Book of Nehemiah Chapter Nine Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
The God Of Mercy
The emotional responses seen in Chapter 8 after the finding and reading of the Law of Moses to the people continue here into Verses 1-3: "Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. 2 The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3 While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God." It was now the 24th day of the month of Tisri and the spirit of that month was sweeping Israel. To fast is to give up eating for a time, recognizing that it is God who created the need and He is the Provider who fills that need. Sackcloth is uncomfortable, lacking in style, and a dirty body does not speak well of who we are, reminding us that only God can make us clean and presentable—inside—where it counts. We see in their actions our own need for humility. In and of ourselves, we are not clean in the sight of God. As part of your prayers for the leaders of your country, it is acceptable in the sight of God to confess their sins as well as your own, and to confess the sins of your fathers as well.
Verses 4-5: "Now on the Levites’ platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the Lord their God. 5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, 'Arise, bless the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!" Religious and secular Leadership is necessary in our lives. You can see the need for someone to establish rules in any place where you as a driver arrive at a busy intersection that has no stop signs or other traffic controls. We are a wild and rebellious people needing external controls—without them, life would be even worse than it is. The men in this verse were leaders in Jerusalem at that time, and like today, some of them were probably more effective than others. Leadership is a gift from God, which may be used for good, but all too often such abilities are appropriated by the leaders themselves for selfish reasons. Pray that our leaders will worship the Lord as these men did.
We should pray for our leaders, and if you don't know how to pray for them, read Verse 6 and ask that they will grasp the heart of worshiping God in words such as these: "You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You." If you are a leader, speak those very words to God from your heart. You are not the creator of anything—He is. You did not make dry land or the seas—He did. You didn't give yourself life and did not give life to your children or anyone else—He alone is the Lord and we reasonably worship Him who created you, me, everything that is.
Verses 7-8: "You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, and gave him the name Abraham. 8 You found his heart faithful before You, and made a covenant with him to give him the land of the Canaanite, of the Hittite and the Amorite, of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite—to give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise, for You are righteous." The returnees to Jerusalem had, for a long time, ignored the Law, but now it was being read and explained to them. The speakers and listeners rejoiced and wept as they heard God's plan and purpose for them, including the fact that they had been created out of one man, "Abram," which meant "father is exalted," a name changed by God to "Abraham," the "father of a multitude" (Genesis 17:5), and out of one woman, his wife, Sarah. The land these returnees stood on at the moment belonged to many tribes, but God gave it to Abraham, a man who never fully occupied it, and to his descendants the Jews, who now listened intently to the words of the Law. If you have faith in the Lord and feel his nudge, His call to become more than you are, listen and pray, for God does wonders in and through faithful people.
Verses 9-12: "You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry by the Red Sea. 10 Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his servants and all the people of his land; for You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, and made a name for Yourself as it is this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; and their pursuers You hurled into the depths, like a stone into raging waters. 12 And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, and with a pillar of fire by night to light for them the way in which they were to go." The Lord had a purpose for this people, to be an example of how God works with nations. He knows when we become arrogant, thinking we can perform His call without Him, and He judges us—for our good and His glory. He sees our resulting affliction and hears our cry. When appropriate for His purposes to be done in our lives, He wondrously delivers us and defeats our enemies. And His Holy Spirit tenderly leads us in the way we should go.
Verses 13-14: "Then You came down on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments. 14 So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, and laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, through Your servant Moses." We learn from places like Romans 7:12, that "the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good." It is good that we honor God, that we do not murder others, that we respond to the good teachings of our parents and honor the Sabbath. Stealing is wrong; even the wanting of what belongs to others is sin. Deep inside we know it and must confess our sin to God who will heal us. Notice Verse 15: "You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, and You told them to enter in order to possess the land which You swore to give them." If you lack ANYTHING, He can and will provide it for His faithful ones. He can bring water out of a rock and bread from the morning dew. He is God.
