I want to extend my apology for not having my normal article ready for publishing today. Because of work commitments I have not had the time to write, edit and format my article for this week. I hope to be able to publish tonight. Please check back tonight or tomorrow morning for my new article on Nehemiah: When Fear Collides With Faith.
God is still guiding us through His word, the Bible. He still provides food, shelter, water and all we need to survive. While the means of this provision seem natural, these provisions and guidance are still from God.
We begin this week with a continuation of the Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. We continue to see God acting in supernatural ways. We also see that the people in Nehemiah’s day have not forgotten how He acted toward them. Let’s take a look at the next few verses and see what God supernaturally provided for Israel.
“And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way In which they were to go. Nehemiah 9:12 NASB
We need to notice first and foremost what the people continue to notice: this is all about how God led Israel, not how Israel followed God. We’ll get to how Israel followed – or failed to follow – God throughout their history. This part of this prayer is all about what God did. And it is pretty awesome!
In v. 12 we see that it was God who led during the day and night. He chose a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Think of the spectacle for a moment. Here is a nation of people, just freed from years of slavery being led through some very treacherous areas.
The cloud must have been huge to be seen by the entire nation. Here they were trudging across the desert following a cloud (or fire). That must have looked strange. But still they followed. And still God led.
How strange it must seem to those around us today to see a bunch of people following the teachings contained in a collection of books written thousands of years ago. How stranger still is there are those who are strangers to the culture and language of this collection of books. We don’t get a cloud or a fire. How strange that must seem.
Do we still follow? Are we listening? Do we even care?
Do we still look for God’s leading in spite of the roughness of our culture? God is definitely still leading us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
“Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. “So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law Through Your servant Moses. Nehemiah 9:13-14
The people continue with their recitation of history by stating that it was God who came to them. Look here in v. 13: YOU (God) came down to Mt. Sinai. Notice that God did not call the people to ascend to heaven to converse with Him or receive instructions. NO, God came to us. How strange is that! God decided to descend and speak to man on man’s turf, so to speak. Some would say that shows weakness in God but I don’t think so. I think that shows great strength. Only a weak and insecure God would demand that man should come to Him. But God isn’t like this. He is all-powerful but He chooses to come down to speak with them.
Look what God did. He didn’t have useless small talk. No, He gave rules and regulations that would provide instructions on how to live. These are thought of as “good” by the people in Nehemiah’s day. But isn’t that just the opposite of today? Doesn’t our society view rules and laws as impediments rather than helps? I think the answer is “yes” to that question. Think about it for a moment. We hear quite a bit about man’s freedom, but not so much about God’s sovereignty. Man loves to think he is in charge. Any hint of a rule or regulation seems to be met with the shout of LEGALISM! Why do we rebel so much against the good rules?
Yet God has provided us with rules and regulations to conduct our life. Rules that are meant to ensure our compliance to God’s standard and provided for our benefit.
Finally I want to notice that God did all this through a man. This man was referred to as “[His] servant Moses.” I hope you notice what I notice. While God is the author, He uses man as the messenger most of the time. God seems to work this way throughout history. Look at Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, the Apostles and others. He used these folks to spread His message. And it remains that way today.
I’m not saying that what we say or do are necessarily inspired by God. In fact, when someone says that I tend to doubt the authenticity of their claim. What I do mean is that God has ordained the preaching of His word as the way of spreading His message. More often than not, God speaks through His word being preached through man rather than a burning bush speaking to a man. We should take that to heart. If you belong to Christ you have been ordained to communicate His good statues, laws, and ordinances to a hurting and dying world. Are you doing that?
“You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them to enter in order to possess the land which You swore to give them. Nehemiah 9:15 NASB
Well not only did God supernaturally guide and instruct the Israelites, He supernaturally provided for them. Look at what He did.
