God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.
This great prayer of repentance and remembrance continues here in chapter 9. As I read through the passage for this week I remembered something my brother and I used to say all the time: the song remains the same. We said that to each other as a way of conveying the fact that nothing had changed in our lives despite a separation by our living miles apart.
In the passage today, as the people repent and remember the past, we see that in Israel’s history, the song remains the same. Let’s review last week’s article focused on some important points that I want to stress again in order to experience the gravity of this week.
One of the takeaways from last week was that God keeps His promises. We saw this in a couple of actions, first by God then in Israel’s response. The end of this was that Israel entered and possessed the land God promised to them. Israel had acted in faith and followed what God said (after a rebellious generation had passed). So this generation would be on-fire, right?
Not. So. Fast.
The Song Remains the Same
But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies. Nehemiah 9:26-27 NASB
This part of this prayer begins with a big BUT. There isn’t a better word in any language to stress how significant a shift has taken place. The Israelites, who had possessed the land God promised, had victories over others as God promised and prospered in their home now decided they knew better than God. Oh boy, here we go again.
Look at what this new crop of Israelites did. First the were disobedient and rebelled against God. The next phrase sums up everything: they turned their backs on your law. You see Israel was now smarter than God – or at least they thought they were. God gave His law to Israel for their protection. He regulated their worship life so they would please Him. God was generous with them. He blessed them. He provided for them. And what did they do in return for all of God’s benevolent gifts? They rebelled. They turned their backs on Him.
But they didn’t stop there. God sent prophets to correct Israel’s path. One would think that Israel would listen to these prophets. But no, sadly Israel did just the opposite. They refused to listen and then killed the prophets God had sent. But it didn’t end there. Look at what happened: they performed awful blasphemies. They took God’s perfect law and turned it on its head. They did the opposite of What God wanted the to do. So God took them out of the land and gave them to those who would oppress them. God disciplined His people.
But when they repented and cried out, God heard them and had compassion on them. God sent Israel deliverers. These deliverers took Israel out of bondage and back to where they belonged. God’s compassion was far greater than Israel’s heart. Because sadly, even after experiencing God’s great compassion and grace, the song remained the same.
Israel’s Heart of Disobedience
But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time. Nehemiah 9:28 NASB
I feel I should just copy and paste my first section here! Everything that happened before happened again. What a sad commentary on their heart. They continued to rebel and refuse to follow what God prescribed for them. The last few words of v. 28 indicates the breadth of God’s compassion: you delivered them time after time.
God’s Abounding Grace and Mercy
You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. Nehemiah 9:29-31 NASB
In these last few verses we see an important indication of God’s character: He pursued Israel, He wanted them to turn back to Him. Look at the time in view – for many years…” This wasn’t a one time ordeal. This went on for years. And years. And years. Still God pursued them. Still God loved them. Still God had compassion on them. God’s abounding grace and mercy is on display here. Look at v. 31:
But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
What else could I possibly say about God? He is gracious and merciful. Even with all the disobedience, arrogance, stiff-neckedness that Israel has displayed throughout the years, God still – STILL – showed them mercy. How’s that for a giving God!
So what does this mean to us? This is all about Israel, right? Well, no it isn’t all about Israel. This is all about God. God reveals Himself as a compassionate, long-suffering and patient God. Regardless of how many times we fail to do what is right – regardless of how many times we fail to obey – if we truly belong to Him He will never – NEVER – abandon us or turn His back on us.
That truth should not encourage us to sin more but to sin less. Because He is so compassionate and willing to endure our up and down behavior, we should be more sensitive to when we fall short. We should want to obey Him more because of who He is. God’s compassion should make us more willing to obey, not less.
How are you doing with that?