Lord's Day Evening Meditations August 17, 2003

Nehemiah 9: 16-38

The Story of Israel

In this prayer of the remnant we have seen them recount all that the Lord had done for them in verses 7 - 15. The story of the response of the people to the Lord's goodness begins in verse 16. "They and our fathers dealt proudly and refused to obey." That is the story of Israel; it is the same story all through the Old Testament; it is the story of man and the revelation of the human heart. Pride and disobedience go together. Obedience requires submission to a superior authority. Pride refuses to acknowledge a superior authority; man does not like to submit because he wants to run his own life and do things his way. Can we not see ourselves in this? Pride and disobedience are the two basic principles of man's rebellion and the source of all the trouble, sorrow, and suffering in the world.

Verse 17 tells how when Israel, in the wilderness, came to the borders of the promised land, they "appointed a captain to return to their bondage." The spies brought back an evil report of the land so that the people refused to enter, and so the Lord turned them back to wander another 38 years in the wilderness. But the wonderful thing is that He didn't forsake them; He turned back with them and went with them all the time and all the way. How the story of Israel shows the utter foolishness of our hearts and the goodness of the heart of God!

Verse 18 recounts the making of the golden calf. At Sinai the people had said, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." But even before Moses had brought the law down from the mountain they had broken the first commandment "and had wrought great provocations." What an insult that calf was to God! Well might He be angry with those people that He loved so well. We think so lightly of disobedience! Have we ever stopped to think of what disobedience does to the Lord? There is no heart so full of love as that of the Lord Jesus. This morning we sang, "Himself He could not save; love's stream too deeply flowed." A heart that is full of love is a tender heart, and a tender heart is a heart that is very easily hurt. Have we thought what our stubbornness and willfulness does to our Lord? He's not a stone; He's not a piece of steel! And yet we act towards Him as though He had no feelings at all! Many times Israel "wrought great provocations." May we take it to heart.

Yet, in spite of it all, during those forty years, God tenderly and faithfully cared for them. The pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire were always there to show the way; the manna and the water from the rock never failed. vs. 19 - 21. He went with them and finally brought them again to Canaan and gave them their promised inheritance. vs. 24 - 25. "So the children went in and possessed the land," and what a wonderful gift it was: "Houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in Thy great goodness." v. 25. Joshua had said to the people, "Not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you." Josh. 23:14. What more could He do for them? Surely they would be grateful for so many and so wonderful blessings!

"Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled and they wrought great provocations." v. 26. He loaded them with blessings, and this is the return He got from them! Can you believe it? This is something that has long troubled me - to see many of the Lord's beloved people today do the same thing. They receive greater blessings than Israel ever had, they enjoy those blessings, yet as much as turn their backs on Him and treat His will as something of no importance. Gratitude is not simply a matter of saying "Thank you." True gratitude will express itself in trying to please the One Who has given so generously. The Lord Jesus said, "If a man love Me, he will keep My words." John 14:23. The realization of how much His love has given will stir our hearts to love Him in return, and love to Him expresses itself in obedience to His will. It was so with the Lord Himself. "But that the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go hence." John 14:31. He showed to all how He loved His Father, by doing what His Father commanded Him - He went to the cross.

Well, Israel took all that the Lord gave them and turned their backs on Him, even to the point of killing the prophets who tried to turn them back. Which is more important, the gift or the Giver? Israel accepted the gift, but refused the One Who gave. In Isaiah 5 the Lord likens Israel to a vineyard. "What could have been done more," He said, "to My vineyard, that I have not done in it?" Is. 5:4. After all His work and care, all He got from that vineyard was wild grapes. Keep in mind, though, that while the nation as a whole was rebellious, there always were a few individuals who were faithful and obedient. God always preserved Himself a remnant, and He still does today. May we be exercised as to not grieving the heart of our loving Lord and Saviour.

Verses 27 and 28 are the story of the Book of Judges: disobedience, deep trouble, a cry for help, faithful deliverance, and then repeated disobedience, etc. all over again. The Lord sent prophets to them, but "they dealt proudly, and hearkened not." v. 29. Finally, after many years of mercy, they were given "into the hand of the people of the lands," (v. 30), they were given into captivity. "Nevertheless for Thy great mercies' sake Thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for Thou art a gracious and merciful God." v. 31. The story of Israel ends with verse 31. In spite of all that they had done, God had been gracious, He had "not utterly consumed them," (as we would have done) and there was still a little remnant that remained. Beginning at verse 32 this little remnant pleads with their God because they "are in great distress." v. 37.

Faith always justifies God, and it is remarkable to see this faith in this prayer. "Howbeit Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly." v. 33. They recognized that they were at fault and that God was right in all that He had done. How many times we complain because we don't like things the way they are, or we don't like something that happens to us. We plan something and it doesn't work out; our plans get changed, and we get upset and angry, and complain or blame this or that. If it happened, it is because God allowed it (no luck for a believer). We probably brought it on ourselves like Israel did, but if God allowed it, then it is His will, and "As for God, His way is perfect." God is always right, and if there is some conflict between His ways and mine, or between His will and mine, then He is right and I am wrong. Willfulness fights this and makes itself (and others) miserable, whereas faith accepts it and rests in peace, confidence, and quietness.

They had refused to serve the Lord in verses 34 - 35, so they were servants of foreign kings instead, who had dominion over them and all that they had. The end result was, "We are in great distress." Their distress, however, brought them to the right place; it brought them to cry to the Lord for help, and to confess all their sins and failures. It was a remarkable work of grace in the hearts of this remnant; they felt their condition, and they now had a very strong desire to make things right before the Lord. "And because of this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests seal unto it." v. 38. They made an agreement to keep all of God's law and be obedient to it in every way. What they desired to do was right, for it is always right to desire to do the will of God, but the way they went about it was wrong. Making promises is claiming to have strength that we don't have. However, their desire was right, and may this example stir us up to desire to be obedient to our Lord's will. S.L.