Day 265 (Sept. 22): Dedication of Jerusalem’s wall, offerings for temple, Nehemiah leaves and evil waltzes in, Nehemiah returns and restores Jerusalem, unworthy sacrifices, warning to the priests

100 Days to go!  And, just 2 days until we hit the NT!

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 12:27-13:6

Nehemiah 5:14-19

Nehemiah 13:7-31

Malachi 1-2:9

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 12:27-43): The wall is so incredibly important to Jerusalem because it protects them (and notably the temple and treasures from enemies), makes it easier to break away from ruling kingdoms and not pay their “taxes” or whatever they are called and it would better control who comes into their city — keeping those out who may defile them.  Is this right?  Are there any other reasons that a wall is so important?

A. I don’t get the impression that Judah wanted a wall so they could revolt against the king: that was certainly not Nehemiah’s plan, but other than that you have it right.  In the ancient world, a city wasn’t really considered a city without a wall: the “regulation” that came with the wall (what goes in, what goes out) was central to this idea of a city.

Q. (13:15-18): Keeping the Sabbath holy and a day of rest is obviously a very important law for God.  If it’s so important, why is it deflated in the NT?

A. Oh, let’s not spoil that when we’re so close.  Patience.

Q. (13:19): I have heard that the Sabbath back then was actually on Saturday.  Is this right?  If so, how has it ended up on Sunday?

A. You are correct, it is Saturday.  Here’s what I responded when asked this very question in our section on the 10 Commandments way back Exodus 20 (Day 38, Feb 7th):

Observant Jews and Seventh Day Adventists will tell you that the Sabbath is Saturday.  Sunday is seen as the first day of the week, following the Sabbath.  So we should think of Sunday as “Day 1” in the Creation story.  This is significant when it comes to the story of Jesus and His resurrection.  Jesus was resurrected on a Sunday, and the implications of that are significant: the resurrection intentionally spoke of a new creation story: everything was new in light of what Christ had done.  Two factors played a role in the loss of Saturday as the formal Sabbath of Christians: Christians began to gather on Sundays (called the first day of the week in the NT) to commemorate the resurrection, and because Christians came to see themselves as free from the requirements of the Law, they were not obligated to take the Sabbath on Saturdays.  Thus, most Christians would, I think, tell you that the Sabbath was Sunday if you asked.  As we discussed yesterday [Day 37], there is value in taking a day of rest for the purpose of connection with family and God, but we are NOT required to, and we are certainly NOT required to do so on Saturday.

Q. (13:19-21): Back then, religion, at times, had control of the government.  There is irrefutable evidence that the U.S. forefathers’ heavily put their religion into laws and forming this country.  That has pretty much been completely replaced by a politically-correct, religious-free attitude or equality for all religions.  I wonder if it would ever change back.  Do you know of any research to compare the well-being of society during times when Christianity has controlled a society?

A. First, the separation of Church and State (i.e. religion and government) is a modern, Enlightenment concept that would have baffled people from prior centuries, but it is standard practice now.  I will leave it up to you to decide if we are better off with these two “camps” divided (I personally think the barrier is silly and artificial, but anyway…).  As to your question, I rather doubt there would be any way to empirically test it, simply because there have been so many stripes of Christianity throughout the centuries.  I would point out, however, that I do not think that it is in the best interest of our society to keep pushing for less and less religious influence.  The natural state of man is slavery (i.e. control by someone or something else), but it is only in the Gospel that man can find true freedom.  That is why the Judeo-Christian foundations of Western Society were so crucial to the establishment of the freedoms we enjo — we moved away from our natural state by God’s grace, and the flourishing of the entire Western world was the result.  But what happens when we remove the foundation?  The building collapses, and we return to our natural state: control of the many by the few in power (i.e. slavery).  I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like the direction we’re headed.

Q. (13:25): I am surprised that Nehemiah beat and pulled the hair of offenders.  I wonder what kept them people from fighting back?  Maybe he had other palace officials with him.  Why would people want to submit to someone who is so oppressing?

A. Nehemiah was in charge: that’s why.  If they turned on him, they would be out.

Q. (Malachi 1:2-5): This does not sound like a loving God.  Why would He make an entire nation a forever enemy?  I hope you can explain this because I am bummed about it and confused.

