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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

Nehemiah 9:16-18: Amazing grace

16 ‘But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, “This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,” or when they committed awful blasphemies.” NIV

Don’t you at times grow weary of constantly messing up? In fact, aren’t you tired of making the same messes again and again? Our sense of personal sin can drive us to despair. How can we keep on doing these things? Well…

Here is a truth to take to heart: It’s a truth about the character of God (17b). What comfort we can find here. It doesn’t provide an excuse for sin; nor should it cause us to take personal wrong-doing lightly. But we can see that the Israelites weren’t merely ‘making mistakes’. Look how the expression “stiff-necked” appears twice (16,17). Note also the description of them as becoming “arrogant” (16). God had wilful rebellion on His Hands. They treated so badly the One who had treated them so well. But He “did not desert them even when” they became idolaters and blasphemers. We can take to heart that if we cast ourselves on the mercy of God, we will find very real forgiveness.

Here is a truth to heed: The Israelites repeatedly forgot (and abused) the goodness of God. This cycle recurs through Old Testament history, and it is reflected throughout this prayer. There is a lesson here for us to learn; a warning to heed. We also need to note that when we choose the sinful path we opt for slavery. We turn our backs on God to grasp an illusion of freedom. Even as we go to grab it, we find it bursts in our hands like a bubble in a bath. The liberty we so much long for eludes us. Satan is a deceiver and we are duped by his lies (often all too willingly).

Prayer: Thank you Lord that there is forgiveness with you. Help me to never take liberties with your kindness.

Nehemiah 9:13-15: Divine provision

13 ‘You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.” NIV

The end of verse 15 takes us back to verses 7,8. God keeps His promises.

It strikes me that God “gave them bread from heaven” in a double sense. Yes, He gave them the “bread” of His Word (13,14). This contains a number of hearty, healthy ingredients, including both command and promise. But He also remarkably provided for their physical, material needs through forty years of journeying. (We will have further insights into this as we work through the prayer).

Jesus taught His disciples to pray: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

The Apostle Paul writes: “And my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Note “needs” not ‘greeds’. Generations of believers have found that this same God is still able to spread a “table in the wilderness” (Psalm 78:19).

Nehemiah 9: 12: Let there be light

By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.” NIV

Because I tend to get out of bed early in the morning, it is often dark when I first go downstairs. Certainly it is at this time of year. I don’t particularly want the full glare of electric light at that time of day, but sometimes it is so dark I need the light of my mobile phone to show me the way to my favourite ‘quiet time’ chair. Even a little light makes a big difference.

God’s people need His light today, no less than the Israelites did on their journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. This light is available:

  • Primarily, it is to be found in God’s Word, the Bible;
  • But He also speaks by His Spirit – by ‘impressions’: by a ‘gentle pressure on the spirit’, as someone put it. We always have to say however, at this point, that God’s Spirit will never prompt anyone to disobey God’s Word. So here is an in-built safeguard to the discernment process.

Someone pointed out that the Shepherd’s lantern in Israel usually gave just enough light for the next step, and when you took it, there would be sufficient light for the next step, and so on. Isn’t it so regularly like this for us? What are you doing with any light you have received?

‘Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,

Lead thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead thou me on;

Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see

The distant scene: one step enough for me.’

Nehemiah 9:11: A way where there is no way

11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters.” NIV

‘’You split the sea before them; they crossed through and never got their feet wet…’’ The Message.

The Israelites had found themselves in an impossible situation. They couldn’t go backwards because the Egyptian army was pursuing them. They couldn’t go forward; if they did they would drown. It was ‘checkmate’. Or was it? God intervened and made a way where there was no way. He did what was humanly impossible.

At the moment we find ourselves ‘trapped’ in a situation we neither wanted nor saw coming. This was not what we had planned for 2020! Maybe we can’t see a way out, but ‘God specialises in things thought impossible.’ He’s the same God, and He’s with us. Don’t stop crying out to Him.

