The book of Nehemiah reveals that the people of God in the post-exilic community had a great passion, the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah 1-6 deals primarily with the architectural reparation of the city. Nehemiah 7 deals with organization of the population who had returned from Babylon. Nehemiah 8-10 deals with the spiritual restoration of the community.
Nehemiah 8 deals with the reading of the Torah by Ezra. The Levites instructed the people how to obey the Law and how to worship God. In Nehemiah 9 the community gathered for a ceremony in which Nehemiah confessed their sins and their rebellion against God. The ceremony ended when the community signed a binding agreement which the leaders and the people swore to uphold.
After the ceremony in which the people confessed their sins, the community made a commitment to God: “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it” (Nehemiah 9:38 NIV). The expression “binding agreement” uses the same Hebrew word for making a covenant. The agreement was written and signed by the leaders of the community. The first name listed on the document was the name of Nehemiah, the governor (Nehemiah 10:1).
The agreement was signed by the lay leaders of the community, by the Levites, and by the priests. The whole community was united in their promise to obey the laws of God. The pledges the people made to God and to one another included three important issues.
The first issue involved relationship. The people pledged: “We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons” (Nehemiah 10:30). The first promise had to do with mixed marriages. The people made a promise not to marry their sons and daughters to people who did not share the same religious commitments that they did. In order to retain the vitality of their faith in God, the members of the community vowed not to establish relationships by marriage with people who did not believe in the God of Israel.
The second issue involved observance of the sabbath. The people pledged: “if the peoples of the land bring in merchandise or any grain on the sabbath day to sell, we will not buy it from them on the sabbath” (Nehemiah 10:31). In Judaism, the sabbath was set aside as a time off to rest and to worship God. The original commandment in Exodus 20:8-11 prohibited working on the sabbath. This new requirement involved buying and selling on the sabbath.
The third issue involved money. In the days of Malachi the priests and the Levites were facing economic problems because the people were not bringing their tithes to the temple (Malachi 3:10). Now, in order to ensure the maintenance of the temple, the people pledged to establish an annual tax for the upkeeping of the temple: “We also lay on ourselves the obligation to charge ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:32). This yearly tax would pay for the holy bread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, “and for all the work of the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:33). The commitment to financially support the work of God involved the whole community and included several areas of accountability.
The People’s Offering
The people promised to give to God the first fruits of everything: “We obligate ourselves to bring the first fruits of our soil and the first fruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the LORD” (Nehemiah 10:35). The First Fruits was a religious festival in which the people of Israel offered to God the first agricultural produce of the harvest: “You shall not delay to make offerings from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses” (Exodus 22:29).
As an agricultural society, the people of Israel also gave the tithe of their crop to God: “We obligate ourselves to bring . . . to the Levites the tithes from our soil” (Nehemiah 10:35, 37). The concept of tithing was a very ancient custom in the ancient Near East. Before there was a law about tithing in Israel, Abraham gave Melchizedek “one tenth of everything” he had obtained in battle (Genesis 14:20). Jacob promised God that if he would return to his home safely, he would give him a tenth of everything he possessed (Genesis 28:20-22).
In Israel the tithe of everything belonged to God. The tithe was brought to the “house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:37) and not given to an individual because the tithe belonged to God. The people of Israel gave their tithe to God out of gratitude. Out of gratitude for their redemption from Egypt, the people of Israel came before God with confessing “A wandering Aramean was my father” and as a demonstration of their gratitude they would make their offering to God: “I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:5-10).
The people gave their tithe to God because he had saved them and because they loved him. Christian generosity is the evidence of love. Love generates generosity. Giving to God reveals a lifestyle of generosity. Generosity is an expression of love for God.
When the people made their commitment to give their tithe to the Lord they agreed that both the priests and the Levites would be involved in the collection of the offering: “the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tithe of the tithes to the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:38).
At the recommendation of the community a priest would be present with the Levites to supervise the work when the Levites received the tithe from the people. This safeguard promoted financial accountability. This procedure allowed for the proper presentation of the tithe and ensured that the priests would not be deprived of their portion.
The Tithe of the Levites
In Israel, all the personnel of the temple were compensated through the tithes and offerings the people brought to the temple as an offering to God. According to the book of Numbers, the Levites received the tithe of the people because they had not receive an inheritance of land as the other tribes had received: “To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for a possession in return for the service that they perform, the service in the tent of meeting” (Numbers 18:21).
In the binding commitment the people made, it was agreed that the Levites would bring “a tithe of the tithes to the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:38). The purpose of “the tithe of the tithe” was for the support of the priests. “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: You shall speak to the Levites, saying: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe that I have given you from them for your portion, you shall set apart an offering from it to the LORD, a tithe of the tithe. . . . Thus you also shall set apart an offering to the LORD from all the tithes that you receive from the Israelites; and from them you shall give the LORD’s offering to the priest Aaron” (Numbers 18:25-28).
In Israel, every individual, including the religious personnel of the temple, were required to give their tithe to the Lord. The people brought their tithe to the house of the Lord to support the Levites. In turn, the Levites were supposed to take a tithe of the tithe they had received from the people and give it to the priests in order to support their ministry.
The gifts from the people of Israel were used to support the various ministries associated with the worship of God in the temple. The tithe of the people was used to support the ministry of the sons of Levi whose work consisted of helping the priests and serving as guards, musicians, as gatekeepers and in other activities related to the ministry of the temple.
The people’s offering also helped with the maintenance of the temple and the ministries of the priests who served in the temple, the ministry of the gatekeepers, and the ministry of the singers. The Levites were the supporting staff that supplemented the ministry of the priest. They were the indispensable people necessary to do the work of God in the temple.
The Resolve of the People
Touched by the reading of the Torah, the whole community made a solemn promise to be faithful to God. To show their determination to fulfill their promise, they signed their names and made a solemn vow: “We will not neglect the house of our God” (Nehemiah 10:39).
Nehemiah was the leader who motivated the people to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. However, the work of God in the community and in the world requires the participation of the whole community. Nehemiah organized the people, Ezra read the Torah to the people, and the Levites helped the people understand what was read. But in the end, it was the financial contribution of the people that made the work of the priests and the work of the Levites possible. Without the involvement of the community and the generosity of the people, the work of God cannot be done in the world.
The video below is the sermon Jeff Griffin, Senior Pastor of The Compass Church in Naperville, Illinois, preached on November 17, 2019. The title of his sermon was “Nehemiah: Commitment.” The text for the sermon was Nehemiah 10:32-39. The above post is based on Jeff’s sermon.
Jeff began his sermon by reminding the congregation the mission of The Compass Church: “To Love Him More, So More Love Him.” The Compass Church “is a community of life transformation taking the hope of the gospel here, near and far.” The Compass Church is in the people business, it is a church that seeks to be a light in the world.
Jeff announced that at the end of the service, the congregation would submit their financial commitment which is designed to build the new building for the South Naperville Campus of The Compass Church.
Jeff compared a church building with tools which are repeatedly used for generations. A church building is a tool that will be used for generations to make a difference in the lives of people. A church building is a beacon of light in the darkness which will be used to transform lives again and again.
The sermon on “Nehemiah: Commitment” served to illustrate how the people of Israel in the days of Nehemiah were united in giving their money and resources for the work of the temple and for the glory of God.
Sermon: “Nehemiah: Commitment” by Jeff Griffin
Studies on Nehemiah
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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