Monday, December 1, 2014

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble ..."

Day #339:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - December 2nd

Scripture Reading:  Nehemiah 5 - 9 ...

We have seen it before ... an unchanging principle to which God has bound Himself and from which He cannot and will not waver.  These chapters reveal two such principles that endure to this day in God's dealings with those who are truly His people.  First:  He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.  A sure and certain way to be rejected by God is to arrogantly imagine that you deserve His love and grace and favor.  Arrogant people make demands of God or expect from God whatever they may desire, believing that God must surely meet their demands if He wants their allegiance.  Such people are not truly committed to God in the first place and God sees their hearts and turns His face away from them.  They will never enter His presence.

But the opposite is true for the humble.  Those who understand their sin realize their need of God's grace and forgiveness and therefore confess their sin and seek His forgiveness and grace.  These, God will never turn away ... and this reveals the second unchangeable principle revealed in these chapters:  God is always faithful to those who cry out to Him in true repentance.  He will never turn away from those who draw near to Him in humility and He will continue His work in them until He brings it to completion.  Though they face discipline and trials of many kinds, God will never leave or forsake them, for they are HIS!!  Praise God for His amazing grace!

As Nehemiah and the remnant who had returned to Jerusalem worked to complete the building of the walls of Jerusalem, they were counting on both of these principles to be true.  Their enemies were strong and continued to oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem, this once-powerful city among the nations of the world.  This was another one of those turning points for the descendants of David, from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.  How would they live now that they were back in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  Having been exiled for seventy years and enslaved by the Babylonians, would they turn again from God or had they learned their lesson?  Two things indicated that at least some of them had learned the importance of humility, repentance and obedience.

The first was their response to Nehemiah's warning concerning their treatment of their brothers.  Some of the poorest of the Jews had remained in the land when the rest of the people were taken into captivity and they had become slaves to the nations around them.  Apparently, the Jews who returned from exile had redeemed their brothers by purchasing them from the Gentiles, but then they had made them their servants ("slaves").  These poor people had no property, no homes and little food or clothing.  Nehemiah knew this was not pleasing to the LORD, their God, and he told them so.  He said, "What you are doing is not right.  Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies?" (5:9).  What did it matter to them what the other nations thought?  It mattered to GOD!  HIS people were supposed to be different.  Those who don't know God take advantage of others and seek wealth and power, but not so God's chosen people.

It was not to be so then and it should not be so now.  Reading about the early Christians in Acts 2 and 4 reveals that they understood what it meant to care for their brothers and sisters in need.  In II Corinthians 8-9, Paul explains the importance of giving offerings to those in the household of faith who are in need.  Much of the "mission work" of the church today is done for those who are outside of the body, but the Word of God makes it clear that the needs of those inside the body should not be overlooked.  The people in Judah heard what Nehemiah said and replied, "Amen," and praised the LORD.  Then they "did as they had promised" (5:14).

As the rebuilding of the wall continued, the enemies of Judah tried to intimidate Nehemiah, but he prayed, asking God for strength and wisdom to govern His people.  So the wall was completed in fifty-two days (6:15).  The response of the surrounding nations was a reminder that the God of Judah rules over the nations:  "All the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God" (6:16).  Isn't that what you and I want people to know whenever we may accomplish something by God's wisdom and strength?  We should never take credit for something that God has used us to do for His kingdom and for His glory.  Instead, we should always give GOD the praise, for apart from Him we can do nothing!

With the wall now complete, the remnant who had returned could "settle in," but first they needed to gather together to be reminded why they were there in the first place:  to worship the LORD their God. God had done all of this, bringing them back from exile, moving them to rebuild the temple and the walls, to rebuild Jerusalem, the "city of peace," the "city of David," not to make a name for them, but to make a name for Himself.  So Ezra the priest called the people together and read the Law of God that had been written by Moses to them.  When the Law was read to them the people wept, for they understood why God's judgment had come upon them.  Now they needed to understand something more than God's justice and His anger against their fathers.

As Solomon wrote, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom," but it doesn't end there.  The people were afraid of God's wrath and judgment.  He had destroyed them once and He could do it again.  But fear is ultimately a temporary and outward motivation.  God wants something more.  God wants His people to know His love and grace and to respond to His love with willing obedience.  Nehemiah said to the people, "This day is sacred to our Lord.  Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!" (8:10).  The people celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles, reminding them of God's deliverance from Egypt and His presence with them through the wilderness.

The Levites reminded all the people of God's care for them, from His choosing of Abram, through His deliverance from Egypt, to His giving the Law at Mt. Sinai.  "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 for them" (9:16-17).  God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble!  They went on to pray, "But You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.  Therefore You did not desert them ... because of Your great compassion You did not abandon them in the desert ... You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them. ..." (9:17-20).  God had never forgotten them, in spite of their unfaithfulness as a people.

And there's more:  "You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that You told their forefathers to enter and possess" (9:23).  "BUT, they were disobedient and rebelled against You; they put Your law behind their backs.  They killed Your prophets. ... For many years You were patient with them.  By Your Spirit You admonished them, for You are a gracious and merciful God" (9:26, 30-31).  Do you see a pattern?  Their unfaithfulness, but God's faithfulness!  They declared, "In all that has happened to us, YOU have been just; YOU have acted faithfully, while WE did wrong!" (9:33).  Then a "remnant of the remnant" made an agreement that they would obey the Lord their God and seek Him always.

All this took place in the days before the birth of Christ.  God was at work among His people by His Spirit, but not in the way He is today, as He gathers Jews and Gentiles together into one body, the Church, the Body of Christ.  Yet the same principles are in place:  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (James 4:6).  And God says to those who are His, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5).  We know that God is just, for we see His justice at the cross of Jesus, where God's own Son endured God's wrath against our sin that we might be redeemed, reconciled to God, forgiven, sanctified in Christ Jesus!  We who believe in Jesus know that God is, indeed, compassionate and merciful and it is our heart's desire, as His Spirit works in us, to serve Him in love for His gift of salvation.

Having received His grace, through the power of His Spirit, we are called to love our Father in heaven, to praise and exalt the name of Jesus, our Savior and our Lord, and to live by the power of His Spirit who is at work within us.  As His people today WE are called to be different, to display His glory to those around us, to be light in the darkness to lead others to our great and awesome God, our Deliverer, our Savior!  To Him be the glory forever and ever ... And all the people said, "AMEN!"

"O LORD our God, Maker of the heavens and the earth, to You I raise my eyes and proclaim that You alone are God; there is no other!  As You were with Your people of old, so You are with those who believe in You today and who humble ourselves before You, confessing our sin and our faith in Your Son Jesus Christ.  In Him You have granted us forgiveness and reconciled us to Yourself so that we may be for You a people who declare Your praises and exalt Your majesty before the world.  May we be faithful to You, Father, as You have been and are faithful to us, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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