Though the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt, Nehemiah and Ezra recognized the need for another kind of rebuilding. The Hebrews were in desperate need of spiritual reconstruction. God had allowed the walls of the city to be decimated as a result of Israel's lack of adherence to the Law. The walls of Jerusalem would protect the people only as long as they were obedient to the Law of God. The Hebrews finally became aware that their survival depended upon God. This new found need for the Lord drove the Israelites to seek after His will.
Nehemiah, chapter eight, is an account of the Israelites' restored hunger for the Word of God. The people were united in their desire to hear and adhere to the law. In verse one of chapter eight, it states that the "people gathered together as one man" to hear the Law read by Ezra. When the people heard the law they wept (Nehemiah 8:9). Perhaps they wept from joy, or perhaps they wept because they were not living in accordance with the Law.
The children of Israel had suffered through forty years of wandering in the desert, the division of their kingdom, and numerous plagues and captivities before they finally recognized that being estranged from the Law of God only brought them harm. It was under the leadership of Nehemiah that the Hebrews realised that the Law of the Lord was not given to restrict them, but to protect them. The Jews were overwhelmed by sorrow because they did not continually live their lives in the light of His Word. Unless Christians recognize the need for constant restoration, the people of God in the twenty-first century may find themselves weeping over their failure to uphold the Law of Christ.
Though the church in the twentieth century has experienced numerous difficulties, we have been living in a relatively trouble free period in the history of the church. Unfortunately, lack of persecution, and the ease at which one can gain access to the Word of God, have caused many to take for granted those things which should be the most precious to them. It is too easy for one to relax in his padded pew, and his fine building, and forget the prime directive of every Christian, which is to seek and to teach the lost (Matthew 28:19-20). Because of this golden age, many Christians in the twentieth (soon to be twenty-first) century have become so complacent that they neglect their need for spiritual food. How many Christians only open their Bibles on Sunday or Wednesday night? How many members of the Lord's church don't even bring a Bible to worship? How many Christians can even say that they have read their Bible from cover to cover? The reason we have seen so many in the church drawn away from the truth in recent years is because most Christians don't really recognize the truth.
The original message of God's Word is being mutilated by modernists and denominationalists who have incorporated their philosophies within their commentaries and Bible versions. Unfortunately, many Christians cannot tell the difference between denominational doctrines and the teachings of Christ.
God will never allow His word to be destroyed. Jesus Christ said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away" (Matthew 24:35). However, the inspired plan of God for man is in danger of being lost completely by the majority of Christians. The Bible, and the way it is viewed in the twenty-first century may be completely unrecognisable to us who hold fast to the truth of God's Word in this century. Is it possible for the majority of Christians to be removed from the truth of the Bible completely in the twenty-first century? What can we do to prevent being separated from God's inspired plan for man? In the first place, we need to heed the warnings from the past. There have been so many instances in the history of God's people where they have abandoned, and sometimes completely forgotten, God's Law. In the second place, one needs to recognize the warning signs of the present age. There are so many who are subtly trying to undermine the teachings of Christ.
Lessons from the Past
In the days of Noah the constant need for restoration was forgotten. Only six chapters after reading about the creation of mankind, one reads of the corruption of the entire human race (Genesis 6:1-7). The sons of God (those that were righteous) married the daughters of the earth (the unrighteous). The result was an entire generation corrupted by their own selfish desires and lusts. On the entire planet only one man and his family remained faithful to God. That man was Noah (Genesis 6:8). The Lord was so angry over the departure of mankind from His will that He proclaims concerning mankind, "that I am sorry that I have made them" (Genesis 6:7). Man's departure from all that was righteous caused God to "grieve in His heart" (Genesis 6:6). Do you think that the "sons of God" (righteous) who married the "daughters of the earth" initially believed that they, and the generation to follow, would completely abandon the Law of God? Do you think that the "sons of God" ever imagined that one careless action would cause an entire generation to be lost?
Can an entire generation completely lose track of the Lord's purpose for them? It certainly happened in the days of Noah. One would be foolish to think that it could not happen to the next generation of the present age.
There was a need for restoration in the days of the last kings of Judah because the Law of God had been completely forgotten. Following Hezekiah's death, evil kings ruled over the Southern Kingdom for fifty-seven years before another good king ascended to the throne. During this fifty- seven year period of evil, the hearts of the children of Judah were turned to idols, and the Law of the Lord was lost, and forgotten (II Kings 21:21-22). The reign of evil ended when wicked King Amon was assassinated. Josiah came to the throne and restored the Law of God (II Kings 22: 8-13).
There was a need for restoration in the days following Israel's release from captivity. God's pattern for His people was neglected by the majority of Hebrews prior to the captivity of Israel and Judah. It was their complacency that led them into captivity.
