Covenant Renewal

Nehemiah 8-10
P.G. Mathew | Monday, December 30, 2002
Copyright © 2002, P.G. Mathew

Three Parts of Covenant Renewal

I want to speak about three things concerning covenant renewal from Nehemiah 8, 9 and 10: divine counsel, holy confession, and covenant living. Nehemiah 8 speaks of the centrality and priority of God’s word-it is the divine counsel, the authoritative word, which is to regulate all of our life. Nehemiah 9 speaks of the genuine repentance and holy confession which the word of God produces in the lives of God’s people; it is the longest chapter in the Bible on confession. Nehemiah 10 speaks of covenant renewal and of the particular changes true repentance will bring about in our lives.

Today is the last Sabbath of this year. For all of us, our Sabbaths here are getting fewer and fewer. But there remains, the Bible says, an eternal Sabbath rest for the people of God. So the writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest,” by living a life that is examined and always reforming. Today is an appropriate time to renew our covenant toward God and toward one another.

As we read in the Scriptures, the covenant has been renewed during many periods in the history of redemption. During the time of Moses, the whole of Deuteronomy was a covenant renewal; toward the end of the book of Joshua there is a covenant renewal; both King Hezekiah and King Josiah brought about covenant renewals; and of course we read of a renewing of the covenant by Nehemiah in chapters 8, 9 and 10.

Nehemiah came to Jerusalem as governor of Judah in the year 444 B.C. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down, the gates were burned up by enemies, and no authentic worship was taking place in the temple. In other words, people no longer worshiped according to the word of God. The enemies of God were pleased and delighted with this ruined condition of Jerusalem. Let me assure you, Satan is always delighted when our lives are in disarray and when we do not seek first the kingdom of God. But Nehemiah repaired the walls in fifty-two days, and proper worship was reestablished. May God help us to examine our spiritual lives today and to make needed repairs to please God, who seeks those who worship him in spirit and in truth.

The Divine Counsel

Let’s look first at the divine counsel, the normative word of God, revealed in Nehemiah chapter 8. Let me tell you, every true revival is the result of the word of God preached, the word of God heard, the word of God believed, and the word of God obeyed.

What is happening in chapter 8, the reading of the Scriptures, is in accordance with what is revealed in Deuteronomy 31:9-13:

So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. Then Moses commanded them: “At the end of every seven years, in the year for canceling debts, during the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place he will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people-men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns-so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.”

That is exactly what is happening in Nehemiah 8 during this seventh month in the Hebrew calendar: “When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate.” What they are doing is in response to God’s word in Deuteronomy 31. At the time of this reading it was the first day of the seventh month. This month is called the “celebration month” or the “crown month” of the Hebrew calendar. It was the month of great celebration. On the first day of the seventh month there was the Feast of Trumpets; it was a holy assembly. On the tenth day there was the Day of Atonement, when sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of God’s people’s sins. The Feast of Tabernacles was during the fifteenth through the twenty-second days of the seventh month.

The reading of the word took place on the first day of the seventh month, the day now known as Rosh Hashana. Notice the people who gathered: All the Israelites came together as one man, in complete unity, in one accord. Why did they come together? To hear the word of God. Whenever people have a hunger for God’s word, we must conclude that God is at work. He works in us both to will and to do his good pleasure. Satan hates when we study the Bible. He wants us to be ignorant of God and of his redeeming grace. I hope that you will examine your life and see whether you have an interest, an intellectual interest, in the revealed word of God.

The people assembled together at the southeast corner of the temple at a place called the Water Gate. It was a large outdoor plaza. They needed a place where all the people could come together. They could not do that in the temple, where the women were not allowed, so they found a plaza outside where men, women and children were permitted. We are told specifically that “all who were able to understand” gathered together. I hope that when we come to church we come to understand, not just to feel. The priority of feeling is the culture of our time. We don’t want to think; we want to feel. Woe unto that person who is guided by his feelings!

