In our study of Nehemiah chapter nine, we look at how the proper study of the word of God is powerful and effective. In chapter 8, we saw Ezra lead a massive bible study and, here, we will see the fruit of the labor.
On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors.
We see that the study of the Word of God provoked repentance in the people. In Ezra 9 & 10, we saw that the Israelites had intermarried with the nations but, now, we see that they have separated themselves from the foreigners.
They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God.
We see that they spent half of the day studying the Word and confessing that they did not measure up to what it said. We are reminded that this is the only purpose of the Law. We all must realize that we cannot measure up to God's standard before we can come to salvation through Jesus Christ.
Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites - Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah - said: 'Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.'
We see that this great confession started with the leaders and servants of the Lord. They loudly and openly called on the Lord and urged the people to worship Him. We see that they are listed and are reminded of the fact that God takes note of our service to Him and we will be rewarded for our labor. They begin to worship by acknowledging God as the Creator of all things. This is important as it is the basis for His authority to govern the affairs of men.
'Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.'
Confession is both a statement of beliefs as well as a formal admission of guilt. For guilt, there must be someone that was offended as well as the offender. In this case, the one that is offended is God and we see that their confession begins with the acknowledgement (statement of belief) that God is the Creator of all things. As the Creator of all things, He knows what is good and bad for the things that He has made. Therefore, all actions are judged based on what God knows is good for His creation.
'You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.'
The people acknowledge/remember that God always does what is good for His creation. They say that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. They have seen God's righteousness displayed by the fact that He kept His promises to Abraham. This, in turn, reassures them that He will do what is best for them in the future.
'You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt. You heard their cry at the Red Sea. You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day.'
The people's confession continues with an acknowledgement that God is watching over His people and He acts on their behalf. Once again, by remembering God's past actions, they get reassurance for the events of their day. The same is true for us as we grow in our faith (trust) in God by remembering what He has done for us on a daily basis. We can also share that reassurance with others by sharing our personal stories (testimonies) of what God has done in our lives.
'You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and at night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.'
The people continue to remember that God did not just deliver their ancestors from Egypt but traveled with them. He did not just give them instructions and leave them to fend for themselves. In the same way, they (and we) can be sure that He is with us every step of our lives. The people of Nehemiah's day had the Levitical priesthood to guide the people much like the pillars that had led in the wilderness. As Christians, we have been given the very Spirit of God to travel with us and to guide us.
'You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.'
The people also remember that God's instructions were given for their own good. The Sabbath is singled out as an example of God showing the people what is good for their physical body. There are those who forget the fact that the Sabbath was created to give mankind a time to rest for our own health. Many have made it out to be a time where we do our "duty" of worship to God. Although we worship God on the Sabbath, we are also called to worship Him every day.
'In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock;'
The great confession continues with the acknowledgement that God is not only the Creator but also the Sustainer of His creation. They remember that, while their people were in the wilderness, God provided for their basic needs of food and water. Once again, past action is a very good indication of what they (we) can expect in the future.
'you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,'
The great confession continues by remembering the compassion that God showed to His people even as they would not listen to Him. They did not trust in His provision and rebelled but He did not abandon them. This passage is a picture of Christians that accept Jesus Christ for salvation but do not live a sanctified life. Like the Israelites, they do not listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit and so wander around in this world under their own power. We all go through these periods where we try to do things on our own but God does not abandon us. He desires for us to listen and know that He wants what is best for them.
'even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, "This is our god, who brought you up out of Egypt," or when they committed awful blasphemies.'
Even as they outright rebelled against God, He was faithful. We may not build a golden calf and call it our god but what about our material possessions? When we forget that God is our provider and trust in our bank account/retirement accounts, it is the same as having a golden calf.
'Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.'
The people confess that God was with their ancestors even as they were in rebellion. Not only did He not abandon them, but He continued to care for them and guide them through the wilderness. The same is true for us as we don't always listen and follow the prompting of the Holy spirit. God still provides the direction even when we aren't listening.
'You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.'
The people confess that God is the provider of all things as they remember that He did not leave them ignorant about His ways. They (and we) are given the mind of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a reminder that our sin and disobedience is not due to a lack of knowledge. The old excuse: "I didn't know" is no excuse when it comes to trusting the Lord.
