The Levites encouraged the Israelites to give praise. Specifically, they said to “stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting” (Neh 9:5). It was the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month, two days after the Feast of Booths. It was a day with nothing on the calendar. But they gathered, of their own accord, in order to confess “their sins and the iniquities of their fathers” (Neh 9:2).
They spent three hours reading from the Law and three hours responding with confession and praise. Now, we learn the content of their prayer, as the Levites lead them.
The Challenge of Adoration
One of the greatest challenges to praying is our inability to give praise. This always seems to be one of the hardest categories to pray. I’m not exactly sure why that is, but I have a few theories.
1. A casual approach to God: We do not pause to consider his glory, before barging into a worship service, prayer meeting, or bible study. We see no need to remove our sandals before the God who calls us to worship. The whole experience simply lacks the significance that it demands.
2. Knowledge for reputation: We seek understanding in order to prove our theological superiority. Knowledge is not a means to worship God, but a means to promote our rank over others.
Whether you suffer from a casual approach to God or study for self-promotion you weaken adoration. God enables us to give Him praise and he teaches us how to do so in his Word.
Read Nehemiah 9:5-15.
Give Praise for God’s Attributes (5b-6)
The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is not inadequate technique, insufficient organization, or antiquated music, and those who want to squander the church’s resources bandaging these scratches will do nothing to stanch the flow of blood spilling from its true wound. The fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church. His truth is too distant, his grace is too ordinary, his judgment is too benign, his gospel too easy, and his Christ too common.David Wells, God in the Wasteland
Wells refers to “the weightlessness of God” in his book God in the Wasteland. In other words, we have lost a sense of the glory of God. Unfortunately, a weightless God has very little in common with the One True God of Scripture, it is not much different than the context in which Nehemiah was writing.
Nehemiah’s service as cupbearer in the Persian court would have given him plenty of knowledge about their religion. The Persian religion was Zoroastrianism. In fact, there are still over 100,000 Zoroastrians today, but their number seems to be in decline. They read and memorize the teachings of Zoroaster who explained the origins of good and evil.
Zoroaster taught that the god, Ahura Mazda, was the supreme creator. He created and sustains everything through Asha (truth, righteousness, order). The creative spirit (Spenta Mainyu) is at war with the spirit of destruction (Angra Mainyu). There is a dualistic view of reality. The purpose of humanity is to restore Ahura Mazda’s good creation through good thoughts, words, and deeds. In other words, it is a works-based salvation and the God of Scripture is completely different.
The Bible reveals a God who is neither weightless nor can we earn his favor through righteous living. We cannot worship a god who is entirely inconsequential, ordinary, and common. Nor can we construct a lifestyle that is perfectly pleasing to a perfectly holy God. A weightless god cannot save us from our depravity. And our depravity prevents us from saving ourselves.
Learning About the Attributes of God
The Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.4 provides a succinct list of attributes describing God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” It is not an exhaustive list, but Scripture clearly proves each one.
The Puritan minister, Stephen Charnock, elaborates on many of them in his Discourse on the Existence and Attributes of God. He adds to the list God’s omnipresence, dominion, and patience.
Many theologians have distinguished between God’s communicable and incommunicable attributes. Those attributes that humans experience are communicable. This would include God’s holiness, love, goodness, justice, and wisdom. Whereas God manifests those attributes perfectly, humans can imperfectly express them.
Those attributes that are incommunicable are unique to God alone. These would include his immutability (unchangeable), his aseity (complete independence), and his worthiness to receive praise. These are not attributes we share in any way.
We could spend a whole sermon series defining each attribute and meditating upon the implications that has for our understanding of God. It would be a good use of our time. The better we understand God according to his Word, the more accurate becomes the worship we offer to him.
A Biblical Example of Giving Praise
This prayer does not open with a list of attributes, but it does provide examples of a few of them. Reciting each attribute is not the goal. Just telling God that he is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent is accurate, but we should say more than that. We should give examples in our prayer.
- What are some things that God knows?
- What are some ways that God displays his power?
- How do we know God is everywhere?
Scripture teaches us the answers to each of these questions. The more we read and study it rightly, and sit under accurate teaching, the better our praise will become! It is clear that the Levites understood God’s Word very well.
What is the name of God?
They begin with an emphasis upon the name of God. His name is glorious, exalted about all blessing and praise. They even use the name of God explicitly, as it was revealed to Moses at the burning bush. This is the tetragrammaton (four letters in Hebrew translated in our Bible as LORD in all caps). He is uniquely the LORD, the only true God.
The almost unanimous consensus among scholars is that God’s name would have been pronounced as Yahweh. The alternative, Jehovah, was derived from the later addition of vowels to the Hebrew manuscript. Beginning in the 6th century, but not completed until the 10th century, vowels were added to the Hebrew text of Scripture in order to aid pronunciation.
However, at some point after their return from Babylonian exile and certainly around the third or second century BC, Jews began to consider the name of God too sacred to pronounce. So, rather than use the appropriate vowels, they replaced them with the vowels used for adonai (Lord).
But, the pronunciation of God’s name is never fobidden in Scripture. In fact, it is not forbidden to mispronounce God’s name. What is forbidden is the use of God’s name in vain. To proclaim a God who is inconsequential or weightless and meaningless. We should not be flippant in reference to God nor should we
1. Heaven + Hosts = This was a reference to the sky beyond where the birds flew. It includes the sun, moon, and stars.
2. Earth + everything on it = Land and all the animals and humans that fill it.
3. Sea + everything in it = Oceans and all sea life.
All of this is aligned with the creation account recorded in Genesis 1. God made all things. Everything and everyone must ultimately credit their existence to God if they are to properly account for themselves.
Finally, in a related sense, God is also their Preserver. He takes care of everything that he creates. And he is the recipient of praise from the hosts of heaven.
Do you bleed bibline?
Do you need to read more of God’s Word for the purpose of giving praise to him? Does the language of Scripture inform your prayers as it does throughout this chapter? I love how Spurgeon said that Bunyan’s blood was bibline, because “the very essence of the Bible flows from him.” He consumed God’s Word so that his soul was filled with it and he could scarcely write a single sentence without reference to Scripture.
Pray through Psalm 139 and you will cover the omniscience (1-6), omnipresence (7-12), and omnipotence of God (13-16), and more. Praying the psalms is a wonderful way to learn biblical language for expressing the attributes of God.
Do you need to confess prioritizing your reputation over God’s glory? Has your knowledge led to worship before using it in debate with others?
We give God praise for his attributes because we are genuinely grateful for the opportunity to commune with Him and we don’t want to enter into that experience lightly.
When the Jewish Council released Peter and John from custody, the believers gathere to celebrate their release. They began giving praise to God with almost identical language to what we find in Neh 9:5-6.
Give Praise that is Trinitarian
We gain greater appreciation for the God to whom we are praying when we consider the fullness of His deity. Prayer is offered to God the Father, through God the Son, with the divine help of God the Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is non-negotiable. If we believe that the God of the Old and New Testament is the author of our faith, then we must acknowledge that God has always existed in three persons.
We specifically see the relevance of this to our praise of God as Creator in Col 1:13-17. This passage opens with reference to God the Father, but acknowledges the involvement of God the Son.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.Colossians 1:13–17 ESV
At the culmination of this age, upon Christ’s Return, he will be the recipient of the full praise of all his creatures!
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”Revelation 5:13 ESV
It is only as we come to the Father through the Son enabled by the Holy Spirit that we can rightly worship God!
This pattern of praise that God has revealed in his Word represents an eternal interest in his glory that can only come from the Holy Spirit!