Today: [Nehemiah Nine] The Full Measure of Repentance. Is there any real need for you to repent once you become a Christian? What does it mean to repent anyway? Do we just show remorse, or is it necessary to be more public in our contrition? In this chapter the elders of Judea and Jerusalem gather the people for a prolonged period of fasting, prayer and open contrition not only for their sins but the sins of their fathers. We see in this chapter a sobering contrast between the blithe and shallow modern idea of repentance and the deep contrition the ancient Israelites participated in.
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[Neh 9:1-38 KJV] 1 Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. 2 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God [one] fourth part of the day; and [another] fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God. 4 Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, [and] Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, [and] Pethahiah, said, Stand up [and] bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 Thou, [even] thou, [art] LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all [things] that [are] therein, the seas, and all that [is] therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee. 7 Thou [art] the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; 8 And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give [it, I say], to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou [art] righteous: 9 And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea; 10 And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as [it is] this day. 11 And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.
In the previous chapter all the people of Jerusalem gathered to hear the reading of the words of God in the books of Moses. They were very troubled by what they heard because they saw how far short they fell from God’s commands in the Torah. The elders comfort the people and lead them in the celebration of the feast of Tabernacles. Now 2 days after the feast of Tabernacles they assemble together and participate in a time of fasting, public confession of sin and showing of contrition in sackcloth and ashes.
The assembled people also went to greater lengths to separate from foreigners. This effort has been ongoing since Ezra required the people to put away their strange wives and the children born by them. This still has not come into full effect and in this chapter the effort is ongoing to identify and bring to implementation the separation and putting out of foreigners from their midst. Only the children of Abraham are to participate in these solemn events.
After hearing the reading of the words of God the people saw their own sinfulness by looking at the points where their lifestyles contradicted the mandates of God through Moses. They not only repent of their sins but they repent of the sins of their fathers from whom they inherited their value system. So we see the progression of repentance is more than mere remorse:
1. They listened to the word of God and took it as a personal comparative of their own lives.
2. They separated themselves from relationships that were a contaminating influence to them spiritually.
3. They fasted and showed contrition in more than just a private way.
4. They confessed their sins in contrast to the declared faithfulness of God.
5. They confessed the sins of their fathers – not hiding their father’s iniquities behind false honor.
The people didn’t trivialize or try to explain away the mandates of the scriptures. Today we read the scriptures and consign much of what we see there as being archaic and not applying to us today. Or we say “well we are in the modern day and none of this applies to us …” These people in Jerusalem could have easily made all these excuses but they did not. They received with reverence what was read in the scriptures and they sought God for terms by which they could reconcile their lifestyles to the claims of the word of God on their lives.
12 Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go. 13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: 14 And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant: 15 And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them. 16 But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, 17 And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou [art] a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. 18 Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This [is] thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations; 19 Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go. 20 Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst. 21 Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, [so that] they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not. 22 Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess [it]. 24 So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. 26 Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. 27 Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest [them] from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. 28 But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest [them] from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies;
As the elders and Levites pray publicly before the people they rehearse the faithfulness of God and openly admit the sins of their forefathers. They also take pains to point out that when they were overrun by their enemies it wasn’t because God had failed them but because they were in disobedience. This is one point that almost never gets made when modern Christians experience in their lives a contradiction to God’s promise.
Today when a believer experiences unanswered prayer or an unmet need the theological response is often to suggest they are suffering for Christ. The viewpoint adopted is that “God always answers prayer – but sometimes he says no…” Or it is maintained that the person had all the necessary faith but God wanted them to suffer for some obscure religious benefit. The last suggestion and in fact the non-existent observation that is never made is that perhaps the person is in unrepentant sin, or perhaps while God had promised there was insufficient faith on the part of the petitioner to see the answer they are seeking come to pass. It is almost unheard of to suggest that if our prayers go unanswered that the fault is ours – rather we blame God and his “religiously inscrutable ways”.
Part of repentance demonstrated by the elders in Jerusalem is to take responsibility. God has no desire for us to struggle with blame and guilt but it is a fact that “we all fall short of the glory of God…” in our lives – sometimes in greater measure than we are willing to admit. Let us make up our minds to reject the obnoxious, religious viewpoints that justify our unwillingness to look at ourselves and our failed response to the claims of Christ as the reason why we live so far below our privileges.
The claim might come “you are trying to condemn me…” No – condemnation is guilt leveled without remedy. Conviction points at the sin or failure in our lives and calls us to remedy the situation by repentance and contrition so that we can experience a greater measure of God’s blessing in our lives.
29 And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear. 30 Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands. 31 Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou [art] a gracious and merciful God. 32 Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. 33 Howbeit thou [art] just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: 34 Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them. 35 For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we [are] servants this day, and [for] the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we [are] servants in it: 37 And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we [are] in great distress. 38 And because of all this we make a sure [covenant], and write [it]; and our princes, Levites, [and] priests, seal [unto it].
In the latter part of this chapter – the elders declare that yes they are under bondage and that the entire nation has suffered because of their sins – yet they choose to see God’s grace in the situation. They are careful not to charge God foolishly. They stress in their declaration that in the midst of suffering the consequences of sin that God still maintained a posture of lovingkindness toward them in captivity and eventually bringing them back to Judea to reestablish the city and rebuild the temple.
God will never leave you where you are. There are things of life and positions in life you will find yourself in because of shortcomings, failures and many times outright sin. Just because you suffer consequences doesn’t mean that God forgets you. There is forgiveness. God always lobbies in our lives by His Spirit to restore to us what has been lost. Though God is a holy God yet in His mercy He always works to bring us back to plan A that we might have the fullness of all that He promises to us in His word.
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