NEHEMIAH 10:1 – 11:36 and ACTS 24:1–27
Nehemiah, The Levites, priests and people made an oath unto the Lord to observe and keep the commandments of God and to walk in a spirit of unity amongst one another. The history of what happened to Israel in generations past was not lost on the leadership. There needs to be proper succession planning for the generational leadership to come but it must never be at the expense of the ordained absolutes of God; values that never change. There can be a very fine line of tension between these two keys. How much of culture do you make allowance for in order to be relevant? How strongly should we hold onto tradition and values at the risk of alienating the up and coming generation? There is a need for wisdom and humility in looking how to bridge these two bookends.
Nehemiah, Ezra and the leadership were very clear in their desire to teach on the importance of God’s statutes and commandments. In other words these attributes of God are unchanging. Today’s world seeks to redefine values and it is affecting the church. Truth is no longer being based on God’s absolutes; it is left to man to determine his own version of right and wrong. Those who stand for TRUTH are being targeted by the cultural police who seek to implement their own method of justice. The cultural police of today have been infiltrating churches at an alarming rate. They insist on compliance to its brand of law. This new brand of law can simply be defined as lawlessness. It is in this kind of environment where the antichrist will be able to exert his influence. The policy that Nehemiah, Ezra and the others put in place helped to insure against such forms of lawlessness. They were clear in strictly observing and honouring God’s ordinances. Do we have this capacity today or are we afraid of offending people which then may affect our congregations. It is a choice and decision that all modern day priests will have to make. Yes, we are to be new wineskins and have adaptability in flowing with what God is doing. At the same time we must never forget the ancient landmarks, the anchors that our father’s observed. The Laws and ordinances of God are not a living breathing document that alters and changes with regard to trends and cultural shifts. The leadership of Nehemiah and the others reinforced this truth over and over. They had many examples of Israel’s history to draw from. How much more accountable are we with an additional 2500 years of history to learn and glean from?
The work of placing people in their allotted lands is now taking place. The rulers of the people dwelt within the city of Jerusalem itself. The rest of the people cast lots where 1 in 10 would be designated a place in Jerusalem. There were added blessings given to those who chose to stay within the city. There were priests, Levites and Nethinims that established residence in the many cities of Judah as well as in Jerusalem. The breakdown of the people and where they were placed are covered from verse 4 through the end of the chapter. We also see some of the ministry functions as well. There must be an appreciation upon the leadership for their administrative abilities. How can you handle such a large group of people and effectively place them in the appropriate pieces of real estate? It can only come by being led of the Spirit. This should always be the template for any level of leadership; to allow God to administrate any undertaking.
This appears to be how heaven is run when looking at Ezekiel’s vision from chapter 1. The demands on the church of the last days are only going to intensify. Leadership must be Spirit led and not just reliant on proven workable structures from the past. What never changes are the absolute values of God; these are the underpinnings that will enable a ministry to hit its appointed mark. It is so easy to gloss over all the names and placements in chapter 11 and move on to the next chapter. It helps when we pause and reflect what Nehemiah and the leadership had to contend with. There will be similar challenges that will confront church movements in the days to come. I feel it is due to the strong foundations that Nehemiah and Ezra had in their upbringing that enabled God to work His administrative capacities through them. These foundations take time and do not just materialize. We somehow feel that we can adapt our current structures to whatever may come our way. We better be prepared. I will never forget a message that Dr. Brian Bailey shared back in the mid 1980’s. He shared from the following verse:
“And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches.” (2 Kings 3:16)
The ditches had to be dug during a time of drought and famine. That is not an easy thing to do. Dr. Bailey preceded this verse by sharing on the following theme: Blessings, Enlargement and Multiplication. It is a wonderful thing when God brings blessing to a work, ministry or church. It is even better when that entity experiences enlargement and growth. The challenging and dangerous part though is transitioning from enlargement to multiplication. It is here where Dr. Bailey shared on the need to dig ditches, to prepare for eventualities that are not yet seen. It requires hearing from God because when multiplication comes it must be managed and administered properly. If the rains were to suddenly come upon that dry parched ground there would be no way to contain the water. It would go wasted. So it is with multiplication; it must be prepared for by hearing and obeying what God would speak. If our foundations are solid and our ditches and capacities enlarged it allows for God to effectively administrate through open vessels. Many ministries and works that have great potential fail in the transition from enlargement to multiplication phase. The nets that will be cast out in these last days must hold and not break (Math 13:47-50, John 21:11). Nehemiah, as part of the multiplication phase was able to manage and administrate large numbers of people into their allotted inheritances. His work did not finish with the rebuilding of the walls around the city; it continued in a way to help ensure longevity while presenting the working template for our day.
