Nehemiah 9


The People of Israel Confess Their Sin

– On the 24th day of this same month the Israelites assembled together. They were fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust. Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all the foreigners, and they stood and confessed their sins and their ancestors’ sins. They stood in their places and read from the Book of the Law of Yahweh their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter of the day in confession and in worshiping Yahweh their God. Then the Levites- Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Kenani- stood on the steps and called out loudly to Yahweh their God. Then the Levites- Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah- said, “Stand up and bless Yahweh your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting. May your glorious name be blessed. May it be exalted above all blessing and praise.”

– ESV Study Bible writes, “It is still the seventh month, after the seven days of the Feast of Booths and an eighth day of solemn assembly.”

– NLT Illustrated Study Bible mentions that the reference to the Israelites separating themselves from the foreigners, “…might allude to the problem of intermarriage with foreigners, as narrated in Ezra 9-10.”

– Beginning with the next verse- verse 6– there is some confusion. NET Bible explains, “The LXX adds ‘And Ezra said’ at the beginning of v. 6 as a transition: ‘And Ezra said, “You alone are the LORD.”’ Without this addition (which is not included by most modern English translations) the speakers of vv. 9:5b-10:1 continue to be the Levites of v. 5a.”

– Regardless of who is speaking, the following two sources add these notes:

– ESV Study Bible: This prayer [vv 6-37] resembles in part Ezra’s prayer of confession upon his discovery of the problem of mixed marriages (Ezra 9:6-15). It has even more in common with certain psalms of confession (such as Psalm 78, 105-106), which interweave confession with memories of God’s grace, and notes of petition. The prayer follows the biblical story as told in Genesis – Kings.”

– Guzik: “Obviously, all eight of these men did not pray the following prayer at the same time. Perhaps it was written out and they took turns, perhaps it was spontaneously prayed in succession, or perhaps (and according to tradition), Ezra prayed this prayer. 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.”

– NLT Illustrated Study Bible: “This long prayer confesses the nation’s sins and praises God for his compassion throughout history…It prompted listeners to confess their own unfaithfulness and to call on God to be compassionate and forgive their sins…[The prayer] praised God for his glorious reputation, his sole divinity, his creation of the universe, his providential care for life on earth, and his worship by angels. Putting the focus on God brought Israel’s present circumstances into proper perspective.”

– “You alone are Yahweh. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their host, the earth and all that is in it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to them all, and the host of heaven worships You.

– NIV Cultural Backgrounds notes, “The reference here is to the personal name of the God of Israel, Yahweh. Since no other god claims the name Yahweh, this should be rendered to convey that Yahweh stands alone- in a class by himself. The description that follows in the prayer (vv. 6-37) enumerates the unique acts of Yahweh that distinguish him from other gods. Though the prayer begins with acts of creation that other peoples would attribute to other gods, most of the list deals with the acts of Yahweh performed on behalf of his covenant people Israel.”

– HCSB remarks, “The Bible does not support naturalistic explanations for the existence of life (Gn 1:1-31). Here the Levites confess their belief that God gave life to all things. The entire community accepted this confession.”

– Guzik adds, “After the encouragement to praise, Ezra gave a reason to praise – because this is the great God who made it all. Looking at the glory of God’s creation gives us a reason to praise Him, to humble ourselves before Him, and to trust Him.”

– “You are Yahweh God who chose Abram, brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and changed his name to Abraham. You found his heart faithful to You, and established a covenant with him to give his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites. You have kept Your word because You are righteous.

– NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “God’s actions with Abram- calling him (Gen 12:1-3; 15:7), giving him a new name and identity (Gen 17:5), making a covenant with him (Gen 15:6-21; 17:4-5), and fulfilling his promises of land and descendants (Gen 15:18-21)- demonstrated God’s faithfulness and inspired confidence about what God would do in the future.”

– ESV Study Bible notes, “Ur of the Chaldeans is in southern Mesopotamia (see Gen 11:31).”

