Nehemiah 12:1–13:31, 2 John 1–6, Psalm 115:1–115:18
The last part of Nehemiah’s story tells of completing the wall around their city: “And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres . . . . And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away . . . . And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. For long ago in the days of David and Asaph there were directors of the singers, and there were songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.” (Nehemiah 12:27, 43, 45–46)
They were excited and enthusiastic. Out of that came a renewed dedication to God: “On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.” (Nehemiah 13:1–3)
Obedience growing from great emotion in worship didn’t last. Nehemiah had to go back to the king for awhile, and when he returned, the people were involved in several gross sins. He was angry and raged at them for what they were doing. This part of Israel’s story reminds me that an emotional high is not enough to sustain my spiritual walk. If I am moved by a great sermon or a special conference, my enthusiasm carries me for a little while, but it fizzles. When the emotion cools, the desire to achieve goes with it. If I depended on emotions, I could never maintain my walk with God in a consistent way.
Nehemiah was upset at their disobedience for several reasons. Mostly he was angry because the people were not honoring God, yet he knew that disobedience also dishonors others. The NT reading brings out the relationship between obedience to God and love for each other . . .
“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.” (2 John 4–6)
Love often has an emotional component, yet emotions will not sustain obedience to God. This is important. The Word of God makes it clear that genuine love for others is equal obeying God’s commands. Without obedience, we cannot love as we should. For instance, the Bible says that love is not rude, meaning love is not about how I feel, but how I behave. I’ve also noticed that when I obey (such as by being polite instead of rude) my feelings become more positive.
Today’s reading from psalms takes me back to the topic of idols that God has been speaking to me about. This time He describes the folly of trusting those idols made of gold, silver, etc . . .
“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” (Psalm 115:4–8)
This is easy to see regarding statues and carved figures, but what if I idolized a wonderful person? Isn’t it a good idea to become like another person worthy of emulating? Maybe, and maybe I could pick up some of the traits that I admire in that other person, but I’d also be in danger of becoming like them in their flaws (and everyone has flaws). Would I want that?
This puts a limit on idol worship of even good people. The Bible says that God’s goal for me is to transform me into the image of His Son. Worshiping Jesus and keeping my eyes and thoughts on Him are part of that process . . . and He is flawless! No matter how good someone else might be, they cannot measure up to Him.
God’s command of “no idols” is as practical as it is God-honoring. Putting Jesus on the pedestal of my heart is God’s way of changing my heart and enabling me to love others as He commands.