Our Gracious and Merciful God.
Nehemiah 9-10, Hebrews 10
Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. – Nehemiah 9:31 ESV
Chapter nine of Nehemiah contains one of the most profound prayers found in the entire Bible. It spans almost the entire chapter and it contains a tremendous understanding of the character of God and the sinfulness of mankind. In this prayer, we have an overview of the relationship between God and His people since the day He chose Abram. It provides a glimpse into the character of God and the nature of man. It juxtaposes God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. It contrasts God’s mercy and grace and man’s unfaithfulness and rebellion. For generations, God had shown His undeserved faithfulness to His people. He had rescued, led, fed, guided, provided, spoken, and even appeared to them. And yet they had repeatedly rejected, disobeyed, and forsaken Him. But this prayer expresses a remarkable awareness of just who God really is. “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them” (Nehemiah 9:17b ESV). Even after their ancestors had made the golden calf and attributed to it the glory due to God alone, God had remained faithful – “…you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness” (Nehemiah 9:19 ESV). God continued to keep His covenant promise made to Abraham. “You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven” (Nehemiah 9:23 ESV). “And they captured fortified cities and rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards, and fruit trees in abundance” (Nehemiah 9:25 ESV). God had given them the land – not because they deserved it, but because He had promised it. And yet, they continued to live in unfaithfulness and disobedience. Their history is one in which the cycles of sin, rebellion, God’s punishment and ultimate deliverance can be seen over and over again. Through it all, God had remained faithful. “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Nehemiah 9:31 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about God?
This prayer reflects an understanding that God was righteous and just, merciful and gracious. It contains a clear admission of guilt and a remarkable awareness of God’s holiness and righteousness in His dealings with the people of Israel. “Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly” (Nehemiah 9:33 ESV). The people of Nehemiah’s day knew full well that their current situation was due to their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They were living back in the land, and while they had completed the restoration of the Temple and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, they were still surrounded by enemies. They were still weak and powerless, without a king or a standing army. They were also guilty of having disobeyed God’s laws and neglected His commands to keep the Sabbath and His yearly festivals. God was entirely free from any wrong doing in His dealings with the people of Israel and Judah. Any pain and suffering they may have experienced, while brought upon them by God, was due to their own sin. God was simply keeping His word and visiting upon them the curses He had promised should they disobey His commands. The most incredible aspect of this prayer is its portrait of God’s faithfulness, holiness, righteousness and love. He is rightfully referred to as “our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love” (Nehemiah 9:32 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
God had been loving, faithful, gracious, and merciful – over and over again. And yet, the people had proven themselves incapable of remaining faithful to Him. Their sin and rebellion in the face of God’s mercy and grace should not surprise or shock us, because it is the story of our own lives. Even those of us who have received the incredible gift of God’s grace made available through the death of His own Son, find ourselves wrestling with the daily task of trying to stay faithful and true. We battle with the desire to rebel and do things our own way. We forget His mercies and neglect His calls to obedience and faithfulness. And in some ways, our guilt is even greater than that of the Israelites, because what we have received from God is even greater than what they had experienced. We have been offered complete forgiveness of sins – once for all. No more need for repetitive, ongoing sacrifices. We aren’t obligated to try and keep the law in order to remain in a right standing with God. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). There was a certain sense of hopelessness attached to the sacrificial system. It was always intended to be impartial and incomplete. “But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. That is why, when Christ came into the world” (Hebrews 10:3-5 NLT). Jesus Christ is the ultimate and final expression of God’s marvelous grace. He came to do the will of His Father and to accomplish what the sacrificial system could only allude to, but never truly provide. “For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time” (Hebrews 10:10 NLT). While the priests had to offer repeatedly the same sacrifices for sin, Jesus offered “for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV).
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
As a result of Jesus Christ has done, there is no longer any offering required for our sins. God has promised to remember our sins and our lawless deeds no more. He has provided us with complete forgiveness for our sins – past, present and future. We stand before Him as righteous because He views us through the blood of His Son. As a result, we can “go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 NLT). That incredible reality should dramatically change the way we live. It should motivate us to live differently and distinctively, with an understanding that our behavior does not earn us favor with God, but simply reflects our love and appreciation for all He has done for us. “So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36 NLT). Our final reward is yet to come. This life is not all there is. God has promised us something far greater than what we can experience in this world. We are to keep our sights set on the hope to come. Eternity is our destiny. Heaven is our home. “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT).
Father, You are so incredibly faithful, loving, kind, merciful and gracious. You have done for me what I could have never done for myself. You have provided complete forgiveness for my sins and have promised me an eternity in Your presence, free from guilt or any form of condemnation. Help me to realize the magnitude of what I have received. Give me the strength to live with my eyes focused on the promise yet to come, instead of living in the fear of the present. I want to hold tightly without waving to the hope we affirm. May my actions be always based on Your character and faithfulness. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men