Release from Shame
Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 22, May 2019
Scripture Reading: Nehemiah 1:1-6
“The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. And it came to pass in the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the palace, that Hanani, one of my brethren came, and he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. When I heard these words, I sat down and wept and mourned for days: and I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.”
We need to understand the background of the book of Nehemiah. A group of returnees came back to Jerusalem under the decree of Cyrus to build the Temple of God. That was 70 years after the Babylonian captivity. Please understand that practically all the citizens of Judah, except the very poor, during the Kingdom Period were captured and exiled to Babylon. They lost everything; country, land, houses, income. So, a group started to come back after 70 years obeying the prophecy of Jeremiah. The first thing they did was to build the temple. When we return to God our first objective should be to restore our relationship with God which I shared two weeks ago. In the midst of the construction of the temple, the work was stopped for 20 years because of opposition. Tobiah and Sanballat were the main culprits. There is always difficulties when you make a comeback to God. People will hinder you: family members, friends, colleagues. But under the next king Darius, the decree was sent for the work to proceed. They finally did finish the work of the construction of the Temple. Looking at the newly constructed temple, during the dedication of the temple, the older ones who had seen Solomon Temple cried because it was much inferior in comparison but the younger generation were in joy because finally, they had the temple. After this there was a 57 years gap from the time of the completion of the Temple to the return to Ezra to set up the religious and ceremonial duties of the Temple. It is not enough to just restore your relationship with God. You have to set up your religious and ceremonial duties: prayer life, your study of the Word, your services in the church, your observances of the commandments and statutes of God. Under the decree of the third king Artaxerxes, Nehemiah was sent to build up the wall of Jerusalem. The wall of Jerusalem emphasizes the strengthening of your inner life wall and even your outer life wall with God. The walls of your sight, your hearing, your taste, your sensual desire must be protected and strengthened. That was another 13 years gap. It took Nehemiah 52 days to finish bridging the wall of Jerusalem. It is interesting that it is the non-godly kings, non-covenant kings; Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes that approved the returnees to build the Temple of God as well as the Wall of Jerusalem.
So, understand the 70 of captivity has passed. The Babylonian Empire has fallen and the Media Persian Empire has arrived. Immediately after the 70 years, Zerubbabel, the royal line (the seed of the Messiah) led the expedition back to Jerusalem. Jeshua the priestly line accompanied Zerubbabel because the Temple of Jerusalem needs Priests and Levites. 57 years later Ezra came back to Jerusalem to set up the religious and ceremonial rites of Temple worship and activities. He was responsible for restoration of Temple Worship. 13 years later Nehemiah came back to build the Wall of Jerusalem. So, 140 years has passed since the captivity of Judah and 70 years had passed since the group of returnees has settled back in Jerusalem. This is the background of Nehemiah. What can we learn from this portion of scripture?
In the 20th year Nehemiah was in Shushan the palace. The is the ancient capital of Elam, the Edomites and it became the winter palace of Persian Kings. This is the same location found in the Book of Esther. I believed that Artaxerxes is the husband of Esther. Originally it was called Susa and later it became Shushan. It was in the month of Chislev; equivalent to our November-December period. A group of Jews came back from Jerusalem and reported the situation to Nehemiah. This is their report.
Nehemiah 1:2 says, ‘That Hanani, one of my brethren came, and he and certain men of Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews that had escaped, which were left of the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.’
