A. V1, Another assembly, this time on the 24th day of the seventh month, before they had been told to restrain from weeping over their sin because it was a time of feasting and celebration. Now though they have gathered to repent from their sin and renew their commitment to God, they will do this by humbling themselves in three ways culturally, fasting, sackcloth, and dust on their heads.
1. Fasting was a way that people in the Old Testament would “afflict their souls” in order to show humility or express great grievances. In this case their fasting is to express how grieved they are over their sin, they are declaring “I am so grieved over my sin that I do not want to eat”.
2. Putting on sackcloth was wearing a rough burlap type bag and was typical of a person in mourning. They are mourning over their sins.
3. Throwing dust on your head was also typical of people in mourning and showed great emotion distress.
4. Application: There is a time for feasting and a time for fasting, a time to celebrate before God and a time to repent in mourning. Notice though that they spent 8 days feasting and celebrating and one day fasting and mourning. There is a time for repentance and mourning over our sin and recommitting our lives to God and it is a good thing, but it should not be the main part of our relationship with God.
B. V2, Now that the people have humbled themselves outwardly and expressed their grief they are going to inwardly repent of their sins and the sins of their fathers. They do this first by separating themselves from foreigners. For their worship to be holy and pure before God they had to do in a holy and pure way. God had commanded that His people be separated from the foreigners, and that they would not marry foreigners so that the religion of God would remain pure. Apparently they had disobeyed this and are here repenting of it.
1. 1 Peter 1:15-16, God is still looking for a people to be holy, to be separated from the world. It does not mean that you become separate in the sense of a monk, because that is not biblical. It just means you must not live like the world lives. To worship God correctly you must prepare your life to match your words. It does nothing to sing Holy, Holy, Holy, to God if your heart and life is completely opposite of this. The first step to true and holy worship is to separate yourself from the lifestyle of the world and ungodly relationships.
2. They started by confessing their own sins. Worship is a time to adore God, but it is also a time to humble yourself before Him and confess your sins. After they confessed their own sins they confessed the sins of their fathers. Their forefathers had sinned against God and God had judged their nation and they were experiencing the consequences of their forefather’s sins. God can judge a nation based on the sins of fathers, but he can forgive it based on the petitions and confessions of its sons.
3. Note, The book of Nehemiah began with one man confessing his sins and the sins of his forefathers and now we see an entire nation confessing their sins and the sins of their forefathers. The work of God changing a nation begins in the prayers of one man.
C. V3, They spend six hours seeking the Lord, the first three in hearing the Word of God and the last three in confessing their sins and worshiping. We saw that hearing the word of God produced joy, and that obeying the Word of God produced even more joy, but the natural result of hearing and obeying the Word of God should be confession and worship. Accurate understanding of the Word of God causes worship and revival.
1. “How often the discovery of something new in the loveliness of the Lord Jesus has brought with it the discovery of some new corruption in our own hearts. . . . God will never plant the seed of His life upon the soil of a hard, unbroken spirit. He will only plant that seed where the conviction of His Spirit has brought brokenness, where the soil has been watered with the tears of repentance as well as the tears of joy.” (Redpath)
III. Nehemiah 9:4-6, Blessing God First
A. V4-5a, These Levites were leading the time of Bible reading and prayer. According to tradition it was Ezra who said the prayer to God on behalf of all the people gathered there.
1. “The following prayer is thought to be the longest prayer in the Bible – and yet takes only six and one half minutes to say. Prayer does not need to be long to be glorious and effective.” –David Guzik
B. V5a, The first verse sums up the entire prayer, “bless the Lord your God forever and ever!”. The prayer starts by praising and worshiping God and declaring Him worthy of this forever and ever.
1. Our prayers should also begin by blessing and worshiping the Lord.
C. V6, It is good to remind ourselves who we are praying to when we pray. This prayer starts out with worship and a declaration in who God is, and will record the history of Israel starting in Genesis till that very day and how God was always faithful to them.
IV. 9:7-8, God Performed His Promise
A. V7-8 Next the prayer goes to remember God’s gracious calling of Abram, and how God had fulfilled His promise to him and made him Abraham.
1. God is righteous and performs His promises to His people.
V. 9:9-12, God Delivers and Guides His People
A. V9-11, God delivered His people from Egypt and made a name for Himself in the miraculous way that He did it, defeating the most powerful man on earth at the time. They are remembering the works of the Lord in the past and praising Him for it.
1. God sees the affliction of His people, hears their cries, and delivers them.
2. It is good to remember how God has worked in the past and thank Him for it, knowing that God does not change and can do the same thing He has done before.
B. V12, Moreover God not only delivered His people but He personally guided them and showed them the way they should go to the promised land.
1. God not only wants to deliver us, He wants to be our guide into the blessings He has for us.
VI. 9:13-15, God Feeds His people spiritually and physically.
A. V13-14, God revealed Himself to His people and gave them the knowledge of His Law and the Sabbath. He fulfilled their spiritual needs and gave them a special relationship that no nation had had before.
B. V15, God not only took care of the spiritual needs of His people, but He physically provided for them in the wilderness. Giving them bread from heaven every day and water when they thirsted. He also gave them a place to live and a land to call their own.
VII. 9:16-17, God did not forsake His people, although they forsook Him.
A. V16, In the history of Israel we see a reoccurring theme of rebellion by the people and mercy and grace by God. The sin of the people was always pride.
B. V17, This is talking about the rebellion at Kadesh, which prevented the people from entering into the promised land for forty years. God could have judged and destroyed Israel right then and there, but He had mercy on them and pardoned their sin. God did not forsake His people, even though they forsook Him.
