Nehemiah had just worked together with his fellow citizens, finishing the work of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Ezra, the scribe, found written in God’s law where the Lord had commanded, through Moses, that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month, the Feast of Tabernacles. A proclamation was then circulated throughout all their cities, and Jerusalem, for them to celebrate the feast per the Lord’s ordinance (Nehemiah 8:13-18).
Ezra read from the book of the law of God daily for seven days. On the eighth day, per the order of God, a solemn assembly was held;
“…the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants [“seed”] of Israel separated [914- “to divide, to separate, to set apart, to make a distinction”] themselves from all foreigners [5236- “foreign, alien, what is foreign”], and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.”
In this great feast that occurs during the time of the Fall harvest, and is the last to be fulfilled by the Lord at the end of this age, the people separated themselves from all that was “foreign,” confessing their sins and the sins of their fathers. It was the discovery of this “appointed feast” in the word of God that moved them to act in obedience. This is why it is so crucial that we study God’s word, without which we will not know His will for us.
Biblical illiteracy is a major reason for our being in the current poor spiritual condition that we, the church in America, now find ourselves in. Very few even bring Bibles to church anymore. Paul exhorted Timothy, saying, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15/NASU) This isn’t just for spiritual leaders, but for all Christians. We do not measure the Word by what the pastor says, but we measure the pastor by what the Word says. Otherwise, we can be easily deceived into error.
Spiritually speaking, I believe that we are nearing the time for this feast, and all it represents, to be fulfilled. We too must separate from all that is foreign to God in this world, confessing our sins and the sins of our spiritual fathers who have not walked in the ways of God, causing us to be in a predicament similar to Israel in Nehemiah. As we’ll see through them, our enemy has now been granted dominion over many Christians.
During this appointed time, the Levites stood and proclaimed the word of the Lord to the children of Israel who had just being released from slavery to a foreign nation. In particular, they spoke to them of their past history of rebellion against the Lord which usually followed a time when He had blessed them. If we do not carefully guard our hearts, prosperity can breed apathy. This was Israel’s pattern with God, causing Him to chastise them through the hands of their enemies. The same indifference towards the Lord is a major issue within the majority of churches in the United States today.
The Levites ended their proclamation before the people with this;
“However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. But they, in their own kingdom, with Your great goodness which You gave them, with the broad and rich land which You set before them, did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. Behold, we are slaves today, and as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, behold, we are slaves in it. Its abundant produce is for the kings whom You have set over us because of our sins; they also rule over our bodies and over our cattle as they please, so we are in great distress. Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing [making a covenant]; and on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests.”
In the “broad and rich land” which the Lord had given them, they had turned away from their obedient devotion to Him. Its abundant fruit meant for them had been given over to the dominion of the kings that the Lord placed over them because of their sin. Not only that, but these foreign kings also ruled over their bodies, and their cattle, using them in whatever way they pleased to increase their kingdoms. The “great distress” they were in caused them to return to the Lord in their hearts and enter into a covenant with Him. There is a spiritual meaning for us today manifested through all this that we need to see. It is a picture of exactly where the church in America now stands.
Whenever we, the church, are not faithful to the Lord and His ways, acting wickedly against the covenant we have willingly entered into with Jesus, He will set another master over us who will “rule over our bodies.” In his revelation from God, John declared that Jesus is, “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Revelation 1:5) Because all authority has been given to Christ, He can move the kings to do whatever He desires. The intent of our affliction from them is that, like the prodigal son, it will cause us to remember from where we have fallen, once again looking up to the Deliverer, and then to repent.
I see in this passage from Nehemiah the king being the devil who was given dominion over fallen mankind when we rebelled against the Lord in the beginning of creation, in the Garden of Eden. It is sin that gives him authority over us, which is why he has no authority over the Lord who was sinless (Hebrews 4:15).
One day, while speaking to a crowd of people, Jesus foretold of His death, saying that His hour had come to die, that it was the purpose for His coming. He then said, “Father, glorify Your name.” A voice then came out of heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Jesus answered the crowd who heard different things, “This voice has not come for My sake, but for your sakes. Now judgment is upon this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.” (John 12:27-31) It was through the death of Christ that He legally, before the Father, gained authority in this earthly realm over the devil.
On another occasion, while speaking with His disciples, Jesus said to them, “I will not speak much more with you, for the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me…” (John 14:30/NASU) Again, as we walk in obedience to the Lord we remain in Him, under His authority over all things. But when we give in to the temptations of the flesh that the devil entices us with, we give him the right of authority over us. As we remain in Christ through obedience and submission to His lordship, he has nothing over us either. This is why it is so crucial to walk in obedience with a pure heart. It is the only way to walk in victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The body referred to in Nehemiah that the kings are allowed to “rule over” (i.e., have dominion over) can be an individual or a corporate “body” of believers (see the Bible study The Dominion Mandate). All sickness, whether it be mental or physical came into being after man sinned. When we submit to the Lord and His authority, walking in Him, we are in a place where His authority rules over us. When we listen as Eve did to the devil’s temptation to act outside the boundary of God’s will, we then place ourselves in his domain where he has authority/dominion over us. By walking in sin, without repentance, we will never be set free. As long as we continue to act wickedly toward the Lord as the children of Israel did, we will continue to be enslaved by the devil.
Paul prophesied that right before the return of Christ a lawless spirit will exist among many Christians that will cause them to fall away from their devotion to Him. They did not love the truth so as to be saved, but took pleasure in wickedness. Because of this, God will send a deluding influence upon them “so that they will believe what is false.” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) At this point it is impossible for them to see and understand the truth. This is already the fate of many in the church in America.