– HCSB adds, “The Levites noted that God had given the land of Israel to Abraham by a covenant commitment (see Gn 17:1-9). They believed this covenant was still valid. In fact, they considered their restoration to the land as indication that God is righteous. His failure to keep His covenant commitment would have been an unrighteous act. God would be unrighteous today if He were to renege on His covenant commitment to Abraham.”

– “You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt, and You heard their cry at the Red Sea. You performed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, all his officials, and all the people of his land, because You knew how arrogantly they were treating our ancestors. You made a name for Yourself that endures to this day. You split the sea in front of them so that they crossed through it on dry ground. But You hurled those who pursued them into the depths like a stone into mighty waters. You guided our ancestors with a pillar of cloud during the day, and with a pillar of fire during the night to illuminate the path they were to travel.

– ESV Study Bible says, “This telescopes the whole story from Exodus 2-15…”

– HCSB notes, “Many people today question whether or not the miracles recorded in the Bible actually occurred. These Jews, who had suffered so long in captivity and were now restored to their homeland, did not question them. They believed their God had performed these miracles in their distant past.”

– “You came down on Mount Sinai and spoke to them from heaven. You gave them just and right regulations and laws, and good decrees and commandments. You revealed Your holy Sabbath to them, and You gave them commandments, statutes, and a law through Your servant Moses. You provided them bread from heaven when they were hungry, and water from the rock when they were thirsty. You told them to go in and take possession of the land that You had sworn to give them.

Benson Commentary points out, “The Holy Scriptures speak of the sabbath as a singular gift of God to the Jewish nation, Exodus 16:29; it being a sign between God and them, who sanctified, that is, separated them from all other nations to be his peculiar people, or to be the worshippers of him who created the world in six days and rested in the seventh, while the heathen nations worshipped the sun, moon, and stars, and other creatures.”

– “But they- our ancestors- acted arrogantly. They became stubborn and didn’t obey Your commands. They refused to obey and didn’t remember the miracles You had performed among them. Instead, they became stubborn and appointed a leader to take them back to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a forgiving God, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You did not abandon them, even when they had cast an image of a calf for themselves and said, “This is your God who brought you out of Egypt,” or when they committed terrible blasphemies.

– “Due to Your great compassion, You did not abandon them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud did not stop guiding them in the path by day, nor did the pillar of fire stop illuminating the path that they were to travel by night. You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them. You didn’t withhold Your manna from their mouths, and You provided water for their thirst. You sustained them in the wilderness for 40 years, and they never lacked anything. Their clothes didn’t wear out and their feet didn’t swell.

– “You gave them kingdoms and peoples, and allocated to them every corner of the land. They took possession of the land of King Sihon of Heshbon and the land of King Og of Bashan. You made their children as numerous as the stars in the sky, and You brought them to the land that You had told their ancestors to enter in order to possess. Their descendants went in and took possession of the land. You subdued the Canaanites who inhabited the land before them, and handed their kings and the surrounding peoples over to them, to deal with them as they pleased. They captured fortified cities and fertile land. They took possession of well-supplied houses- wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees in abundance. They ate until they were full and grew fat. They delighted themselves in Your great goodness.

– ESV Study Bible notes, “The prospect of plentiful land was accompanied in Deuteronomy by warnings that wealth could lead to abandonment of God (Deut 6:12-15; 8:11-20). This is precisely what happened.”

– “Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against You. They flung Your Law behind their backs and killed Your prophets who warned them to turn back to You. They committed atrocious blasphemies. So You handed them over to their enemies who oppressed them. But in their time of distress they cried out to You, and You heard them from heaven. In accordance with Your abundant mercies, You provided them with deliverers who rescued them from their enemies.

