I tell you, if nothing else proves the point, today’s Nehemiah passage brings it home: suffering pays.
If you’ve been following my writing at all (I think there are two of you who’ve been along for the ride), you know that suffering is a theme of mine…. as here and here and, frankly, lots of places in my writing and in my life.
At the end of today’s reading, the returned Exiles end a long prayer with:
But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, [our] abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress. Nehemiah 9:36-37 NIV
These folks lived as exiles in Persia, and even though they’ve returned to Jerusalem, even though they have rebuilt the Temple and the wall, they are still slaves.
And despite – or because of? – their suffering, these chapters are some of the most worshipful I’ve come across in the history of Israel and Judah. Witness these passages:
- From daybreak to noon each day “…all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” Nehemiah 8: 3b
- “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” vs. 6
- They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read. … all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. vs. 8, 9b
- Then all the people went … to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. vs. 12
- From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated [the festival of tabernacles] like this. And their joy was very great. vs. 17b
- On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads… They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. 9: 1, 3
Think about it.
Am I in the Bible 6 hours each day? Do I fall prostrate as I praise God? Do I weep as I read the Word, convicted of sin? Am I filled with joy because I hear and understand the Bible? Do I spend 25% of my time in the Bible and 25% in confession?
After the time of confession, the people embarked on the prayer of praise, the end of which I quoted at the beginning of this post.
As I read through the prayer which reviewed the history of God’s chosen people, I saw a theme repeated over and over:
- When things went well, Israel whined about their lot, disobeyed God, rejected Him, and turned to idols.
- When things went badly, Israel cried to God, He mercifully saved them (“time after time” as the prayer says – vs. 28), and they turned back to God.
Judges is a story of that cycle. And it got so bad under the Kings (Israel was too arrogant to ever truly return to the Lord), that God resorted to the Exile. In fact, up to the time of Christ, God’s people were in almost constant bondage to one regime or another.
And that continual suffering seems to have worked, judging from the amazing display of piety, desire for the Bible, and confession on the part of the returned Jews.
Time for a little suffering, eh?
Today’s Readings: Nehemiah 7:73b-9:37, Psalm 89:11-18, Proverbs 21:29-31, Acts 27:27-44. See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts. Your daily blogger, Holiday Longing (Reproduce with permission only).