A sign in a chiropractor’s office might read: “Glad to see your back.” Spinal adjustment is the chiropractor’s bread and butter.
God speaks to us about the back. He wants us properly aligned in two ways, orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Orthodoxy is right doctrine; orthopraxis right practice.
Orthopraxis speaks to our lives under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Orthopractic adjustment refers to bringing our attitudes and behaviors in line with the will of our Lord as laid in the Word of God, a spiritual alignment for health and growth.
Our Back Problem
Nehemiah 9 records for us one of the most powerful prayers of the Old Testament. Basically, it is a prayer of confession. Nehemiah acknowledges the sin of the people in view of God’s steadfast love and enduring mercies. In verse 26 he says this:
“Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies. Nehemiah 9:26 (ESV)
Nehemiah puts it that they had “cast [God’s] law behind their back.” My understanding is the word for “back” here refers to the small of the back. Putting something at the small of the back means is to totally out of view to the person whose back it is.
The people had disregarded the law of the God. They had rejected His messengers, turning their back on God to follow after sin.
That’s a helpful way for us to understand what we do when we give ourselves over to sin. We turn away from God and His law to indulge ourselves in sin. We might put it this way: our casting God’s law behind our back is rebellion against God and invites punishment. That’s what Nehemiah goes on to say in verse 27. Check it out.
Before we say, “that refers to unbelievers,” we want to acknowledge the unbelief and sin that remains in us. Hebrews 12 reminds us that God does punish us in fatherly discipline to refine us and mature us in Christ—because He loves us. So while the punishment we receive does not lead to condemnation, it is punishment nonetheless that we are to heed in wisdom.
Blessed Back Up
Isaiah also speaks of the back, using the same word as Nehemiah. Only this time it is the small of God’s back that is in view.
Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. Isaiah 38:17 (ESV)
Isaiah gives us a picture of God’s forgiveness. God cannot see behind the small of His back (anthropomorphically speaking). He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. To see us is to not see our sin. We are no longer connected to our sin, defiled by it. Basis for accusation no longer exists. Why? Isaiah pins the reason on God’s love.
That’s where Paul puts the cause our deliverance from punishment and rebellion as well.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. Romans 5:8–9 (ESV)
So in Nehemiah we see ourselves in our rebellion casting God’s law behind our back, leading to punishment. While in Isaiah we see God in His steadfast love casting our sin behind His back, leading to deliverance.
That’s the gospel. But it also a sober assessment of what we do when we follow after sin. Our back it to God. His law cast behind us. It calls for orthopractic adjustment, confident God is at work in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Notice in the Nehemiah 9:26 verse that God records for us another use of the word “back.” This time, however, it doesn’t represent anatomy. It looks to repentance.
Repentance in God’s vocabulary can be expressed in a number of ways, including “turn back.” The psalmist puts it in terms of confession and covering. Psalm 32 opens with an expression of the blessed state of the one whose sin is covered, another way of saying that transgression is forgiven.
A couple of verses later the psalmist explains the process.
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Psalm 32:5 (ESV)
Restoration to fellowship with the Father is found through confession. Confession lines up with God’s assessment, removing the law from behind our back and judging ourselves by it. It brings our sin out into the open. We don’t follow the example of our first parents in Eden. Instead we admit and own our sin in all its ugliness.
When we uncover our sin, God covers it. That’s the sense in Psalm 32:5 behind the word “forgave.” We uncover our sin in confession. God covers it in atonement.
Psalm 32 anticipates this side of the cross, where we find with clarity the means by which God would atone for our sin. We find great comfort and assurance in the assertion of 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (Why “faithful and just” instead of “faithful and merciful?” The answer is found in Romans 3:19-26.)
Forgiveness, however, is not found in practice of asking. It is found in the basis for covering. There is no forgiveness without the cross.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1–2 (ESV)
Confession lays claim to atoning blood of Christ that removes wrath and condemnation from us. Confession pulsates with animating drive of repentance. Repentance seeks that orthopractic adjustment by the grace of God, a return to right practice under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Instead of casting God’s law behind our back we put it before our face, making it a delight. I think the psalmist in Psalm 119 waxed eloquent about just that.