Friday, August 23, 2013

An international Sunday school lesson commentary

For Sunday August 25, 2013

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(Keeping the Sabbath holy)
(Nehemiah 13:15-22)

In the first century the Jews tenaciously held to observing the Sabbath Day. In fact, they were so adamant about its observance, that even the Romans were forced to exempt them from military service because no Jew would be willing to engage in military campaigns on a Saturday. In fact, that is how the great Roman general Pompey defeated Israel circa 63 B.C., the fact that he waged his three-month siege with attacks upon Jerusalem primarily on Sabbath Days. He knew that they would not engage in battle even to defend themselves on a Sabbath Day.
JESUS challenged the Jew’s thinking on the issue of the Sabbath many times during His three-year ministry here on earth. HE said that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. During those days the Scribes had enumerated “39 forbidden kinds of work” that could not be tolerated on the Sabbath. And actually, the whole idea for these rules was to discourage any activities that remotely resembled work on this day.
JESUS, in making HIS statement regarding the Sabbath, sought to institute a special application of “a broader view of the law”, that it was not an end in itself, but rather, it was a tool to promote the great idea of “love for GOD and man”, which is, in effect, the summation of “Christian ideology and doctrine”.
In the early Christian Church, Jewish Christians continued to keep the Sabbath, as well as other points of the old law. In fact, they observed both the Sabbath, and “the LORD’s Day” (a weekly celebration of the Resurrection). The sacred character of the Sabbath was also long recognized in a somewhat modified form in the Eastern Church by “a prohibition of fasting” on the Sabbath, which was also a rule in the Jewish Sabbath Law.
The Apostle Paul, from the very first days of Gentile Christianity, made it clear that the Jewish Sabbath was “not binding on Christians”, and controversy with Judaizers led to direct condemnation of those who still tried to keep the Jewish application of the Sabbath.
The observance of the Sabbath dates back to the day that Moses delivered the “Decalogue” (Ten Commandments) to the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. In Exodus 20, verses 3-17, the command to “remember the Sabbath” follows immediately after the commandments which are concerned with “GOD and HIS name”. This is an indication of the importance of the Sabbath, and probably suggests, in a very special way, that this day really is “GOD’s Day”. And the importance of the Sabbath becomes even more noteworthy in view of the fact that it ignores all other Jewish feasts and rites.
In Nehemiah 13:15-22, we see that the Israelites, who were freshly back from exile in Babylon, were greatly disrespecting the Sabbath since the time that Nehemiah had returned to Babylon to finish his service to King Artaxerxes. Here Nehemiah shares with us, the things that he saw and found in Jerusalem upon his return. He says that he saw the men of Judah treading their winepresses, harvesting grain and loading it on donkeys, and, was bringing in their wine, grapes, figs, and other produce to sell in Jerusalem.
Nehemiah rebuked the men for selling their produce on the Sabbath, but then, he also saw foreigners, men from Tyre, bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise into Jerusalem to sell to the people of Judah, on the Sabbath! At that point he confronted the leaders of Judah for allowing the Sabbath to be profaned by foreigners. Nehemiah then ordered that the gates of Jerusalem be shut from Friday evening to Sunday morning to assure that the entire Sabbath Day would be respected. He also sent some of his own servants to guard the gates so that no merchandise could be brought in until the Sabbath had passed.
The foreign merchants and traders then sought to camp outside of the city, but Nehemiah went out and threatened to arrest them if they did not leave immediately. The merchants and the traders then left, and did not return. Nehemiah then ordered all the Levites to purify themselves, and to guard the gates of the city in order to preserve the holiness of the Sabbath. Nehemiah will forever be remembered as a leader who:

·         Accepted his responsibility
·         Relied on prayer
·         Showed compassion for the poor and needy
·         Kept his goal in sight
·         Remained bold in the face of opposition
·         Was a motivator and encourager to others
·         Always maintained high standards
·         Was always ready to take a stand for what is right

As leaders, we can learn and benefit greatly from the many examples set by Nehemiah. We must never overlook the sins of ourselves and others, but rather, we must seek GOD’s guidance on how we can best respond and overcome the damage caused by our shortcomings and neglect of GOD’s Laws.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander  

                                           LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website

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