He rained down bread from heaven. This bread was known as manna. The meaning of that in Hebrew is “What is it?” Imagine every day having that day’s meal needs being provided by God. It may have been monotonous to eat the same thing each day, but obviously the food was nutritious. God provided for them. But it wasn’t only food. God provided water. But He didn’t have them dig a well or turn on a faucet. God provided water from a rock. A rock! Now that is miraculous. He gave the Israelites what they needed through some really unlikely sources. Food, water, instructions and guidance. What more could the Israelites want or need?
He not only provided for their journey but also for their destination. God swore to Abraham to give them a land – He promised them a land – and delivered on that promise. God is a promise keeper. When He says He’ll do something, you can count on Him doing it.
What does all this mean for us? How does this affect us? First and foremost, God is still working. But it isn’t just with Israel. God is still guiding us through His word, the Bible. He still provides food, shelter, water and all we need to survive. While the means of this provision seem natural, these provisions and guidance is still from God.
Are you thankful for what God has provided for you? Are you willing to follow God through the deserts of life? The deep seas of despair? To where He has promised to lead you – and me – heaven?
While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.
Years ago there was a sitcom on TV titled Mad About You. It was about man and his wife and the challenges a married couple faced in New York as newlyweds. One of the stars was Helen hunt. I don’t remember who played her husband. Anyway, the show documented the struggles of newlyweds, with some of the things quite humorous. Both the husband and wife, though sometimes at odds, were mad(ly in love) about each other.
In this week’s section in Nehemiah 9 we see that Israel is mad about You as well. The You being God. lets see what we can glean from this passage this week.
Remembering God’s Faithfulness
You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. “Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. “You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. Nehemiah 9:9-11 NASB
The first section – actually all the verses today – remembers how God led Israel out of Egypt. Now why do you think this is so? Well, if we look at this section through the eyes of those who are returning to Jerusalem and all they have experienced, the reason may become clearer. Think about this for a moment: the returnees to Jerusalem experienced similar events as their forefathers. They had been slaves, then they had been led out by God and then they reoccupied the land. I think that is a wonderful thing to begin with – remembering God’s faithfulness to previous generations as they experienced it firsthand.
The exodus from Egypt was a big event in the history of Israel. There are about forty Hebrew words that are used to describe God’s miracles. These forty words are used about five hundred times in the Old Testament. Now here is the interesting thing: about half of these five hundred uses were descriptions of the exodus. So the exodus is a seminal event in Israel’s history. Here they begin with the fact that God saw the affliction of their forefathers in Egypt and their cry by the Red Sea.
They saw God not as some far off deity but as a very personal God who was concerned with His people, Israel.
Boy, could we learn a thing or two. How often do you start your prayers with a listing of God’s faithfulness to you, the saints that have gone before and the events of history that demonstrated God’s faithfulness to the church? I need to work on that too.
This section continues by not only recalling God’s faithfulness but also His actions that demonstrated His faithfulness. Then you performed… is a remembrance directed to God. Did God need to be reminded of what He did? Of course He didn’t. But this type of remembrance is a wonderful type of praise. God demonstrated His power to pharaoh and all the people of Egypt. God made sure that they knew that Israel’s God is the only true God.
Remembering God Cares
Israel recounts how much God cared for them next. You knew…begins this short section detailing God’s care for His chosen people. Though the arrogance of the people of Egypt and especially of their pharaoh (who fancied himself a god) permeated all levels of their society, God was not napping during the difficulties Israel faced. God knew how the Israelites were treated by Egypt. God knew about it, He did not learn about it. God knew – He knew. That must have brought great comfort to them considering what this generation had just experienced.
Though they were exiled, God knew what was happening. And He cared about it.
Once again we should sense the conviction of God here. We (at least in the United States) have not experienced anything like what Israel experienced in Egypt or Babylon. Yet it seems that we doubt God knows about the various challenges we face. We feel all alone even though we (in the US) are still relatively free. We should be ashamed of ourselves! God is not ignorant of how the world and its agents are treating the Church. We feel surrounded by ungodliness and betrayal. Yet God knows all about this and is working through these events to sanctify us and bring about His will. We should find great solace in that.