A. I agree it sounds harsh, but like all nations, Edom can take solace in the light of the Gospel: all nations are redeemed by God’s work in Christ, even the enemies of God’s chosen people (whether in ancient times or today).  Praise God for His great mercy!

O. (1:8-9): I love this!  I have been thinking about giving my best lately.  My Kindergartner came home from school all excited about finding things for a charity drive to give to Haiti orphans.  She was looking for toys that she didn’t want.  I explained to her that that was fine.  If they are in good shape and she doesn’t want them, then giving them away is a great idea.  But, I also told her that God expects us to give our best.  I asked her about some pop beads that she enjoys playing with from time to time.  I told her that I could just imagine a group of girls sitting in a circle playing with them.  I think she got the picture.  She put them in her school bag to donate.  Giving to the orphans is giving to God.

Day 262 (Sept. 19): Nehemiah calls for registration of exiles, list of exiled families with a count for each, Israelites settle in their towns, Ezra reads Law of Moses, Nehemiah tells them to celebrate for this sacred day

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 7:4-8:12

Questions & Observations

Q. (Nehemiah 7:65): We have talked about casting lots before as a way of asking God to identify or choose.  Can you explain the process in more detail?

A. We covered this way, way back in March (the 28th to be exact, day 87), but I am happy to reexamine the question.  The two stones: seen here: http://www.bibleandscience.com/store/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=29, would have basically served as the “yes” and “no” for questions that the High Priest asked.  In the Joshua story — as we were looking at when we first addressed the topic — we saw that the priest would basically put the question or names on paper, and then cast the two stones towards the question to determine the answer.  That’s basically all there is to it.  It was one of the responsibilities of the High Priest, but both Christians and Jews have moved away from the practice.

Q. (7:66-73a): At first, I thought 42,000 people in one city is a pretty large number.  (I still can’t imagine cities as big as they were back then.  I always imagine small because of the more physical lifestyle and it was just long ago.)  But, when you consider that this was all of the men (not women, children, servants, etc.?), then it’s not much when they scatter throughout all of Israel.

A. The nation was significantly smaller than the size under David or even Joshua, but keep in mind that’s only the people who returned: there were still people, including Jews, there: the king used them to grow crops on his land.

Q. (8:8): Here they say the Book of God.  It’s the same as Book of Moses or Moses’ Law, right?

A. Yes.  Many Jews would still use that title today.

Day 261 (Sept. 18): Community effort to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, half of construction force stand guard because of enemies opposing rebuilding, Nehemiah orders nobles and officials to pay back interest they charge to their relatives for loans made because of famine, Nehemiah foils Tobiah’s and Sanballat’s plan to defeat him, builders complete wall and stand guard

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Nehemiah 3-7:3

Questions & Observations

Q. Ezra was on the forefront of our readings, but then Nehemiah came into the picture and we don’t hear anything from Ezra anymore.  Any idea what happened to him?

A. Well, we moved into a new book, didn’t we?  Just kidding.  Ezra is around, and will be mentioned again, but this is Nehemiah telling his own story, especially as it relates to the repairs of the wall.  Ezra’s concern has been much more with the Temple and the priests, while Nehemiah is doing a bit more nuts and bolts type repairs.

Q. (Nehemiah 3:1-32): I don’t think we need to remember who built what section of the wall.  But, I do think the community effort is important to notice.  Then, about the building materials themselves, do you have any idea what their bolts were made out of?  I guess they well knew how to work with metal.  And the wall was made of sun-dried clay bricks?

A. Most likely they used rock from the local quarries (some of which have been discovered outside of Jerusalem), that was carried in by hand or on simple carts.  As to the bolts, they were most likely made of iron, possibly with bronze mixed in, and forged by local blacksmiths.

Q. (4:1-23): Where were Sanballat and Tobiah living?

A. Most likely they did not live in Jerusalem.  They had to be informed of the repairs if they could see them in the city itself.  The implication that Tobiah was corresponding with the elders of the Jews would also indicate to me he did not live within the city; otherwise he would just go speak to them directly.

