Feast of Tabernacles ended, the following day they held a solemn formal worship service, treated as a Sabbath day (no regular work done, a day of complete rest, sacrifice and worship, etc.) It had been a period of great celebration, rejoicing, reminiscing about God’s faithfulness to his people – in the wilderness, during the exile, while Jerusalem’s temple and wall were rebuilt. Now, two days later, God’s people had gathered together again and the mood was not one of celebration. People there with dirt on their heads, wearing sackcloth: “material of goat or camel hair used for making grain bags”, publicly expressing their intense grief and sorrow.
Once again heard from God’s Word – three hours (v.3) of reading and preaching, followed by three hours of corporate confession and worship. Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, if I’d been lectured for a week-and-a-half about God’s Law and how He expects this and I’ve done that and what an obvious loser I am, of course I’d be depressed. A person can only take just so much, you know.” True, they had been instructed from the Law; they did understand what God had commanded them to do, and they did recognize how not only they but their ancestors had failed.
BUT, and this is a big deal, they had come to understand far more from the Law than simply a list of rules and regs. Not that the rules are unimportant; more important is what they represent, better, Who they represent. In being taught from the Book of the Law, they had come face to face with God – they were grieving, not because they had broken a whole host of rules, but because they had displeased their God. Half the day is spent, they have confessed their sins and received forgiveness, now it is time to “Stand up and bless the Lord your God”, to offer corporate praise in prayer to the one true God. (Sometimes we need to just list who God is and what he has done without going down all the theological rabbit trails – that’s what happened here in this public prayer.)
I. eternal v.5
“bless the LORD your God from everlasting [eternity past] to everlasting [eternity future]
God is “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15), the one who does not change (Mal. 3:6); what was true about his being and character in Nehemiah’s day is true today. Circumstances may be a little different but God isn’t and we can say “Amen” to this prayer also.
Ex. 40:35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. NET
2 Chron. 7:2 The priests were unable to enter the Lord’s temple because the Lord’s splendor filled the Lord’s temple. NET
man’s attempts to bless and praise the Sovereign Lord of the universe don’t even come close to what he deserves – we MUST bless and praise him and we MUST recognize our inability
B. glorious in His power
I. creator of the universe and everything in it v.6
spoke everything into existence by his powerful word, creatio ex nihilo, and all very good; displaying not only his power but also demonstrating the glory of his eternal wisdom, and goodness.
II. preserver of all that inhabits the universe
sustainer of life – in him we live and move and have our being Acts 17:28
III. the rightful object of worship by the angelic army
Isa. 6:1-4 esp. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”
I. leading and protecting His people v.7, 12
guided Abraham safely from his ancestral home to the land of Canaan; gave light and direction and protection to his people in the wilderness by his very presence in pillar of cloud and fire
II. feeding and sustaining His people v. 15, 20-21
water from a rock, manna and quail from heaven, all they had to do was gather; every material and physical need met in all sorts of circumstances, under all conditions
I. kept His word with seed of Abraham v.8
promised them a land, kept his promise and gave it to them; earthly token of heavenly inheritance – see Hebrews 11:10 “city with foundations whose builder and maker is God” – an inheritance still waiting for us, the spiritual seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:29)
II. keeps covenant and mercy v.32
lovingly faithful in keeping his promises to his people even when they respond wrongly; if the covenant is broken, not on God’s part – He always does the right thing, acts righteously regardless of peoples’ response
I. continued preservation in the wilderness v. 18–1 9
days before: plagues, Red Sea crossing, Pharaoh’s army destroyed; then a golden calf and lies about it to boot. Because of Moses’ intercession, God did not destroy them as he threatened.
II. deliverance after repentance v.28
repeatedly – the cycle found in Judges (Relapse, Retribution, Repentance, Rescue), yet God never tired of teaching his people their need for mercy
III. did not utterly consume or forsake them v.31
had just cause to do either, it was what they deserved; instead showed grace and mercy, not giving what was merited, giving instead what could never be earned
I. kingdoms v.22
a home, place where they could be secure and provide for families and future generations; another step in redemption history toward Bethlehem
II. children v.23
future of a culture rests with children, more than simple replacement; multiplied rapidly, especially in Egypt
III. possessions v.25
material resources necessary to prosper; all a measure of God’s great goodness to his people
I. established good laws v.13–14
didn’t leave them on their own to figure out how to relate to one another or how to relate to God; remember the first 2 commandments – Love God, love your neighbor
II. exercised discipline, not punishment v.29
God’s purpose – not to drive his people away but bring them back to his way of living
III. taught truth by inspiration of Holy Spirit v.20, 30
sent his prophets, eventually his Son, accompanied by Holy Spirit to teach truth, his expectations, how to please God
H. Summary – v.17
Declaring – You are God, the God who made a covenant with Moses and your people (Ex. 34:27), the God who showed his goodness to Moses (Ex. 33:19;34:6-7) proclaiming his name and declaring his character.
forgiving gracious merciful long-suffering kind faithful
not some generic undefined and undefinable god to whom anyone can pray, the one true Sovereign eternal creator God of the universe revealed in the Bible
Are we any different from God’s ancient people, the Jews? Of course not. We are just as sinful and rebellious as they, as much in need of God’s mercy and grace. Do you know this God? Has he forgiven you and graciously saved you from your sin? Is he moment by moment showing his patience and kindness to you? Have you been overwhelmed by God’s steadfast love? Are you at a loss for words, a proper way to respond to the Great God of the Universe who loves you in this way? Then start with these words and let the meditations of your heart take it from there:
Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul;
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole;
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.