Utawala Baptist Church
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 9:6
Jehovah God is the main subject of this chapter—who He is, what He does for His people, and what His people must do for Him.
This prayer reviews the history of Israel and reveals both the majesty of God and the depravity of man.
Israel responded to God’s
“great kindness” (Neh. 9:17),
“great mercy” (v. 31),
and “great goodness” (vv. 25, 35)
with “great provocations” that resulted in “great distress” (v. 37).
Three of Israel’s great “national prayers” are recorded in Ezra 9, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9.
Behind these prayers is the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14
Dr. Arthur T. Pierson said, “History is His story”; and this chapter bears that out.
” The church today can learn much from the experiences of Israel, if we are willing to humble ourselves and receive the truth.
As you read this prayer, notice that it reveals
the greatness of God (Neh. 9:1–6),
the goodness of God (vv. 7–30),
and the grace of God (vv. 31–38).
1. The greatness of God (Neh. 9:1–6)
The Feast of Tabernacles had ended, but the people lingered to hear more of the Word of God. Feasting had turned to fasting as the Word brought conviction and people started confessing their sins.
In most churches to day, a six-hour service—three hours of preaching and three hours of praying—would probably result in some requests for resignations.
But to the Jewish people in that day, it was the beginning of a new life for them and their city.
We sing, “Take Time to Be Holy,” but we aren’t willing to pay the price to do it.
God’s greatness is seen in the fact that He receives our worship (vv. 1–5).
True worship involves many elements:
hearing the Scriptures,
praying, confessing sin,
and separating ourselves from that which displeases God.
NOT JUST ON SUNDAYS!
Each of these elements is recorded in this paragraph.
Worship involves the Word of God, for the Word of God reveals the God of the Word.
“The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him”
The better we know the Scriptures and respond to them, the better we will know God and become like Him.
Israel was chosen by God to receive His Law (v. 13) and to know His will. Any worship service that ignores the Scriptures will not receive the blessing of God.
In the Scriptures, God speaks to us; and in prayer and praise, we speak to Him.
“Stand up and bless the Lord your God!” (v. 5) is a command every true believer wants to obey.
God’s name is to be exalted above every name (Phil. 2:9–11),
and we should honor it as we praise Him.
The people also took time to confess their sins (vv. 2–3) and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.
Whenever you see sin or failure in your life, immediately look by faith to Christ
and seek His forgiveness; and keep on looking to Him.
Focus on His perfections, not your own imperfections.
Finally, the people separated themselves from the world as they drew near to the Lord (Neh. 9:2; Ezra 6:21).
Separation without devotion to the Lord becomes isolation,
but devotion without separation is hypocrisy (see 2 Cor. 6:14–15).
The nation of Israel was chosen by God to be a special people, separated from the pagan nations around them.
“You are to be holy to Me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be My own” (Lev. 20:26, NIV).
The Apostle Peter applied those words to Christian believers in the church today (1 Peter 1:15).
God’s greatness is also seen in the fact that He is God alone (Neh. 9:6a).
Jews still recite “The Shema” (Duet6:4–6) as their declaration of faith in the one and only true God.
4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
One of Israel’s ministries to the world was to bear witness to Jehovah, the true and living God.
Their Gentile neighbors were surprised that the Jews had no idols (Ps. 115).
When Israel turned to idols, as they often did, God disciplined them.
A third evidence of God’s greatness is the fact that He created the universe (Neh. 9:6b).
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) is a statement that can be applied only to Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
To know that our Father in heaven is the Creator of all things is a great source of strength and peace.
Idolatry means worshiping and serving the creature and the creation rather than the
Creator (Rom. 1:25).
“Thus does the world forget You, its Creator,” wrote Augustine, “and falls in love with what You have created instead of with You.”
God’s greatness is seen in the fact of His providential care for His creation (Neh. 9:6c).
He did not simply make everything and then abandon it to its own course. He is involved in the affairs of His creation:
He sees when a sparrow falls (Matt. 10:29),
and He hears when a raven cries out for food (Ps. 147:9).
He has the stars all counted and named (v. 4),
and He has even numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7).
“You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:16).
Finally, God’s greatness is seen in the fact that the hosts of heaven worship Him (Neh. 9:6d).
You and I can’t duplicate the mighty works of the angels, but we can imitate their devotion to the Lord as they worship before His throne.
And we have more cause to praise Him than they do!
We have been saved by the grace of God and shall one day be like the Lord Jesus Christ.
