Nehemiah: Doctrine of God

“Nehemiah’s Doctrine of God”

(Nehemiah 1:1 – 11)

We begin another three-week series, and this time we concentrate on Nehemiah, from the Book of the same name, and this will take us into different parts of the Book. I have used the Book on Nehemiah in ‘The Bible Speaks Today’ series, and I acknowledge my sincere thanks to the author for his insights, and the clear way he unpacks this Book.

This morning we will concentrate on His Doctrine of God; next week we will consider His Experience of Prayer; and lastly, we will round the series off by thinking about his Example of Leadership.

First of all, we must understand what we mean by the term ‘Doctrine’. It’s to do with a belief, or system of beliefs accepted as authoritative by some group or school, more often than not to do with theology, which for us means the science or better still, how we understand, and what we believe about God.

We must say right at the beginning that Nehemiah’s doctrine of God isn’t just what he believed, but was steeped in the beliefs of the Children of Israel, through the 5 Books of the Law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

There are a number of ‘Doctrines’ in the Bible, and taken from it, but this morning we’re going to learn about Nehemiah’s, and by extension, the beliefs and understanding about God of the Jewish people.

One writer has said that “the Book of Nehemiah is both a personal testimony to God, and a dynamic theological confession.” In other words: “I believe ….”, as the Creed begins.

Nehemiah is a man who is deeply conscious of God’s leading in his life, and we see that in these verses: 2:4, 8, 18; 6:10 – 14; 13:3 – 31, and the great objective truths given to God’s believing people, as these verses demonstrate: 1:5 – 11; 4:14; 8:1 – 12;9:1 – 37.

Listen to what one writer says: “Nehemiah’s teaching about God as holy and true is a healthy antidote to highly subjective aspects of Christian experience, which, under the subtle influences of our post-modern era, emphasizes more about how a believer feels, than upon what God has declared; more about novel experience, than the unshakeable foundation of revealed truth.”

In other words, modern influences in our Christian lives are often more about how it makes us ‘feel’, than about the reality of God. We must always guard against that, and Nehemiah is a good example and role-model to follow.

Here are 9 statements about Nehemiah that he used to remind his contemporaries about God, and that we need to hear too.

  1. The reality of God’s uniqueness. Judah had lost her political freedom (9:36 & 37), and could no longer pledge her allegiance to her own king – many of the Children of Israel were in exile, and had been for many years. The temple in Jerusalem had been re-built, but lacked the splendour of the one that Solomon had built many years before.

But in spite of that, God was still on their side: He had not changed, and Nehemiah regularly warmed to his theme of the greatness of God (9:32). This was an important message for a dispirited people in every generation. God never gives up on us. Who else do you know who is like that?

  1. God is universally sovereign. The ‘God ofheaven’ (1:5; 2:4, 20) was a divine title in Persian religion, but Nehemiah uses the phrase about the Living God – the Lord, Yahweh. He alone (9:6) is the God of heaven, not any of the Persian kings. Nehemiah is exiled in Persia – some thousand miles from Jerusalem – in Susa, but believes, and knows that God is in control of the whole universe.

It is the Living God, who, in His Sovereignty, can clear the way for those who honour Him, but also frustrate the plans of those who oppose Him (4:15). He alone can turn a cruel curse into an immeasurable blessing (13:2).

  1. God is totally reliable. He is the God ‘who keeps His covenant love with those who love Him and obey His commands’ (1:5; 9:32). He is true to His promises (9:8).

The Children of Israel had been disloyal – many times – and they had not honoured their covenant obligations, but, as Isaiah had assured them (Is 54:4 – 17), they were disciplined, but not abandoned.

  1. God is utterly holy. The first word of those who are burdened with grief (1:3 – 4) is to acknowledge that their greatest need is not immediate relief from present trouble, but eternal forgiveness. Nehemiah didn’t point the finger at everyone else, but acknowledged that he and his family had also sinned, and this is the context of the wider context of human rebellion – past and present (1:6 – 7; 9:2). Once forgiven, God’s people do not shape their moral standards by contemporary, ethical norms, but we live, not to win not human approval, but live according to the pattern of God’s holiness.

His people must be holy, because He is holy. Nehemiah was determined to do everything in life ‘out of reverence for God’ (5:15).

  1. God is compassionately merciful. When God entered into a covenant with His people, He knew that they would fail Him, and warned them of the serious consequences if they did so, that they would be exiled. But, if they returned to Him, seeking forgiveness, and being really repentant, He would bring them back to the land that He had given them, as a token of His mercy (1:8 – 9). He is, literally, a God of forgiveness (9:17).
  2. God is uniquely powerful. He encounters no difficulties in accomplishing His purposes for them.

The God who created the universe (9:6), who enabled childless Abraham to become the ‘father of a multitude’ (9:7), and ‘redeemed’ His oppressed people (1:10) from Egyptian slavery by ‘His great strength’ and ‘mighty hand’ (this is ‘Exodus’ language), could certainly bring the exiles home. But God wasn’t just uniquely powerful in the big events of life, but was just the same in the everyday events of life, when His people were threatened by powers too strong for them. On days when they felt totally overwhelmed by their enemies, their God would ‘fight’ for them (4:20).

  1. God is infinitely gracious. Nehemiah’s project was given royal approval, not because he was in the right place at the right time, but because ‘the gracious hand’ of his God was upon him (2:8, 18). God does not deal with individuals and communities as they deserve, but desires and designs things for their greater good.
  2. God is ultimately near. The ‘God of heaven’ is not detached and distant:

He draws close to His dependent people, and keeps making clear His plans for His people (2:12 – note the present tense!).

When in danger, He makes them sensitive to His promptings (6:12), and when they are uncertain of the way ahead, He reveals His will to them (7:5).

  1. God is completely just. Like many of God’s servants across the centuries, Nehemiah was plagued with bitter opposition. He and his contemporaries had to know that a day would come when life’s wrongs would be put right, when evil people will be brought before God’s judgement. Nehemiah’s enemies had not only insulted Nehemiah; they had despised God (4:4 – 5; 6:12).

But their righteous God was all too aware of Israel’s sins, as well as those of their enemies. If God’s people ignored God’s command to love their neighbours (Lev 19:18), and robbed the poor (5:1 – 13), they too would experience His severe judgement (9:33).

Nehemiah’s life was totally devoted to such a God.

He found delight (1:11) in seeking God’s face (1:4);

In revering God’s Name (1:11 again); pursuing God’s will (1:11; 2:4 – 5); acknowledging God’s goodness (2:8, 18); serving God’s people (2:12, 17); trusting God’s power (2:20); confessing God’s holiness (4:14; 5:9, 15); sharing God’s Word (8:9); showing God’s love (8:10); remembering God’s generosity (8:13 – 18); recalling God’s faithfulness (9:5 – 37); obeying God’s commands (10:29); and encouraging God’s servants (10:37 – 39; 13:10 – 13).

What about you and me? What is our doctrine of God? What do we know about God? How do we respond to Him? What do we believe about Him? If we’re going to believe in Him, surely we should get to know Him as much as we can, and understand what we believe about Him.

Nehemiah has taught us a lot this morning. So what? That’s for each one of us to decide, but may the Lord speak to each one of us through His Word, and deepen and enrich our understanding of God, and develop a greater belief in Him.

Let’s be still and quiet before the Lord God now, and make our own response to Him, through His Word.