I want to emphasize the intellectual priority that is revealed in chapter 8. True revival and covenant renewal require, as of first importance, intellectual grasp of God’s normative word. Without understanding the will of God, no revival will come for you. You can come to church year after year, yet remain confused, anxious and worried because you closed your mind to the word of God. God gave us a mind so that we can think his thoughts after him. Take a look at Nehemiah 8:2. There we read, “So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.”

We speak about the perspicuity of the Scriptures. That means Scripture can be understood without technical or professional education. Praise God for its perspicuity. If you come to it with prayer and by faith, the word will speak to your mind. So we read in verse 2, “all who were able to understand,” and verse 3, “men, women and others who could understand,” and verse 8, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand.” Without understanding the Holy Scriptures, there is not going to be any authentic repentance, there is not going to be any holy confession, and there is not going to be any covenantal living.

Notice also that the people were hungry for the word. It is the people who are asking for the word; it is not Ezra imposing it upon the people. In Nehemiah 8:1 we read, “All the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses.” The people were asking for something: “Please bring God’s word to us. Speak to us the word of God. We want to hear the word of God.” Ezra came to Jerusalem in 458 B.C. He was a priest and a trained interpreter of God’s law, as we read in Ezra 7:6. Don’t listen to fools who are unqualified to teach the word of God. Listen to somebody who is able to interpret it correctly, who is trained in the word of God, so the word of God can be made plain to you.

The people asked Ezra to bring out the Bible. You read about it in verses 1, 2, 3, 5, 14 and 18. This whole chapter is word-centered. We come to know who God is from the word of God. We know who Christ is from the word of God. We learn from the word of God that he forgives our sins, and we learn how then we must live.

Let us find out how long they listened to the word of God. We read in Nehemiah 8:3, “He read it aloud from daybreak till noon.” Think about it, brothers and sisters. We are like the church of Laodicea. We have no need. Here these people are saying, “We need something. We are hungry for the word.” Men, women and children listened for six hours. Think about the nature of their hunger and compare it with your interest in the word of God.

But still they were not satisfied, so they came the next day. You read it in verse 13 and verse 18. They wanted daily, systematic Bible study. That was the nature of their hunger. The word was read from Hebrew, and then others translated it into Aramaic, which was the language of the time, and interpreted to them what it meant. In other words, people must know what the Scripture means. There must be exposition of the word, so that people can understand and do something about it.

Let me tell you why they were hungry for the word. It is because the answers to our serious human problems are not found in man’s modern books, but in God’s ancient book. Modern man is incapable of solving fundamental human problems. The ancient book, God’s word, alone is able to help us.

Look now at the response of the people. They gave a royal reception for the word of God. In verse 3 we are told, in the Hebrew, “they put their ears to the word.” They were listening with great concentration and mental exercise and focus to the word preached. They listened to it, and they wanted to understand it, because it is the liberating word. God’s word is Spirit and life. God’s word drives away ignorance. God’s word shows you how to live. Listen to it as you listen to a doctor who is telling you what you must do for your health.

Verse 6 tells us they lifted up their hands to God as the word of God was read, and they said, “Amen! Amen!” Such intensity of feeling, such intensity of submission to God when they heard the word of God. “Amen! Amen!” “We believe it! We believe it!” In Hebrew the word amen means to believe. “We believe it!” Not only that, we are told they fell down to the ground and worshiped God. Royal reception was given to the gracious word of God.

Holy Confession

If you listen to God’s word, if you exercise your mind and put your ear to the word, if you hunger for God’s word, if you put your brain to work, then God’s word will lead to repentance, confession and humility. That’s what chapter 9 is all about. The word of God reveals to us the glory of God and the sinfulness of man, and therefore it also shows us the way of salvation.

