors.
The second thing that we are going to learn in this passage is some good instruction on worship. There can be many truths gleaned from this passage that must govern our worship services within the church of Jesus Christ today – that our goal is to glorify God and not man.
Finally, we see in this passage a recognition of what God has done for us His church, and thus of the thankful dedication to Him that must characterize our lives. We are in, by God’s grace, the church today. In that church we have the triumph that is in Jesus Christ. Therefore we must also recognize what God has done for us and be resolved to serve Him with all of our strength.
As Solomon, when the temple was completed, dedicated the temple, and as Ezra, when the foundation of the temple had been laid, also had a dedicatory service, so now Nehemiah calls for a dedicatory service for the completion of the walls of Jerusalem. I call this the “Dedication of the Walls.”
What is dedication? Dedication is not that we give something to God for His use. But a dedication is the profound awareness that God has given something to us and a vow that we will use it for the purpose that He gave it. Children, remember that. When we dedicate something to God we are not saying, “Here, Lord. Here is something that comes from our hands and we are going to give it to you so that you can use it.” No. When something is dedicated to the Lord, it is the acknowledgment that He gave it for a specific purpose and that we thankfully receive it and are committed to use it for the reason He has given it to us.
God has given to us many things. He has given to us church buildings, yes. But He has given to us the truth of the gospel. He has given to us believing confessions, Reformed, biblical creeds. He has given to us (to the church) the deposit of the truth of the Holy Scriptures. He has given to us marriages. He has given to us families. All of these things God has given to us. He has given to us our Christian life. He has given to us repentance. Everything that we have, He has given to us. We give nothing to Him. He has given it all to us. When we dedicate all of these things, when we dedicate ourselves, when we dedicate all that God has given, we are acknowledging, in thankfulness, that God gave it for a purpose and that we are committed to using it for that purpose.
We have here a program of events that took place in the dedicatory ceremony of the walls of Jerusalem. There were some preliminary events, first of all.
The first thing that Nehemiah did was to gather all the Levites and the singers together from the surrounding villages and country. We read, “They sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness” (v. 27). The Levites, of course, had to dwell in the various cities as the servants of God to teach the people the way of the Lord. Now they have been summoned to Jerusalem with joy and with their instruments. We read that also the singers were gathered together. Singers were a special branch of the Levites set aside at the time of David. Their job was to supply singing at the temple. Each one was assigned a time when he had to be there to sing. Now all of them, all of the singers, are gathered together in a mass choir.
The next thing that was done was that there had to be purification of themselves. We read, “And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall” (v. 30). Not only the gathered people were purified. The Old Testament law required that there also be a ceremonial washing and cleansing of the gates and of the wall. Purification is very important. This points to the heart. When we come before God to thank Him, and we come before Him at a joyful time of service, it is not “come as you are,” but always “come in a way that you prepare your heart to seek the Lord.” How do you come before God to thank Him on the Lord’s Day? How do you come before God to thank Him in your prayers? Well, you cannot do that if you are saturated with the world, if you are indifferent to Him, if you are bitter against your brother. No, you have to purify yourself. You have to bring yourself before the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.
Then we read of the actual ceremony of the dedication. There are a number of things that are very interesting here.
The first thing that Nehemiah did was divide the people into two great companies. They all climb the steps to the top of the wall. And at the top of the steps they divide to the right and to the left to form two companies. One company is led by Ezra (including half of the princes and half of the priests with trumpets). The other company, composed of the other half of the people, follow Nehemiah. And they spread themselves on the opposite wall, so that there are two companies standing face-to-face on the top of the walls, with the city of Jerusalem in between. It was a massive gathering. And at the set moment, these two companies burst forth into praise. We read, “So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God” (v. 40). The city is beneath them and the temple is beneath them. And upon the walls these two companies, face to face, sound out with a loud song of joy. With the psalms of David upon their lips, they express great thanksgiving before God – praise to God for His power and for His mercy toward the needy people of God, in answering their prayers and in so blessing them.
Then, after this, the day was filled with services at the temple. We read, “also on that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off” (v. 43). After that preliminary moment of the people standing upon the walls and sounding forth in joy, the day was filled with an atmosphere of great joy, wives and children – all the people of God – caught up in praise to God for what He had done for them.
A number of things are standing out for us to take note of. Great thanksgiving was given to God for His mercy. That first of all. Great thanksgiving to God. The people were overwhelmed. They had come through great trial. They had come through the feeling of hopelessness and despair. They had spent years moaning about the deplorable state of things. They saw that they were nothing, they deserved nothing, they could do nothing, and that God now had arisen to bless them. And their hearts are simply overwhelmed at the wonder of God’s grace.
Is that true of you today? Do you know that you are nothing, deserve nothing, and can do nothing – and that everything that you have in Jesus Christ is entirely of God and His grace? Then your heart has to be overwhelmed with humble, deep, unending praise.
We learn further that these people were devoting themselves to God and to His honor. They felt committed, they felt compelled to serve Him, to use everything that God had given for the purpose for which He had given it. Is that true also of you and of your soul – that you are resolved in the light of God’s mercy and grace to you to give everything that you have in the service of your God?
And we see also that the people of God were simple, in trust, placing themselves under God’s protection. That, too, is part of dedication. Dedication is not only that we thankfully receive something, that we vow to use it for God’s purpose. But when you dedicate something you also place it under God’s protection. You say, “Lord, it is from Thee. Lord, we want to use it to Thee. And now, Lord, Thou must preserve, Thou must protect, Thou must defend it. We cannot.” Except the Lord (Psalm 127) keep the city; the watchman waketh but in vain. Dedication is also this: “Almighty God, watch over us, protect us, preserve us, defend us.”
