Nehemiah Chapter 10 – Covenant

Introduction

Today we will study chapter 10 of the book of Nehemiah. In our previous studies we have followed the narrative of Nehemiah from the court of the Persian king Artaxerxes Logimanus to the ruins of Jerusalem, the place of his father’s tombs. We have seen Nehemiah guided by the God of Israel in the funding and rebuilding of the city walls broken down and the wooden gates burned with fire during the third siege by King Nebuchadnezzar. In each study we have asked the question, how then should we live as God’s people two and half thousand years later

Questions about how we should live today in the light of Scripture are not easy to answer. For instance should we accept the patronage of Kings to do God’s work?  Should we travel to other countries with armed escorts? Should we carry arms when working? Should we have public reading of the scriptures? Should we confess the sins of our fathers?

In Chapter 10, Nehemiah and the people sealed a Covenant and entered into obligations before God which raise further questions about how then should we live: Should we enter into covenants with each other? Should we invoke blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience?

We cannot dismiss such questions lightly since we believe all Scriptures are inspired by God and therefore the Final Authority in all matters of faith and practice. Further, the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Church in Rome, “whatsoever things were written aforetimes were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” Rom 15:4

To assist us to answer how then should we live, I will briefly review notes from our recent Classic where we looked at how the fathers of the reformation tackled these questions. All the reformers accepted the final authority of Scripture but held differing views on how the Scriptures are authoritative

I will finish the sermon, with a quick look at the wider significance of the Covenant in chapter 10

The People Who Sealed the Covenant:  verses 1 – 27

Nehemiah 10:1  And those who sealed were, Nehemiah, the governor, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah,

2  Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah,

3  Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah,

4  Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch,

5  Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah,

6  Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch,

7  Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin,

8  Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah. These were the priests.

9  And the Levites were both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel,

10  and their brothers, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan,

11  Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah,

12  Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah,

13  Hodijah, Bani, Beninu.

14  The chief of the people were Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani,

15  Bunni, Azgad, Bebai,

16  Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin,

17  Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur,

18  Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai,

19  Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai,

20  Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir,

21  Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua,

22  Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah,

23  Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub,

24  Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek,

25  Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah,

26  and Ahijah, Hanan, Anan,

27  Malluch, Harim, Baanah

  • Chapter 10 opens with Nehemiah the Governor, Ezra the priest and scribe and leaders of the people sealing a covenant on behalf of the people
  • the long list of names authenticate the narrative as true and accurate historical record
  • the names are all leaders of the people
  • this is an example of representational government in 5th century BC
    • the leaders entered into an agreement on behalf of the people
    • the people accepted the leaders decision and entered into the covenant with them

While representational government is scriptural

  • Christian churches vary on how they conduct representational government
  • This is because they vary on how they view the Authority of Scripture

There are four main views on how scripture is authoritative in the church:

  • Corrective Way This was the basic approach of Martin Luther and his followers since the Reformation in 1514. The corrective model of biblical authority held that everything that was traditional in the doctrine and life of the Roman Catholic Church was to be retained unless it is expressly contrary to biblical teaching and example. Matters not explicitly discussed by the Bible were liable to be considered adiaphora; they are neither positive nor negative, just different. Externalities such as vestments, alters and candles might be retained, or discarded if they were unseemly or impractical. In Lutheran tradition there emerged a strong contrast between the inner spiritual and outer temporal. This sacred/secular dichotomy is consistent with the two realms (kingdoms) teaching of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in 4th century AD. The protestant Church of England also followed the Corrective Way of how Scriptures are authoritative and consequently their Church of England liturgy is similar to the Lutheran Church. However, other reformers wanted a clearer break from the Roman Catholic traditions, and dissent to the corrective view of scriptural authority grew among the reformation movements

 

  • Regulative Way The Regulative model of biblical authority held whatever had no expressive warrant in Scripture had no authorised place in the doctrine and life of the Church.  This distinction is the reason Lutheran and non-Lutheran protestant churches were liable to have markedly different in appearance from the outset. The former more Catholic-like and the latter more Reformed-like.

The regulative view exhibited a strong moral emphasis and commitment to public righteousness but was limiting as it applied biblical teaching to those institutions specifically referenced in Scripture such as the Church, the Monarchy, civil magistrate, marriage and the family. As a consequence, what was not explicitly addressed in Scripture could easily be view as adiaphora, also leading to a two realm view. This view held the Bible was mainly concerned with the sacred or supernatural and left the rest of human culture largely untouched by the Gospel and the claim it makes on Christian discipleship

  • Exemplary Way A third view on how Scriptures are authoritative is the Exemplary way. This view of biblical authority holds that the examples Scripture provided were to be followed directly. They sought to live out their vision of how a Christian should live with almost exclusive reference to the New Testament. As a consequence, the exemplary way led to a sweeping aside much of what the Corrective  and Regulative ways had retained from Augustinian theology and the Medieval Church reliance on the favour of civil magistrates or  royal patronage: the politico-ecclesiastical system inherited from Emperors Constantine and Theodosius.

