Nehemiah’s zeal for the Sabbath day is admirable. Nehemiah was so passionate about observing the Sabbath correctly that he even promised to “lay hands” on the merchants from other nations. In other words, he would have personally intervened if he had caught them in the city or by the gates on the Sabbath again. As a governor he had official responsibilities to make sure that this commandment was kept properly.
“Nehemiah fearlessly rebuked them for their neglect of duty. ‘What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day?’ he sternly demanded. ‘Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath’. He then gave command that ‘when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath’, they should be shut, and not opened again till the Sabbath was past; and having more confidence in his own servants than in those that the magistrates of Jerusalem might appoint, he stationed them at the gates to see that his orders were enforced” – Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pages 671, 672.
Nehemiah’s warning about Sabbath desecration along with other warnings about violating it, had apparently echoed down through the ages even to Jesus’ time. We know this, because the Gospels time and again portray Jesus as struggling with the religious leaders over proper Sabbath keeping.
Read Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11, and John 5:5-16. What was the issue here, and how does an understanding of ancient Israel’s history help explain why the controversy arose?
In their zeal, however misguided, to make sure that the Sabbath was not “desecrated”, these religious leaders were so fanatical that they accused Jesus, the “Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5, NKJV), of violating it. Talk about taking a good thing too far! The irony is that while many of these men expressed great concern about the law, they forgot the “weightier matters” of that law: “justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23, NKJV).
|How can we, as individuals, and as a church, be careful not to make the same kind of mistake that these men did, whether with the Sabbath or with something else that we believe is important to the faith?|