We are not just servants; we are children of God (1 John 3:1–3) and will dwell with Him forever!
In our worship, it’s wise to begin with the greatness of God. If we focus too much on what He gives or what we want Him to do, we may find our hearts becoming selfish.
Sincere worship honors God in spite of circumstances or feelings or desires.
2. The goodness of God (Neh. 9:7–30)
This prayer rehearses the history of Israel, revealing God’s goodness to His people and their repeated failure to appreciate His gifts and obey His will.
The word “give” is used in one way or another at least sixteen times in this chapter.
Our God is indeed the “giving God,” who delights in meeting the needs of His people (1 Tim. 6:17).
God gave Israel a land (Neh. 9:8, 15, 35),
a law (v. 13),
the ministry of the Spirit (v. 20),
food and water (vv. 15, 20),
deliverers (v. 27),
and victory over their enemies (vv. 22, 24).
What more could they want?
Centuries before, Moses had warned the people not to forget God, either His gracious hand of blessing or His loving hand of chastening (Deut. 8).
But, the nation didn’t thank God in times of blessing, but they were quick to turn to God for help in times of suffering ( Pss. 105–106).
Let’s not be too quick to judge them, because some of God’s people today treat God the same way.
Many people have little interest in God or the church until a loved one is in the hospital or there was a death in the family. Then the pastor and all the church family have to drop everything and give them help!
But just as soon as the crisis was over, these people were back to their old life again, ignoring the things of the Lord and living for the things of the world.
You can trace this tragic pattern in every stage of Israel’s history.
Forming the nation(Neh. 9:7–18
God’s covenant (Gen. 12:1–3) was the basis for all that God did with and for Abraham and his descendants. It was God’s purpose that all the world be blessed through Israel.
He did this in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:8).
God gave the land to Abraham and his descendants, even though during his lifetime Abraham owned nothing in the land but a cave for burying his dead (Gen. 23).
In the land of Egypt, the nation multiplied greatly, saw God’s power over the pagan gods, and experienced deliverance from bondage by the mighty hand of God (Ex. 1–15).
God opened the sea to let Israel through and then closed it again to destroy the Egyptian army. It was complete deliverance; Israel was to have no further relationship with Egypt.
God led His people by day and by night, giving them food to eat and water to drink.
He also gave them His holy Law, so that in their civil, personal, and religious life, they knew the will of God.
The Sabbath was given as a special sign between God and His people (Ex. 31:13–17), but there is no evidence in Scripture that the Sabbath law was given to any of the Gentile nations.
In Nehemiah 9:16–18, Nehemiah tells us how the nation responded to all that God had done for them:
How could these people turn their backs on God after all He had done for them?
They did not truly love Him!
Their obedience was only an outward form; it didn’t come from their hearts.
In their hearts, they were still living in Egypt and wanting to return there.
They did not have a living faith in God but were willing to receive His help and enjoy His gifts.
Leading the nation (Neh. 9:19–22).
During the forty years of Israel’s discipline in the wilderness God never forsook His people.
He led them by the cloud and fire,
taught them the Word,
provided them with the necessities of life,
and gave them victory over their enemies.
God keeps His promises and fulfills His purposes. If we obey Him, we share in the blessing;
if we disobey Him, we miss the blessing; but God’s purposes will be fulfilled and His name glorified.
GOD’S DECREE or PLAN FOR the AGES!!
Like too many of God’s people today, the Jews were shortsighted.
Israel was a people who lived beneath their privileges and failed to accept fully God’s will for their lives.
Chastening the nation (Neh. 9:23–30).
God promised to multiply His people, and He kept His promise (Gen. 22:17).
He also promised to give them a good land, and He kept that promise (13:14–18; 17:7–8).
Under the leadership of Joshua, the army of Israel invaded Canaan, conquered the land, and claimed all its wealth.
It was God who gave them victory and enabled them to possess cities, houses, lands, and wealth in the land of Canaan.
It was a “fat land” (“fertile,” NIV), and Israel became a “fat people” (nourished, satisfied); and this led to their downfall.
“But Jeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked; you grew fat, you grew thick, you are covered with fat; then he forsook God who made him” (Deut. 32:15).
Moses’ warnings went unheeded (Deut. 8).
Israel delighted themselves in God’s great goodness but they did not delight themselves in the Lord.
Like the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–24), they wanted the Father’s wealth but not the Father’s will.
