The Dedication & Failure

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When times are tough, it’s natural to want to make grand commitments and lofty promises to change. But keeping those commitments over the long haul is another matter entirely. The people of Israel, freshly returned from exile, found themselves in just such a place. Faced with the ruins of Jerusalem and the desperate need for restoration, they made sweeping vows to dedicate themselves fully to God once more. Yet as we will see from their story, no one is immune to the temptations of failure – not even those with the purest of intentions.

Within these intriguing chapters of Nehemiah, we find a tale as old and familiar as humanity itself. A tale of high hopes dashed on the rocks of weakness. A tale with lessons still to teach us today about the gap between our best selves and our actual selves. As we explore Israel’s uplifting commitments alongside their all-too-human failures, may we gain insight into our own lives and relationships with God. For their experience reminds us that while dedication is demanded, dependence must be on Christ alone.

  1. The Israelites make three commitments to dedicate themselves to God:
    • To be holy and distinct by not intermarrying with other faiths and keeping themselves separate.
    • To order their lives around God by keeping the Sabbath.
    • To prioritize worship, bringing their best offerings to the temple and not neglecting it.
  2. The Israelites fail to keep these commitments, reversing the order:
    • They allow foreigners like Tobiah to take over spaces in the temple meant for worship.
    • They cease keeping the Sabbath and allowing work and commerce on that day.
    • They intermarry with other faiths against the command.
  3. While dedication to God is good, we cannot depend on our own dedication and commitment because we will fail due to human weakness. We need God’s strength and grace through Jesus Christ.

The failures of Israel serve as a mirror to our own souls. However high we aim or sincere our intentions, none of us is free from the pull of the flesh and the lures of the world. Prone as we are to forget our dependence on grace, it is small wonder we so often find ourselves looking back on roads not taken and vows not kept.

And yet the story does not end in failure. Beyond Israel’s shortcomings lay the cross of Christ, where perfect dedication and perfect dependence met as one. When we place our trust not in the ebb and flow of our willpower but in Jesus’ finished work, then we can walk forward without fear of winding up once more amid the rubble. His strength will be our stay. His faithfulness our footing. Freed from having to prove ourselves, may we live simply to love and serve the God who first loved us. Then the ruins within can be rebuilt into a temple for his praise.


Nehemiah 10-13

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