Monday, November 5, 2012

WORDDEVO: "The Weekly Word with Moody" [11-4 thru 11-10]

Seven Days of Devotion




Read: Nehemiah 10


In 2003, New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof was reporting on the sexual trafficking of women and children in Cambodia when he called the legal team at the paper’s offices. “I asked them if they had a policy about purchasing human beings—turns out they didn’t!” For $350, he purchased the freedom of two 15-year-old girls who had been trafficked into brothels. He returned them to their families and gave them seed money to start businesses so that they could earn a living apart from the sex trade. One girl opened a small grocery, but the other ended up returning to the degradation and abuse of the brothel. Though she had been freed, she could not grasp a life out of bondage.

We may gasp in horror at someone given a chance at freedom and life choosing instead to be enslaved and oppressed. Yet when we refuse to confess our sins, or then refuse to live in the truth of our spiritual freedom, we are returning to the slavery and bondage of sin. In our passage today, the people wanted to go beyond praise and confession and take action to change their relationship with God from egregious sin to eager service.

This community agreement was a serious commitment (see 9:38). Nehemiah led the political and religious leaders in sealing this accord to obey the Lord (vv. 1-29). After being plagued with spiritually corrupt worship, the people pledged not to permit intermarriage with the pagan people, which had led to the idolatrous abominations of false gods and child sacrifice (v. 30). Additionally, the people committed to honor the Lord and His Law by observing the Sabbath, even though it would mean counter-cultural business practices and inconvenience (v. 31).

Finally, the people took seriously the need to provide for the Lord’s house, spiritual ministry, and worship (vv. 32-39). They contributed their tithes and offerings to the Lord. While it might seem like service for God costs a great deal, it is a joy compared to the weighty demands of sin. After praise and confession, the people were committed to living in a way that made worship and service to God a priority.


If you spent time confessing your sins before our gracious, merciful God, then you are forgiven! Don’t return to the bondage of sin; choose to obey the commands of the Lord. Is there something you know you should do for God that you’ve resisted? Perhaps your giving to the ministry of the Lord has been anemic or begrudging. Or maybe you’ve been comfortable with a life of cultural convenience rather than holiness. Choose the freedom of a life of worship and service today!







Read: Nehemiah 11


When the State of Israel was founded in 1948, the government proclaimed “the renewal of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel, which would open wide the gates of the homeland to every Jew.” In 1950, the Law of Return granted every Jew in the world the right to come to Israel as an oleh (Jew immigrating to Israel) and become an Israeli citizen. Today, nearly 30 percent of the Jewish population of Israel are immigrants from around the world, some fleeing persecution and others wishing to participate in the world’s only Jewish state.

After the high point of the book in the preceding three chapters, today’s text returns to Nehemiah’s concern in chapter 7 (see 7:4-5). Major construction projects had been completed. The people had confessed sin and committed themselves to service. Now it was time to sort out the organizational details that would make the resettlement of God’s people in Judah a successful, long-term endeavor.

The people had settled in their ancestral towns, but Jerusalem remained underpopulated, likely because until the wall was rebuilt the people had significant security concerns. Now that provision had been made for greater protection, the leaders settled in Jerusalem, and the people volunteered one tenth of the population of their towns to now reside in the capital (vv. 1-2).

The rest of this chapter reveals something about Nehemiah’s concerns and his leadership. First, his record of the settlements and population shows his commitment to organization and detail. He did not treat the matter of God’s people settling into their land as a haphazard affair. The people had been commanded to settle the land after the Exodus; now Nehemiah was recording that process again after the return from Exile (see Num. 33:53; Deut. 10:11; Joshua 13-21).

Second, Nehemiah exhibited spiritual concern that the resettlement would facilitate the spiritual stability of the people. He detailed the provision for Levites in Jerusalem (vv. 15-18) as well as enough priests and singers to conduct worship in the temple (vv. 12, 22).


The praise and worship of the Lord on Sunday is an important part of our spiritual obedience. But God also cares about how we’re living from Monday through Saturday. The details might not seem glamorous or spiritually significant, but every part of our lives, from how we conduct ourselves at work to our attitudes toward our family members to how we organize our finances, matters to God.







Read: Nehemiah 12


The Psalms have been described as the songbook of Israel. The final psalm is a crescendo of praise: “Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”

From the account in our reading today of the dedication of the Jerusalem wall, it seems that Nehemiah was certainly familiar with Psalm 150! Just as this psalm builds into a chorus of praise, the description of this celebration almost bursts off the page with music and joy.

