the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Racism, racial inequality and historical racial injustices are daily topics of contemporary news and commentary. In light of this a variety of sources have called the church to repentance. These voices contend the modern church has a responsibility to ask for forgiveness of both our Lord and racial minorities for past and present sin.
Yet is this a legitimate request? Are modern Christians accountable for the behavior of the church over the past several hundred years? Many twenty-first century Christians have no connection whatsoever to the institution of slavery in the United States or post civil war racial bigotry. What duty do they have in this matter?
When we look to the word of God for answers there is at least one example that seems to address the question of responsibility. Nehemiah, a man of integrity and responsibility, understood the importance of his people’s history in his relationship with Yahweh. He recognized the need to acknowledge the past and present sins of himself and his people when seeking the favor of God. Thus the prayer of Nehemiah recorded in 1:5-11 is a good place to start our search for answers.
In order to properly understand the prayer of Nehemiah we must have a familiarity with the covenant relationship of Yahweh with his chosen people. Nehemiah, although a layman, was an educated and devout Jew and embraced the covenant standards wholeheartedly. Nehemiah's prayer is predicated upon an understanding and the acceptance of the covenant established by God with His people after their Exodus from Egypt.
In the book of Deuteronomy we read concerning the outcome of disobedience on the part of God’s people: “The LORD will bring you and the king whom you set over you to a nation which neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods - wood and stone” (Deuteronomy 28:36, New King James Version). This promised curse is further elaborated with a description of how it would appear to those outside the covenant people. In Deuteronomy 29:24-28 we read <i>All nations would say, ‘Why has the LORD done so to this land? What does the heat of this great anger mean?’ Then people would say: ‘Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt; for they went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods that they did not know and that He had not given to them. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against this land, to bring on it every curse that is written in this book. And the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger, in wrath, and in great indignation, and cast them into another land, as it is this day’</i> (Deuteronomy 29:24-28).
These are words Nehemiah believed wholeheartedly. The hardship that had befallen he and his people was not the product of chance. Instead, Nehemiah understood the Jews had violated the covenant and so had been exiled to a foreign land.
We will continue our examination of Nehemiah’s prayer next week.