And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the first fruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.
During the latter part of this book these words recur like the refrain of a psalm. They are an appeal to God - an appeal to God from man. There is something plaintive as well as supplicatory in their tone. We look at -
I. THE HUMAN NEGLIGENCE OF WHICH THEY ARE SUGGESTIVE. What! exclaims an earnest but inexperienced voice; is it meant that Nehemiah, the patriot prophet, who ventured so much in Persia for the people of God at Jerusalem; who, in the teeth of such dangers and difficulties, threw a wall of protection round Jerusalem, and made her safe and strong for centuries; who virtually repeopled and largely rebuilt her; who reinstituted her sacred feasts, and re-established her temple worship in its regularity; who redeemed her children from bondage; who purified her domestic life; who put down her sabbath desecration; who refused to receive fee or payment for his services, all the while showing a princely hospitality, - is it meant that he had to appeal to God from the indifference, the negligence of man? Only too possible, is the reply. Do we not remember that the ancestors of these Jews wearied of the faithful Samuel, and preferred the weak and vacillating Saul; that Greece had her Socrates and Aristides, and Rome her Coriolanus, and Spain her Columbus, and England her William Tyndale? Nay! can we forget that once a greater than Nehemiah was "despised and rejected of men"? He was despised, and men esteemed him not. Nehemiah, to be the builder and restorer he was, had to be an ardent and energetic reformer, i.e. he had to come into sharp collision with the views and (what was more) the interests of his contemporaries, and to challenge and even denounce their doings. These words, "Remember me, my God," follow his record of the vigorous part he took in the matters of
(1) usury (ch. 5.);
(2) the non-payment of tithes (vers. 10-14);
(3) sabbath desecration (vers. 15-22);
(4) the work of cleansing (ver. 30).
They speak of coldness, of suspicion, of disregard, of backbiting, on the part of some, if not many, of those he sought to serve. The strain is this: This people are overlooking my work for them, forgetting the sacrifices I have made, not sparing me their reproaches. Remember THOU me, O God, for good; wipe not thou out my good deeds, spare thou me in the greatness of thy mercy. We must not enter the field of Christian work only, or chiefly, for what man will give us as the reward of our labour. If we do, we may be miserably disappointed; we may reap more tares than wheat in the harvest-time; we may find more thistles on the ground than fruits on the tree; we may be like the Master, who had the crown of thorns pressed on his bleeding brow instead of the crown of honour laid lovingly on his head. It is not for us to "covet earnestly" the smile or praise or recompense of man. Doubtless it ought to be given in response to faithful work; it is better both for him that gives, as well as for him that receives, that it should be given; but as those that serve the Lord Jesus Christ, as those that follow the Son of man, we must be prepared to do without these things. And we can afford to do so, if needful, for there remains -
II. THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS ON WHICH THESE WORDS ARE BASED. "Think upon me, my God, for good, according to all that I have done (ver. 19). But dare we ask God to think on us according to what we have done? For him to deal with us after our actions and to reward us according to our doings, is not this for him to deal with us after our sins and reward us according to our iniquities? Dare we, sinners, make our appeal to the God of righteousness? Must we not address ourselves to him as the God of mercy, who does pass by, blot out, remember no more" the things we had thought and said and done? Truly; yet this doctrine of grace and the doctrine that God will reward those who try to please and honour him stand well together. So Nehemiah felt; for while asking God to remember him for "this also" (this good deed), he asks him to "spare him according to the greatness of his mercy" (ver. 22). So Paul felt; for while speaking of those who "by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality," etc. (Romans 2:7), he speaks of "counting all things but clung to win Christ and be found in him, not having his own righteousness" (Philippians 3:8, 9). The full truth on this subject is that
(1) God's general acceptance or condemnation of us at the last will turn on our acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ in this life, but that
(2) the character of his approval and the measure of his award will depend on the kind of Christian life we shall have lived. There will be an acceptance which will simply be a not being condemned, a "being saved as by fire," and there will be a cordial, hearty, emphatic "Well done." There will be, for some, fewer cities and narrower spheres; for others, more cities and broader spheres over which to rule. Many Christians live in practical forgetfulness of this, and make no effort to win a cordial approval and a large reward. Hence their Christian life is
(c) idle and unfruitful.
Others, happily, are wiser than they. To such we say, Be faithful in every good word and work, like Nehemiah, and you may make a confident appeal to God for recognition, remembrance, recompense. Do not look anxiously about you for man's smile, but do look earnestly above you for Christ's approval, and beyond you for his reward. Do not think it wrong to gain incentive and inspiration from the hope of recompense because that may not be the very highest motive. It is not wrong to do so; it is wrong not to do so; for Christ calls you so to do. He calls you to put out all your talents, not only because you ought to put them out, but because, thus doing, you will be blessed hereafter; to run your race with patience (perseverance), not only because you ought to do this, but also that you may win the prize. So bear your witness bravely, live your life holily and blamelessly, do your work diligently and in the spirit of full. consecration; be not dismayed, deterred, or even checked by the absence of man's appreciation; walk with elastic step, with psalms of hope upon your lip, the path of holy usefulness, because the Lord your Saviour will "remember you for good;" because he will not "wipe out" your efforts, but write them in a book of remembrance which no hand may touch to blot or to erase; because he will give you a large reward, "abundance "of eternal joy, in the day of his appearing. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And for the wood offering, at times appointed, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good.