Remembering God – His Provision, Protection & Blessings. (Nehemiah 8:13-18)

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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]

Our text for today is Nehemiah 8:13-18

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A little bit of background to the text

After the rebuilding of the walls in Jerusalem takes place, the people repopulate the land. They then assemble together as one man at the square before the Water Gate. They tell Ezra to read the law of the Lord. While Ezra reads the Law, the Levites help the people understand the meaning of the words of the Law. When the people hear the words, they are convicted of their sins and begin weeping. A couple of weeks back we looked at the key ingredients for genuine repentance:

a) Sight of sin
b) Sorrow over sin
c) Confession of sin
d) Shame of sin
e) Hatred of sin
f) Turning from sin

The people are told not to weep but to rejoice because the day is holy to the Lord. In other words, even though the desired intent of teaching from the law was sorrow for sin but the purpose was always a restored and renewed relationship with God. The goal of repentance is always a restored relationship with God. Restore to me the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:12) is the prayer that David prays in the confession prayer of Psalm 51.

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That’s why they rejoiced, celebrated and sent portions of food because they understood the words that were spoken to them!

Repentance -> Restored relationship with God -> Rejoicing

And that’s how we arrive at v13. On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.

You see an interesting thing take place out here. The leaders of the people come together alongside the priests and Levites in order to study the words of the Law! When does this happen? The very next day.

Why did they have to do it? Was it forced upon them or was it voluntary? Voluntary.

What does it tell us about their repentance the previous day?

i) It tells us that their repentance was genuine indeed. Matthew 3:8 says “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. In other words there is nothing known as fruitless repentance or unfruitful repentance!

ii) It tells us that their commitment to God was serious. They really wanted to know and obey God’s Word.

I think there’s a powerful point that we can learn from this. Your fruit: the seriousness toward knowing and obeying God’s Word provides the evidence to show whether your repentance is true or not!

Often we confess and repent during camps, revival meetings and church services. The message was powerful, tore open our hearts, we feel convicted and even we grieve over the sin. However, the real test for the repentance is not in the moment but the next day or the next week. If it was merely an emotional regretful feeling, it won’t produce any fruit the following day. You may feel compelled to stick to some list of rules in order avoid feeling guilty but it produces no change. True repentance will display itself in the seriousness and urgency of obedience! Understand what is being said here: obedience is both serious and urgent! You will relentlessly pursue the things of God if the repentance is true. You will want to reflect immediate obedience in your life if your repentance is true. Not delayed.

If we have to ask ourselves this question honestly, do we genuinely repent at the hearing of God’s Word? Is it real? Do we see any difference the day after? The week after? Does it lead us to seriously know and obey God’s Word? True repentance will produce things like: “I want to know God more, I want to obey Him, I want to grow in my understanding of God, I want to study His Word, I want to depend on Him more and more”…and guess what: not just on Sunday but it’ll be your heartbeat throughout the week! I’m not saying that you won’t have rough times during the week and neither am I saying that you’ll feel super excited every day but I’m saying that your spiritual life will certainly get more serious and committed if the repentance is true. What is God asking you to REPENT of today?

And by repent, we mean TRUE REPENTANCE? Producing urgent and serious obedience?

So what did these leaders see and notice written in the Law?

Neh 8:14-16: They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written.

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim.

What is the Festival of Booths? Also known as the Festival of Tabernacles.

There are two main texts that help us understand what this festival was about. 

Lev 23:33-44:

a) Starts on the 15th day of the seventh month and goes on for a week.
b) 1st and the last day are Sabbaths – days of rest.
c) Take branches from luxuriant trees, palms, willows and other leafy trees and build temporary shelters.
d) Live in it for 7 days!
e) It was meant to be a feast of rejoicing!
f) Lasting command to have this celebration every year for generations to come.

Now we may look at this festival and wonder “what a strange festival! Why did they have to do it year after year?”
And the answer lies in v43: so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in temporary shelters when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’”

The reasons why God wanted them to celebrate in this manner and live in temporary shelters were:

1) Remembrance of God’s provision and protection

Where were the Israelites before they came to the Promised Land? In the wilderness? Before that? In slavery in Egypt. They were being mistreated and oppressed. The Word says that the cries of the people reached God. And God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and rescued them in a mighty and awesome way. (Ex 2:23-24) The Pharaoh wasn’t willing to let go of the Israelites and God sent plagues and after the 10th plague, Pharaoh yielded. When the people left Egypt Pharaoh thought he made a huge mistake by letting them go. He and his army chased after them until they came to the Red Sea. God performed an astonishing miracle by parting the Red Sea and allowing the people to walk on dry ground. The Egyptians pursued them but by that time the waters came back to their place and drowned all of the enemies and not a single one of them was left. They witnessed first-hand how God rescued them from the clutches of enemy and death.