The people came in the seventh month, the month of celebration. On the first day they celebrated the Feast of Trumpets. They observed the Day of Atonement on the tenth day. Then they celebrated for eight days the Feast of Tabernacles. All these feasts lasted until the twenty-second, and now they are supposed to go home. But these people did not go home. They had been in Jerusalem for twenty-two days, yet they did not want to go home because they were still hungry. We are told in Nehemiah 9:3 that they assembled together again to hear the word of God on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month. “They stood. . . and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day.” This was a revival. God was working in their hearts. The Spirit of God gave them a hunger for the word, that it might cause them to repent, confess and live a changed life. So they came and said, “Ezra, please read us the word again,” and they stood for three hours hearing the word.

Then they confessed for three hours. Our confession is a general and superficial one. We don’t have any serious view of sin. But theirs was a serious repentance. No one repents unless the Spirit of God gives him the gift of repentance. No one is able to confess unless God’s Spirit works on him.

In Nehemiah 9:1 we are told they came together, fasting. They didn’t want to eat. They didn’t want to drink. Their priority was God. We are told they came wearing sackcloth, which speaks about their sorrow for sin. They were saying, “We are sinners.” Wearing sackcloth is a sign of deep repentance. Not only that, we are told they came together having dust on their heads. To put dust on your head means you are in deep sorrow for sin. We don’t even know what sin is. Modern Christians don’t know what sin is at all. In Nehemiah 8:9 we read that they wept, they mourned and they grieved because of their sin. You know right away it is the Holy Spirit working in them.

We are told in Nehemiah 9: 2 that they separated themselves from everything foreign. You see, sin is assimilation with paganism. But when the Spirit of God comes, we separate ourselves from all that is unholy and not in accordance with the Scriptures. We naturally separate ourselves, because we are a holy people. Holy means separate. So they separated themselves from worldliness. It may mean that they got rid of their foreign wives or foreign husbands. They refused to conform to the pattern of the world. They desired to be transformed by the word of God. They desired to be a holy people.

Then we read in chapter 9 they “confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers.” It is an amazing chapter, the longest chapter in the Bible on confession. When you read it, you find they glorify God in their confession. They justify God. They acknowledge that this God is the God of glory, the true and only God. They acknowledge that this God is the Creator of all, the God of redemption, the God of covenant, the God who provided for them. They acknowledge this God as the one who gave them the law.

We read in Nehemiah 9:21, “For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.” For forty years. It’s just amazing. For forty years, without fail, every day, God gave them manna to eat and water to drink, God defended them, God air conditioned them, and God guided them. It’s an amazing thing. Forty years God helped them. So they agree that he is a God of compassion, a God of mercy, a God of forgiveness.

Then they confessed their sin. They said, “We became arrogant.” When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we will say that; otherwise we will never say we are proud. The pastor knows you are proud. The elder knows you are proud. Your wife knows you are proud. Your mother knows you are proud. But you will never acknowledge that you are proud, because the Holy Spirit hasn’t come upon you. It is the Holy Spirit that will give you true conviction of sin. In Acts chapter 2, after the preaching of Saint Peter, we are told the hearers were cut to the heart. They began to experience a deep pain in their heart, because they knew they had sinned against holy God; they had murdered the Messiah.

So the people acknowledged: We became arrogant, stiff-necked, disobedient, forgetful of your mercies, rebellious, idolatrous. We killed the prophets that you sent to us. We became blasphemous, and we cast your word, your good counsel, behind our backs. We read in verse 26, “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they put your law behind their backs.”

In verse 33 of this confession they also say, “In all that has happened to us, you have been just.” “All that has happened” is their punishment, which includes exile. That is deep humility. We find fault with God, we murmur and complain, and we act as though God needs to repent and confess to us! But when the word enters us, we confess correctly: “You are holy and glorious; you are the Creator of the ends of the earth and you are the Redeemer; you are compassionate, gracious and forgiving; you are the one who kept us all these years. You punished us, and your punishment was just.”

Verse 36 states, “But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers.” The confession concludes by saying, “We are in great distress.” The idea is: “O God, help us. Help us!” They are saying this based on 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is God’s prescription for all our troubles. It is a valid prescription. It was valid yesterday, it is valid today, and it will be valid tomorrow; it will be valid until Jesus comes again.

