Nehemiah 9

Nehemiah 9: A History Lesson

Let’s link back to Chapter 8 for a quick review to understand what is taking place in Chapter 9. In Chapter 8, we saw the people assemble before the Water Gate and there Ezra read from the Book of the Law of Moses to the assembly. We also noted the Levites instructed the people making it clear and giving the meaning so the people could understand what was being read. We are told they celebrated with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.(Neh.8:12b)  And so this chapter in the story of rebuilding the walls ends with Ezra reading from the Book of the Law of God day after day.

In Chapter 9 we see the results and what happens  when people get back into the Word of God and the Word of God gets back into the people.  A people who are intent on reading and studying and obeying the Word of God will produce the following results:   a confession of sins and a worship of God. Realization and confession of sins is always a humbling experience. And remember God said in 2 Chronicles 7: “ If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn(repent) from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

As these people 2500 years ago looked at their current situation and circumstances, they recognized the pattern of behavior from their past to the present. Here is what they were reminded of as they  read the Bible: a cycle of rebellion, arrogance and disobedience. Generations who refused to listen and failed to remember what God had done.  As it has been said many times before- those who fail to remember their history are doomed to repeat it.

We also see how the sins of one generation are passed on to the next generation as we continue in a downward spiral. It is as if- courage and common sense and a respect for God and recognition of all that He has done for us skips a generation. And the slide toward becoming more like Sodom and Gomorrah continues from  one generation to the next.  In fact the Lord says, when speaking of His return, that the world will be as it was in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Let’s start at the end of this chapter where two verses tell us of the condition of the people in Nehemiah’s time and  realize they are eerily the same conditions we find ourselves in today.

“But see, we are slaves today, slaves in a land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other  good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings You have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are all in great distress.” (Nehemiah 9: 36,37) These people looked in the Word of God and their history and then looked at their current circumstances and said- we have done it again. They found themselves enslaved in the land God gave to them. They found themselves in this situation because of their sins.

We are slaves today in a land and society of technology that we have created. Someone has described modern life as the internet. Modern life is the internet and the internet is modern life. First we shape our technology and then technology shapes us. We are slaves to our technology. Our smart phones, I Pads and computers dominate our lives. We are stressed with too much information and useless data- our attention deficit is at an all time high. We are a people who are ever learning but never coming to the truth.

The desire of our heart seems to be financial security, living in nice homes, eating well, staying healthy, avoiding problems and enjoying life and our families. And most of us would agree we desire these very things, don’t we?  These are not bad things and the Lord Jesus would tell us Our Heavenly Father knows we have need of those things. Then in Matthew 6, Jesus tells us what we must have as the desire of our heart and the priority of our lives  ‘ to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will given to you as well.’ The kingdom of God refers to the rule and reign of God in our lives. God must be first, must be our priority, and knowing Him and glorifying Him must be our greatest desire.

To place anything or desire anything more that God is idolatry. And God has commanded us we are to have no other gods before Him!

So here we are in 2012 and we can identify and apply this history lesson to us.

Just as they realized 2500 years ago: We realize we  are slaves today, slaves in the land You, God, gave to our forefather so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. But because of our sins, the abundant harvest goes to our leaders You have placed over us. They rule over us and do with our bodies and our cattle as they please. WE ARE IN DISTRESS!

So let us look at what the people did 2500 years ago to deal with the situation in which they found themselves.

Again look at what took place prior to this time of confession of sin. In Nehemiah 8, we saw the people gather to hear the Word of God read aloud and then taught in small groups. Here in chapter 9, we see open confession of sin to one another. But it was the reading and studying of the Word of God that preceded their confessions. This is the order: God shows us in His Word our sins and sinfulness. Honest confession follows the study of God’s Word. The Holy Spirit wields the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, to circumcise the flesh away from our hearts that we might love (worship) the Lord with all our heart.

If we are to experience worship, then Jesus said God is looking for those who worship Him in Spirit and Truth. We must be honest and led by the Spirit to experience worship. We cannot have a right relationship with God when we hold on to certain sins in our lives. “ Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Jesus speaking to Peter regarding washing his feet in John 13.  Truly a picture of humility, but also a symbol of spiritual cleansing from sin  which is needed for fellowship with a Holy God.

