We return again today to our series on the book of Nehemiah. We are engaged in the ninth chapter of this wonderful book. We turn our attention, today, to verses 32-38, asking for God’s blessing.
Recall with me that last week we looked into the first verses of the ninth chapter and saw that the people of God in Nehemiah’s day were engaged in the most important activity of life—congregational worship.
We have witnessed in this book that there was a spiritual revival among the people of God, inspired by the leadership of Nehemiah, the man who had a heart for the cause of God on earth and who had returned to build the walls of Jerusalem and to set in order the things that were wanting.
Nehemiah had encouraged the people to be busy with the things of God. The Holy Spirit then sparked renewed zeal for God and His Word in the heart of the people of God. That is very true. If you are busy with yourself all week and with this world and with your own entertainment and possessions, you will find little interest in spiritual things on Sunday. But the people of God had centered their life in the Word of God and in their calling before God. And that led them to zealous worship.
In their worship they came under the light of God’s goodness to them, God’s goodness in Himself, God’s goodness in creation and providence, and, especially, God’s goodness in His faithful work for the church. Under the X-ray light of God’s goodness, they saw themselves as sinners—proud and rebellious. And this led them to see the brilliance of God’s mercy—His mercy in Christ revealed to those humbled by their sins.
And all of these things we sought to apply to ourselves as we considered that word last week.
Now, in verse 32 of Nehemiah 9, we come to a significant transition, from the reflection of the past to a contemplation of the present. The scene changes as the people of God who are met in worship no longer focus on the degrading past, but on the distressing present. They have turned from the heartaches of years gone by to the hardship of their own time. They speak to God now, in worship, of the troubles that have come upon them. They say to Him that they are in great distress. They have changed from the reciting of woe and sin of the past to the reality of their own situation: “We, O Lord, are met before Thee. We are Thy church. We need Thy mercy and Thy grace for our present difficulties and trials.”
Verse 32 in Nehemiah 9 is the only petition to be found in the whole prayer that they bring to God. The only thing that they ask of God is: “Let not all the trouble that has come upon us seem little before Thee.” There was one thing that lived in their heart: They wanted to be assured that God pitied, that God saw them, that God took thought of them, that God did not despise them, that God had compassion on them.
I think of what we read in Psalm 40:17: “But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh on me. Thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God.” Is this your prayer today? Is this your prayer as you come together to worship the Lord on this day? Is your one great need this: “That the Lord would assure me that He thinks on me, that He sees me in the compassion of His dear Son. If I know that, then all is well.” Is that true for you?
It seems that the prayer is a bit strange. They pray to God now, “Let not all the trouble that has come upon us seem little before Thee. Upon our kings and upon our princes, and upon our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and upon all thy people—let it not seem little to Thee. Lord, don’t let our trouble and problems seem insignificant, to appear of no real account to Thee, to be trivial, really, in the broader scope of things. Don’t let it appear to be a small item on the agenda compared to some of the things that are before Thee, O Lord.”
Now that is strange, I say, because the Bible says that God loves us, loves the church, and that the church is the apple of His eye. He says to them, “You only have I loved.” Is it not true that we confess that God’s whole eternal counsel is centered in His glory, the glory that He will reveal in the church of Jesus Christ? Is not God’s heart always filled with the needs, the concerns, of His children, even as a father towards his children? Is He not the perfect Father?
Yes, that is true; that is absolutely true. But the prayer that they are making is nevertheless understandable from our perspective. When you are brought low, when you groan under the sense of your sin and your littleness and your weakness, and especially when you have been under the load of trial for a long time and God has so humbled you, you are tempted to ask, “Does God really care? My troubles, my woes of heart, are they important to Him?” Especially when the shame of it comes upon you, you say concerning your sins, “Surely it is so bad, it is so shameful, that God does not want to take an interest in me anymore.”
When you have been humbled, when you have been brought to see the shame of your own condition, and when you have been subjected to a long period of trial, then you are tempted to believe that your situation and your burdens are, perhaps, not of great concern to God.
The people in Nehemiah’s day were in trouble. They were weighed down and in great distress. They were in grief, grief that sapped all joy and gave them sighing hearts. Now note that. The ones who are praying are the ones who have been busy in the work of the Lord in the building of the walls. They have felt the power of grace to gather them together under the Word of God to worship. They are the ones who are in the church.
We ask, what was the trouble, then? Were not things going so much better under Nehemiah than before? Why do they feel so burdened about trouble when things look so upbeat now?
A number of things. First of all, they saw their troubles were many. They felt that they were being overwhelmed by troubles. It seemed to them that one trouble came after another. “Let not all the trouble seem little to Thee,” they say.
Secondly, these troubles that they complain of before God have been of long standing. They say, this has been the situation since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day—250 years! They say, thirdly, that these troubles are affecting all of them—all classes, all places of service—our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, all Thy people. The people of God are one. We are knit together in the love of God. And all these problems come upon us collectively, as a body.
And they say, finally, to God, “These troubles have affected our daily life.” It is something they had to deal with every waking moment. It was upon their heart. It was taxing them. They say to God, “It yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us. They have dominion over us. We are under their dominion.”
All of these things can be traced back to one thing: their sin. They are telling God about their trouble, which we must do, too. But not in a way in which they are clueless as to why the trouble has come upon them. They know and confess that the root and the source of their trouble was their sin (v. 33: but we have done wickedly; v. 37: because of our sins).
The spiritual ability had been given to these people. They did not stand around facing their troubles, scratching their head, wondering what went wrong. They did not go out the back door and scream into the night against all the woe and trouble and kick at the first object in their path. They knew the source of their problem was personal sin.
I do not know the exact woe of your heart today, whether you are feeling overwhelmed, whether the difficulties before you are long-standing, affecting your relationships, your marriage, your family, your daily life. You may well have submitted to God under His chastenings. But you must not separate the woe of your heart very far from your own sin. And then you must go to the cross for the wonderful cleansing and the power of God’s grace.
There were two realities about the sins that they had committed that were so grievous now to them. The passage shows, first of all, that the sin that they had committed had made itself their master. The sin to which we would consent and give ourselves enslaves—the sin with which we want to negotiate, the sin that we wish to take into our life only on certain terms and at certain times. We would say that sin has the power to enslave. They say, “We are the servants of another.” What had happened was this. The freedom of an independent life as a nation had been removed from them and now they were paying taxes, and all the cream of the crop was going to the king of Persia. The servitude was galling, it was hard to accept, it was over their own bodies. “They have dominion over our bodies,” they say (v. 37).
Now let God’s Word warn us this day. Young man, young girl, all of us! Let it jar you awake. Sin of lust, sin of envy, sin of vanity, sin of drunkenness, sin of sexual uncleanness, sin of cursing, sin of swearing—all these sins enslave. We call it addiction. Addiction is spiritual law in action. The reality of sin that is consented to has the power to hold. There is slavery today.
We read of young girls and boys in the Far East (and in our country as well) being enslaved and used for unspeakable perversions. Slave-traders in lust. All sin is that way – lust, drugs, drink, envy, gossip, jealousy, swearing, pornography. They are the sins that have dominion over the body. And, oh, the distress that comes upon our life. There is freedom for our bodies under the King Jesus Christ, but nowhere else.
And, secondly, they saw that their sin resulted in giving their substance to another. They saw that they were only laboring for the increase of the king of Persia over them. They say, “The land thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, it yieldeth much increase unto the kings that thou has set over us.”
When we yield our life to a way of sin, we can work and work and work and we will have nothing to show for it. It is gone. Where is it? Did it go to the church? No. Did it go for the support of the family? No. Did it go for charities? No. Where did it go? It is spent for the lords of pleasure. It is spent on gambling, or on drugs.
Where does your money go? Whom are you serving? You see, when you serve sin, your money goes. Where does it go? More CDs? You have a college loan that you must pay back. You cannot pay it back—why? Are you spending your money for the kings of the earth, for fashion, Friday-night drinks? Do you give your substance to another—not just money now, but your substance—your energy, your talents, your time? Are you serving the King, the Lord Jesus, who replenishes and blesses, or do you serve the slave-masters of sin?
It was under this, as they were brought to see these things in their own lives, and it was as they were struggling with the effects of all of these things in their lives that they cry out as repentant people of God: “Let not all the trouble that has come upon us seem little to Thee.” That was a heartfelt cry. “Lord, though shame and guilt cover our face, and though, truly, we have no right to say anything before Thee, yet, O Lord, be mindful of us. Assure us that Thy eye is turned to us in pity and compassion as we are brought humbled and low before Thee.” It is not a prayer in which they are standing aloof and saying, “Lord, you had better help that guy over there…that gal over there. They need a lot of help, Lord. All’s OK here, Lord. But you had better help them over there.” No, it is a prayer that majors in directing our thoughts toward ourselves—a heartfelt prayer. The prayer of the prodigal son, “I will arise and go to my father and say, ‘I have sinned and I am not worthy to be called thy son. Make me as a hired servant.'”
