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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 9

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-38

Chapter 9

Now in chapter 9:

In the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them ( Nehemiah 9:1 ).

So, again, it's quite a picturesque sight. The people have all gathered together. They've been fasting. They're wearing sackcloth. Rough garments, no doubt very irritating. And they've got dirt on them. The custom of, just a sign of mourning again. You just, you know, rubbed dirt on your face and you look miserable.

And the seed of Israel separated themselves from the strangers, and they stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers. 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 9:2-3 ).

So, again, can you picture them there for a fourth part of the day? The reading of the Scriptures, and now for a fourth part of the day just worshipping God, praising God and worshipping God.

It's interesting how that we get fidgety sitting in comfortable pews after a half hour, an hour or so. You know, we're so fidgety, and yet here are these people standing for a fourth part of the day hearing the Word of God read, and then for another fourth part of the day just standing there worshipping God. They'd never get by with it today.

Then stood up upon the stairs the Levites and they cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God. And they 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. Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; and thou hast made the heaven, and 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 ( Nehemiah 9:4-6 ).

So this glorious acknowledgment of God, the greatness of God, the glory of God, the power of God. "You've made the heaven of heavens. You are above everything. You've made the universe and You've preserved the universe."

Now it is interesting that Paul tells us in the book of Colossians concerning Jesus Christ that all things were made by Him, and by Him all things are held together. This whole universe is held together by the power of Jesus Christ. According to Coulomb's law of electricity, positive forces repel each other; opposite forces attract. Try and put two positive poles of a magnet together and you'll see how the positive poles repel. But the whole concept of a magnet and the attraction is that of the opposite poles attracting, with positive poles repelling.

There is actually a tremendous repelling force in positive poles or positive charges, the protons. If you had one tablespoonful of protons on the North Pole, solid, another solid tablespoonful on the South Pole, at that distance of some 8,000 miles, the repelling force would be so great that it would take 3,000 tons to hold those protons on the poles. Even at that distance the repelling force of positive protons, positive particles.

So we know that an atom has in its nucleus positive charges held together. But how are they held together? The scientists talk about the nuclear glue.

Now we have discovered that we can upset the nuclei of an atom by bombarding it with slow moving neutrons. And when we can upset the nuclei of an atom, that we can then cause these positive poles to respond according to their nature. And we have an atomic explosion. That's what it's all about. Upsetting the nuclei of an atom by these little bombardment of slow moving neutrons that get in and upset these positive forces, and they respond according to their own nature of repelling. And when they do, you see the tremendous force that is unleashed when you start a fission reaction of these positive poles responding to their own nature. And you get this tremendous explosion of the atomic bomb. All it is is releasing the positive charges to respond according to their nature of repelling.

Now, if that much power is unleashed by nature when they are responding to their nature, then it also stands that it takes at least that much power to hold them together contrary to their nature. If the whole material world would respond according to the natural laws of the repelling of positive forces, immediately this whole thing would just dissolve and would just be one gigantic poof! And positive particles would be just going all over repelling each other and the whole universe would just blow to pieces. But there's a power that's holding it all together.

Imagine the tremendous power it must take to hold this material universe. Even the power it would take to hold this pulpit together. The amount of fissionable material in the bomb at Hiroshima was about the size of a dime. And yet when those positive particles were allowed to respond according to their nature, look at the tremendous damage that was accomplished. But what force is holding them together.

Here they talk about it. "Oh God, You created the heaven of heavens. You're so great. Your power is above all things. And You actually are preserving the whole thing." Paul tells us He's holding it together. By Him all things consist, or are held together. How glorious the power of God!

Now Francis Schaeffer said that the time has come when we as Christians just shouldn't say, "God." "Oh, God did this for me or God did that for me," because there are many concepts of God today in the minds of people. And when you say God, a person thinks of the God in their own concept. That which they have in the thought of God and it may be far different from the thought that you have of God. Some fellow may sit and meditate upon his navel and say, "Oh, that's God, you know." Or you sit and you hold a rose and you smell of it and you say, "Oh, that's God." So when you say God, a person may think of this rose. And so he said that we must start defining and saying, "The God who created the heavens and the earth."

