Standing On the Promises.
Nehemiah 1-2, Hebrews 6
Remember the word that you commanded your servant Moses, saying, “If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them, though your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there I will gather them and bring them to the place that I have chosen, to make my name dwell there.” – Nehemiah 1:8-9 ESV
Nehemiah was living in captivity in Susa, the winter capital of Artaxerses, the king of Persia. He was part of a group of Hebrews who were living in exile as a result of their sins against God. Nehemiah was an employee of the king, serving as his cup-bearer. He was well-acclimated to conditions in Persia, but still had a heart for his native Judah, When he received news of just how bad things were back home, he was devastated. The images of the broken down walls of Jerusalem and the burned gates were too much for him to bear. He recognized that his home town, the city of God, remained in a state of disrepair and the remnant who had returned under the direction of Ezra had failed in their efforts to rebuild. As a result, they remained easy prey for their enemies. But rather than allow this bad news to demoralize him, Nehemiah took action, and he began with prayer. He took the need before God. He confessed their sin, recognizing that the entire situation, including their exile and the broken down walls of Jerusalem, were the result of disobedience and God’s punishment. They had gotten what they deserved. But he appealed to God’s love and covenant faithfulness. He reminded God that He had promised to restore them to the land if they would return to Him and keep His commandments. Nehemiah puts his hope in the character of God. He knew that God was a promise-keeping god who never goes back on His word.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Nehemiah was very familiar with God. He refers to Him as the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Nehemiah 1:5 ESV). He knew that God heard the prayers of His people. In fact, he counted on it. He knew that God kept His promises, regardless of how things might look at the present time. He knew that God was powerful and had a track record of rescuing His people from their self-inflicted problems. He knew that any hope they had would be found in God alone. So he prayed.
The writer of Hebrews also knew a great deal about God. He recognized that, when God made His promise to Abraham, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you” (Hebrews 6:14 ESV), God had guaranteed that promise by swearing on Himself. In other words, God bound His word to His own character. The promise being referred to in this passage is the one God had made regarding Isaac. He had promised to bless Abraham through Isaac and make of him a great nation. But God had also asked Abraham to sacrifice this same son on an altar. And Abraham had been willing to obey because he trusted in the promise of God. He believed that God could still fulfill His promise even if Isaac had been killed. God could have restored Isaac to life. God’s promise was greater than Abraham’s predicament. Nehemiah believed the same thing. As bad as things appeared back in Jerusalem, God was greater. The problem was formidable, but God’s promises were more reliable and dependable.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The context in chapter six of Hebrews is the danger of believers “falling away” from the faith. The reality of the day was that there was real pressure on Jewish converts to Christianity. They were under constant pressure to reject their faith in Christ. These were real believers facing real persecution. And the possibility of them giving in to that pressure and persecution was just as real. There had already been those who had denied Christ or had turned to a compromised version of the truth. They were not in danger of losing their salvation, but of becoming incapable of repentance and restoration. The writer is addressing those who find themselves hardened by sin and living unrepentant lives. “Take care, brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12 ESV). He reminds his readers that they, like Abraham, must stand on the promises of God. God has promised them eternal life. He has promised to keep them and protect them through this lifetime, and fulfill His promise to give them a place in His eternal home. So the writer of Hebrews uses God’s promise to their own ancestors as a reminder to keep trusting, even when things are hard. “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18 ESV). The two unchangeable things are God’s promise and His oath. God has promised us future blessings. And He has sworn to keep that promise based on His own character. Rather than fall away, we need to stand on His promises. Rather than cave in to the pressures of this world, we need to stand firm on what we know of God and His unchanging character.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order or Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20 ESV). When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, He went where we could not go. But He did so as an assurance that He will one day return to take us to be with Him. His presence with the Father is a reminder that the promises of God are true and reliable. Just before His death, Jesus told His disciples, ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3 ESV). Where I am you may be also. That’s a promise. We can stand on it. We must place our hope and trust in it. In this life, we will face trials, troubles and tribulations of all kinds. But we must stand on the promises of God. We must stand firm on the character of God. Jesus Himself told us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).
Father, Your promises are totally reliable because they are based on Your character. You are a holy and wholly trustworthy God. You do not like You never go back on Your Word. You never fail to keep Your promises. Help me to focus on that fact. Don’t let me be overcome by the pressures of this world, but let me focus on the promises found in Your Word. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men