Nehemiah 9:32-37 (ESV)
32 “Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, upon our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers, and all your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria until this day. 33 Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them. 35 Even in their own kingdom, and amid your great goodness that you gave them, and in the large and rich land that you set before them, they did not serve you or turn from their wicked works. 36 Behold, we are slaves this day; in the land that you gave to our fathers to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts, behold, we are slaves. 37 And its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They rule over our bodies and over our livestock as they please, and we are in great distress.
Nehemiah chapter 9 is dominated by a beautiful prayer of remembrance and repentance on behalf of the people of God. The exiles who have returned from Babylon are still not fully resettled in the promised land. In a very real sense, the people considered themselves not to yet be rightly reconciled to God.
The people had been driven away from the land that God had promised them. They were taken away from the place where they could worship God as he had commanded. They suffered greatly. Even when God brought them back to the land, they still suffered under the rule of the Persian Empire.
Verse 33 tells us the central message of this entire chapter. The people declare, “Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.” This is the proper attitude of anyone who has sinned against God. No matter how difficult our lives are, we have never been cheated by God. God has always been faithful. God has always held back his punishment. We have earned his wrath, just like Israel did, but God has always treated us with kindness, just like he treated Israel.
It is also true that there comes a point in anyone’s dealing with God that the time of mercy is dangerously close to running out. Israel was given hundreds of years to turn from sin and to avoid God’s wrath, but they never changed. You and I are given one lifetime to have our sins forgiven by God. If we want to avoid his judgment, we have to turn from our sin, and receive his forgiveness.
The prayer of this section is a simple one. The people ask God to take pity on them for what they have suffered. They are willing to turn from their sins and follow God. They know, however, that they cannot be rescued from their sins if God does not choose to have mercy on them. And so they cry for help.
You and I also need God’s pity, his mercy, his grace. IF we will be willing to turn from our sin and seek his grace, God will forgive us. Jesus Christ is a wonderful and merciful Savior. All who come to him will find grace. Whether you are a Christian who needs encouragement or a non-Christian who needs to be forgiven by God, Christ Jesus is the merciful God to whom you should cry for salvation.