Pete Greig, the founder of the 24/7 prayer movement has written that prayer is a lot like stacking dominoes. You pray the same thing you’ve prayed 100 times before, and on the 101st time it happens, simply because you didn’t give up praying one prayer too soon. Jesus taught us to persevere in prayer. Let’s heed Him. Don’t lose heart. Pray on.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, if you want us to ‘’always pray and not give up’’ you know we will need your power to do it. We want to be in that place of prayer where you can use us. Please help us to get there. We ask that your Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness and give us the prayers to pray.

Nehemiah 9:9-10: Revival

‘You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea. 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day.” NIV

‘’You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day’’ (10b).

This is what happens in ‘revival’. It is unmistakably God’s work. It also makes people acutely aware of God – of His presence and power. Many are drawn to Him.

The reference here is to the ‘exodus’. The Israelites looked back to this event repeatedly. It was a defining moment in their history, when the Lord dramatically intervened to free them from slavery in Egypt.

But note the link to prayer also: ‘’…you heard their cry at the Red Sea’’ (9b). The Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, famously said, ‘When God intends a great mercy for a people first he sets them a praying.’

Recently, while reading through a journal from around this time last year, I was reminded that I’d listened to an interview with an American pastor, David Platt. He described how, following a survey in his church in Washington DC, he realised there were programmatic/structural changes to be made. But he had recently visited South Korea where, in 1900 only 1% of the population was Christian. Today it’s 29% Christian. David spoke about how they have late night prayer meetings, all night prayer meetings, early morning prayer meetings in churches across that land. He also said he realised, to his embarrassment, that they had never prayed through the night at his church, and he came back and announced, ‘We’re going to do this’, and they did! He made this telling comment:

‘The last thing I want to do, as a pastor, is program my way through changes without desperate dependence on God.’

‘Desperate dependence on God’. I went on to write in my journal: ‘I do believe that for much of the time many of us live in spiritual unreality, and the only way to be lifted out of this is by taking prayer (God) seriously (and this includes fasting). For many of us, this world is what is real. And it is real; and all that is good about it is to be gratefully enjoyed. But I am convinced that we need to live in this real world from out of the reality of that other world – so that the larger world of spiritual reality is the one that is most real to us. It’s like we’re living in two worlds simultaneously, and we’re seeing this world in the light of that other world.’

The bottom line is this: I believe there is a place in prayer where we, the church, can be, to intercede effectively for the current crisis. It may be a ‘Red Sea’ moment, and this God is our God.

PRAYER: Lord, I make myself available for you to pray your own prayers through me. Please, again, part the sea and glorify your Name.

Nehemiah 9:9-10: ‘You saw…you heard…You sent…’

‘You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day.” NIV

The wonderful Bishop Ryle noted that: ‘Simple, regular reading of our Bibles is the grand secret of establishment in the faith.’ So thank you for coming with me on this daily journey through the Scriptures.

Throughout this prayer, we will hear repeated references to what God did in Israel’s history. We can encourage ourselves with the realisation that what the Lord did He still can do. Indeed, He still does, for He is always the same – eternally unchanged and unchanging.

  • He still sees ‘’the suffering’’. Not just the statistics, but the actual suffering. He knows and He cares about the individual, personal pain;
  • He still hears cries-the heartfelt prayers of His people;
  • He still sends ‘’signs and wonders’’. Though the suffering may be long and hard, things can change. God can end it in His own good time.

I will say more about this in the next piece I write, but I believe there needs to come upon the church in these dark, difficult days we’re all going through, a sense that we are not to just resignedly accept the situation as unchangeable. ‘Things can change.’ Yes, the outlook is gloomy. Certainly it seems to be so over the short to medium term. But people of prayer have a different perspective, and I will have more to say on this.

Yesterday I saw a brief clip of R.T. Kendall speaking on ‘Facebook.’ He said he believes the current state of the church may be likened to the ‘’foolish virgins’’ in Jesus’ parable (Mt.25:5). We are sleeping, he said, and you don’t know you’re asleep until you wake up!

