The Honor of God
Doing a Great Work for God
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
And when they entered unto the heathen, whither they went, they profaned my holy name, when they said to them, These are the people of the LORD, and are gone forth out of his land.
The great start made by the Jews recorded in Nehemiah chapter 3 did not go unnoticed by their enemies, but then a great work will always draw the attention of those who hate God. Thus chapter 4 begins with the response to the rebuilding of the walls from Sanballat and Tobiah, the leaders of the adversaries at that time. What comes, perhaps, as a huge surprise, is Nehemiah's response to the ridicule and reproach from their antagonists. He prays to God in verse 5 asking something unbelievable: "let not their sin be blotted out from before thee". What exactly was Nehemiah asking God to do and why was such a request made? In this lesson we shall seek the answer to these questions and find that the honor and glory of God were at stake. In the end, we shall see how our works affect God's honor - an important lesson to consider when doing a great work for God.
Nehemiah begins his prayer by first asking God to do to their enemies exactly what their enemies had been doing to the Jews. Then he goes on to request that their sin not be blotted out nor covered. David said in Psalm 32:1, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" which is quoted by Paul in Romans 4:7 concerning salvation. In fact the two words "cover" and "blot" describe two aspects of our justification before God: propitiation and remission.
The Apostle John wrote that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). This word propitiation is connected with the word "covering" as used with the mercy seat that covered the Ark of the Covenant. Inside the Ark was the covenant (the ten commandments) which man could not keep, but the blood was applied to the mercy seat which covered the Ark. The picture is that the blood, which came from the death of an innocent lamb, covered the broken covenant: sin. The death of the lamb brought appeasement to God satisfying His just penalty for sin. Thus to cover a man's sin is to hide it from the just wrath of God, which can only be achieved under the blood of Jesus Christ. Propitiation satisfies the holiness of God.
To blot out sin is essentially the equivalent of forgiveness or remission. The sin and its consequences are wiped clean as if they had not been. Remission of sin satisfies the mercy of God. Both propitiation and remission are illustrated beautifully in the two goats that were a part of the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:7-22). One goat, picturing propitiation, was slain and the blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat. The high priest would confess the sins of Israel over the other goat (transferring them from Israel to the goat) and this goat, a picture of remission, would be sent into the wilderness never to be seen again.
What would be the result if God did not cover a man's sins nor blot them out?
At the very least, Nehemiah was asking God not to forgive nor appease His wrath in this matter of reproach from Sanballat and Tobiah. Yet because these terms are so closely connected with a man's salvation, it is not hard to believe that Nehemiah was asking God for more than this. Perhaps he was requesting that God condemn these men to hell! In either case, Nehemiah was praying down a curse from God on these enemies. This is an example of an imprecatory prayer which is to request that God curse or bring some evil upon a person. David made such prayers many times in the Psalms. He once asked God, "Break their teeth, O God, in their mouth" (Psalm 58:6) and also "Consume them in wrath, consume them, that they may not be" (Psalm 59:13). Jeremiah made an imprecatory prayer very similar to Nehemiah's in Jeremiah 18:23.
Now that we have laid some groundwork in considering the contents of his prayer, let us try to resolve the question of why he made such a request of God.
First let us understand that even though the ridicule and scorn of Sanballat and Tobiah were directed at the Jews and the rebuilding of the walls, this was in reality a reproach against God as well. When Goliath said, "I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together" (1 Samuel 17:10), David interpreted this reproach as a direct attack upon Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts. He informed Goliath that he had come in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied (1 Samuel 17:45). As Christians, sometimes we take the scorn and mocking of the enemy personally, but we ought to remember that ultimately it is truly God that is being dishonored. God had to remind Samuel when the people wanted a king, "they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me" (1 Samuel 8:7).
Why did Nehemiah make an imprecatory prayer with such an awful curse? The honor and glory of God was being ridiculed and shamed. It was not out of a selfish desire for vengeance that Nehemiah based his plea, for he says nothing about himself, but, on the contrary, he says in verse 5, "they have provoked thee to anger". His motive was purely to remove the reproach that was being brought upon his God and to restore the honor that was due Him. In fact, we could easily add that this was a part of the basis of his motive for rebuilding the walls to begin with. His desire was to remove the reproach of his people (Nehemiah 1:3) which translated to dishonor upon God. What a grand motive and such should be the motive behind any great work that we do. As David said, "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name" (Psalm 29:2). Paul wrote to Timothy, Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17). The 24 elders cast their crowns before God saying, "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created" (Revelation 4:11). Paul gave commandment through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 10:31 saying, "whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God".
Do we always have the proper motive in our service to God?
We have no record that God was displeased with what Nehemiah requested. It seems clear that he was just in this petition whose ultimate goal was to restore the honor due to God. We may conclude then that these enemies of God were getting their just reward for reproaching the God of heaven. We may go further though and establish this truth: Those who dishonor God are subject to His great wrath. Paul writes in Romans 1:18, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. He connects this thought with verse 21, Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God. As an example, Herod (Agrippa I) was slain by God in Acts 12:23, because he gave not God the glory.
Let those who take the name of God in vain beware. Let those who belittle the pastor or the church be warned. Remember, those who dishonor God's people or the work of God are actually bringing dishonor to God. Perhaps this was why David was so careful not to touch King Saul, the man God had picked as the leader of His people.
How was it that Jerusalem and the people of God came into such a setting for shame and ridicule? Remember, it was their own sin that brought this about. Let us realize this truth that our actions and works can bring honor or dishonor upon our God. Ezekiel discusses the fact that certain Jews who were scattered into heathen countries brought a reproach upon God when they reported that they were His people (Ezekiel 36:20). Perhaps God's name was profaned here because the heathen saw their sin and connected this with God: "these are God's people?". The same thing occurs when people see the hypocrisy or immorality in one who professes to be a Christian. They say, "if that is what a Christian is, ", and this dishonors God.
What are some ways that we commonly bring shame to the name of God?
1. Unbelief - Romans 4:20
2. Immorality - 2 Samuel 12:14
3. Inconsistency - Nehemiah 5:9
When we remember that bringing dishonor to God brings His wrath, perhaps we can better appreciate what David said, "Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered" (Romans 4:7).
What if Nehemiah's motive had not been to restore honor to God, but instead if it had
been some selfish motive such as bringing honor or power to himself? Would he have made
such a prayer? Would he have been successful in rebuilding the walls? Perhaps, but what
would have been his reward? The Old Testament clearly reveals that God honors those who
first honor Him. Paul warns the Christian concerning their works, "let every man take
heed how he buildeth thereupon" (1 Corinthians 3:10). The foundation of our works
must be Jesus Christ (verse 11) there can be no other foundation to build upon. A selfish,
fleshly motive for a great work is not laid on this foundation and will therefore bring no
reward! As the Puritan Thomas Brooks said, " A man's most glorious actions will at
last be found to be but glorious sins, if he hath made himself, and not the glory of God,
the end of those actions".