William Parkinson, was a 3 term chaplain of the United States House of Representatives, and after that he became pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York. Long before, and shortly after his salvation, he was traveling on business, when he heard that a “celebrated preacher” was to deliver a message in a certain town, and Parkinson went to hear him. But the speaker didn’t arrive and the crowd grew restless. When someone recognized Parkinson as the school teacher from a nearby county, he was encouraged to read the Word and give an exhortation or two. Very reluctantly he complied. He chose Psalm 97 as his text, and he commended on verse 11 – “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Parkinson, who was not a preacher at the time, then showed how the passage comforts the Christian and how it should alarm the sinner. It is reported that his hearers paid profound attention, and many became bathed in tears under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. When he had finished Parkinson was surprised to learn that he had been preaching for more than 3 hours.
I mention this to point out that under the leadership of the Holy Spirit many scriptures which you and I might not think are important, can be used to present the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I have no idea how Parkinson used Psalm 97:11 to preach Christ. However, I hope to think that perhaps this prayer of Nehemiah might be used in that way. What first caught my attention and made me think in this direction are some of the key words which Nehemiah used.
And speaking of words, last Sunday I stumbled over the use of a word, which I’ve been practicing all week. I will start with its shorter, and more manageable version, but I’ll also try it’s longer cousin. This prayer of Nehemiah involves an “imprecation” against Sanballat and his cohorts. The word “im-prec-a-tory” refers to “a curse.” Nehemiah was praying judgment upon God’s enemies. As I suggested last week, David has given us several im-prec-a-tory Psalms, and they are a problem with some people. But if we look at them as the words of Christ through David, or as divine prophecies rather than personal wishes, the bad taste should go away. Also, some commentators tell us that these Old Testament curses were in language which was acceptable before the Lord Jesus in the New Testament commanded us to love our enemies.
No matter how we try to explain it, Nehemiah’s prayer is what it is. It was an imprecation upon Sanballat. And I see no reason not to accept it at face value, and as an approved revelation from God. As such, there are lessons for us in these two verses.
For example, there are lessons here about GOD.
Even though Nehemiah asks the Lord to “hear” the words of the Moabite governor and his friends, it was an unnecessary request. God hears everything. The Lord knew what was said, just as I pointed out, on Wednesday, that God was aware that the nobles of Tekoah had not “put their necks to the work of their lord.” God hears all things, sees all things and knows all things.
Jehovah is a God unlike the millions of false gods of this world in so many ways. And one of those ways is contained in the theological word “omniscience” – He is “all knowing.” Job, for example, declared that God’s “eyes are upon the ways of men, and he seeth ALL his goings.” The Psalmist added, “Great is our LORD and of great power; his understanding is INFINITE.” “Infinite” – what does that word mean? The Hebrew literally says “without number” – it means to be without any limits or bounds. God’s knowledge and complete understanding of everything is complete – 100%. Paul says in Hebrews, “neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight” – open and plain. “But all thing are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” Let that thought soak into your heart – you are completely naked and bare before the eyes of the Lord. And if under that thought “our heart condemn us, (remember) God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things” – I John 3:20. God is greater than our hearts and greater than the curtains we use to hide the things of our hearts. He is greater than the darkest night and greater than the deepest secret. Nehemiah, it is not necessary to pray, “Hear, O our God,” because he hears better than the most advanced government listening station human technology ahs yet devised. And you don’t need to plead with the Lord to JUDGE the sins of those wicked men.
It is believed by some people that everything you put on the internet is screened by someone or something. Either Facebook personnel are ready to delete or deny what you post on that site of yours – which really isn’t yours but their’s with your name on it. Or some other government agency, is scanning your every word looking for clues to your political agenda. As far as I know, I have never had anything I’ve posted online deleted from the internet. I’ve not yet been kicked off Facebook for any of our sermons or for any religious quotes that I’ve posted. In other words, if the limited omniscience of the internet is working, and everything has been heard and monitored, so far I haven’t yet been judged or condemned for anything.
