I am preparing a lesson plan for our Connect Groups at Southern Calvert Baptist Church for this coming Sunday. We are going to focus in on Nehemiah 9. This chapter really highlights the contrast between the nature of God and the nature of mankind. God is so different from His creation. The difference was not as vast until sin entered the world and mankind began to suffer from the reality of having a sin nature. This passage shares good news, bad news, and a practical solution for every single human being on the planet. Let’s dive in to this passage and discover what the Lord has to teach us about our need to be involved in a local church on a regular basis!
I. God’s Character
Nehemiah introduces us to God in this chapter via two names. These names describe the character of God.
Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! (Nehemiah 9:5)
The name that is translated into English as “Lord” is “Jehovah“. The root word of for the Hebrew word “Jehovah” is the verb “hava”, which means “to be, to become, to exist”. Used as a descriptive noun, Jehovah literally means, “the one who has existence in himself”. This implies that God has all that He needs in Himself. He does not rely on any outside sources for existence. For example, we rely on many outside sources to exist. We need oxygen to be able to breathe. We have to consume energy in the form of calories to exist. We rely on time and space. We depend on sunlight etc. God does not need any of those things to exist. In fact, He created all of them and He existed before they were created. When we encounter God as Jehovah, we must remember that He does not need us and any interaction that He has with us is for our benefit, not His. The name that is translated into English as “God” is “Elohim“. The Name “Elohim” means “the All Powerful, Creator God“. God is our Creator. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what is best for us. When He interacts with us and gives specific commands to us, it is always for our own good.
6 “You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.
7 “You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham.
8 “You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite – To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise, For You are righteous. (Nehemiah 9)
In verse 7, we discover that God is a personal God. He is All Powerful and at the same time, He wants to connect with individual humans on this earth. He is also a Promise Keeper. When He says that He will do something, He always does it. When He says that He will not do something, He never does it. God always keeps His Word. The final character trait that we discover in verse 8 is that He is righteous. The root word is the key to understanding this characteristic of God’s nature. He is correct. He is right. He is straight. Righteous is the opposite of the word sin. Sin means to be crooked. Righteous means to be straightened out. God has always been righteous and He will always be righteous.
“They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them. (Nehemiah 9:17)
According to verse 17, God’s nature is to forgive. The thing about forgiveness is, it is not dependent upon the actions of the object of forgiveness. God forgives, not because we deserve it but, because that is who He is. God is also gracious. He gives people what we do not deserve. In context, that would be forgiveness. We do not deserve forgiveness yet He extends it to us. God is also compassionate. The word compassion comes to English via French. Its roots are found in Latin. This Latin word was comprised of two other Latin words, “com” which means “with” and “pati” which means “to suffer“. The word compassion literally means “to suffer with someone else“. God has compassion on His creation. He sees our difficult circumstances, and He identifies with us. He feels the pain along with us. Compassion is not simply a feeling. It is a feeling that leads to action. God is able to take action to assist His creation through difficult circumstances. God is also slow to anger. As people, we can easily cause others to get angry. We call it “pushing another person’s buttons“. We all have buttons and we push each other’s easily. We also allow our buttons to be pushed easily. God is not like we are. He does not allow His creation to push His buttons. When we do push His buttons, He is slow to boil over in anger. That is why God continues to give chance after chance to His creation. God also abounds in lovingkindness. The word “lovingkindness” means that the Lord, the One who needs nothing, places Himself at the disposal of His creation. He makes Himself available to His creation, to serve His creation for their own good.
“Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. (Nehemiah 9:32)
God is described in verse 32, as great. Not only is He great, He is also mighty. Finally, He is awesome. Do you know God this way, according to all of His characteristics? Did you know that God cares so much about you, that He wants to have a personal relationship with you? Have you experienced His forgiveness, grace, compassion, and lovingkindness?
II. Man’s Character
Now we are going to turn to the nature and character of man. It is in direct contrast to the nature of God.
16 “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments.
17 “They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them.
