Last week I wrote about human viciousness, about our innate tendency to anger and wrath. In the 13th chapter of the book of Nehemiah you find a story of the propensity of humankind to exactly this kind of hate. Pause for the reading of the Word.
Verse 4 – “And before this, Eliashib the priest, having the oversight of the chamber of the house of our God, was allied unto Tobiah”
Verses 7, 8 – “And I came to Jerusalem, and understood of the evil that Eliashib did for Tobiah, in preparing him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And it grieved me sore: therefore I cast forth all the household stuff of Tobiah out of the chamber.”
Verses 20, 21 – “So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath.”
If you recall my post about the three enemies Nehemiah faced you may remember Tobiah as the instigator, the frenemy who corrupts and erodes from the inside. In the first part of the chapter you see the proof; Eliashib, his brother in law, has given him a room inside the house of God. Remembering that words in italics were not apart of the original text, I like the phrasing: Eliashib allied unto Tobiah. It was an act, not simply a state of mind; that is, Eliashib made a decision he was going to lift up this man who had mocked him, his God, and the work he did alongside his fellow Israelites and then acted on that by physically desecrating the very place that was built for God to show that He is with us. It must have seemed so casual to him to give this man a room in the newly-finished temple inside the freshly rebuilt walls. “It’s just a room, and really all he did was make fun of us. We proved him wrong so I’m sure he’ll be fine from here out” he likely said to himself. But what he in fact did was disrespect his governor, Nehemiah, and display hatred of God. The friend of your enemy is your enemy, ladies and gentlemen.
And what of Nehemiah’s reaction? “It offended me deeply, so I threw out him and his stuff.” Don’t we just Love that? Tossed out on his butt with his stuff strewn around him; it satisfies a deep sense of justice in us that he got what was coming to him. More on that in a bit.
In the second part here he has seen these vendors camping in tents around the city during the sabbath, conducting all kinds of business. Nehemiah had already scolded the people for doing business on the sabbath and gone as far as ordering the gates locked and guarded to ensure no one did business. But imagine the scene: these vendors were getting great business from this resurrected city and this rather abusive dude just locks them out? Not going to happen. You can imagine the cries from outside the walls to the guards: bribes, pleas, offers of deep discount and imbalanced trade. “Let me in and I’ll give you 10 fish for every sale I make” and the like. Some salespeople are really committed to their trade; I’m sure you know a few. These people weren’t Jews, they didn’t understand or care about the depth of the dedication of the sabbath day in God’s eyes.
So again here is Nehemiah: “If I catch you out here again I’m going to hurt you.” Oh, snap. Any of us would have grabbed some popcorn or a corn dog to watch that show. Again here is Nehemiah striking the chord of justice in us, and as we read we keep wanting to see it happen again so we can read about him chasing these guys away with physical violence as necessary. For Christians it evokes the image of Christ turning over tables and whipping folks with nine-tailed lash.
But let me talk today about that reaction, that impulse. Jesus became physically aggressive once, and it was because the people had hated God so thoroughly that they were prostituting right there in His house. This very house where Tobiah had been given a room and the merchants had committed sacrilege. It was a depth of outrage so deep His tears could scarcely allow Him to do it. That sense of justice you and I get from that story? I’m going to tell you, and please forgive the bluntness of this accusation, that it is not righteous, not defensible, and is absolutely not of God.
We want to collect our guns or our mace in preparation for the day a man crosses the line and we can vent that rage on him. We take notes in arguments or meetings so that later we can smear the face of our enemy in a big pile of crow. We are, all of us, still trying to kill Abel for his superior gift because we are Cain and cannot understand what the hell was so wrong with our offering. We don’t want to vindicate God or drive people to Him, we just want the right to beat the snot out of someone, either physically or verbally.
Several months ago there was this thing that rolled around social media. It was a detailing of the nature of bullying. It talked of how the girl you just called fat cried herself to sleep because of her insecurity and how that kid you just teased was on the verge of suicide. The call was to stop hating people, and while it’s a really good message not a one of us read it and cried for the way we have mistreated our brethren. No, we read it and felt a self-satisfying smugness that we hoped that no-good-sonuva- read it and understood he was wrong. We sit in pews at church and tell, or cheer, messages about the depth of sin and how wrong those gays or adulterers or liberals are. We watch TV shows or read books in which the bad guy is clear and gets his in the end. There is a crime drama about Lucifer on TV right-freaking-now.
Can you understand what I’m saying? Because I think maybe you don’t. Let me try again. When Judas sold Christ out and brought the soldiers to take Him away, Peter feels a rage nearly equal to what Christ felt in that temple; so deep he picked up sword and lopped a dude’s ear off. That was righteous anger against these sick, sinful liars who were displaying a rampant hated of God’s Word here in the flesh. What do we see? Does Christ smile? Is He delighted by this level of defense? Nope. He schools Peter and heals the guy’s ear. Think about that, because if it doesn’t redefine for you every single time in your life you have ever been angry then you really do not understand the message of our Savior.
