I am watching the news closely, for any sign of relief. The government has said we will get relief from our lockdown. At some point, we will not be bound to our homes. We will not be bound to live behind our masks. We will not be locked out of restaurants and hotels and hair salons and churches.
It’s what the government has promised us. Colorado’s stay-at-home order will end on April 26. Our county’s stay-at-home order will end on April 30. The government has a responsibility to uphold. It can let those health orders lapse. Or it can renew them as they exist currently or in some new form. But the government has to do its part and decide.
We are attentive to the government these days. We are in tune with whether things are being done well and fairly by the government. We are in tune with whether the government is acting appropriately. We are holding the government to a high standard. It must do its part well.
It is an expectation that we have. It’s part of the covenant between the government and the people in this country. Each has responsibilities. The people elect. The government serves. The people submit. And then the people elect again.
It’s a covenant. A covenant creates expectations. It allows us to know how things are supposed to go. We don’t wander in the dark, wondering how things will go – because we have a covenant. The covenant puts up barriers around us – and it opens doors.
Nehemiah called God the “God who keeps covenant.” I suppose fundamentally this is a central feature in God’s character. He’s not an arbitrary God. He’s a God who does what he says he will do. He does not break his promises. He keeps the covenants that he makes.
In Deuteronomy 30, Moses wrote that when the people of Israel living in exile return to God in obedience, then God will act. “If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you” (Deuteronomy 30:4). If the people quit their rebellion and return to God, then God will bring them back into the Promised Land and bless them. It’s the covenant. God keeps covenant with his people.
And Nehemiah remembered that. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian King Artaxerxes. It was a prominent position. Nehemiah was doing well, while the Israelite people as a whole were not. Nehemiah learned the returned exiles in Jerusalem were in a bad way. The temple had been rebuilt, but the city’s walls were still in shambles. And so Nehemiah prayed to God and reminded God of the covenant.
Nehemiah knew the covenant. And the covenant created expectations. If the people returned to God, God must act.
We worship this same God today. The God of the Old Testament is the same God as the New Testament. When God makes a promise, he makes a promise that is good for all time.
So I remembered Matthew’s Gospel (again). Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). That’s a promise. That’s a covenant. Expectations for both sides are present. We acknowledge Christ. Christ acknowledges us. Nothing can change that.
Nehemiah knew God in this way. We can know God in this way.
In some ways, I suppose, Nehemiah was holding God to his word. He was holding the “God of heaven, the great and awesome God” accountable. Nehemiah was doing this, obviously, in a very humble way. He was saying, essentially, “Remember your promise to us. If we come back to you, you will gather us up – even from the uttermost parts of heaven.”
When God makes a covenant, he opens himself to a relationship like this – where a mere mortal can call on God to act. This is the God we worship. And so we can remember the promise. If we call out to Jesus, even if we’ve been as far from him and his kingdom as humanly possible – even if we’ve been living in the “uttermost parts” – he will answer.