The Expository Files


God’s Work Acknowledged – Man’s Sin Confessed

Nehemiah 9:6-31

The Background
Nehemiah has led the people of Israel back to their homeland after their exile and he has directed them in one of the most incredible building projects in history. The gates were secured and the walls put back in place with such impressive speed, the surrounding nations and enemies “were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of” their God (Neh. 6:16). A transition of government was enacted (Neh. 7:1-4), and a list (census with emphasis on genealogy) was reviewed and registered (Neh. 7:5-64). Soon after the resettlement, an assembly was called for one purpose: to read God’s law and put His statues back in place in their individual and collective lives (Neh. 8). Then it was time for…

The Confession
The people assembled in customary apparel for grieving. They “stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of their Lord their God for a quarter of the day; for another quarter of it they made confession and worshiped the Lord their God,” (9:1-3). Genuine confession of sin always comes from a heart that respects God and wants to honor Him. So as their confession of sin commenced, there is this poignant statement of God, supremely identified by His work:

Neh. 9:6-15
"You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.

You are the LORD, the 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 with him the covenant to give to his offspring the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite. And you have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

"And you saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea,

and performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted arrogantly against our fathers. And you made a name for yourself, as it is to this day.

And you divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on dry land, and you cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into mighty waters.

By a pillar of cloud you led them in the day, and by a pillar of fire in the night to light for them the way in which they should go.

You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven and gave them right rules and true laws, good statutes and commandments,

and you made known to them your holy Sabbath and commanded them commandments and statutes and a law by Moses your servant.

You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and you told them to go in to possess the land that you had sworn to give them."

As the people addressed their confession of sin to God, they expressed His praise in terms of His perfect work of creation, preservation and construction (Neh. 9:6-15).

God’s Work of Creation: “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them…” This was their confidence in the basic truth that we did not create ourselves, nor did we just appear or evolve. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host,” (Psa. 33:6), and so “let all the earth fear the Lord,” (Psa. 33:8).

God’s Work of Preservation: “…and you preserve all of them.” The perfect power of the Creator is witnessed not just in His initial act of creating, but also His continual act of sustaining what He made. The Creator sustains us moment by moment and keeps the universe running. The orderliness of the present universe is not an accident. And this truth manifest God’s goodness just as His creative work.

God’s Work of Construction: He called Abraham, choose his offspring and constructed a nation for His purposes, that would find fulfillment long after the nation’s existence! God had a plan, formed in His perfect mind before creation. He created everything, called Abraham and constructed a nation through which His plan would be carried out.

Given this wonderful work of Almighty God, the response is appalling!

Neh 9:16-33

"But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments.

They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, 'This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,' and had committed great blasphemies,

you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud to lead them in the way did not depart from them by day, nor the pillar of fire by night to light for them the way by which they should go.

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst.

Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.

"And you gave them kingdoms and peoples and allotted to them every corner. So they took possession of the land of Sihon king of Heshbon and the land of Og king of Bashan.

You multiplied their children as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land that you had told their fathers to enter and possess.

So the descendants went in and possessed the land, and you subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they would.

And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.

"Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.

Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.

But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies.

And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey.

Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

"Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day.

Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly."

God created, sustained, constructed, chose, gave, performed, led, came down, delivered, did not forsake them, warned them, fed them, multiplied them, defeated their enemies . . . on and on the story goes of His goodness. “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against Him (26),” showing Himself to be “a gracious and merciful God,” (31). And thus their confession of sin was justified. (See also Psalm 78 and Ezra 9).

We Learn?
The apostle Paul nailed this down in Romans 2:4. “Or, do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the godness of God leads you to repentance?” It is our deeply held belief in God’s goodness that makes our sin hurt so much. To whatever extent we appreciate God’s goodness, to that extent our sin leads to shame and confession (see Ezra 9:6). The reason for all genuine repentance and confession is, the personal, all-powerful, perfectly good God who loves us. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” and so He sent His Son that we might have a good life and an even better eternity.

If you want a explicit and honest view of the guilt of your sin . . . if you desire greater discipline to prevent sin . . . If you seek to help others see sin and come out of it – Spend more time getting acquainted with God and mediate more on His goodness and mercy. Pray for wisdom and strength and let not one sin go without full confession and repentance. The goodness of God, well considered, is the key here.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 16.11; November 2009