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. 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, who confess their sin and seek His forgiveness and grace. These, God will never turn away ... revealing the second unchangeable principle: God is always faithful to those who cry out to Him in true repentance, 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. Certain events revealed that at least some of them had learned the importance of humility, repentance and obedience.
Apparently, the Jews who returned from exile had redeemed their brothers by purchasing them from the Gentiles, but then they had made them their own 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). Why 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. 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 anything God has used us to do for His kingdom and for His glory, but always give GOD the praise!
With the wall now complete, the remnant who had returned could "settle in," but first they needed to be reminded why they were there in the first place: to worship the LORD their God. God had done all of this, not to make a name for them, but to make a name for Him. Ezra the priest called the people together and read the Law of God that had been written by Moses. 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. Fear is ultimately a temporary and outward motivation. 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 Levites reminded the people of God's care for them, and of the response of those who had gone before them: "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.
The same principles are in place today: "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). 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. Thank You for your forgiveness and grace through faith in Your Son Jesus Christ. May we 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"