O. (6:1-14): Oh, what drama!

Day 260 (Sept. 17): Ezra learns of intermarriage and falls in shame before God, Ezra sets to purify Israel of sin of breaking Law of Moses, people confess sin of intermarriage, list of those intermarriage offenders, Nehemiah’s alarmed over Jerusalem’s state, King grants Nehemiah’s wish to secure Jerusalem by rebuilding it’s wall, Nehemiah sneaks out to inspect the wall

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Ezra 9-10

Questions & Observations

Q. Ezra feels such remorse here.  Can we apply this to today?  Is it wrong by God to marry someone who is not a Christian?  I know several who have married non-believers and they really struggle with the fact that they won’t go to church with them.  I think that we will learn in the NT that they will be saved by their spouse’s faith?  Then, (this is not quite the subject matter, but let’s talk about it anyway) there are others who believe, but have no interest in going to church for whatever reason.  These are some of them: I was in church and it was nothing but power struggles; Sundays are our only day when we don’t have anything to do; I don’t know anyone who goes to church, among others.  But, they believe in God.  So, I think we will learn in the NT that they will be saved, but God also notes that deeds and faith will earn rewards in heaven.  Is that accurate?

A. The NT (Paul’s writings in particular) describe the dangers of being what he calls “yoked” with a non-believer: it puts a serious strain on your own walk with God, as you note.  Too often, you are forced to make decisions that either harm your relationship with your spouse, or your personal walk with God.  Frankly, neither of these decisions honors God (who greatly desires us to honor our marriage, just not at the expense of our relationship with Him).  Thus, it is not hard to see why Paul advises against marrying a non-Christian.  There are certainly issues with children to consider.  As to being in a married relationship with someone of another faith, I can’t see how that would work without major compromises to either their religious faith or yours, and I don’t see the value in such half-hearted religion.

As to whether we are “saved” by our spouses as you suggest, I’m not familiar with the passages in question.  As far as I know, the only instance of Paul describing someone’s faith saving someone else is as it relates to children, not another adult.  We must all make our decisions about what god we will serve, and no one but ourselves will answer to God for it.

Q. (Ezra 10:18-44): I guess by naming each of them, they are held accountable?  And, what about the children?  They are also considered to defile Israel?

A. Yes and yes.  The children are the “fruit” of this series of compromises that clearly did not honor God.

Q. (Nehemiah 1:1): Had Nehemiah lived in Jerusalem?

A. I doubt it.  It was such a long way — a journey of several months — that very few people would make the trip (a very dangerous path, as we read in Ezra) unless it was absolutely necessary.  It is most likely that Nehemiah grew up in the court of Xerxes (Artaxerxes’ father) and was groomed for a position in Artaxerxes’ court.

Q. (2:1-2): We have seen the “cup-bearer” position many times, but I never asked what are the duties of the cup-bearer?  Now that I see Nehemiah doing it, I think of it as a bartender.  Someone who provides the king his drink, someone he could trust and confide in.  Good analogy? (lol)

A. Since one of the easiest and secretive ways of killing a king would be to poison him, the cupbearer would have been a closely trusted ally of the king, who would personally look after all the king would consume on a daily basis.  He was something of a personal aide as well.  It is also very likely, as you infer, that he would have been a confidante of the royal family, and would have had a position of great influence.

Q. (2:10): What would an Ammonite and a Horonite be doing in Jerusalem?  They are not a part of Israel are they?

A. Remember that there is no king of Israel at this point: Jerusalem is being ruled from Samaria, and that is the region of these other tribes.  That is mostly likely why they are there.  It is very likely that the men mentioned had a great financial interest in keeping Jerusalem “down.”

Q. (2:11-20): Nehemiah is so secretive because he was afraid he would counter some objection to rebuilding the wall.  That doesn’t seem right.  Why would anyone object?  And, in v. 2:19, what king is being referred to that Nehemiah would be rebelling against.  I’m confused if there is a king of Judah, Jerusalem or Israel right now.  Wasn’t Ezra given those duties?

A. They are accusing Nehemiah of revolting against Artaxerxes, the only king that mattered in this region.  They are basically accusing him — and will continue to do so — of taking the money provided by the king and using it to lead an insurrection against him.  Nehemiah is doing nothing of the sort, but as I said in my last question, it is very likely that Jerusalem becoming important again was going to hurt these men’s sphere of influence and their pocketbook.  They will prove powerful enemies for our story.

O. (2:18): I can imagine the shame and depression that would go along with having a city in ruins with burnt gates and a trampled wall.  Go into a neighborhood with graffiti and there is no pride felt there.  Or even your nice home.  Whenever it’s messy or the yard is unkempt, it feels shameful.  But here, they get hope that their shame will be lifted.