Bible reading for weekend January 22--24
Jan 22 -- Nehemiah 12 and Acts 22
Jan 23 -- Nehemiah 13 and Acts 23
Jan 24 -- Esther 1 and Acts 24
"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." (Nehemiah 12:43)
CELEBRATING THE COMPLETED WORK (ch 12). Here we find another list of names (vv 1-26). The Bible is interested in names, genealogies, numbers, and geography because this is real history and is part of the archives of Israel the nation. We must remember that the Bible was written for us, but not to us. This also reminds us that God is interested in individuals and their place in his unfolding plan. King David is remembered by name (vv 24, 36, 45-46). Several times Nehemiah prays, "Remember me, O Lord..." (5:19; 13:14, 22, 31). The story of history is being written, and the most important place where our names should be recorded is in the Lamb's book of life (Rev 3:5; 20:15; 21:27). The rest of this chapter regards the celebration of the completed wall around Jerusalem. There is music, singing, and great joy (vv 43-46). Especially in light of the finished work of Christ, joy should mark the life of believers (Gal 5:22; 1 Pet 1:8). Augustine wrote, "The Christian should be an Alleluia from head to foot."
MORE WORK YET TO DO (ch 13). Chapter thirteen follows, and we are reminded that while we are in this life, the work is never done! Nehemiah reports to the King of Persia after his first term, and then returns to Jerusalem again, only to find conditions deteriorating. Intermarriages have occurred with some of the idolatrous people in nearby locales. Tobiah, an Ammonite official related by marriage to some Jews in Jerusalem (cf 2:10, 19; 6:17-19), had taken an apartment for himself in the temple! Also, financial support had dropped off for the Levites, and people were brazenly breaking the Sabbath in order to do business. Nehemiah shows decisiveness and courage in dealing with these issues. Tobiah is evicted, furniture and all. Nehemiah has some of the compromising men physically punished. This may seem extreme but he was the appointed governor and judge for Judea. As you read the Bible, remember that not every action recorded there is approved or commended for us today. "Not everything described in the Bible is prescribed for those reading the Bible." (Alistair Begg) The principles of integrity, godliness, decisiveness, and courage in leadership are what we want to take away from this. And it is this kind of holy courage we see in Jesus' actions throughout the gospels.
PREVIOUSLY IN PERSIA... (Esther 1). The story of Queen Esther actually precedes the events of Ezra and Nehemiah. See the "Return from exile" timeline above. This story has some unique features which we'll discuss in the next post.
"The following night the Lord stood by him and said, 'Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.'" (Acts 23:11)
PAUL SPEAKS TO THE CROWD (ch 22). The Apostle Paul, rescued from being beaten by the crowd, now shares his testimony. They listen until he gets to the part about the Lord sending him to the Gentiles -- quite the trigger word for them -- and the crowd goes wild again. It becomes apparent that many of the Jews are not concerned with including Gentiles in the community of God as the OT foretold (Gen 12:3; Ps 22:27; Isa 19:23). In the Bible God has always been more concerned with the religious purity of Israel rather than mere ethnic purity, though in the OT these were related. But now that Messiah has come, the gates to the Father's house are opened to all people of all ethnicities who come in faith. Meanwhile, Paul is taken into the Roman barracks (Antonia Fortress) but spared from further beating by the soldiers when he calls attention to his Roman citizenship. His Roman citizenship, no small thing, will open doors for his proclamation of the gospel before Gentile rulers and prepare the way for his trip to Rome to stand before the emperor.
"THE LORD STOOD BY HIM" (ch 23) This is the first of many hearings that Paul will undergo. Here, before the Jewish council he calls attention to his hope as a Pharisee who believes in physical, bodily resurrection. The council divides over party lines and begins infighting. Paul is again rescued from violence, and that night is comforted by the Lord himself (23:11). Aren't those words encouraging? The Lord is guiding Paul's life: he will make it safely to Rome and will continue serving as a witness to the truth about our Lord. And the Lord's presence and strength would be with him: "the Lord stood by him and said, 'Take courage...'". This is also a promise for each of us who follow Christ! The promise of his presence: "I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). And our continuing role as witnesses: "...you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8; cf Lu 21:12). The gospel is moving from Jerusalem outward to the end of the earth. Meanwhile, in God's providence, a plot against Paul's life is discovered, and he is whisked away in the night by Roman soldiers to Caesarea Maritima, a Roman city where Herod Agrippa kept a seaside palace and praetorium (see photo below).
DEFENSE BEFORE FELIX (ch 24). The Apostle Paul gives a defense of his faith before the Roman governor, Felix. In this chapter we learn of two names that the early church was known by: the Nazarenes (v 5), and the Way (vv 14, 22; cf John 14:6). Paul is respectful, reasonable, and patient. Contrast this with Acts 23:3-5, where he learned a hard lesson about how to speak to those in authority, however corrupt they might be. Paul will be in Caesarea for two years, during which time it is likely that his associate Luke made trips to Galilee and Jerusalem in research for the gospel he would later write (Luke 1:1-4).
REFLECT. There's a lot here! What do you learn in these chapters about being a faithful witness for Christ before a skeptical (often hostile) world?
Image credit. Aerial view of the harbor at Caesarea Maritima and the ruins of Herod's seaside palace where Paul was imprisoned for about two years. Courtesy romanports.org. About this newsletter: I post three times a week on my Bible reading, following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Another resource I recommend is the NET Bible with its excellent notes at netbible.org.