By Joe McKeever
“I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God; and it was very displeasing to me. So I threw Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms….” (Nehemiah 13:7-9)
My story starts with a dream. It ends with someone else’s dream.
As a rule I don’t dream, and when I do, I usually attach no importance to it. (Good thing the kings in the Bible called for Joseph and Daniel to interpret their dreams; had they summoned me, I’d probably have said, “Dreams are just your mind trying to settle down from a stressful yesterday. Go back to sleep.”)
One hour after waking up, the Lord showed me what this dream meant.
In the dream, I was in a hotel room. As I entered the bathroom, I spotted a hole in the wall. Inside lay a huge boa constrictor, curled up.
I ran to the phone and called the front desk. “Yes,” the clerk said, “there is a snake in there, and that’s his room. He stays in that room.”
I said, “Well, move me to another room!” At that moment, I spotted numerous small snakes slithering along the carpet. Yikes!
“We’re not allowed to move you to another room,” the clerk said.
As I awakened, I was in the process of applying the ultimate pressure on the hotel: I would call the newspaper and this would make the front of tomorrow’s paper, how a hotel is harboring snakes in its rooms. No one would ever stay there again.
Wonder what that was all about, I thought as I awakened.
And then, this morning, a friend emailed me.
She and her husband are in the process of leaving their long-time church after years of struggling to bring it alive and make it vibrant. (They’re laypeople, not ministers.) I’ll call her Rhonda.
Rhonda had read the previous article on this website in which we pointed out that the oldsters in a church do not want the dull, boring services which their actions sometimes produce. We were making the point that leadership has to lead and not ask the congregation what they want (because they rarely know what they want, and even if they do, it’s irrelevant; what the Lord wants is the only issue).
She said it was not like that in their previous church. “Even when the changes were gentle and the needs of the young families were made clear, the older couples made it plain they did not care.” Rhonda found herself wondering if some of these people actually knew the Lord. Once, when one of them gave his testimony, it was so dull and dry it gave her chills. “It was ‘I heard a message and came forward’,” she told me. “These people keep the letter of the law and not the spirit.”
Then, Rhonda had a dream too, one night before mine.
Bear in mind that Rhonda is, in her own words, “loyal to a fault.” She loved those people in the previous church and even though she felt the Lord’s approval to leave, finally, she was still struggling with guilt.
In the dream, she said, “We hired a consultant to evaluate the church, and she was telling me her evaluation. All the time she was pointing out how cold and nonresponsive the members were, I kept insisting how dear I found them.”
“When I woke up, I had to chuckle because of the irony of learning something in my own dream. The observations of the dream (that is, what the consultant said) were spot on, yet I was still feeling like a traitor for leaving.”
“My husband pointed out that God was answering my prayers concerning this struggle by showing me the truth.”
The very thing that is killing this congregation, they clutch to themselves and protect. It’s like they are keeping pet snakes in their rooms.
Nehemiah fought like crazy to get the walls rebuilt around the ruins of Jerusalem. As he rallied the Lord’s people and directed them in their efforts, he was opposed on every side by enemies with names like Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab. (See Nehemiah 2:19)
The little Old Testament book of Nehemiah records his long ordeal of leading the Lord’s people in an impossible task against incredible odds, against strong foes, and against all the expectations of onlookers. The crowning blow came when all the work was over, the wall was intact, and the celebrations were done.That’s when the man of God saw the root of much of his problem.
While Nehemiah was out of the country, Eliashib the high priest, who had control over the temple, had taken it upon himself to rent out a chamber in the House of the Lord to Tobiah, to whom he was related by marriage. The very man who had fought Nehemiah and God’s people on every hand was allowed to move into the Lord’s House! The ultimate insult.
When Nehemiah returned home and found out, he cleansed the temple himself (perhaps in a manner similar to what the Man of Galilee would do over four centuries later), then ordered workers to cleanse and fumigate the rooms. Later, those chambers were restored to the service of the Lord.
Churches have been known to harbor and give sanctuary to the very enemies that were poisoning their fellowship, undermining their ministers, blocking their obedience, and destroying their usefulness to the Savior.
To the church of the latter part of the First Century, the Apostle Peter said, “The time has come for judgment to begin at the House of God” (I Peter 4:17).
Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.