In Nehemiah 9, there are two words that I’m curious about. They’re marked by a transition in the storyline, “But they…”, which signifies a turn.
The writer had just recapped all the things the Lord their God had done for them. It should have translated into a life of gratitude and humility. Instead, Nehemiah says they “became arrogant and stiff-necked”.
There is pride that is about a worthy pleasure or satisfaction of a hard days efforts. But this sort of pride being described is about arrogance. And arrogance is about about an exaggeration of someone’s importance or abilities. It reminds me of certain presidents we’ve had in our history, business leaders that have come and gone, and certainly spiritual leaders who struggle with this vice.
“Arrogance…an exaggerated posture of our abilities and worth.“
The other phrase is being stiff-necked. A commentary says,
“The imagery is that of an animal that struggles against having a yoke placed on its neck.”Breneman, M. (1993). Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (electronic ed., Vol. 10, p. 239).
This image and phrase is about being stubborn. To be stubborn is to be so fixed on one’s position, even in the face of truth or good reasoning.
Arrogance and stubbornness.
Exaggerated views of self and an inability to be be open to sound reason.
A posture of gratitude and humility however, acknowledges that we have reasoned enough to know that we are limited in our knowledge, don’t know everything, so we’re grateful to receive from others, especially from God.
To live by virtues of gratitude and humility is to own our deficiencies and our limited resources and reasoning. That’s why we can follow leaders who are transparent, vulnerability, and who own their limited resources and reasoning.
In the context of a God-humanity relationship though, the stakes seem higher. The Nehemiah 9 passage is labeled as a confession of sins storyline. It acknowledges that there is a God who has chosen a people, is from everlasting to everlasting, glorious, exalted above all, gives life to everything, and is faithful. This God also hears our cries and sees our suffering, and then delivers and makes it right.
The writer does another “But” to transition yet again. This time, the transition signals a turn to acknowledge who God is:
- slow to anger
- abounding in love
- does not abandon us in (even when we abandon God)
- Gives His good Spirit to instruct
- Sustains them in the wilderness
Sounds like the kind of life I’m looking for. For my marriage, parenting, work, friends, and inner life. These are great virtues to live by which are shaped and formed in the context of a covenantal relationship and Lordship to Christ Jesus our Lord.
I keep turning to God because I met by his loving kindness, compassion, and sustaining power! God keeps abounding in love for me and the world! That’s enough for me to keep devoting my life to Jesus.