There was also a need for restoration in the days of Nehemiah. God's people once again abandoned His Word just fifty years after Zerubbabel had rebuilt the temple and restored its worship. Apparently, in less than two generations, God's laws on marriage were forgotten (Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 7:64). The ceremonies and feasts were also forgotten. After those feasts were restored it is said "...since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so..." (Nehemiah 8:17)
The law of Christ was suppressed by the traditions of men during the Middle Ages because Christians failed to recognize the importance of restoration and self examination. The unscripturally structured Roman Catholic Church suppressed the truth by threatening bodily harm to those who opposed the Catholic tradition. For one thousand years the Catholic Church reigned supreme. There is no record of the existence of the New Testament church during this period. Today one can be grateful for the efforts of men such as Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone who did much to restore the New Testament pattern for Christianity in the last century.
Warning Signs of the Present Age
Despite the lessons of the past, the thought of losing God's plan for man in our age is an inconceivable notion to many Christians. But be warned! It is possible! Even today, there are efforts being made to distort, and remove, Christ's pattern for His church.
How is the Law of Christ being suppressed today? In the first place, divine inspiration of the Scriptures is being rejected by modernists. Recently, there have been a series of popular lectureships known as the Jesus Seminars. These meetings are designed to dismantle the New Testament. Based on their own feelings, the speakers of these seminars have decided to eliminate enormous portions of Christ's sayings, which they feel He did not actually say. The founder of the Jesus Seminars is W.H. Crossan. His books are so popular that they can be found in religious bookstores worldwide. Modernism is a very real threat to New Testament Christianity.
In the second place, human philosophies and creeds are being incorporated into some of the modern versions of the Bible. For example, the Revised Standard Version denies the virgin birth of Christ in a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14. The New English Bible changes the wording in key passages like Matthew 16:18 where it states that "You are Peter, the Rock; and on this rock I will build my church." The New International Version has so many additions and subtractions that time does not permit the speaker to deal with them all. One example of its many problems is that it eliminates key passages like Mark 16:9-20. It also teaches the Calvinistic belief that man is born in sin by perverting such Scriptures as Psalm 51:5 and Romans 8:1. Like the New English Bible, The Good News Bible has the church established upon Peter because of an incorrect rendering of Matthew 16:18. Paraphrased Bibles, such as the Cotton Patch and Reader's Digest, eliminate too many key passages. Sadly, most Christians are unaware of the false teaching of the version they use, thereby making themselves susceptible to being carried away by error. Why is this happening? Many members of the Lord's Body do neglect their obligation to examine and restore.
How to Learn from the Lessons of the Past and the Warning Signs of the Present Age
How can we avoid being separated from the truth of God's Word and sending the church into another Dark Age? How can we avoid the mistakes of the children of Israel? In the first place, one must have a continual desire for self examination and restoration. In the days of Nehemiah the children of God felt such a strong need for restoration that they demanded that the law be read before them. In Nehemiah 8:1 it is recorded that "the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate: and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel." In the second place, one needs to mark and avoid those who undermine the doctrine of the divine plenary inspiration of the Bible (Romans 16:17). In II Timothy 2:16, Paul states, that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God..."
In the third place, one can be assured that he has an accurate basis upon which restoration must take place if he avoids versions of God's Word that pervert His original doctrine. If one insists on using a modern version, such as the RSV, or the NIV, then one needs to know its weaknesses. You don't have to be a Greek scholar to determine the accuracy of the text. One can do this by comparing the text of a modern version to a more literal text such as the American Standard Version, the King James Version or the New King James Version. One can also check to see if those passages which teach questionable doctrine contradict any other Old or New Testament passages. For Example, the NIV's rendering of Psalm 51: 5 teaches a doctrine that is contradictory to its own rendering of Ezekiel 18:20.
The primary key to avoiding separation from the original truth of the Law of Christ is good old fashioned study. If you want to know the truth of God's will for man you must open up His guidebook and study it (II Timothy 2:15). Christianity is a taught religion. Hearing the Bible proclaimed in its pure form is essential to our salvation (Romans 1:16;10:17). The noble Bereans were praised in Acts 17 because of their study habits. Peter stated, by inspiration, that the Bible contains everything that pertains to "life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). If one does not study His Bible, how can he know that which is essential to his spiritual well being?
The Hebrews in Nehemiah's day were keenly aware that their survival depended upon how well they had kept the Law. They also finally learned that God had given them a Law not to restrict them from good, but to protect them from evil. The Law of God was a blessing for the Hebrews.
Christians also need to recognize that God has given them a Law because He loves them. It is the perfect Law of Liberty which sets man free from the bondage of sin (James 1:25). The Law of Christ is also the standard by which we will be judged in the last day. Jesus said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him- the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). If adherence to the Law of Christ brings everlasting freedom and blessings, why would one not want to continually assure himself by viewing his life through the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The need for constant examination and restoration for individuals, and the church as a whole, is imperative. We must then take steps to ensure that the standard by which the Christian judges himself remains pure. In order to preserve the purity of the truth of God's Word in the twenty-first century, and beyond, one must actively study it, and defend it. As the children of Israel learned, inactivity leads to destruction. The Hebrews of Nehemiah's day demanded the untainted Word of God, and we should do no less today.