Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
The Israelites’ prayer service of repentance ends with the making of a “binding agreement” (Nehemiah 9:38; “firm covenant”, ESV). The usual Hebrew word for covenant is berith, but a different word, amanah, is used here, referring to a solemn pledge to remain faithful.
It is time to break the sordid cycle of sin that has marked the history of God’s people. The heart of the covenant is a promise to be faithful to God. Put in writing and signed by the leaders with the support of all (10:1–29), the binding covenant carries the weight of serious intent, unanimity, and accountability. The people promise to be separate from the neighbouring peoples who were practising idolatry (v. 28), and also to carefully obey all the Lord’s commands (v. 29). They also refer to God as “our Lord”, reiterating a renewal of their identity (v. 29). Separation (holiness) and obedience are to be the marks of their new faithfulness.
While the Israelites promise to observe all of God’s law, they highlight three areas that need special attention. First, they promise not to engage in intermarriage, which has been a lingering problem (v. 30; see Ezra 9, 10). Second, they commit themselves to observe the Sabbath (Nehemiah 10:31; Exodus 20:8–11), which had been broken by rampant commerce. Third, they promise to give their tithes faithfully so that the house of God will not be neglected (Nehemiah 10:32–39).
The emphasis on marriage, the Sabbath, and tithes covers key areas of life: the family, the marketplace, and the community of God. Discipleship must be taught holistically, and faithfulness to God must be seen in each of these key spheres.
Today, family life is threatened by many harmful trends and influences, and must therefore be guarded. There are increasing signs of dysfunctional family relationships, and families are exposed to worldly values and habits that can become forms of idolatry and addiction. These must also be resisted.
The observance of Sabbath, as applied today, gives importance to God, our worship of Him, and rest. But our busy routines today rob us of rest and worship, devotion and reflection. The church and the kingdom of God should be of paramount importance to us.
Why is it important to make it a point to obey God and seek holiness? How are these often neglected in individual Christians and churches? What can be done to strengthen them?
How can the pursuit of holiness and the commitment to obey God be lived out in the family, marketplace, and the church?