The names of the people who signed the agreement (1-27)
The people make an oath to take certain actions in service of God (28-39)
II. The people make an oath to take certain actions in service of God (28-39)
- Did all of the people sign the agreement?
- Did the people who did not sign the agreement support it? Where do you see that?
- What do we learn about unity in verse 28-29?
- What gave them their unity?
- What was the key element of this agreement?
- What can we learn from the peoples attitude in verse 29?
- Was it wise that they agreed to suffer a curse if they didn’t fulfill their oath?
- What exactly did they agree to do?
Big Idea: Make a commitment ahead of time to put God first in ALL areas.
Verses 28-29 – In these verses we learn that all the people supported this agreement which their leaders had made. The whole nation was on board from the priests and Levites, to the servants, to the women and children. They had already taken the first step to serve God by separating themselves from ungodly influences. Now they decided together to go above and beyond. We learn several key principles from their agreement.
Unity among God’s people is very important. Imagine what the result of this agreement would be if only half of the people agreed. Imagine if only half of the the delegates in the Continental Congress supported the US Declaration of Independence. The point is that for great change to take place unity is important. Lack of unity will bring about division, factions, and arguing. They could not have built the wall in 52 days without unity. And they could not change their nation’s bad habits and the sinful lifestyle they had slipped into without working together to change things. See John 17:20-23. We also need to be united to serve God together. We should not walk around looking for things to disagree with other believers about. We should not be quick to pass judgment and divide. We should not let differences of opinion on obscure biblical points keep us from working together. The church has a huge task. We have the task of reaching the world for Christ. That is not going to happen if we don’t learn how to work together. We also need unity in our families. We need unity with our ministry partners. How can we improve our unity with the believers around us?
Making sacrifices for God changes people’s lives – They had separated from the ungodly influences of having relationships with unbelievers. These relationships were like a burden pulling them down. It was as if they were trying to move forward all while being pulled backwards. Imagine an athlete who is in a race. Only someone else is tied together with this athlete. While he tries to go forward, the other person pulls him back. I’m pretty sure he is not going to win the race. That is what it is like if you try to serve God, but refuse to separate from ungodly influences and relationships. You will be stuck. You will not move forward. Here we see that once they cut the cord they were able to move forward. They were able to make important decisions. They had cut off the dead weight. That was the first step. Many other steps followed. When you make big sacrifices for God, it will change you life. You will not be the same. What sacrifice do you need to make for God? What ungodly influence do you need to get rid of?
They made a commitment to serve God – You are a new employee at a company. You have heard that sometimes the boss may ask employees to do unethical things such as change number s around on paperwork or lie to customers. Those who do whatever the boss wants will be rewarded with promotion. When should you decide what you will do if the boss asks you to do something unethical? Is it easier to decide to do what’s right when you are sitting in a chair in his office or ahead of time when you are at home or in Bible study? It’s easier to make that decision ahead of time. You should make that commitment between you and God (and also you could tell brothers or sisters) ahead of time so that when you are called in to that office you already know what you will do. In the heat of the moment, it is easy to give in to sinful pressures and temptation. Making a commitment or a promise to God ahead of time will make it easier for you to make the right choice when the time comes. In what areas can you make this type of commitment ahead of time?
- Time spent reading Bible or praying
- Setting aside time for evangelism.
- Deciding on standards for how much physical touch is appropriate in a guy/girl relationship.
- They took their commitment seriously – The people were so serious about their commitment that they were willing to take on themselves a curse if they didn’t follow through. The commitment they made was not an empty one. They had every intention to follow through. What steps can we take to help ensure that we follow through on commitments we make to God?
They made a commitment to obey all of God’s commands – Notice that they didn’t just pick out one or two things to obey. Together they made a joint decision to obey all of God’s commands. We saw in chapter 8 that included laws which hadn’t been obeyed in a thousand years. We too should obey all of God’s commands no matter how inconvenient or out of practice.
Verse 30 – They agreed not to intermarry with the people of the land.
In chapter 9 they had already separated themselves from these sinful relationships. But victory yesterday does not guarantee victory tomorrow. Intermarriage was a continual temptation. The Israelites had to guard against falling back into the same sin. Therefore they made a commitment together that they would not support this practice in any way, either themselves or their children. Notice that they don’t give any conditions or any exceptions. Instead they simply agree not to do it.
Application: We too should not tolerate sin. We should be careful not to backslide. It would be wise if we evaluate ourselves so that we can understand our weaknesses. If we are weak in certain areas, we need to take extra measures in those areas to guard against temptation. How can you take steps to ensure that you won’t backslide and fall into the same sins again and again?
