Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.Nehemiah 9:1. Now in the twenty and fourth day — The feast of tabernacles began on the fourteenth day, and ended on the twenty-second, all which time mourning had been forbidden, as contrary to the nature of the feast, which was to be kept with joy. But now, on the twenty-fourth, the next day but one after the feast, their consciences having been fully awakened, and their hearts filled with grief for their sins, which they were not allowed to express in that time of public joy, they resume their former thoughts, and, recalling their sins to mind, set apart a day for solemn fasting and humiliation.
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.Nehemiah 9:2. The seed of Israel separated themselves — From all unnecessary society with the heathen, and particularly from those strange women whom some of them had married. For although Ezra had effected this separation formerly, as far as he had knowledge of the faulty persons, and power to reform them; yet it seems there were some criminals who either had escaped his knowledge, or were beyond the reach of his power; or there were some new delinquents that since that time had fallen into the same error, and now showed the truth of their repentance by forsaking their beloved sins and dearest relations. And the iniquities of their fathers — Which they confess, partly as one cause of their present sufferings; and partly because they, by their practices, had justified their father’s sins, and made them their own.
And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.Nehemiah 9:3. They stood up and read in the book of the law — That is, the Levites stood up in a place built for them, and read the law as they did before, interpreting the sense of what they read. One fourth part of the day — To wit, for three hours; for there were reckoned twelve hours in their day. Probably they began to read after the morning sacrifice, at which time divers religious people used to be present, and continued reading till the sixth hour, that is, till midday; and another fourth part — Namely, from midday to the time of the evening sacrifice; they confessed — Both God’s mercies, as appears from the following prayer, and their own sins, as is expressed Nehemiah 9:2, this day being chiefly set apart for the work of confession and humiliation; and worshipped the Lord their God — Partly by their acknowledgment and adoration of his wonderful mercy, in forgiving their sins, and saving them from the judgments which they had deserved, and for giving them his law, and the knowledge thereof; and partly, by imploring his further grace and mercy to them. The work of a fast-day is good work; and we should endeavour to make a day’s work, a good day’s work, of it.
Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.Nehemiah 9:4. They stood upon the stairs — Upon such stairs or pulpits as the Levites usually stood upon when they taught the people. But they stood upon several pulpits, each of them teaching that part of the congregation which was allotted him, or praying or blessing God with them. And cried with a loud voice — Thereby testifying their deep sense of their sins and miseries, and their fervent and importunate desire of God’s mercy.
Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.Nehemiah 9:5. Then the Levites, Jeshua, &c., said, Stand up, and bless the Lord for ever and ever — Praise him and give him thanks, as long as you have any being; and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise — The super-excellent perfections of which, the noblest creatures cannot worthily magnify. The Levites, it is likely, praised him in these or such like words, in which all the people joined, either with their lips, or in their hearts.
Thou, even thou, art LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.Nehemiah 9:6. Thou, even thou, art Lord alone — Jehovah, the self-existent and independent being; there is no God beside thee; thou hast made heaven, &c. — They acknowledged the God they worshipped to be the supreme Sovereign, the Lord over all, who had created all things whatsoever, who preserved them by his providence, and therefore had a sovereign dominion over all. And the host of heaven worshippeth thee — The angels, archangels, cherubim, and seraphim, and all the inhabitants of heaven, of whatever order, acknowledge thee as the universal King.
Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham;Nehemiah 9:7. Thou art the Lord who didst choose Abraham — Here follows a compendious history of the affairs of the Hebrew nation, which, it is likely was composed by Ezra or Nehemiah in the form of a prayer, and delivered to the Levites, that they might pronounce it distinctly before the whole congregation, from their several scaffolds, which were conveniently placed, in several parts of the assembly, for that purpose.
And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous:Nehemiah 9:8. And foundest his heart faithful before thee — In many instances, especially in that great trial of his faith and obedience, when thou requiredst him to offer up his only son as a sacrifice. And hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous — True to thy word, faithfully fulfilling all thy promises.