Sin is what? It is the taint of darkness that the Light of God cannot abide. When the Bible says He hates sin, the definition of that word is completely foreign to you and I. He doesn’t have the emotion of hate. God is Love. The Bible cannot be more clear in this point. Unless you are going to try to argue to me that hate can be contained in Love then you must see that there is something deeper you’ve not grasped about God’s hate of sin. I’m a toddler Christian, but I’m telling you with absolute unwavering confidence that there are those in high positions of the church who have completely failed to grok what I’m saying here. They preach messages about the exclusivity of Christ with a gleam in their eyes, nearly drooling over the justice God will pour out on all those heathen sinners and the smugness with which they will watch from the sidelines. These people are not saved, and if they don’t pick up this message it is they, our modern Pharisees, who will have their corrupt words pouring back on them.
Remove your plank before lecturing someone on their speck. That includes me; I am calling out people here and in so doing ignoring the anger and greed and lust and lack of trust that I am still dealing with every day in my fight. It is not lost on me, Father, that as I write this message I feel that same smug sense that I hope someone feels their nose rubbed in this. Let me come again to my point. What we call justice is anything but. When you stand in front of a non believer and point out homosexuality as a sin separate from others you have created an accusation, not a truth. You have spoken into being a bias that is not derived from God, but from your own corrupt, carnal mind. Likewise, when I tell you that your hatred is not pure I am speaking (writing?) into existence a message not of admonition, but of disgust. From our tongues proceeds both blessings and curses, Paul says, and it ought not be so. But it is. Because that is the corruption that is inside us, the training of this world that resides in us even past our salvation from our sin.
Christ saved us from the price of our corrupt nature, but He doesn’t change it. That would violate His commitment to our free will. That would not be an act of Love. And He is not capable of performing in a way other than His Loving nature. So again I say that we do not understand his hate of sin. It isn’t a feeling, it is a static fact of the universe that because He is Holiness He cannot exist with sin in His presence. It’s nothing to do with desire or decision, it simply is. He gave us His Word that we might sort out how to train ourselves and each other how to make out who He is and what it means to live in His Kingdom. We, instead, have decided to use the gospel — just as Pharisees and Sadducees used the Law — to sort out who does our does not get to make it into Heaven. When we give in to that we become the antichrists, we become the false teachers. We become the mouthpieces of Satan every bit as much as the atheists or the heathens. We have to understand this. We have to change it. Not just for our immortal souls but to do the one thing He directed us to do after He was Risen: go forth and disciple.
I was confronted last week with my own Tobiah, a person I consider my enemy. I thought it a relationship put behind me. I thought I’d dealt with it. But then there he was. It didn’t make me angry, but it did make me confused. I wondered — and prayed on — what God could possibly have wanted me to do with this, how it could possibly be growth for me. I would be lying if I said I knew yet. But a part of it is this very message. Whatever rejection of this man I’ve felt, it wasn’t righteous. I did know that before, but perhaps I failed to see, then, the other side of it: his hatred of me isn’t any more justified. Both of us feel wronged and disgusted by the other. And yet here we were, both trying our best to out-nice each other and then griping about the other to our significant others. We’ve been the same person going through the same stupid motions of playing Nehemiah against the other. Maybe you have had that person in your life. And it’s because none of us have any vague idea about what it was Jesus felt in that temple as He cried and whipped people, or what the Father felt as He washed away the world in flood or smote Soddom. None. Zero. To claim we do is to expose our ignorance. We can imagine a piece, but a very small piece.
Clear the plank from your eye, and I will keep clearing the planks from mine. We must not allow ourselves to slip into the comfortable lie. We cannot allow ourselves to believe we are sharpening iron by issuing statements of force. Nehemiah did his whipping of men, and David prayed for his enemies’ defeat in a different dispensation. They defended God as best they could because they had no other instruction. We lack that “luxury”. We have the message directly from the mouth of the Word in Matthew 5:44: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you and persecute you.” Not with gritted teeth, not with anger; He gives us no slack to do so out of anything but pure Love. Not resentment or smugness, not self-centered satisfaction or piousness.
I spent my week considering this man and our relationship. I see the root of the misunderstanding, and it’s likely we’d never be friends. But I do Love him. I am praying for him and for his success. I am glad he is having good things happen. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t in me a desire to trample that Love, to say that if he crossed me again I’d beat him as easily as I did the last time. But that’s not mine, it’s Satan’s. I know that because never have I ever considered what happened between us a triumph on my part. It was the glorification of God that allowed us to be separated from a toxic relationship between us. So I bring to you all this message, this revelation hopefully, about the seed of Satan that lives inside us, wrapped in righteousness as snugly as Tobiah sat inside the Holy temple. We must exorcize that spirit of hate as Nehemiah exorcized Tobiah. We must identify the Eliashib inside us that allows entrance of these lies from Satan to root in us and reform them. We must force ourselves to purify, to throw out all the household stuff of this world and lock the gates of our temple, for our sabbath is constant, our lives a willing and constant sacrifice to honor the blessing Christ gave us on this glorious day of victory when He rose and shocked Satan to death.
Father, I pray that I and my readers can hear this message and live in it. I hope that my carnality has not marred it too badly. I know that my words are frail and paltry, my vessel horribly leaky and my receiver horribly broken, but I know that none of that matters to You. I Love You so very much, and I thank You for teaching me how to Love Your people. In the name of Your mighty Word and my brother, Jesus, I pray. Amen.