NEHEMIAH CHAPTER 9.
A Day of Prayer and Penitence.
THE REPENTANCE OF THE PEOPLE. ó V. 1. Now, in the twenty and fourth day of this month, two days after the close of the Feast of Tabernacles, the children of Israel were assembled with fasting and with sack-clothes, and earth upon them, all signs of the deepest mourning and sorrow, as they recognized the transgressions of the people, as they became conscious of the punishment which they had deserved by their disregard of Godís laws. V. 2. And the seed of Israel, the Jews of pure blood, separated themselves from all strangers, foreigners who had become mixed with the Jews by marriage, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers, principally in contracting such marriages as were expressly forbidden by God; for the reforms of Ezra had not lasted, the people having once more taken up, not only commercial intercourse, but also the dangerous custom of intermarriages with the heathen nations. V. 3. And they, probably Ezra and his assistants, stood up in their place, on the platform erected for that purpose, and read in the Book of the Law of the Lord, their God, one-fourth part of the day, apparently from early morning till about nine oíclock; and another fourth part they confessed and worshiped the Lord, their God, they expressed the sorrowful feelings aroused by the reading of the Law and acknowledged His great mercy in forgiving their offenses in spite of all their wrong-doing and in continuing the blessings of His Word among them. That is the proper attitude of mind in approaching the Lord at all times, a deep and sincere recognition of sins together with a firm trust in Godís mercy.
THE LEVITES CONFESS THE PEOPLEíS WICKEDNESS. ó V.4. Then stood up upon the stairs, the platforms from which the people were usually addressed, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bani, Sherebiah, Eani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the Lord, their God, acting as spokesmen for the entire congregation. V. 5. Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, following an order of worship which had been arranged beforehand, Stand up and bless the Lord, your God, forever and ever; and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. As Luther says: Godís name is indeed holy and glorious in itself, and all our praising will not make it one bit more glorious; yet our blessing and our thanksgiving should arise to Him at every occasion. The confession, as pronounced by the Levites, had undoubtedly been prepared in the form of a written document, and the language shows that it was largely taken from the earlier holy books of the Jews. V.6. Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone, beside whom there is no other god; Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, the unseen as well as the visible heaven, with all their host, of angel inhabitants, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and Thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshipeth Thee. Note the clear and unmistakable statement concerning the creation and preservation of the universe by the almighty power of God alone. V. 7. Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, Gen. 12, 1, and gavest him the name of Abraham, Gen. 17, 5; v. 8. and foundest his heart faithful before Thee, Gen. 15, 6, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed Thy words; for Thou art righteous, just in keeping His promises, v. 9. and didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, Ex. 2, 25, and heardest their cry by the Red Sea, Ex. 14, 10, v. 10. and showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh and on all his servants and on all the people of his land in the ten great plagues that were sent upon Egypt; for Thou knewest that they, Pharaoh and his people, dealt proudly against them, the children of Israel. So didst Thou get Thee a name, as it is this day, EL 9, 16. V. 11. And Thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, Ex. 14, 21-28; and their persecutors Thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters, rushing and violent billows which overwhelmed them, Ex. 15, 5. V. 12. Moreover, Thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar, EL 13, 21, and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go, thus completing the deliverance begun in Egypt. V. 13. Thou camst down also upon Mount Sinai and spakest with them from heaven, Ex. 19, 20, and gavest them right judgments, enabling them to discriminate between right and wrong, and true laws, a code of laws which embodies the truth of Godís essence, good statutes, precepts and decrees concerning their covenant relation to God, and commandments, orders pertaining to their entire life in all its relations to their fellow-men; v. 14. and madest known unto them Thy holy Sabbath, Ex. 20, 8. 11, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, both those concerning them as Godís covenant people and those governing their relation to all men, by the hand of Moses, Thy servant, v. 15. and gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, Ex. 16, 14, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, EL 17, 6, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which Thou hadst sworn to give them, Deut. 1,8. After this enumeration of Godís blessings upon Israel the ingratitude of the people is shown. V. 16. But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, Deut. 31, 27, and hearkened not to Thy commandments, v. 17. and refused to obey, neither were they mindful of the wonders that Thou didst among them, Ps. 78, 11, but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage, Num. 14,4. But Thou art a God ready to pardon, literally, ďof pardons,Ē one who makes pardoning His business, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not, Ex. 34, 6. V. 18. Yea, when they had made them a molten calf and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocation, by provoking the Lord to anger; v. 19. yet Thou in Thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day to lead them in the way, neither the pillar of fire by night to show them light, rather, to