Renewal Of The Ancient Covenant
By Nevin Bass
Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gayest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou host set over us because of our sins: also they have do-minion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress. And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it (Nehemiah 9:36-38).
The book of Nehemiah is divided into two distinct sections. The first deals with the rebuilding of the ancient walls. The second deals with the renewal of the ancient covenant.
Both aspects are part of the work of reconciliation. To be reconciled to God after falling from favor requires a reemphasis and rebuilding of the walls of demarcation and separation. It also requires a renewal of the covenant we have with the Lord. Rebuilding may be largely inspired by anointed leadership. Renewal must be inspired by a fresh revelation of God’s Word.
Each division of Nehemiah has a chapter that emphasizes the thrust of the division. For example, chapter three contains the details of the rebuilding of the ancient walls of Jerusalem. Likewise, chapter nine contains the details of the renewing of the people’s covenant with Jehovah. Chapter three speaks of the unity of the people with each other in the work. Chapter nine speaks of the harmony of the people with the Word. To rebuild the walls, people must work together. To renew the covenant, people must worship together. To rebuild the walls, people must harness their work to fulfill a shared vision. To renew the covenant, people must harness their will to fulfill a shared revelation.
Because Of All This…
After the awesome street service of Nehemiah eight, the people were inspired to keep the Feast of Tabernacles. They had not celebrated like this in centuries!
But now, they had time to think about where they stood and where they needed to be. Twenty-two days after the celebration of tabernacles, the people again gathered for a different purpose. They gathered to dedicate the work of their hands to the Lord. But to do so also required that they dedicate the obedience of their heart to God as well. God wants both hands and hearts to be obedient to Him. God also wants the fruit of each to be dedicated to His glory.
They had determined to recommit their entire lives to the will of God. It would be a solemn occasion and one that would contain a reiteration of their national history of failure. As a nation and a culture they bad failed; as a nation they would acknowledge past failure and draw strength to recommit themselves to God’s law. The day began with a reading of God’s law. This continued for hours, after which the people confessed their sins and worshiped for hours (vs. 3). After the service had continued for half a day, the moment of re-committal came. But first the history of the nation was retold to the people by several of the chief Levites (vs. 6-37). This recounting from history concluded with a call to recommitment:
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it (Nehemiah 9:38).
This recommitment was solemnized in the most formal fashion—written and sealed. Please don’t miss those important words found in the last verse of this chapter: “And because of all this…” There is a danger in the failure to admit failure. The danger is that without acknowledging failure there is never an ability to learn from error and recommit to God’s commandments. The chief priests summarized the entire situation:
* The will of God expressed in the commandments and the benefits to man of the same
* The people’s failure to keep God’s law
* The bondage that resulted from a withdrawal of God’s favor
Because of all this…
So often people fall into the trap of repeating failure in the same area because they don’t see the serious nature of their failure. They are unaware and blissfully ignorant of the suffering and frustration that their continual lack of faithfulness imposes on others as well as them-selves. Without a clear understanding of this, their repeated failure is shrugged off as no big deal. A change of attitude is seldom possible without a full understanding of God’s law and God’s expectation. It is in light of His holiness that man’s righteous self-image melts away to filthy rags. It was in the presence of the Holy One that Isaiah said,
Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts (Isaiah 6:5).
Until men come into the presence of the King, it is unlikely that they will ever accept or acknowledge the extent of their own moral failure.
A few highlights of the historic recounting delivered by the Levites is in order:
* vs. 17–18: Israel appointed themselves a captain to return them to their bondage. The golden calf they fashioned was appointed as their captain. His charge was to deliver them again to bond-age. Any god fashioned by our hands or minds is only going to lead us back into bondage.
* vs 28: “But after they had rest…” A period of God’s mercy provided only a short rest from their wickedness. God’s deliverance was but an opportunity to pause and regroup for further lawlessness and evil.
* vs 31: Even in God’s judgment mercy was shown. Were it not for mercy, the nation would have ceased to be long ago. Judgment does not preclude mercy. Mercy goes before judgment as well as comes after, that the seed be not removed. He alone is One Who can gather again that which is spilt.