Second Chronicles 7:14 begins, “If my people”¦” Isn’t that wonderful? God calls us his people, his people from all eternity by reason of divine election. Then he says we are “called by his name,” meaning we are a people of revelation-name stands for revelation-a people to whom God has given his law, unlike any other people in the world. God’s people, called by his name, are to “humble themselves,” according to God’s revelation, “pray,” according to God’s word, “seek my face,” in a determined, focused way, as a servant seeks the face of the master, and “turn from their wicked ways,” again, according to God’s word.

We can never experience God’s favor or see the smile of his face unless and until we forsake every sin that we practice. PGM We can never make God suspend his conditions just because we are spoiled, stiff-necked people who never humbled ourselves before anybody. Here, then, are the divine conditions: “my people,” “called by my name,” “humble themselves,” “pray,” “seek my face,” and “turn from their wicked ways.” Then comes God’s great promise, which has worked in all of redemptive history: “I will hear from heaven.”

God doesn’t have to hear anybody’s prayer. Why should he hear anybody’s prayer? If he hears prayer it is grace, it is mercy. But he says, “I will hear their prayers and forgive their sins.” How can God forgive their sins without a cross? But God has planned redemption in view of that. “I will forgive their sins and heal their land.” In other words, God is going to bless you; God is going to heal you.

True revival springs from the word of God. True revival therefore produces Spirit-wrought repentance. The word preached exposed their sin. Sin is any lack of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God. The people confessed their sins. They did not shift the blame. Like the publican, they owned their sins. Like the prodigal son, they took responsibility for their sins.

Have you repented of your sins, specifically, in the light of God’s word? Have you said: “I have sinned!”-against God and against your brothers and your sisters, against husband, against wife, against children, against neighbors, against your boss? Have you wept and grieved for sins committed? Have you fasted? Have you humbled yourself before God? Fasting doesn’t mean anything unless your heart is humbled.

Have you had a spring cleaning of your life in the light of God’s word? If not, won’t you do it now? Let me tell you, God has been long-suffering toward you. He has put up with you in mercy, in patience, in long-suffering. It is time that we say, “I have sinned,” that God may forgive our sins and heal us graciously.

Covenant Living

Look at Nehemiah 9:38 through the end of the chapter as we consider covenant renewal and covenant life. We spoke about the centrality of the word, the covenant word, and how everything flows out of the word of God. It is the word of God that exposes us to the holy God and exposes us to our sinfulness, and as a result of the Spirit’s work we gladly repent, confess our sins, and say, like Nehemiah and company, “We are slaves. We are in great distress.”

The principle that is valid throughout this age of redemption is: “If my people, who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land.” Every person can take advantage of this divine promise. You fulfill the conditions, and God will hear your prayers and heal your land; he will forgive your sins. God is against the proud. But praise God, if we come and humble ourselves and meet the conditions he laid down for us, he will forgive our sins, heal us and bless us.

Nehemiah 9:38 begins, “In view of all this”¦” In other words, in view of all their troubles, which were outlined in chapter nine. They were slaves in their own land. “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement.” We always need to be reforming our lives. But you will notice that even this reformation didn’t last long. We’ve seen many reformations in the history of Israel; then they go down again, and briefly they come up. “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.” So it was signed and sealed, stating that they will, from this day forward, live an obedient life to the covenant Lord. Then you see the names of certain leaders, beginning with Nehemiah.

The first thing you notice about covenant renewal is that it is personal. You personally believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You personally repent. Everyone is a sinner, and everyone must ask, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved. So here is personal reformation, personal covenant renewing, personal promise: “From this day forward I will live an obedient life.”

I am just asking you, whether you are a child or an adult, have you done that? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ alone? Have you repented of your own sins? Have you promised before God and said, “From this day forward I will live for God”? As it is personal, it is also public. In other words, you are not saying something in private. You are speaking this in the presence of many witnesses. Everybody should hear it. It is just like when you get married; you make vows in public.