After that for 40 years they roamed around in the wilderness but God provided them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to lead them. He provided them with food and water. Their clothing didn’t wear out and their feet did not swell. He protected them from all their enemies and in fact routed all of them. He patiently endured their rebellion. He punished them but didn’t totally destroy them and brought them to the Promised Land as He promised their fore fathers.

By all of them living in temporary shelters made of branches and leaves they were to remember how God rescued them, provided for them and protected them the whole time. God’s marvelous acts are to be pondered upon, proclaimed, praised and retold! That was one of the purposes of having this festival.

2) Reminder that they are owned by God

V43b: I am the Lord your God!

The intention of this festival was also to remind them that they are now owned by God. They belong to God. This isn’t just God’s right because he created them but He also saved them for Himself. He is their Master. He is their Lord! I know culturally when we think of master/slave relationship it is seen as bad because we’ve seen a lot of expressions of abuse. But in this case, God being our Owner and Master is a good thing. It is the best thing! You see that in the way God takes care of His people. They enjoyed great blessings when they were faithful to God. God took care of their physical and spiritual needs.

3) Recognize that God is the source of all blessings

Deut 16:15: For seven days celebrate the festival to the Lord your God at the place the Lord will choose. For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.

V16b – 17: No one should appear before the Lord empty-handed: 17 Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you.

This feast was to be celebrated after the harvest. And as you can see in these verses…God desired that they would acknowledge God’s goodness and thank Him for that. Also, celebrate and rejoice in the knowledge of God’s goodness. They were blessed abundantly so that they could recognize God as the one who blesses and give Him the thanks that was due. In return they were filled with joy!

This was a pretty cool thing right? Why don’t we have this festival now?
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Heb 10:1)
This festival of booths was a shadow of the One who was coming – Jesus. How come?

i) Jesus rescues us from our slavery to Sin.

We were bound and helpless. In fact the Bible tells us that we were dead in our sin and hopelessly heading for Hell. Dead to God. We were powerless to fight sin and also destined to face the penalty of sin. God’s wrath was upon us due to our rebellion. Like the Israelites we cried out for help! Was there anybody who could help us come out of the grave? God loves us so much that He sends His one and only Son into the World: Jesus. He lives the perfect life. He deserved to be honored for His life; rather He chose to be dishonored by dying on a cross. For whom? For you and for me.

God’s fury that was directed on us because of our sins was absorbed by the precious Lamb of God. God’s pure Lamb died because of us. We are responsible. But that was the only way sin and death could be dealt with and we could be alive in our relationship to God. Alive! Through faith in Jesus we experience life! Oh shouldn’t this be remembered?

ii) Jesus now owns us.

You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Cor 6:19,20)
You are slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:18)

How did he purchase us from our slavery to sin? Ephesians 1:7: we have redemption through His blood.

I think it’s safe to say, your maker and Savior knows what’s best for you. It is in your best interests that He owns you. Anybody else would seek to take advantage of you but not your Creator and Redeemer. But it’s important for us to understand what that means. We belong to Jesus. He owns us! He brought us with a price. Let these words resonate in our ears and hearts. What does this mean for each and every of us? Do you see Christ as truly Lord, Owner and Master of your Life? Or would you say He’s competing for authority?

iii) We now recognize that God is the source of all blessings

Believers should acknowledge the goodness of God through words, attitudes and actions of thanksgiving. It’s interesting how in the Bible: giving thanks to God is viewed as a sacrifice (Heb 13:15) and an imperative: Give thanks in all circumstances, for this the will of God in Christ Jesus for you( 1 Thess 5:18).

What is your attitude toward God when it comes to acknowledging in your heart who is responsible and the source of the blessings? Or do you believe it is because of your effort? What is your attitude toward praising God among other people?

The Feast of Booths was meant to be a reminder of what God did for them but in Neh 8:17-18 we see how the Israelites didn’t celebrate it frequently as God commanded until then. What happened as a result of that? They sinned more and more because they forgot what God did. What can we learn from this? Even though we don’t have the Feast of Tabernacles to remind us of God’s provision and protection, Ownership….what are some ways in which we can intentionally remember and celebrate the acts of God?

i) Memorize Scriptures that communicate the love and goodness of the gospel.
ii) Singing songs and hymns that are flowing with the truths of the gospel.
iii) Frequently sharing your testimony which declares the power of the gospel.
iv) Giving thanks to God privately and publicly which humbles you before God.