In a meandering, three-way conversation with far-away friends, we began to ponder the term: just exactly what does it mean to be “reformed”? Without thinking, certainly with no editorial or theological censors in place, I said, “I would, actually, rather say that I’m reforming!” After that conversation, the statement lingered in memory and wafted its way into my study time. It drifted behind the sound of Nehemiah’s antiphonal choirs and the aroma of roasted temple meat.
Leaning forward out of the darkness, Jerusalem had experienced national and personal reformation. Today, we might even call it a revival. While the exact chronology of the dedication ceremony is murky, we know for sure that Nehemiah governed Jerusalem from the 20th year of King Artaxerxes’ reign until the 32nd year when he was summoned back to Susa and his duties there. “Then, after certain days,” (13:6) he returned to Jerusalem, surprised to find a point-by-point declension of the reforms that had been instituted and celebrated in chapters ten through twelve.
|Unequal yokes||“We will not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons . . .” 10:30||“In those days I also saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab . . .” 13:23|
|Provision for worship in the Temple||“And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the first fruits, and the tithes, to gather them from the fields . . . for the priests and the Levites . . . “ 12:44-47||“I realized that the portions for the Levites had not been given them . . .” 13:4-10|
|Commitment to keep the Sabbath||“If the people of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we will not buy it from them on the Sabbath . . .” 10:31||“In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves and loading donkeys with wine . . . which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day.” 13:15|
How did it feel to construct this table and mark the slippage? It makes my heart tired.
Is this really how the book of Nehemiah ends? Sure, Nehemiah threw out the merchants who had besmirched the Sabbath, and he grabbed a few guys by the beard to remind them of their promises to God, but how long before yet another housecleaning is needed? Nehemiah’s words and actions expose his tired heart.
Could it be that, in the wisdom of God, He chose to end the book this way to show us our own hearts? Like Israel, we are a people in need of continual reform. R.C. Sproul calls it semper reformanda — always reforming, for the reformation of the people of God is never over until the last enemy, death, is defeated, and we dwell in the New Jerusalem, the City of the Great King. In the meantime, until the Gospel is consummated, we, too, lean forward out of the darkness, and we join Nehemiah in his closing prayer (13:31):
“Remember me with favor, my God.”
The only difference is that, in Christ, we know that He has, and that He will.
We made it! This is the twenty-fifth and final post from the book of Nehemiah! Thank you for traveling with me and my Sunday School class. If you want an overview of our progress, here’s the link: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/. What’s next? For the summer, we will be reading and studying the Psalms of Ascent.
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