And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;Nehemiah 9:9-10. And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt — God’s providences over Isaac and Jacob are passed by, to come to his interpositions in their behalf, since they became a nation; that is, since he had made good his covenant with Abraham, in multiplying his seed as the stars of heaven; at the time of entering into which covenant he had foretold that his seed should suffer grievous affliction in Egypt; from which having rescued them, he completed their deliverance at the Red sea, when they cried to him, as is here mentioned. It was reasonable to remember this, now they were interceding for the perfecting of their deliverance out of Babylon. And showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh — Many and mighty, such as were unprecedented and unparalleled, thereby getting honour upon him, and upon his servants and people, the deliverance of thy people being the destruction of their enemies. For thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them — Intending to make them their slaves for ever, as, for the present, they treated them with the utmost contempt and cruelty.
And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as it is this day.
And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.
Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.
Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:Nehemiah 9:13. And gavest them good statutes — The moral and judicial precepts were all founded on natural equity. And even the ceremonial were tokens of God’s goodness, being types of gospel grace.
And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:Nehemiah 9:14. And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath — That holy sabbath day which thou didst bless and sanctify to Adam, commanding him, and in him all his posterity, to observe it, which yet almost all nations have quite forgotten; that day thou didst graciously reveal unto thy people, reviving that ancient law by another particular law respecting it, given to us in the wilderness. 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.
And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them.
But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,Nehemiah 9:16-17. But our fathers dealt proudly, &c. — Notwithstanding all thy singular and wonderful mercies, they sinned presumptuously, and with a high hand, scorning to submit their wills to thine. Having hitherto recounted God’s mercies toward them, with a view to aggravate their guilt, he now comes to confess their sins, in order that he might lead them to a sincere and ingenuous grief for them, not only on account of the sufferings which they had brought on themselves, but for the injury and indignity which they had offered to God; and refused to obey — Persisted in disobedience after many admonitions and invitations to repentance. And in their rebellion appointed a captain — That is, designed, purposed, and resolved to do so, (Numbers 14:4,) and therefore they are said to do it; as Abraham is said to have offered up Isaac, (Hebrews 11:17,) because he intended and attempted to do it.
And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.
Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations;Nehemiah 9:18-19. Yea, they made them, a molten calf — This was a very high provocation, considering how little a time before God had expressly commanded them not to make any graven image, and how many cautious he had afterward given them against doing any such thing. Yet thou forsookest them not in the wilderness — Where, if thou hadst left them without thy conduct and support, they would have been utterly undone and lost. The pillar of cloud departed not, &c. — Notwithstanding their great provocations, thou didst still continue thy gracious presence among them, of which the pillar of the cloud was a glorious token.
Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go.
Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.Nehemiah 9:20. Thou gavest also thy good Spirit to instruct them — Which thou didst graciously and plentifully impart, first unto Moses, and then unto the seventy elders, (Numbers 11:17-26,) to the end that they might be able to direct and govern thy people wisely, and in thy fear.
Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, so that they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.
Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.Nehemiah 9:22. And didst divide them into corners — That is, the heathen nations, whom God in a great measure destroyed, and the remainders of them he dispersed into corners; that whereas, before the Israelites came, they had large habitations, now they were cooped up, some in one town, and some in another, in the several corners of their land, while the Israelites dwelt in a large place, and had the possession of their whole land, some few and small parcels excepted.
Their children also multipliedst thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.
So the children went in and possessed the land, and thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would.
And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness.Nehemiah 9:25-26. And delighted them in thy great goodness — In all those comforts and blessings which, by thy great goodness, they obtained and enjoyed. Nevertheless they cast thy law behind their backs — They neglected and despised thy laws, would not regard nor observe them; whereas they ought to have had them continually before their eyes, to direct and govern them in all their ways. The good things they enjoyed in the land which God had given them, made them wanton and forgetful of God and his commandments. And slew thy prophets — Of which see the margin.
Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law behind their backs, and slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.
Therefore thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.Nehemiah 9:27. When they cried unto thee, &c. — The whole book of Judges verities this, that God delivered them for their sins unto the Moabites, the Canaanites, and divers other enemies, who grievously domineered over them; but when they cried to God for help, he was so gracious as to send such men as Barak, Gideon, and others, to be their saviours, that is, deliverers, from tyranny.
