Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Utley's You Can Understand the Bible Utley Commentary
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ ubc/ nehemiah-9.html. 2021.
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS
READING CYCLE THREE (from “A Guide to Good Bible Reading”)
FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL
This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
1. First paragraph
2. Second paragraph
3. Third paragraph
A. Nehemiah's summary of YHWH's gracious acts and covenant faithfulness (cf. Nehemiah 9:17) may have come from Ezra's reading of the Book of Moses (i.e., Pentateuch).
B. The chapter outlines as
1. YHWH as creator (Gen. 1-11), Nehemiah 9:6
2. YHWH's choice of Abraham (Gen. 12-50), Nehemiah 9:7-8
3. YHWH's actions in the Exodus (Exodus), Nehemiah 9:9-14
4. YHWH's faithful care and provision during the wilderness wandering period (Numbers), Nehemiah 9:15-21
5. YHWH's promises to Abraham fulfilled (period of the conquest, i.e., Joshua), Nehemiah 9:22-25
6. Israel's further rebellion (period of the Judges), Nehemiah 9:20-31
7. YHWH's covenant faithfulness and Israel's unfaithfulness continue (the period of the Monarchy), Nehemiah 9:32-38
C. Nehemiah 9:0 shows the theological basis of Israel's history YHWH's faithfulness to His covenant; Israel's unfaithfulness to His covenant. It was not YHWH's powerlessness, but Israel's sin that brought destruction and exile; however, it is YHWH's character and power that Israel thus exists and is back in the land!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 9:1-4 1Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. 2The descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. 3While they stood in their place, they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the LORD their God. 4Now on the Levites' platform stood Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice to the LORD their God.
Nehemiah 9:1 “On the twenty-fourth day of this month, the sons of Israel assembled with fasting, in sackcloths, with dirt upon them” Two days after the Feast of the Booths (cf. Nehemiah 8:13-18) and twenty-three days after the reading of the law (cf. Nehemiah 8:2), the repentant actions so characteristic of the Day of Atonement (cf. Leviticus 16:0, which was to be observed on the 10th day) occurred (cf. Nehemiah 1:4). During the reading of the law these returnees felt these same feelings of remorse and guilt (cf. Nehemiah 8:9). Israel needed forgiveness as the rest of chapter 9 clearly shows. Their covenant God was faithful (cf. Ezra 9:8-9), but they were not (cf. Nehemiah 1:6; Ezra 9:6-7, Ezra 9:10). See Special Topic: Grieving Rites.
Nehemiah 9:2 “descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners” This VERB (BDB 95, KB 110, Niphal IMPERFECT) means “to withdraw from,” “separate ourselves from.” This withdrawal was for the stated purpose of obeying YHWH's commands (cf. Exodus 33:16; Leviticus 20:24, Leviticus 20:26; Ezra 6:21; Ezra 9:1; Ezra 10:1). To worship and obey YHWH meant a complete break with the pagan and semi-pagan culture and practices (cf. Leviticus 20:24, Leviticus 20:26; e.g., marriages to foreign women).
▣ “confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers” This VERB (BDB 392, KB 389 II, Hithpael IMPERFECT) means “to confess” (cf. Leviticus 5:5; Leviticus 16:21; Ezra 10:1; Nehemiah 1:6; Daniel 9:4, Daniel 9:20). Apparently this confession involved personal and national sin (e.g., Lev. 26-40; Jeremiah 3:25; Jeremiah 14:20).
Nehemiah 9:3 “they stood in their place” This seems to refer to Nehemiah 8:4 (cf. Nehemiah 9:4).
▣ “they read from the book of the law of the LORD their God for a fourth of the day” These returnees longed to be instructed from the Law of Moses. It seems at this point that a major turning point in the life of the Jews occurred. Instead of being primarily people of the temple (ritual, liturgy, and form) they became people of the Book (the influence of the synagogue). This was a reading/teaching session lasting three hours in the morning (Bible study) and three hours in the afternoon (confession and worship).
Nehemiah 9:4 If Nehemiah 9:3 refers to Nehemiah 8:4, then this verse must refer to a separate platform. The names mentioned here refer to the Levites of Nehemiah 8:7, who translated and interpreted Ezra's (and the men standing with him) words.