shed light for them, and the way wherein they should go. V. 20. Thou gavest also Thy good Spirit to instruct them, Num. 11, 17, and withheldest not Thy manna from their mouth, giving it to them throughout their desert journey, Ex. 16, 15, and gavest them water for their thirst, Ex. 17, 6. V. 21. Yea, forty years didst Thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing, Deut. 2, 7; their clothes waxed not old, being preserved in some miraculous manner, Deut. 8, 4; 29, 5, and their feet swelled not. V. 22. Moreover, Thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, putting them into possession of a great and rich country, and didst divide them into corners, giving them sections of the conquered land, to each tribe a possession of his own; so they possessed the land of Sihon and the land of the king of Heshbon and the land of Og, king of Bashan, Num. 21; Deut. 2 and 3. V. 23. Their children also multipliedst Thou as the stars of heaven and broughtest them into the land concerning which Thou hadst promised to their fathers that they should go in to possess it. V. 24. So the children went in and possessed the land, Josh. 1, 2, and Thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, the collective name for all the heathen nations of Canaan, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would, in annihilating and eradicating them. V. 25. And they took strong cities and a fat land, Num. 13, 27, and possessed houses full of all goods, Deut. 6, 11, wells digged, that is, the cisterns which are used so extensively in the Orient, vineyards and olive-yards and fruit-trees in abundance. So they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, literally, "made themselves fat," Deut. 32, 15, and delighted themselves in Thy great goodness. The contrast between this merciful kindness on the part of the Lord and the wickedness of the people is now again emphasized. V. 26. Nevertheless, they were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy Law behind their backs, in a form of haughty rejection, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to Thee, Matt. 23, 37; Acts 7, 52; and they wrought great provocations. V. 27. Therefore Thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them, Judg. 2, 14; and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto Thee, Thou heardest them from heaven; and according to Thy manifold mercies Thou gavest them saviors, as from the time of Joshua to the time of Samuel, Judg. 2, 18, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. V. 28. But after they had rest, when they had taken possession of the Promised Land, they did evil again before Thee; therefore leftest Thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them. Yet, when they returned and cried unto Thee, Thou heardest them from heaven, as the entire history of both kingdoms abundantly shows; and many times didst Thou deliver them according to Thy mercies, v. 29. and testifiedst against them, that Thou mightest bring them again unto Thy Law, admonishing them time and again to return to His ways and to keep His precepts. Yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto Thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, the ordinances concerning man's behavior in general, (which, if a man do, he shall live in them, Lev. 18, 5; Luke 10, 28;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear. V. 30. Yet many years didst Thou forbear them, extending His patience and mercy concerning them, and testifiedst against them, in admonishing them time and again, by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets. Yet would they not give ear; therefore gavest Thou them into the hand of the people of the lands, permitting the heathen kings to lead them away into exile. V. 31. Nevertheless, for Thy great mercies' sake Thou didst not utterly consume them nor forsake them, even during their captivity in Babylon; for Thou art a gracious and merciful God. V. 32. Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, faithfully keeping the provisions of His covenant in spite of Israel's violation of it, and ready to accept His people as soon as they returned to Him in true repentance, let not all the trouble seem little before Thee that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all Thy people since the time of the kings of Assyria, namely, the days of Pul and of Tiglath-pileser, 2 Kings 15, 19. 29, unto this day. V. 33. Howbeit, Thou art just in all that is brought upon us, a fact which they acknowledged without the slightest reservation; for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly; v. 34. neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers kept Thy Law nor hearkened unto Thy commandments and Thy testimonies wherewith Thou didst testify against them, admonishing them to repentance. V. 35. For they have not served Thee in their kingdom and in Thy great goodness that Thou gavest them, that is, in the great prosperity wherewith He had blessed them, and in the large and fat land which Thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works. V. 36. Behold, we are servants this day, no longer an independent nation, but a province of the Persian empire, and for the land that Thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it; v. 37. and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom Thou hast set over us because of our sins, for the Persian kings derived a rich revenue from the provinces of Canaan; also they have dominion over our bodies and over our cattle at their pleasure, drafting both the Jews and their work-cattle into service at any time, and we are in great distress. V. 38. And because of all this we make a sure covenant and write it, subscribing and signing the written document, in order to make it more impressive before all the people; and our princes, Levites, and priests seal unto it, all this having a tendency to keep them from breaking the covenant. Even as the small congregation of Jews turned to the Lord in true repentance and was accepted by Him, so it pleases our heavenly Father to have His Christian Church turn to Him for deliverance from all evil.