Stephen Caswell © 2000
Looking for the Light
G. Campbell Morgan was once approached by a soldier who said he would give anything to believe that God would forgive sins, "but I cannot believe He will forgive me if I just turn to Him. It is too cheap." Dr. Morgan said to him: "You were working in the mine today. How did you get out of the pit?" He answered, "The way I usually do; I got into the cage and was pulled to the top." "How much did you pay to come out of the pit?" "I didn't pay anything." "Weren't you afraid to trust yourself to that cage? Was it not too cheap?" The man replied, "Oh, no! It was cheap for me, but it cost the company a lot of money to sink that shaft." The man saw the light, that it was the infinite price paid by the Son of God for our salvation, which comes to us by faith and not by anything that we can do. Salvation is free, but it's not cheap. Grace is God's Riches At Christ's Expense.
Last Sunday morning we saw how Israel worshipped the Lord. God is great and worthy of our worship. The people worshipped Him by hearing the Scriptures, confessing their sin and separating from themselves from all that displeased Him. They prayed to God and praised Him for His greatness. The people wanted to be restored to God. They longed to be right with Him and took the necessary steps to accomplish this! The Levites prayed on behalf of the people. Their 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, great mercy, and great goodness with great provocation's that resulted in great distress for the nation. Today we will look at:
I. The Goodness Of God & II. The Grace Of God
Firstly The Goodness Of God
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, for our God is indeed the giving God, who delights in meeting the needs of His people. God's goodness is revealed in the way that he Formed the Nation, Lead the Nation and Chastised the Nation.
a. Formed the Nation
Nehemiah 9:7-8 You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram, And brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and gave him the name Abraham; You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, The Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites — to give it to his descendants.
When God called Abram from Ur of the Chaldees, He did it totally on the basis of grace. Since Abram was an idolater he had done nothing to deserve God's favor. However God called him and showed great kindness to him. He gave him a new name. God made a covenant with him because his heart was faithful. Although Abraham had occasional lapses of faith he walked with God for 100 years. God also gave His descendants the land of Canaan to inherit. Abraham means father of a multitude. The Lord blessed his descendants and multiplied them to become the nation of Israel.
This took over four hundred years to accomplish including a sojourn in Egypt. But nevertheless God kept His covenant promises to Abraham. God saw the affliction of His people and sent Moses to deliver them. He freed the nation from Egypt, performing great signs and wonders to accomplish this. He destroyed Israel's enemies in the Red Sea.
When a potter works with a piece of clay he has purpose in mind. He can make a jar or drinking cup. He may have a vase or plate in mind. But the thing he makes is formed for a particular purpose. God formed the nation of Israel for a purpose. He chose them to be His light in the world. He formed the nation for this special purpose. Through the nation God would reveal His Word and bring forth His Son, the Savior.
b. Lead the Nation
Verse 12 tells us that God gave His people Leadership. He went before them to show the way. A pillar of cloud led them by day and a pillar of fire gave them light by night.
Verse 13 reveals how God gave Israel Laws. He spoke to them from Mount Sinai and gave them His Laws for their own good. He wanted them to be a special people and a holy nation to Himself. The Law revealed God's will for Israel. When they kept the Law God blessed them and they enjoyed life.
Verse 15 tells us that God gave them Livelihood. He sustained them as they traveled through a barren wilderness. The manna did not fail until they had entered Canaan. He provided them water from the rock. God met their every need.
Verse 15 also tells us that God gave them Land to possess. The land of Canaan was a good land flowing with milk and honey. God promised it to Abraham and now he gave it to Israel.
Verse 20 tells us that God gave them Light. His Holy Spirit instructed them of His ways. The Holy Spirit was with Moses and Joshua and 70 of Israel's elders.
Leaders Lead The way
In the army the best leaders are those who identify with their men. They lead them into war. They understand first hand their trials and hardships because they live with them. They are on hand to give advice in times of trouble. They seek to meet their needs and solve their problems. God did this for Israel. He was present with them. He led the way in the pillar of cloud and fire. He gave them food and water. He revealed His will to them through the Law. He gave them spiritual light through His Good Spirit. Could they have had a better leader?
