Nehemiah 9:1-31

Nehemiah 9:1-31

SERIES: Godly Leadership

The Importance of Learning from Our Past

Note:   This message was delivered on the final Sunday that First Free met at Westminster Christian Academy before moving to the new facility at Carman and Weidman.  

Introduction:  After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1985, I decided to attend the Summer Institute of Biblical Studies, sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ.  In order to attend I needed to raise my own financial support.  The Sunday I was to leave, I had $500 of the $1,500 I needed to attend.  Because of this, I decided to cancel my flight and refocus my attention on finding a job.  That Sunday afternoon, as I was looking at the brochures about the institute one last time, I realized that I could still register on Tuesday.  So there was still a chance that the Lord would provide the needed $1,000 on Monday.  

I decided to keep my bags packed one more day.  The next day, when I went to the mailbox, I was surprised by what I found.  A non-Christian man, whom the Lord had brought to mind two weeks earlier as I cut the grass, had sent me a check for $1,000.  On Tuesday, I wasn’t looking for a job, I was at the Institute for Biblical Studies.

I force myself to remember this event all the time, because it reminds me that God has been at work in my history.  And it gives me tremendous confidence that he will be continuing to work in my history in the future.  

Each one of us has a spiritual history, made up of events in our lives where God has left his fingerprints.  Personal histories that remind us without a doubt God was here!  As a community of believers, we have a spiritual history as well.  Events in the life of this church leave no doubt that God was here!  Look, his fingerprints are everywhere.

In the passage I just read, Israel is at a significant moment in their history.  The process of spiritual renewal began as they turned their attention to God’s Word.  But will the God of Israel’s past still want to be the God of their future?  They have recommitted themselves to the Lord, to obey him and serve him.  After a week of listening to God’s Word being read every day, they have gathered, not for celebration but for confession.  They have gathered in humility and brokenness before God.  They are wearing sackcloth and have placed dust on their heads.  

For three hours they listen to the Book of the Law and then for three more hours they confess their sins and worship God.  The Levites lead this praise gathering and worship God by remembering the past, when God demonstrated his glory in their history.  They recall the events in their history when God had left his fingerprints everywhere.  This recounting will give them the confidence that God has not broken his covenant with his people.  They receive assurance that their renewed commitment to God will not be rejected by him, because the God of their past has promised to be the God of their future.

As individuals and as a church, we are not sure what the future will hold, but we can know what God has done in our past.  We need to remember these events, rehearse them in our minds, pray them back to God as praise and worship, and tell one another about them.  In doing this, our confidence in the future will grow as we remember how God has demonstrated his glory in our history. 

We can be confident that God will be in our future by remembering 3 facets of God’s glory that he has demonstrated in the past.  

 Confidence results as we remember God’s character.  (9:7-15) 

The first facet of God’s glory is his character. We can have confidence that God will be working in our future by remembering His character as he revealed it in our history.  That is what the Israelites do in verses 5 through 15.  After recalling God’s exalted character found in nature, the Levites’ prayer turns to remembering how God chose Abraham.  God promised Abraham that he would raise up a nation for his descendants and that he would give his descendants land where they could exist as a nation.  The Levites remember how this had come to pass and at the end of verse they pray: 

You have kept your promise because you are righteous!  Righteousness means to fulfill the demands of a relationship.  Here it means that God held to his end of the bargain in His relationship with Abraham.  When God makes a promise, he fulfills all the requirements.  God does not make promises that he does not intend to keep.  

How has God showed his righteous character to you in your personal history?  Can you remember times when you have taken God’s promise and stood firm on it, waiting and then being overjoyed that he came through just as he said he would?  Remember that time, replay it over in your mind, and then tell someone else about it.  It will give you confidence that God will be working in your future.

The Levites continue their prayer by remembering God’s incredible power—power he demonstrated against pharaoh when he held the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, power he demonstrated when he sent plague after plague against pharaoh to get the attention of not only Egypt but Israel as well, power that he demonstrated when he parted the Red Sea, allowing his people to pass safely, and closing the sea on the pursuing Egyptians.  At the end of verse 10, the prayer summarizes all this power:

         You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day.  In modern language we would say, “You built a strong reputation for yourself.”  It’s a reputation we’re going to rely on.  He built a reputation that gave confidence to the Israelites to renew their commitment to follow and obey. 

