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Developing an Obedient Heart

We have a sin problem because we have sinful hearts. Therefore, don’t focus on sin, focus on your heart, and focus on the cross where the author of our salvation was sacrificed to secure us from the eternal wages of sin.


Nehemiah 10: “On the seals are the names of Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah; these are the priests. And the Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; and their brothers, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Mica, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodiah, Bani, Beninu. The chiefs of the people: Parosh, Pahath-moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodiah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahiah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah.


“The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes. We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.


‘We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. We, the priests, the Levites, and the people, have likewise cast lots for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law. We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord; also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the chambers, where the vessels of the sanctuary are, as well as the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. We will not neglect the house of our God.’” (ESV)


Recently, my wife and I invited a new couple at our church, Joseph and Ana, to hang out with our family. While we were watching the new Mario movie, Zara came to me and said that Ana wanted candy. I was confused when Ana said she did not want any. Immediately, I realized that earlier I had told Zara that she had enough sugar for the night, so this little two-year-old was trying to trick me into giving her candy. You see, we are born with a sinful heart, and it gets worse as we grow unless we develop an obedient heart to God.


The problem is that we can confess, repent, and promise not to give in to sin again but unless we develop an obedient heart to God, we have no defense against sin.


In Nehemiah 9, the recounting of God’s faithfulness and Israel’s repeated unfaithfulness probably made them realize that the issue with confession and repentance was that it does not last long before we commit another sin. Why? Because we are born with sinful hearts. Now in Nehemiah 10 Israel made a covenant to develop obedient hearts to God not just by reading God’s Word but by committing to practicing God’s Word.


We will never be sinless but by developing an obedient heart to God we can certainly learn to sin less. However, that requires a commitment to reading and practicing God’s Word in all matters of life. Now the question is, where do we start?


In our text Nehemiah 10, Israel as a community made a covenant to practice God’s Word and they identified three areas of life to do this: at home, at work, and at the Temple, which for us is church.


Practicing God’s Word at Home


Developing an obedient heart requires a commitment to practicing God’s Word at home as seen in verses 1-30. Verse 1 says, “On the seals are the names of Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah.” The first name on this written communal contract to practice God’s Word is Nehemiah’s name. Since chapter 7 we have not heard about Nehemiah, but here he is. Then in verses 2-8 we have 21 family names. It is like saying, the Javeds, the Millers, the Hannas. In verses 9-13 we have 17 names of Levites, and in verses 14-27 we have 44 names of the nobles and their princes. These are the heads of houses, the temple, and the nation. When heads of houses, churches, or nations publicly confess, repent, and make the commitment to follow God and practice God’s Word, it sets an example and a standard.


This past week I took my family to New York City for a day. One of the top objectives was to eat pizza from Arius’s favorite spot by our old apartment on Broadway and West 55 Street. When we sat down to eat, I gave a slice to a guy sitting next to us. Arius asked, “Why did you do that?” I said, “Because God wants us to share with others.”


Men, regardless of the current social norm, God has appointed you as the head of your household. When you put God’s Word into practice at home you set an example and you set a standard for your family. The men in our text made a commitment to practice God’s Word in their lives, and they started with their homes.


Notice what their commitment to practicing God’s Word at home entailed:


First, they separated themselves from the world. Verse 28 reads, “The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands.”


Secondly, they separated themselves for the word. Verse 28 ends “…and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding.” God does not want us to run away from the world and live in the wilderness to avoid sin. God wants us to live in this sinful world without sinning like the world, and we do that when we separate ourselves for the Word of God.


Thirdly, they separated themselves to do the work. Verse 29 says, “join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in [that’s doing the work] God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe [that’s also doing the work] and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes.”


The language of “entering into a curse and an oath” is in reference to Deuteronomy 11:26-30. It says, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” Deuteronomy 27-28 lists a number of curses and blessings. In Deuteronomy 7:3-4 God commanded the Israelites explicitly not to intermarry non-Jewish people or else they will turn their hearts away from God. When Ezra and later Nehemiah arrived, that was the problem. So, Israel renewed their covenant with God and said, in verse 30, “We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons.”


The only instance when the Pakistani dad in me comes out is when it relates to my daughters. I have been telling them to stay little and to stay away from boys. They are in complete rebellion. Next month they are turning three, and at home they are constantly talking about another little boy at our church. Not cool!


Anyhow, regardless of cultural norms, we must live by the Word of God. Just as we cannot save our children, we cannot dictate whom our children should marry either. But if we raise them according to the Word of God by committing to practicing the Word of God at home, we can be sure that God will lead them to Jesus and to a spouse that believes in Jesus.


