International Sunday School Lesson for August 25, 2013
Scripture Text: Nehemiah 13: 15-22
Purpose: To learn to honor, observe, and respect holy time
Bible Lesson Background Nehemiah 13:4-31
Nehemiah 13:15-22 (CEB)
15In those days I saw people in Judah using the winepresses on the Sabbath. They were also collecting piles of grain and loading them on donkeys, as well as wine, grapes, figs, and every kind of load, and then bringing them to Jerusalem on the Sabbath. I warned them at that time against selling food.
16In addition, people from Tyre who lived in the city were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them to the people of Judah on the Sabbath. This happened in Jerusalem itself!
17So I scolded the officials of Judah: "What is this evil thing that you are doing?" I asked. "You are making the Sabbath impure! 18This is just what your ancestors did, and God brought all this evil upon us and upon this city. And now you are bringing more wrath upon Israel by making the Sabbath impure!"
19So when it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I gave orders that the doors should be shut. I also ordered that they shouldn’t be reopened until after the Sabbath. To make sure that no load would come into the city on the Sabbath, I stationed some of my own men at the gates. 20Once or twice the traders and sellers of all kinds of merchandise spent the night outside Jerusalem. 21But I warned them: "Why are you spending the night by the wall? If you do that again, I will lay hands on you!" At that point, they stopped coming on the Sabbath. 22I also commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to come and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy.
Remember this also in my favor, my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your mercy.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
In the verses prior to our selected text, we find that Nehemiah had gone back to Babylon, and put in some time working for King Artaxerxes. After some time Nehemiah ask to go back to Jerusalem. That is where our text begins.
Nehemiah comes back to a very different Jerusalem than the one he left. When he left they had celebrated the wall being completed and Nehemiah may have thought his work was done. However it is amazing, when left without direction and supervision, how soon we regress back to old habits and how selfish we become.
The high priest had corrupted the temple, and obviously had sold rooms to non Jews and prior enemies. Those Levites that were responsible for keeping the temple in order had returned to their farms, because they were no longer being paid. Not only had the temple been defiled, the Sabbath was no longer being set aside as a day of rest as had been instructed by God and Moses.
What happens when we become lax in our worship and no longer attend Sunday services on a regular basis? It is usually not long before we find more profitable things to do with our Sundays. It soon becomes OUR day and not the LORDS day. The people in and around Jerusalem found it to be a great day to buy and sell, more of a market day than a Sabbath.
Left to our own devices we are a sinful and uncaring people. Our concerns become about us and how we can improve our standing in our community. We no longer share our possessions with the needy, or have any concern about the condition of our church buildings and programs, we become selfish and use Sundays to buy and sell and no longer consider God as a part of the Sabbath.
Maybe it was this passage of scripture that some have used to enforce the old “blue laws” that were popular back in the first half of our prior century. Nehemiah closed the gates of the city, to enforce a holy Sabbath. Blue laws forbid stores from being open on Sundays, there may be some places where this still applies. But for the most part it is one of the best days for business in our society today.
Even in our lifetime Sundays were a time when we called on sick friends or relatives, we tried to do things that brought honor to God, it was not a time for selfishness. Today it is a great day for commerce, movies, golf, fishing or catching up on our chores. Not all of these things are bad in themselves, and God can be included in many of these activities.
How can we use our Sundays better? What activities can make the Sabbath dedicated to God and not ourselves? How do pastors set apart a Sabbath for themselves? If your occupation requires you to work on the Sabbath, when is your Sabbath day? God deserves our honor and respect, and He requires we observe a Sabbath.