2017-10-25 / Religion

God’s covenant with the returned exiles

Sunday School Lesson
Rev. James Temples

Nehemiah 8-10

The eternal purpose for the chosen nation, Israel, was that of the spreading of the gospel, the Good News, to all the earth. The promise to Abram, later called Abraham, was specific, “in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:3b. This promise has never been amended nor deleted .

About 1,500 years after the creation of the earth, as we know it, the descendants of Abraham were formed into a nation, as they camped before Mount Sinai. Exodus 19ff. They, eventually, entered the Promised Land, under the leadership of Joshua. Joshua 4:19.

The national leadership went through several stages before the kingdom was finally established in David. The divine promise made to this man regarded the permanent nature of his kingdom. 2 Samuel 7:16. This promise was based on the continued obedience of the successive kings.

The promised kingdom was, eventually, divided into two kingdoms. From the beginning, the northern kingdom, known as Israel, began on a spiritually downward path from which it never recovered. This kingdom was overrun by the Assyrians. These Jews were scattered through the then-known world. The southern kingdom, known as Judah, lasted many more years. However, there was a constant roller-coaster pattern of their spiritual life. Some of the kings were godly, while the majority of these leaders had little or no regard for the divine plan for their nation. This attitude led to the fall of this kingdom to the Babylonians. Many of these captives were carried to Babylon as slaves.

Our loving Heavenly Father, the creator of the universe, had sent many prophets to the rebellious nation of Judah, calling for national and individual repentance. These warnings included the declaration of 70 years of slavery under their captors. During this time, many of these captives became integrated into that society, some filling high government positions. They carried out their assigned responsibilities in a highly-honorable manner.

The Babylonian kingdom fell to the Medes and the Persians. God, Jehovah, allowed these pagan kings to give decrees regarding the return of the Jews to their homeland. These decrees became part of the government records.

At the end of 70 years, the first wave of exiles returned to Jerusalem. Their assignment was the rebuilding the temple for worship. This task was under the leadership of the man, Zerubbabel. Obviously, this action was opposed by the squatters, who occupied the land. In spite of opposition, the work was carried out. The second wave of returning exiles were to rebuild the wall of the city. The man, Nehemiah, had been appointed governor of the land. Their task was completed in 52 days, after it began. Nehemiah 6:15.

The third wave of exiles were led by the priest-scribe, Ezra. His task was to teach these people the Law of the Lord. While these people were in Babylon, that generation had not been taught the Hebrew language. Aramaic was the language of that country. When they returned to their homeland, Ezra was to teach them the Law of God, which had been given in the Hebrew language.

The record tells us, “And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate, and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel.” Nehemiah 8:1. His action was immediate, “And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from morning to midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” Nehemiah 8:2, 3.

A group of men stood with Ezra, as his assistants. The purpose of these helpers is given, “So they read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and cause them to understand the reading.” Nehemiah 8:8.

These men were able to translate the words, and give an explanation that the hearers could grasp. These scriptures listed the blessings of obedience, but, also, the curses of disobedience. As each individual began to measure his or her life against the divine standard, their short-comings became glaring. The record tells us, “For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.” Nehemiah 8:9c. The leaders must have seen these tears as indicators of repentance. “So the Levites stilled the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.” Nehemiah 8:11.

The attitude of the people led Ezra to lead the people in a prayer of national and personal repentance. This prayer recounted the blessings of God to His people throughout their history. The people, beginning with their leaders, entered into a covenant with God. As we examine the Record, it is interesting to note that the first person to sign this covenant was the leader, Nehemiah. Nehemiah 10:1. This man would not ask the citizens to do something that he, himself, was not willing to endorse. This is an important attitude that should be seen in all levels of government in our day, as well.

After the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) gave the list of those who signed this covenant, He recorded, further information for us. “And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding, they clave to their brethren, their nobles, and 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 observe and do all the commandments of the Lord (Jehovah) our Lord (Adonai), and his judgments and his statutes…” Nehemiah 10:28, 29.

May we pledge to be faithful to our calling.

Rev. James C. Temples’ Sunday School Lesson has appeared in the Early County News each week since 1967. A native of Early County, Rev. Temples taught in public schools 32 years and 10 years at Southeastern College of Assemblies of God, in Lakeland, Fla. He also served as pastor and evangelist during those years. He can be contacted at P. O. Box 1484, Swainsboro, GA 30401; 478- 299- 2068. Email: temples_ james@ yahoo. co m

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