1. God is gracious and merciful, ready to pardon, slow to anger, and abundant in kindness. He does not forsake us and is faithful even when we are faithless. People say that the God of the OT is very different then the God of the NT, but in reading this prayer we see He is the same all the way through.
2. The people began with worshiping the Lord, now they are confessing the sins of their forefathers. It is good to pray from the perspective of the Lord, which is what they are doing. They also are praying using the vocabulary of the scriptures, being that many of the words in the prayers are direct references, partial quotes, or even complete quotes of other parts of the Bible.
VIII. 9:18-21, God’s Goodness, Our Sinfulness
A. V18-21, Even though the people had made their own false god and gave it the credit of what God had done He still did not forsake them. God continued to lead His people, provide for them, and sent His Spirit to teach them.
1. They are making a contrast of God’s goodness and their sinfulness. If we were to take a honest look into our lives we would see the same.
IX. 9:22-25, Fat with Blessings
A. V22-24, “Moreover” Beyond providing for them in the wilderness, which would have been more than enough of a blessing despite their sinfulness, God gave them kingdoms and nations into their hands. He multiplied their children and blessed them by defeating their enemies.
B. V25, God gave them everything they needed and more. He gave them cities that were already strong, a land that was rich, houses already full of goods, cisterns already dug, vineyards already planted, olive groves that already produced, and fruit trees already matured and in abundance. They didn’t have to do any of the hard work of building an economy, it was already done for them. They grew fat and were filled with the blessings of the Lord and delighted themselves in the goodness of God.
1. God wants to bless us, but often times it is the blessings that are our downfall because we become prideful and rebel against God.
2. “For every one hundred men who can stand adversity, there is only one who can stand prosperity,” –Thomas Carlyle. I believe this is what has happened to almost every world power in history, they grew fat off of blessing and abundance then fell because of their pride. It has happened to Israel, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome, France, The British Empire, and is now happening to America.
3. Proverbs 30:7-9, Give me neither poverty or riches. It is actually a very great and blessed way to live.
X. 9:26-27, Rebellious Cycle Continues
A. V26-27, Nevertheless, despite all the way God blessed His people they rebelled against Him again, going even further this time and casting aside the Law of God and killing His prophets. God allowed their enemies to oppress them as discipline, and when the people cried out for help God answered and would send them a judge to deliver them.
1. The history of Israel is one of constant backsliding constant deliverance from the Lord. Let us not be quick to judge them in this until we first examine our own lives to see how often God has done this for us as well.
XI. 9:28-31, He is a God, Gracious and Merciful
A. V28, The people only turned to God in trouble, in times of rest they went and sinned against God and began a cycle of rebellion, judgment, and God’s merciful and gracious deliverance.
B. V29, Again, their main sin was pride. They had agreed to live by the law, yet they stiffened their neck and thereby hardened their hearts… refusing to listen to God despite His constant attempts to bring them back to Himself.
C. V30, For many years God was patient with Israel and testified by His Spirit through prophets, but the people would not listen and so He allowed them to be delivered into the hands of their enemies. God had had enough and it was time to let His people go into captivity, which the people in Nehemiah’s time had just recently come out of.
D. V31, Nevertheless, God still had mercy and grace and did not allow His people to be utterly consumed and did not forsake Him. The only reason as to why was because He is a God of mercy and grace.
XII. 9:32-35, Submission and Confession
A. V32, They now direct their prayer in a personal way to relate to what is going on in their lives this day. They remembered who God is and how He had been merciful to their fathers all along and made a petition for his mercy and grace once again.
B. V33, Here is probably one of the most important parts of this prayer. They recognize that God has been faithful all along, and that they deserved the judgment that befell them. We must come to the place of humbleness and submission before the Lord; confessing our own wickedness in the light of His faithfulness before we can receive His mercy and grace to help in time of need.
C. V34-35, Here they confess the sins of their leaders and fathers, both spiritual and governmental.
XIII. 9:36-38, Repentance and Recommitment
A. V36, Here they are, ready to serve the Lord like their father’s never have before. This is repentance, a desire to change after submitting and confessing to the Lord.
B. V37, They see that although they have confessed their sins they will still have to live with the consequence of their father’s sins, being that they are still subjected to the Persian Empire. They are submitting to the judgment of God, but are also asking for God to deliver them from the nation that was oppressing them like He had done so many times before for their ancestors.
C. V38, The repentance bears fruit and the people take action. They recommit their lives to the Lord and are going to renew their covenant with the Lord. Reading the Word, Praying, worshiping, Fasting and mourning over our sin, and confessing all mean nothing unless it is followed by the fruit of repentance, seen in actual actions. Change is the end result that God desires to produce in us.
1. In the New Testament salvation is instant, and God credits His righteousness to us by faith in Jesus Christ and nothing we do will ever be able to earn that grace He has given us. After salvation though God desires to sanctify us, to set us apart and change us, and He does this through all the things that we have seen here, reading and studying the Word of God, praying and worshiping, celebrating and feasting in His grace and mercy, fasting and mourning over our sin, confessing our sins and repenting. The only difference between then and now is that although we can change our outward actions we can never change our heart unless we allow the Holy Spirit to do that work in us, something they didn’t have access to in the same way that we do now. (2 Thess. 2:13).
A. Studying the word of God, understanding it, and applying it will cause revival and true worship, as well as brokenness over sin and repentance.
B. The Book of Nehemiah began as one man, broken over his sin and the sin of his people and ends with a nation broken over their sin and the sins of their fathers. God can change a nation, but it starts with one person.
C. God wants to change us and make us more like Him, He does this through reading His Word, prayer and worship, being broken over and confessing our sin, repenting and allowing His Spirit to change our hearts.