There was a period of 5 days that transpired after Paul was brought from Jerusalem to Caesarea. During that time Ananias the high priest and several elders came down from Jerusalem to testify against Paul as well as vindicate themselves for being involved in a disruptive ruckus which proved unsettling to the Romans. Tertullus began to read the accusations against Paul as he was called forth (vs 2). He (Tertullus) begins his address by speaking flattering remarks towards Felix as a means of trying to court favor with Felix as he brings forth his charges against Paul. He describes Paul as a pestilent fellow, a plague and scourge of the city. He states that Paul profaned the temple, incited sedition amongst the Jews and should have been judged by the Law of the Jews. This all would have been done if it were not for the chief captain who was named Lysias. He came with great violence to take him away resulting in the events of which are now taking place. Tertullus and the Jews are taking a bit of a risk in placing much of the blame upon the chief captain. They were saying that this matter would have been taken care of if it were not for Lysias. The Jews that accompanied Ananias and Tertullus assented to their words that were spoken (vs 9).
Paul now begins his brilliant defence before the governor and those who are gathered. He too acknowledges Felix in a positive way in citing his many years as a judge. He is happy to speak for himself and sends the message to Felix that he deems him to be fair; a man whom Paul can trust in rendering a just verdict after hearing his cause. Paul speaks that he was in no wise a trouble maker upon his arrival to Jerusalem. He made the case that they could not prove any of the charges that they were asserting against him. Paul then makes a powerful statement in verse 14:
Act 24:14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:
He is saying that what he was being charged with is actually the very Gospel he believes and teaches. In other words he is being charged and attacked for the very things he believes. This statement sends a strong rebuke to his accusers. Paul goes on to speak of his faith and adherence to God. He then goes to the matter of the teaching regarding the resurrection of the dead. This was the issue which brought about the tumult involving the Pharisees and the Sadducees. This was a point of contention between these two groups which Paul effectively brought to the surface to help extricate himself from their lynch mob mentality. Paul brings this matter up in two places of his defence (vs 15, 21). Paul narrows it down to the issue of the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead as to why they were meeting before Felix on this day (vs 21). Paul had to do this because the Sadducees and Pharisees were united in their accusing of Paul before Felix. He reminded the gathered audience that it was the matter of the Resurrection which brought about the unsettling tumult.
Felix, after hearing both sides of the issue deferred in making any kind of determination until after hearing from Lysias, the chief captain. He had a better understanding of issues after hearing the arguments but chose to hold off in giving an immediate verdict. Paul was held in the interim but had liberties and was not denied access to acquaintances. One gets the impression that Felix was leaning more in Paul’s direction after hearing from him and observing the temperament of the Jewish priests and elders. Paul had opportunity to again speak before Felix who at this time was accompanied by his wife Drusilla. Felix was troubled and came under conviction as Paul spoke on righteousness, temperance and judgment to come. Felix had a history of cruelty in the way he ruled so it is little wonder as to why he would be troubled. Still, Felix hoped for a bribe from Paul so that he could release him while benefitting from him personally in doing so. Here he is showing his true colors. At the core Felix saw an opportunity in being able to exploit Paul’s situation. He believed Paul to be innocent from the charges that were made against him but he sought to use his position and authority to enrich himself to some extent. We have seen this at work in our many years of foreign missionary work. There would be those in a position of authority who knew who we were, what we stood for and for what we did on behalf of their people. They would say nice things about our organizations and our intent. Still, they wanted to extract a price for their own personal benefit. It is not enough to know what is right or wrong. Felix knew the truth of the matter concerning Paul and even gave some privileges while he was being held. This in no wise exonerates him because he could have used his position to release him and to do the right thing. Felix, at his core was a man whose heart was for himself. He also sought to maintain some sort of favor with the Jews by keeping Paul held. Eventually Portus Festus came into the province to replace Felix. This account will be picked up in Acts 25.