Israel's Response To God's Goodness
How did Israel respond to God's goodness? They refused to bow to His authority hardening their necks. They refused to listen to His Word or obey His will. At Kadesh - Barnea, they tried to take matters in their own hands and appoint a new leader to take them back to Egypt. God didn't allow them to do that but punished them for their sin.
When Moses was on the mountain with God, the people made and worshipped an idol. Moses interceded for the people, and God pardoned 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 wanted to return there. They did not have a living faith in God but were willing to receive His help and enjoy His gifts. Psalm 78 gives us an x-ray of Israel’s heart during this time.
c. Chastised the Nation
During the forty years of Israel’s discipline in the wilderness, the old generation died and a new generation was born; but 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 was faithful to Israel even though they disobeyed Him.
The first generation couldn't enter Canaan because of disobedience but the next generation possessed the land. God kept His promises. God promised to multiply His people, and He kept His promise. He also promised to give them a good land, and He kept that promise. 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.
Verse 22 says that God gave them kingdoms and nations. He gave them victory over the kings of Canaan. Verse 24 says that God gave the Canaanites into the hands of Israel. Last year we studied the book of Joshua and saw how God enabled Israel to be victorious against the strong nations of Canaan. Israel was outnumbered and didn't have a chance humanly speaking. They had to confront giants and walled cities. God gave them complete victory as He said He would. How did the people respond to God's goodness?
They possessed a rich land, and Israel became a fat people; and this led to their downfall. But Jeshurun grew fat and kicked; you grew fat, you grew thick, you are covered with fat; then he forsook God who made him. Deuteronomy 32:15 Moses’ warnings went unheeded. Israel delighted themselves in God’s great goodness but they did not delight themselves in the Lord. Like the prodigal son, 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, said Thomas Carlyle. It’s possible for a local church to get proud of its riches and become poor in God’s eyes. The Laodicean Church thought that way. God sees wealth differently to us. He values the spiritual riches of faith, obedience and service. The church at Smyrna was persecuted and poor yet they were rich in God’s eyes. Proverbs 30:8–9 says: Give me neither poverty nor riches, 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.
Once in the land, Israel enjoyed rest during the days of Joshua and the elders who had served with him; but when those godly leaders were gone, the new generation turned away from the Lord. They turned to idols so God disciplined them.
When they cried out for help; God gave them deliverers to rescue them. Then they would walk in God’s ways for a time, lapse back into sin; and the cycle would be repeated. 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. God gave and forgave whilst Israel took and forsook. 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 faithful to forgive. God gives 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.
Hebrews 12:5-6: And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.
A man came up to two boys fighting in the park. He took one aside and began to spank him for his inappropriate behavior. An observing bystander came up to the man and asked indignantly why he didn't do anything to the other boy. The man responded that this was his own son and the other was not.
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 captive and to destroy Jerusalem and the temple. The nation’s seventy years of captivity in Babylon taught them to appreciate the blessings they had taken for granted, and they never again returned to pagan idolatry. In Babylon Israel came to their senses and repented of their sin. So, God allowed His people to return to their land. Because of His covenant love God forgave and restored Israel.
Like too many of God’s people today, the Jews were shortsighted: They forgot the glorious purposes that God had in mind for the nation. Had they meditated on God’s promises and purposes, they would not have wanted to go back to Egypt or mingle with the godless nations around them. Israel was a people who lived beneath their privileges and failed to accept fully God’s will for their lives. They took God's goodness for granted!
James 1:16-17 says: Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Have you taken God's goodness for granted? He has delivered us from our bondage to sin. He has made us into a holy nation. God has given us His Word to guide us and His Spirit to teach us, comfort us and strengthen us. He provides us with our food and clothes. On top of all this God has reserved a place for us in heaven. Have you received God's blessing? Have you taken these for granted and forsaken Him? Have you forgotten the purpose that God has for you? God saves us by grace that we might serve Him. With privileges come responsibilities. Have you lost your first love for Him? Is God chastening you because of sin? Have you forsaken your Savior Who has been so good to you?
Secondly The Grace Of God
31-32 Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful. Now therefore, our God, The great, the mighty, and awesome God, Who keeps covenant and mercy: Do not let all the trouble seem small before You that has come upon us, Our kings and our princes, Our priests and our prophets, Our fathers and on all Your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today.
