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Free Daily Bible notes by Rev Stephen Thompson

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Pastor of The King's Church Boston Spa.

Nehemiah 9:29-31: Long-suffering

29 ‘You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, “The person who obeys them will live by them.” Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. 30 For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighbouring peoples. 31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” NIV

The man was ‘a vital repository of goodwill’ (Arthur Paul Boers, writing about a fellow ‘pilgrim’ on the ‘Camino’).

Yesterday’s passage probably referred to the days of the ‘Judges’. But today’s reading sums up subsequent years of Israelite history, leading to the captivity. During this time, the cycle continued, but the rebellion only deepened and intensified. However, what stands out is the Lord’s immense patience (30a): ‘’For many years you were patient with them.’’ God’s patience did not mean that judgment was prevented; but it was delayed. He gave the people ample time to repent. Even when the judgment finally fell, there was still mercy combined with it (31).

Peter, writing in the New Testament, about ‘last things’ – the winding up of history as we know it – says this:

‘’The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…’’  (2 Peter 3:9,10a).

Peter acknowledges that the merciful God is long-suffering. He is giving people lots of time to turn to Him. But the end will come. We should be in no doubt about this and be prepared.

Paul writes to the Galatians about how the Holy Spirit produces in the Christian the very character of Christ (and so the character of God). He calls this ‘’the fruit of the Spirit’’. Someone referred to it as a ‘nine-flavoured fruit’, and we see that ‘’patience’’ is one of the ‘flavours’ (Galatians 5:22). I understand the Greek word used can be translated ‘patience’ or ‘longsuffering’. It means to suffer long with trying circumstances or people. Something of God’s own astounding patience can grow and develop in Christian people by the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER: Lord, how can I thank you enough for your long-suffering with me? Please cause your own patience towards others to grow in me, for your glory.

Nehemiah 9: 26-28: ‘Time after time’

26 ‘But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. 27 So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.28 ‘But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.” NIV

Where is your Bible? As you are reading these notes I assume it is not ‘behind your back’ (26). It certainly is of little use to you there. It needs to be where you can see it on a regular basis, and no-one has eyes in the back of his/her head. This passage speaks, of course, not merely about the ignoring of God’s truth, but wilful rebellion against it.

I remember Sid with great appreciation and fondness. He was a very ordinary working man who led the men’s Bible study at Wigan ‘Elim’ church when I was there in my teens. Only a handful attended this pre-morning service gathering, held in a small side room. Sid was not really a Bible teacher, but I do remember something he did and something he said.

Someone said ‘kindness is a language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.’ Well, Sid was kind. He passed on to me his own copy of the ‘New Bible Commentary’. That action was a powerful sermon. It left a deep mark on my soul. It probably touched me more than anything he said. He could have spoken about kindness, and maybe he did, but how powerful is the memory of an act of kindness.

But I also remember him observing how Old Testament history is repetitive; it is cyclical in nature. The Israelites kept falling at the same fences. These verses demonstrate the point. They may refer mainly to the period of the ‘Judges’.

Here are a few timeless lessons from them:

  • God answers prayer. Note especially how He answers the heartfelt cries of the truly repentant. No matter how many times we have messed up, we can return to God if we genuinely want to. Mercy there is great, and grace is free. Never forget it;
  • God is full of compassion. He is the Father who is always scanning the horizon for the return of the prodigals;
  • Human nature is weak. We also know what it is to repeatedly turn away from the God who is so generous towards us. F.B. Meyer writes helpfully: ‘What a picture this is of our own lives, and how often have all these experiences been repeated in us! Fortunately for us we are represented now, not by our promises and prayers, but by Jesus Christ, in whom we stand and are accepted and kept.’ Devotional Commentary, p.207.

‘’Who can tell the pleasure,

Who recount the treasure

By thy Word imparted

To the simple-hearted?’’ (From ‘Lord thy Word abideth).

Nehemiah 9:22-25: Divine-human co-operation

22 ‘You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon[a] king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. 23 You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess. 24 Their children went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you gave the Canaanites into their hands, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased. 25 They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they revelled in your great goodness.“NIV

‘’Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power’’ (Ephesians 6:10).

In addition to further displaying God’s abundant provision to His people, this section highlights what has been called ‘the 100% principle’. The idea is that in order to live the Christian life it will take 100% of God’s effort and 100% of ours. Possibly the classic expression of it is found here in the words: ‘’You subdued before them…’’ (24). The children of Israel did it, but really it was God doing it. But they had their part to play. They had to do what they did for God to do what He did.

Someone said, ‘Without Him we cannot; without us He will not.’ That may not always be so, but it generally true. Sometimes God may choose to work without us, but we can never operate without Him.

In this spiritual battle we are so aware of, the key to victory is to fight in God’s strength.

Prayer: Lord, I sometimes feel so discouraged. I keep doing what I shouldn’t do and don’t want to do. But I thank you that not only is there forgiveness with you; there is also power to fight and overcome. All that I need is in you Lord, and I am in you. Thank you.

Nehemiah 9: 19-21: Unconditional love

19 ‘Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. 20 You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. 21 For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.NIV

God’s love is not dependent on our goodness.

It must have been a number of years ago now, but I remember exactly where I was when this liberating thought struck me. I was coming onto the Armley gyratory in Leeds when I had a spiritual ‘light bulb moment’. I suddenly realised that God loves me as much in the moment of sinning, as He does in those times when I’m not. It was such a freeing insight, and it seemed to fill my car ( and heart) with light. This understanding has never made me think it’s okay to sin. I don’t believe it has in any way lessened my desire to resist temptation, in the power of the Spirit; but it has helped me emotionally. At times, I could ( and can) be filled with self-loathing for doing wrong. However, what we see from Israel’s history, and what God wants us to be sure of, is that His “great” love is unconditional.

The truth is God did not give up on Israel. He “did not abandon them in the desert”. Rather, he heaped undeserved blessings upon them. This should encourage us, and also motivate us to want to please Him more and more. May His goodness lead us to repentance.

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 New Living Translation).

Prayer: Lord, we stand in wonder before your immense compassion. Thank you for your patience with your erring children. May all your love and goodness comfort us and motivate us to pursue the path of holiness.

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.

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