Nehemiah 10:28 speaks of “the rest of the people-priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants, and all who separated themselves from the neighboring peoples for the sake of the Law of God, together with their wives and all their sons and daughters who are able to understand.” Notice that small word, “all.” Can you say that, father? Can you say that, mother? “All my sons and all my daughters.”

“All “¦ who are able to understand.” This shows the importance of understanding the word of God and the God of the word. “All these now join their brothers the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our God.” This is no partial obedience!

If God has given you new birth, and if God has given you the Holy Spirit, if God has opened your eyes to understand his word, then you will delight in the law of God, in the government of God, in the kingdom of God. The gospel is: Your God reigns! There are a lot of people who want a God without laws, without regulations. We will never find such a God, who promotes our autonomy.

So the men and women, with all their sons and daughters, in public, are putting themselves under a curse if they violate God’s law. Remember, a covenant has curses and blessings. They are saying they understand covenant. They are saying, “If I fail to live this covenant life, may your curse come down and rest on me.” That shows very deliberate making of a covenant, not making some silly, stupid promise. It is serious, self-maledictory, self-condemning. They took an oath and they put themselves under a curse. What are they saying? That they will follow the law of God, and obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord their God.

If you want to know what a curse is all about, look at the list of curses in Deuteronomy 28. It could be that Ezra was reading the book of Deuteronomy. Chapter 29 of Deuteronomy is the covenant renewal during the time of Moses; he instructed them how to live. Beginning with Deuteronomy 28:15, “However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: You will be cursed in the city and cursed in the country. Your basket and your kneading trough will be cursed.” This means you don’t have anything to eat. “The fruit of your womb will be cursed, and the crops of your land, and the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.” You get the picture.

They finished confessing by saying, “You did all this to us because we were arrogant, disobedient, forgetful and defiant.” Now they state, “I make a covenant, in public, with my wife and with all my sons and with all my daughters. We promise to keep your laws, and we put ourselves under a curse if we fail to do it. If we do not live a changed life, if we do not live an obedient life, let the curses of Deuteronomy 28 come upon us.” They found out that a disobedient life is a miserable, wretched life. They said, “We are slaves in our land, and we are in great distress. You have justly punished us. But we are taking advantage of 2 Chronicles 7:14. We are humbling ourselves and we are asking you to please help us.”

This is not based on a little feeling. This is based on serious deliberation of the word of God. “If I do not love God and obey him, let me and my family be destroyed.” It is personal, it is public, it is practical and particular. It is not just saying in some general way, “Well, we’ll love God; we’ll do it.” Intellectual adjustment by God’s word always brings about volitional adjustment. Change of mind brings about change of will.

There are three specific commitments these people are making. These three commitments have to do with the lordship of God over our relationships, our time, and our possessions.

The Commitment of Marriage

First is marriage. Look at the language of Nehemiah 10:30, which begins, “We promise”¦” It’s a promissory note given to God. “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.” This is what they had been doing-the sin of Solomon. Nehemiah 13 tells us they married Moabite, Ammonite and Philistine women who spoke Ashdod language. Ashdod was a Philistine city. They married Philistine women, and the children spoke the mother tongue. The mother was a Philistine, and so the mother said, “Don’t speak Hebrew. We worship our own gods. We have our own culture. We have our own music. We have our own fashion. We have our own books. Don’t you ever speak Hebrew.” The Hebrew husband was a passive man and did nothing, so the children spoke the Ashdod language.

Don’t marry somebody because one said one is a Christian. It doesn’t mean anything. Anybody can self-declare, “I am a Christian.” It doesn’t mean anything at all. “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” That means a life of obedience. Otherwise, your kids will speak Ashdod language and will have Ashdod culture.

But here they are making a covenant renewal, saying, “We will obey the word of God, which says, ‘You should not intermarry.'” That is found in Deuteronomy 7:3-4, “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.” You see, they heard the word of God, so they examined their lives and said, “No, we are going to safeguard marriage.” In other words, they are saying they will abide by the biblical law governing marriage. They will not intermarry with pagans.