* vs 36: Servants in the Promised Land. Sin makes those to whom the promises were made to become servants in the land over which they should be masters. The sad facts are that the very land these people should possess and be blessed in was a tributary possession of another people. They were servants in their own land, and the blessings of God that should have enriched them went to a foreign power.
* vs 37: Here is the sad state of affairs due to the ravages of sin. Their land is a possession of a foreign power. The blessing of the good land served to enrich another people. This foreign power had dominion of all their possession, and even their own bodies were in bondage to this power. What a picture of the bondage of sin! Sin takes that which was designed to be a blessing to you and uses it to enslave you instead. You become a servant in the land of blessing!
* vs 38: “And because of all this…”
A recounting of the history of Judah is a recounting of the practices of and the effects of unfaithfulness. The cycle of failure is repeated over and over again. How is the cycle of failure and judgment broken once it has been repeated so many times?
It is broken by establishing a new memorial. A memorial always points in two directions, backward and forward. It points back to the past and forward into the future.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it (Nehemiah. 9:38).
As we dedicate the works of our hands to God, we must also pledge the obedience of our hearts to Him. The memorial proposed in verse thirty-eight was a written and sealed document. This covenant document was a memorial that recognized profound failure to keep God’s covenant in the past. It pledged future obedience in light of the history of failure and judgment.
To seal a document means to press your signet emblem in hot wax poured over the end of a rolled-up scroll document. It signifies an endorsement of all that the document contains. Are you ready to press your signet emblem in hot wax poured over the edge of God’s Word? Are you ready to add your “amen” to the entire inspired revelation? This is what renewing your commitment requires.
You are not at liberty to pick and choose which portions of God’s law you agree with. It is all or nothing! You may not argue away or dismiss that which is inconvenient for you. Either you endorse the en-tire document or nothing at all. It was partial adherence at certain times that caused the people to become servants in the Promised Land. It will bring the same bondage upon you today.
The peril of partial obedience was illustrated in a vision given to the prophet Zechariah:
Then I turned, and lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and beheld a flying roll. And he said unto me, What seest thou? And I answered, I see a flying roll; the length thereof is twenty cubits, and the breadth thereof ten cubits. Then said he unto me, This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth: for every one that stealeth shall be cut off as on this side according to it; and every one that sweareth shall be cut off as on that side according to it. I will bring it forth, saith the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my name: and it shall remain in the midst of his house, and shall consume it with the timber thereof and the stones thereof (Zech. 5:1-4).
God has given His Word to mankind for the express purpose of being a blessing to those who serve Him. However, for those who seek to pick and choose which portions they apply, the same Word will be-come a curse. The flying scroll will seek you out and find your hiding place. For those who ignore the Lord’s teaching about stealing, God’s Word will find them. Those who overlook God’s feelings about swearing falsely, they will be found by the flying scroll. The Word of God will enter into the house of the thief and of the liar, and its curse will not be removed.
If anything should be abundantly clear to Israel at this point in their history, it should be the peril of partial obedience. Their history of repeated failure had just been proclaimed in their hearing by the Levites.
Does this message speak to you? Will you seek to rebuild that which has been brought to desolation upon a foundation of sinking sand? Partial obedience is not a foundation that can withstand the elements. This is precisely the point Jesus made in the parable of the two builders in Matthew 7:24-27. There was only one difference between the two builders.
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock (Matthew 7:24).
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand (Matthew 7:26).
The difference was not in the hearing or even in what was heard. Both heard the commandments of the Lord and apparently responded in some fashion. But one was willing to obey, and the other was not. Dare I say that the difference may not have even been in what the two builders believed, as some men define belief? The only difference the Lord Jesus points to is in their obedience to His commandments. You may be building, but are you building on the shifting sand of partial obedience? Are there not enough personal and collective memories of past failure to inspire complete and absolute obedience to God’s Word? Some may ask, “But how can a sinner such as me obey God completely?” You must first desire to do so, and then you must seek His grace to enable you.
And because of all this…
This is why we must renew our commitment to Him. This is why we must constantly review our walk with the Lord.