But that is not true when it comes to the larger reality. Elohim not only hears every word I say, every word I transmit and every thought I think – He has judged every one of them as well. I know for a fact that I have been slapped down for a few things I’ve said in the past – the Lord using some of His people to put me in my place. And there may be more judgment awaiting me for other words, deeds and thoughts. For you as well.
Nehemiah, don’t worry, the Lord has Sanballat firmly in His grasp. He is not only always at the prisoner’s bar in the courtroom of Heaven, but his condemnation is sure. God WILL “turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity.” He will “NOT cover their iniquity, and (He will not) let not their sin be blotted out.” I will come back to these things in a few minutes, but at this point you can be assured that God, the Judge, has not only DIVINE authority over His creation, but JUDICIAL authority over the sinner.
\And the application is – just as Sanballat will not escape, neither will you, my friend, or anyone else. The Lord Jesus has said, “I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account there in the day of judgment.” There will be a day of judgment. Peter and Paul combined to say, “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God – to the One who is judge of the quick and the dead“ – both of the living and the dead.
Nehemiah says something else about the Lord which sounds rather presumptuous – “they have provoked thee to anger.” By what right does this mere man, presume to judge the heart of the Lord? How does he know, or how can he say that God has been provoked to anger? My answer? He can say so because at this point he is the prophet of God. But perhaps more importantly, he has Bible theology behind him. He knows his Bible pretty well, and every day he learns more about himself and other people. And the more a person gets to the know the Lord, the more he knows that God HATES sin – God is provoked by sin – that God gets angry at sin.
In your on-going unbelief and alienation from the Lord, you cannot understand how angry God is at you and your sin. Only when the Holy Spirit begins to bring it forward to your heart in conviction will you begin to understand. It is only the born-again soul who can come to realize the degree to which sin provokes the holy God. I can say with absolute certainty that God is furious with our sins – yours and mine. We are in trouble – we are hell-bound creatures, if we haven’t been saved by God’s grace.
Now, let’s shift gears and look at Nehemiah’s words again, but from two other points of view.
First, let’s look at this from Nehemiah’s position – from a personal and practical point of view. “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.” Nehemiah clearly heard what Sanballat said to his face, and he apparently heard reports of what was being said to stir up the Samaritan army. And he accurately believed that Sanballat despised Judah and her attempts to rebuild her walls and to reestablish the glory of God in the city. He used the words “despised” and “reproach” to describe the Moabite’s attitude. He also spoke of his “sin” and “iniquity.” I know that preachers often point out that we often can see the sins of others before we see our own sins. But the fact remains that Sanballat and his iniquitous friends were committing sin against God and Judah. And in Nehemiah’s mind they had provoked God to anger.
Now, put yourself into this man’s shoes. Let’s say that you are striving to serve and glorify the Lord. Let’s say that you faithfully bring your offerings of praise and worship into the House of the Lord. Let’s say that you try to share your faith and excitement about the Lord Jesus with your Christian neighbors and even among the heathen around you. You are trying to live at peace with all men and trying to live a holy life in order to please God. In other words, you are attempting to live a Christian life in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
But you have a wicked neighbor who continually sneers at you when he sees you going off to the temple. He laughs at your fight against obvious temptation and your victory over sin. He says that not only is church attendance a waste of time, but churches are a cancer upon society. He despises your efforts at rebuilding the walls of godly morality, honestly and the Christian faith. He tries to say that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier, and that he was sleeping with the whore Mary Magdalene. He tells others in your presence that the apostle John was a homosexual and that Jesus was a bit “queer” Himself.
What is the likelihood that your blood might boil in the same way that Nehemiah’s did? How likely is it that a “im-prec-a-tory” prayer might leave your lips from time to time? “Cursed be that man.” I can see from where Nehemiah was coming. But let’s try to look at this from a higher perspective.
