Recounting the faithfulness of God. (Nehemiah 9:6-38)

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[otw_shortcode_info_box border_type=”bordered” border_color_class=”otw-black-border” border_style=”bordered” shadow=”shadow-down-right” rounded_corners=”rounded-10″]This sermon is part of the Expository Preaching Collective on the Book of Nehemiah. Follow the link below to know more about What Expository preaching is and Why is it important to us. (Click here)[/otw_shortcode_info_box]

The context of this text is that it is the eighth day of solemn assembly after the Feast of Booths. The Israelite’s prepare themselves for this solemn assembly by fasting, wearing sackcloth, having dust on their heads and separating themselves from foreigners. Why did they do this?

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They were setting apart themselves for God. The people of God were commanded to not intermarry with foreign nations in the OT. They disobeyed God and intermarried with foreign nations which led to spiritual decline. They began worshiping foreign gods and idols as a result of intermixing with other nations. Therefore this act of separating themselves from them meant that they were separating themselves from anything or anyone that might contaminate their worship and loyalty to God.

I believe today’s passage talks about recounting the faithfulness of God. And whenever that’s truly done it leads to:

  1. Sincere Confession
  2. Serious Commitment

Sincere Confession

V6-38 is a prayer of sincere confession to God. And it happens when they hear and review God’s grace and power right through redemptive history.

  • In Creation

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. (v6)

God created everything brought everything to existence. Nothing existed without him. He made the heavens, the starts, the earth and sea and everything in it. He sustains everything. (Heb 11:3, Col 1:17) We see God’s power at work when we consider how He created everything out of nothing and continues to sustain everything.

  • In Abraham

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous. (v7-8)

In God’s sovereignty he chose and purposed to call Abraham out of his land and family to make a covenant with him and to give him the Promised Land. In wasn’t because Abraham did something, it’s was out of God’s sovereign will and mercy.

  • In Egypt

You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.[b] 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. (v10-11)

God’s justice and compassion is viewed here as he responds to the Israelites cry for help. They were being oppressed and mistreated. God sees their suffering and responds by performing miraculous signs and wonders against Pharoah and the Egyptians.

  • In Exodus

You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters.(v11)

God acted by protecting the Israelites while they were on the brink of the Red Sea with the army of the Egyptians chasing after them. God divided the sea and allowed the Israelites to pass on dry ground and hurled the pursuers into the sea.

  • In the desert

By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take. (v12)

But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. 19 “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen. (v16-21)

We see God being their guide by personally directing them to the Promised Land. He not only directed them but also provided for them throughout the 40 years by supernaturally giving them bread from heaven and water from a rock. We also see God’s grace when he endured their rebellion and sustained them for 40 years despite their disobedient and arrogant response. Here’s a definition that helped me understand the difference between Grace and merciful. Often the two words are mixed but biblically it actually is different.

Mercy: God withholding the punishment that we deserve

Grace: God giving us blessings that we don’t deserve

  • At Mt. Sinai

You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. (v13-14)

God wanted to relate with the people personally, hence he spoke to them and communicated laws and regulations that are just and right. But why did he do that? He wanted the Israelites to understand what it meant for them to relate to a Holy and Awesome God!

  • In their possession of Canaan

“You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon[c] king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. 23 You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess. 24 Their children went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you gave the Canaanites into their hands, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased. 25 They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness. (v22-25)

We see God’s favour and goodness being displayed through God’s promise and encouragement to go and possess the Land. God displaced kings and were given all nations and gave them over to Israel. Not just that they were given all kinds of good things to enjoy without having to work for it. And sometimes we forget that. Everything that we have has been graciously given to us by God. All our accomplishments, our possessions, our education, money everything belongs to God and he’s given it to us. And it’s critical that we know and acknowledge it in our hearts.

  • In the Era of Judges

“But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. 27 So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.28 “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. (v26-28)

In the book of Judges it tells us of a very rebellious nation that disregards God and turns away from him time and time again yet we are able to see great compassion in the response of God when he sends them deliverers during their time of oppression.

  • Of the prophets

For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. (v30)

Still we see God’s patience and correction at work when he continues to send them prophets to warn them and turn back to Him. But they wouldn’t listen and in their disobedience they were exiled.

  • Their present condition

But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.(v31)

God did not destroy them or abandon them even after they rebelled so much but lovingly brought them back into Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls so that they could inhabit the land and re-establish the worship of Yahweh.

In all of this we see on one hand God who is faithful, righteous, compassionate, forgiving, gracious and merciful. On the other hand, it talks about a people being extremely rebellious and sinful. What was the source of their problems?

One thing that repeatedly gets mentioned in this text is the arrogance of the people. We’ve often thought or said these things:

  1. Who are you to tell me what to do?
  2. Why should I change?
  3. I think I know better when it comes to living my life, my desires and decisions, my pleasure and plans.

And we’re actually guilty of saying and thinking these things when it comes to submitting to God’s law. We all fail and are guilty of being arrogant toward God. That’s why we’re no different than the Israelites. All of us have acted arrogantly and rebelliously toward God and deserve His just wrath and punishment. But the message of the cross is One of a great exchange. It’s like the judge giving up His Son to die for a criminal who deserves to die. A great exchange took place on the cross for us. It’s on the basis of Christ’s death that we experience life in a relationship with God. And that’s what God wants us to do in response…not work our way but humbly accept God’s way of saving us through the death of His Son. When we accept His sacrifice we are pardoned and justified just like the criminal who has been set free because His penalty was fully paid by the judge’s Son.

James 4:6: That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble”

Serious Commitment

“In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.(v38)

The verbs that are used here: making, binding, putting, writing, affixing make it very evident that these people were very serious about their commitment. They were in a culture where breaking a covenant was a big deal. Especially making a covenant with God meant that if they obeyed God and were faithful to Him they would enjoy blessings but if they turned away from Him they would have a curse. Here’s an example to show what covenant making meant in Near Ancient History. (Genesis 15)

How can we apply all of this today? By asking ourselves:

  • What is something that God wants you to confess today?
  • How does a Christian today show sincerity in one’s confession? Here are a few handles to help you:
  1. God’s Word: Allow the Word to be the basis and fruit of your confession. Only the Word can bring about real conviction and confession. Secondly, true confession will result in fidelity to the Word as well.
  2. Private/Silent Prayer: This reveals the honesty in repentance.
  3. Confess to other believers: This reveals the seriousness of your confession. (James 5:16)

Public confession/Corporate Confession: This is an expression of confession but will only be fruitful if the attitude toward a public confession is genuine and authentic. It can’t be done with the right motivation until the other three points in this list are happening first. Saying confessional prayers as a corporate body is deeply spiritual because the whole congregation identifies themselves as sinners who are in need of a Savior and trust in His provision to help and deliver them.