This week we come to the final chapter of Nehemiah. The people have finally finished rebuilding the wall, dedicated it, and renewed their broken relationship with their God. So why do we need another chapter? What more can there be!?
We get chapter 13 because sin is so complex, powerful, and devious. The Israelites have faithfully followed the Lord in many ways so far, but inevitably sin creeps back in. It comes up from somewhere beneath, from a place all too familiar to this people. And ironically, it comes in the very realm that has been restored in their lives. They have just rebuilt the city and reestablished right service and worship in the temple, but in chapter 13 we find that they have turned the temple into a living room. They are now working on the Sabbath, and in turn have also neglected to take care of the Levites who work in the temple. In perhaps subtle and deceptive ways they are profaning the Sabbath and neglecting the house of the Lord.
Have you ever spent some serious time out in your flowerbed pulling weeds. I love working outside, and in a weird way I sometimes even enjoy pulling weeds. I love making things look good that are currently ugly. But, depending on the type, it is almost impossible to get rid of all the weeds in one swift stroke. Some of them you pull out from the root, but others you just lop off from the top. This gives the appearance of a clean bed, but all the while the root lurks under the surface. You must return again and again, rooting out the weeds, digging deeper and deeper until you find all the roots. It seems like this is what is happening at the end Nehemiah, and it is certainly what happens through the seasons of our lives. We find God working in our heart, doing a work of sanctification, but only days, sometimes even hours later we find some other thing, some other god, we are clutching to. We return to grasping for control in our lives. Maybe we are even easily prone to profane the Sabbath like Israel is here. But the “work” of the Christian is to return again and again to our hearts, to bring them before the Lord, and to let him do his work of rooting out sin in our lives. For, as C.S. Lewis says, “[We] cannot, by direct moral effort, give [ourselves] new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realize that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.”