The remnant that are back in Jerusalem with the newly finished temple where they can go to worship are in turmoil, distress and reproach. They are in great affliction. In the ancient world when you say, the wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gate burned with fire’, this is the calamity of total defenselessness. This is possibly a reference to trouble caused by Sanballat of Samaria and Tobiah of Ammon. Tobiah and Sanballat were able to prevent the temple construction from continuing for 20 years. Both worshipped YHWH in some form, but were shunned by returning Jews. They are known as the YHWHish. Sanballat and Tobiah possibly worship YHWH in high places. They possibly worshipped Baal and Asherath. They possibly worshipped the fertility gods. So, it is a mixed worship of YHWH and Pagan. They are what the New Testament say they claimed to be Jews but are not. There are many in the church of God today. They are a thorn in the flesh to the Church. They claimed to go to the house of God but are totally not children of God. They have the form of godliness (going to church, following all the rituals of church activities but deny the power thereof). They are nothing but leaves. How to react to such people. You have to shun them. There are people who claimed to be Christians but hinders your service to God. They put poison in your mind concerning the works of God. They encourage you to leave church. Have nothing to do with them. Are you sure Pastor? Nehemiah 2:20 says, ‘Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye (these evil people) have no portion, no right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.’ They have no share in what we are doing, no portion, no interest, no right in whatever we are undertaking for God and the church. They have no proof of citizenship as members of the house of God. No memorial means no proof of citizenship. They have no part with us. What about the real genuine believers of YHWH? Hanani described them as being in distress. The term ‘distress’ is the common word for ‘evil’, ‘misery’ and ‘injury.’ It means that life has been evil to them. They experienced a lot of misery and injury in life. I see a lot of these returnees similar to that of members of Etab. We have built Etab. We faced opposition to the construction of this church for 10 years but we finally build this simple sanctuary. Its glory is not the original plan we had for this church. But we celebrated it in March 2013 in its dedication with tears and joy. Yes, YHWH has helped us build. But the term distress, evil, misery and injury still apples to the lot of the lives of many people in this church. It is an irony. I mean many of you have risk persecution and sacrificed in the service of God in this church and even gave to this church. You risked life and wealth to follow God’s lead and came to Etab. You served God hard in this church. You expected covenant prosperity but instead you are experiencing some forms of calamities. I told God myself. I said, ‘YHWH, I have served you all these years. Pastor Lily and I have risked life and wealth to follow your lead and am in Iloilo. Honestly, I expected covenant prosperity but instead experienced difficulty. Are you like me? Your life can be summed up in one word; reproach. It is imprinted on your forehead this word; ‘REPROACH’. I remember a movie show by Demi Moore. In this show she committed adultery with a priest and was caught. She was forced to wear a big medal with the letter ‘A’ as a necklace wherever she goes. When people see her, the first thought in their mind when they see the ‘A’ is, she is an adulteress. In the olden times when a group of citizens are defeated and exiled, imbedded on their forehead is the big word, ‘SLAVE’. Everywhere they go they are telling people they are slaves. There is also a Korean movie where a scholar committed immorality and the king seared the word ‘immoral’ on his forehead. It will be there permanently in his entire life. Of course, we don’t have this outer sign on our forehead for an insignia that we wear, but internally you felt the word ‘reproach’ is written all over you. You feel this reproach and you see people look at you with reproach. What do I mean when I say you are a reproach? It means you are blamed, constantly censured and conveyed to you constantly is a stamp of disapproval. You bring reproach to the family and you are a disgrace. You are a shame. Shame means the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of having done something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous to oneself.
Take a look at your life now. Is Reproach written all over your life. Is it so bad that your facial expression even manifest that reproach? Reproach refers to shame, disgrace. It describes one’s condition. Maybe you say, ‘I am a reproach to my enemies. I am a reproach to my family. I am a reproach to my children. I am despised by people. Do you experience these characteristics? You consider yourself a child of God. Yet you felt shame. What are some of the personification of shame in your life? Shame of inappropriate sexuality. Shame of being raped or molested even though it is not your fault. Shame of no children. Shame of loss of husband. Shame of loss of Father or Mother. Shame of joblessness. Shame of poverty. Shame of famine. Shame of accusations. Shame of lack of ritual performance (not purified before God). Shame of enemy attack or shame because of a past attack that remains in you. I want to dwell a little bit on the theological sense of shame because that is the conditions of so many of us. If you want release, you need to face shame head-on.
What are the characteristics of shame? Shame denotes the judgment of God on sin. Can I say that I experienced shame because I was judged by God? Shame always causes fear, guilt and a sense of disfellowship. Do you have a sense of disfellowship with YHWH? You are in church but you don’t feel God. Do I have fear and guilt accompanying me in my life? Please understand this. Shame is not just injury to one’s reputation or pride but a serious violation of covenant requirements and loss of fellowship with God. I do not know about you. Shame is a horrible condition. It affects the very core of one’s being. Shame is used of idolaters: something you worship. Shame came about because you worship immorality. Shame came about because you worship carnality. Shame came about because you worship sexuality. Shame came about because you worship mammoth. Luke 12:15 says, ‘And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’
I think shame sum up the conditions of the returnees in Jerusalem. They are in great reproach. Not just reproach but in great reproach. But if there is one person that really understand your shame is Jesus Christ. The “cross of Christ” is called a “shame”. Jesus paid for that shame of yours and he wants to supernaturally and totally set you free today. It will be instantaneous and it will be total liberation. Hebrew 12:2 says, ‘looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of throne of God. ‘Looking unto Jesus’ means fixing our eyes on Jesus. If there is a person that experience shame, it is Jesus. Those in shame, I call you to look intently on Jesus. Watch him, not the crowd, the people around you, not the circumstances, not the shame; focus on Jesus this morning. He is the author of your salvation; He is the one who completes and perfect your faith. Your faith is ‘pistis’ which means you have a personal faith relationship with Christ. You have a life of faithful Christlikeness and your faith is based on the Christian doctrine found in the Word of God. There is a glorious outcome of your shame, humiliation. There is going to be a supernatural release from shame in your life.
