On October 31st the people assembled again, and this time they fasted and dressed in burlap and sprinkled dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners as they confessed their own sins and the sins of their ancestors. They remained standing in place for three hours while the Book of the Law of the Lord their God was read aloud to them. Then for three more hours they confessed their sins and worshiped the Lord their God. The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Kenani—stood on the stairway of the Levites and cried out to the Lord their God with loud voices. Then the leaders of the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah—called out to the people: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, for he lives from everlasting to everlasting!”
Then they prayed: “May your glorious name be praised! May it be exalted above all blessing and praise! “You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you. “You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him from Ur of the Chaldeans and renamed him Abraham. When he had proved himself faithful, you made a covenant with him to give him and his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites. And you have done what you promised, for you are always true to your word. “You saw the misery of our ancestors in Egypt, and you heard their cries from beside the Red Sea. You displayed miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his officials, and all his people, for you knew how arrogantly they were treating our ancestors. You have a glorious reputation that has never been forgotten. You divided the sea for your people so they could walk through on dry land! And then you hurled their enemies into the depths of the sea. They sank like stones beneath the mighty waters. You led our ancestors by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night so that they could find their way. “You came down at Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and instructions that were just, and decrees and commands that were good. You instructed them concerning your holy Sabbath. And you commanded them, through Moses your servant, to obey all your commands, decrees, and instructions. “You gave them bread from heaven when they were hungry and water from the rock when they were thirsty. You commanded them to go and take possession of the land you had sworn to give them. “But our ancestors were proud and stubborn, and they paid no attention to your commands. They refused to obey and did not remember the miracles you had done for them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them, even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’ They committed terrible blasphemies. “But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still led them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night. You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell! “Then you helped our ancestors conquer kingdoms and nations, and you placed your people in every corner of the land. They took over the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and the land of King Og of Bashan. You made their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and brought them into the land you had promised to their ancestors. “They went in and took possession of the land. You subdued whole nations before them. Even the Canaanites, who inhabited the land, were powerless! Your people could deal with these nations and their kings as they pleased. Our ancestors captured fortified cities and fertile land. They took over houses full of good things, with cisterns already dug and vineyards and olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate until they were full and grew fat and enjoyed themselves in all your blessings.
“But despite all this, they were disobedient and rebelled against you. They turned their backs on your Law, they killed your prophets who warned them to return to you, and they committed terrible blasphemies. So you handed them over to their enemies, who made them suffer. But in their time of trouble they cried to you, and you heard them from heaven. In your great mercy, you sent them liberators who rescued them from their enemies. “But as soon as they were at peace, your people again committed evil in your sight, and once more you let their enemies conquer them. Yet whenever your people turned and cried to you again for help, you listened once more from heaven. In your wonderful mercy, you rescued them many times! “You warned them to return to your Law, but they became proud and obstinate and disobeyed your commands. They did not follow your regulations, by which people will find life if only they obey. They stubbornly turned their backs on you and refused to listen. In your love, you were patient with them for many years. You sent your Spirit, who warned them through the prophets. But still they wouldn’t listen! So once again you allowed the peoples of the land to conquer them. But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious and merciful God you are!
“And now, our God, the great and mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of unfailing love, do not let all the hardships we have suffered seem insignificant to you. Great trouble has come upon us and upon our kings and leaders and priests and prophets and ancestors—all of your people—from the days when the kings of Assyria first triumphed over us until now. Every time you punished us you were being just. We have sinned greatly, and you gave us only what we deserved. Our kings, leaders, priests, and ancestors did not obey your Law or listen to the warnings in your commands and laws. Even while they had their own kingdom, they did not serve you, though you showered your goodness on them. You gave them a large, fertile land, but they refused to turn from their wickedness. “So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.”
The people responded, “In view of all this, we are making a solemn promise and putting it in writing. On this sealed document are the names of our leaders and Levites and priests.” Nehemiah 9:1-38 (NLT)
Captivity was over. Rebuilding the city and its walls had taken a great effort, and yet the successful project had drawn the people together. Jerusalem would stand high and proud once again. There was just one “catch” – God was not done. There was an unrest that had to be settled.
Last week we saw how the joy of the Lord was presented to the people through the pathway of repentance. It began a process which led to the revival of God’s people.
The process involved three readings of the Word of God over a period of twenty-four days:
¶ READING #1 (day one)
Nehemiah 8.4-8 led to conviction, weeping and repentance. Nehemiah and Ezra saw the people’s deep sorrow over their sins and told them to stop and go rejoice. Once repentance comes there is need to celebrate the forgiveness God promises!
¶ READING #2 (day two)
Nehemiah 4.14-15 led to a further conviction to re-institute the celebration of Feast of Booths, reminding God’s people of His provision and protection all during the wilderness wanderings. The people lived simply for 10 days in makeshift shelters remembering their total dependence on God.
¶ READING #3 (day twenty-four)
Nehemiah 8.18 – 9.3. During the entire 31/2 weeks there was continual worship and reading of God’s Word. At the end, this public reading was the culmination of a revival begun. The people had been fasting and concentrating on the goodness of God.