The application for us is as believers, our job is to show our children through our marriage how a believing spouse is more desirable and commit them to daily prayer. I have been praying for my children and their spouses before they were born. For those who are single and considering marriage please know God’s will is not for you to marry a non-believer regardless of your rationale that you can convert the person. Also, be aware there are people who say they are Christians, but if they are not committed to putting God’s Word into practice, they are merely religious. To those who are already married to an unbelieving spouse continue to pray for your spouse’s salvation.


Practicing God’s Word at Work


Developing an obedient heart requires a commitment to practicing God’s Word at work. Verse 31 says, “We also promise that if the people of the land should bring any merchandise or grain to be sold on the Sabbath or on any other holy day, we will refuse to buy it. Every seventh year we will let our land rest, and we will cancel all debts owed to us.”


The Old Testament law demanded a Sabbath that people work six days and rest on the seventh day. It was to break their habit from slavery of working daily. Jesus in Mark 2:27 reminded them that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” But yet in Numbers 15:35, God described the penalty for breaking the Sabbath in these words, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘the man must be put to death! The whole community must stone him outside the camp.’” Breaking the Sabbath was indicative of self-reliance, disobedience, and slavery.


In Nehemiah 5 we learned they mortgaged their land and sold their children for food because there was a famine in the land. They were under a curse for disobeying God’s Word at home and at work. So, now we see they committed to following the Sabbath and giving rest to the land.


I was listening to a brother who said that he used to feel that if he does not work every day, he will fall behind in his work, and will make less, but when God convicted his heart to keep the Sabbath his faith grew because God began to bless what he had.


As a way of application, let me say this, though this law does not apply to us, because Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and as Colossians 2:16 says, we are set free from the law of the Sabbath, the principle of the Sabbath does. If you cannot do what you are supposed to do in six days, the seventh day is not going to help.


The biggest complaint I hear from most adults is that their dad was not there for them because he was always working. Trust the Lord and start taking the Sabbath and invest that day in you and your family. Do not be a slave to work. Rest in God’s promises of provision and set an example for others.


Practicing God’s Word at Church


Developing an obedient heart requires a commitment to practicing God’s Word at church as we see in verses 32-39. Notice how verse 32 starts with “in addition” (or “also,” depending on the version), which means not only they were committing to stop working on the seventh day which meant less income, but they committed to giving more to the temple of the Lord. The end of verse 33, says, “It will provide for everything necessary for the work of the Temple of our God.” They were more interested in God’s house than their own. In verses 34-37 in obedience to God’s Word their families committed to bringing wood for the altar, oil, wine, the firstfruits of their harvest, and a tenth of everything. Verses 38-39 outlines the process of how the tithes, the 10% of everything, was collected and brought to the house of God.


The last two Sundays, I received fresh produce from a couple’s garden. My family enjoyed the mint, cucumbers, and tomatoes. In fact, my daughter ate all the tomatoes before I even got any. But giving the first fruits in our context means giving God the very best of our life, livelihood, and loyalty. The chapter closes with this statement, “We promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.” That is the key. When we promise to not neglect the house of God, God never neglects us.


As a way of application, I want to invite you to self-examination. The teaching about bringing the first fruit to God’s house means not to give God the leftovers but the very best. Tithing in the Old Testament is ten percent of everything, and it will get you into the habit of giving and trusting God that 90 percent is sufficient for your needs. But in the New Testament we see that the objective is to grow in faith and trust God with all.


Have you ever had food poisoning? If you have, you know that the pain is so bad, you might find yourself promising, “God, I will never eat again, take away the pain!” But we know that’s not true, and so does God. In distress Israel always promised to obey God and not neglect the house of God but then would gradually stop. We do that in distress too. But if we commit to practicing God’s Word at home, work, and church, we will never neglect God and His house.


What is the takeaway? Commit to practicing God’s word to develop an obedient heart. Why? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Other translations say it is beyond cure and desperately wicked. The Hebrew word there is aw-nash, which has the sense of an incurable terminal illness that leads to death. Since it is deceitful it makes us think and feel that our religious deeds are working. In Hebrew, the actual word for “deceitful” is aw-kobe, which can be translated as “insidious.” Insidious diseases develop gradually with harmful effects before becoming apparent, like cancer that hides and grows and by the time you become aware of it, it is too late. No one can understand the human heart because it is simultaneously aw-nash and aw-kobe, meaning terminally ill, hidden, and deceitful in convincing that there is nothing wrong with us whether at home, work, or church.


Here is my appeal. Examine your heart and see what one sin is causing you to neglect God and His house because that affects every area of your life. For Israel in Nehemiah’s time, it was money. Money was one of the reasons why they intermarried with non-believers, money was the reason why they broke the Sabbath to earn a little more, and money was the reason why God’s house was neglected.


We have a sin problem because we have sinful hearts. Therefore, don’t focus on sin, focus on your heart, and focus on the cross where the author of our salvation was sacrificed to secure us from the eternal wages of sin. If you want to stop struggling with sin in all areas of your life than stop neglecting God and His house and start giving time, tithing, and talent to God.


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