Verse 31 – They agreed not to conduct business on the Sabbath.
Leviticus 23:3 – You shall do no work.
Isaiah 58:13-14 – God is pleased with those who honor the Sabbath.
One of the major problems of the Israelites after the return to Jerusalem was that they pursued their own “kingdoms” instead of God’s. We learn in Haggai that they were making luxurious upgrades to their own houses while the temple was not even built and the city was in ruins. As a culture and as a people they had become very materialistic. One result seems to be that in their efforts to make as much money/profit as possible, they had begun to disregard the rules about the Sabbath. It was no longer a day of rest dedicated to worshiping God. Instead it was just another day for themselves, another day to make money. Or another day to buy and sell in the market. If they were really serious about serving God first in ALL areas, then they would have to make sacrifices. Here is a tangible way to restore God to his place and put Him first again.
Application: Are you building God’s kingdom or are you building your own kingdom? Do you allow your work to keep you from serving God? Do you allow a desire for wealth, materials, or a promotion cause you to become busy pursuing the things of the world? Today is the day to make a commitment to put God first in your work.
Verse 31 – They agreed to renew following the rules of the Sabbath year.
Leviticus 25:1-7 – The Sabbath year.
Historically farmers have sometimes allowed fields to go fallow for periods of time. This allows the soil to keep its productivity long term. Each specific kind of crop leeches certain nutrients from the soil. By allowing a field to go fallow, time is given for the nutrients to be restored and for the soil’s natural fertility to be restored. Modern technology often makes heavy use of fertilizer and chemicals which are themselves often unhealthy and can destroy soil’s fertility over a long period of time. It seems God was mandating a practice that allowed the fertile land in Israel to maintain its fertility long term. In addition, God wanted the people to discipline themselves to obey His commands and focus on Him rather than becoming greedy to maximize profits.
Verse 32-33 – They agreed to give to support the work of the priests in the temple.
Here was another area where the people’s greed and materialism was hindering God’s work. How could the Levites and Priests effectively perform the ministry God had given to them if they weren’t supported? The answer is simple: they couldn’t. Lack of support would drive the priests and Levites to quit the ministry (at least temporarily) and go make a living. When they quit the ministry, service for God suffered. The law could not be taught or copied if their was no one to do it. Sacrifices could not be offered if there were no priests.
In the Old Testament and New Testament God’s model for ministry is the same. He wants His people to support His work. It is this financial support that enables Christian workers, missionaries, and pastors to serve God without worrying about where their next meal is coming from.
Application: All of us should actively support those who do God’s work. If you are not currently supporting God’s work, now is a good day to make a commitment to do so. Today we are learning that we should make a commitment to put God first in ALL areas. That includes financial areas. Is God, the God of your finances? Do you use your finances for His glory or for your own ambition?
Verse 34-35 – They agreed to supply the priests with supplies including wood (34) and food (35).
- Proverbs 3:9-10 – Give of your firstfruits to God.
- Leviticus 23:10-14 – Bring the firstfruits of the harvest to the priest.
- 2 Chronicles 31:5 – They brought in the tithe of firstfruits abundantly.
- Malachi 3:10 – Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.
Verse 36 – They agreed to dedicate their firstborn to God.
Exodus 13:2 – Consecrate every firstborn male.
Exodus 22:29 – The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me.
We should not only put God first in our career, our finances, and our decisions, but we should also put God first in our families. Consecrating the firstborn was commanded by God to all the Israelites. It was an ever present reminder of what God had done for them in Exodus. God had saved them from death and slavery. He had passed over them in judgment of the Egyptians. Therefore each of them (but specifically the firstborn) belonged to God.
Application: Your family is not your own. Your children is not your own. God has given you family and children for a reason. He wants you to be a good steward. He wants you to raise your children to serve Him. You need to do your part to pray for and train up your children to be disciples of God. For me, the opportunity to make disciples for God is one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to have children. My wife and I often prayed and still pray that God would not give us any children who would not one day trust in Him as their Savior. We don’t have children so that we can be taken care of when we are old. We have children so that we can offer them as a sweet gift to our God. That means we shouldn’t selfishly hold on to them. We shouldn’t discipline them because they hurt our feelings or don’t appreciate us. It is not about us. It’s about God.
Verse 37 – They agreed to tithe of the first they had.
- 2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart.
- Proverbs 11:24 – One gives freely, but grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
- Psalms 4:5 – Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord. Why is it important to tithe of the first rather than give what is left? How can we practice that in this day and age?
Verse 38-39 – They agreed that the priests would properly handle and use these gifts.
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