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. 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. He could have destroyed the nation and started over again, but He graciously spared them. In fact He told Moses that He would do that but Moses pleaded for Israel and God forgave them. In His mercy, God didn’t give them what they deserved; and in His grace, He gave them what they didn’t deserve. Mercy is used 7 times in this chapter and grace twice. The Levites said that God had shown them manifold mercy, abundant mercy and great mercy. Among the attributes of God, although they are all equal, mercy shines with even more brilliancy than justice. -- Miguel de Cervantes
As the Levites prayed, they acknowledged the sins of the nation and God’s justice in sending punishment. Verse 33 says: However you are just in all that has befallen us; for you have dealt faithfully, but we have done wickedly. 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. It is easy to be convicted about other people’s sins, but God forgives only when we repent and confess our own sins.
In the past, although the nation had enjoyed abundant blessings, they still sinned against the Lord who had blessed them. Now those blessings had been taken away from them. They were back in the land, but they could not enjoy the land; for everything they worked for was given to somebody else! The Persian king was in control of everything, including their own bodies. When God had been their king, the Jews had enjoyed great blessing; but when they rebelled against His will, they found themselves enslaved to kings who had no compassion on them.
Samuel had warned them, and Moses had prophesied that the nation would forfeit its wealth to its conquerors. 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. God gives us all things to richly enjoy but He also expects us to be good stewards for Him. If we give God the leftovers will He be pleased?
In verse 35 the Levites acknowledged how God gave them many good things even though they hadn't served Him. Now, on the basis of His grace, they asked Him for a new beginning for the nation. They couldn’t change the servitude they were in, but they could surrender themselves to a greater Master and seek His help. If 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? Romans 2:4 tells us that it is the goodness of God that leads us to repentance. 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. In verse 38 they express their desire to renew their covenant with God.
The nation had made a covenant with God at Mt. Sinai and then broken it. They had renewed the covenant when they entered Canaan and after they had conquered the land, but then they rebelled against the Lord. This cycle had continued through out their history. Now, Israel wanted to return to God. 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. The Jews in Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day were a part of that remnant, and God heard their prayers.
Grace - Forgiven and Pardoned
A young employee secretly misappropriated several hundred dollars of his business firm's money. When this action was discovered the young man was told to report to the office of the senior partner of the firm. As he walked up the stairs toward the administrative office the young employee was heavyhearted. He knew without a doubt he would lose his position with the firm. He also feared the possibility of legal action taken against him. Seemingly his whole world had collapsed. Upon his arrival in the office of the senior executive the young man was questioned about the whole affair. He was asked if the allegations were true and he answered in the affirmative.
Then the executive surprisingly asked this question: "If I keep you in your present capacity, can I trust you in the future?" The young worker brightened up and said, "Yes, sir, you surely can. I've learned my lesson." The executive responded, "I'm not going to press charges, and you can continue in your present responsibility." The employer concluded the conversation with his younger employee by saying, "I think you ought to know, however, that you are the second man in this firm who succumbed to temptation and was shown leniency. I was the first. What you have done, I did. The mercy you are receiving, I received. It is only the grace of God that can keep us both." God's grace is the strongest motive for faithfulness to God!
Have you taken for granted God's mercy and grace? Have you stopped serving the Lord? Has your Church attendance dropped off over the years? Last Sunday night Mary Allen was in Church even though she was not well. She helped with the communion. Mary served her Lord till the end. What keeps you away on Sunday nights? You might say tiredness. Perhaps you go to bed at 6:00 pm and can't come to Church. Or do you have enough strength to watch T.V? Is your heart cold toward spiritual things? God is not obligated to suffer our sin and indifference. In fact He will chastise us if we continue in them. If you have wandered away from God will you come back to Him today? You don't know if you can to tomorrow. God is not obligated to give us even one more day. Please don't presume upon His grace.
Our God is a glorious God. He is powerful, faithful, and concerned about the needs of His people. He is a pardoning God, who is long-suffering when we sin but who chastens if we rebel. He is a generous God, 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. Will you renew your commitment to Christ today? Will you serve Him faithfully till He comes back or calls you home? I pray you will!