George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”1 This familiar quote bears out the fact that those individuals and nations who refuse to learn from their past mistakes and/or the mistakes of others are bound to replicate the wreckage.
Even truer, Christians who ignore Israel’s history are bound to repeat her same mistakes. In the same way that God dealt with Israel, so He deals with His children today. You can be sure that wayward or rebellious Christians will at some point suffer consequences similar to that of Israel. And because God’s character is unchanging, His methods of discipline remain constant. What priceless wisdom there is for those who thoughtfully examine, understand, and apply the lessons from Israel’s history to their own lives.
In Nehemiah 8, the spiritual revitalization of the people commenced when the Word of God was brought to the forefront and read to the community. The result was conviction and contrition for sin. The day was holy to the Lord, consequently it was inappropriate for the people to weep and mourn over their sins. So the initial sense of sorrow for national as well as personal sins was put on hold for about three weeks. In the mean time, the Feast of Tabernacles was reinstituted and celebrated with great joy.
Now the time was right to bring the people back to that initial sense of conviction that they might confess their sins and rededicate themselves to the Lord. Thus we see that chapter nine is a prologue to the renewal of the covenant in chapter ten. By way of introduction, the Levites recount the greatness of God in the first few verses. Next they remember the goodness of God despite Israel’s checkered history. And finally they conclude with the grace of God.
As we begin our study, let’s keep in mind two things. First, the lessons we need to take to heart and apply to our lives from Israel’s history. And secondly, let us consider the gracious nature of God as we observe His love and care and amazing patience with His children.
DAY ONE and TWO: The Greatness of God: (9: 1-6)
A. The first six verses of chapter nine focus on the greatness of God. This is observed by the way in which the people made personal preparation to worship in holiness. From our previous lesson we learned that the people assembled on the first day of the seventh month (Tishri). A few days later the Feast of Tabernacles was reinstituted – not unlike an all-church campout! Two days later, on the 24th of the month, the people again assembled in public worship. However, the mood is completely different.
1. Read the first three verses. List the ways in which the people prepared themselves for the worship of God.
2. From those same verses write a brief description of the mood of the people.
B. One way to think about worship is that it ascribes “worth” to God. Tozer has said that “the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him…”2 It follows that one’s ability to think rightly about God or worthy thoughts, is determined by the understanding one has of the Word of God. A faulty knowledge will result in a faulty concept of God. “The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him…We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished the noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.”3
1. What place did the leaders give to the reading of God’s Word? In a twenty-four hour period, what priority do you give to the study of God’s Word?
2. Not only do we learn about God and gain a more accurate knowledge of His nature through reading His Word, but it is also foundational to a powerful prayer life. As we read a text it will often come alive as we “hear” God speaking through it to our hearts (Heb. 4:12). Using the text as the basis of our prayer, we find that we are in touch with the Father. This kind of prayer becomes powerful because it allows us to access the unlimited resources of God. In verses 4-5 we observe that the Levites began to lead the people in prayer in this way. Having read the Law for several days they begin by blessing and exalting the name of God. Read Philippians 2:5-11 several times. Take some time to worship God according to the ideas presented in the passage and the way in which they impact your heart. You may wish to record some of your thoughts in your journal.
3. In addition, the reading and praying of God’s Word should often lead to confession of sins as can be seen by the response of the people. The purpose of the Law was to show how far short of the mark of God’s perfection one had fallen. When the people realized their fault, they readily confessed not only their personal sins but those of their ancestors as well. It is always disturbing to realize that we are not as good or innocent as we had thought ourselves before the enlightenment of the Word. What assurance does I John 1:5-11 give in regard to owning up to one’s failure?
4. Another indication of the powerful impact of the Word in the lives of the people was the sacred separation of the ethnic Israelites from all foreigners. The nation of Israel was established by God as a unique people group through which He would preserve the revelation of Himself (See Lev.20:26). A parallel concept is found in the life of a new believer. Frequently a new Christian will find it necessary to separate from certain activities, people, and places in order to live his life devoted to Christ. How do you see this principle in II Corinthians 6:14-7:1; I Pet. 1:14; 2:9-10?
C. Another way in which the Levites alluded to the greatness of God was to remind the people that He alone was the creator of the universe. I never cease to be amazed that the God of the universe created me and knows me better than I know myself. And not just me but every single person ever created including you! Contemplating the greatness of God as creator is always meant to encourage us. He alone is our source of strength and peace.
1. Read Isaiah 40:12-31 and record the encouragements you find.
2. On the other hand, to love anything or anyone above the Creator is a most grievous sin. When God gave His Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the first commandment had to do with the evil of idolatry (Ex.20:2-6). How does the Apostle Paul speak of this sin in Romans 1:18-25?
D. The Greatness of God is also seen in the fact that He not only created all things but that He cares for and sustains His Creation (v.6c). God is aware of the most insignificant of His creatures and provides for them.
The following verses are just a few of the ways in which we can observe this truth. Read through the following and record in your journal those statements that speak to your heart and to your present need: Psalm 34:15-18; 145:13-16; 147:4,2-9; Mt.10:29-31.
