Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Israel Confesses-Nehemiah 9-11

The wall has been completed.  Jerusalem is now a secure city, able to protect its inhabitants from outsiders who would rob and steal and plunder the city dwellers.  In the absence of that wall it had become a ghost town, but now it can be a city again.

The former exiles have gathered before the temple and Ezra has read from the book of law to them.  They have celebrated the feast of booths together ( a reminder of God's presence as they came from Egypt).  Perhaps this combination of events (walled city, book of law & festival of booths) has created a real sense that they have been unfaithful to a God who has cared for them in extraordinary ways and they are brought to a great moment of true repentance.  They don sack cloth and ashes, the weep and fast and the confess that Israel has been unfaithful.  God has been merciful and just.  Even in their disobedience God has cared for them even to restore this tiny remnant to the place once promised to their forefathers.  They have sinned egregiously, but God has treated them with kindness that they have not deserved.  The levites and the Priests recount the days and years of God's goodness and presence and the stiff necked deeds of his chosen people.  Even the current state of affairs (subject to a foreign king a1nd subject to paying tribute to a pagan king and country), still God has given them hope. 

In their repentant state, they commit themselves to a new covenant with the God of their ancestors and with the God who can make them a nation again one day.  That covenant, found in chapter 10, restates the promises that were made in the days of Moses; to keep themselves pure, to honor the sabbath, to serve God, to support and maintain the temple as God's house and to keep and support the Priests and Levites whom God has chosen to serve him and the people.

Now the people set about to repopulate Jerusalem.  A city cannot be great without a populace.  Priests and Levites commit themselves to Jerusalem as well as new leadership for the city.  A lottery is established and a tithe (1/10th) of the people commit to return to Jerusalem and live within her new walls.

In the movie, "Field of Dreams", the farmer is told,"if you build it, they will come".  Nehemiah and Ezra before him did God's bidding with no such assurance.  they simply answered God's call to honor him with these tasks.  There was no one living in Jerusalem, there was no one depending upon the city for protection.  The temple had been in ruins for generations.  They rebuild because it honors God.

Out of their confession and repentance, Jerusalem rises as a phoenix from the ashes.  God uses repentant hearts to move mountains and to build great bridges of faith.  We like these exiles returned should look at our history and see the hand of God that has guided and protected and raised up leadership.  We should tell the stories of God's faithfulness and those stories ought to drive us to our knees where we should confess our failure to be obedient children.  God can use us mightily if we have contrite hearts and are willing to be fashioned by his loving embrace.  We might also be restored just as the temple and the gates and the city wall of Jerusalem.  A mighty miracle might be ours.  Perhaps we should begin this day to confess with our mouths and plead for mercy and forgivness and then praise God with righteous works of faithful service.

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