The dissenting groups who followed the exemplary way, commonly called Anabaptists (another baptism) viewed this marriage between church and state a corrupt travesty; the true church was to consist only of those who made a credible profession of faith. This is the great strength of the exemplary way.

However a weakness was the tendency to withdraw from both church and state; they repudiated state-controlled churches and refused to hold public office under such a system. This led to their marginalisation and persecution by both protestant and catholic princes during the reformation period and beyond

Notwithstanding, they have quietly done more good in the earth than generally realised

Their exemplary view how scripture is authoritative is literalist, the actual words of Scripture are to be understood and followed as if there were no intervening historical development between the first and fifteenth centuries.

In seventeenth-century across the English Chanel, the Puritan section of the Church of England and Wales had long advocated the regulative view of biblical authority. However, after losing all prospect of political power in 1660 following their marginalisation from the main English Church, the Puritan section moved to the exemplary view. The Church Congregational wing became dissenters and thus began the English dissenting church commonly known as Baptists for their repudiation of infant baptism which they formerly held in the regulative view. For the most part, Baptists of the English-speaking world may trace their lineage to this source, rather than the Anabaptists of sixteenth-century continental Europe.

  • Directional Way The fourth view on how Scriptures are authoritative is the Directional way which arose during the reformation in French speaking Geneva led by John Calvin. He arose to leadership through his extensive biblical scholarship, in particular Institutes of the Christian Religion (first edition 1541)

Calvin’s directional view how Scripture is authoritative differed to Luther’s Corrective way and Zwingli’s Regulative way;  and the Anabaptist Exemplary way   as it seeks to understand each passage in terms of scriptural principle distilled from the whole span of Scriptural writings. Calvin’s view of Scripture was based on his biblically inspired awe of the order of creation and the Creator who maintains that order. This emphasis on the Sovereignty of God is a great strength of the Directional view.

Particularly instructive was Calvin’s approach to question of the payment of interest which arose in Nehemiah 5:9-11. He considered a few prohibitory texts were insufficient to dispose of the question in a cut and dried but anachronistic manner. Rather, Calvin had regards for wider implications of biblical principle and the culture in which he was living. Calvin’s approach to the text focused on the central questions of meaning without being literalistic. His rejection of false literalism is conspicuous in his handling of Creation passages in Genesis and Psalms in relation to recent astronomical discoveries of his day by Copernicus and Galileo. 

In Summary  

  • The Baptist view of how scriptural authority is applied, follows the Exemplary way with the autonomy of the local church and follows the Directional view with elected Pastor, Elders and Deacons, and quarterly business meetings with a voting membership
    • Inevitably over time the four different views how Scripture is authoritative has become intertwined in practice; which is the case in our Baptist Churches
    • The central point to take from this historical review is that followers of Christ who believe in the final authority of Scripture may hold different interpretations of Scripture if they hold a different views on how the scripture is authoritative
    • while this allows for a difference of view among us, we should never hold to any view which makes God to be a liar, invective or cruel or impugns His character in any way

 

The Obligations of the Covenant :  verses 28 – 39

28  And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple-slaves, and all those who had separated from the people of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters (everyone who had knowledge, and who had understanding),

  • The rest of the people who had knowledge and understanding entered into the covenant sealed by the leaders

29  were holding fast to their brothers, their honoured ones. And they entered into a curse and into an oath, to walk in God’s Law which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to be careful to do all the commandments of Jehovah our Lord, and His judgments and His statutes

  • the covenant was based on a curse and an oath entered into by all
  • the curse and the oath were based on God’s Law given by Moses the servant of God in the Torah

Compare with the blessing and curses in Deuteronomy 28:

v2. And all these blessing will come upon you and overtake you, if you will listen and obey the Lord your God

v 15 all these curses will come upon you and overtake you if you will not listen and obey the LORD

v 37  and you will become a horror, proverb and a taunt among all the people the LORD, will dive you

v 65   and among those nations you shall find no rest; and there shall be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes and a despair of sole

  • Thus the obligation of the covenant was to walk according to God’s Law

30  And we swore that we would not give our daughters to the people of the land nor take their daughters for our sons.

31  And if the people of the land should bring goods or any food on the Sabbath day to sell it, that we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath or on the holy day, and that we would leave the seventh year, and the interest of every debt.

  • The particular importance of the Sabbath day is that the Sabbath was the sign God gave for those under the Mosaic Covenant. If you did not keep the Sabbath you would cut off from the covenant. Those who hold the exemplary view of the authority of scripture tend to hold that Christians should observe the Sabbath day ; while those who hold the directional view do not.

 

  • The reference to leave the land fallow every seventh year, or Land Sabbath was also in the Law God gave to Moses. Israel had not observed the land Sabbath since the Kingdom was divided up to the Destruction of Jerusalem and Temple of Solomon in 586 BC. That interval of time was 490 years. That is 7 x 70 years; so exile to Babylon for 70 years  gave the land of Israel 70 land Sabbaths

 

  • verses 32 to 39 list further laws of Moses they would diligently observe

 

32  Also we put commands upon ourselves, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God,

33  for the showbread, and for the continual meal offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.