– “But as soon as they were at rest again, they went back to doing what is evil in Your eyes. So You abandoned them to their enemies who dominated them. And when they cried out to You again, You heard from heaven, and in Your mercy You delivered them time and time again. You warned them in order to turn them back to Your Law, but they acted arrogantly and wouldn’t obey Your commandments. They sinned against Your ordinances- those by which a person will live if he obeys them. They stubbornly resisted, stiffened their necks, and refused to obey. You were patient with them for many years. Your Spirit warned them through Your prophets, but they still would not listen. So You handed them over to the neighboring peoples. However, due to Your abundant mercy, You didn’t destroy them all together or abandon them, because You are a gracious and merciful God.

– ESV Study Bible writes, “This pattern of sin, judgment, repentance, and deliverance is typical of the book of Judges…The idea of God’s long patience with the Israelites’ sin, calling them back by the prophets but finally ending in judgment, is the story of 1-2 Kings…” On handing them over to the neighboring peoples the same source continues, “For the northern kingdom this meant Assyria (2 Kings 17), while for Judah it meant Babylon (2 Kings 24-25).” On the statement that He didn’t destroy them completely, the same source says, “Second Chronicles 36:22-23 and the books of Ezra and Nehemiah demonstrate this.”

– “So now, our God- the great, powerful, and awesome God who keeps His covenant and steadfast love- do not regard as insignificant all the hardships that have befallen us, our kings, our leaders, our priests, our prophets, our ancestors, and all of Your people from the days of the Assyrian kings until today. In all that has happened to us, You have remained righteous and acted faithfully, and we have acted wickedly. Our kings, our leaders, our priests, and our ancestors did not obey Your law or listen to Your commandments and warnings You gave them. Even when they were in their kingdom, enjoying Your incredible goodness that You had given them in the spacious and fertile land that You had set before them, they didn’t serve You, nor did they turn away from their evil practices.

– ESV Study Bible remarks, “All the hardship refers to the sufferings of both exiles (Assyrian and Babylonian). The people have suffered greatly, yet God has been righteous…in his judgment…The prayer acknowledges again that the people sinned amid God’s blessing.”

– “Here we are today, slaves in the land that You gave our ancestors so that they could enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. Here we are- slaves in it! Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings You have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our livestock as they please. We are in great distress!

– ESV Study Bible says, “This sinfulness explains why the people are not yet entirely free and why the blessings of the land are not yet fully enjoyed under Persian rule, even though that rule is somewhat gentler than was the rule of Assyria and Babylon.”

– NLT Illustrated Study Bible adds, “The Lord had sent the Israelites into exile after generations of persistent sin…Now he was fulfilling part of his promise to restore them…Nehemiah had the confidence to pray and lead because he knew that everything that happened was part of God’s sovereign plan. This same confidence in God led Abram to leave Ur and by faith go to an unknown land (Gen 12:1-3; Heb 11:8-10), caused Rahab to trust in God (Josh 2:9-14; Heb 11:31), and prompted Hezekiah not to give in to the demands of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:1-19:37). Confidence comes when people believe that God will keep his promises and complete the work he has started in their lives (Phil 1:6).”

Israel’s Oath of Faithfulness

– NET Bible points out, “Beginning with 9:38, the verse numbers through 10:39 in the English Bible differ from the verse numbers in the Hebrew text (BHS), with 9:38 ET = 10:1 HT, 10:1 ET = 10:2 HT, 10:2 ET = 10:3 HT, etc., through 10:39 ET = 10:40 HT. Beginning with 11:1 the verse numbers in the ET and HT are again the same.”

– “In view of all this, we are making a binding covenant, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites, and our priests have affixed their names on the sealed document.”

– ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “The Hebrew word (‘amanah) is not the usual word for covenant (berit) but a rarer one emphasizing faithfulness. Ancient documents were usually sealed. Cylinder seals were rolled over the soft clay of the tablets before the tablets were baked. A document written on papyrus was rolled, folded, and tied with a string, with a lump of clay covering the knot; a seal was then either stamped or rolled over the clay. Documents sometimes bore multiple seals, one from each party to the agreement.”

Click here to go to chapter 10