God's Mercy Restores

June 30, 2024 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: A Time to Rebuild

Topic: English Passage: Nehemiah 9

After the reign of King Solomon, the nation of Israel was torn into two pieces. This period is known historically as the time of the Divided Kingdom. The political separation in Israel was emblematic of a greater separation that had taken place. Israel had fallen away from Yahweh, the one, true God.

And throughout the reigns of various kings, most of which, were evil and led people further from the truth, God raised up prophets calling the people back to holiness and obedience, and warning them of the consequences of their continued rebellion.

One of the prophets God used during this time was a man named Hosea, the son of Be’eri. Hosea’s call into his prophetic ministry stands out when compared to other prophets. Isaiah had a glorious vision of God’s holiness and then was sent out. Jeremiah was told that he had been consecrated and appointed before God formed him in his mother’s womb.

But listen to the way God first called Hosea into prophetic ministry. This is from the second verse of his book. It says—When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife. For a single man, I suppose that might be a surprising message from God. “Go get married.” But that’s not the end of the message.

God said—Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom.

If ever there was a time to use a question mark with an exclamation point, this was it. What in the world?! God called this man to marry a prostitute. And then beyond that, God knew that she was going to be unfaithful to Hosea. She was going to bear children that did not belong to him. Why would God have Hosea do that? He explains it immediately.

Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.

Hosea’s family life was going to serve as a commentary and as a vivid example of the spiritual life of Israel. The pain Hosea would experience was going to be an expression of the sorrow God experienced as Israel turned away to serve and delight in other gods.

Israel was an adulterous nation. God had called her to Himself. He united her to Him by a covenant. God blessed her. God provided for her. God taught her. But over and over again, she went out seeking joy and pleasure and blessing and fulfilment in other gods. Israel continued in rebellion and in spiritual adultery.

As a result, just like the prophets warned, Israel was destroyed and taken into captivity. What hope was there that the relationship between a holy God and an adulterous people could be restored? Was that even possible?

Because of God’s mercy, yes, restoration and reconciliation were possible. And two of the men God used to help bring this about were Nehemiah and Ezra.

By the time we come to chapter 9 of Nehemiah, the altar and the Temple have been rebuilt. And the wall surrounding the city has been restored. Now it’s time for the people to turn back fully to God.

What Nehemiah 9 demonstrates is that the path to restoration comes through confession. That’s what Nehemiah and Ezra understood. God wasn’t going to overlook sin. God wasn’t going to sweep it under the rug as if it was no big deal and time alone would heal the wounds. The people needed to acknowledge what they did. They needed to confess, individually and corporately, for what they had done. The path to restoration would only come through repentance.

Nehemiah 9 is the account of that confession. It’s a longer passage than I might normally teach or read, but I’m going to read the entirety of the confession beginning in verse 5, going until the end of the chapter, which is verse 38.

Nehemiah 9:5-38—Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. 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.

[9] 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.

[13] 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.

[16] 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.

[22] 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.

[26] 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.

[29] 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.

[32] 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. Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.

[38] Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.

As we read that passage together, I hope there was more in your mind than just the sin of Israel. What Israel experienced over the course of 1,000 years from Moses to Nehemiah is the same thing you and I experience over the course of our lives, isn’t it? We sin, we disobey, we forget. God disciplines us, and we go back to Him in confession. Isn’t that the pattern of your life? It should be. Not because you should be sinning, but because you and I will sin, but we should be confessing. That’s what God wants from us. And a passage like this helps us have a better understanding of proper, God-honoring confession.

We don’t have a lot of time remaining, but I’d like to point out two principles that rise out of this text, and they are wordy, so if you take notes, get ready. I’ll say it a couple times so you can capture it all.

The first principle is this: God’s initial goodness toward us emphasizes the ugly unfaithfulness of our sin against Him. God’s initial goodness toward us emphasizes the ugly unfaithfulness of our sin against Him.

The psalm begins with a praise. The end of verse 5 is a blessing to God’s glorious name. Verse 6 continues by praising God’s creative power. He owns everything and is due all worship.

And that Almighty God, chose to call to Himself a tiny nation. Beginning in verse 7, we see the origins of Israel which you can read about in Genesis and Exodus. God called Abram. He gave him a new name. He promised to make him into a great nation and to give him a Land of his own.

God preserved them in Egypt, and when they were cast into slavery by that mighty nation, God used Moses to bring salvation. He did miracles. He conquered their enemies. He preserved them in the wilderness as they made their way to the Promised Land. God gave them the Law. God gave them manna from heaven. This wasn’t because Israel deserved it. It was so that God could glorify Himself by demonstrating His power through a weak, little nation.

Why does the confession start like this? It aids the confession because in emphasizing all the blessings God gave to Israel in choosing her, it will emphasize the wickedness of them turning away from Him.

As Christian, when you and I confess, we need to remember this same principle. We don’t sin generically against a cosmic force or some cosmic law. And we don’t simply confess because sin makes us feel bad. Sin is sin, not because of how we feel, but because of the offense it is against the God who made us and, as Christians, against the God who redeemed us. We sin against the God who called us and saved us.

Ephesians 2 says it like this—You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We were enemies of God—slaves of Satan blinded by him and by our own darkened hearts. We had zero earthly desire to turn to the true God.

But what happened? Ephesians 2 continues—But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

We were forgiven an infinite debt. We were given an eternal inheritance with the Son of God because that one and only Son was put to death I our place and raised in glory. We were given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

That’s a truth we need to remember every day. And we don’t just remember it to be grateful or joyful. We remember it to be humbled as we confess. This truth drives us into a deeper humility because this is the God we’ve sinned against.