Notice how Nehemiah describes the final day of a national revival for the people of God:
¶ 9.4-5 Praise of God begins with the priests; the congregation joins in as they are instructed to “arise and praise the Lord.”
¶ 9.6-15 Exalting God for His great faithfulness to Israel in creation, calling Abraham to fatherhood of the race, deliverance from Egyptian bondage, leading and providence in the wilderness and giving of the Law.
¶ 9.16-37 Confessing to God Israel’s past sinful disobedience and the Lord’s continual mercy in forgiving and delivering them; also confessing that God was right and just in punishing them.
¶ 9.38 Covenanting with God to live obediently as His people in the future.
For Israel the events we read marked the beginning of a national revival – a high point of connection with God. In this they did arise and bless the Lord God!
This is available to us as well. Here are some application points based on how this event should affect us today.
1. DON’T RUSH
If you are going to arise and bless God, that is, get serious concerning your relationship to Him, don’t take it lightly; do your homework! After all, you are not approaching a hot dog vendor on the corner of the street downtown – you are approaching Holy God, Author and Sustainer of the entire universe.
A teenager was caught doing ninety-five in a thirty. The traffic cop was caressing his citation book as he walked up to the youth’s car. “I’ve been just waiting for you all day,” said the officer sarcastically. “Yeah,” said the teen, “I got here as quickly as I could.”
Rushing into “revival” can be hazardous to your health. Rushing into revival can be a sign of false repentance, or a shallow understanding of what repentance really means.
To repent means turning your back completely on the old life, knowing that God expects you to reject sin and live for Him. The scripture warns us how stubborn and unrepentant we are by nature:
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Ecclesiastes 8:11 (NASB)
Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. Matthew 11:20 (NASB)
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Romans 2:5 (NASB)
2. DON’T RATIONALIZE
In order to truly connect with God you have to deal in reality. I am a great one to recommend connecting with reality. I rationalize frequently when it comes to my automobiles. Whenever I hear a noise under the hood, or that “thump” in the wheels, I rationalize that it is just “road noise” and it will soon go away. Or I imagine there is only a twenty-cent fuse that needs replacing when I turn the key and the water faucet in my house comes on. I don’t really want to deal with the reality of home repair, or the cost of keeping the old bus running. Rationalizing our relationship with God is like that when we refuse to come to terms with sin.
‘Only acknowledge your iniquity, That you have transgressed against the LORD your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, And you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the LORD. Jeremiah 3:13 (NASB)
He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion. Proverbs 28:13 (NASB)
The opposite of rationalization is confession. Confession is not about making excuses. Confession is what leads to revival and renewal in your life. Don’t rationalize that your sin is someone else’s fault. Israel really understood that at this point in their national existence. They were willing to confess not only their own sins, but the past sins of their fathers. Don’t rush, don’t rationalize, and…
3. DON’T RETREAT
But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9.62
If we are to arise and bless the Lord God it has to be the kind of decision that burns the bridges behind.
¶ It means we come just as we are, but understanding that God loves us much too much to leave us that way.
¶ It means we come in our brokenness and sin, remembering that our confession is a step without retreat, and He will do the cleaning up of our lives.
¶ It means we are committing to go wherever He leads.
¶ It means we are becoming part of a forever family, and this is a family you don’t leave behind when something “better” comes along.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18 (NASB)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NASB)
“For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. Isaiah 66:2 (NASB)
Ultimately our souls are searching for peace. Apart from God we cannot have that. Apart from an unrushed, unrationalized, unretreating commitment to the Lord God, there is no way to bless Him.
In your search for peace, you can be like the bright young man Rabbi Harold Kushner tells about in a wonderful story. He was a Stanford sophomore pre-med student. To reward him for having done so well in school, his parents gave him a trip to the Far East for the summer vacation before the start of his junior year.
While there he met a guru who said to him, "Don’t you see how you are poisoning your soul with this success oriented way of life? Your idea of happiness is to stay up all night studying for an exam so you can get a better grade than your best friend. Your idea of a good marriage is not to find the woman who will make you whole, but to win the girl that everyone else wants. That’s not how people are supposed to live. Give it up; come join us in an atmosphere where we all share and love each other."
The young man had completed four years at a competitive high school to get into Stanford, plus two years of pre-med courses at the university. He was ripe for this sort of approach. He called his parents from Tokyo and told them he would not be coming home. He was dropping out of school to live in an ashram (a spiritual retreat).
Six months later, his parents got a letter from him: "Dear Mom and Dad, I know you weren’t happy with the decision I made last summer, but I want to tell you how happy it has made me. For the first time in my life, I am at peace. Here there is no competing, no hustling, no trying to get ahead of anyone else. Here we are all equal, and we all share. This way of life is so much in harmony with the inner essence of my soul that in only six months I’ve become the number two disciple in the entire ashram, and I think I can be number one by June!"
Genuine revival on a personal, church or global level requires a consistent faithful commitment to a connection-with, and obedience-to almighty God.
A by-product, a blessed by-product of that obedience is a peace that passes all understanding. It is no wonder people who live in revival arise and bless the Lord!