Nehemiah 10 Performing Seal

Questions: Why do we need a written contract? How much is our name worth? What role do leaders play? Are outsiders really the problem? Why must we not forsake the house of our God? “Read More” to pursue answers in Nehemiah.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

Nehemiah 9:38-10:39

And because of all this we make a sure [covenant], and write [it]; and our princes, Levites, [and] priests, seal [unto it].

The “this” presumably refers to God’s goodness, their sinfulness, and the resulting bondage; all described in Chapter 9. What’s the big deal, though? Is this just a political “Contract with Israel*” Or is there something more going on?

Now those that sealed [were], Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah

Intriguingly, we are first told who signed, rather than what. Also, governor Nehemiah is the first to lay down his John Hancock, apparently followed by the priests:

…Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these [were] the priests.

Then the Levites:

And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel;…

And finally the other (secular?) leaders:

The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani…

It sounds like the leaders actually signed (well, sealed) the document, while everybody else:

And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding;

affirmed it via a voice vote, er, public oath:

They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath , to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes

Even though this nominally was about observing the entire Law, the focus really seems to be on the “separation” angle, both relationally:

And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons:

and commercially:

And [if] the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, [that] we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and [that] we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.

To be sure, the latter part of that verse is more about “setting aside” sabbaths and debts, not just “being separate” from foreigners. The rest of the chapter is arguably about setting aside items for the house of God — what I’d be tempted to call ‘taxes’!

* to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God;

* For the shewbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering,

* for the wood offering

* to bring the firstfruits

* Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle

* bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings

* and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites

in short:

we will not forsake the house of our God.

Reading ever so slightly between the lines, it appears that Nehemiah et al attributed Israel’s decline and loss of dominion to:

* pollution by foreigners
* neglecting the house of God

That really seems to be about it. At least, those are the only two items that appear to be worth recording.

Is that wise? Are those really the two things of greatest importance?

Well, from a practical perspective there certainly seems to be some evidence that the reforms under Nehemiah and Ezra worked, in that Jewish civilization endured for several hundred years after that (and persisted, albeit as a remnant, even unto today).

Perhaps more importantly, it seems plausible to interpret the covenant as establishing “community”, which requires both a boundary (understanding who’s in and out) and a center (knowing who speaks for the community). A rim and a hub, if you will. Both of those ideas (“exclusion” and “authority”) are fairly unpopular today, but I suspect that both are essential for any viable community. If so, then Nehemiah deserves credit for finding the right “hedgehog concept” for the Israelites to pursue.


God, my heart is tossed back and forth by many things, but only one is needful. I need to purify myself, both by excluding those things that are foreign to your nature, and centering myself on you as my legitimate authority. Father, grant me legitimate dominion over myself, as I submit to you, that I may bring healthy authority into the lives of all those under my influence. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

About the Title:

Today’s title, with its allusion to trained aquatic mammals, is a very bad pun on the idea of a binding agreement to ensure specified actions get done.