These two groups may have been involved in antiphonal reading interspersed with translation and interpretation.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 9:5-8 5Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, “Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and ever! O may Your glorious name be blessed And exalted above all blessing and praise! 6You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You. 7You are the LORD God, Who chose Abram And brought him out from Ur of the Chaldees, And gave him the name Abraham. 8You found his heart faithful before You, And made a covenant with him To give him the land of the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite To give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled Your promise, For You are righteous.”
Nehemiah 9:5 The Septuagint adds the phrase “and Ezra said. . .” Apparently it is asserting the authorship of chapter 9 to Ezra instead of the Levite leaders, as the MT implies. The rest of this chapter is a history of God's faithful covenant promises and the people's unfaithful responses.
▣ “Arise, bless” These are both IMPERATIVES. The first VERB (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERATIVE) means “to stand up.” Apparently unlike Ezra's first reading of the Law (cf. Chapter 8), the people did not stand up the entire time (cf. Nehemiah 8:5).
The second VERB (BDB 138, KB 159 II, used twice, the first a Peel IMPERATIVE, the second a Peel IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense) means to praise or adore for having special power (cf. Nehemiah 8:6; 1 Chronicles 29:20).
▣ “the LORD your God” The covenant name of God, YHWH, translated Lord, is from the Hebrew VERB “to be” in its CAUSATIVE form. Therefore, the phrase “forever and ever” is parallel. They both refer to the ever-living, only-living One! See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.
▣ “forever and ever” See Special Topic: Forever ('olam).
▣ “Thy glorious name” The name is a Hebraic idiom for the person (e.g., Exodus 32:33; 1 Chronicles 28:13; Psalms 72:19; Acts 1:18; Acts 4:10). God is glorious. See Special Topic: Glory (kabod), BDB 458.
SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (OT)
▣ “above all blessing and praise” The TEV catches the meaning as “although no human praise is great enough.”
Nehemiah 9:6 This verse is an emphasis on God as the only (in the spirit of Exodus 20:2-3 and Deuteronomy 6:4) Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Here creation is attributed to YHWH. Usually it is attributed to Elohim (cf. Genesis 1:0). See Special Topic: NAMES FOR DEITY.
▣ “Thou has made the heavens” This phrase is parallel to “the earth and all that is on it.” “Heavens” here refers to the atmosphere of this planet (cf. Genesis 1:1).
▣ “the heaven of heavens with all their hosts” This seems to refer to the ancient association of heavenly bodies (e.g., sun, moon, planets, stars, comets) with gods or angels (cf. Nehemiah 9:0:6g; Deuteronomy 4:19; Job 38:7). See Special Topic: Heaven.
There has been an ongoing discussion among the rabbis as to how many “heavens” there are and to what they refer. The “highest” heaven would be God's throne. Some see this as the third heaven (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2), while others assert “seventh heaven” (b. Hagigah 11b).
In this context the “heavens of heavens” refers to the starry heavens (cf. Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalms 148:3-4) that personified worship and praise to God.
NASB“You give life to all of them” NKJV“You preserve them all” NRSV“to all of them you give life” TEV“you gave life to all” NJB“You keep them all alive”
This VERB (BDB 310, KB 309, Peel PARTICIPLE) can mean
1. preserve alive (NKJV, JPSOA, cf. Colossians 1:17)
2. give life (NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB, NIV, REB)
3. restore life
YHWH is creator, sustainer, and restorer of life!
Nehemiah 9:7-8 This seems to deal with God's choosing and covenanting with Abraham (cf. Gen. 12-18).
Nehemiah 9:7 “the LORD God” This is YHWH Elohim. This combined title occurs first in Genesis 2:4. See Special Topic: Names for Deity.
▣ “Who chose Abraham” This VERB (BDB 103, KB 119, Qal PERFECT) refers to God's choice. Here of Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:0); in Deuteronomy 7:7 of Israel as a people. This refers theologically to the initiation of a covenant relationship. God must initiate. The burning question is does He call, choose, initiate to all or to some select group? Even in the OT, the choice of Abraham was a means to choose all humans (cf. Genesis 12:3); the choice of Israel was a choice for all humans (cf. Exodus 19:4-6, esp. Nehemiah 9:5c).
