It’s astounding what God puts up with concerning this rebellious creation of His called mankind. If He wasn’t long-suffering beyond what you and I can imagine, He would have decided the human experiment had long-past reached its expiration date. Nevertheless (the word that also happens to highlight the title of this essay today), God somehow determined long ago that we were – or would be – worth all the trouble we’ve given Him over the ages.
Our sinful nature has given man a persistent streak of rebelliousness. Our original sin runs deep and takes many forms. A couple of our negative attributes which the Old Testament plainly illustrates are presumption, and how we dig in our heels on a position contrary to God and stiffen our necks against Him.
The book of Nehemiah gives us this picture in the form of a prayer. After completing the building of the wall around the city of Jerusalem, the people gathered to confess their sins and thank the Lord for His mercy. Several of the Levites present proclaimed a prayerful history and accounting of what their people had done and how God responded. As usual, it’s not pretty from the human perspective, but amazing from the Godly one.
The sad fact we see is that man never learns his lesson. Although this Levitical prayer and recounting of sins are specific to Israel, the reality is that they apply to everyone worldwide. They always have and always will until this current Age of Grace is finished and God does a new work. History truly repeats itself. It is both linear, progressing inevitably forward, but also circular since we have to continue repeating the mistakes of the past. Think of a straight line, which represents the past on the left and the future on the right. Then visualize a circle that runs along that line and progresses left to right. Man is on that circle as it revolves endlessly like a ferris wheel repeating his same errors time and again, while at the same time, we’re advancing inexorably toward a future end.
To see this in operation, all we have to do is isolate three words in Nehemiah 9:25-31. Those words are nevertheless, therefore, and but.
God is good. What does He do for those whom He loves? He gives good things in abundance. Consider Nehemiah 9:25:
And they captured fortified cities and a rich land, and took possession of houses full of all good things, cisterns already hewn, vineyards, olive orchards and fruit trees in abundance. So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in your great goodness.
God gave the Israelites everything when they went into the Promised Land. Houses were already there and fields already cultivated. With God’s help, all the people had to do was walk in trust that He would go before them to conquer the land. Once they accomplished that, they had all these things. Unfortunately, that’s where the story goes off the rails. Life inevitably becomes too good for man. He begins to think that he’s responsible for all that he has. He presumes that it’s by his efforts, rather than by the hand of God, that he’s been filled and become fat. This leads to trouble as Nehemiah 9:26 shows in using our first key word:
“Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.”
In Israel’s presumption (and don’t think for a minute this doesn’t apply to us today, as we’ll see), she committed sins and atrocities against Yahweh.
Of course, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction (one of the laws of physics and of God). We see this in highlighting our next word in Nehemiah 9:27:
“Therefore you gave them into the hand of their enemies, who made them suffer. And in the time of their suffering they cried out to you and you heard them from heaven, and according to your great mercies you gave them saviors who saved them from the hand of their enemies.”
God effectively washes His hands of His children for a time and punishes them. They cry out because they see no alternative but to fall upon His mercy. He responds because of His incredible forgiving character and rescues them from their tormentors.
You’d think Israel would have learned her lesson. Nope; not the case. Nehemiah 9:28 tells us using our third word for today:
“But after they had rest they did evil again before you, and you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they had dominion over them. Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies.”
Thus, they did it all over again; not once, but many times. This repeating cycle of man basically abusing himself because he could never accept God’s goodness and rest in it for long has a root cause. Nehemiah 9:29 lays it out simply:
“And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey.”
Presumption and disobedience. These are the roots of rebellion and this constant cycle. To reiterate, the cycle looks like this:
- God provides
- People grow presumptuous and rebel
- God punishes
- People repent
- God relents and provides
- Wash – rinse – repeat
As I’ve indicated, this sad situation isn’t limited to historical Israel. We’ve seen it in America – this same cycle over the years. Currently we’re in the God punishes (or is about to punish) phase. The church in America particularly has had it too good, as have the people of this nation in general. We’ve taken all that we have for granted and grown fat and lazy; presumptuous, disobedient, and rebellious. The American church is a sad parody of what it should be, just as America herself is far from what the Founders intended.
The difference in the cycle this time is that we’ve reached the end of that timeline as we roll merrily along it. The end of the line is basically a cliff over which the rolling circle will fall. It all will all come to an end with the Rapture of the true church and the 7-year Tribulation. That changes things dramatically.
Yet, once the Millennial Kingdom is initiated, mortal man during that utopian 1,000 years will STILL hop on the circle and roll along in sin until God deals with it one final time.
For each of us individually, our lives don’t have to look like that. True faith in Jesus Christ brings the repetitive sin to a dramatic halt. We jump off the ferris wheel that wants to trap us going round and round. Salvation enables us to say, “Enough!”
If you’re reading this and you’ve truly been born again, aren’t you glad God has made a way for us to escape this world by giving us entry into the next for all eternity?