The prayer of returned exiles in Nehemiah 9 gives us insight into the God to whom we pray. As the prayer continues, its words remind us that we continue a legacy of faith that still informs our concept of God, that imposes consequences on both our practice of worship (including prayer) and our everyday lives. In this post, I will focus on what this prayer tells us about the God to whom we pray.
The returned exiles, under the leadership of the priest Ezra and the governor Nehemiah, have rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem and the wall around the city. They then have realized that despite their constructing these physical structures, they still have a spiritual void in their lives. So, in Nehemiah 8, we read that the people requested that Ezra the scribe and priest bring the Law of God and read to them from it. As he and other Levites both read and explained the will of God to them, they realized even more deeply the extent of their spiritual poverty. Led by the Levites, they turn to God in a prayer of repentance and confession in chapter 9. The Levites instruct them to “stand up and bless the LORD your God” (Nehemiah 9:5). Then they begin to pray:
“Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:5b-6)
They begin their prayer by recognizing the power and creativity of God. He created, they acknowledge, all that they survey. All life, and all that that life inhabits, owes its existence to the being to whom they, and we, pray. This aspect of prayer recognizes that God is not one of us. He is something quite different, and possesses a degree of power still far beyond our reach today.
They acknowledge that God the Creator is also God the Sustainer. He not only created us and the universe in which we live, but he provided and continues to provide the means by which we survive: food, a tolerable climate, a breathable atmosphere, and companions for our journey.
We praise and thank God in our prayers because he is our Creator and Sustainer. We humans, with the rest of Creation, worship God in humility that flows from our awareness of the gap between his power and our own. We stumble in our faith at times because the concept that such a being would take interest in our survival and our affairs staggers our imagination. How could such a powerful entity care about me?
The remainder of the prayer in Nehemiah discusses God’s relationship with us and the implications of that relationship’s history. That will be the subject of my next post. Pray hard, my friends.
God who created this universe in which we live, we praise you but also marvel at the extent of your power. We gain more and more knowledge about the vastness of the universe and how small our world is in comparison to the whole. We wonder how you take notice or care concerning our situation. Help us to understand. Help us to remember who you are and what you have done. Help us to remember that respect and awe are our first responses to you who dwarf us in your power. You are the Lord of our lives; you alone sustain us. Thank you for life and a place to live. Thank you for a world in which we can survive because you provide what we must have to continue. I thank you through the name of Jesus, Amen.