Ezra & Nehemiahby Robert M. Solomon
Another major lapse that Nehemiah discovers among the people when he returns from Susa is their blatant disregard of the weekly Sabbath.
The Israelites had promised that they would observe the Sabbath diligently, but now, work is being done on the Sabbath and a roaring trade is going on (Nehemiah 13:15-16). The gates of the city are left wide open for traders selling produce from nearby farms and from as far away as Tyre, where fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea are brought in. The Sabbath is being desecrated, God's law is being broken (see Exodus 20:8), and the nobles do not seem to care. They have shirked their duties.
For Nehemiah, this is a serious matter. It calls for urgent action. Nehemiah does not shrink from doing what is necessary, no matter how difficult, unpopular, or unpleasant it is. He calls the nobles and rebukes them, reminding them that it is because their forefathers had done the same thing that calamity had befallen the nation and the city in the past (Nehemiah 13:17-18). In repeating the sins of their ancestors, they are ″stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath″ (v. 18). Nehemiah then takes the necessary measures to ensure that the Sabbath will be kept. He orders the gates of Jerusalem to be shut tight throughout the Sabbath (v. 19). Not simply trusting mechanical solutions, he also places men he can trust at the gates to make doubly sure that no merchandise enters the city (v. 19).
Testing his resolve, the ″merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside Jerusalem″ (v. 20). This happens a few times. We can imagine the merchants calling out their wares hoping that the gates will open for business to continue. But Nehemiah remains unmoved. He sternly warns the merchants that he would arrest them if they persist (v. 21). They must have felt the razor-sharp edge of his words because ″From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath″ (v. 21). Nehemiah also takes further precautions by posting Levites to guard the gates. There is to be no compromise when it comes to obeying God's law.
We live in a fast-paced society. Demanding workplaces and a distracting world of entertainment tend to take away precious time necessary to attend to our relationships with God and loved ones. God's Sabbath rule-that we must rest adequately every week (Exodus 20:8-11)-is necessary for our spiritual, physical and emotional health. We must not become so busy that we ruin our well-being in these important areas.
Read Deuteronomy 5:13-15. Why did God establish the Sabbath law? How can we apply Sabbath principles to how we worship God, find time to rest, and spend time building relationships?
How can greed and the relentless pursuit of wealth, fame, and entertainment rob us of our restfulness in Christ? Read Matthew 11:28-30. How can you find rest in Christ as a regular experience?