Remembering God’s Actions and Provisions
The final section of this weeks section demonstrates what God did and the provisions He made for Israel during the exodus. This section has three very important phrases: [You] made a name for Yourself, You divided the waters, You hurled. Clearly Israel was mad about Him. They are recounting His actions which ensured the survival of the nation of Israel. Lets look at these three actions.
You made a name for Yourself
God’s actions were so radical – so awesome – that He established His name in the land of Egypt.
The Egyptians never forgot about the God of Israel and how He humbled their pharaoh, his magicians and their nation. God certainly made a name for Himself there. How did He do it? Well remember the miracles? The plagues? The Nile turned to blood. Frogs, flies, dead cattle. You’d think that the Egyptians would eventually get a clue…well they did but only after the angel of death swept through and killed every first born.
You divided the sea
So God took Israel out of Egypt and led them to the Red Sea. We don’t know exactly where they went but we do know that the Israelites felt they were cornered. Add what happened? Did God abandon them? Nope. He did what seemed impossible: He parted the Red Sea so Israel could walk over to the other side on dry land. But He didn’t stop there.
You hurled into the depths
This is a clear indication of what happened once Israel passed through the waters. God didn’t just get Israel across the sea. No, He then threw pharaoh’s pursuing Army into the sea like a stone into raging waters. Have you ever seen what happens when a stone is thrown into raging waters? It disappears almost immediately beneath the turbulence. And that is what happened to pharaoh’s army. God hurled them into the raging waters of the Red Sea and they disappeared. Now that is a great protection plan!
So what about us? Well we should take some very important lessons away from this passage. First we should always remember and recount how God has remained faithful to the Church in spite of our own wanderings. Second, let us not forget that God does care about what we are experiencing here on earth. If He is sovereign and omniscient (and He is those things and much more) then He is not surprised or overwhelmed by the events we face. Third, we must realize that in spite of the way our world wants to isolate and ignore God, He has already made a name for Himself. We need not be discouraged by the constant drumbeat against God. God isn’t dead. He isn’t even sick. He is on His throne. He is reigning from on high and He is coming back for us. Just like He was faithful to Israel in Egypt and in Babylon, He is faithful to His Church.
While we may face adversity, persecution and even death because of Him, He has not and will not abandon us. So lift up your head Christian and remember God is faithful, God cares and God is taking action.
God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous
When revival starts to spread in the land a number of things begin to happen. Here in Nehemiah 9 we will see two of the more prominent things that happen when revival hits the land.
Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. Nehemiah 9:1-4 NASB
Repentance is an interesting thing to observe. The reason it is interesting is that it is more than one action but it is only one action. Have I confused you yet? Let’s see if I can clear things up a bit.
The twofold nature of biblical repentance is what sometimes gets confusing. The first aspect of repentance is a turning from action. Now what is this turning from action? It is a turning from sin and a sinful heart. Here we see the beginning of their turning from in v. 1 – sackcloth and ashes is a way to illustrate mourning. Then in v. 2 we see that they separated themselves from foreigners. Now this separation is not based on frivolous things. This separation is based on religious grounds. Do you see what is being said here? The people had recognized that the Lord had made them a special people that was distinct from all others. They turned from their inclusion of other nations. They chose to return to the way the Lord wanted things done.
Now for the turning to part of repentance. We start to see this in v. 3: they stood and read from the book of the Law. They turned to God. So not only did they turn away from their previous sin, they turned to God and the way He wanted them to do things. This turning to God led them to worship here in vv. 3-4. This worship will continue in a different form in the coming verses.
This section constitutes one of the longest prayers in the OT. It was meant not only to serve as a traditional prayer but also to instruct those who were hearing it. This occurs in some of the Psalms (78, 105, 106, 135, and 136). It is quite interesting to see the heart change from grieving to rejoicing.
