This last scene takes up two whole chapters. Let’s start by reading 9:1-3.
Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. 2 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.Nehemiah 9:1-3
So this last scene starts on the 24th day of the 7th month. We’re still in the month of the Jewish New Year. And the Feast of Booths would have started on the 15th and ran 8 days to the 22nd. Then the people take a break maybe to convert their temporary booths into firewood or something else. And the day after that they’re all together again back in Jerusalem ready to do spiritual business. I’m going to again just express my surprise. I didn’t know these people were so inclined toward biblical spirituality. This really seems to be something of a genuine revival wherein the people are just delighting in God alone. And what caused this? Well, the wall around Jerusalem was just rebuilt. The fact that these people are now separated from the bad influence of the world outside may have something to do with it. Besides that, I do really wonder if the fact that it’s a new year has anything to do with it.
So the people are still on the crest of a New Year’s spiritual wave. They gather to Jerusalem after having separated themselves from all foreigners. Apparently the foreigners – the evil ones, not the ones who converted – these foreigners were still among God’s people until this time… Beyond this spiritual step in the right direction, the people are confessing their sin. They’re not apologizing. Allow me to advocate for you never saying, “sorry” and thinking that’s a true confession – whether its directed toward God or toward your fellow man. “I’m sorry” describes how you’re feeling. It tells no one that you’re owning up to the fact that what you did was wrong. Love means never having to say you’re sorry. On the other hand, it means having to say, “I’ve sinned and done evil in God’s sight. Will you forgive me for sinning against you?” OK, I’ve been waiting to be able to address that in one of our times here. So, these Jews confessed their sins and their fathers’ sins and also worshipped for a 4th of the day. They also read the word for a 4th of the day.
Then the Levites start praying out loud. What do they say? Let’s read verses 5-7 to find out.
Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. 6 ¶ Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, 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 worshippeth thee. 7 Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham.Nehemiah 9:5-7
These Levites begin their confession and worship by acknowledging how perfect and excellent God is. He made everything. He’s all-powerful and all-wise. But despite being a high and lofty Creator, they recall in verse 7 that he stooped in order to know man, namely, he chose Abraham, the Jews’ forebearer. The Levites go on to tell of how God promised to give Abraham the land in which the Jews were currently living once more at that very time. Watch for that theme of “the land” in this prayer.
Then the Levites basically start rehearsing Israel’s history where the book of Exodus begins. The Jews were being oppressed in Egypt. And God delivered them through the plagues he sent on Egpyt. And when the army of Egypt followed the Jews they were drowned in the Red Sea. God then led the Jews with a pillar of fire at night and a pillar of cloud by day. The Levites recall God coming to the Jews at Sinai and giving them righteous ordinances. They remember that God provided bread for them. How good God was to the Jews! He is high and lifted up and yet he chose Abraham and was merciful to his descendants. How did the Jews respond to this wondeful love? Verse 16.
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments.
The next few verses flesh this out. The people built the golden calf and wanted to return to their bondage in Egypt. The Levites remind us that although God needed to deal with this rebellious generation by letting them wander 40 years in the wilderness, yet during that whole time most of his blessings he didn’t revoke – the cloud, the fire, the water, the manna, none of these things did God withold from these rebels… The prayer goes on to state that God gave these people a few kingdoms and lands of their enemies. God is so good.
He was good to Abraham. He was good to those who came out of Egypt led by Moses. And he was good to the sons of this latter group. He was so good to them – that like cattle, they ate and grew fat. They reveled in God’s goodness. But the Levites’ prayer goes on to tell us that even these sons rebelled against God and wouldn’t obey his word. Then we’re reminded of the time of the judges, where the people would sin against God, he would give them over to their enemies, they would cry out to him, and he would deliver them through a judge. That cycle continued for decades. After that the Lord needed to seriously deal with the people. God patiently endured the sins of the Jews. But finally he had to send them into exile. And yet God didn’t utterly forsake them even there. How did they know that God hadn’t forsaken the Jews? Well, they were back in the land, weren’t they? They are back in the land. But the picture isn’t rosey. Let’s read verses 36-37.
Behold, we are servants this day, 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: 37 And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.
The Jews were in quite a predicament. Again they mention the land. The Jews were back in their land, yes. But they were back as slaves who were subservient to a foreign king.
And because of this discouraging and alarming situation, they don’t want to continue the sins of their fathers. Read verse 38.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.
They’re making a New Year’s resolution, so-to-speak. Now, the resolutions we might make – like to eat healthier or to read the Bible or whatever – usually we don’t do anything more than just keep those in our minds. Not so with the Jews here. They’re going to write this resolution down and have their leaders all sign it, swearing to keep it. They need to. They don’t want to experience any more of God’s opposition to them.