Neh. 9:16 ¶ “But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments;
Neh. 9:17 they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them.
Nehemiah is reviewing the journey of God’s people out of slavery as a reminder of the faithfulness of God. One phrase jumps out at me, “and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt.” He interpreted the actions of the people in the wilderness as a deliberate attempt to be sent back to Egypt. Their stubbornness and pride would not allow them to appreciate the new-found freedom they had in God. Instead they looked for ways to sabotage what God was doing for them. While God was leading them into something much better they could only think back to the past and the things they were missing. Oh, if only they could have the garlic and onions of Egypt! Really?! Yes, they were longing for the things from home and mourning the past, forgetting all that they had endured at the hands of the Egyptians.
Amazingly God was patient, continually reaching out to his people, waiting on them to respond to his graciousness and love. Stubborn pride would have had them back in Egypt. Holy love would not let them go.
When you think about this scenario you realize how crazy it really is! How in the world could these people have thought that it would be better to go back to the slavery of Egypt? Why would they intentionally make God angry? And yet, we see this repeated over and over again in the lives of people. God is constantly reaching out to all of us, wanting to draw us back into a relationship with him. At the same time we run around and do things the way that we want to do them, getting ourselves in trouble time and again. Stubborn pride gets in the way of a clear vision.
The pride of the Israelites clouded their vision and they wanted to believe that they knew better. So much so, that they wanted to prove that they were right. Stubborn pride meant going against the will of God, to try and prove that their way really was okay and that living in Egypt wasn’t all that bad.
Stubborn pride means I don’t listen to God’s leading in my life. I try to figure things out on my own and I don’t ask him for any help. Stubborn pride means that I find myself on a journey which is unsustainable. The Israelites eventually asked God for help — but only when they’d gotten themselves in BIG trouble. Stubborn pride leads us to destructive behaviors at which point we may be willing to ask God for help. It all sounds rather child-like, and stubborn pride does make us act like little children.
Nehemiah spoke these words as a reminder of how the people of God had behaved. Now they were being called to faithful obedience as he had once again led them out of slavery. If God’s people would be obedient and not sabotage the good works of the LORD, they would live within the walls of Jerusalem in peace. Stubborn pride had resulted in broken walls and lives. Now was the time to embrace the God of holy love who would not let his people go.
God sets us free when we simply let go and trust. Stubborn pride must vanish in the ever-loving patient arms of a holy God.
Lord, thank you for your on-going patience with your people. Amen.