In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, along with wine, grapes, and figs. All kinds of goods were being brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. So I warned them against selling food on that day.
I. A SERIOUS DELINQUENCY. The law of the sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:13-17; Numbers 15:32-36) was openly defied. Husbandmen were treading their wine-presses and were bringing corn into the city, and were lading asses on that day of sacred rest (ver. 15); all kinds of fruit were also carried in and sold (ver. 15). Tyrian traders were allowed to bring in and sell their fish and "all manner of ware" (ver. 16). The sacred character of the day was set at naught, and was fast disappearing. Persian rulers, Samaritan neighbours, Phoenician traders, had prevailed over Jewish principles, and the sabbath was most seriously threatened. There needed -
II. A VIGOROUS REFORM. Nehemiah set himself to change the whole aspect of affairs. He
(1) remonstrated energetically - he "contended with the nobles of Judah" (ver. 17), charging them with bringing this about - "What evil thing is this that ye do?"- by their guilty connivance, and prophetically threatening them with the wrath of God for their sin (ver. 18);
(2) caused the gates to be shut some time before, and to remain shut till some time after, the commencement and conclusion of the sacred day (ver. 19): he set his own servants (some of his own retinue), on whom he could most reckon, to see that this order was impartially carried out;
(3) not only obliged those who came to sell to remain outside all the day, but threatened to apprehend them if they did this again (vers. 20, 21); and
(4) enlisted the sympathy and aid of the Levites, that, when he was recalled and his own servants were withdrawn, they might maintain what he now instituted. These energetic measures succeeded; they had an immediate effect (ver. 21), and they appear to have had a permanent influence, as, from this time, we have reason to think that the Jews became scrupulous, even to a fault, on this question of sabbath observance. Nehemiah's reform was admirable and effective because -
(a) It was bold and impartial. He confronted and reproached the nobles as well as the traders and salesmen.
(b) It was energetic and full of action. He used magisterial rights; not exceeding his authority, but using it, and acting in harmony with the powers of his commission and the law of God.
(c) It was anticipative of future wants. He prepared for a time when he would not be there, and when other men like-minded would be prepared to continue his work (ver. 22). Concerning the observance of the sabbath or the Lord's day by ourselves, we may remark that it is -
I. OBVIOUSLY THE WILL OF GOD THAT WE SHOULD KEEP IT. We know that -
1. It was sanctified from the very beginning of our race (Genesis 2:2, 3).
2. It was included in the religious and moral statutes given by God to Moses, as if it belonged to that which is permanent and perpetual (Exodus 20.).
3. It was insisted upon by the prophetic voice, and declared to be decisive of national prosperity or decline (Jeremiah 17:19-27; Isaiah 58:13, 14) - the prophets being the upholders of the moral in preference to the formal and ceremonial.
4. It was declared by the Lord Jesus Christ to be "made for man" (Mark 2:27).
II. MANIFESTLY REQUISITE FOR BODILY AND SPIRITUAL WELFARE.
1. Bodily; for man and beast live longer and work better with than without it.
2. Spiritual; for without the spiritual refreshment and revival of sabbath services, more especially in these days of absorbing work and care, the light of life would burn even more dim and faint, until it went out into darkness. All those who hate (spiritual) death may well love and guard and use it well. Our duty in regard to it is -
(1) To avail ourselves of the bodily rest it brings, and to see that others have the same advantage - our children resting from their lessons, servants (domestic and public) resting from their toil.
(2) To make it a day of special spiritual privilege, including
(a) worship-drawing nigh to God;
(b) instruction - enlightenment, edification, the "beholding the beauty of the Lord and inquiring in his temple;" and
(c) inspiration - fresh determination, invigorated resolution that as for us and our household we will serve the Lord Christ. - C.
In those days I saw in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath.
I. CONTENDED WITH THE NOBLES, OR JEWISH ARISTOCRACY. It was their trade that kept the marts open. Were they to hold aloof, the Sabbath-breakers would fail for want of patronage.
II. HE ENFORCED THE LAW.
III. HE DEALT PARTICULARLY WITH THOSE WHO SOUGHT TO EVADE THE LAW.
IV. HE TOOK MEASURES TO PERPETUATE THE REFORM. Conclusion: Reflect on the considerations which underlie the duty of Sabbath rest.
