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The preparations for prayer 9:1-4
Two days after the solemn assembly (Nehemiah 8:18), the people were still mourning over their sins (Nehemiah 9:1). This was a genuine spiritual revival. In obedience to God’s Law the people broke off forbidden alliances with non-Jews (cf. Deuteronomy 23:3-8). They also confessed their ancestors’ sins as well as their own, listened to the reading of the Law, and worshipped God (Nehemiah 9:2-3). Seven Levites led the people in confession and worship (Nehemiah 9:4).
"It is of interest that the congregation did not only confess their own sins, but also those of their ancestors. This is a recurring theme in the books of Ezra-Nehemiah. They felt their solidarity with past generations." [Note: Fensham, p. 223.]
". . . ’separation’ [Nehemiah 9:2] has nothing to do with simply disliking someone. Separation has to do, principally, with religious commitment-with the idea of covenant." [Note: Holmgren, p. 129.]
2. The prayer of the people ch. 9
The people were not content to go about their business as usual after hearing the Word of God read. They realized they needed to hear more and to get right with God more completely.
The prayer of praise 9:5-38
A second group of seven Levites (Nehemiah 9:5) led the people in the prayer of praise that Nehemiah included in this book, perhaps on a different day than the prayer he wrote about in Nehemiah 9:1-4.
"The prayer is intended to instruct the readers. It gives us a survey of the history of Israel with emphasis on certain events in the life of the Chosen People. This approach is comparable to that of Psalms 78, 105, 106, 135, , 136." [Note: Fensham, pp. 227-28.]
It is especially helpful to read this prayer through the eyes of the returned exiles. They had experienced many of the same things their forefathers had. We, too, can identify with their appreciation of God’s grace, since we have seen these things in God’s dealings with us.
This is one of the great prayers of the Old Testament. It praises God for His character and conduct. It describes God’s greatness seen in His creation of the cosmos (Nehemiah 9:6), and His grace and faithfulness in calling Abraham, promising him the land of Canaan, and fulfilling that promise (Nehemiah 9:7-8). The returned exiles could identify with God’s miraculous deliverance of their forefathers when they were slaves in Egypt (Nehemiah 9:9-11).
"Some forty Hebrew words are used to speak of miracles; they are used approximately five hundred times in the Old Testament. Half of these five hundred occurrences refer to the miracles of the exodus." [Note: Breneman, p. 237.]
The returnees could also appreciate God’s supernatural guidance of them and His faithful provision for them until He brought them to the Promised Land (Nehemiah 9:12-15). They also voiced thanks to God for choosing them and for giving them His Law (Nehemiah 9:13-14). While the second Exodus motif is strong in the biblical writers’ concept of the restoration, the idea of pilgrimage and procession to Zion is equally strong. [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Pilgrimage and Procession: Motifs of Israel’s Return," In Israel’s Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, pp. 261-272.] In spite of their forefathers’ rebellion (Nehemiah 9:16-17 a): God forgave them and graciously guided them (Nehemiah 9:19), provided for their physical needs (Nehemiah 9:20-21), and gave them victory over their enemies (Nehemiah 9:22). He also multiplied them (Nehemiah 9:23), brought them into the Promised Land (Nehemiah 9:24-25 a), and established them there (Nehemiah 9:25 b).
During the period of the judges and during the monarchy, the Israelites disobeyed and rebelled many times. Nevertheless, God delivered them when they repented (Nehemiah 9:26-29) and sent the prophets to turn them back to Himself (Nehemiah 9:30). This shows God’s further grace and compassion toward His people (Nehemiah 9:31). The returned Jews then called on God to remember their sufferings in exile (Nehemiah 9:32). They acknowledged that the exile was a consequence of their disobedience to God’s Word (Nehemiah 9:33-34). Even in exile, most of the Israelites had not returned to God (Nehemiah 9:35). Consequently, much of the Jewish nation was still in bondage to its Persian rulers (Nehemiah 9:36-37).
"This sad confession, like that of Ezra 9:9, affords clear proof that the leaders of post-Exilic Judaism did not regard their return from Babylon as final fulfillment of such prophecies of Israel’s restoration to the land as Isaiah 11:11-16; Isaiah 14:1-2." [Note: Whitcomb, p. 442.]
Nonetheless now they, the faithful remnant of returnees, were ready to make a formal commitment to obey Yahweh again (Nehemiah 9:38).
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany