When I lived in Hawaii, I would sometimes go to church camps up in the mountains. And they would be great times of worship and of teaching. I would usually come back on a spiritual high, ready and willing to serve God.
Then real life hit. And God who had seemed so close that I could touch him, suddenly seemed to become more distant. The emotions of the moment faded, and many times, not much in my life ultimately changed.
That’s what happened to the Jews. They had come off a time of celebrating God’s goodness. Then they had a real emotional time of repentance. During that time, they all signed a contract before God, saying that they would obey all the commands of God, that they would not intermarry with the idol-worshippers around them, that they would keep the Sabbath, that they would bring their tithes and offerings to support the priests and Levites in their temple work, and that they would not neglect the house of God.
And after all this was done, they had a great celebration, dedicating the new wall they had built.
For a while things went well. But then real life hit. The emotions started to fade. Not only that, Nehemiah, their governor, had been called back to Babylon to serve Artaxerxes once again.
And when Nehemiah came back later to see how things were going in Jerusalem, what did he find? The people had stopped supporting the Levites (and the musicians) and so they had stopped serving in the temple and had gone back to work in their own fields. Not only that, people were working and doing trade on the Sabbath. If that weren’t enough, the people had started intermarrying with the idol-worshippers from other nations.
What were the priests doing about all of this? Nothing. In fact, one of the priests himself had married the daughter of one of the enemies of the Jews (a man named Sanballat) who had tried to stop the building of the wall. The priest’s father (or perhaps grandfather, the Hebrew word is not clear) Eliashib, the high priest, had allowed another enemy of the Jews, Tobiah, who had also tried to stop the work Nehemiah was doing, to actually live in the temple courts.
Nehemiah was furious when he saw this. He kicked Tobiah out from the temple courts, and had those rooms purified and put back to the use they were intended for. He then kicked Eliashib’s son out from the priesthood. He also got the people to start tithing and keeping the Sabbath again.
What can we get from all of this? It’s so easy when we’re on a spiritual high to make promises to God about how we will commit ourselves to him from now on. But what do you do when the emotion fades?
God is not impressed by promises we make when we’re on spiritual highs. He’s looking at what we do when we’ve come back down to earth. Are we still living for him? Are we still committed to him? Or have we reverted back to our old patterns? Are we letting things into the temple of our bodies that we shouldn’t? Are we marrying ourselves to the things of this world that would lead us away from him? Are we putting money or work ahead of our relationship with God?
That’s what happened to these Jews. And it can happen to us if we’re not careful.
How about you? How do you live when the emotion fades?