SPECIAL TOPIC: Election/predestination and the Need for a Theological Balance
SPECIAL TOPIC: Predestination (Calvinism) vs. Human Free Will (Arminianism)
▣ “brought Him out of Ur of the Chaldees” Originally Abraham's family were apparently worshipers of the moon god (cf. Genesis 11:31). Ur was one of several centers for moon god (i.e., sin or zin) worship. At this point, in history all were polytheists (many gods) or henotheists (many gods, but one special god for me).
▣ “gave him the name Abraham” His original name “Abram” means “exalted Father” (BDB 4, KB 10). The term Abraham means “chief of a multitude” (BDB 4, KB, cf. Genesis 17:5, where it is defined as “the father of a multitude of nations”).
Nehemiah 9:8 “You found his heart faithful before Thee” Because of the use of the word “faithful,” this must refer to Genesis 15:6 (cf. Romans 4:3, Romans 4:9, Romans 4:22; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23), which refers to God's promise of descendants. Abraham's faith is fully revealed in Genesis 22:0 (cf. James 2:22).
The term “heart” is a Semitic idiom for the whole person. See Special Topic: Heart.
▣ “and made a covenant with him” This covenant is first delineated in Genesis 12:1-3, but reaffirmed in chapters 15 and 17. See Special Topic: COVENANT.
▣ “give him the land of the Canaanite” This aspect of the covenant is fully delineated in Genesis 15:17-21. For a full discussion of these tribes of Canaan see Ezra 9:1.
▣ “to his descendants” This is literally the term “seed.” In the OT it focuses on the Jewish people, but in the NT Paul sees it as referring uniquely to Christ (cf. Galatians 3:15-22).
▣ “You have fulfilled Your promise” This relates to Genesis 15:12-21, which refers to the Exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan.
▣ “For You are righteous” This relates to YHWH's character (cf. 2 Chronicles 12:6; Ezra 9:15), but the same term is used in Nehemiah 9:33, translated “just” and refers to His actions (i.e., judgments, cf. Exodus 9:27; Psalms 119:137; Psalms 145:17). See Special Topic: Righteousness at Nehemiah 4:5b. The specific texts that relate to the reason for the Canaanite defeat is Deuteronomy 9:4-6.
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 9:9-15 9”You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, And heard their cry by the Red Sea. 10Then You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, Against all his servants and all the people of his land; For You knew that they acted arrogantly toward them, And made a name for Yourself as it is this day. 11You divided the sea before them, So they passed through the midst of the sea on dry ground; And their pursuers You hurled into the depths, Like a stone into raging waters. 12And with a pillar of cloud You led them by day, And with a pillar of fire by night To light for them the way In which they were to go. 13Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. 14So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, Through Your servant Moses. 15You provided bread from heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You told them to enter in order to possess The land which You swore to give them.”
Nehemiah 9:9-14 This deals with the period of the Exodus and wilderness wandering period. God's promise and fulfillment of bringing the children of Israel out of Egypt is a recurrent theme (e.g., Psalms 78:12ff; Psalms 105:23ff; Psalms 106:7ff; Psalms 135:8ff; Psalms 136:10ff).
Nehemiah 9:9 “You saw see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt” This relates to Exodus 2:25; Exodus 3:7 (Acts 7:34).
▣ “And heard their cry by the Red Sea” This refers specifically to Exodus 14:0.
SPECIAL TOPIC: The Red Sea
Nehemiah 9:10 This verse refers to the series of plagues that YHWH sent through Moses (cf. Exod. 7-11). These plagues target and repudiate the nature and animal gods of Egypt. YHWH wants Egyptians to believe in Him also (cf. Nehemiah 9:10d; Exodus 9:14-16).
Nehemiah 9:11 “their pursuers You hurled into the depths” This refers to Exodus 14:0, especially Nehemiah 9:26-31.
▣ “like a stone into raging waters” This is almost an exact quote from the Song of Moses in Exodus 15:5, Exodus 15:10.
Nehemiah 9:12 “a pillar of fire” This refers to Shekinah cloud of glory (physical symbol of the presence of YHWH) that separated the children of Israel from the army of Pharaoh, and led them throughout the wilderness wandering period (e.g., Exodus 13:22; Exodus 14:19-24; Exodus 16:10; Exodus 19:9, Exodus 19:16; Exodus 24:15-18; Exodus 34:5; Exodus 40:34-38). This is referred to again in Nehemiah 9:19.