Now they are defining the God because there were many gods that were worshipped around them. Baal was worshipped and Molech was worshipped and Mammon, and so many various gods were worshipped by the people around them that as they began their worship of God they make really a definition and a distinction of the God that they are worshipping. "Bless Jehovah your God for ever and ever: blessed be Thy glorious name which is exalted above all blessing and praise. For even Thou, O Yahweh or Jehovah, alone has made the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the whole universe, with all of the host, and the earth, and all of the things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein."

Now they've been reading the law of Moses and they've been reading Genesis. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" ( Genesis 1:1 ). Been reading the first few chapters of Genesis. And so they acknowledged that God was the One who has created even as is declared in Genesis, this whole universe and all that is in it.

Now it is interesting in the New Testament, the fourth chapter of the book of Acts, when the apostles were responding to the prohibition that was laid upon them by the religious leaders not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, Peter and John gathered with the disciples and they told them the experience they had before the Sanhedrin. And they prayed, and when they started to pray, they said, "O Lord, Thou art God, Thou hast created the heavens, and the earth, and everything that is in them" ( Acts 4:24 ). Probably remembering the prayer offered here in Nehemiah where much the same thing is said. "Thou art the God who has created the heaven, and all the host, the earth and all the things that are in the sea, and all the things therein, and You preserve them all and the host of heaven worshippeth Thee." So the host of heaven would be a reference to the angels who worshipped God. So when he said He created all the host of heaven, it would be He has created all of the angels. And they do worship Him.

Thou art Yahweh, the God, who did choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, you gave him the name of Abraham; and you found his heart faithful before thee, and you made a covenant to give him the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, [and so forth], and you have performed your words; for you are righteous ( Nehemiah 9:7-8 ):

Acknowledging that God made the promise to Abraham, God fulfilled the promise to Abraham. "Here we are, we're in the land. For God, You are righteous."

And you did see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, you heard their cry by the Red sea; you showed your signs and wonders upon the Pharaoh ( Nehemiah 9:9-10 ),

And so they're just rehearsing their history. They have been reading this history. They have been listening to it. They have been reading the law of the Lord from morning till noon. And so these are the things that they were reading in the first five books.

You did divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors you threw into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters ( Nehemiah 9:11 ).

That sort of puts down the little theory that it was the Sea of Reeds and it was only eighteen inches deep. Figures don't lie, but liars sure can figure.

Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go. And you came down also upon mount Sinai, and you spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right judgments, true laws, good statutes and commandments ( Nehemiah 9:12-13 ):

Notice, He gave to them right judgments, true laws, good statutes and commandments.

And you made known unto them your holy sabbath, and you commanded them the precepts, and the statutes, and the laws, by the hand of Moses: you gave them bread from heaven [the manna in the wilderness] for their hunger, and you brought them water out of the rock for their thirst, and you promised that they should go in to possess the land which you had sworn to give to them. But they and our fathers dealt proudly ( Nehemiah 9:14-16 ),

Now here is the acknowledgment. God, You were faithful. God, You kept Your word. But our fathers, they failed. Always the failure is on our part. So many times we're wanting to blame God. God is righteous, God is faithful. God will keep His word. We're the ones that have failed. Never God. The failure is always on our part. "But our fathers dealt proudly."

they hardened their necks, they didn't hearken to your commandments. They refused to obey, neither were they mindful of the wonders that you did among them; but they hardened their necks, and in their rebellion they asked for a captain to return them to their bondage: but you are a God who is ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and you forsook them not ( Nehemiah 9:16-17 ).

Isn't that beautiful? They say, "Oh, I don't believe in the God of the Old Testament. He's a God of wrath and judgment, vengeance. I love the God of the New Testament, you know, believe in the God of the New." As though there were two gods revealed in the scriptures. Never. One God. And He's revealed in the Old Testament right here as "gracious, ready to pardon, merciful, slow to anger, great kindness, and He forsook them not." That sounds like it would come from the pen of Paul as he's talking about the grace of God in the New Testament. Oh, how gracious is God. How merciful is God. How understanding. How pardoning.

