Cleaning House

Good_housekeeping_1908_08_aThe book of Nehemiah is one that describes the final restoration of the Israelites to the Promised Land after their captivity in Persia. At first, the Jews started with the very basic duties of rebuilding their homeland. They constructed the original walls and gates of Jerusalem, and re-opened the temple. Things were finally as they were supposed to be, despite constant opposition from all sides during the entire process.

The ending of chapter 12 finds the Levitical priesthood being fully restored according to the biblically prescribed system. It seems like the ideal end of the book, and probably would have been if Nehemiah hadn’t visited to the Persian capital. However, he did, and his return was somewhat reminiscent of the scene in Exodus when Moses comes down from the mountain after receiving the Ten Commandments. It was ugly. Nehemiah promptly sets about putting everything back in its place, and his doing so is like William Travis drawing his line in the sand at the Alamo, except no one had the option of crossing it.

This is what the term covenant means.  There is no option of breaking it off, it is exclusively binding and perpetual. The people of Israel had already covenanted with God, therefore, no matter the circumstances, they were held to its terms. There is an identical relationship between each believer in the modern Church and God. A permanent covenant is made, and it cannot be retracted. In a similar way, the temple and our bodies are parallel institutions that must be treated in a like manner. Nehemiah 13 illustrates this clearly:

“4 Before this, Eliashib the priest had been put in charge of the storerooms of the house of our God. He was closely associated with Tobiah, and he had provided him with a large room formerly used to store the grain offerings and incense and temple articles, and also the tithes of grain, new wine and olive oil prescribed for the Levites, musicians and gatekeepers, as well as the contributions for the priests. But while all this was going on, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I had returned to the king. Some time later I asked his permission and came back to Jerusalem. Here I learned about the evil thing Eliashib had done in providing Tobiah a room in the courts of the house of God. I was greatly displeased and threw all Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. I gave orders to purify the rooms, and then I put back into them the equipment of the house of God, with the grain offerings and the incense.” (Nehemiah 13:4-9 NIV)

There is a clear distinction between what is the people’s and what is God’s. The temple is not included on the people’s side of the ledger, and this is made abundantly obvious by the zeal that Nehemiah attaches to it. The temple was made for God and no other. There was nothing inherently wrong with Tobiah taking up residence in Jerusalem, it was that it was in God’s house that condemned him.

The modern equivalent of the temple, as previously mentioned, is the individual believer. In 1 Corinthians it says:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;” (1 Corinthians 6:19 NIV)

If we apply the story from Nehemiah to the above verse, it has drastic implications for our lives. It’s not that we actively avoid and combat sin in our lives, we must wholly subsume our entire beings to God. We don’t even own our bodies. Like the temple for the Israelites, we have stewardship over them. Anything that resembles our character must be given to God, we have no ownership over it. Just as in ancient Israel, we have no option.

There is another fascinating parallel between the ancient Israelites and modern believers. Where Nehemiah had just finished the reinstatement of the Mosaic Law and set the culture in motion following it, only to find it completely destroyed when he returned from a trip, we often see this same behavior in our own lives. How often do we go to church, have communion, become convicted and determined to change, and start the next week exactly the same as the previous Saturday?

Ideally, we would have the same passion for God that Nehemiah did. We would zealously cast out of our lives any essence of Tobiah, and completely absorb ourselves into God. If we truly seek conformity to Christ, that goal leaves no room at all for ourselves.


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