“God Does What He Says He Will Do”

Nehemiah 9

How do you deal with a history of failure? 

The same way you deal with entropy.  What’s entropy? It’s the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states, all things in the universe are going from an orderly state to a disorderly state. The only way to stop entropy is with an input of positive energy. If you are a mother, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It has a synonym called, accumulation. Laundry accumulates, dirty dishes accumulate, toys, books, stuff in one’s bedroom accumulate. The only way to overcome the natural order of things, is to input energy. In other words, pick it up. The same goes for sin. Think over the course of your life and consider your accumulation of sins. How often did sin act like entropy? 

You started out okay, but one sin happened, which led to another, which led to another, traveling in that disorderly state, until, it just seemed to take too much energy to clean it up? It begins to look like the messy closet and the easier to deal with it is by closing the door. But the truth be told, you know it’s there, and you keep telling yourself that you will deal with it eventually, when you have enough time. Well, eventually never arrives, and you never seem to have enough time, and the mess keeps increasing, thanks to entropy.  At this point, whenever you think about it, you feel trapped in guilt, a dense weight of guilt that hangs over your head, threatening to crush you at any moment. The only thing keeping it off you is the mercy of God.

As we look at Nehemiah 9, we will see God’s people doing precisely what I have been talking about. 

They have come to the point where they realize they have to open the closet and acknowledge the mess of sin in their past. This point arrives when they decide to read the Torah, God’s Word. The closet door has been opened, sin has dumped out and it’s time to deal with the mess. Notice the steps they take to do so. First they rehearse all that God’s done for them. Then they go through their transgressions, and finally they return to God’s mercy. 

If you are a sinner, you may be able to identify with this passage. If you can relate to the accumulation of your sins piling up like all the dirty laundry you’ve ever soiled, like the bottomless sink full of dirty dishes, like the proverbial closet door that should you open, all the junk will dump out and then you find it’s difficult to get the door to close, the prayer that is prayed in Nehemiah 9 will resonate with you. 

It’s been a while since we have been looking at Nehemiah so let’s take a look at where this passage falls in the whole book. In chapters 1-6 we read about the rebuilding of the wall. The reason Nehemiah traveled to Jerusalem in the first place. The completion of the wall created a desire for the people to seek a covenant renewal. Chapter nine is right in the midst of the renewal section, chapters 7-12. 

The final chapter, chapter 13, will describe how entropy sneaks in again and that covenant renewal will be broken, the circle of life. 

You may recall that in chapter 7 we read a long list of names. The Israelites had taken time to name all of those who belonged to the covenant they had decided to renew. Then in chapter 8 they read directly from the Torah in order to instruct them in the covenant. 

The response from the people was mourning and weeping about the way they had fallen short of the Torah and failed the covenant. But because it was the first day of the seventh month, which was a holy day, the people were told to hold off on their weeping. They celebrated the Festival of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement and the Festival of Booths. Twenty-four days later, we are in chapter 9 and they have returned to what they started when the law was read on the first day. They began to mourn and weep. 

Verse 1 describes the Israelites who have assembled as “fasting, wearing sackcloth, and having dust on their heads.” I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed. A whole month of festivals has occurred since they first felt conviction. They weren’t allowed to deal with their convictions then, but they didn’t forget. They returned, twenty-three days later to deal with their sin. 

Have you ever been convicted of your sin at a time when it wasn’t appropriate for you to deal with it? Maybe it was recently. Maybe something happened while you were in a conversation with someone, and it just wasn’t right for you to fall on your face before God and cry out to Him and deal with your sin in that moment. Here is an excellent example to imitate. If you’ve felt conviction that you haven’t addressed, don’t forget to take care of it as soon as you are able. That might even be today. 

Verse two tells us those of Israelite descent were the ones doing the confessing.  They stood and confessed not only their sins but the guilt of their fathers. These Israelites will acknowledge all God has done for them and how their response was to treat it with disregard.

We read in verse 3, they stood in their places as the book of the law of their God was read for one fourth of the day, then they spent another fourth of the day in confession and worship. That’s around a six hour worship service!

From verses 5-37 we read their prayer of praise and their confession of sin. Nehemiah also provides for us the fullest summary of the storyline of the Old Testament in the Old Testament. It’s like Nehemiah was providing the Cliff Notes of the history of Israel. He has chosen selective and strategic parts of the Old Testament by using key phrases from the Torah along with some new material of his own. Nehemiah highlights the following key moments as he retells the biblical narrative:

  • Creation
  • Abraham
  • Exodus
  • The wilderness
  • The conquest
  • The judges
  • The prophets
  • Exile
  • Justice 
  • Mercy

He begins with praising God. All good biblical narratives begin with praising God. The praises began in verse 5 and then in verse 6 we read, 

“You alone are Yahweh.” 

This matches what was written in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.”

Having set the stage correctly that there is no other God than Yahweh, Nehemiah continues with creation. 


Verse 6 – “You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.”


