-On the 24th day in the seventh month of Elul, the sons of Israel assembled with fasting in sackcloth with dirt upon them. They separated themselves from all foreigners and stood to confess their, and their ancestors’, sins and iniquities before the LORD their God. While they continued to stand in their place, they read from the book of the Law of the LORD for a forth of the day. For another fourth of the day they confessed and worshipped God. On the platform of the Levites were heard crying with loud voices by many of these religious leaders. Then they commanded the people to, “Arise, bless the LORD your God forever, and ever!” A lengthy prayer ensued glorifying the LORD for His uniqueness, power, and holy Name. His creative abilities were extolled, and His choosing of Abram was given thanks. The prayer acknowledged that it was Abram’s faithful heart before his God that ensured the covenant between the LORD and this people. As a result, all of the Promised Land was given to the Hebrews as a perpetual inheritance due to a righteous Father who fulfills all His good promises. He was the One who saw His people’s affliction in Egypt and heard their cry by the Red Sea. He was the One who performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, his servants, and all the pagan Egyptians of the land. God knew their arrogance towards the commands He had given, and He made a Name for Himself as a result. He divided the sea before His people as a means of escape to pass through on dry ground, and the pursuers He hurled into the depths (Exodus 14:1-15:1). Their God had led them through the dessert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night “to light for them the way in which they were to go.” The LORD had come down to earth on Mt. Sinai and spoke from Heaven with His servant Moses to give His people His “just ordinances and true laws,” His “good statutes and commandments.” God made known to them His holy Sabbath and gave them every commandment, statute, and law they would need to achieve a successful society as His representative on earth. Their LORD had provided for them in the wilderness with bread from Heaven (manna) and brought water from a rock to quench their thirst miraculously. He had given them permission to enter into the Promised Land to possess it as a fulfillment of promise. But, as the prayer continues, the ancestors acted arrogantly themselves, much like the Egyptians, and became stubborn, not listening to the commandments of God. They refused to listen and did not remember His wondrous deeds which He had performed. So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return them to their slavery in Egypt, but God was forgiving, gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness. He did not forsake them in their waywardness against Him. Even though they made a molten calf of metal to worship and committed great blasphemies against the LORD, God had shown His restraint and did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud and fire did not leave them, and continued to show them the direction they needed to take. Even God’s good Spirit was given to them to instruct them and the manna never ceased. For forty years God’s people never were in want and even their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell with all the walking around they had to do. God gave them kingdoms and peoples, and He allotted to them a boundary. They took possession of the land of Sihon the king of Heshbon and Og the king of Bashan (Numbers 21:21-35). They continued to grow in number and power so that the promise to Abraham was fulfilled that his descendants became as numerous as the stars of Heaven (uncountable), and they eventually inhabited the land again as His chosen people. God won for them every victory as they conquered their Promised Land. They captured fortified cities and a fertile land taking possession of houses filled with every good thing: hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees in abundance. “So they ate, were filled and grew fat, and reveled in Your great goodness. 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 may return to You. And they committed great blasphemies.” Therefore, the LORD delivered them over to the hands of their oppressors who ruthlessly oppressed them as discipline from the LORD. But when they cried out to their God in the time of their distress, He heard from Heaven, and according to His great compassion gave them deliverers who freed them from their oppressors. However, as soon as they had rest, they recommitted themselves to doing evil before their God. As a result, the LORD abandoned them for a period to the hand of their enemies once more so that they ruled over them. But when they cried out again in their distress, God once more heard from Heaven and many times He rescued them according to His great compassion. And God admonished them so that they would turn back to His righteous Law. Yet they continued to act arrogantly and did not listen faithfully to His commandments and sinned against His ordinances “by which if a man observes them he shall live.” They kept turning a “stubborn shoulder” and “stiffened their neck” and would not listen to the Voice of their Maker and Sustainer. God bore with them for many years in His patience, admonishing them by His Spirit through His prophets. But they would not give ear. Their hearts became hardened. Therefore, God finally had to give them over into the hands of people from foreign lands. But, God in His great compassion, lovingkindness, grace, and faithfulness did not make a full end of His people, nor did He totally forsake them even though they definitely deserved it. The prayer ends with exaltation now as they had returned from their captivity. God was lifted high for His greatness, mightiness, awesomeness, covenant keepingness, and lovingkindness. They asked that all the hardship, which had come upon them, not be insignificant before Him. The kings, the princes, the prophets, the priests, the fathers, and all the people had learned great and mighty lessons in humility from the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and the Medes and Persians up until that day. In repentance, they acknowledged that God was just in their punishment because He had been faithful to the covenant and they had been wicked in the way they had acted by disobeying His Law. They had not paid attention to His commandments nor His admonitions even though He had blessed them beyond measure. They recognized that they were still slaves to the Gentiles that day, and their produce was for these foreign kings, which had been set over them because of their sins. These ruled over their bodies and over their cattle as they pleased and this was continuing the children of God’s distress. This is how the prayer ends (Nehemiah 9:1-37). A covenant would result, which begins in the last verse of the chapter. “Now 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 9:38).”
*Application* Times of remembrance in prayer are important for us to process everything that the LORD has actually taken us through. When we do this honestly, we will find that His faithfulness, compassion, grace, forgiveness, and admonition is just as evident in our lives as these repentant Hebrews we have been studying. Take some time today to truthfully pray to God about the past, the present, and the future as we seek to obey Him better and be freed from any oppression that still besets us.
Verses to Memorize: Nehemiah 9:29-30