As we read here what they praised God for 2500 years ago, we can praise Him for the same things, plus add our own personal story of what  God has done and is doing in our lives today. Notice the order again:

“ They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshipping the Lord their God.” (Neh.9:3)

Following this the people were instructed: “ Stand up and praise the Lord your God, Who is from everlasting to everlasting!”

Let’s observe the ways in which they praised God.

They praised Him as the Only God- you alone are God.

They praised Him as creator of everything and the One who gives life to everything. You and I exist because God willed for us to exist. He chose the time and place in which we were born.

They praised God for being not only Creator but Initiator. God initiated the call to Abram, as surely as He initiated the call to you and me. Jesus said unless my Father draws men to me, they will not come. He sought me, I did not seek Him. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. The questions I had about life and eternity were the questions the Holy Spirit was asking me. Just as the Lord came into the Garden that day following Adam and Eve’s disobedience and sin- He asked this question: Where are you?  He did not ask this question because He lacked knowledge, the Lord asked this question to get Adam and Eve to look at where they were now as a result of their sin. They were afraid and ashamed. God wanted them to understand what sin had done- to understand the promises of sin are false.

Their study of God’ s Word  2500 years ago caused them to remember and reflect on the greatness and goodness of God. As they continued to consider what God had done they praised Him for being a Promise Keeper.

The people started praising God for who He is- the One and Only God; Creator of everything, Giver of life to everything. The One who  calls us and keeps His promises to us. Then they remembered their history and how God took them out of Egypt and slavery. Egypt is a picture of the world. The cruel taskmasters who held the Israelites in slavery and hard labor were a picture of sin that enslaved us.  But then God heard their cries and sent a deliverer, Moses. God dealt with their enemy and destroyed the enemy and set the people free. He did this through a series of miracles as recorded in His Word in Exodus. God then led His people and notice how he did it- with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

Today He leads you and me with His Word, which is described as a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path. He has instructed us to meditate on His Word day and night- for that is how He will lead us by day and by night.

God delivered the people out of Egypt with mighty miracles. I  can testify it was no less a miracle when He delivered me from the slavery of sin. Destroying the enemy and leading me and supplying my needs. He sent the people of that time a redeemer named Moses. He sent His only Son to redeem me. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Next the people in Nehemiah’s day recognized God for giving them the law- the rules and regulations by which they were to live in this world. Yet when we go back to Exodus, we see this group that had witnessed these mighty miracles  of God, when tested, when it appeared there was a setback- they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and in doing so grumbled against God. Listen to their complaints: “ If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around the pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, buy you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly.” (Exodus 16)

Do you see how sin and slavery to sin works?  They wanted to go back to Egypt to slavery, to making bricks without straw. They forgot the bondage, and thought only of the sensual pleasure- the food they enjoyed so much.  That is the deceitfulness of sin. The recovering alcoholic, drug addict, cigarette smoker that craves a drink, a fix, or a cigarette  forgets the trouble, the pain and the heartache and damage these addictions ( sins) have  caused in their life and remembers only the sensual  temporary pleasure they received.

So let us not suffer spiritual amnesia and forget what sin has done in our lives, how it enslaved us and how it has deceived us lest we suffer the same fate that always awaits us when we forget. “ But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. They refused  to listen and failed to REMEMBER the miracles You performed among them.” Failure to remember what God has done in and through your life, can lead to pride. Pride leads to disobedience and disobedience leads to idolatry.

Again history tells us what happened in the desert when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive Gods’ law. We are told the people grew tired of waiting for Moses to return. They asked Aaron to make them a golden calf. (Exodus 32)  They sought and appointed a leader in a time of difficulty to return them to slavery. Fixing the problem became the priority. Not serving God, not waiting on Him to reveal the way out of your time of testing and temptation.   Moses was taking too long- they were tired of waiting- they wanted a ‘ quick fix’.   How many times in your life have you in a time of testing and temptation,  sought the quick fix only to realize you made a bigger mess by not waiting on the Lord? Can you see how we  have insisted our leaders to place the band-aids of quick fixes in an attempt to solve our problems?

