Thursday, 19 June 2014

(171) June 20: Nehemiah 9-10 & Acts 4:1-22

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read note the attributes of God that are particularly displayed in Israel’s history.

To ponder:
The people’s repentance persisted for some time. On the twenty-fourth day they gathered, reading the law for a quarter of the day and confessing and mourning their sin for a quarter too. They also acknowledged that of their fathers, affirming their sense of solidarity with Israel’s past history. The note about “separating” themselves from foreigners is a key theme in the book. It may not have entailed separation from God-fearing Gentiles (see Ez 6v21), but was certainly from the rest, perhaps here as a way of preparing for worship. Foreigners, did not share their history, their past sins, nor, by descent, God’s promises.
            As was their role, the Levites called the people to stand and praise God, stressing he is everlasting. In what they then say, they probably had his sovereignty over history in mind. Coming in this penultimate history book of the Old Testament, their prayer is a wonderful summary of all we’ve read, affirming God’s name (ie. his person with respect to his acts and reputation) is to be “blessed” (ie. praised in a way that brings God himself joy) for all he has done.
First, he is praised for creating all things and sustaining all life; then for his commitment to doing right, seen in his faithfulness to his particular covenant with Abram - because Abram’s heart was “faithful.” This is no doubt mentioned as an encouragement to the people to the same. Third, God is praised for his compassion to Abraham’s descendents and how this moved him to redeem and lead them from Egypt by mighty signs and wonders, so gaining glory for himself. He is also praised for personally coming from heaven to earth to give them his law, provide them with food and water, and urge them to take the land he had promised. Understanding these things through Christ, we too are called to praise him for his creation, faithfulness, compassion, salvation, word and provision.
To this we must add patience. These great acts and what they reveal of God’s character make what then occurred all the more tragic. The people refused to listen to his law or remember his acts, even making the golden calf. Yet God did not abandon them, but forgave them, continuing to lead, instruct and provide for them in the desert for forty years, before establishing them as a great nation in the bountiful land he had promised. Again and again they rebelled and killed his prophets, causing him to hand them over to oppressors. Yet again and again, he then showed compassion when they cried to him, sending deliverers, and warning them through his prophets to return.
This divine patience continued for “many years” with God mercifully never abandoning or putting an end to his people. And it is in the light of this, that the Levites acknowledged the justice of the two exiles, whilst asking God on the basis of his covenant love not to consider the people’s current hardship a mere trifle. 9v36-37 are then important. They acknowledge that despite the rebuilt temple and city, the people are still to some degree in exile. They are still slaves, with the bounty of the land going to their overlords. In short, God’s promises to David, developed by the prophets have not yet fully come to pass. And so, joining their leaders, Levites and priests, all who could understand committed themselves with a curse and oath to a “binding agreement” or reaffirmation of the covenant, recognising that the obedience it called them to was necessary for things to be brought to completion (10v29, Deut 28-30).
So often Christians assume the Old Testament stresses God’s judgement, and the New Testament his grace. But the emphasis throughout is on his patience, mercy, and absolute refusal to totally abandon his people. It is this that moves God eventually to send his Son to achieve a righteous standing to be given his people as a gift, make full atonement for their sin, and renew their hearts, all so that his kingdom could finally endure without judgement.
The parties to the agreement are noted to their honour, but also accountability. In particular, they promise not to give their children to intermarry with the nations, keep the Sabbath as the key sign of the covenant, and provide their tithes for the work at the temple (10v32-39), so not neglecting “the house of our God.” The responsibility of the Levites and priests to act in this according to the law is especially stressed.

Praying it home:
Praise God for his qualities as highlighted in this reading. Pray that you and those you know would not turn from him as Israel repeatedly did.

Thinking further:
None today.
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