Friday, August 9, 2013

Admitting Shortcomings

Scriptural Reading: Nehemiah 9:2, 6-7, 9-10, 30-36
Devotional Reading: Luke 15:1-10

After service a member of my class overheard an analytical, but fussy remark I made before we left church. She remarked, “Not the teacher”! I smiled and thanked her. That is when I realized I was being judgmental and admitted my own shortcoming. It reminded me of when I was working for a certain employer who went to church regularly, but he did not believe in Christ. I did not know how to witness to him verbally at the time, but he knew I attended a Bible Institute. So he watched my life and how I intermingled with the fellow employees for years. The problem began when he desired that I explain the Pauline Epistles class to him. I had also just taken a class on Cults and Isms. However, I still did not know how to explain God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in depth to my employer who I saw as a mentor. He continued to monitor my actions with coworkers. Once I acted out of character and he called me into his office and stated, “You are supposed to be a Christian”! I explained my actions; I had done nothing more or less than the other coworkers. “But they look up to you”! So I admitted my shortcomings and watched my steps, remembering I actually work for the Lord. It is hard not to run with the crowd. But the crowd is not going to save you (Matt 7:13-14). Confess your shortcomings to God! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. (1 Jn 1:9 NKJV)

This quarter of study is entitled “God’s People Worship”. We are in Unit III – “Worshipping in Jerusalem Again (Nehemiah)” of the three units of the quarter. This is the second lesson of a four-lesson study of worship in Jerusalem after remnants of Israel returned home from exile in Babylon.

Nehemiah was the third great leader in the Jewish restoration having followed Zerubbabel and Ezra who were responsible for returning exiles and building and/or maintaining the Temple. He did not immediately return with the exiles due to his position as the king’s cupbearer, but he had a love for the home of his forefathers. His relative, Hanani, and others told him of the condition of the wall of Jerusalem. He was grief-stricken for the condition and security of his people (Neh 1-2). But God gave him the answer as to the walls of the city and the wisdom to cure the problem. King Artaxerxes sensed Nehemiah’s sorrow. This allowed Nehemiah to explain the reason and the king gave him what he requested; i.e. timber and letters for safe passage. The king also made him governor of Judah and sent soldiers to accompany and assist him while he supervised the people as they worked on the wall. After many obstructive attempts by the enemies, the wall was completed in fifty-five days (Neh 6:15).

“The entrance of Your words give light; It gives understanding to the simple”. (Ps 119:130 NKJV) The people gathered on the first day of the seventh month after the walls were built to listen to Ezra, the scribe, read the Word of God from morning to midday. Then he, the priests, and the Levites analyzed it to give the people understanding. It was a day of great rejoicing for it was a holy day, a sacred holiday, the Feast of Trumpets. They worshiped God in sincerity because they understood the Word (Neh 8:1-12).

On the second day of the seventh month Ezra conducted a Bible study with the leaders, priests, and the Levites. They discovered an ordinance commanded by God that the children of Israel keep in remembrance of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt throughout the generations by dwelling in .booths for seven days and assembling on the eighth day for Sabbath rest (Lev 23:23-43; Deut 16:13-15). As it was the second of the month and the festival was not due to begin by Law until the fifteenth, they left their Bible study determined to spread the Word to the Israelites in Jerusalem and the nearby cities for the Festival of Booths activities. The people prepared their makeshift housing with branches from trees found on the mountain. The idea was to erect a booth with branches of leafy trees wherever they could find in order to timely observe the Festival of Booths. They were having a solemn revival unto the Lord. The Feast lasted from the fifteenth of the month of Tishri until the twenty-second (Neh 8:13-18).

The hearts of the people were convicted. The people had received the Word of God on the first day of the seventh month. As they heard and understood the Word of God during the weeklong Feast of Booths from the fifteenth until the twenty-second, they had time to meditate while sitting in their booths. The people reassembled on the twenty-fourth day for the purpose of confessing their sins. The twenty-third day may have been a day for rest; it is not mentioned in the Scriptures. It is written in Neh 9:1-2, “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads. Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers”. (NKJV) Because all the people assembled dressed in sackcloth with dust on their heads, they had the appearance of repentance unto the Lord. They were similar to Job when he admitted his shortcomings before God and repented as it is written in Job 42:1, 6, “I know that you can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You…Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. (NKJV) In our lesson text the people also held a public fast, probably proclaimed by the governor, Nehemiah, and approved by the chief fathers to be accompanied by a liturgical (public) prayer. To further show their sincerity, those Israelites who had taken foreign wives and had children separated themselves from them. They confessed they had done this as a sin to God just as their fathers had in the past. Ezra had caused a separation and confession to be done before God once before (Ez 10:3), but obviously more violators or repeat offenders of God’s Law had been located.

They fasted and confessed their sins unto God by spending one-fourth of their day standing, reading, and analyzing the Word of God while the other fourth of the day was spent on confessing sin, praying, and worshiping God (Neh 9:3). God received the glory for twelve hours that day. Today we sometimes have a problem going to prayer meetings because they may last longer than one hour. The Levites positioned themselves (Neh 9:4-5) before God and the people to bless the Lord in a liturgical (public) prayer (Neh 9:6-38). The prayer outlines the books of the Bible from Genesis to 2 Chronicles in how they believe God viewed their historical events.