1. The institution of the Sabbath is coeval with the race. Adam in paradise kept the holy day. This is evidenced by the primitive division of time into weeks. The word "remember " in the fourth commandment shows that this injunction was but the revival and re-emphasising of one which had all along been binding upon them.
2. It is based upon a ground which in the nature of the case makes it perpetual. The Lord "rested on the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."
3. The Sabbath law was interwoven with the nerves and sinews of the human constitution before it was inscribed on the tables of stone.
4. The injunction, "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy," when placed in the Decalogue, received the formal sanction of Jehovah as an essential part of the moral law.
5. Christ came to fulfil the ceremonial law; at His coming it vanished as shadows do before the sun. But as to the moral law, He came to fasten it more and more permanently on the hearts and consciences of men.
6. The change from the seventh to the first day was in no wise a violation of the original injunction, but rather in pursuance of it. It commemorates the resurrection of Christ, and thus a new and living branch of joy was engrafted upon it.
(D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
Monday Club Sermons., De Witt S. Clarke.The several points suggested by this narrative are specially suited to times like our own.
I. IT REMINDS US OF THE BLINDING AND, HARDENING POWER OF WORLDLINESS. It blunts conscience, deadens spirituality, and estranges from God.
II. IT REMINDS US OF THE RISKS OF ASSOCIATION WITH CARELESS AND IRRELIGIOUS NEIGHBOURS.
III. IT REMINDS US OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MEN IN HIGH POSITION FOR PREVAILING EVILS.
IV. IT REMINDS US THAT NEGLECT TO KEEP THE SABBATH IS AN EVIL WITH WHICH GOD CAN NEVER BE OTHERWISE THAN SORELY DISPLEASED.
V. IT REMINDS US OF THE RESOLUTE FIDELITY REQUIRED TO SAVE THIS DAY FROM GENERAL PROFANATION.
(Monday Club Sermons.)Keeping the Sabbath —
I. Sabbath observance has to contend with the greed of men with wealth.
II. Sabbath observance secures the community and nation from peril. Divine requirements have always a wise and loving purpose in them. A God-fearing nation is strong because it has learned, in its several elements, to exalt those things which have abiding power in them. Charity and integrity, reverence, purity, intelligence, and self-control are mighty forces. Against these immorality, intemperance, extortion, ignorance, surge like a desolating flood. The Sabbath is a protecting dyke raised across their path, so clear and effective that they each hate and would abolish it. A million soldiers under arms cannot defend us as sixty million citizens without other weapon than recognition of God's claims and their fellows' rights will do. The former may be defeated as Rome's numerous legions were. The latter are invincible.
III. SABBATH OBSERVANCE MAY BE DECREED BY PUBLIC STATUTE AND ENFORCED BY THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE. The State may, and must maintain itself. It may, and should, forbid those practices which threaten its life. It must respect the religious nature and requirements of its citizens. Its province is, not to say how any shall observe the hours of rest, but simply to guarantee that they shall have them.
(De Witt S. Clarke.)
I. II. III. IV. (J. Venn, M. A.)
II. III. IV. (J. Venn, M. A.)
III. IV. (J. Venn, M. A.)
IV. (J. Venn, M. A.)
(J. Venn, M. A.)
I. THE ABUSE CONSISTED IN SABBATH WORK AND TRADING. It is easy to ridicule the Jewish Sabbath and "the Puritan Sunday." No doubt there have been and are well-meant but mistaken efforts to insist on too rigid observance. No doubt it has been often forgotten by good people that the Christian Lord's Day is not the Jewish Sabbath. Of course, the religious observance of the day is not a fit subject for legislation. But the need for a seventh day of rest is impressed on our physical and intellectual nature; and devout hearts will joyfully find their best rest in Christian worship and service. The vigour of religious life demands special seasons set apart for worship. Unless there be such reservoirs along the road, there will be but a thin trickle of a brook by the way. It is all very well to talk about religion diffused through the life, but it will not be so diffused unless it is concentrated at certain times. They are no benefactors to the community who seek to break down and relax the stringency of the prohibition of labour. If once the idea that Sunday is a day of amusement takes root, the amusement of some will require the hard work of others, and the custom of work will tend to extend, till rest becomes the exception and work the rule. There never was a time when men lived so furiously fast as now. The pace of modern life demands Sunday rest more than ever. If a railway-car is run continually, it will wear out sooner than if it were laid aside for a day or two occasionally; and if it is run at express speed, it will need the rest more. We are all going at top speed; and there would be more breakdowns if it were not for that blessed institution which some people think they are promoting the public good by destroying — a seventh day of rest.