Instruments of cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets were appointed for praise (vv. 27, 35-36, 41). Singers gathered from around Judah, and Nehemiah divided them into two large choirs “to give thanks” (v. 31). Then he sent them in opposite directions around the wall, in effect surrounding the city with a citadel of praise. What a beautiful picture of the power of praise literally encircling the city along with the rebuilt wall! The rejoicing was so full, rich, and loud that it could “be heard far away” (v. 43).

Not only was the celebration full of joy, it was also concerned with appropriate worship. The priests and Levites ensured their own ritual purity as well as that of the people (vv. 30, 45). This outpouring of praise to dedicate the wall extended to acts of generosity and service to ensure that the ministry of the temple was provided for (vv. 44-47). The people didn’t stop with songs and rejoicing; they were willing to bring their firstfruits and tithes required by the Law.

By the end of this dedication, we see that the spiritual life of Judah has been ordered according to God’s instructions. “All Israel contributed,” rejoicing “because God had given them great joy” (v. 47).









Read: Nehemiah 13:1-14


At its peak, an estimated 24 million listeners tuned in to Paul Harvey’s radio programs, The Rest of the Story, News and Comment, and Paul Harvey News. He was probably best known for The Rest of the Story, which was sometimes described as part history and part mystery. With his trademark delivery, Harvey would have millions of Americans on the edge of their seats when he began, “Hello Americans, I’m Paul Harvey. You know what the news is. In a minute, you’re going to hear . . . the rest of the story.”

After the glorious celebration in yesterday’s reading, our text today is like the rest of the story. And in many ways, we might wish that the book of Nehemiah had just ended on the high note of praise and joy and worship. But instead, we have the unvarnished truth about the way that spiritual community began to disintegrate over time.

The first three verses pick up where chapter 12 ended. When the people heard the instructions in the Law to keep separate from the idolatrous enemies of true worship, they complied. Then things went downhill. After 12 years as governor in Jerusalem, Nehemiah was recalled to the court of Artaxerxes (v. 6). We’re not told how long he stayed in Persia, but at some later point he was given permission to return to Jerusalem.

He discovered that one of his chief opponents, Tobiah the Ammonite, was being housed inside the very temple of God (vv. 4-7)! This directly contradicted the command of God that no Ammonite should be allowed in the assembly of God (see v. 1; Judges 10:6). Now this foe of righteousness had wormed his way into the heart of Jewish worship and identity.

Nehemiah responded by forcefully removing Tobiah and all his possessions and ordering the rooms to be purified again (vv. 8-9). He then learned that the commitment to provide for the Levites and singers had been neglected, forcing the spiritual leaders to leave the temple in order to provide their own food (v. 10). Nehemiah installed new leadership to ensure that the house of God and its service would be provided for and respected.


Scripture is honest with us about the reality of the spiritual life. A great high point of fellowship with God might be followed by a drift away from our commitment to serve Him. Do you have a sustained passion for the work of God, or have you grown complacent about things in your life that contradict a life of faith? If you resemble Eliashib, who let Tobiah into the temple, repent and return to your commitment to the Lord. Pray to have Nehemiah’s zeal for the things of God.






Read: Nehemiah 13:15-31


Chapter 2 of the Gospel of John describes Jesus’ passionate purification of the temple: “To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!’ His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’” (vv. 16-17). The passage the disciples recalled comes from Psalm 69:9, and the end of that psalm concludes: “For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there” (vv. 35-36).

Throughout the book of Nehemiah we’ve seen his dedication to the Law of the Lord and his frequent prayers to God. In chapter 12, it seems evident that Nehemiah knew the psalms and modeled the celebration after their prescriptions for praise. In chapter 13, Nehemiah’s heart for the temple and Sabbath of God are consistent with Psalm 69, and it is reasonable to think that he believed the prophetic words that God would rebuild the cities and resettle the people in Zion. Nehemiah’s passion for the things of God foreshadows the passion of Jesus Himself.

In today’s reading, Nehemiah discovered that the commitment to keep the Sabbath, made in 10:31, was now ignored (vv. 15-18). Both Jews and foreigners were trading on the Sabbath instead of consecrating the day to the worship of God. Nehemiah didn’t merely bemoan this state of affairs—he took zealous action to ensure that the Sabbath observance would be in keeping with the commands of a holy God. He shut the gates, posted a guard, and warned the merchants that they would be removed by force (vv. 19-22).

The plague of intermarriage had again afflicted the people, even including a marriage between a priest and the daughter of Sanballat. As Nehemiah noted, if even the wise king Solomon couldn’t maintain his loyalty to God when surrounded by his foreign wives, how did these men expect to be obedient to the Lord (vv. 23-31). Again, Nehemiah demonstrated that spiritual leadership requires a commitment to doing God’s work in God’s way.