▣ “the way”
SPECIAL TOPIC: The Route of the Exodus
Nehemiah 9:13 “then You came down on Mount Sinai”
SPECIAL TOPIC: Location of Mt. Sinai
▣ “You gave them just ordinances and true laws” There are some cultural examples similar to the decalog.
1. The Laws of Lipit-Ishtar (Sumerian), from the king of Isin (1934-1924 B.C.)
2. The Laws of Eshnunna (old Babylonian), dating about 1800 B.C. from the reign of Dadusha, king of Ashnunna
3. The Code of Hammurabi (old Babylon) from the king of Babylon, Hammurabi (1728-1686 B.C.)
4. The law codes of the Hittite kings Mupsilis I or Hattusilis I, from about 1650 B.C.
5. The Mesopotamian law codes focus primarily on civil laws, while the biblical laws focus primarily on religious/cultic laws. “. . .we might suggest a civil bias in all cuneiform law and a cultic bias in Israelite law. . ., in Mesopotamia, offense is ultimately viewed in relation to society; while in Israel, all offense is ultimately against God.” Walton, p. 80.
6. Albrecht Alt in Essays on Old Testament History and Religion, Oxford, 1966, pp. 81-132, has identified two types of laws:
a. casuistic, which use conditional clauses. It is characterized by an “if. . .then” structure. It does not appeal to religious or societal norms but states a prohibition and consequence.
b. apodictic, which does not use conditional clauses.
(1) Exodus 21:0 and Deuteronomy 27:15-26 use the third person and relate to individual, specific cases
(2) Leviticus 18:7-17 and Exodus 20:0/Deuteronomy 5:0 use the second person and are more general in scope.
c. Mesopotamian law is primarily casuistic while Israelite law is primarily apodictic.
Nehemiah 9:14 This verse, like Nehemiah 9:13, relates to the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai recorded in Exodus 19-20.
The phrase “Thy holy sabbath” probably refers to Exodus 20:8-11, which is a theological development of the seventh day of rest of Genesis 2:1-3.
NASB, NRSV, TEV, NJB“Through Thy servant Moses” NKJV“By the hand of Moses Your servant”
The NKJV retains the literal idiom. Moses is said to have “written” God's laws several times (cf. Exodus 17:14; Exodus 24:4, Exodus 24:7; Exodus 34:27, Exodus 34:28; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:22, Deuteronomy 31:24-26!
Nehemiah 9:15-21 This is a description of the wilderness wandering period and God's unique care amidst the children of Israel's rebellion (Ezra's theme in chapter 9).
Nehemiah 9:15 “You provided bread from heaven” This daily provision of manna is described in Exodus 16:0, especially Nehemiah 9:14-15, Nehemiah 9:31.
▣ “You brought forth water from a rock” This must have occurred regularly, but only two times are recorded (Exodus 17:6; Numbers 20:7-13).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 9:16-25 16 “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; They became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. 17They refused to listen, And did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, Gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them. 18Even when they made for themselves A calf of molten metal And said, 'This is your God Who brought you up from Egypt,' And committed great blasphemies, 19You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. 20You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst. 21Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want; Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. 22You also gave them kingdoms and peoples, And allotted them to them as a boundary. They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon And the land of Og the king of Bashan. 23You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven, And You brought them into the land Which You had told their fathers to enter and possess. 24So their sons entered and possessed the land. And You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, And You gave them into their hand, with their kings and the peoples of the land, To do with them as they desired. 25They captured fortified cities and a fertile land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing, Hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, Fruit trees in abundance. So they ate, were filled and grew fat, And reveled in Your great goodness.”
Nehemiah 9:16-17 Here is the recurrent theme of the chapter.
1. God's faithfulness and love, Nehemiah 9:17b
2. Israel's unfaithfulness and rebellion, Nehemiah 9:16-17a
YHWH's righteousness and Israel's rebellion are graphically revealed in Deuteronomy 9:4-6, Deuteronomy 9:7, Deuteronomy 9:13, Deuteronomy 9:24, Deuteronomy 9:27.
NASB“they became stubborn” NKJV“hardened their necks” NRSV“stiffened their necks” TEV“grew. . .stubborn” NJB“grew obstinate”
The VERB (BDB 904 I, KB 1151, Hiphil IMPERFECT) and the NOUN (BDB 791) both denote purposeful rejection of truth (i.e., rebellion, cf. Nehemiah 9:17, Nehemiah 9:29; 2 Chronicles 30:8; 2 Chronicles 36:13; Jeremiah 7:26; Jeremiah 17:23; Jeremiah 19:15).
