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We have in this chapter an account of a solemn fast appointed in Jerusalem, in which the Levites take a very principal part in confessing their sins.
(1) ¶ Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. (2) And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
This fast seems to have been appointed with a view to implore the pardon of God for the mingling with the idolatrous nations of the earth. And as the law, that enjoined them not to make intermarriages, was evidently with an eye to the promised seed in Jesus, this fast must be considered more particularly as a solemn ordinance of faith.
(3) 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.
The order of the fast is here stated. Reading and prayer divided the service. When we have by meditation, and the diligent perusal of God's, word, informed ourselves of God's mind; prayer by faith in Jesus sweetly follows.
(4) ¶ Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God. (5) Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God forever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
The names of the Levites who engaged in the solemn service of the day are here recorded with honourable testimony. It is a blessed thing to bear a part in the duties of the sanctuary, when done with a single eye to God's glory.
(6) Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, 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. (7) Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; (8) And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous: (9) And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea; (10) And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day. (11) And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters. (12) 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. (13) Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments: (14) And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant: (15) And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them. (16) But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments, (17) And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not. (18) Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations; (19) Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go. (20) Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst. (21) Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not. (22) Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan. (23) Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it. (24) So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would. (25) And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness. (26) Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations. (27) Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies. (28) But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies; (29) And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear. (30) Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands. (31) Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.
This is a beautiful recapitulation of Israel's history as a church. It takes in some of the principal features of God's gracious dealings with his people in his covenant engagements. And I cannot but beg the Reader to remark with me how the Lord the Holy Ghost evidently taught by causing it to be recorded and handed down in the church's history, that the best possible argument, in imploring God's mercy and blessing upon future occasions, is to tell the Lord what mercies and blessings he hath showed in what is passed. Reader! make use of this argument with an eye to Christ; and see how unanswerable it becomes. Oh! how precious is it to tell God our Father, who is here called a God of pardons, in all our approaches, that we hope and expect his mercy, because he hath already, the first and greatest of all mercies in the gift of his dear Son, exceeded all he hath now to bestow, or we to need.
(32) Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day. (33) Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: (34) Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them. (35) For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works. (36) Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: (37) 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. (38) And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.
Here is contained the great request Israel had to make to the covenant God of their fathers. They acknowledge God's justice in all that was come upon them. But they still plead for mercy on the ground of God's covenant. And the chapter closes with an account of the solemn sealing of the covenant anew by the princes, Levites, and Priests. So that here is a vast deal of gospel in this transaction. For whether the whole body of Israel were so well informed of the grand features of the covenant, as to eye the Lord Jesus as the sum and sub stance of all, is not to the purpose. It is sufficient to us in proof, that the Lord's eye was upon it to this one end. God had given his dear Son for a covenant to his people. And in the publication of this covenant to Abraham and his seed, certain it is that the charter of it ran in these words; In thy seed, which is Christ, shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Galatians 3:16 , with Genesis 17:1-8 .
READER! there is a sweet improvement suggested to us in this solemn fast of God's ancient people, which we shall do well to observe, for this will be to convert their afflictions into a source for our joy. I mean the sense they had of the long series of blessings shown to them and their fathers, and their sad use and abuse of them. And was Israel singular in this? May not you and I justly take up the same language? Have not our lives been marked with mercy? Our fathers and their fathers through every past generation; what do the histories of all speak, but the same solemn truth; God's grace and man's unworthiness. Hence the Psalmist, after a long and beautiful recapitulation of divine love and goodness, as manifested in the history of Israel, makes this charming observation; Whoso is wise will ponder these things; and they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord. And Reader! if we ponder these things as they concern our own private history, depend upon it, like Israel, we shall discover God's gracious tokens all the way along the path of life we have trodden; and his pardons and blessings in the midst of all our ingratitude, and rebellion, and sin.
But when the mind is oppressed and overwhelmed under such a sense of departures and backslidings from the Lord God of our fathers, what a relief is afforded in the contemplation of God's covenant love in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. How infinitely precious to every poor sinner becomes the view then of Jesus and his finished salvation? How delightful is it to take refuge in Jesus when under a conscious sense that I am nothing but sin, he is the Lord my righteousness; and he is made of God to all his people wisdom, and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Oh! precious Redeemer! to thee I come; in thee my soul finds confidence. Thy blood and righteousness pleads more for thy people's salvation than all their transgressions plead against them. Here then, do I desire, like the Princes, and Levites, and Priests of the congregation, to renew the covenant in thee, for thou art the whole of it, and set to my seal that God is true.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
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