The urgent plea was this: “We ask God to have a regard to our troubles, to take note of them, and to assure us that He is fully aware in His mercy, that His heart of mercy is turned and is ever upon His children who are brought low and know the sorrows brought by their own sins.” It is not a prayer rooted in impenitence. It is not a prayer saying, “Lord, take these troubles away. Lord, why should this have to happen to us? After all, can’t you just fix the problems we have. We’re sorry. Just fix it now.” No, it was an acknowledgment that they were in the trouble under the just judgment of God. They understood that. They are not finding fault with God’s ways. But they are asking, as repentant children of God, “Lord, in the midst of these troubles, we need something. What we need is to be assured that Thou dost look upon us in Thy mercy. Let not our trouble seem little to Thee.”
They are asking for God’s compassion. “Lord, understand how this feels to us. Lord, we are casting ourselves upon Thy marvelous compassion, the understanding of Thy perfect heart.” Though the Lord be high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly. “In all of our affliction, O Lord, be afflicted with us. Let the angel of Thy presence save us. In Thy love and pity redeem us and bear us and carry us under these difficulties.” That is their prayer.
The troubles of God’s children are not little to the Lord. That is the Word of God today. And what a wonderful Word of God that is. That is true concerning every trouble and every difficulty that the Lord in His will and way sends into your life.
The death of your 13-month-old child. The death of your loved teenager. The life and the spark of your heart. These troubles do not seem little to the Lord. God knows what our troubles are. God feels. God understands. It is not little to Him. He knows what is behind those tears. He knows what is going on in your heart that words cannot express. He knows the trouble and the woe that would drive you from the company of men and women to sob it out before the Lord. Your woe is not little to Him.
Children, your Mom and Dad might not understand anymore how it feels to be a teenager and the difficulties you are facing. But the Lord knows. Young adult, you may say, “I don’t think there are many in the church that can really understand where we are at.” The Lord does. You say, as a child of God, “But my way and my experience is different from anybody else’s. I’d tell you, but you would not really be able to understand my heart-life.” But God does. The great heart of God bears it all. All our trouble and all our woe—it is not little to Him.
The prayer is: “O Lord, as we stand as repentant sinners before Thee, let us be assured that we are viewed in Thy compassion. Let us be assured that, in the midst of our troubles, Thou art a God of mercy and compassion, not forgetting us, but working Thy good and sovereign way.” That is the prayer.
Here is the reason why we know that God does view us in His compassion at all times. It is given in verse 32: “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible [that is, the awe-inspiring] God, who keepest covenant and mercy.” God keeps covenant and mercy. God keeps covenant. God’s covenant is His will that He will be bound to His people in love, that He will show them great things about Himself, that He will draw them close to Himself, and that He will use everything as a means subservient to His purposes to glorify Himself in us and to make us His friends and servants. God’s mercy is His compassion for the miserable and His desire to do unto them good, to give the best for the worst, to raise the lowest to the highest, to enrich beggars. God keeps covenant and mercy.
And that means so much more than we can ever understand. It is not simply that God sticks it out, that He hangs in there because He has said He would. Yes, He is faithful. But that God keeps covenant means that His heart never changes, His love never grows old, His feelings never flag, His compassions never fail. Because He is the covenant-keeping God, the troubles of our heart shall all be before Him, and He will dispatch immediately mercy and grace in time of need. Because He keeps covenant, He will never despise our grief, He will never despise our struggles and our woes. Always, always, always He loves us.
You want proof? Look to the cross on Golgotha. He keeps covenant and mercy by healing all of our diseases, by bearing all of our sorrows, by obtaining for us the forgiveness of sins in the way of the giving of His own Son that we might live forever.
Are our troubles little to God? Are yours? Are they insignificant to Him? Does it matter to Him? Oh, yes!
When you come to worship and when you come in prayer to tell God your troubles—He already knew about them before you came. He is sovereign. And now they are all before Him in Jesus Christ. He has granted you something for those troubles. Grace and mercy that never fail. Compassion that is unending. And this word from God: “My son, my daughter, it must needs be so now. I will bear you through this unto a day of perfect glory.”
Let us pray.
Father, we again thank Thee for the Word, and pray for its blessing upon our hearts in this day, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.