“You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. (Nehemiah 9:13)
What does it mean to keep the commands? Should we even care?
As New Testament Christians, since we are in an age of grace in Jesus, it is easy to look at the Old Testament and say oh, it’s just a bunch of legalistic rules and regulations. I don’t have to worry about obeying.
But in today’s passage Nehemiah is giving his people a reminder of something that happened for them many centuries earlier. He reflects on who God is, and what God did, back in the times described in the book of Exodus. Obedience is connected to what God is really like: God is just, God is right, and God is good. Obedience gives us a taste of all three of these wonderful qualities of God.
But Nehemiah understands quite well that we do not automatically obey.
“But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. (Nehemiah 9:16)
They deserved to be left alone by God. But, amazingly, we hear,
…… But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness (Nehemiah 9:17b-19,emphasis mine)
But, what if we rebel and make an image of a golden calf and worship it? As modern 21st century people we say “Who, me? I wouldn’t make a calf. I’m not like those primitive people.”
But think about this: Jesus says, “He who loves me…keeps my commands.” Doesn’t the calf stand for anything we treasure more than keeping Christ’s commands? Aren’t we worshiping that thing more than Christ?
Nehemiah gives us a wonderful preview of God’s forgiveness for us in Christ. Because of God’s great compassion he does not abandon us in the wilderness even when we make an idol; instead he sent Christ to rescue us.
Through Christ giving us the Spirit, we can reflect God’s justice, righteousness, goodness—-and love. And because God’s love outweighs his anger, Christ always keeps the door of repentance open.
Father, we thank you that you do provide rescue for us in the person of Jesus, that because of your great compassion you do not abandon us.