A. Roster of those who signed the covenant.
1. (1-8) Nehemiah and the priests signed the covenant.
Now those who placed their seal on the document were:
Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, and Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Pashhur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, and Shemaiah. These were the priests.
a. Those who placed their seal on the document: At the end of Nehemiah chapter 9, the people had come to a place of decision, and now, collectively, the nation was going to do something about it by entering into a covenant.
i. Nehemiah 9:38 gives the sense of this: And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.
ii. In Nehemiah 9:38, make a covenant is literally “cut a covenant.” This phrasing was used because covenants were not made in the ancient world, they were cut. Almost always an animal was sacrificed as part of “signing” the covenant. A covenant always cost something, and our point of decision will cost us something – the self-life, comfort, ease, some of the passing pleasures of this world.
b. Those who placed their seal on the document: It was wonderful for the nation as a whole to feel that something had to be done about the sin problem among them. But it was meaningless unless individuals came forward to say, “we will do something about this.” Here were the leaders (84 in all) willing to put their names on the line for the covenant before God.
c. On the document: These people in Nehemiah’s day knew the customs of making covenants, and they knew how important covenants were to God. They remembered God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that both a nation and the Messiah would descend from him; God made a covenant with Moses and the nation of Israel when He gave them the law at Mount Sinai; God made a covenant with King David, promising the Messiah would come from his family. But the greatest covenant, the New Covenant instituted by the Messiah, was yet to come.
2. (9-13) The Levites who signed the covenant.
The Levites: Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, and Kadmiel. Their brethren: Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Bani, and Beninu.
3. (14-27) The civic leaders who signed the covenant.
The leaders of the people: Parosh, Pahath-Moab, Elam, Zattu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hezekiah, Azzur, Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hasshub, Hallohesh, Pilha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, Ahijah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, and Baanah.
B. The terms of the covenant.
1. (28-29) The making of the covenant with God.
Now the rest of the people; the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the Nethinim, and all those who had separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding; these joined with their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes:
a. Now the rest of the people: The 84 people mentioned previously sealed the covenant, but the rest of the people – that is, everyone who had knowledge and understanding – also made the covenant with God.
b. Entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s Law: In making the covenant, they agreed to accept a curse from God if they did not obey His Law. They accepted the curse as a form of His correction, to bring them back to obedience.
i. Many of us have done a similar thing. We probably didn’t pray “God, curse me if I disobey You.” But many of us have prayed, “Lord, whatever it takes I want to follow You. Whatever it takes I want to be Your man/woman.” That is essentially praying the same thing, and that is a good prayer.
c. Their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone who had knowledge and understanding: They made this covenant publicly; though its most significant meaning was between the individual and God, it was also important that other people be witness to the covenant. A public covenant meant accountability.
2. (30) Their first area of decision: we will be faithful to God when it comes to our romantic relationships.
We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons;
a. We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land: This promise was addressed to parents. This is because in that day, parents made the marriage decisions, not the people getting married.
i. If this covenant were to be repeated today, it wouldn’t be focused on the parents, but on the individuals who wanted to get married.
b. We would not give our daughters as wives to the peoples of the land: This preserved the important principle that a follower of God should only marry another similarly committed follower of God. It is obvious by experience and observation that it is important to carefully and prayerfully choose your spouse.
i. Many of us have remarkable stories of how we came together with our mate – some stories are romantic, and others are rather strange. Once a couple comes together, God wants to make that marriage something special before Him, and desires to draw the couple closer together as they draw closer to God, as the sides of a triangle come closer as they come higher up.
ii. But if you are not now married, it is important for you to make the same kind of covenant. If you have given your life to serving Jesus Christ, there will be difficulties if you marry someone who has given their life to something else. If you are in that situation now, God can do great things, but you should never knowingly choose to be in that place from the beginning.
iii. The whole idea of marriage is closely connected to the idea of covenant. Malachi 2:14 says, Yet she is your companion, and your wife by covenant. Marriage is a covenant, between the husband and wife, between them and all family and witnesses, but most importantly, between them and God.
iv. When we understand marriage as a covenant, we have something to bind us together that is stronger than society’s expectations, more constant than romantic love, and more certain than happy times – we have a covenant.