DAY THREE and FOUR: The Goodness and Grace of God (9:7-31)
A. The prayer of the Levites in Nehemiah 9 is one of the most powerful expressions of God’s goodness to His chosen people. It recounts the history of national Israel with a focus on God’s saving acts and gracious provision despite Israel’s repeated failure.
Underline the word “give” throughout the psalm and note the provision God made for His people.
B. The example of Abraham (v.7-8): God chose Abram, an idol worshiper (Josh.24:2-3), and moved him from his pagan environment to the land of Canaan. God then made a covenant with him which included the promise of the land of Canaan; a son through whom the Messiah would descend; national, personal and worldwide blessings (See Gen. 12:1-3). However, the present experience of the nation was anything but blessed.
1. According to Gen. 26:5, what is the key to blessing (generally speaking)?
2. Throughout the Old Testament the requirement of obedience to God was the condition upon which blessings of the nation turned. Read the following texts that bear out this point: Ex. 19:5; Lev. 26:3-45; Deut. 7:9; 12-15; 11:26-28; 28:1-14. Try to formulate a principle of ten words or less that succinctly states the truth about obedience and blessing.
3. How do the Levites conclude this section on Abraham?
4. If we remember that God’s character is unchanging, how might we anticipate that he will deal with us?
C. The Levites continue their psalm by describing the next stage of God goodness to Israel (v.9-15).
1. In describing the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery, list the ways in which God acted with goodness towards Israel.
2. In order for Israel to once again experience the blessing that God in His goodness desires for them, they must return to the foundational laws, ordinances, and statues given by God. Read Proverbs 14:34 with this in mind.
3. Apply this principle to the deteriorating moral climate of America.
(See II Ch. 7:14)
4. Based on God’s past performance in the history of Israel, what hope could they have for the future?
D. In the next section of the psalm, the Levites mention the attitude of their forefathers in response to the goodness of God.
1. In verses 16-31, summarize the attitude and actions of the nation as described.
2. What is said about God’s conduct towards his people?
3. How do you think this reminder of their ancestor’s willful disregard for God’s faithfulness serve as a warning at the present time?
4. Read I Corinthians 10:1-13. How does this passage apply the lessons from Israel’s history to the Christina life? What correlation do you see between the vices that gripped Israel and those we face today? What promise of victory do we find in this passage? If you have not done so, take some time to commit it to memory.
E. The Levites conclude their psalm with an appeal to God for a return to covenant blessing (v.32-37).
1. Describe the material condition of the people.
2. As you read the concluding section of the psalm, do you think that the Levites are laying the blame for present situation on their forefathers? Why or why not?
3. Is there any hint of blame towards God? What do they say about Him?
4. How can we apply this to our own tendency to blame parents or God for our present circumstances and/or lack of blessing?
DAY FIVE: The Covenant that was signed (9:38-10:39)
A. As we have seen, the spirit of renewal that came upon the Jerusalem Jews began with a hunger for the Word of God. Celebrations ensued but soon confession of personal and national sins became the order of the day. The Levites recounted the history of Israel including their past failures. With this preparation in place the next step was to recommit the nation to the Lord by signing a covenant.
1. Who was the first to sign the covenant?
2. What principle of leadership is seen in this fact?
B. Those who signed the covenant made a commitment to “to walk in God’s Law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes:” (v.29)
In broad terms, how would they put this into practice in their daily lives? (v.30-39)
C. The covenant impacted the personal life of every Jewish person.
1. Concerning their personal lives, why was the issue of intermarriage a point of commitment?
2. Looking again at II Cor. 6:14-7:1 how does this principle bear on our commitment to Christ today in regards to marriage?
3. How does this precept impact the establishment of a godly home?
D. A large section of the newly established covenant deals with the support of the temple (v.32-39).
1. How did the covenant provide for the support of the temple and its services?
2. How can we apply the principle of support for the temple to the Lord’s work today?
3. According I Corinthians 6:19 and II Corinthians 6:16, where is the temple of God today? What further insight do you gain from the following: Eph. 2:19-22; 4:15-16; I Pet. 2:5?
4. From these passages it is evident that God still desires to be at the center of our lives even as the temple was the center of Israeli life. In what way can we apply some of the means by which the Israelites supported and maintained the temple to God’s temple today?
5. How does this unseen, internal reality give you hope today as you contemplate the privilege that is ours in Christ?
These lessons from Israel’s history have been written for our blessing and benefit. Recalling the events of chapters 8-10, we are reminded that when we choose to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we too will desire God’s best in our lives. Like the Jerusalem Jews, we too will hunger for the Word of God and desire to live by the precepts recorded there. Moreover, we will choose to take steps to live by the high moral standard of the Word for God’s glory and the blessing of our families. And like the people of this book, we will have a genuine concern for the work of God and those who lead.
1. George Santayan Reason In Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1 (www.wikipedia.org.)
2. A.W. Tozer The Knowledge of the Holy (San Francisco, CA.: Harper Collins, 1992), p.5
3. Ibid. p. 6
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