34  And we cast the lots among the priests, and the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring into the house of our God, according to the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of Jehovah our God, as it is written in the Law

35  and to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of Jehovah;

36  and to bring the first-born of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God;

37  and that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all kinds of trees, of wine and of oil, to the priests, to the rooms of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground to the Levites, and they, the Levites, might have the tithes in all the cities we farmed.

38  And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes, and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms, into the treasure house.

39  For the sons of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine, and the oil, to the rooms where the vessels of the sanctuary are, and the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. And we will not forsake the house of our God.

  • Again we see the obligation of the covenant was to walk according to God’s Law

The question for us is

  • How should we follow their example?
    • Church Membership is a covenant between members where we commit to the final authority of scripture in all matters of faith and practice, to obey the law of Christ including baptism by immersion as the sign of our union with Him
    • Believers’ baptism is the sign for all believers of the New Covenant in Christ. This is based on His body given and blood shed in redeeming sacrifice
    • Holy Communion is regular way of remembering the death and resurrection of our Lord and our life in Him.

 

The wider significance of the Covenant

  • The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra and probably Nehemiah was written by Ezra the Scribe who compiled the OT Canon, the Tanakh
  • Thus the narrative of Nehemiah is part of the greater story of God’s plan for the redemption of the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel
  • The timetable for the return after 70 years in exile was foretold before they went in to captivity by the prophet Jeremiah; in chapter 29:10-11 he wrote:

“For thus says the LORD, “When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfil my good word to you and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the LORD, “plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope”

  • The timetable for the final and full redemption of nation of Israel and the Land was revealed to the prophet Daniel who was also in  exile in Babylon with Nehemiah

Daniel 9: 24-27

The Seventy Weeks

Daniel 9:24  Seventy weeks are decreed as to your people and as to your holy city, to finish the transgression and to make an end of sins, and to make atonement for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.

25  Know therefore and understand, that from the going out of the command to restore and to build Jerusalem, to Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks. The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in times of affliction.

26  And after sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself. And the people of the ruler who shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. And the end of it shall be with the flood, and ruins are determined, until the end shall be war.

  • The Seventy Weeks of Years timetable revealed to Daniel by the Archangel Gabriel would commence when a decree was issued to restore and rebuild the streets and the walls of Jerusalem, even in times of affliction
  • This is why the narrative of Nehemiah clearly states the decree to restore and rebuild the wall and gates of Jerusalem and records completion of the rebuilt walls and gates in 52 days
  • in Nehemiah 2:8-9 The decree given by King Artaxerxes Logimanus for Nehemiah to restore and rebuild the streets and the walls of Jerusalem in the month Nisan in the twentieth year his reign,  commenced the Seventy Weeks of years revealed by the Archangel Gabriel to Daniel

Take Aways

Covenants are important to God; they should be important to us too.

God always keeps what he has covenanted to do; He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

 

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POWERPOINT SUMMARY

Nehemiah Chapter 10 – Covenant

The People Who Sealed the Covenant:  verses 1 – 27

  • in Chapter 10 Nehemiah the Governor, Ezra the priest and scribe and leaders of the people sealed the covenant on behalf of the people
  • this is an example of representational government
  • Christian churches vary on how they represent the  people they govern depending on how they view the Authority of Scripture
    • Corrective
    • Regulative
    • Exemplary
    • Directional
  • Baptist Churches generally follow the Directional view with their elected Pastor, Elders and Deacons, and quarterly business meetings with a voting membership

The Obligations of the Covenant :  verses 28 – 39

The rest of the people who had knowledge and understanding entered into the covenant sealed by the leaders

  • the covenant was based on a curse and an oath entered into by all
  • the curse and the oath were based on God’s Law given by Moses the servant of God
  • The obligation of the covenant was to walk according to God’s Law
  • How should we follow their example?

Church Membership is a covenant between members

Believers baptism is sign of the New Covenant in Christ

Holy Communion is regular way of remembering the death and resurrection of our Lord and our life in Him

The Wider Significance of the Covenant

  • The books of 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra and probably Nehemiah was written by Ezra the Scribe who compiled the OT Canon, the Tanakh
  • The narrative of Nehemiah within the OT Canon is part of the greater story of God’s redemption of the nation of Israel in the Land of Israel
  • the timetable for the redemption of Israel and the Land was revealed to the prophet Daniel who was in  exile in Babylon with Nehemiah
  • The Seventy Weeks of Years (490 year) timetable revealed to Daniel by the Archangel Gabriel would commence when a decree was issued to restore and rebuild the streets and the walls of Jerusalem, even in times of affliction
  • In Nehemiah 2:8-9 The decree given by King Artaxerxes Logimanus for Nehemiah to restore and rebuild the streets and the walls of Jerusalem in the month Nisan in the twentieth year his reign,  commenced the Seventy Weeks of years revealed by the Archangel to Daniel

Take Aways

  • Covenants are important to God; they should be important to us too.
  • God always keeps what he has covenanted to do; He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.