This Bible lesson was taught at Lakeside Advent Christian Campground, July 27th, 2021.
Session 2 – 20210727
I am going to be reflecting on some Old Testament verses that explain how our God demonstrates his love to us.
My overall theme is simple: God loves us. If you believe that, you will be cheering on these messages. But if your faith in the biblical God as a loving God has been challenged, I hope you will be encouraged by these studies.
Today’s text is Nehemiah 9:16-17 CSB
Nehemiah 9:16-17a But our ancestors acted arrogantly; they became stiff-necked and did not listen to your commands. They refused to listen and did not remember your wonders you performed among them.
Even the most blessed of all people can go desperately wrong because of arrogance and stubbornness.
This truth is demonstrated in four contexts.
The prayer in Nehemiah referred to the Israelites who settled in the promised land, and promptly forgot the love of the God had brought them there.
The prayer brought that truth forward as a kind of warning for Nehemiah’s generation. They could also be potentially sidetracked from their mission by failure to recognize God’s love in their current situation.
The Pharisees in the New Testament are an example of a blessed people who thought they were special because of what the knew and how separated they were from others.
Our generation of Bible believing Christians can be guilty of the same attitudes. If we think God loves us because of what we know, and because of how different we are from others, we have taken two giant steps backward.
There is nothing wrong with knowing more about God. I encourage it. I think we should be spending more times study the Bible and theology, not less. But fostering a relationship with God based on responding to his love is more important.
1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.”
Paul was talking about the issue in his day of eating meat that might possibly have been dedicated to an idol. He encouraged the Christians in Corinth not to simple go by their knowledge. They should act out of love. Knowledge alone would have said that all foods are clean, so there is no problem. But love would say “could I be leading someone astray by eating this? Paul’s instruction was “take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (8:9).
Our generation also seems to overdo our separation. We like to mimic what our culture is doing with Christian versions of everything under the sun. Sometimes that is just our attempt at being relevant, and that is a good thing. But we need to be careful of our motives. If you only go to Christian movies and read Christian books and attend Christian schools, etc., you might come to a point where your life is so separated from the lost that you will never have a chance to show them Christ.
They became stiff-necked and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt.
The prayer refers to the people’s insurrection after the twelves spies came back, and the people accepted the majority report. God threatened to wipe them all out and start over with Moses, but Moses asked him to show his power by forgiving them instead. He did forgive them, but did not allow that generation to enter the promised land.
This fact also relates to Nehemiah and his generation as well. God had given them a commission. If they chose to stay instead of going to repair the walls of Jerusalem, they would be missing out on the blessing of the accomplished mission.
God has a mission for us. The love that he has shown us is designed for us to express by loving others and leading them to Christ. We can’t stay in the wilderness. We either have to rebel against God’s plan, or submit to it.
I might also point out that in the case of the Israelites in the wilderness, democracy failed them. They chose what the majority wanted to do, based on the majority report, rather than respond by faith to Joshua and Caleb’s call. There may just come a crucial point in your life when you are going to be called on to do what nobody else wants you to do. Like the apostles in the early church, you may have to say “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts5:29).
But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love, and you did not abandon them.
Look at this marvelous list of divine attributes.
• God is סְלִיחָה selichah – forgiving. He chooses to overlook our acts of blatant rebellion and ignorant foolishness, instead of giving us the immediate destruction they deserve.
If the wages of sin is death, then every mistake, every failure that we commit deserves immediate judgment and annihilation. We could not exist if we did not have a forgiving God.
He does not stop to judge whether the needy person deserves his generosity. No, he pours out his grace upon a planet filled with the undeserving.
• God is חַנּוּן channun – gracious. He chooses to be generous when he sees one of his creatures in need.
• God is רָחוּם rachum – compassionate. He acts with mercy, not giving us the condemnation we deserve, and he feels that compassion.
He suffers with those who suffer, even if that suffering comes from their disobedience and selfishness. The secularists think of God as the mysterious other, and criticize religions for believing in a God who is worldly enough to give laws for people to obey. But the religious see those laws differently. We see the laws as reflections on a God who loves. He cares about what happens to us, and what happens to others because of us, and what happens to the world around us. The mysterious detached unmoved mover of the universe cannot do that. But the biblical God does.
We humans create laws out of compassion for others and the desire to protect them – especially protecting the poor and powerless from the rich and powerful. Many of God’s laws are given for that purpose as well. They are a reflection of his compassion on his creatures.
• God is אֶֽרֶךְ־אַפַּ֥יִם erech ‘appayim – long in the nostrils. That is what it says literally. It takes some explanation.
When the Old Testament describes a person’s mental or emotional state, it usually uses body parts metaphorically. In American English, for example, if we wanted to say that someone was prone to anger, we might say he was hot-headed. That is using a physical body part (the head) as a metaphor for an emotional state.
In Hebrew, two body parts are generally used to describe a person’s emotions. First, there is the nefesh – the throat. The throat was used because it is the body part through which the breath passes, and often someone with an emotional disturbance.
• Genesis 42:21 Then they said to one another, "In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his throat, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us."
Joseph’s brothers remembered how he begged himself sore trying to get them to release him from the pit. They heard his anguish.
You might recognize that word nefesh because it is the word our English Old Testaments usually translate as soul. It is the throat. It came to represent the life of a person about to die because the breath leaves the body through the throat at death. It is not immortal, folks.
The second body part that Hebrew often uses this way is the nose, or – more particularly, the nostrils. Like nefesh, appayim is a part through which the breath passes. Someone with long nostrils takes a long breath before he does something. That became a metaphor for someone with patience.
God showed his love to the Israelites by patiently forgiving them long after human patience would have given up. Our noses are too short.
This is how our loving God acts toward us. He is patient – long-suffering, giving us a chance to repent and turn back to him.
• God abounds in חֶסֶד chesed – faithful love. This is God’s covenant faithfulness.
God’s faithfulness to his own covenant with his people is often used to describe him. It is love going in a certain direction, love toward a people to whom God is committed.
This is our God, friends, and he loves us.