Verses 16-19: "But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. 17 They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; so they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them. 18 even when they made for themselves a calf of molten metal and said, 'This is your god who brought you up from Egypt,' and committed great blasphemies, 19 You, in Your great compassion, did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, to guide them on their way, nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go." Human beings have a strange tendency to receive from God, as Israel did, even having faith in the Lord, and then oddly become arrogant, thinking we have somehow done it, which ends in stubborn rebellion. But God is so DIFFERENT from people in an infinitely good way. He is a "God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness." He does not forsake us. Romans 11:29 is utterly consistent about Him—"God's gifts and His call are irrevocable." He who started the work will complete it, and He will restore us to the way we should go.
Verses 20-23 continue the prayer of Israel: "You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, and You gave them water for their thirst. 21 Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want; their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. 22 You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, and allotted them to them as a boundary. They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon and the land of Og the king of Bashan. 23 You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, and You brought them into the land which You had told their fathers to enter and possess." That same Spirit is given to His people today. Romans 8:9-14 contain the words, "If Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness... He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you...those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Can you imagine your clothes never wearing out and your feet never ache? Can you imagine joyous LIFE forever? Trust in Him, respond to His call, and even though we fail, He succeeds through us.
Verses 24-25: "So their sons entered and possessed the land. And You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and You gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, to do with them as they desired. 25 They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, and reveled in Your great goodness." It's amazing how we can get what we want because God gives it to us, and then develop the attitude seen in Verses 26-29: "But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, and cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who had admonished them so that they might return to You, and they committed great blasphemies. 27 Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, but when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors. 28 But as soon as they had rest, they did evil again before You; therefore You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they ruled over them. When they cried again to You, You heard from heaven, and many times You rescued them according to Your compassion, 29 and admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, by which if a man observes them he shall live. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen." God has given you the breath in your lungs, the blood in your veins and the capacity to have faith in the Lord. He is everything to you, and it's time to LISTEN, to RESPOND to Him who loves you and me.
Verses 30-31: "However, You bore with them for many years, and admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and compassionate God." All our lives, we have been able to see the patience and mercy of God. As Jesus' apostle, Peter, observed in 2 Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." God often waits years for individuals and centuries in judging nations, simply because He is merciful and He cares. His loving Hand is stretched toward you—take that Hand and trust in Him.
Verses 32-33 are a plea for His continued mercy and a recognition that He is always just: "Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. 33 However, You are just in all that has come upon us; for You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly." God's values and purposes are infinitely higher than ours. Our motives contain hidden selfishness, like the aborting of an innocent child, claiming we did it for their good, when in fact we did not want OUR plans and needs to be derailed by the birth of that child. That boy or girl is a human being, and inside, all know it. What is the truth about your intentions, deep in your soul?
We have not respected LIFE, though we have been given much and should know better. Our leaders fail and draw people into failure with them, as in Verses 34-35: "For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. 35 But they, in their own kingdom, with Your great goodness which You gave them, with the broad and rich land which You set before them, did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds." Leaders sin, both religious and secular, and the people are drawn into sin by their example. Money, power, intelligence, strength: all such are gifts, given to enable the person who has them to serve those who don't. Misusing those gifts will lead to disaster, as in Verses 36-37: "Behold, we are slaves today, and as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, behold, we are slaves in it. 37 Its abundant produce is for the kings whom You have set over us because of our sins; they also rule over our bodies and over our cattle as they please, so we are in great distress." Israel, the fallen nation, was back in the land, though their millions had become a few thousand, and they were slaves of the Persian Empire. They would rise and then fall again, becoming slaves of the Roman Empire, then wander the world for many centuries. Faith in the Lord leads to quiet success with God, which is by far, the better, the best, the ONLY way to live.
I have begun keeping a journal once more, after a lapse of many years. My journal contains confession, prayer requests, His touch in my life, and my understanding of His Word. It also contains my promises to Him, like the written agreement of Israel in Verse 38: "Now because of all this we are making an agreement in writing; and on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests." Somehow, writing our prayers makes them even more real. We forget so much, but then, reading back, there are the promises, written in my own hand, causing me, to—remember.
Lord, we remember our sins and confess them to You. We trust in You, knowing You are the God of mercy, grace and compassion. You have given us the ultimate proof of Your willingness to forgive in Jesus Christ, and we place our faith in Him right now. We are Yours, Lord. Thank You for providing the Way to God. Please fill us with Your Holy Spirit and give us Your peace. In Jesus Name. Amen.