Do you like making lists? I have to confess, I do. I make lists to pack for travel, go shopping, organise a project or structure my life. I have generic lists as templates so that I don’t have to do any first principle thinking about a repeated project. For me, it saves time, eases stress and improves productivity. If I do a good enough original list I know I have done a good job when all items are ticked or checked. We are in the tenth chapter of Nehemiah’s journal and we are looking at one of his lists. In fact, it is the fifth major list that he shares with us. Nehemiah’s mind likes list. He used them to get what he needed from his King. He used one to honour those who built the wall. He listed the returning exiles so he knew who was on his team and in his community. He listed those who decided to make profound promises to God. We are now looking at the list of those promises. You have seen that it is not an original list. It is based on deducing from the written laws of Moses a series of duties which the whole group will promise to fulfil. It starts with their daughters, it moves to their rhythms of work, rest and religion. It goes on to impact the handling of their finances in making sure funds are set aside for the right purposes. The more you look at the list, the more you see that the thinking behind it is to rebuild. This is not surprising as the whole era is about rebuilding. Here you see the rebuilding of a religious architecture which will create a framework for every aspect of their lives. Nehemiah is leading a people to behaviours which will create honour. Honour for daughters, trading practices, religious observance, sacrifices, tithes, offerings, duties and the restoration of a sacred house of God. The principles in this list are good. They will, if adhered to, create a healthier community, marketplace and home base. They will result in better market conditions better national life and identity. I would encourage you to study Nehemiah’s list in this tenth chapter and reflect on how much healthier any community would be if it carried out all the pledges and ticked all the boxes. You will encounter at least two other lists in Nehemiah’s journal before you get to the end three chapters after this. He loved his lists. I want to suggest, however, that he was acutely aware of a fatal flaw in this current list. You can see this awareness bubble up in his mind and express itself in frustrated despair in the next 3 chapters. For there is a weak link in this promise-making, pledge-offering, list-writing community. Unfortunately the weak link is people. Look through the next chapters and you find that nearly all of these pledges are broken pretty quickly. Nehemiah had to take some strong actions to keep the revolution moving. To understand the missing element in Nehemiah’s list you might want to do what they were doing; namely go back to Moses’ law. There, in the book of Numbers, a book filled with lists, you find Nehemiah’s hero, Moses, wishing that all God’s people had the Spirit as he did. (Numbers 11:29). There you have the clue. I’ll illustrate it for you. When I was a pastor I used to try and enlist volunteer support to run the business of the church. The young, single adults would explain to me that they were very busy with study, early careers and work pressure. Then, one by one their lives changed. They started to find large spaces in their previously full weeks. Why? Because they had fallen in love. Men and women in love just make time for each other. It was not a list, a duty or a law – it was a delight for them. I believe in Christian values. I believe in Biblical values. But there is always going to be a limit on values-based, duty-based, list-based reforms. They work on outside behaviour and they do work to a point. But sooner or later humanity kicks in. I want to suggest that Moses, Nehemiah and other individuals could see this but, as yet, the people could not. Not until One greater than Moses or Nehemiah poured out his life on the ground near Nehemiah’s wall could the eyes of the people be opened. Only then could they really fall in love with their God and find the old lists were never enough. Duties, values and rituals would never be enough. So by all means advocate Christian values, Biblical values and Godly principles – list them out if you wish. But please don’t expect anyone to really live without really falling in love with God. You couldn’t, I couldn’t, Nehemiah and Moses could not. In the end it’s the Spirit of God, not our lists that will get the job done. Bible Section: Nehemiah 10 Those who sealed it were: Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hakaliah. Zedekiah, 2 Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, 3 Pashhur, Amariah, Malkijah, 4 Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluk, 5 Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, 6 Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, 7 Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, 8 Maaziah, Bilgai and Shemaiah. These were the priests. 9 The Levites: Jeshua son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel, 10 and their associates: Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, 11 Mika, Rehob, Hashabiah, 12 Zakkur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, 13 Hodiah, Bani and Beninu. 14 The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, 15 Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, 16 Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, 17 Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, 18 Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, 19 Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, 20 Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, 21 Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, 22 Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, 23 Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, 24 Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, 25 Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, 26 Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, 27 Malluk, Harim and Baanah. 28 “The rest of the people—priests, Levites, gatekeepers, musicians, temple servants and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand— 29 all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord. 30 “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. 31 “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts. 32 “We assume the responsibility for carrying out the commands to give a third of a shekeleach year for the service of the house of our God: 33 for the bread set out on the table;for the regular grain offerings and burnt offerings; for the offerings on the Sabbaths, at the New Moon feasts and at the appointed festivals; for the holy offerings; for sin offerings to make atonement for Israel; and for all the duties of the house of our God. 34 “We—the priests, the Levites and the people—have cast lots to determine when each of our families is to bring to the house of our God at set times each year a contribution of wood to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law. 35 “We also assume responsibility for bringing to the house of the Lord each year the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree. 36 “As it is also written in the Law, we will bring the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks to the house of our God, to the priests ministering there. 37 “Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work. 38 A priest descended from Aaron is to accompany the Levites when they receive the tithes, and the Levites are to bring a tenth of the tithes up to the house of our God, to the storerooms of the treasury. 39 The people of Israel, including the Levites, are to bring their contributions of grain, new wine and olive oil to the storerooms, where the articles for the sanctuary and for the ministering priests, the gatekeepers and the musicians are also kept. “We will not neglect the house of our God.”
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