There are a number of questions now as you meditate upon this passage with me – the passage of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah.
First of all this. Are you thankful for what God has given to you? The walls of Jerusalem, you remember, refer to all those things that God has given to keep us in the faith and fellowship with God. It is the true church, the instituted church, under offices of elder, pastor, and deacon. It is the church committed to the truth, the Reformed and the biblical faith of the sovereignty and the glory of God. God has given to us more than the church. He has given to us Christian marriages, Christian families. Are you thankful? Are you filled with praise to Him? Do you see that God has shown His faithfulness and His grace to you? Are you thankful for what He has given? If not, why not? I believe that when we reach the end of our pilgrim’s journey and we look back on this life, we shall be ashamed of one thing the most – of how little was our thanksgiving and how large was our worry and dissatisfaction and fear and, much worse, complacency over the goodness of God to us. So the Scripture is constantly telling us, it is constantly calling us, to give thanks. “Oh give thanks unto the Lord. He has not dealt with any as He has so dealt with us.” Are you thankful? Thankful for the church of Jesus Christ? Not constantly expressing your gripe here and your gripe there and your resentment there and your bitterness against this person and that person? But are you thankful? Are you thankful for your marriage? Are you thankful for your husband or for your wife – the one whom the Lord has chosen for you? Are you thankful for your children? Thanksgiving is a debt that we owe to God, a debt that increases with the knowledge of God and of His faithfulness and goodness to us. The more you see of what He has done, the greater becomes our responsibility to praise and to thank. Is that true of you?
The second thing that we see here is that we are called to worship God with joy. A real spiritual joy filled the people of God and filtered down to their children. And this was the witness to the world. We read, “So that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off” (v. 43). It was not a manufactured joy. It was a joy rooted in faith and knowledge. But it was fervent. You could hear it. You could sense it. I can well imagine that Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem, the crowd that had done their utmost to stop the building of the walls, could hear it, and it sickened them. The enemies of the church – you want to know what they really hate? They hate the joy of God’s people. Martin Luther put it this way: The devil hates singing, he said. Oh, yes, he does. But the people of God were filled with joy – joy over what God had done, joy over who God was. Is that true of us?
Then let us purify ourselves before coming to the Lord’s house. Let us take into account all of His blessings to us. Let us prepare our hearts. Do you come to worship God on Sunday as if it was a burden to you? Do you sit in an attitude of being bored? How dare you? How dare any of us? How dare I do that? We must come out of an abundance of heart to stand joyfully before God and to receive the blessings of His word. We must sing loudly. We must take up the word of God and sing meaningfully and thoughtfully and contemplatively. We must use the voice that God has given to us.
And then the third question is this. Do you dedicate yourself to Him in all of your life? The dedication that day was built upon a spirit of self-denial and unity. Self-denial – abandoning of one’s own way. And unity – in the great work of God that had joined them together. Is that true of us? Dedication from the heart to live a true, godly life in the church?
Let us be thankful for all that God has given. Let us worship Him with joy. And let us dedicate our heart and our life to Him in service.
The dedication ceremony that Nehemiah had organized as we read of it in chapter 12 had some very lasting effects upon the people of God. It is one thing, of course, to get all wound up on a certain occasion and then to forget about it. It is quite another to live and to carry on in the way of thanksgiving. We are to carry on in the way of thanksgiving. Our thanks and praise to God must not be a flash in a pan, but it must be a steady burning light.
The lasting effects were seen in two ways. First of all, the ministers of God, after this dedication ceremony, went about their work in a careful manner. Men had been appointed over the treasury by Nehemiah to gather in the tithes for the support of the priests. This was necessary. If the work of God is to continue and the truth of God is to be known among the people, it is necessary that men take up the work and that men are supported in that work. We read that, as a result of the dedication, men took up this work carefully and seriously. We read further that the singers and the porters were kept before their duties. Their duties were, of course, necessary to maintain Jerusalem in its zeal. There needed to be these porters and singers. So also we need faithful laborers today in the kingdom of God.
Then we read that the people themselves, as a result of this dedication ceremony, were faithful to maintain themselves in a Christian walk of life, to maintain themselves as the servants of God. They took care to bring in their portion, their tithes. They contributed to the cause of God as God prospered them. The fruit of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem was not something that quickly passed away. But it had its lasting effects in that all the people of God gave themselves to a faithful and careful walk.
The people of God in Nehemiah’s day stood on top of the walls of Jerusalem, walls raised up out of rubble, walls protecting God’s city wherein God’s children could fellowship with Him. And as they stood upon those walls, they acknowledged that all of these blessings were from God, they vowed to use them all in His service, and they committed it all to God to keep it. They were thankful and they were joyful. Then they left that dedication ceremony changed. They left that dedication ceremony resolved to live faithfully before God.
Let all of this be more and more true of us as we take up our place in the church of Jesus Christ. May there be in us a humble and joyful acknowledgment of all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And may there be the vow to dedicate ourselves to Him and to His cause in the church with all of our strength, with all of our heart, that we may rejoice. And may the joy of Jerusalem be heard afar off. To God’s glory and to our good.
Let us pray.
Father, we do thank Thee for Thy Word today. We pray for its blessing upon us. We thank Thee for all that Thou hast given and we pray that we may never lose the sense of the joy, the sense of the enthusiasm, that is to be ours as Thy children. This we do pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.