Before coming to faith, we sinned in ignorance. We didn’t know God. But after salvation, we know God. We know what’s He’s done for us.

He has done infinitely and eternally more than anything else we could receive. And yet, we still sin against Him. Why does that happen? Because even though our hearts have been cleansed from the eternal stain and guilt of sin, that rebellious spirit that wants to stay in control remains in us. We have been saved from the eternal penalty of sin, but we have not yet been saved from the presence of sin.

Understanding how good God has been to us in salvation makes our sin even worse. When we remember God’s initial goodness toward us in salvation, we emphasize the ugly unfaithfulness of our sin against Him. And as bad as that might feel, it helps us in confession. It helps us recognize how evil sin is.

Understanding how good God had been in calling Israel and raising her up, we can see how vile it is that she would turn her back on Him. In spite of His gifts, Israel acted presumptuously. That’s what this confession says. The people stiffened their necks and refused to obey. They forgot about God’s wonders. They longed to return to Egypt. They were guilty of blasphemy and idolatry. They rebelled. They ended up killing God’s prophets. They did evil again and again. They refused to obey.

Now, if you were going to confess sin to someone you sinned against—if you wanted this relationship to be restored—would you want to include a list of all the times you failed them?

Do you think that a little boy who just broke his dad’s cell phone in half is going to come to his father and say, “Dad, do you remember when I broke the window with baseball? And do remember when I kicked my little sister and made her cry? And I stole that $40 from your wallet last month. And my teacher sent a note home saying I cheated on my math test. Well, now I broke your phone”? Does that sound like a very good confession? Who would do that?

Ordinarily, we want to come making sure the other person is happy. We want them to remember our good qualities before we confess. So why does Israel do it like this?

This is my second and final point today: Our continued rebellion against God highlights the eternal faithfulness of God toward us. Our continued rebellion against God highlights the eternal faithfulness of God toward us.

Israel isn’t coming before God simply with a list of past mistakes. They are coming before God with a list of past forgiveness. The reason they bring up all these sins in the past, for one, is to identify with them, but more significantly, to be reminded that in all of that ugliness, God forgave them. He forgave them.

Yes, there were temporal punishments. There was divine discipline in the form of enemies taking over them, but when they cried out to God, He heard them and He restored. The goodness He showed them at first might have appeared to have vanished, but it was still there. God didn’t change His promise.

That’s the main emphasis of this confession. It’s not Israel’s sin; it’s God’s faithfulness. More space is devoted in this chapter to God’s goodness than to Israel’s sin. Isn’t that amazing. You can verify that yourself this week if you like.

For now, look with me once again at verse 17—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.

That is a key verse in the Old Testament. And I don’t just mean Nehemiah 9:17; I mean the wording used. God is “slow to anger, abounding in His loyal , faithful love. It says that in Exodus 34 when Moses asks to see God’s glory. It says it in Numbers too. It's mentioned three times in the Psalms. Joel says it. Jonah says it. Nahum says it. This is an essential attribute of God. He is compassionate and patient.

God did not forsake Israel. He kept leading them, guiding them, instructing them, giving them food and water. He provided for their clothing. He sustained them physically. He allowed them to conquer nations stronger than themselves. He gave them good things that they didn’t work to build, like vineyards and wells and fruit trees. He sent saviors, military leaders to free them from their enemies.

The God who dwells in the highest heaven above all creation, heard from heaven and rescued His people.

Look at verses 27 and 28 again—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.

What was the basis of Israel’s restoration? Was it because they promised to do better? Was it because they did the right sacrifices? It was all according to God’s great mercies. Verse 27 and 28 both say that. It was because God decided to show compassion when He was under no external obligation to do so.

Do you see how the ugliness of Israel’s sin only serves all the more to highlight the glory of God’s grace and faithfulness. Israel is continually unfaithful, but God is faithful. Why does He rescue them? Because He said He would not abandon them. Because the continuation of Israel is what would lead to the greater salvation and expression of God’s mercy—the birth of our Messiah, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Listen, I don’t know what is the biggest piece of the puzzle when you think about God, but it must include the idea that our God saves. Our God is slow to anger and full of compassion. He is abounding in faithful love. He has obligated Himself to save eternally those who belong to Him.

And so, when we come before God, we can’t hide our sin. We can’t just pretend like nothing happened. Something major happened. God sent His Son to die in the place of sinners. And because of the sacrifice of Christ, you and I are forgiven over and over again. We’re only forgiven once in an eternal way, but we are forgiven and cleansed time after time in a temporal way. As our heavenly Father, God is regularly looking, not to our sin, but to the sacrifice of Christ. And on the basis of all those times in the past that God has forgiven us, we can come to Him again, as often as we need to, asking one more time for forgiveness.

“God, I’ve messed up again. I’ve turned away from you despite all the good You have shown me. But just like You’ve done so many times before, forgive me, Father. Restore me. Be slow to anger.

That’s the heart of Israel in this chapter. They understand that the path to restoration with God must be through confession. And they know that God Himself will make that restoration possible because He is good. He is kind. He is merciful and patient. He Himself had made the restoration possible.

As the chapter comes to a close, the Israelites are preparing to rededicate themselves to God’s covenant. The are the adulterers. God hasn’t done anything wrong. They have done it. And so they will renew their covenant with Him. And what a wonderful reminder this is for us, that we are now under a New Covenant, by the Spirit of God, through the sacrifice of Christ, and as a result God has made us new from the inside. He has made us a new creation, and He will one day cleanse us entirely from the stain and power and effects of sin. Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ.

More in A Time to Rebuild

July 7, 2024

The Covenant Restored

June 23, 2024

Leading in the Spiritual

June 16, 2024

Unrelenting Leadership