“And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven,”
Ezra and Nehemiah had the same attitude in their response to reproach and shame. They sat down and wept and mourned certain days. Actually, the bible says they cried out aloud. They fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. These are attitudes of humility. I like the new topic for Tuesday bible study on the importance of humility. There is this biblical slogan, ‘when the Christian humbles the devil trembles.’ God told me very early in my Christian walk with God this necessary truth that has to accompany me in my walk with God and that is found in James 4:10, ‘Humble yourself in the sight of the LORD and he will lift you up.’ I pray that YHWH will teach all of us to response to YHWH the same manner as Ezra and Nehemiah. Chapter 1:4 says Nehemiah, ‘sat down and wept and mourned… fasting and praying.’ These were four signs of intense mourning in the Ancient Near East. He did it for days. Nehemiah’s mourning, fasting and praying went on for days. He was a man of prayer. His lengthy prayer here is to be compared to his very brief prayer of Nehemiah 2:4. There is a time for prolonged prayer. I think if your life is in shame, you need to enter into a prolonged prayer for release. There is a time for brief prayer. But I feel the need for prolonged prayer lately. I will wake up automatically at certain time in the early morning and I will pray. I just told Pastor Lily that many of our church people loves to serve God and filled themselves with activities for Church service but they had one problem. They don’t pray. And I told Pastor Lily that she and had to engage in prolonged prayer for them to supplicate for them. When Nehemiah saw the reproach and the shame on his people he enter into prolonged prayer. How about you in reproach and in shame? Prayer is a way for human to show their faith and trust in the faithful, trustworthy God. Prayer is the outward manifestation of a biblical faith. I feel that God wants to execute a total release for many of you. But He needs your cooperation. This is a time of prolonged prayer for me. This is a time of prolong fasting for me. You have served God and been in this church for so long and you have been here for a long time already and yet you have not seen the glory of God yet.
3. Focused on YHWH
Nehemiah’s prayer is focused on God’s character and His people’s sin. Our hope is based on three truths.
a. The character of God
b. The Eternal redemptive purpose of God
c. The Promises and covenant of God.
Lately one of the standout songs that we have been singing is ‘God you’re so good’. There is an anointing when we sing this song. I feel that God is encouraging us to reach out to him because He is a good God. Your prayer is based on this character of God. Nehemiah 9:17b says, ‘Bur thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.’ And the Eternal, forever purpose of God is redemptive; to deliver you, to save you from disaster, from reproach, from shame. Our relationship with God is based on the covenant and it is filled with promises of God when we walk and follow him.
How did Nehemiah pray?
Nehemiah 1:5 says, ‘“And said, I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:”
I beseech thee O LORD of heaven. The Hebrew word for ‘beseech’ introduces strong pleas for help and for forgiveness. The phrase, ‘the great and terrible God’ is translated as ‘the great and awesome God’ in the NASB. The adjective ‘great’ originally mean to make a strong cord by twisting several cords together. It came to mean ‘make strong’. This is used of God. God is that strong cord. The second adjective ‘terrible’ is from the verb ‘to fear’ or to revere’. This is the characteristic of YHWH himself; his redemptive actions often translated as ‘awesome’. When preparing this sermon, the song, ‘our God is an awesome’ God kept ringing this song in my mind. Why is he awesome? Because he ‘preserves the covenant and lovingkindness’ He keeps, watches and preserve covenant with us as a watchman, an overseer in wakeful alertness.
God is faithful to His covenant promises. His unchanging character is your only hope. Many times, because of distress, affliction and shame we become uncertain about this truth because of the injury, the evil and distress in our life. This morning YHWH comes to you and say, ‘I am an awesome God’. Put your confidence in God that He is faithful to His word. When I come to this portion of scripture, I address God and say,
You are the sovereign God
You are creator and sustainer of life
You are the only God
I am praying to the only God
YHWH you remember covenant especially toward Jesus
You remember mercy for them that loves you
Those that observe your commandments
“Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.”
Let thy ear now be attentive
Let thy eyes open
Hear the prayer of thy servant
I pray before thee daily
I pray for Etab
I confess the sins of the members of Etab
I have sinned
My congregation has sinned
“Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: “But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.”
Nehemiah 1:8-9 KJV
Remember your people
I beseech thee
You say if I transgress you will scatter me among the nations
But if I turn and keep thy commandments and do them
Though I be cast out of the uttermost part of the heaven yet you will gather them from thence
And will bring them unto the place that you have chosen to set your name there.
In conclusion, there is the great promise of no shame for those who put their trust in YHWH. YHWH has promised that none that pray toward YHWH shall be ashamed. I shall not be ashamed because I have called upon thee. Let the wicked that has been harming me be ashamed instead. Let them be silent in the grave. Those that harm me shall be silent because they are in the grave. Those who oppose the Gospel will have their glory turned to shame.