Nehemiah 9:17 “Thy wondrous deeds” This VERB (BDB 810, KB 927, Niphal PARTICIPLE, see Special Topic: Wonderful Things) can mean “difficult” (cf. Deuteronomy 17:8; Proverbs 30:18) or “wonderful” (cf. Exodus 3:20; Psalms 78:12-16). In this passage, like so many Psalms, it refers to God's mighty, powerful, extraordinary acts of deliverance during the exodus, wanderings, and conquest.
▣ “appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt” This relates specifically to Numbers 14:4. The precursor is found in Exodus 14:10-12 and Numbers 11:1-9.
This translation follows the Septuagint and a few medieval Hebrew manuscripts. Instead of “Egypt” the MT has “bondage” (BDB 715, cf. NKJV), which is very similar in spelling.
▣ “You are a God” There are six specific things stated about God's character.
1. forgiving (BDB 699, used exclusively of God's forgiveness)
2. gracious (BDB 337, cf. Deuteronomy 4:31; 2 Chronicles 30:9)
3. compassionate (BDB 933)
4. slow to anger (cf. Numbers 14:18)
5. abounding in lovingkindness (BDB 338, Covenant loyalty, see Special Topic: Hesed at Nehemiah 13:14)
6. He did not forsake them!
This is one of a select number of OT texts that delineate the basic nature of God Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 103:8; and Joel 2:13.
Part of this text's litany of God's characteristics became a standard way of referring to His character (cf. Psalms 86:15; Psalms 145:8; Jonah 4:2). This is who God is! Rejoice and be glad!
Believers' hope is based on the unchanging character of God. Remember the list is given in a verse that describes Israel's intentional rejection of God and His word. See Special Topic below.
SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD
Nehemiah 9:18 “they made for themselves a calf of molten metal” The calf was meant as a physical representation of YHWH, not as another god (cf. Exodus 32:1-8. Exodus 32:31).
▣ “and committed great blasphemies” There is a series of sins recorded in Exodus 32:0.
1. idolatry (cf. LSS & Vulgate) or at least making a physical image of YHWH (cf. Exodus 20:4-5)
3. sexual promiscuity (cf. Exodus 32:6, “rose up to play” means a sexual orgy, cf. Genesis 26:18 for another use of this phrase)
Nehemiah 9:20 “You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them” God's “good spirit” does not necessarily refer to the NT Trinitarian understanding of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. In the OT God's Spirit is a way of referring to His will being accomplished (cf. Genesis 1:2). In this context it is probably parallel to God's angel who accompanied Israel during the wilderness wandering period (cf. Exodus 3:2; Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20, Exodus 23:23,34; Exodus 33:2).
Also, God's Spirit is a way of referring to revelation or inspiration (cf. Nehemiah 9:30; Psalms 143:10). He (NT Trinitarian sense) is the agent of inspiration (cf. Nehemiah 9:30; Numbers 11:17, Numbers 11:25, Numbers 11:29; 1 Samuel 10:6, 1 Samuel 10:9-11; 2 Samuel 23:2; 1 Kings 22:24; 1 Chronicles 12:18; 2 Chronicles 24:20; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 42:1; Ezekiel 11:5, Ezekiel 11:24; Hosea 9:7; Joel 2:28-29; Micah 3:8; Zechariah 7:12). See Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible.
Nehemiah 9:21 Even though the wilderness wandering period was a time of judgment because of their unbelief, God was with them in a personal, powerful, daily way. The rabbis later called this time “the honeymoon” period because of YHWH's tender care and provision. The term “forty” is a round, symbolic number. This period only lasted 38 years. The specific reference to the clothes not wearing out is from Deuteronomy 8:4; Deuteronomy 29:5.
Nehemiah 9:22 This refers to Joshua's conquest on the eastern side of the Jordan (cf. Numbers 21:21-35; Psalms 35:11; 36:19-20).
Nehemiah 9:23-25 This seems to refer to Joshua's conquest of the land of Canaan.