II. THE VIGOROUS REMEDIES APPLIED BY NEHEMIAH WERE ADMINISTERED FIRST TO THE RULERS. He sent for the nobles, and laid the blame at their doors. "Ye profane the day," said he. Men in authority are responsible for crimes which they could check but prefer to wink at. Nehemiah was governor for the Persian king, and so had a right to rate these nobles. In this day the people have the same right, and there are many social sins for which they should arraign civic and other authorities. Christian principles unflinchingly insisted on by Christian people, and brought to bear, by ballot-boxes and other persuasive ways, on what stands for conscience in some high places, would make a wonderful difference on many of the abominations of our cities. Go to the "nobles" first, and lay the burden on the backs that ought to carry it.
III. THEN NEHEMIAH TOOK PRACTICAL MEASURES BY SHUTTING THE CITY GATES ON THE EVE OF THE SABBATH, AND PUTTING SOME OF HIS OWN SERVANTS AS A WATCH. The methods adopted may yield suggestions for all who would aim at reforming abuses or public immoralities.
1. One most necessary step is to cut off, as far as possible, opportunities for the sin. There will be no trade if you shut the gates the night before. There will be little drunkenness if there are no liquor-shops. It is quite true that people cannot be made virtuous by legislation, but it is also true that they may be saved temptations to become vicious by it.
2. Once more, the guard of Levites may suggest that the execution of measures for the reformation of manners or morals is best entrusted to those who are in sympathy with them. Levites made faithful watchmen, Many a promising measure for reformation has come to nothing because committed to the hands of functionaries who did not care for its success. The instruments are almost as important as the means which they carry out.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. WE ALSO HAVE A SABBATH WHICH OUGHT TO BE OBSERVED.
II. SOME OF THE PREVALENT ABUSES OF THE SABBATH.
III. PRACTICAL REMEDIES. Nehemiah is here our pattern.
1. He took no part in the sin himself.
2. He made a public protest.
3. He promoted active measures for the suppression of Sabbath profanation.
I. IS WHAT CONSISTED THE ABUSES THEMSELVES.
1. Agricultural work on the Sabbath. "In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine-presses, and bringing in sheaves," etc. The feeding of cattle and similar labours on the Sabbath are clearly permitted, because the life or health of the beast depends on its nourishment; but all other sorts of work are plainly evil, and as much just subject of rebuke from the Christian minister as the labours of the Jews were from the Jewish.
2. Sabbath traffic (ver. 16). The pleas of opposition, convenience, and such-like, cannot be allowed even in palliation; for the law of God must not be bent or modified to suit the will and caprices of man. Here no subterfuge, or sophistry, or excuse, is permitted.
II. THE PROPHET'S PROCEEDINGS CONSEQUENT UPON THESE PRACTICES.
1. He testified against them. It is the duty of ministers on any symptoms of irreligion in their respective districts to rebuke and raise their voices against it. For that purpose they are appointed as sentinels and guardians. Now this word "testify" is a comprehensive term, and will signify, first, that he indicated the evil — that he expressed his dislike of the practice — that he showed them its sinfulness, and the punishment surely consequent upon it. He then charged them with it. "Ye do it." "What evil thing is this that ye do?" The better sort were not sellers, but buyers; they connived at the practice, and encouraged it. The prophet accordingly accuses them with being accessories, over on the ground of bad example. The people naturally took their tone from them, and when they saw the Sabbath traffic of the nobles, they, also, profaned the Sabbath day. He rebukes them, too, for contempt of God and want of patriotism. "What evil thing is this that ye do," etc. Now this instance of the destiny of Israel proves the fact, that God does not reserve His wrath against the Sabbath-breaking nation for the next world, but here inflicts at least a part of the retribution.
2. He exerted his authority to prevent the entrance of the traders into me city. "I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath," etc. The authority he exercised was exclusively secular. Therefore, though the state should be cautious of interfering in matters purely ecclesiastical, yet with this case before us it is evident that the magistrate may interpose to carry out the Divine ordinances. The authority, then, vested in magistrates or others by the state for this purpose is a legal authority, according to Divine law; and the conduct of Nehemiah in this case sets a proud example to officials of every time and place, with equal zeal and prudence to execute their functions.
(John Budgen, M.A.)
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