Twice in this passage Nehemiah prayed for God to remember him (vv. 22, 31). This was evidence of God’s faithfulness and ability to judge his heart and deeds accurately. Are we more concerned with what God thinks of us or what others think of us? As we conclude our study of Ezra and Nehemiah, spend time in prayer and reflection on your heart for the things of God. By His grace and power, resolve to serve the Lord and others with joy and commitment.








Read: Luke 1:57-80


Last year saw the 500th anniversary of the first decorated Christmas tree. In 1510, a fir tree was placed in a public marketplace in Riga, Latvia, and decorated with paper roses by local merchants in order to honor the birth of Christ. The idea of decorating Christmas trees caught on—ornaments included apples, nuts, cookies, colorful paper, and lighted candles—and eventually German settlers brought this holiday custom to the United States. Colored glass balls were popular ornaments at the end of the nineteenth century, with electric lights soon following. The lighting of the first White House Christmas tree took place in 1923.

Luke continued his account of the first Christmas in today’s reading by narrating the birth of John the Baptist. From a human perspective, this was a joyful occasion. Elizabeth knew that God had blessed her and Zechariah and answered their prayers for a child. Her relatives and neighbors shared in the joy and praised the Lord with them for this miracle baby. From God’s perspective, though, much more was going on, and He reminded everyone of this during the circumcision and naming ceremony. The baby’s name itself, John, contradicted expectations because it was not a traditional family name. And when Zechariah spoke for the first time in nine months to affirm that they would be obeying God and naming the child John, the onlookers were doubly astonished.

What did it all mean? One point here is that God’s plans are a sure thing. No sooner has Gabriel made the announcements in Luke than we see them coming to pass. Another point is that the time has come. After so many prophecies and centuries of waiting, the time has at last arrived in God’s plan for the advent of the Messiah.

At a personal level, the transformation in Zechariah’s heart foreshadowed the work God would do and has been doing, in countless hearts through salvation in Christ. Verses 67 through 79, known as the Benedictus, show clearly that Zechariah had come to trust not only in the angel’s words concerning baby John, but to trust more deeply in God’s covenant faithfulness.


God is in the business of changing lives. Sometimes the change is lightning-quick; sometimes, as in Zechariah’s case, it takes more time. The result is always a deepened faith and a hunger for the glory of God. The question becomes, then, in what ways is God transforming your heart? He loves you no less than He loved Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph. And though we stand at a distance in time from the Christmas story, we are equally in need of the Savior.








Read: Luke 2:1-20


On October 30, 2010, shoppers at Macy’s in downtown Philadelphia enjoyed a “Random Act of Culture” sponsored by the Knight Foundation. In honor of National Opera Week, local organizers brought over 650 singers to the department store. At a prearranged signal they surprised everyone by bursting into the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. They were accompanied by the famous Wanamaker Organ, the largest pipe organ in the world. Shoppers consumed with buying things were suddenly reminded of deeper truths.

It must have been similar for the shepherds. One minute, they were out in the fields taking care of sheep, just doing their jobs; the next minute, they were experiencing an angelic host singing the original “Hallelujah Chorus”! The fact that they were favored with this dazzling announcement of the birth of the Son of God is inexplicable from a human point of view. Why them? They weren’t rich, they weren’t educated, they weren’t powerful—they weren’t even “religious.” What they did have was faith. After the angels had gone, the shepherds responded obediently and imme-diately to what they had been told, found the baby, and spread the good news. This episode in Luke reflects the writer’s emphasis on God’s love for the poor and socially marginalized—the gospel is truly for everyone!

The shepherds weren’t the only participants in the drama. The angels were clearly eager to deliver the most incredible news of all time to these oblivious humans. No doubt they could hardly comprehend the union of God and man who lay there in the manger that night, but they knew it was world-changing. Mary and Joseph were also key actors on God’s stage, and their simple faithfulness should not be underestimated. Even the Roman government played an unwitting part, decreeing a census that fit right into God’s sovereign plan and helping to fulfill the prophecy of a Bethlehem birth.

What was it all for? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men” (v. 14). This peace is first and foremost peace with God (Rom. 5:1-2).


Thanks to the Internet, you, too, can share in the joy of seeing the “Hallelujah Chorus” at Macy’s. Video of the event in today’s illustration has proved immensely popular online. To watch (and perhaps even sing along), go to and search for Macy’s Philadelphia Hallelujah Chorus. As we approach the celebration of Easter and the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, this beautiful music is particularly appropriate.



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