The first thing I want you to notice is God is praised as the Creator and maker of everything:
Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens…” Nehemiah 9:5-6b NASB
This is always a good way to start a time of intense prayer. How often have you begun your prayers with a simple praising of God for who He is and what He has done? Regardless of what Mr. Darwin thinks or theorizes, we did not arise from a bubbling sea of cosmic ooze to then evolve into man through a number of random mutations (all of which were positive). No, we were specially created by God to reflect His image in His creation.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Think of what is happening in your body right now. You are breathing, your heart is beating. You are reading this blog and comprehending the thoughts I have written. You do all this with very little effort. Just think of what you would need to to if you had to think “breathe in lungs, heart beat again, think brain!” I doubt much else could be accomplished if we had to will ourselves to continue to perform basic functions.
In the next section we see the Lord as the all-sovereign one. He is the one who chooses man, not the other way around.
“You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise,
For You are righteous. Nehemiah 9:7-8 NASB
I love these verses in Nehemiah – they are theologically rich and so challenging to me. I hope they are challenging you to take a look at your life and how you are conducting yourself in this world.
Look how this section begins: You are the Lord God…. The declaration that their God, known by His covenant name YHWH, is THE sovereign one is quite the statement. these folks were not worried to say their way was the only way. Seems like we could learn a thing or two from them. Standing for what we believe is all good. But standing for truth is better. Are you ready to say that our God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – is the ONLY God in the universe worthy of our worship? I hope so.
Continuing through this section we also see that His sovereignty is affirmed when they state that He chose Abram and called him to leave Ur of the Chaldees. Notice it doesn’t end with the call of Abram. God made a covenant with Abram to give him the land of the various “ites” that lived in the promised land. But God’s covenant didn’t end there. He swore to give the land not only to Abram but also to Abram’s descendants. So who are these descendants? Israel of course. It doesn’t matter what others think – the land known as “Palestine” belongs to Israel. Period. They will inherit it. They will possess it. Why? Because God promised it to them.
The final observation I want to make about this section is the final few words: You are Righteous. Now we may not think much of those words but they are heavy. To be righteous means to be without sin. Who could make such a claim? Only God can. He is the only one who is, by nature, without sin.
I don’t care what society thinks. Whether they recognize this truth or not, God is not dead. God is on His throne. And I don’t care if I am a laughingstock, a backwards man, or anything else. I will continue to say “God is alive and well. He is on His throne. I belong to Him. He alone is righteous.
How is your revival going? Are you reviving your relationship with God every day? If you know about your sin and repent of it – like the Israelite’s did here in Nehemiah – you’re on your way.
But you also need to work on your worship. Recognizing God’s worth, recognizing who He is, is key to revival and worship. One very important way of worshiping God is how we pray. How are you in your prayer life? This one in Nehemiah sets the bar pretty high. But learning from it this week (and in the coming weeks) can only help you and me be better at praising God when we begin our prayer time. It will help us stay focused on this important truth:
God is still God, and I am not.
We must make doing the word of God a habit we embrace
When revival sweeps the land, it creates a hunger and thirst for knowing what the Bible states, not just reading it. To know the Bible we must spend time in it studying it. We must take time in this study to consult those who have studied it much more deeply than we have.
I have written before about progressive sanctification. In fact, that is one of my favorite subjects! While the Holy Spirit is primarily in charge of our progressive sanctification, we have a responsibility in this too. Our responsibility includes knowing the Bible. Notice i didn’t say reading the Bible. We must know what the Bible states not just read it once in awhile.
In our section this week we’ll see what happens when those who once rejected God’s Word embrace it with joy.
Investigating the Word of God
If you truly want change, you must study the Bible
Have you ever been around a Christian whose only desire is to know the Word of God? I know such a man. The joy his intense interest in knowing the Bible brings to those around him in overflowing! This man has this figured out. For you and I we must be serious about the Word of God if we truly desire life-change. Reading it isn’t enough: We must investigate it.