'For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.'
God provided for their physical and spiritual needs throughout their time in the wilderness.They were able to see that their clothes did not wear out and the travel did not break them down physically. That is what the very power of God (Holy Spirit) can do for His people. When we face trials on the earth, it can remind us of the very presence of God. He is always with us through the Spirit but sometimes we can forget it until a tough situation arises.
'You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess.'
The great confession continues by remembering that God provided a land for His people. We are also reminded that each generation is given the opportunity to trust in Him. Those that had refused to enter the land He provided perished in the wilderness but their children were then given the opportunity. The parents' lack of faith had consequences for their children as they grew up in the desert but, at the proper time, they had the chance to break out of that legacy. This part of their confession reminds us that we do not have to wallow in the past if we trust in God.
'Their children went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you gave the Canaanites into their hands, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased.'
The great confession continues by remembering that God provided the victory for their people in the land of Canaan. They were reminded that it was God who conquered the enemy even putting the kings in their hands. This reminds us that Jesus won the victory for our today as well as for eternity. We can walk in this world victorious knowing that the devil and his minions have already been defeated or we can walk around beaten down and defeated. The choice is ours to do with as we please.
'They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your greatness.'
When the people took over the land, they received the benefits from the labor of the Canaanites and celebrated their material blessing. The Hebrew word for reveled is adan and speaks of self pleasure.
'But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies.'
The people confess that their relatives had embraced the physical blessings but turned their backs on the spiritual things of God. When God sent men to warn them of the dangers of this behavior, they had killed them and even went so far as to say they were not sent by God. This is a reminder to us that God wants to provide for our physical needs but it is more important that we seek a close relationship with Him. We can enjoy the material provisions of God but we must not let them blind us to the more important eternal things. The danger of material wealth is that it can lead to a feeling of self-sufficiency and pride which is of the devil.
'So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hands of their enemies.'
Israel's great confession continues by remembering that He has shown compassion in the past. Compassion is an active form of love where a person's miserable estate is relieved by the actions of another. They (and we) are reminded that all that was required of them was to cry out to God. He could be trusted to act on their behalf.
'But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.'
The people remember the fact that they had a pattern of disobedience but God had a pattern of faithfulness. Throughout the history of Israel, they would drift away from God and He would correct them and bring them back. The same is true for us in our Christian walk as, at times, we can feel as though Jesus has left us but He has not. When we seek Him He is faithful to draw near to us.
'You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, "The person who obeys them will live by them." Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.'
Even as the pattern of rebellion continued, God did not abandon His people. God continued to send messengers to them to warn them but they would not listen. That is the way it is today as it seems that most of the world refuses to accept Jesus Christ or follow Him. Even so, God demonstrates His patience in the fact that He does not put an end to this miserable world. Many times, we may ask why God does not put an end to the evil that is going on and the simple answer is because of His patient love for mankind.
'Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes - the hardship that has come on us, on our kings and leaders, on our priests and prophets, on our ancestors and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today.
All of the confession of the past is a reminder of the fact that God is unchanging. Because we have seen how God has worked in the past, we can be confident of His action in the future.
'In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our ancestors did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the statutes you warned them to keep. Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.'
The people confess the fact that God is and was right in sending correction to His children. The Hebrew word for wicked is rasha and it speaks of someone who has left the path and become lost. They remember that God had shown them the path to follow but they had willingly left the path and become lost. They confess that they were well provided for and yet left the path anyway. This reminds us that God has provided for our needs and we simply have to be in the proper place to receive the blessings. When we find ourselves in need, we often pray for God to provide. That is good but we must recognize the fact that he has already provided and we must simply let Him guide us back onto the path to find it.
'But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress. In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.'
The conclusion of their great confession is the fact that their current situation is a direct result of their leaving the path that was laid out before them. This recognition of the need for a change of direction is what is commonly called repentance. We also see that repentance leads to a commitment. They are wanting to get back on the right path and are vowing to stay on it and let God lead the way. As Christians, that is what we mean when we say that we want to make Jesus the "Lord of our lives".