“God, Who Keeps His Covenant Of Love”
Key Verse 1:5
“Then I said: ‘O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.’”
If we were to trace “prayer” through the Bible we find that it is diverse and vast that it’s difficult to characterize it in just one way or another. But regardless of its diversity and enormity, we can say that prayer simply is “talking to God”. Talking to God about myself! Talking to God about the good things I have in life, and about bad things that happen sometimes. Talking to God about the happy things of the day, and about sad things that make me forget the happiness I felt earlier. Talking to God about what’s on my heart, about what I want to do, and about what I should do instead. About what I feel like doing but know that I shouldn’t do. Talking to God about my inner struggles, about those temptations I am having these days. About the difficulties in keeping my heart clean. Talking to God about my failures, and about my triumphs and about what’s in between. About my weaknesses, and about my strengths. Talking to God about others. Talking to God about people I know, people I like and those I don’t like. Talking to God about the ones I love with my whole heart, about what they need to become stronger in the faith. About their troubles and their temptations, about what drives them away from God and what brings them near to him. Talking to God about the church. Talking to God about my church. About the fellowship. About those who have given their lives to build up the fellowship. And those who don’t seem to make a difference. Talking to God about the selfishness of some and the sacrifice of others. Talking to God about those who went out to serve him. About those with heart for the gospel and those who have no heart to do anything for God. Talking to God about God. About praising him, confessing to him. And about his great love, and his faithfulness, about his discipline, and about holding him to his promises. Prayer is talking to God about anything and everything. Talking to God is prayer.
Nehemiah was a man who talked to God. In every situation, and in all circumstances, good or bad he prayed. When we read the book of Nehemiah, we learn many things about the man, but more than anything else, we learn that he was a man of prayer. Nehemiah talked to God about everything. It seems that Nehemiah did nothing without first praying about it. Consequently, all that he accomplished in his life, he accomplished through prayer. In this passage, we find Nehemiah praying. He had just received some disturbing news about the city of Jerusalem and about those who had returned to Jerusalem from exile. When he heard that the city walls had not been rebuilt, and that those who had returned were in disgrace, Nehemiah was distressed. He wept. He mourned. He fasted. But more than anything else, he prayed. Prayer is faith. Prayer is believing that while I can do nothing, God can do everything. Prayer is laying down my heavy burdens before God, and trusting him to carry them together. Prayer is trusting God for the wisdom and strength to do what I can do in serving his great purpose. God had a purpose for Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And so Nehemiah prayed. And God comforted him in his distress and put in his heart what he was to do. Nehemiah’s prayer teaches us much about prayer. Nehemiah’s attitude in prayer— how he prayed. The contents of Nehemiah’s prayer— what he prayed about. Let’s take a look at this first of Nehemiah’s many prayers.
Read verse 5. “Then I said: “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.” Notice how Nehemiah addresses God in the opening of his prayer. His addresses tells us much about Nehemiah’s faith; his view of God. Nehemiah deeply knew whom he was talking to in prayer. God is the God of heaven. He is the great and awesome God. He is the Creator God who created all things in heaven and on earth. Our Lord Jesus taught us to also view God with reverence and awe. Jesus taught us to pray “Father.” But he also taught us to pray “Hallowed be your name.” God is holy and those who come to him must deeply know how holy and righteous this great and awesome God is. Otherwise, we may lose our reverence for him and become offensive in his presence. Nehemiah was not addressing God as he would address a friend or another person of high ranking. He was addressing the Creator and Ruler of the heavens. So many people really do not know the holiness of God. But this was a man who knew who God is. When he stood in the presence of God in prayer, Nehemiah stood as a man stands before his King with a bent knee and bowed head.
Nehemiah also knew that God was God of love. He is holy and righteous. But he is also merciful and loving. He is the God “who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.” Nehemiah was referring to the promise God made to the Israelites, the descendants of his servant Abraham. The promise was made to God’s people by Moses. “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 7:9) God loved them. In his great love, he delivered them from slavery. He brought them to the promised land. He protected them and defended them. He treated them as a father treats with his son. The covenant of love he made with them was binding, never ending, as sure and secure as all his promises have proved throughout history. Nehemiah prayed to the loving God. Nehemiah knew that God is the loving God and so he came to God in prayer holding on to God’s love— his binding everlasting covenant of love. Nehemiah appealed to God based on God’s love for his people, bound in love with his people. When we know that God is a loving God, our prayers can be as powerful and effective as Nehemiah’s prayer.
Read verses 6-9. “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. ‘Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’” When Nehemiah stood before God, he asked God to be attentive to his prayers. He stood before God as “your servant”. he knew that God is God, but he also knew that he was God’s servant. he was the king’s cup bearer. He was a man with many high and mighty and noble titles in life. But first and foremost, he knew that the only title that is worth having is that of God’s servant. So Nehemiah humbly asks God to listen to his servant’s prayers. He would intercede for the people of God, whom he also views as God’s servants. As God’s servant interceding for God’s people and servants, what should his prayer be?