Nehemiah was setting the stage. These people were about to confess their sins. He was reminding them that they were both accountable and obligated to the Creator. Without God, nothing exists. 


Next comes Abraham. Not only did God choose Abram and bring him out of Ur, but more importantly, God found Abraham’s heart faithful in His sight. Then God made a covenant with Abram to give the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites to his descendants. 

The prayer continues with acknowledging that God has kept His promises, as one of His characteristics is righteousness. Throughout this passage, the understanding is emphasized, God does what He says He will do.


Now the prayer takes us to the exodus from Egypt, verses 9 – 21. God saw the oppression of their ancestors in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea. These Israelites sitting in sackcloth with dust on their heads could relate to those in Egypt. They wanted Yahweh to do in their day what He did at the exodus.


They recount how God led the Israelites through the wilderness and brought them to Mt. Sinai, where they received the law. 

Moses stresses in Deuteronomy that the law was a good gift to Israel. With the Ten Commandments they didn’t have to guess what had to be done or how to please God. Compared to how kings devised ways to oppress and abuse the people in their control, the laws of the Old Testament were a good system and Nehemiah was reminding the Israelites of this. 


Now Nehemiah reminds them how God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness as they traveled to the promised land. This brings us to some of Israel’s sin. They get to the land, send in spies to check it out, and their response was seen as “arrogant.” The same Hebrew word that was used to describe the Egyptians during the plagues. It is translated as “stiff-necked,” or acting like a mule or an unwilling cow. What did they do in their stiff-neckedness? 

They appointed a leader to return them to slavery in Egypt. Logically that makes no sense. God had freed them and they wanted to go back to being slaves again? That’s exactly what sin is like. It doesn’t make sense. Nehemiah then focused on God’s response to the stiff necked people, he quoted Exodus 34: 6-7, the most quoted Old Testament verse among the entire Bible. 

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Nehemiah reminded those who are feeling the weight of their sin that God is a forgiving God. 

God showed mercy to Israel after the golden calf incident and Nehemiah was pointing out that the Lord is ready to do so again: 

“Gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in faithful love, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

They have set the stage for their argument. They have established the character of God in the past and trust that He doesn’t change, and that He will continue to do what He says He will do. Even though their ancestors had made a calf out of gold and called it Yahweh, God showed mercy, because He is a compassionate God.  There were some consequences for their sin. The Israelites had to wander through the wilderness for forty years. 

But even then, Nehemiah reminded them, God not only provided their food and their shoes never wore out, but He also provided His presence. His Spirit was with them as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. What a wonderful reminder. God forgives our sins, but He is a wise father and realizes the need for us to live through the consequences. Yet, even in our consequences He provides and He is with us. 

Up to now Nehemiah has rehearsed the whole of the Pentatuch. He now recalls the events of the book of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land. The descendants of those who wandered take over the land and verse 25 describes what they received,  

“and took possession of well-supplied houses, cisterns cut out of rock, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees in abundance. They ate, were filled, became prosperous, and delighted in Your great goodness.”

Wow! Everything they could want. How did they respond? The same way they responded to God’s goodness at the exodus: rebellion. There’s a pattern going on here. 

This brings Nehemiah to the book of Judges. By this time you can figure out what happens. The Israelites find themselves in distress once again, and once again, they call out to Yahweh. Does God say He’s had enough? No. Because that is not part of God’s character, verse 28 

“And when they cried out to You again, You heard from heaven and in Your compassion you delivered them time after time.” 

God’s compassion is remembered again. Nehemiah goes on to describe what the Prophets said during the reign of the kings. They warned the Israelites to turn back to God’s law. 

It’s right about now I need to ask the question, “Do you look at your life and identify with Israel? We all should. If we take an honest look at our lives, we will see all the good things that God has done for us, and we will see that all we have done in return is transgress against Him. Even when we don’t mean to sin, we do sin.

Nehemiah eventually gets to the point in the Iraelites story where they are in exile, exactly where they were standing in their sackcloth. Having reviewed the character of God represented through their ancestry Nehemiah reminds them that their only hope is in God’s mercy. 

Nehemiah’s objective was for the Israelites to look at their history of disobedience and rather than being depressed by it, they see God’s overflowing mercy.

What a gift! God is the same today as He was back then. We do not have to be discouraged by the history of disobedience in our life. We can use it to highlight the great mercies of God. God uses it to show how merciful He is. It’s for us to celebrate the greatness of this good God. After listening to their history and recognizing the gift of mercy Nehemiah helped those listening to create a covenant with God, we will read about the details of this covenant in chapter 10. 

Maybe you need to make a covenant with God? 

After listening to this message and being reminded of the characteristics of God, of His compassion and His mercy and His desire to forgive, you may have some confessions of your own. I encourage you to ponder the possibility. The whole purpose of Jesus taking on the accumulated transgression of humanity was so we could be freed from our sin. 

What an awesome God. 

Let’s pray.