I ran across these thoughts while in church a few weeks ago, Pastor Todd was preaching through Nehemiah 9 on the topic of confession, and this post really isn’t connected to that sermon at all. But here I am writing about it anyway, and hopefully causing a chain reaction of thought to prompt a change in the way that you live.
First some context on chapter 9.
Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah the people of Israel have been rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. The city was completely destroyed by the Babylonians about 150 years previously, and most of the people of the nation of Israel had been captured and deported to Babylon. The Persians come along and take over the Babylonian Empire and release the Jews from their captivity and allow them to return to the land of Israel. Which they then do in small groups over a pretty long period of time. Eventually they establish a very small community in the land and someone returns to Susa (the capital of the Persian Empire) with news that the remnant of the nation of Israel is “in great trouble and shame” -1:3.
Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king, a very important position with the absolute trust of the king. Nehemiah heard of the problems going on in the nation of Israel and eventually with the permission of the king to rebuild the city of Jerusalem led a group back to Israel to do that. As they were building they ran into all sorts of obstacles from the neighboring people groups and were under the constant threat of attack, but despite it all they were able to rebuild the city walls in 52 days!
After they had rebuilt the walls and the city was ‘safe’ again, they gathered together and read the Book of the Law. They were very convicted by what they read and the failures of both their ancestors and themselves to keep the Law. They were so convicted that they wore sackcloth and ashes, a sign of mourning and grief. The reinstituted the “Feast of Booths” which is still celebrated today and known as “Sukkot”.
That then brings us to the chapter that sparked my attention and thoughts, Nehemiah 9. After all the mourning and celebration, the whole nation living in Palestine gathered in Jerusalem with “fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads” -9:1. They are expressing their internal attitude of mourning and repentence before God.
What jumped out at me from this chapter and I keep coming back to see again and again starts in the last half of verse 5.
“Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
6 “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. 7 You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before you, and made with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.”
This passage is loaded. What I want to point out is how many times the word ‘You’ is in here referring to God. A lot.
- Your glorious name
- You are the Lord
- You have made heaven
- You preserve all of them
- You are the Lord
- The hosts of heaven worship You
- You found his heart faithful
- You(implied) made a covenant with him
- You have kept your promise
- You are righteous
How awesome is this? These people have been reading the Law (the Old Testament) and their response to all they have heard is to turn to worship. This list is only the very beginning of all the attributes of God, but this is a lot to think about.
Lets keep going through the chapter.
9 “And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea, 10 and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day. 11 And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters. 12 By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go. 13 You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments, 14 and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant. 15 You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them.”
Referring to the Exodus from Egypt and all the miracles that were given to supply the fledgling nation of Israel while they traveled through the desserts of the Arabian peninsula. This is some pretty cool stuff here too.
16 “But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments. 17 They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them. 18 Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, 19 you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. 21 Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.”
But they are only human like the rest of us. As they were experiencing these miraculous deeds day after day, they began to forget everything that they had been through and everything began to be mundane. And then they lost it, they created an idol and started to worship a false diety. But listen to this, “you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness”. God did not abandon them, but kept His promise to Abraham and provided for them throughout the rest of their journey and then some.
22 “And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24 So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.”
God did all this stuff for them! Gave them kingdoms, gave them children, gave them everything in the whole land. Gave them peace and prosperity.
And what do you suppose they did?
26 “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. 29 And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. 30 Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.”
We see this over and over in the book of Judges. The people abandon God for the idols of the nations around them, and God gives them over to some invading power for a while. The people return to God and ask for deliverence, only to turn around after they were safe and secure again and start the whole cycle again.
How many times do we do exactly the same thing?
I find myself turning to God when things are tough, and then once I get through it all, to start relying on my own wisdom and strength, in essence walking away from God and towards some ‘better’ creation of my mind.
This is getting depressing, so I’ll stop there. But the thing that keeps me coming back to this chapter is not that all these people failed, and I am doing the same thing they did over and over, but that through it all God is still God. He is offering forgiveness each and every time, and when I realize my position and turn back to Him, He accepts me back as His own with no conditions. Verse 31:
“Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.”
God is gracious and merciful. Of all people to me. To you. To us.
Who is your God??
My God is breathtakingly awesome.
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”