And the first thing that God would hear from Nehemiah’s mouth and heart was a confession of sin. He confesses the sins of his people, and includes himself and his family among all those who had sinned against God. Nehemiah was deeply aware of why his people had suffered so much in the last century. He was deeply aware of why God had sent his people into exile. Why God had done such a thing to a people he loved so much, a people whom he had promised an unbroken covenant of love. He was deeply aware that the miseries visited upon his people are not random without meaning and without purpose. That the miseries are the consequence of sin. That they had come upon his people because they were guilty of sin. Most people do not see life from God’s point of view. They cannot see any meaning in the suffering of a nation and the suffering of a people. They cannot see why they come across hardship and trouble. In truth, it is because they do not know that God is sovereign over all things. That he holds life in his hands, and all the events of life are bound up to his will. That things do not happen by chance. Mostly they cannot comprehend God’s discipline— his hand at work in their lives to draw them near to himself. Why? Because they do not see their own sins. Because they do not acknowledge their own sins. Because they do not have neither the faith nor the humility to look at things from God’s perspective, through God’s word, and then understand their own circumstances by faith. Nehemiah was a man of faith. He trusted and believed the word of God. He knew that God’s warnings are real, that his word is absolute, that sin has consequences.
When Nehemiah came to God in prayer, he came humbly as a sinner, and not as a righteous man. He included himself with those who had sinned against God, even 100 years ago, who brought about the judgment of exile. He realized that we share the sins of others, that the sins of others are a reflection of our own sins. Nehemiah also knew what sins they had committed before the holy God. He confesses that they had acted wickedly. The word “acted” is significant. It means that the people’s sins, his own sins, were not sins of ignorance, that they were deliberate sins against God. What were their sins? Although they had many, Nehemiah mentions two of them. In verse 7 he confesses the sin of disobedience to God. And in verse 8, it is clear that the other sin is unfaithfulness to God. Disobedience to God’s word and unfaithfulness to God are most serious sins in our lives, sins that cause God pain and bring about terrible consequences. God in his love has not only given us his word to guide us, that we may cherish it as a holy treasure and keep it close to our hearts, he also has bound himself to us through a covenant of love, and of grace. God had betrothed himself to his people of Israel. In the last days, he bound himself to us through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. He gave us his word, not so that we may look at it once in a while when we are looking for comfort or meaning, but he gave us his word so that we may obey it. He is also faithful. Every promise he made he kept. Also all the warnings he gave came true. But his people did not remain faithful to him, bound to their Father and God. when life became easy and comfortable, they abandoned God and prostituted themselves with the foreign gods of pleasure and of prosperity. When Nehemiah came before God, he came as a sinner. He confessed his sins and the sins of his people. The Bible tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5) There is nothing as offensive to God than a proud self righteous man or woman who stand before God as not guilty. There are no innocents in the world. Only sinners who need the grace and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus.
In verses 8-9, Nehemiah reminded God about his word of warning, and of promise. He confessed that they had been disobedient to God’s word and unfaithful to him. But he also remembered God’s promises that if the people returned to God in obedience, he would gather them from wherever they are and bring them to the place he had chosen for a dwelling for his Name.” Nehemiah’s believed God’s promise to bring back home his people from exile. He held on to God’s promise. In faith then, he came to God I prayer, taking God at his word to restore the people, and gather them once again to Jerusalem— the place he had chosen as a dwelling for his name. This is remarkable faith. Nehemiah trusted God’s word of promise, absolutely sure that God’s word would come true. So Nehemiah did not stop with confession of sins. He reminded God of his promises, committing himself and his people to live in obedience to God’s word. We learn something very important here. Confession of sin may be the first step to restoration. But he who comes before the Lord in confession, must also have a decision to commit to obedience. Jesus urged those who would follow him to obedience when he said: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do as I say.” (Luke 6:46) Perhaps a Christian’s troubles do not go away even after the confession of sin, because the decision to obedience is missing. When a man or a woman recognize their sins, and come before the Lord in confession, they should know that it is not the end of the journey but just the beginning. We ought to commit ourselves to obedience to God’s word, Nehemiah committed himself and his people to obedience as well.
Read verse 10. “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” In his prayer, Nehemiah went as far as to remind God of several things. The people he was praying for were not just any people. They were God’s own people— the very people God had loved and nurtured into God’s holy nation. While they suffered for 400 years as slaves in Egypt, God himself had suffered together with them even longer. At the right time, God redeemed them from the powerful hand of Pharaoh by his own mighty power. And God had a clear purpose in their glorious redemption. As Nehemiah says, they are not only God’s people but they were God’s servants— called to serve God’s holy purpose. When God had delivered them, he told them: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Exodus 19:5-6) The apostle Peter explains this further when he addresses God’s people saying: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) God redeemed his people that they might declare God’s wonders to the whole world. When Nehemiah mentioned in his prayer how God had once delivered his people with his mighty hand, he believed that God was able to extend his mighty hand to deliver these exiles, so they would serve God’s purpose in the world.
Read verse 11. “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” Once again Nehemiah stands before God as God’s servant and pleads with him to attend to his prayer. He asks God to give him success in his mission. He asks for God’s favor. And he asks that he find favor with the king. In mentioning the king, Nehemiah calls him “this man”. The king was the most powerful king in the world. But in the presence of God, the king was only a “man”. Nehemiah believed that God is sovereign over all things in heaven and on earth. He believed that all things are subject to God’s will, that ultimately God is in control of the world and its affairs. For this reason he did not depend on his privileged position as the king’s cup bearer, but rather absolutely depended on God. He knew that he needed God’s favor. He knew that if he were to receive the king’s favor, God would have to intervene. He knew that his success or failure had nothing to do with his own ability or the king’s mood, but that success and failure depended solely on God’s will. So he said: “Lord, give me success”. He had a mission from God to fulfill. He needed to secure God’s blessing and favor. And so he prayed.