The Promised Land is not designed to be a refugee camp, and God does not intend for you to become a slave. The Promised Land for you is the spiritual life. There are tremendous blessings here for you, so long as you remain on the right side of God’s promises.
Make no mistake about it, the spiritual life still contains elements that are undesirable and even dangerous. Jesus expresses this simple truth in the parable of the buried treasure.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man bath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field (Matthew 13:44).
Please notice that in order to obtain the treasure, the man had to do two things. He had to sell all that he owned, and he had to purchase the field. You see, the treasure was buried in the field. Even though the treasure was his goal, he could not simply purchase the treasure; he had to purchase the field that contained the treasure. The Christian life is the field that contains the treasure of eternal life. If you want the treasure, you must sell out completely and purchase the field. The field of Christian living will indeed contain certain hazards as well as some things with which you do not agree. But salvation is a package deal. Your investment and commitment must be made in the package if you ever hope to gain the prize.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant… (Nehemiah 9:38).
Perhaps some of you know what it is like to struggle in the Land of Promise. You have received the gift of salvation and yet have seen your relationship with God drop in the order of your life’s priorities. You ask, “But what can I do?” You must renew your commitment to Him. You must commit yourself to all of God’s Word—to all of God’s will for your life. You must make a “sure covenant” or a commitment that you are willing to back up in any way necessary to prove to God your sincerity. Renew your covenant now while you may. Add your “Amen” to the whole of God’s Word. Press your signet now while the wax is still hot!
After being exposed to the power of God’s Word in a setting other than empty ritual, the people are stirred to the core of their being. A worship service is conducted in the street where they live, and a sovereign move of God brings them through the cycle of repentance and restoration. They experience the joy of the Lord and return to their homes rejoicing and sharing the marvelous works of God with each other.
The light of illumination has crossed their path, and they will never be the same again. What they have been exposed to works in their hearts for the next few days. They have questions regarding some of the things that they have heard from the law and how to apply these statutes in their life. Heads of clans are sent to the ministry to ask questions and gain further understanding of God’s expectations. This is a good trend because the people are taking their relationship with Jehovah seriously and want to know for themselves what He expects in their lives.
One of the most critical phases of spiritual renewal occurs immediately after people receive a revelation of God’s will for their lives. Note the developments leading up to this point:
1 The man of God brings a vision of what God wants to accomplish.
2 Boundaries are established and strengthened.
3 Worship moves out of the temple (ritual) and into the street (daily lives).
4 People yearn for spiritual instruction from God’s Word.
5 People receive for themselves, from the Word, a revelation of what God desires to do in their lives.
A critical crossroads exists at the point where a personal under-standing of God’s desire for one’s life comes. No longer is one afforded the mental luxury of dismissing personal responsibility for one’s actions and lifestyle. No longer can one rely solely on the ministry of others to understand God’s will. Spiritual renewal always progresses to the point where we see from God’s Word our own personal responsibility to the Lord for how we live. What we do with this knowledge will determine if spiritual renewal will continue and our lives will change to conform to God’s desires.
In his excellent book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren writes, “People need fewer `ought-to’ sermons and more `how-to’ sermons.” In chapter eight the people heard an “ought-to” sermon. They came back the following week with one burning question in their hearts—how? Now they received understanding in the area of how. To be fair to Ezra, we can be sure the people heard a good deal of the “how-to” aspect as they gathered the first time at the water gate. However, as with many sincere hearts that come to God’s Word seeking direction; they were probably overwhelmed with the scope of what God expected. Thanks be to God, they came back later to hear more about how! Many do not.
Spiritual renewal doesn’t stop with an understanding of what God wants in your life. You must press on to learn how God will help you accomplish this very thing. The Lord never expects anything of us that He will not equip us to fulfill. The Spirit and the Word will lead and move you to commit yourself to His plan, and then you will receive strength to follow through.
The article “Renewal Of The Ancient Covenant” written by Nevin Bass is excerpted from Building God’s Wall: Reclaiming Your Spiritual High Ground written by Nevin Bass with a Foreword written by T. F. Tenney.