The Jews blessed God for He alone created the Heavens and Earth as prayed in Neh 9:6 “You alone are Lord; You have made heaven, The heaven of heavens, with all their host, The earth and everything on it, The seas and all that is in them, and you preserve them all. The host of heaven worships You”. (NKJV) They acknowledged that God alone was the reason for all life forms in the Heavens and Earths as well. Their idol worship had been sinful. As the apostle Paul taught at Eph 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”. (NKJV)

As the people continued to pray publicly they recognized the call of their father Abraham by God and the covenant promise (Gen 15) given to him and his seed by God. In their prayer they acknowledged the utmost characteristic of father Abraham was his faith. They prayed in Neh 9:7-8, “You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram, and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and gave him the name Abraham; You found his heart faithful before You, and made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites – to give it to his descendants. You have performed Your words, For You are righteous”. (NKJV)

The Israelites acknowledged some of God’s favor on their behalf. He had continued to keep His Word. He had been there for them when they needed to be delivered from Egypt (Ex 12), just as He was there when they needed to be delivered from Babylon (Ez 2; 7:11-26). They continued to pray in Neh 9:9-12, “You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry by the Red Sea. You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his servants, and against all the people of his land. For You knew that they acted proudly against them. So You made a name for Yourself, as it is this day. And You divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors You threw into the deep, as a stone into the mighty waters. Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar, and by night with a pillar of fire, to give them light on the road which they should travel”. (NKJV) God did not need to be reminded of His existence, His authority, His power. He did not need to be told that He had made a name for Himself. God is the great I Am! These were visible miracles needed for them to prove God was their all-powerful deliverer.

The repentant children of Israel continued to pray biblically from Exodus through Judges and 1 Sam, acknowledging God’s power, grace and mercy and admitting their sins (Neh 9:13-29). The children of Israel admitted their wrongdoings and appealed for God to forgive them despite their past sins and those of their fathers in Neh 9:30-37 (1 Sam and 2 Chron). They were so convicted they decided to make a covenant unto God (Neh 9:38; 10).

No matter how faithful God had been to them, their ancestors had sinned and they had done no better in learning from the mistakes of the past. For many years the Lord had sent judges and then prophets, but the Israelites had refused to hear and obey. The repentant remnant continued to pray publicly at Neh 9:30-31, “Yet for many years You had patience with them, and testified against them by Your Spirit in Your prophets. Yet they would not listen; therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful”. (NKJV) Although God had patience with His children by sending messengers with His Word, He soon found it necessary to chastise them. He allowed them to be taken into captivity into the hand of the peoples of the lands. However, in His great mercy He did not allow His children to fall away into total extinction during their captivity (slavery). God is full of grace and mercy. He promised them (just as He promises us today) that “I will not leave you nor forsake you”. (Joshua 1:5b NKJV)

The remnant continued to praise God for His awesome faithfulness and confessing their wickedness as they prayed publicly at Neh 9:32-35, “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and awesome God, who keeps covenant and mercy: Do not let all the trouble seem small before You that has come upon us, our kings and our princes, our priests and our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria until this day. However, You are just in all that has befallen us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have done wickedly. Neither our kings nor our princes, our priests nor our fathers, have kept Your law, nor heeded Your commandments and Your testimonies, with which You testified against them. For they have not served You in their kingdom, or in the many good things that You gave them, or in the large and rich land which You set before them; nor did they turn from their wicked works.”. (NKJV) As they lay their burden at His feet, they pleaded that God not see their plight as too small that has come upon them from the days of their problems with the kings of Assyria, who carried the ten tribes captive, until the date of their prayer. They knew their culture of disobedience had begun with their forefathers, but they had not done anything positive to break the wickedness. Other than the true prophets, no one had truly served God to acknowledge it was He who blessed them to be in the Promised Land. There had been more evil leaders than leaders of God. When Solomon dedicated the first Temple he prayed and God answered at 2 Chron 7:14, 19-20, “…if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land…But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods, and worship them, then I will uproot them from My land which I have given them; and this house which I have sanctified for My name I will cast out of My sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples”. (NKJV) God does not play. He warned them (and us) many times. There was a consequence to be suffered for their sinful actions.

The disobedient children were made to serve in a strange land as God had warned (Deut 28:47-48) and the remnant of those who returned prayed at Neh 9:36-37, “Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, to eat its fruit and its bounty, here we are, servants in it! And it yields much increase to the kings You have set over us, because of our sins; also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle at their pleasure; and we are in great distress”. (NKJV) It seems as if they are letting God know they learned a lesson. God had promised their ancestors a land full of milk and honey. He only asked they keep His commandments in worshiping Him. They could not keep their end of the bargain after God brought them into the Promised Land. They did not conquer all of the land God had promised to give them and allowed the neighboring countries, their ways, and women to intermingle with those of the Jewish people. This was to God’s displeasure. Now they had returned to the capital city of their Promised Land after having served a period of servitude due to sin against God. However, the consequence for being released was they were still subject to the Persian kings at their pleasure. All of the bounty, the profits and taxes seemed to go to the kings, and the people were in great distress. For this reason they had pleaded that God not look upon this as a small matter.

In closing their prayer they publicly prayed a vow to take action to follow God at Neh 9:38, “And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it”. (NKJV) Chapter 10 of Nehemiah outlines the covenant made by the people, indicating it was sealed by Nehemiah, the governor, the priests, the Levites, and the leaders of the people.

This lesson deals with people whose hearts were pricked, they were ready to repent of their sins, and they made a 180 degree turn toward God. What about those who are unrepentant? Jesus told a parable at Luke 18:10-14 stating, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men – extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I possess’. And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NKJV) Do you have shortcomings to admit before God? Will you be unrepentant like the Pharisee or humble and repentant like the tax collector?

God bless!

Written by Deborah C Davis

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