Lesson 7

Our Forgiving God

(Nehemiah 9)
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Introduction: What does it mean to "repent?" What does it mean to "confess sin?" I thought I knew. But in the last few years I've begun to rethink those terms based on my study of the Bible. Let's plunge into our study of Nehemiah and see what we can learn. Perhaps you will adjust your understanding of those terms!

  1. Confession


    1. Read Nehemiah 9:1-2. Do you notice anything strange in these two verses? Something that does not fit with your understanding of the confession of sin? (They confessed the sins "of their ancestors.")


      1. What has been your understanding of "confess your sins" when a minister calls for repentance and confession? (I traditionally understood it as a confession of something that I had done.)


    2. Read Matthew 6:12. What do you think Jesus is talking about here? (I think He is talking about my traditional understanding of the confession of sin.)


    3. Read 1 John 1:9. What do you think the Bible is talking about here?


    4. Re-read Nehemiah 9:2. I'm going to assume that at least some of the "ancestors" to which Nehemiah refers were dead. Certainly the people would not be referring to their personal sins when they confessed the sins of their ancestors. How do you understand this use of the term "confessed their sins?" (Logically, this has to be some sort of "corporate" confession. It is contrary to the way confession is referred to in 1 John 1:9 or Matthew 6:12.)


    5. Read Matthew 3:1-2. Have you ever thought about the logic of this call by John the Baptist? Why would you repent because of something that is near in terms of time or space? Why would you repent at all because of something someone else is doing?


    6. Read Matthew 4:17. Jesus says the same thing. What do you think is the "kingdom of heaven?" (I think Jesus is referring to Himself.)


      1. If I'm right, why would the people repent about that? Why not rejoice?


    7. Read Matthew 11:20. Why would you repent because great things were done in your city? Why wouldn't you rejoice instead?


    8. As you contemplate all of the ways that "confess" and "repent" are used, what meaning would include all of them? (I think the common thread among all of these is attitude. Nehemiah's call is to confess the wrong attitude that generations of God's people had towards God. When John the Baptist and Jesus call for repentance, they are asking the people to change their understanding of the Messiah. The people are called to change their attitude about the nature of sin and forgiveness - for the Kingdom of Heaven is here! Even when we are thinking about our personal sins, Jesus asks us to change our attitude about the sin in our life. By the power of the Holy Spirit be honest about the sin in your life and determine to change course.)


  2. Praise


    1. Read Nehemiah 9:3. What do you think about the order of these activities? First read the Bible, then confess, then worship. Does that seem logical?


      1. Does that seem consistent with our discussion of what it means to repent? (One reason why the GoBible questions always start with reading a Bible text is that it is essential to know God's word. Once we contemplate His word, then we see where our lives are out of line. When we are sincere about following God, our attitudes are changed by the Holy Spirit, and we experience joy that turns to praise.)


    2. Read Nehemiah 9:4-5. Does anything like this ever happen in your church? Do the people "cry out with loud voices" and "stand up and praise" God?


      1. If not, why not? (I recall church members criticizing this kind of praise because it was too "Pentecostal," or "evangelical." These are false arguments. The question is not whether some church (or group) does it, the question is what does the Bible say about it.)


    3. Read Nehemiah 9:6. What is the first reason for praising God? (He is the Creator.)


      1. How important is the acknowledgment of this? (I've studied this before. God's primary claim to our allegiance is that He is our Creator.)


        1. Does belief in our God as Creator have an impact on our attitude about current controversies?


    4. Read Nehemiah 9:7-12. What is the next reason for praising God? (What He has done in their life and the lives of their ancestors.)


      1. My wife keeps a journal of the times in our life when God did great things for our family. Do you do this? If not, you are missing a great source of encouragement.)


    5. Read Nehemiah 9:13-14. Are the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath a reason for praising God?


      1. If you answered, yes, explain why? (The Sabbath and the laws are meant to be a blessing to us. So many people have the wrong attitude about the nature of God's law.)


      2. A few minutes ago I saw an article about "death bed" conversions. The idea is that I'll do what I want, and just at the last moment I'll confess so I can go to heaven. If confession is about attitude, what does that say about your attitude? (This is like a promise to make you rich - and you decide that you will reject this offer until just a moment before you die. Clearly, you have the wrong attitude about what is being offered!)


    6. Read Nehemiah 9:15. What else has God done for His people? (He fed them, gave them water, and gave them a home.)


  3. Rebellion and Reaction


    1. Read Nehemiah 9:16-19. When you pray, do you normally recite the errors of your ancestors?


      1. Why do it here? (Note that the prayer is not simply about rebellion, it is about God's gracious reaction to it.)


      2. Do you have any explanation for why the people would cite the rebellion that occurred in the Exodus from Egypt, as opposed to the more recent rebellion that resulted in their Babylonian captivity? They were just coming out of the Babylonian captivity!


    2. Read Nehemiah 9:20. What does this teach us about the Holy Spirit? (Sometimes we think that the Holy Spirit is active only in the New Testament. This shows us that He was so important in the Old Testament that the people were specifically noting His work.)


      1. Notice the nature of what is being discussed: water, food, and the Holy Spirit. How essential are water and food? What does this say about the Holy Spirit?


    3. Let's skip down and read Nehemiah 9:25-28. Does this answer our earlier question about why they confessed the Exodus sins and not the later sins? (Yes. They had not yet gotten to that point in their history.)


    4. Let's skip down and read Nehemiah 9:36-38. What is the conclusion that the people reach in their prayer? (They are going to enter into a "binding agreement" with God!)


    5. We are going to study this agreement next week. Right now, let's analyze this prayer. We've been calling it a prayer, even though it seems to be a praise that has turned into a long statement of the history of the people. Should you periodically review your entire history with God?


      1. What are the highlights of this review? (God has been faithful while the people have been largely unfaithful.)


      2. Is this what you hear from people today? When people are suffering, do they generally acknowledge their part in the suffering?


      3. My father's mother remarried when she was 62 years old. The man she married was a recovered alcoholic who was on fire for God. I recall him telling me how sad he was that he had wasted so much of his life in addiction. That kind of honesty made a big impression on me!


    6. Friend, the central part of repentance and confession, is not about a single sin, but rather about your attitude. Nothing helps get our attitude right more than studying God's word and then honestly considering of our history with God. Will you commit to taking time for an honest review of your history with God? Will you review God's kindness to you? Will you commit to Bible study?


  4. Next week: God and the Covenant.

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Lessons on Ezra and Nehemiah

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