We Can’t Keep Our Vows

Like a movie that leaves you with an unsettled conclusion and unanswered questions, the book of Nehemiah concludes abruptly and sadly. As exciting as the book of Nehemiah is with the rebuilding of the wall and the public confession of sin by God’s people, the book leaves the reader craving more, longing for a new hope.

The book chronicles the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem. After the wall was rebuilt and Ezra read the Law for the first time since the captivity in Babylon, the people responded to God in worship. In chapter 9, they confessed their sins to the Lord. They admitted that their hearts turned from God, in part, because they forgot His great and gracious works for them on their behalf (9:17). After their confession, they committed in a signed vow to be faithful to the Lord in a few very specific areas: they wouldn’t intermarry with others to preserve their Hebrew faith (10:30), they wouldn’t profane the Sabbath with merchandise (10:31), and they would give to the work of the temple (10:33).

But the people were unable to live up to their commitments. When Nehemiah returned to Persia, as he promised, the people miserably violated each of their specific vows (see chapter 13). They were no longer valuing the work of the temple. The Levites, those who served in the temple, had to find another vocation because their needs weren’t met through the giving of God’s people. Work was occurring on the Sabbath again, and the people were intermarrying again causing God’s people to not know the language of Judah. The people failed in every one of their vows. They couldn’t keep even one. There wasn’t one glimmer of hope, not one indication that they could be faithful to the Lord.

Nehemiah begs God to remember him, and then the book ends. Just like that.

The book ends with a painful picture of our inability to follow through on our bold commitments to the Lord. We’re left with the humbling realization that we can’t keep our vows. We’re utterly incapable, in our own merit, of delivering on our commitments. The abrupt and bitter ending is intentional. The written Word is shepherding us to our need for the living Word–for Jesus.

What the people in the book of Nehemiah needed, and what we find in Christ, is a new covenant written on our hearts (see Jer. 31:33). God obeyed for us, and His obedience is now ours. God moves into our hearts and empowers us to live in response to His grace.

Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:10-11).

Without the Spirit, we can’t keep our vows. Without the Spirit, we can’t live out the Christian faith. Without the Spirit, we can’t love our kids as we should, be faithful to our wives in mind and body, love our neighbors, or accomplish anything of significance. Apart from Him, we can do absolutely nothing. Meaning, what we do apart from Him is worth absolutely nothing.

We can’t live the Christian life. But He did. And He lives within us.