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“And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, ‘This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, ‘Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.'” ~Nehemiah 8:9-10
Among many other passages in Scripture, the example of the eighth through the tenth chapters of the book of Nehemiah teach us that the first response of the man of God to his word of the covenant and to his law is praise; the second response is repentance for prior breaking of the covenant; and the third response is a pressing on towards greater obedience to our covenant Lord, who keeps steadfast love forever.
I’ve been pondering on this lately, considering what are our appropriate responses, as God’s people, to our Lord and to his great mercy and justice. It seems to me from Scripture’s teaching that seasons of repentance, both personal and corporate, are indeed very fitting along and along, but that praise and thanksgiving to our God must be constant, for this is how we press on towards greater understanding, love, and obedience.
Some of the Psalms, in particular, express the saint’s overwhelmingly deep sorrow; a surpassing sorrow that can barely lift eyes of faith to stir the mouth to praise the Lord. Nevertheless, there is ever, even in these passages, a thread of hope, the light of trust in the God who is and who has spoken. Numerous passages in the Bible provide example and command for us to repent of our sins and of the sins of our fathers; but these same places open to us that the purpose of the repentance is that we might turn and walk after the ways of righteousness with joy and thanksgiving – because we are the people of God.
The apostle Paul shows us of the reason for this in no uncertain terms: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” ~Galatians 2:19-20