The longest recorded prayer in the Old Testament, Nehemiah 9:6-38 is also the fullest summarized retelling of Old Testament history. It’s all there, point and counterpoint: the Red Sea crossing, the manna, the subduing of the Canaanites. Ponder these alongside the disobedience, the mutiny, and the faithless complaining. A slow reading of this prayer with an eye for the ebb and flow of righteousness reveals six paired instances of Israel’s rebellion and God’s redemptive responses. Whether Israel’s dance of death speaks to your heart about the mercy of God or about His patience and longsuffering, it is a testimonial to God’s commitment to His chosen ones, and this, I believe, is what led the people to take the words which describe their ancestors’ rebellion and to turn them Godward in the form of prayer. Like their predecessors, they were in great distress (vv. 36, 37). They desperately needed reassurance that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was still the kind of God who would meet them with forgiveness and restoration.
The chart below is for your personal study. We scrawled it large and garish on our Sunday School white board last week, but I recommend printing it and taking notes in the margins, because this prayer of generational confession follows the psalm of praise that bubbles through verses 5 and 6. It follows a litany of liberation trumpeted through verses 7 through 15. These are scaffolding under Israel’s faith, emboldening them to come clean with the past and to make solid plans for reformation (see Nehemiah 10).
Without too much thought, I, too, could come up with a chart like Israel’s, and while it is important to avoid morbid introspection, it is good for my soul to recall the work of God on my behalf in the face of my pride, high-handed rebellion, and irrational faithlessness. The mirror of God’s Word startles and forces me into honest evaluation, but God’s history of faithfulness and redemptive work in the past inspire confidence for bold reform.
Scroll down to find the chart I mentioned earlier in this, the twenty first in a series of posts pondering “just one thing” each week from my study of the book of Nehemiah, as I travel slowly and thoughtfully through the chapters with my Sunday School class. If you’d like to make a comment or leave a link to your own blog post about your wall-building stories, I’d love to read it. If you want to catch up with previous posts, here’s the link: https://michelemorin.wordpress.com/tag/nehemiah/.
Israel’s Rebellion and God’s Response
|Nehemiah 9:16,17||Presumptuous disobedience and mutiny||Grace, mercy, and steadfast love|
|Nehemiah 9:18-25||Idolatry||Supernatural guidance and provision|
|Nehemiah 9:26, 27||Disobedience to the law; murdering God’s messengers||Deliverance through the godly leadership|
|Nehemiah 9:28, 29a||Evil (again)||Deliverance|
|Nehemiah 9:29b, 30a||Pride and stiff necked rebellion||Patience; warning through prophetic messages|
|Nehemiah 9:30b, 31||They would not listen||More grace and more mercy, even in the midst of exile|