Monday, December 16, 2013

Nehemiah and the Chamber of Secrets

Today is the first day in our 50th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:

  •  Neh 10-13; Rev 8
  •  Malachi 1-4; Rev 9; Ps 2
  •  Job 1-3; Rev 10; Psalm 29
  •  Job 4-7; Rev 11; Ps 99
  •  Job 8-11; Rev 12
In JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, an evil basilisk resides in a hidden chamber within Hogwarts.  Sallying out of its lair, it wreaks havoc among the students and threatens the school's closing.  Later in the book, we discover that a greater evil manipulates the great serpent--an evil that only Harry Potter can destroy.

Today's Scripture isn't about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets--it's about Nehemiah cleansing Tobiah's secret chamber in the temple.  In both cases, subversion slithers within hallowed halls, and must be rooted out by our heroes.  Nehemiah 13:1-14 (ESV) tells the story:

On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent.
Nehemiah Sends Tobiah Packing
Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah,prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber.Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense.
10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. 11 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. 12 Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. 13 And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. 14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

In verses 1-3, we read that the Law clearly stated that Ammonites were not allowed in the Temple, because of their history of subverting the work of God.  Even though this prohibition had been publicly announced (and, perhaps because it had been publicly announced), the priest Eliashib, in rebellion against the Law, decided to offer his relative Tobiah, an Ammonite, an apartment within the temple itself.

The first problem was the most obvious--because it was forbidden, this treacherous duo decided to rebel against God's authority and do what was prohibited.

The second problem was that Tobiah's large apartment used to function as storage rooms.  Originally, they contained the "grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests."  As a result of Tobiah's usurping that space within the Temple, the supply ran low (because they had nowhere to put the offerings, they simply didn't receive the offerings).  Because the supply ran low, the Levites and singers went unpaid.  Because the went unpaid, they had returned to work their fields and thus earn a living.  Because the Levites and singers had gone home, worship in the Temple was not conducted.

All because that serpent Tobiah wanted his Chamber of Secrets.  Yet, there was a greater evil that was behind the whole plot.  Satan, that ancient dragon, subverts, undermines, and destroys the work of God anywhere he can.  He hates to hear worship songs and loathes to see God's people in worship.  He does whatever he can to cause ruin, in hidden and secret ways.  

When Nehemiah returned to find Temple worship suspended, he might have blamed the Levites and singers for going home.  So it is in churches, when things aren't going right.  You might blame the choir director or deacon chairman--but perhaps they're just doing the best they can with the hand they're dealt.  Maybe, if you dig deep enough into a troubled church you'll find a few secret chambers where Satan has gotten a foothold, or even an entire apartment!  These secret chambers where Satan makes his home in churches are seldom obvious.  The serpent's coils run deep beneath the foundations of Christ's church, where it is rarely seen but where it can destroy Christ's church from the very roots.

Slaying the Basilisk
Some churches are riddled with secret chambers, like racism, sexism, and godless rebellion.  Members may have set up their own little territories within the church (physically, or metaphorically)--preventing others from gaining access or being able to serve.  Satan delights to see churches and their Chambers of Secrets, because he knows that they provide him a comfortable place where he can lodge.  They give him a lair from which he can strike.

If this was true in Nehemiah's day, and it is true in churches today, it certainly is true in the hearts of individual Christians.  We claim to be holy, but reserve secret chambers of our hearts for the Evil One.  Just as Nehemiah kicked Tobiah out of his hidden chamber, so we need to evict the serpent that we allow to dwell within our own hearts.

Just as Harry Potter slew the basilisk with the Sword of Gryffindor, so believers need to slay the serpent within them with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  Don't allow him a foothold, much less an entire chamber, in your life.  Your heart is no place for secrets--like the Temple, it is made as a place for God to dwell.

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