Nehemiah 9:23 “You made their sons numerous as the stars of heaven” This was part of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Genesis 15:5; Genesis 22:17; Genesis 26:4; Exodus 32:13, i.e., numerous descendants also referred to as “like the sand of the sea,” cf. Genesis 22:12; Genesis 32:12; Isaiah 48:19; Hosea 1:10).
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 9:26-31 26”But they became disobedient and rebelled against You, And cast Your law behind their backs And killed Your prophets who had admonished them So that they might return to You, And they committed great blasphemies. 27Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, But when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors. 28But as soon as they had rest, they did evil again before You; Therefore You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies, so that they ruled over them. When they cried again to You, You heard from heaven, And many times You rescued them according to Your compassion, 29And admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, By which if a man observes them he shall live. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen. 30However, You bore with them for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. 31Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.”
Nehemiah 9:26-31 This refers to the period of the Judges, which was one of the darkest periods of Israel's history. Cycle after cycle of sin and restoration!
Nehemiah 9:26 “and cast them behind their backs” This is a Hebrew idiom for being out of sight, being out of mind (cf. Isaiah 38:17). It has the connotation of willful rejection (cf. 1 Kings 14:9; Ezekiel 23:35 and the same concept is in Psalms 50:17).
▣ “And killed Your prophets” God's people did not want to hear from God through His spokespersons so they silenced the speaker! See Special Topic: Prophet (the different Hebrew terms).
▣ “return” See Special Topic: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Nehemiah 9:27 The recurrent theme of YHWH's patience, love, and covenant loyalty is contrasted with Israel's rebellion, generation after generation (cf. Nehemiah 9:28).
Nehemiah 9:29 “to turn back” See Special Topic: REPENTANCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.
NASB“they acted arrogantly” NKJV“they acted proudly” NRSV“they acted presumptuously” TEV“in pride they rejected” NJB“they became arrogant”
This VERB (BDB 267, KB 268, Hiphil PERFECT) implies the willful rejection of God's authority expressed through His prophets (cf. Nehemiah 9:30) and His word. Often one's personal, cultural, or national opinions are substituted for God's truth (e.g., false prophets).
▣ “By which if a man observes them he shall live” This is the OT understanding of salvation (cf. Leviticus 18:5; Galatians 3:12). However, the repeated failure of each and every generation of the sons of Adam forced YHWH to bring about a “new covenant” (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-38) based on God's performance (in Christ) only dependent on a faithful human reception. The goal is still the samea righteous people, but the mechanism has changed; an internal law/a new heart/a new spirit!
▣ “They turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck” This terminology refers to Deuteronomy 9:6, Deuteronomy 9:7, Deuteronomy 9:13, Deuteronomy 9:24, Deuteronomy 9:27.
Nehemiah 9:30 “the peoples of the land” In Ezra (cf. Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 9:1, Nehemiah 9:2, Nehemiah 9:11; Nehemiah 10:2, Nehemiah 10:11) and Nehemiah (cf. Nehemiah 9:30; Nehemiah 10:29, Nehemiah 10:31, Nehemiah 10:32) this means native inhabitants (i.e., those who survived the deportations and those resettled in Palestine and the resulting intermarriages). Earlier in the OT it referred to either (1) the wealthy land owners or (2) the people who had legal rights as citizens.
Nehemiah 9:31 God's covenant judgment (cf. Deut. 27-29) was always an attempt to cause Israel to repent and return. However, grace and mercy rejected results in judgment even beyond this life. God chose Israel to choose the world! He retained a faithful remnant to accomplish His Messianic promises and world evangelization!
NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Nehemiah 9:32-37 32”Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness, Do not let all the hardship seem insignificant before You, Which has come upon us, our kings, our princes, our priests, our prophets, our fathers and on all Your people, From the days of the kings of Assyria to this day. 33However, You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly. 34For our kings, our leaders, our priests and our fathers have not kept Your law Or paid attention to Your commandments and Your admonitions with which You have admonished them. 35But they, in their own kingdom, With Your great goodness which You gave them, With the broad and rich land which You set before them, Did not serve You or turn from their evil deeds. 36Behold, we are slaves today, And as to the land which You gave to our fathers to eat of its fruit and its bounty, Behold, we are slaves in it. 37Its abundant produce is for the kings Whom You have set over us because of our sins; They also rule over our bodies And over our cattle as they please, So we are in great distress. 38Now because of all this We are making an agreement in writing; And on the sealed document are the names of our leaders, our Levites and our priests.”
Nehemiah 9:32-37 These verses deal with the period of the United (Saul, David, and Solomon) and Divided Monarchy (Israel until 922 B.C. and Judah until 586 B.C.).
Nehemiah 9:32 “our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and lovingkindness” Again the character and faithfulness of YHWH, in contrast to His people, is emphasized (cf. Nehemiah 9:33). This is the recurrent theme.
The term “great” (BDB 152) is attributed (1) several times (cf. Nehemiah 1:5; Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalms 77:13; Psalms 95:3; Jeremiah 32:18; Daniel 9:4); (2) to Elohim (cf. Nehemiah 8:6; 2 Chronicles 2:5); and (3) to YHWH (cf. Exodus 18:11; 1 Chronicles 16:25; Psalms 48:1; Psalms 96:4; Psalms 99:2; Psalms 135:5; Psalms 145:3; Jeremiah 10:6). God's power is great (Numbers 14:17); God's name is great (2 Samuel 7:26; 1 Chronicles 17:24); God's works are great (Psalms 92:5).
The term “awesome” (BDB 431, KB 432, Niphal PARTICIPLE) is used in several but related senses in connection to God.
1. God's redemptive acts (e.g., Deuteronomy 10:21)
2. description of God Himself (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:21; Deuteronomy 10:17; Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 4:18; Nehemiah 9:32)
a. of His name (e.g., Deuteronomy 28:58)
b. of His appearance (e.g., Judges 13:6; Isaiah 64:3).
Humans tremble or should tremble at the presence or even mention of the God of creation.
The last two in the list are synonymous. God's power is established by His faithfulness (see Special Topic: Lovingkindness [Hesed]) to His promises. These last two characteristics often appear together (cf. Nehemiah 1:5; Nehemiah 9:32; Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:9, Deuteronomy 7:12; 1 Kings 8:23; 2 Chronicles 6:14; Daniel 9:4).
A good article on the relationship between berith (covenant, see Special Topic: Covenant) and hesed (lovingkindness) is EdmundJacob, Theology of the Old Testament, pp. 103-107.
▣ “from the days of the kings of Assyria to this day” Assyria took the Northern Ten Tribes captive in 722 B.C. For a list of their kings in sequence see Appendix.
Nehemiah 9:33 “You are just in all that has come upon us” The consequences for covenant violation are clearly spelled out in Deut. 27-29. God's judgments are both judicially fair and redemptively purposeful.
Nehemiah 9:35 “the broad and rich land” The Promised Land could hardly be characterized as “spacious,” so it must be used metaphorically for a place of freedom (cf. Exodus 3:8).
Canaan was a very fertile land in Moses' day (cf. Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17; Exodus 13:5; Numbers 13:23, Numbers 13:27).
Nehemiah 9:36 “Behold, we are slaves today” This refers to the continuing domination, albeit benevolent, under Persia.
Nehemiah 9:38 “we are making an agreement in writing” Although the word “covenant” is not used here, a similar but rare word is employed. The term “agreement” is really from the Hebrew root “amen” and should be translated “firm agreement” (BDB 53). The verb “making” is the Hebrew term “to cut” (BDB 503, KB 500, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE). This is often associated with the common phrase “to cut a covenant.”
Nehemiah 9:38-27 “leaders, Levites, priests” The leaders are mentioned in Nehemiah 10:1, Nehemiah 10:14-27; the Levites in Nehemiah 10:9-13; and priests in Nehemiah 10:2-8 (cf. Nehemiah 12:1-7). There has been much discussion among scholars whether individuals or families are listed. It is also unusual that Ezra is not mentioned, however, he was a member of the first named priestly family (Seraiah).
This is a study GUIDE commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.
These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.
1. How are Nehemiah 9:1-2 related to the Day of Atonement?
2. Is confession individual or corporate or both? How does this affect the way we pray/confess today?
3. Who verbalizes the Psalm (Nehemiah 9:5-32)?
4. How is the group on the platform in Nehemiah 9:4 related to the group speaking in Nehemiah 9:5?
5. Outline the different periods of Israel's history alluded to in the Psalm.
6. Why is Nehemiah 9:17 so important?
7. Explain the OT concept of “Spirit.” How do Nehemiah 9:20 and Nehemiah 9:30 relate?
8. Explain the significance of Nehemiah 9:31.