How have you seen God demonstrate his incredible power?  Have you been the recipient or a witness to God’s incredible power?  If you have, remember that event, replay it in your mind, write it down.  Remembering those events will give you confidence that God will be working in your future.

As a church we’ve seen that power.  While at seminary for three years, Carol and I received the weekly worship folder in the mail.  In the middle of March, we received one that showed that Richard Schumacher spoke on “the witness stand” one Sunday.  I didn’t know what Richard said that day, but I knew what God was doing.  He was showing us his character through his incredible power.  He was making a name for himself, which remains to this day.   As a church we need to remember that event.  We need to replay it in our mind, because when we do it will give us confidence that God will still be working in our future.

The Levites continue in their prayer by remembering next how God was faithful to his people.  He demonstrated his faithfulness as he led their ancestors through the desert with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire.  He did so as he spoke to them at Mount Sinai, revealing his will for them as his people.  He did so by supplying their food from heaven and water from a rock.  And he did so by leading them into the land that had been promised to them. 

Many of you have found a saving relationship with Jesus Christ while attending this church.  You didn’t know anything about God, his will, or his desires for your life.  You were just searching for the truth, and God led you to a person who could show you the truth about Jesus.  Others of you were hungry and thirsty for a fresh Word from God.  You searched and searched, and God led you here.  You asked and God showed his faithfulness by leading you to ministries that have helped you grow up in Christ. 

Throughout these first verses, the people of Israel have been remembering God’s glory as shown through his character.  We need to do the same thing.  If we are to be confident about God working in our lives in the future, we need to remember when he has done so in the past.  I’d like to suggest that tonight or this week, you sit down and list the events where God has shown his righteousness, power or faithfulness to you.  Then spend some time at dinner sharing them with your children or your parents or your roommate.  As you face an unknown future, these events will give you strong confidence that God will work in your life when you get there. 

Confidence results as we remember God’s provision.  (9:16-25)

We will be confident, as well, about God being a part of our future as we remember God’s provision.  God’s provision is the second facet of God’s glory that the Levites remember. 

The Levites remember the provision God had made as they continue to recall their history.  We see this in verse 16 through 25.  They remember the contrast between their forefathers on one hand and God on the other.  Their forefathers (Num. 14:4) decided that they had enough of being in the desert with Aaron and Moses.

“Moses, it’s too hot.  Moses, it’s too cold.  We don’t like the dinner.  All we ever get is chicken and crackers.”  

In their grumbling, they decided they wanted a chance to call the shots.  Because they forgot the miracles God had performed, they suggested, “let’s appoint a third party candidate and return to slavery in Egypt.”   Despite their arrogant forgetfulness, God provided compassion by not withdrawing his gracious presence from his grumbling people.  Their prayer is offered in verse 17:

“You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.  Therefore you did not desert them. Therefore, you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt.’”

They not only scorned God’s leaders, but they even had the audacity to replace the living God with a brass trinket.  But God had compassion on his grumbling chosen ones, even though they deserved his wrath.  

But this compassion is not all the Levites remember of God’s provision.  The Levites remember that God not only didn’t desert them but in fact continued to guide and sustain his people.   They prayed in verse 20 and 21: 

“You gave your good spirit to instruct them.  You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years, you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.”

God had provided everything they needed for their journey from slavery to the promised land.  There wasn’t a day when there needs went unmet. 

It would have been enough if the provision ended there, but it didn’t!  In verses 22-25, the Levites remember God’s provision of abundant blessings when they entered the land.  God not only subdued the Canaanites who lived in the land but in verse 25 they recall that… 

“They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance.  They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in you great goodness.”

Have you seen the pictures of the Russian people looking at empty meat cases?  Imagine what their expression would be like if they went to Schnucks?  This is what kind of provision God was giving them as they entered the land. 