Now the Lord did not desert them and abandon them, for He is  long suffering and patient.  Let us look back at what did happen to the people in Exodus.

The wages of sin is death. On that day of the golden calf three thousand of the people died.(Exodus 32:28). God then said to Moses, “ Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egyp t, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying I will give it to you descendants. I will send an angel before you to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites ,Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But  I WILL NOT GO WITH YOU, BECAUSE YOU ARE A STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE AND I MIGHT DESTROY YOU ON THE WAY.” ( Exodus 33: 1-3) Scripture speaks of the Spirit of God being quenched and grieved and certainly God was all of those in this situation. It seems to me, God is saying I am so angry with you people I cannot stand to be around you without wanting to destroy you.

If you thought your sins made God feel that way toward you- would you not be fearful?

Now when the people hear this- they were grieved and in distress because they realized now they had lost the presence of God.  Can you and I remember this lesson?  To sin and continue to live in sin and not confess it or forsake it is to risk the loss of the presence of God in our lives. Do you want to move ahead in your life without the presence of God in your life?  I don’t think so.

You see the story of the Bible, of the Exodus, of the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem, is all about what life is about…that is what you desire. What do you desire more than anything?

Moses pleads his case before God: : “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways, so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” ( Exodus 33: 12,13)

Moses said: “ If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33: 15,16)

Moses and the people said we are not moving ahead without you God. How many churches today have moved ahead without God’s presence? In fact how many do not even realize God is no longer present in their dead churches?

It is God’s presence in our lives and in our churches that distinguishes us from all the rest of the people. If His Presence is not with us- we cannot move forward. We will languish in the desert.

The strength of the church and of the Christian is not in what we do or do not do. It is in what we desire. What is the burning desire of your heart?  Our burning desire must be to know Him and His Ways. To be in His Presence – to see His Glory. In fact the chief end of mankind is to glorify God.

Paul expressed the desire of his heart in these verses: “ But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ  and be found in Him. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His Suffering.” Paul goes on to say what the focus of his life is: “ But one thing I do; forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” ( Phil 3)

Paul is saying the supreme desire of his life- is to know Christ Jesus the Lord and to glorify Him by fulfilling the purpose for which the Lord called him.

God said to Moses: “ I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name. Then Moses said, ‘ Now show me your Glory. And the Lord said, “ I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord in your presence. I will have mercy on whom  I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But you cannot see my face, for no one can see my face and live. Then the Lord said, there is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand and you will see my back; but my face will not be seen.: ( Exodus 33: 19-23) Do you know who stands in the place close to God?  It is the Lord Jesus, the Rock of Ages, cleft for me.  He told Phillip, if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.

There is so much for us to learn from these passages, a separate study would be necessary in order to glean all that we can from this but suffice it to say- the chief end of man is to glorify God. Our desire to know Him and His ways is to ultimately glorify Him. This was the desire of Moses’ heart and God who looks at the heart, not the exterior, was pleased by this all consuming desire of Moses.

If the desire of your heart is to know God and His ways and to experience the presence of His glory in your life- God will give you the desire of your heart. To be able to see His goodness  even when it  is not apparent in current, difficult circumstances will be a result of this desire.   To experience God’s presence in your life  enables one to proclaim His name. Then when we have gotten a glimpse of His glory- it will change us as it did Moses whose face glowed with radiance – radiance from knowing  God. Then the world around us will take notice and we will be different from all the people on the face of the earth.

Let me make the same claim Paul did in his letter to Timothy and personalize it as you can also for as Paul writes it is a trustworthy saying.

“ Here is a trustworthy saying, that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world  to save sinners- of whom I , Tim Fortner, am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who believe on Him and receive eternal life.  NOW TO THE KING, ETERNAL, IMMORTAL, INVISIBLE, THE ONLY WISE GOD, BE HONOR AND GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN.” ( I  Timothy1)

We sing a chorus often in church that calls out to God to ‘ remember His people.’ But we His people need to remember Our God and learn from history –to learn His Ways.

Have you learned your history lesson?

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14