When they made the molten calf, and they said, This is the God that brought us out of Egypt ( Nehemiah 9:18 ),

Now, again, they point out, God is faithful even when they were not. God was still faithful. They went ahead and made this golden calf.

Yet in your manifold mercies you did not forsake them in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud did not depart from them day to day, that it might lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to show them the light, and the way wherein they should go. But you gave also thy good Spirit to instruct them ( Nehemiah 9:19-20 ),

Oh how good is God to us even though we often fail. Even though we often are hardening our hearts. Yet, the faithfulness of God and the mercy of God and the grace of God and the patience of God with which He deals with our lives. He won't forsake them. He won't forsake His people. Though they had turned their backs and forsaken Him, still He is faithful. He will not forsake them. How glorious is our God! And then giving His good Spirit to instruct them.

and you didn't withhold the manna from their mouth, or the water for their thirst. And for forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes did not get old, and their feet did not swell. Moreover you gave them kingdoms and nations, and divided them into corners: that possessed the land of Sihon, and Og. And the children also multiplied as the stars of heaven, and you brought them into the land, concerning which you have promised to their fathers, that they should go in and possess it. So the children went in and possessed the land, and you subdued the inhabitants of the land before them. And they took the strong cities, and the fat of the land, and they possessed the houses that were full of goods, wells that were already digged, vineyards, and oliveyards that were already planted, fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient ( Nehemiah 9:20-26 ),

Notice how they're acknowledging always the righteousness of God and the failure of the people. And so important that we do this. "God, You were righteous. You were fair. We were the ones who failed. We were the ones who turned our backs."

"Nevertheless they were disobedient,"

and rebelled against thee, they cast thy law behind their backs, they killed the prophets that testified against them to turn them back to you, and they wrought great provocations. Therefore you delivered them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto you, you heard them from heaven; and according to your manifold mercies you gave them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore you left them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto you, you heard them from heaven; and many times did you deliver them according to your mercies ( Nehemiah 9:26-28 );

What an accurate picture of the history of the nation Israel.

And you testified against them, that you might bring them again unto the law: yet they dealt proudly, and did not hearken to your commandments, but they sinned against your judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear. And yet many years did you forbear them, and testified against them by thy Spirit in your prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore you gave them into the hand of the people of the lands. Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake you did not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for you are a gracious and merciful God ( Nehemiah 9:29-31 ).

Oh, that is so powerful! I love that!

Now therefore, our God, the great, and mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, our priests, our prophets, and fathers, and upon all the people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. Howbeit you are just in all that you brought upon us; for you have done right, we have done wickedly ( Nehemiah 9:32-33 ):

What an important acknowledgment to make. God, You are just in all Your ways. There are people today who are constantly challenging the justice of God. "Well, how can God, a God of love, allow this? Or how can a God of love do that? Or how can a God of love send a man to hell?" And all of the challenges of the justice of God. But let me tell you this. God is absolutely fair and God is absolutely just. "Oh, but what about that poor African who has never heard of Jesus Christ? And he dies without ever knowing, what's going to happen to him?" God's going to be absolutely just and absolutely fair. You better not worry about him; you better worry about yourself. You have heard. You're the one you better be concerned about because you know. God will be fair with him if he doesn't know. God will also be fair with you because you do know. He's righteous. Oh God, Thou art a righteous God. You're just in all that You've done. For You have done right. We are the ones that have done wickedly.

Neither have our kings, or our princes, or our priests, nor our fathers, kept your law, nor hearkened unto your commandments and your testimonies, wherewith you did testify against them. For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that you gave to them, and in the large and fat land which you gave before them, neither turned they from their wicked works. Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that you gave unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: 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. And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal to it ( Nehemiah 9:34-38 ).

Okay, here's the whole picture. "God, You were fair. You were honest. You were right. But we were having a horrible time. We are servants in this land. The kings are ruling over us, and though the land is producing, they're exacting taxes that are ruining us. Now God, we want to renew our covenant with You. We want to get right with You." Important step. "We want to make a covenant. We want to sign to the covenant. Lord, we want to put our X. We want to walk in the covenant. Want to renew the covenant of God." Marvelous, marvelous idea and purpose! So these are the guys who signed the covenant. "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/nehemiah-9.html. 2014.
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