How has God provided in your life?  It would be exciting to open the floor and just hear testimony after testimony of God’s provision.  Remember those times when God has done so.  Replay them in your mind. Tell someone else about them.  Remembering God’s provision from the past will give us confidence in the future. 

As a church we have experienced God’s incredible provision.  Even though we have grumbled a time or two, God has consistently provided for our needs.  Last summer, when bids were taken on building our new ministry center, bids came in less than expected.  This unexpected provision allowed the building committee to add many things that were slated to be left undone.  On top of that, three years ago, when talk of building a ministry center began to really heat up, we were looking at interest rates of 13% for building loans.  For that rate we could have put it on our Master Card.  Even as recently as 18 months ago interest rates were at 11%.  We are going to close with a mortgage of 6%!  God’s provision will allow us to pay off our mortgage faster so that we can invest in people rather than in a bank building. 

As a church we need to remember this provision.  We need to replay it in our mind.  When we do, it will give us confidence that God will still be providing for us in the future. 

Confidence results as we remember God’s mercy.  (9:16-31)

As we look to the future, confidence will result as we remember God’s character.  Confidence will result as we remember God’s provision. But confidence in the future will also grow when we remember God’s mercy.  God’s mercy is the third facet of God’s glory that the Levites remember in their prayer. 

The Levites remember, first, how God had rescued his people even though they were disobedient. Verses 26 and 27 recount that even in the land of abundance, God’s people scorned God’s provision.  They became disobedient, they ignored the law of God.  The people were just not in a mood to follow God.  When God sent prophets to call his people to return, they said “we’re not going to listen.  And then they silenced the prophets, some of them permanently.  When God had enough of this, he handed them over to oppressors, which got the attention of the people.  So the people cried out to God, as we read at the end of verse 27:

“From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.”

God had mercy on his people by providing deliverers. But God’s mercy didn’t end there.  Old habits were hard to break as we see in verse 28.   As soon as things got back to normal, they did it again.  So again, God got their attention by giving them over to their enemies.  This produced the desired effect, a return back to Him, and in verse 28, the Levites remember that in their prayer:

“And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion, you delivered them time after time.”

Over and over again God would send rescuers for his people.  You would think that over time God’s people would get the message.  But they didn’t.  In verses 29-31, the prayer continues and recalls the last time when God’s people became stiff-necked and turned their backs on God.  This time they gave no attention to his Spirit urging them to return.  So, again God handed the people over to their enemies in order to get their attention.  We read at the end of verse 31,

“But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them for you are a gracious and merciful God.”

We see throughout this last section the stark contrast of a rebellious, arrogant, stiff-necked people on the one hand, and the gracious, merciful God on the other, consistently sending deliverers for his people.  Throughout, God did not forsake his people, he always heard their cry when they needed a savior.

As the people of Israel were taking steps of renewal, remembering God’s mercy would give them confidence in their future. As they would recommit themselves to obedience to God’s law, they knew God would have mercy on them again if they only asked. 

As we practice the spiritual discipline of remembering, remembering God’s mercy is the most critical.  It is with God’s mercy where remembrance must begin for a Christian.  If you are a Christian this morning, we share a common experience, a personal realization that we were once arrogant, stiffnecked, rebellious people.  Out of mercy God did not abandon us but instead offered us new life and a new start when we placed our trust in Jesus Christ.  The apostle Peter said this about God’s mercy:

“In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who though faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of salvation that is to be revealed in the last time.”

Often as I remember the glory that God has shown me by his character or his provision, my confidence about the future does not return until I once again remember when I placed my faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.  When I deserved to be abandoned, I received mercy.  One hymn writer called it Amazing Grace.  

Do you remember the time you received God’s mercy?  Remember that time, replay it over in your mind, tell someone else.  It will give you confidence that God will be working in your future.

Conclusion:  It is fitting that one of the two ordinances that are to be celebrated by the church is a celebration of remembrance, a simple celebration where we share the bread and cup as a remembrance of the mercy God lavished upon us through Jesus Christ.  As we celebrate at the Lord’s table, let us do what Jesus asked us to do, “Do this in memory of me.”

DATE: August 2, 1992


God’s character

God’s provision

God’s mercy