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THE PEOPLE HUMBLED BEFORE GOD
The return to the word of God, resulted first in the people rendering to the Lord His portion as set forth in the previous chapter. The second result is seen in this chapter in which the people take their true place before God owning their constant failure in the past and their weak condition in the present.
Having exalted the Lord in the feast of Tabernacles, the people realize the inconsistency of maintaining associations unsuited to the Lord. Hence the feast is immediately followed by "separation" and "confession." "The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers and stood and confessed their sins" (2). It is still incumbent upon all who name the Name of the Lord to depart from iniquity. But separation, if true, demands confession; for the fact that we have to separate at all, is the proof that we have been in wrong associations, and this wrong calls for confession. Then again confession without separation would be unreal, for how can we continue in the evil that we confess. Hence true separation and honest confession will ever be found together.
But whether the people are ascribing praise to God or humbling themselves because of their failure, all is the outcome of the word of God applied to the conscience, as we are told, "They 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" (3).
The remaining portion of the chapter presents the confession of the people. It is however prefaced by praise to the Lord. However much the people of God may fail, the Lord remains their unfailing resource. Hence the people did well to "stand up and bless the Lord," who, however much we praise Him, will ever be "above all blessing and praise" (4, 5).
And as the remnant stand up to bless the Lord "with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them," they are led of God to give utterance to a wonderful sevenfold ascription of praise, which brings God before the soul in the Majesty of His Being and the greatness of His ways. And that such a view of God in His glory and grace, is necessary for true confession is evident. For only as we have God before our souls, can we truly estimate the gravity of our failure.
1st. God is owned as unchanging and eternal. "Thou art the Same, thou alone Jehovah" (6, N. Tr.). Amidst all changes in times, seasons, circumstances. and men, we have in the Lord One who knows no change and will never pass away. As we read in another scripture, "Thou remainest" and "Thou art the Same" ( Heb. 1 ).
2nd. God is owned as the Creator of all. The heaven of heavens and all their host, the earth too and all things that are therein, the seas and all that is therein, are the work of His hands.
3rd. God is owned as the Sustainer of all. All creation is preserved by God and dependent upon God (6).
4th. God is owned as Sovereign. He chooses whom He will. He calls Abram out of Ur, and He changes his name (7).
5th. God is owned as the Giver of unconditional promises to those whom He has called according to His sovereign choice (8).
6th. God is owned as faithful to His word. He performs that which He has promised (8).
7th God is owned in His ways of grace and power by which He delivered His people from Egypt, brought them through the wilderness and established them in the Land (9-15).
Having given God His place, the people review their path in the light of all that God is, and this leads to the confession of their utter failure. They find no good thing to say of themselves. They review their history in the wilderness (16-21); in the Land (22-27); and in captivity to their enemies (28-31). Their failure increased with the passing of time, expressing itself in different forms of evil. But one failure was common to every position - their constant disobedience to the word of God. In the wilderness they hearkened not to Jehovah's commandments, and refused to obey (16). In the Land they were disobedient and cast Jehovah's law behind their backs (26). In bondage to their enemies they hearkened not unto Jehovah's commandments but sinned against His ordinances (29).
Nevertheless in spite of all the failure of the people they recognise that God did not "utterly consume them, nor forsake them." And hence they rightly conclude that God is "a gracious and merciful God" (31). Thus it is they appeal to the mercy of God. Linking up their present sorrowful condition with the past failure, they say, "Let not all the trouble seem little before Thee" (32). But while appealing to the mercy of God they recognise the righteous government of God. "Howbeit," they say, "Thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly" (33). And all their wickedness they trace back to disobedience to the word. They had not kept the law (34): they had not served Jehovah, but followed their own wills in "wicked works" (35); and as a result they were in "great distress" (36, 37).
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12