A COMPASSIONATE GOD
Lord, thank You for a documented history of Israel.
Read NEHEMIAH 9:22–38
22 “You gave them kingdoms and nations, allotting to them even the remotest frontiers. They took over the country of Sihon[a] king of Heshbon and the country of Og king of Bashan. 23 You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their parents to enter and possess. 24 Their children went in and took possession of the land. You subdued before them the Canaanites, who lived in the land; you gave the Canaanites into their hands, along with their kings and the peoples of the land, to deal with them as they pleased. 25 They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.
26 “But they were disobedient and rebelled against you; they turned their backs on your law. They killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you; they committed awful blasphemies. 27 So you delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.
28 “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight. Then you abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.
29 “You warned them in order to turn them back to your law, but they became arrogant and disobeyed your commands. They sinned against your ordinances, of which you said, ‘The person who obeys them will live by them.’ Stubbornly they turned their backs on you, became stiff-necked and refused to listen. 30 For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighboring peoples. 31 But in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
32 “Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes—the hardship that has come on us, on our kings and leaders, on our priests and prophets, on our ancestors and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today. 33 In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our ancestors did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the statutes you warned them to keep. 35 Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.
36 “But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. 37 Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.
The Agreement of the People
38 “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”[b]
a Nehemiah 9:22 One Hebrew manuscript and Septuagint; most Hebrew manuscripts Sihon, that is, the country of the
b Nehemiah 9:38 In Hebrew texts this verse (9:38) is numbered 10:1.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“O Lord, I have heard of what you have done, and I am filled with awe. Now do again in our times the great deeds you used to do” (1 Hab. 3:2, GNB).
The communal prayer continues as a plea for revival. The congregation is about to renew its covenant commitment to the Lord. This commitment, announced in verse 38, will be the subject of chapter 10. A leading topic of the prayer is the gift of the land. This constitutes the core of the covenant with Abraham (8). It is the goal of the Exodus (15), and it is the rationale of the conquest (23–25,35,36). However, once they settle in the land, the privileged Israelites lapse into arrogant Israelites (29). This decline involves three cycles of rebellion, culminating in divine judgment. In each cycle, judgment takes the form of subservience to foreign powers (26,27; 28; and 29–31).
However, the prayer’s principal theme is the Lord’s astonishing compassion (27,28; cf. Neh. 9:17; Exod. 34:6). Despite frequent provocation, he responds to his people’s cry of distress. Significantly, there is no such cry in the third cycle (29–31). This omission implies that the prayer itself becomes a cry to the Lord for deliverance from “the hardship that has come on us” (32). Continual past expressions of God’s grace (19,27,28) have created an expectation that God will act once more in a definitive way on Israel’s behalf.
Charles Finney’s assessment that a revival of religion presupposes an earlier decline (Charles Finney, Revival Lecture 1: What a Revival of Religion Is, c. 1835) echoes the prayer of Ezra’s Levites. So also does Arthur Wallis’s reminder that historical accounts of revivals are “precious documents to all who long to see a movement in our day” (cf. Arthur Wallis, In the Day of Thy Power). One way of following up today’s reading is to acquaint yourself with the history of revivals. May that history rouse you to pray for a deep spiritual awakening in your church and in your community.
“If my people… will humble themselves and… turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chr. 7:14).
Lord, keep us from the degree of spiritual arrogance that triggers Your retributive hand to fall upon us.
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