3. (31) Second area of decision: we will be faithful to God when it comes to doing business.
If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day, we would not buy it from them on the Sabbath, or on a holy day; and we would forego the seventh year’s produce and the exacting of every debt.
a. If the peoples of the land brought wares or any grain to sell on the Sabbath day: Under the Old Testament law, God said that no one could buy or sell anything on the Sabbath day. These citizens of Jerusalem had been breaking this law, and they now covenant with God to obey it.
b. We would not buy it from them on the Sabbath: The motive for breaking this law was clear. They could make more money selling on seven days of the week instead of six days. This was a covenant to only make money in ways that were obedient and glorifying to God.
i. This is a great challenge for the church today, when many are in careers where they have the opportunity to make money in ways that wrong in God’s sight. We need to have the same heart they had here, and covenant before God to only make money in ways that are obedient and glorifying to Him.
ii. Many of us – as was true in Nehemiah’s day – slip into these practices subtly. We don’t wake up in the morning saying we’re going to cut corners, cheat others, and defraud the system. We do it because we think we need to – bills need to be paid, the kids need things, and so on. Then we do it because it works. But we don’t really need to; if we trust God, He will take care of us. We should never trust our slick ways of doing business more than we trust God in heaven.
4. (32-39) The third area of decision: we will be faithful to God when it comes to supporting God’s work.
Also we made ordinances for ourselves, to exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, for the regular grain offering, for the regular burnt offering of the Sabbaths, the New Moons, and the set feasts; for the holy things, for the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and all the work of the house of our God. We cast lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for bringing the wood offering into the house of our God, according to our fathers’ houses, at the appointed times year by year, to burn on the altar of the LORD our God as it is written in the Law. And we made ordinances to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, to the house of the LORD; to bring the firstborn of our sons and our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and our flocks, to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God; to bring the firstfruits of our dough, our offerings, the fruit from all kinds of trees, the new wine and oil, to the priests, to the storerooms of the house of our God; and to bring the tithes of our land to the Levites, for the Levites should receive the tithes in all our farming communities. And the priest, the descendant of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive tithes; and the Levites shall bring up a tenth of the tithes to the house of our God, to the rooms of the storehouse. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the grain, of the new wine and the oil, to the storerooms where the articles of the sanctuary are, where the priests who minister and the gatekeepers and the singers are; and we will not neglect the house of our God.
a. To exact from ourselves yearly one-third of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: They laid down a yearly tax to support the workings of the temple. They required people to bring wood to the temple on a rotating basis. They committed themselves to obey the command to bring the firstborn and the firstfruits, and the tithe (ten percent of the produce of their land) to the house of God.
i. They simply did two things. First, they agreed to give as God had commanded (the firstborn, firstfruits, and the tithe). Second, they agreed to give as the special need required (the one-third of a shekel tax and the wood).
ii. Firstborn and firstfruits were risky ways to give, because your land might not yield much more produce, and your cow or ewe might not give birth again – yet the first still belonged to God and was given to the priests. God promised to bless this giving of the firstfruits and firstborn in faith: Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine (Proverbs 3:9-10).
b. We will not neglect the house of our God: If before they covenanted to make money only in ways that would glorify God, here they covenant to spend their money in ways that glorify God – and beginning it all with giving to the LORD.
c. We will not neglect the house of our God: Simply said, the Bible says we need to be givers. Not so much for the sake of those we give to, but because giving sets our heart right about material things. God Himself is the greatest giver.
i. If you hold on to money so tightly that you will not be a giver then you have revealed where your heart is when it comes to money.
ii. The New Testament speaks with great clarity on the principle of giving; that giving should be regular, planned, proportional, and private (1 Corinthians 16:1-4); that it must be generous, freely and cheerfully given (2 Corinthians 9).
iii. If you are reluctant to be a giver as the Bible says you should, simply talk to those who are. Ask them if it has been a blessing or a curse in their life to give as God says to. God promises He will never owe us anything, and we cannot out-give God – though the return is often far better than dollars and cents.