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A solemn fast and repentance of the people. The Levites confess God's goodness and their iniquity.
Before Christ 444.
Nehemiah 9:1. In the twenty-and-fourth day of this month— The feast of tabernacles being ended, a day was appointed for a solemn fast; when they assembled; confessed their sins; deprecated the judgments due to the iniquity of their fathers; acknowledged the omnipotence of God in creating and preserving all things; disclaimed all dependance upon that host of heaven which they confessed to be the creatures of God, Nehemiah 9:6.; and enumerated his gracious mercies in their manifold deliverances from their enemies and persecutors.
Nehemiah 9:20. Thou gavest also thy good spirit— This whole chapter, says Mr. Peters, contains a beautiful epitome of the history of the Jews; raised and animated by a spirit of devotion, which appears in all that moving eloquence so well suited to the great occasion; and at the same time, with all that chasteness and correctness of thought and expression, which so eminently distinguishes the sacred writings from the wild raptures of enthusiasm. In recapitulating the miracles of divine goodness vouchsafed to their fathers in the wilderness, the sacred writer adds this, as none of the least memorable of God's mercies to them there: Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them. See Peters on Job, p. 312.
Nehemiah 9:22. Moreover thou gavest them, &c.— Thou gavest them the kingdoms of the people, which thou didst divide to each of them. Houbigant. The author of the Observations gives a different explanation of the passage, which the reader will find in our note on Amos 3:12.
Nehemiah 9:38. We make a sure covenant, and write it— It was but of little consequence what such a refractory people promised; for, what regard would they have to their own hand-writing, who would not regard the ten commandments written on tables of stone by the finger of God? It was, however, very useful that there should be a public instrument to convince them of their impiety, that, if they proved perfidious deserters, they might be publicly confounded by being shewn, under their own hands, their engagements to future fidelity. See Bishop Patrick.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Their feast of gladness is succeeded by a day of solemn humiliation. While we are rejoicing in the confidence of God's reconciliation, we still need to remember our own evil ways, and abhor ourselves.
1. Every outward expression of sorrow bespoke the inward affliction of their souls for sin, while they appeared in the courts of the temple as penitents before God. Note; There are seasons, when, without ostentation, we may appear unto men to fast.
2. They put away their strange wives, in token of the sincerity of their humiliation. Some had kept them probably in secret, notwithstanding the former reformation, or had since relapsed into the same evil. Note; As long as acknowledged sin is harboured, communion with God is impossible, and the appearance of repentance is but hypocrisy.
3. They spent the whole day in religious exercises. Three hours they spent in hearing God's law, and as many in prayer and confession; and this, probably, both morning and afternoon. Note; The more we are conversant in God's word, the more deeply shall we see cause to lament over the evil of our fallen hearts.
2nd, The congregation being assembled, we have the names of the chief persons employed to lead the devotions of the people, and to be engaged in the word of God; together with the prayer which, probably, was composed by Ezra on the occasion; and, as so great a number of people could be scarcely supposed capable of hearing in one congregation, they might be divided into several, each with a Levite at their head; and yet thus uniting in the same humbling confession and supplication, with one voice, as well as one heart, glorifying God.
1. They open their prayer with solemn adoration to the self-existent Jehovah, the great creator and preserver of all, the only worthy object of worship in heaven and earth; and whose transcendant excellencies and unutterable glories infinitely exceed all the praises which men or angels can offer.
2. They recite, with deep gratitude, the manifold mercies that this great and gracious God had bestowed on them from the days of old; particularly the call of Abraham their great progenitor, and the performance of the covenant established with him and his seed. Abraham was by grace enabled to be faithful, and God had rewarded that fidelity in the accomplishment of all his promises to him and his posterity. Out of Egypt had God also wondrously delivered them, to the confusion and destruction of their enemies: through the wilderness had he led them safe from danger; never forsook them amid their multiplied provocations; provided them liberal supplies for all their wants; and, by daily miracles, fed and guided them in the way to the promised land. On Sinai he descended to promulge his law, so holy, just, and good; and to institute his gracious ordinances, particularly the sabbath, the distinguishing token of his separation of them to himself. Before them the Canaanites, though so mighty and numerous, had been expelled, and their rich land, where every earthly blessing abounded, given them to possess. There they forsook God, and provoked him with their iniquities; yet his patience endured: he sent them warnings; he received them whenever they turned to him; he multiplied his pardons; he raised them up judges to deliver them from their enemies, and recover them from their backslidings. All these instances of the divine goodness, while they deserved the most thankful acknowledgment, aggravated the evil of their sins; yet the past experience afforded them present hope, if they should, as now, fly to the God who is ever ready to pardon, merciful, and gracious. Note; (1.) The goodness of God is the great argument to lead us to repentance. (2.) In the midst of our deepest humiliations, we should never forget to mention the mercies for which we are indebted. (3.) Without some views of God's rich grace, the sense of our sins would be likely to sink us into despair.
3. Amid their thankful acknowledgments, they intersperse their abasing confessions, as every mercy that they had received aggravated the guilt of their sins. From the beginning, the proud hearts of their fathers were too stubborn to bow in humble obedience: ingratitude, distrust, discontent, rebellion, idolatry, impudent opposition to God's prophets, contempt, persecution, murder, and repeated relapses into the like abominations after repeated vows and repeated deliverances: all these things had marked the black catalogue of their fathers' crimes; nor were they less culpable. We have done wickedly, and joined in the like provocations, the effects of which they were now suffering, just returned from the house of their prison, and still bearing the galling yoke of servitude upon their necks. Note; (1.) True penitents search out the aggravations of their sins, and seek not to exculpate themselves, but to justify God. (2.) Pride is at the root of all our sins. (3.) When we follow our fathers' sins, it is just in God to visit their iniquities upon us. (4.) As the service of God is perfect freedom, a revolt from it will bring the soul into the most abject slavery.
4. They put up a word of petition, so short, as if they were afraid to ask for mercy who were conscious how little they deserved it; acknowledging the righteousness of God in all that they had suffered; only they presume to beg, that he would look upon their affliction, and say at last, It is enough. God, as the great and terrible God, might justly destroy them; but as the merciful covenant-keeping God, there was yet hope, and they were emboldened to pray. Note; (1.) The deepest and most dejecting views of our sins must not drive us from God in despondence, but to him in humble prayer. (2.) Remember me in mercy, is all that a sinner can say for himself. (3.) The covenant established in the glorious head of the church, Christ Jesus, affords hope to the penitent, when every thing else within and without him preaches despair.
5. As the conclusion of their prayer, they profess their solemn return to God; in writing renew their engagements to be faithful; and the princes, priests, and Levites subscribe the bond, as a testimony against themselves; and promise to their utmost to see it observed by the people. Note; True penitents not only confess their sins, but, through God's grace, purpose, and are enabled, to renounce them.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany