Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Dec 24 2019 - Nehemiah 9:1-18 – Praise and confession

After the celebration of Tabernacles, the people again met together in the presence of the Levites. But this time their gathering is not characterised by feasting but by fasting as they meet clothed in sackcloth and with dust on their heads. For a quarter of a day they again listened to God's word (v. 3). The Scriptures reminded them of their own failings and led into confession. This was then followed by an extraordinary rehearsal of their history (vv. 5-37).

It begins with a call by the Levites to, "Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting" (v. 5). The people are then reminded of all their God has done for them as a prompt to praise him for his goodness. He is 'from everlasting to everlasting'. That is to say that he is unchangeable in faithfulness and in his saving purposes. The rehearsal of their history praises God for his faithfulness, but also forms part of the confession of his people, remembering how they and their forefathers have failed to love and obey the Lord their God. The interweaving of these two themes expresses lessons painfully learnt during the exile.

The story begins with praise of God who is glorious and deserving of all honour and praise: "Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise" (v. 5). All that follows is an expression of praise to God, blessing his glorious name.

Their God is the living God who created all things (v.6). He is an incomparable God; there is no other like him. He is not like the gods of the other peoples around them from whom they separated themselves this day. He is the one who creates, who acts, who does things and who is without limitation. He is the one who gives life and without whom there is no life.

He is the one who called Abram and made promises to him, entering into covenant with him (vv. 7-8). It is this word to Abram that has shaped the life of this people, his descendants; their life and being have their origin in God's word of promise.

He is the one who rescued Israel from Egypt out of compassion for his people and for the glory of his own name (vv. 9-15). He is the one who divided the Red Sea before them, rescuing them from their oppressors by mighty acts of power. He is the one who led them by means of the pillar of cloud and of fire. He led them to Sinai where he gave them his law to shape their life as the community of his people that they might reflect the holy character of their God. He is the one who provided them with bread and with water in the wilderness.

Yet they rebelled against him (vv. 16-18). They refused to listen to his word and did not remember all that he had done for them. They even wanted to return to Egypt! They even made for themselves an idol, a golden calf to bow down to and worship!

And, we might add, in the fullness of time, God sent his own Son, born under law. Here at last is a Son who was perfectly faithful to God, one in whom he is well pleased. He is the true and faithful Israel of God – God's faithful Son. And it is at the cross that the faithfulness of God and the rebellion of his people confront each other for the last time. Here is the supreme act of Israel's rebellion – handing the Messiah over to death. Here is the supreme act of God's faithfulness, for it is here, through the shed blood of God's Son, that a new covenant is forged – a covenant that can never be broken or fail because it rests on the perfect faithfulness of this Son.

How do we tell our own history in the light of this great story?

Father God, we thank you that you are both faithful and gracious. We thank you that you have not given up on the world you have made despite its rebellion against you. You so loved this world that you sent your Son to live among us and to die for us. We thank you for the life we have in him. Help us, as followers of the Lord Jesus, to live lives of faithfulness and praise – lives that bring glory to your name. Help us also to tell others our story – the story of your amazing grace.

Peter Misselbrook