18 “Even when they made for themselves A calf of molten metal And said, ‘This is your God Who brought you up from Egypt,’ And committed great blasphemies, (Nehemiah 9)
By nature, mankind is arrogant. The word arrogant means, “to defy” or “to give oneself undue importance“. It is a word of Latin origins. It literally means “to ask oneself“. Instead of seeking advice from others, arrogant people seek advice from themselves. By nature, mankind is stubborn. Arrogant people are stubborn people. They are hard to change. They do not often admit that they are wrong when they clearly are wrong. Naturally, mankind does not want to live in obedience to the laws of God. Mankind does not like to live by any laws because of arrogance and stubbornness. In verse 17, mankind is naturally forgetful of the good that others do for them.
“But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, And cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets who had admonished them So that they might return to You, And they committed great blasphemies. (Nehemiah 9:26)
At heart, mankind is rebellious. To be rebellious means to wage war against. Mankind wages war against God’s lordship as well as wages war against all authority figures. When an authority figure is sent on behalf of the Lord to share His laws with rebellious people, they attack those authority figures. Mankind’s sin nature rebels against all authority, naturally. The natural way of man is to despise or look down on his Creator. When people disobey the Word of God, that is the same as despising God.
And admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, By which if a man observes them he shall live. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen. (Nehemiah 9:29)
The Lord sent prophets to confront the people but, by then, they had hardened their hearts so much that they did not pay attention to God’s warnings anymore. They had stubborn shoulders and stiff necks. We have a word for this that we use in the modern church. It’s called back sliding. It’s a word picture that anyone who has ever worked with cattle would immediately understand. When trying to get cattle to move into a cattle pen, a stubborn bull will pull back on the rope to keep from being led. The bull slides back and is almost immovable. That’s what back sliding means. This is what mankind’s stubborn sin nature is like. Verse 29 ends with the declaration that, “they would not listen“. Another way of saying that is, “they would not obey the Word of the Lord“.
My friend, this section places our sin nature on full display. Can you identify with the description of your sin nature in this section? What’s the solution to this problem? Are we doomed to be controlled by our sin nature or is there a chance to break free?
III. Practical Application
One of my favorite things about the Bible is the fact that when the Lord points out a problem, He always gives the solution in the same text. The Bible is the most practical book on the planet! In fact, before revealing the problem in the passage, the Lord first offers the solution.
1 Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them.
2 The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.
3 While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God.
4 Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God.
5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! (Nehemiah 9)
The first piece of practical advice from the Lord is to admit the problem, or in other words, our need for help in our current state. Fasting is an admission of the problem and an attempt to turn to the Lord for help. Have you come to terms with the problem that your sin nature poses? Have you turned to the Lord to seek help and a solution? This is where it all begins. It’s a picture of what Jesus calls, in the sermon on the mount, being, “poor in spirit“. Do you realize that you are spiritually bankrupt before the Lord and that you have nothing to offer the Lord and only to receive His help? The second piece of advice is connected to the first. Confession of sin literally means that you agree with God that you need help and that He is the only one who can help you. You place yourself at His mercy. The New Testament calls this “repentance” and “faith“. Have you come to this conclusion in your life? Have you confessed the fact that you are powerless to overcome your sin nature and trusted the Lord to provide the solution? The third piece of advice is to read the Word of the Lord with the intention of obeying what He says. As the people fast, confess their sins, and read the Word of the Lord, corporate worship begins to take place. This is a beautiful picture of what happens in the local church. You need the local church. You need to take part in the activities of a local church. You will be challenged and encouraged to cry out to the Lord and receive what He has to offer. You will be challenged to read and obey the Word of the Lord. You will be motivated to join others in corporate worship. All of this takes place on a regular basis in the local church. As the Lord intervenes and offers solutions to you in your battle with your sin nature, your response will be to praise the Lord. The first section of this article teaches the character of God so that we will be challenged to surrender to Him. The second section of this article reveals your need for God’s intervention. Now, the third section is where the rubber meets the road. Are you going to trust Him so that you can experience freedom from the power of your sin nature? The ball is in our court, how are we going to respond? Are you a member of a local church? Are you active in that local church? God has laid out the need and the solution, what are you going to do with this information?