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Ne 9:1-3. A SOLEMN FAST AND REPENTANCE OF THE PEOPLE.
1. Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month--that is, on the second day after the close of the feast of tabernacles, which commenced on the fourteenth and terminated on the twenty-second (Le 23:34-37). The day immediately after that feast, the twenty-third, had been occupied in separating the delinquents from their unlawful wives, as well, perhaps, as in taking steps for keeping aloof in future from unnecessary intercourse with the heathen around them. For although this necessary measure of reformation had been begun formerly by Ezra (Ezr 10:1-17), and satisfactorily accomplished at that time (in so far as he had information of the existing abuses, or possessed the power of correcting them) yet it appears that this reformatory work of Ezra had been only partial and imperfect. Many cases of delinquency had escaped, or new defaulters had appeared who had contracted those forbidden alliances; and there was an urgent necessity for Nehemiah again to take vigorous measures for the removal of a social evil which threatened the most disastrous consequences to the character and prosperity of the chosen people. A solemn fast was now observed for the expression of those penitential and sorrowful feelings which the reading of the law had produced, but which had been suppressed during the celebration of the feast; and the sincerity of their repentance was evinced by the decisive steps taken for the correction of existing abuses in the matter of marriage.
2. confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers--Not only did they read in their recent sufferings a punishment of the national apostasy and guilt, but they had made themselves partakers of their fathers' sins by following the same evil ways.
3. they . . . read in the book of the law--Their extraordinary zeal
led them to continue this as before.
Ne 9:4-38. THE LEVITES CONFESS GOD'S MANIFOLD GOODNESS, AND THEIR OWN WICKEDNESS.
4. Then stood up upon the stairs--the scaffolds or pulpits, whence
the Levites usually addressed the people. There were probably several
placed at convenient distances, to prevent confusion and the voice of
one drowning those of the others.
5. Then the Levites . . . said, Stand up and bless the Lord your God--If this prayer was uttered by all these Levites in common, it must have been prepared and adopted beforehand, perhaps, by Ezra; but it may only embody the substance of the confession and thanksgiving.
6-38. Thou, even thou, art Lord alone, &c.--In this solemn and impressive prayer, in which they make public confession of their sins, and deprecate the judgments due to the transgressions of their fathers, they begin with a profound adoration of God, whose supreme majesty and omnipotence is acknowledged in the creation, preservation, and government of all. Then they proceed to enumerate His mercies and distinguished favors to them as a nation, from the period of the call of their great ancestor and the gracious promise intimated to him in the divinely bestowed name of Abraham, a promise which implied that he was to be the Father of the faithful, the ancestor of the Messiah, and the honored individual in whose seed all the families of the earth should be blessed. Tracing in full and minute detail the signal instances of divine interposition for their deliverance and their interest--in their deliverance from Egyptian bondage--their miraculous passage through the Red Sea--the promulgation of His law--the forbearance and long-suffering shown them amid their frequent rebellions--the signal triumphs given them over their enemies--their happy settlement in the promised land--and all the extraordinary blessings, both in the form of temporal prosperity and of religious privilege, with which His paternal goodness had favored them above all other people, they charge themselves with making a miserable requital. They confess their numerous and determined acts of disobedience. They read, in the loss of their national independence and their long captivity, the severe punishment of their sins. They acknowledge that, in all heavy and continued judgments upon their nation, God had done right, but they had done wickedly. And in throwing themselves on His mercy, they express their purpose of entering into a national covenant, by which they pledge themselves to dutiful obedience in future.
22. Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations--that is, put them
in possession of a rich country, of an extensive territory, which had
been once occupied by a variety of princes and people.
32. Now therefore, our God . . . who keepest covenant and mercy--God's fidelity to His covenant is prominently acknowledged, and well it might; for their whole national history bore testimony to it. But as this could afford them little ground of comfort or of hope while they were so painfully conscious of having violated it, they were driven to seek refuge in the riches of divine grace; and hence the peculiar style of invocation here adopted: "Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy."
36. Behold, we are servants this day--Notwithstanding their happy restoration to their native land, they were still tributaries of a foreign prince whose officers ruled them. They were not, like their fathers, free tenants of the land which God gave them.
37. it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us
because of our sins--Our agricultural labors have been resumed in the
land--we plough, and sow, and till, and Thou blessest the work of our
hands with a plentiful return; but this increase is not for ourselves,
as once it was, but for our foreign masters, to whom we have to pay
large and oppressive tribute.
38. we make a sure covenant, and write--that is, subscribe or sign it. This written document would exercise a wholesome influence in restraining their backslidings or in animating them to duty, by being a witness against them if in the future they were unfaithful to their engagements.