There were several words which first pulled my attention to this scripture. “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.” This word “despised” is found in this particular form in this verse alone, so it is somewhat unique. But there is a closely related word in Isaiah 53:3. In speaking prophetically about the Lord Jesus Christ, Isaiah said, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Not in the same way or to the same degree as Nehemiah and the Jews, the Son of God was despised.
And do you remember the words of Christ to Saul of Tarsus just about the time of that man’s conversion? “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” Saul was persecuting Christ by persecuting the saints of God, and the Lord took his attacks personally. I believe that same principle applies to the situation in Jerusalem 450 years earlier. By attacking the builders on the wall Sanballat was showing that despised Jehovah. The reproached cast upon Nehemiah and his co-workers was also upon the Lord. Sanballat was sinning against the Son of God, and that provoked the wrath of the God-head upon him.
When you sneer at the preaching of the gospel you are attacking the Bible – the entire revelation of God. When you laugh or thumb your nose at God’s church, you are spitting on the Lord’s temple and worship. When you hinder the Lord’s builders, you are provoking the Almighty God. And that is not a very safe place to be.
Now I’d like you to consider all this from two final view-points – GRACE and the ABSENCE OF GRACE.
As God’s representative – as God’s appointed preacher – you might say that Nehemiah’s words were prophetical. “Hear, O our God; for we are despised: and turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee: for they have provoked thee to anger before the builders.” I have no reason to believe that God, the righteous Judge did not turn Sanballat reproach upon his head. I don’t believe that God buried or ignored the iniquity of those men.
And by the way that word “iniquity” is more interesting than it first appears. It speaks of perversity, depravity, and guilt before God. But it is also translated a few times with the word “punishment” – punishment for that perversity. Ezekiel 14:10 uses this word, and another, also translated “iniquity”. False prophets, “shall bear the punishment of their iniquity: the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him.” Nehemiah was asking God not to bury the punishment Sanballat’s sins deserve. “Let not their sin be blotted out from before thee.”
I said earlier that it was the word “despised” which caught my attention and led to this message. While that is the truth is there were a couple other words and phrases as well. What comes to your mind when you here the words “cover” as in “cover NOT” and “blotted out”?
When it comes to sin and iniquity, the word “cover” takes me immediately to God’s atonement. The blood which Christ shed at Calvary was presented to the holy God as a means of covering my sin. Just as the high priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement with the appropriate blood, sprinkling it on the Mercy Seat and covering the sins of Israel, Christ, my great High Priest sprinkled His blood to cover my sins before the eyes of God the Father. Leviticus 17:11 – “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” When I saw the word “cover” I immediately wondered if it was the same Hebrew word as “atonement”. I confess that it is not, but that still didn’t take away the thought and application.
And then there are the words “Let not their sin be blotted out.” Earlier we read from Isaiah 44:21-23. In the twenty-second verse God says, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.”
There is a period in every life, when we all live in rebellion against the Lord. Every one of is a Sanballat for some time in our lives – perhaps, in some cases, for a very long time. There is a period when we reject the Lord’s authority over us, and we live as sinfully as we choose. Whether deliberately or not, we despise the things of God, and we provoke the Lord to anger with our sins. The law of God says, “Hear, O our God; turn their reproach upon their own head, and give them for a prey in the land of captivity: And cover not their iniquity, and let not their sin be blotted out from before thee.”
But there is another voice, the voice of Holy Spirit, which says to the sinner, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be BLOTTED OUT, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” Your iniquities will never be covered up in the sense of buried and ignored. The omniscient God cannot do that. The holy God cannot do that. But the Son of God uncovered His own head so to speak and permitted the reproach of my sin to be poured upon it. He shed His blood as an atonement – a covering for sin – for those whom He intended to save. And now He says to the Sanballats of the world “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”
The imprecation of Nehemiah is rendered null and void in every sinner who repents before God and places his faith in the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Will you be one of those repenting sinners? Will you this morning put your faith and trust in the atoning work of Christ Jesus? There is no other way to the Lord. And there is no other way to escape the misery of the life of Sanballat.