PRAYER: Lord, may we, your church, not be sleeping through this pandemic. Rather, cause our spirits to rise up in fervent prayer

Nehemiah 9:7-8: A solid foundation

‘You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.“NIV

‘’And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your Word’’ (New Living Translation)

I remember sitting in bed in our little house in Lower Wortley, Leeds, early one Sunday morning. As I recall, it was still in the earliest days of the King’s church – during the period when we travelled back and forth every week. That day, it felt like God ‘quickened’ a passage of Scripture to me, and only in the last year or two have I come to realise how remarkably this ‘word’ has come to pass. With the passing of time I now have perspective.

If God does give you a prophetic word, you will know it really is God by what transpires. But it may take a long time to unfold. Not necessarily so, but it’s a possibility.

Of course, the truth is that this realm of the prophetic (impressions on the heart and so on) can be highly subjective, and we can get it wrong. But as someone has said, we’re on a sure foundation when we can point to any promise God has made in the Bible, and say to Him, ‘’Do as you have said.’’ George Mueller of Bristol is a great example of such praying, and his story is a remarkable one. If you can get hold of his biography, it will be well worth the investment of your time to read it. It builds your faith.

Here in Nehemiah 9, the person praying (possibly Ezra?) takes the long view. He looks back, not merely across decades, but centuries, and declares that God kept His promise to Abraham. From where he sat in human history he had sufficient perspective to be able to affirm this. Furthermore, from our vantage point, we know that God’s promises to Abraham were to be more completely fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and the growth and expansion of His church.

God keeps His promises and we can ‘stand’ on them. They are like rock beneath our feet.

PRAYER: Lord God, I pray that you will find my heart ‘faithful to you.’

Nehemiah 9: 5-6: Praise is rising

And the Levites – Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah – said: ‘Stand up and praise the Lordyour God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. ‘Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.” NIV

As you come to prayer it is good to remind yourself just who you are praying to. You can do this in the very act of worship.

At least 5 truths about God are acknowledged in this offering of praise:

  • He is eternal: ‘’from everlasting to everlasting’’;
  • He is glorious: His ‘’Name’’ represents all He is in His essential being; it speaks of His nature;
  • He is the only God: ‘’You alone are the LORD’’;
  • He is the creator of all that is;
  • He is worshipped by all the heavenly host.

This makes me think about the prayer offered by the church in Acts 4:24 -30. It begins like this:

‘’Sovereign Lord…you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.’’

It’s good to remind yourself who you’re talking to.

Just recently Jilly and I were watching a nature programme about the Hawaiian Islands. As we were watching a brilliant sequence about whales, I thought how important it is to step back, pause, and take a lingering look at the world. Let yourself observe long enough to stand in awe. You need look no further than your own garden, or the sky above you. Take time to consider the sun, moon and stars. Doesn’t a starry night send a shiver down your spine? You and I are so small; the universe is so big. The God who made it is bigger still – immeasurably big. All of nature points to Him (Psalm 19:1-4/Romans 1:19,20).

‘’You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them.’’

This is our God.

PRAYER: May I never lose the wonder of who you are almighty God – the breathtaking wonder that I may approach you through Jesus.

Nehemiah 9:5: A word from the worship leaders

And the Levites – Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah – said: ‘Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. ’‘Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. NIV

Reading through these opening verses again, as a prelude to verse 5, it underlined for me how deeply serious these people were in their coming to God. Here is a rebuke to our often casual, and even careless, approach to ‘worship’. In fact, I heard a wise, seasoned leader say in a recent interview, that one of his greatest concerns about the contemporary church is that we have turned worship into a form of entertainment.

If the Lord’s prayer is, as we often say, a ‘pattern prayer’ (and I have no good reason to think otherwise), then we see in it that praise comes first; the glory and honour of God, the hallowing of His Name takes priority. This is a pattern we see elsewhere in the Bible. Praise should be first and foremost. Say ‘thank you’ before ‘please’. Here, they were not only praising God but also praying for Him to be greatly praised. The ‘thank you’ and ‘please’ were all wrapped up together.

‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ (The Westminster Shorter Catechism)

PRAYER: Lord God, may the prayer ‘Hallowed be your Name’ be my supreme prayer, and the deep longing behind every other request I bring to you.

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