Now, the reason is not racial, but religious. If you marry a pagan, they bring their gods with them and they turn you away from the true and living God, as was the case with Solomon. So it is not a racial issue; it is a religious issue. There is no problem in marrying a Ruth, who came to confess the God of Israel. But if an Israelite marries a pagan woman, she brings her gods with her, and the children become idolaters like her. When the pastor speaks to them about the Bible they don’t listen. It’s foreign to them. They only speak the language of Ashdod. They sit and sleep. They don’t know what is going on.

In the letters to the Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us something about marriage. First of all we read in 1 Corinthians 7: 39, “A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.” He must be governed by the Lord. He must be a person of the Book. He must be a born-again person, a member of the kingdom of God. He must be a lover of God.

Then we read in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” And verse 17: “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters.” 2 Corinthians 7:1 states, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Christians of today hate the idea of separation. They hate the idea of holiness. They love mixing.

Notice that the family is the basic unit of all society. Good families produce good churches, good governments, good schools and good workplaces. If the family is bad, everything becomes bad. What about your family? Can you say, with Joshua, “I and my family, we will serve the Lord”? Do you live by God’s word? Do you value relationship? Husband, do you love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her? Wife, do you respect your husband?

Do you teach your children the word of God with extreme urgency? Do you have family worship? Did you train your children to be attentive to the word of God? Are your children lovers of God? Have they confessed Jesus Christ? Have they been baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

Do you know who the friends of your children are? Are they pagans? Are they Philistines? What type of conversations are they having? What type of fashion are they interested in? What type of dress do they wear? You look at them and you can tell whether they dressed for the glory of God. The Bible says, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all for God’s glory.” In other words, holy families, holy marriage and holy children will shine as light in the world. God hates divorce, and Christians should not divorce. God is interested in holy family life.

The Commitment of Time

The second commitment the people made was to recognize God as the Lord of time. We don’t have much time left. Perhaps your father or mother just died and you went for the funeral. Your day is coming, and somebody will bury you. It is good to recognize God is the Lord of time, specifically of the time allotted to you. He is always the Lord of time. He is the Creator of time, so he owns time. Time is a creature of him.

In Nehemiah 10:31 we read, “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.” They are saying God is the Lord of time, that all time belongs to him. They promised to keep the Lord’s Sabbath, one day out of seven, thus declaring God as the Lord of time. They didn’t have Sabbaths in Egypt; they were in constant slavery. But the God of Israel says, “I want to give you rest one day out of seven, that you stop doing regular work and get physical rest, that you worship God, help the needy, and declare God’s word.”

Remember, they had heard the word, which also said one year out of seven the land should lie fallow. But they were not doing it; they wanted more money. Now they renewed the commitment to keep the Sabbath. They also said, “We are going to let the land lie fallow every seventh year.” They read in the Bible that God would give a greater harvest in the sixth year that would last through the seventh and eighth. They would trust God to meet all their needs.

The Commitment of Possessions

The third commitment concerned possessions. The people had neglected the house of God. They had lived a life of disorder and had not supported the house of God. They had robbed God by failing to tithe. You read that in Malachi chapter 3. That’s a denial of God’s lordship of possessions. So the house of God was neglected, and there was no repair of the house. The priests and the Levites were neglected. There were no sacrifices, no oil, no incense, no showbread. There was nothing.

They now said, “We are going to bring all the tithes and offerings to the house of God. They belong to God.” They said, “We will do it, because God is the Lord of all our possessions.” They made this serious commitment, signed their names, sealed it, and called a curse upon themselves if they did not fulfill it.

A Personal Call to Renewal

It is good to live an examined life. You know what your problems are. You know where you have failed. You know where you have been disorderly. You know you sought your own interests at the expense of God; I don’t have to tell you. I hope today you will hear the word of God, repent truly, and renew your covenant. Say, “God, I love you; I love your word; I will live for your glory.”

Remember you are in the presence of the holy God. It is time that we honored God. But praise be to God for his promise: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”