“For every one hundred men who can stand adversity, there is only one who can stand prosperity.”
It’s possible for a local church to get proud of its “riches” and become poor in God’s eyes (Rev. 3:14–22).
The church that we may think is poor is probably rich in God’s eyes (2:8–9).
“Give me neither poverty nor riches,” prayed Agur the wise man.
“Feed me with the food You prescribe for me; lest I be full and deny You, and say ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8–9).
Through the power of Christ, Paul had learned by experience “how to be abased” and “how to abound” (Phil. 4:12);
A Lesson we all need to learn!
The Book of Judges records the sad story of how God disciplined His people in their own land by allowing their pagan neighbors to rule over them.
Against the dark background of Israel’s unfaithfulness shines the bright light of the faithfulness of God.
When Israel obeyed Him,
He was faithful to bless;
when they disobeyed Him,
He was faithful to chasten;
when they asked for mercy,
He WAS and IS faithful to forgive.
God is willing to give His people many privileges, but He will not give them the privilege of sinning and having their own way.
God’s purposes are more important than our pleasures, and He will accomplish His purposes even if He has to chasten us to do it.
Israel’s sins finally became so disgusting to God that He decided to discipline them away from their own land.
He used the Assyrians to destroy the Northern Kingdom.
And then He brought the Babylonians to take the Southern Kingdom (Judah) captive and to destroy Jerusalem and the temple. It was as though God said to His people,
“You enjoy living like the heathen so much, I’ll let you live with the heathen.”
Israel never again returned to pagan idolatry.
God’s chastening is as much an evidence of His love as is His bountiful supply of our needs (Heb. 12:1–11).
We should be grateful that God loves us too much to allow us to become “spoiled children.” The Father is never as close to us as when He is chastening us.
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept Thy Word” (Ps.119:67).
3. The grace of God (Neh. 9:31–38)
God was good to His people when His people were not good to Him. He sent them prophets to teach them and to warn them, but the nation refused to listen (2 Chron. 36:14–21).
He was merciful to forgive them when they cried out for help, and He was long-suffering with them as they repeatedly rebelled against His Word. (Ex. 32:10 )
God didn’t give them what they deserved; and in His grace, He gave them what they didn’t deserve.
GRACE and MERCY!
As the Levites prayed, they acknowledged the sins of the nation and God’s justice in sending punishment.
“In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong” (Neh. 9:33, NIV).
Note that the Levites used the pronoun “we” and not “they.”
As they prayed, they identified with the nation and acknowledged their own guilt. Nehemiah had prayed the same way at the beginning of the book (1:6–7).
It is easy to be convicted about other people’s sins, but God forgives only when we repent and confess our own sins.
Whatever we fail to give God, we cannot keep for ourselves. He will take it one way or another. Christians who refuse to honor God joyfully by faithful giving often end up having to spend that money reluctantly on obligations that are painful and unexpected, like doctor bills or home repairs (Mal. 3:7–12).
The Levites had acknowledged God’s greatness and goodness; and now, on the basis of His grace, they asked Him for a new beginning for the nation.
God had been merciful to Israel in the past, forgiving their sins when they cried out to Him, would He not be merciful to them now?
But they did more than ask God for mercy; they also made a solemn covenant with God to obey His law and do His will.
The nation had made a covenant with God at Mt. Sinai and then broken it (Ex. 24:3–8).
They had renewed the covenant when they entered Canaan (Josh. 8:30–35) but then they rebelled against the Lord (Jud. 2:6–15).
Throughout the history of Israel, there was always a remnant of faithful people who trusted God, obeyed His will, and prayed for God to fulfill His promises This believing remnant was God’s “lifeline” to maintain the ministry of Israel in the world.
They kept and keep the light of faith and hope burning in the world.
The Jews in Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day were a part of that remnant, and God heard their prayers.
Our God is a glorious God (Neh. 9:5).
He is powerful (v. 6),
faithful (v. 8),
and concerned about the needs of His people (v. 9).
He is a pardoning God (vv. 17–19, 31),
who is long-suffering when we sin (vv. 21, 30)
but who chastens if we rebel (vv. 26ff).
He is a generous God (vv. 24–25, 35),
Who gives us far more than we deserve. He is a God who keeps His promises even if we are unfaithful.
Surely this God deserves our loving obedience!
Perhaps the time has come for a new beginning.
ARE WE WILLING TO BE A REMNANT HERE IN UTAWALA?