Mindful of raising up a new generation of Christians but also keenly aware of our own inadequacies and failures, parents, pastors, and all who love children become discouraged and even fearful. With fear comes the temptation to doubt the sufficiency of God’s Word and more easily accept the help of passionate unbelievers. “Why do you cling to ancient traditions?” they ask. “Can’t you see? We have something new!”
There is a lesson to be learned from God’s people who, in a time before us, were also discouraged, overwhelmed, and taunted by unbelieving neighbors who offered something new.
The remnant of Israel that had survived exile in Persia returned home to find the walls of Jerusalem broken down and city gates destroyed. To this small number of faithful people was given the arduous task of re-building the temple and walls of Jerusalem. God also wanted His people to grow faithful families. He wanted them to be holy and set apart in their worship and practice. When people in the neighboring land saw that Jerusalem was being restored, they offered their help. After all, these people explained, they worshipped God, too. (In reality, they were a people of blended religions.) Fearing that they would commit themselves to false worship, the Israelite fathers refused the offer of resources and help. They knew that God had entrusted the job of rebuilding the temple and walls only to them. So “the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose” (Ezra 4:4-5).
The culture in which God’s people found themselves made the building project very difficult, but the Word of the Lord consistently commanded the people to persevere. God also reminded His people that they were to be holy and set apart for His good purpose. But the people of Israel, following the example of some of their leaders, mixed themselves with the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and others through marriage (9:1-2). The people were guilty of breaking faith with God and allowing impurity of worship, teaching, and practice. There was confession and absolution but, because the potential for continued corruption of worship was so great, illegal marriages were identified and ended (10:18-19). The rebuilding of the temple, restoration of the walls, and growing of faithful families began anew.
However, when the neighbors in the land saw that the Israelites were again doing the work of God in rebuilding Jerusalem, they were angry. “[T]hey all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause confusion in it” (Neh. 4:8). It was easy to cause confusion and discouragement among the Israelites because fathers, mothers, and grandparents were overwhelmed by the task that lay before them. “There is too much rubble. By ourselves we will not be able to rebuild the wall” (4:10). The enemies said, “They will not know or see till we come among them and kill them and stop the work” (4:11). Nehemiah encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes” (4:14). When the walls were rebuilt and the gates restored, the law of God was read to the people who were both joyful and repentant (chapters 8 and 9).
Everything was coming back into order and Israel was prepared to live by the truth of God’s Word. What could go wrong? What went wrong is incredibly significant. Eliashib, the priest appointed over the chambers of God, gave Tobiah the Ammonite a place in the temple (13:4-5). Under the guise of helping God’s people, Tobiah was given a room formerly used to store the offering for God. There, within the temple, sat Tobiah and his possessions. Nehemiah was away when this happened, but when he returned, he “was very angry, and [he] threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then [he] gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and [he] brought back there the vessels of the house of God” (13:8-9).
God entrusted the rebuilding of His temple and the city walls to His people. He entrusted the growing of holy families to husbands and wives equipped with His Word. He does the same today.
God wants His people to keep their worship, teaching, and practices pure and different from that of the dark and unbelieving world. Certainly, there are resources in the world that can be practical and helpful to the Christian. But we must take care especially when it comes to instructing Jesus’ little ones. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). It is a frightening thing indeed to compromise one of the Father’s children.
Compromise happens, however, when God’s people are weary and burdened, or prideful and above reproach. Compromise happens when we let down our guard and grow comfortable with the world. At such times it is easier for an opposing foe to gain access by offering some kind of help or resource. It was for this reason that Nehemiah “stationed the people by their clans, with their swords, their spears, and their bows … each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built” (Neh. 4:13, 18). The men were on guard at night and labored by day (22).
We are weary and overwhelmed by a multitude of life issues. Sometimes we are prideful after doubting God’s Word and trusting something else. As the culture decays and evil abounds, we may believe that God asks the impossible of us. But, Martin Luther reminds us that the task of rebuilding the temple and shoring up walls was given to a weak people, few in number; a people against whom stood powerful princes and nations, which lived round about and daily threatened imminent destruction.
There will be days when failure distracts us from the building project. There will be those like Tobiah who mock our faithfulness to an ancient faith while tempting us with new practices. In the face of evil, let it be said of us: Look! They remember “the Lord who is great and awesome,” and they “fight for [their] brothers…sons…daughters…wives…and homes” (Neh. 4:14).
Excerpted from The Failure of Sex Education in the Church:
Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity (pp 61-63) by Linda Bartlett;
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