Here in Nehemiah 8, revival is sweeping the land. The people, who had completed the wall in spite of much opposition, have now turned their attention to rebuilding the spiritual life of the Nation. Let’s take a look at what we can glean from this newest rebuilding effort here in Nehemiah 8.
Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. Nehemiah 8:13-14 NASB
The first important thing we need to recognize is the fact that the representatives of the people and the priests came to Ezra to learn what the Word of God was teaching them. They recognized the need to seek out the expert in the Law to learn. That would be nice to happen today. Whenever anyone wants to know something about the Bible, instead of seeking out someone who has studied the Bible intensely at the feet of theological giants, most simply use the internet and their favorite search engine. Sadly, the internet has made everyone an expert. But is was different here in Nehemiah. They sought out THE expert of the Law. And not only did they come to Ezra, they listened and learned.
They learned that they had been neglecting an important festival that the Lord had commanded. Look at verse 14: “They found written…” Have you ever discovered an important truth in the Bible? How did that make you feel? What did that encourage you to do? Well here they learned that the Lord had commanded them t live in booths in the seventh month. Now what is that about?
The feast of tabernacles (or booths) was a feast that the Lord instituted in Leviticus 23:40-43. It was a feast that served as a reminder to future generations of how the Lord had brought the Nation out of Egypt. During this time they were out of Egypt and int he desert, they lived in booths. This feast served as a reminder of the Lord’s faithfulness. So they learned this but it didn’t end there.
Initiating the Word of God
Once you know the Bible, you must act on it
So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and [h]wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. Nehemiah 8:15-16 NASB
The leaders of the people and the priests didn’t just learn about what the Lord required, they acted on it: they initiated the Word of God in their daily lives. In verses 15 through 16, the people sent out a proclamation to everyone to go out and gather the necessary parts for these booths. And everyone did. Each family built their own booth and lived in it on the roof of each person’s own house.
These folks, who had built the wall, built their homes, now chose – they CHOSE – to follow the instruction of the Word of God and live in a booth made of branches. That could not have been comfortable. But once they knew that the Lord had commanded them to do this, there was no question that they would follow through. It was as if there was no choice in the matter. And in a real way, there wasn’t a choice. Sure they could have ignored the command but the choice to follow was so clear – so necessary – that they really didn’t have any other choice than to follow through.
Installing the Word of God
Knowing the Bible and acting on the requirements leads us to making it our habit
In this final section, we see the effects of following the Lord’s commands. Notice in v. 17 that there was great rejoicing. Think of this for a moment. The Nation had not done what the Lord had commanded for generations. But when they followed the command, there was rejoicing. Following the Lord’s commands doesn’t kill the joy we experience in life. No, following the Lord’s commands enables us to experience true joy in this life. This lesson should not be lost on us. WE must follow the word of God like the Nation did following the end of their exile.
The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance. Nehemiah 8:17-18 NASB
In v. 18 we see that the Nation celebrated this feast for seven days and read from the Law as well. They began to make some muscle memory. They weren’t satisfied with just reading the word of God, they had to investigate it – they had to look deeply into it. But they didn’t stop there. Once they investigated the Word of God, they initiated it in their life as a Nation. Just knowing wasn’t good enough. They observed the feast of booths for the first time in many years. But it didn’t end there! They then installed the Word in their life as a Nation. They made it a part of their routine. They made it a part of their National life. They developed a habit.
So how are we doing? Are we satisfied to just know the word of God? Or maybe we’re satisfied to simply know about the word of God. It seems that the Christian world is satisfied with doing the least possible amount of study…we seem to want to just get by.
But that must not be enough for us. We must look deeply into the word of God. We must begin or initiate the word into our life. And finally – WE MUST – make doing the word of God a habit. When we do this, then we will have real change. We will really have progress in our sanctification. Perhaps we will finally become the unified body that Christ so wants us to be.