We are looking at the second part of Ezra’s prayer in Nehemiah chapter 9 this week.
The audio file is here Nehemiah 9.26-38
The passage can be read online here
All sins are serious and will separate people from a holy God but not all sin is the same in God’s sight. I know that Christians often say that all sin is the same and I can see what they mean since we are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s standards but to take that truth and stretch it in order to claim all sin is equal cannot be correct. If all sin is the same why did Jesus when speaking to Pilate say; “Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”? Why do we find in the Old Testament that some sins required a fine to be paid and a sacrifice offered while other sins resulted in the execution of the sinner? Even sinful Human beings can see that some sin is more serious, for instance it’s probably a sin to slightly exceed the speed limit but is it as bad as other sins such as rape and murder?
Why then is the sin of adultery (sex between two people when at least one of them is married or betrothed to someone else) more serious than the sin of fornication (sex between two people who are not married)? There can be little doubt that it is the case, have a look for yourself the references are Exodus 22:16 and Deuteronomy 22:23. The answer is that adultery involves the breaking of a covenant. Covenants are extremely important in God’s sight and are foundational to being able to understand scripture. In this prayer, Ezra refers to the covenant and the prayer culminates its renewal.
The Covenant with Abraham
Abram was probably an idolater during his early life; he would have been brought up in it as his father certainly was (Joshua 24:2). Ur was a centre of the worship of the moon god. We are not told of his conversion to become a follower of the one true God but we do know that God called him in grace. This was not because Abram was special rather it was through God’s grace.
God not only called Abram, he also made a covenant with him. The correct term is that a covenant was cut signifying that it was associated with a sacrifice. In Genesis 15 after sacrificing the animals, Abram cut them in two and the Lord passed between the halves. This was a respected means of affirming a covenant. God made wonderful promises to Abram, this was never a covenant of equals, God in his mercy graciously promised to bless Abram.
The Covenant with Israel
On the basis of his covenant with Abraham, God delivered his people from terrible suffering and slavery in Egypt. They were redeemed by the blood of the Passover lambs as God judged Egypt. By a series of miracles, God led his people into the Sinai and on Mount Sinai the covenant was cut.
The covenant gave the people instruction as to how to live in the land that the Lord was about to give them. This was a revolutionary agreement in that it not only dealt with the worship of God but also there was an emphasis on fairness and protecting the weak and vulnerable in society. There were promises for obedience and very stark warnings against disobedience. The people vowed to live under the covenant (Exodus 24:1-8)
The Broken Covenant
God is always faithful and unchanging but Israel continually rejected the covenant. Even while Moses was receiving the law from the Lord, the people were indulging in idol worship and sin. The book of Judges illustrates the cycle of idolatry, punishment, desperate prayer and deliverance which is repeated many times. Under the monarchy the process was repeated all over again. It seemed that Israel was unable to keep to the covenant
The Prophets and the Covenant
God raised people to speak for him. Their message was simple and consistent, “return to the covenant”. The prophets were often persecuted and even killed. They were unpopular and largely ignored. The tragic result of all of this rebellion and disobedience is summed up by Ezra;
“But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our forefathers so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its 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).
Yet the covenant and the prophets declared promises that the Lord would restore his people;
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. I will build you up again” (Jeremiah 31:3-4).
“Jerusalem would be rebuilt by another generation, and the land would be Israel’s, as God had promised” (Jeremiah 30-33).
“`Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done,’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:37).
The prophets also looked forward to a day when God would do something new. There would be a new covenant that was better than the old covenant.
“The time is coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 31:31).
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother, saying `Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and I will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
The New Covenant
On his last night on earth during the last supper, the Lord Jesus proclaimed the new covenant;
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)
A covenant that was no longer ‘do this’ but ‘I will.’ No longer written on stone but written on our hearts. No longer a covenant cut with the blood of an animal but cut with the blood of Christ.
Christ was born under the law and fulfilled the law in his life yet he died for sinners like you and me. He paid the price for covenant breakers and gives new life to all who trust in him.