Man's sin and God's faithfulness.

Man’s sin and God’s faithfulness

Nehemiah 9

“But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and you did not forsake them.

 

            In his classic work, the Existence and Attributes of God, Stephen Charnock describes our sinful aversion to God and our misrepresentation of him. Because of our sin, we have no desire to converse with God. Instead of pursuing towards him, in our sinful state, we do not long for him. Thus Charnock writes, “Not his dawn sword as a God of judgment, nor his mighty power as Lord, nor his open arms as the Lord their God could move them to turn their eyes and their hearts towards him. The more he invites us to partake of his grace, the further we run from him to provoke his wrath: the louder God called them by his prophets, the closer they stuck to their Baal. We turn our backs when he stretches out his hand, stop our ears when he lifts up his voice; we fly from him when he courts us and shelter ourselves in any bush from his merciful hand that would lay hold upon us.”  This aversion for God was played out in the history of Israel.  

            In Nehemiah. 9,  The priests lead the people in a prayer of confession and repentance by reflecting upon Israel’s history. In this prayer, we see the back-and-forth interchange between man’s aversion towards God and God’s faithfulness towards his promise. Throughout the passage, we repeatedly see the statement “But they…” to describe the continual return of Israel back to their sin and idolatry. “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly…” (vs. 16), “They refused to listen” (vs. 17), “They mane themselves a calf of molten metal” (vs. 18), “But they became disobedient…” (vs. 26),  “But…they did evil” (vs. 28), “They would not give ear” (vs. 30), “But they…did not serve You” (vs. 35). No matter how much God blessed and cared for Israel they continually turn away from God.  

            Yet, in contrast, we see the continual acts of God’s faithfulness. No matter how much Israel abandoned God, God never abandoned Israel (vs. 17). He restored and forgave repeatedly. He not only delivered them from their oppressors but also spoke to them his word and provided for their needs. When their sin led them into bondage, God delivered them. Thus the Priests affirm in verses 31-32 that God is gracious, compassionate, and one who keeps covenant and lovingkindness. During all the ups and downs of Israel’s history, the problem was never with God and his faithfulness.

            It is no wonder, then, that this hymn of praise extols the compassion of God and his faithfulness to the covenant he made with Israel. This is the wonder of his grace. Even though we flee from God with willful abandonment, God continues to be the relentless pursuer. Although we prove to be fickle and faithless in our love for God, he forever remains gracious and compassionate, always ready to forgive and restore when we turn to him. As Charnock states, “Has he not opened his arms when we spurned with our feet, held out his alluring mercy when we have brandished against him a rebellious sword? Has he not entreated us while we have fled from him, as if he were unwilling to lose us, who are determined to destroy ourselves?”  Such is the God we serve. His grace and faithfulness continually seek us when we do not seek him. For all our sins and rebellion, the simple act of confession leads to forgiveness and restoration, even for the worst of sinners. This is a God worthy of our love and obedience.  

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