But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest them from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies;Nehemiah 9:28-29. Therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies — God so abandoned them once, that he permitted the Philistines to rule over them forty years, (Jdg 13:1,) unto which, perhaps, this passage refers. Many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies — Nothing else could have moved God to do it, but his own essential goodness and mercy, they being, in all ages, inconstant in their obedience, and prone to backslide from him; and testifiedst against them — By many remarkable punishments he testified how highly he was displeased with them, that he might reform them. Yet they dealt proudly — Against what one would have expected should have humbled them, God’s judgments; and, from time to time, they became more bold and obstinate in their sins. And withdrew the shoulder — A metaphor taken from refractory oxen, that draw back, and will not submit to the yoke.
And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear.
Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.Nehemiah 9:30. Many years didst thou forbear them — Thou didst delay to bring upon them those judgments which thou hadst threatened, and they had deserved, and didst wait for their repentance. And testifiedst against them by thy Spirit in thy prophets — Who spake to them by thy divine inspiration, whom therefore they ought to have obeyed. Yet would they not give ear — That is, would not obey them, or even vouchsafe so much as to hear them. Therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands — At last God delivered them into the hands of the Chaldeans, who are called the people of the lands, because they got possession of all the neighbouring countries, which God put under their power, as he had other countries beyond the Euphrates.
Nevertheless for thy great mercies' sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.Nehemiah 9:31. Nevertheless, thou didst not utterly consume them — But didst leave a remnant of the poorer people in the land, and show favour to the captives in Babylon. For thou art a gracious and merciful God — To which alone they owed their preservation from utter destruction.
Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.Nehemiah 9:32-33. Who keepest covenant and mercy — He adds mercy, because the covenant in itself was not a sufficient ground of hope, because they having so basely broken it, God was discharged from keeping it, and therefore they flee to his free and rich mercy for relief. Howbeit, thou art just in all that is brought upon us — We cannot complain of any of thy dispensations toward us, for the whole series of our history shows that thou art just in all thy ways toward the children of men. It becomes us, when we are under the rebukes of Providence, be they ever so sharp, or ever so long continued, still to justify God, and to own we are punished less than our iniquities deserve.
Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:
Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them.
For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works.Nehemiah 9:35. For they served thee not in the land which thou gavest them — That is, which thou didst lay open to their view and possession; removing their enemies, and all impediments, out of the way. Neither turned they from their wicked works — They not only all acted wickedly, from the highest to the lowest, but would not be reclaimed. Thus they acknowledge the justice of God in all the punishments he had inflicted on them, though heavy and of long continuance.
Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it:Nehemiah 9:36. Behold, we are servants in the land — In that land wherein heretofore, under thee, and by thy favour, we were rightful lords and owners. God had, indeed, marvellously restored them to their own country; yet the marks of his displeasure for their sins still remained very visible: for they were tributary unto others, and not free owners and proprietors of the land which God had given to their fathers.
And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.Nehemiah 9:37. And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings, &c. — We plough, and sow, and labour, and thou givest thy blessing to our endeavours; and yet in a great measure this is not for ourselves, as formerly it was, but for our kings, to whom we pay heavy tributes. Also they have dominion over our bodies — Which are liable to be pressed, to serve in the king’s wars, or in his works. And over our cattle at their pleasure — Our cattle are liable to be made use of, when there is occasion to employ them about the king’s business. And we are in great distress — Though we are permitted to live by our own laws, which we account a great privilege, yet we lie under these public burdens, and are compelled to bear them. Thus, as Mr. Peters observes, this prayer contains a beautiful epitome of the history of the Jews, raised and animated by a spirit of devotion, which appears in all that moving eloquence so well suited to the great occasion; and, at the same time, with all that chasteness and correctness of thought and expression, which so eminently distinguish the sacred writings of this sort from all merely human compositions.
And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.Nehemiah 9:38. Because of all this we make a sure covenant — Considering all this, they resolved to renew their covenant with God for better obedience, which they promise as the only remedy to procure perfect deliverance. And to make it more effectual, they seem to have declared this in the presence of God, at the conclusion of the foregoing confession and prayer. And write it — It was but of little consequence what such a refractory people promised, even in writing; for what regard would they have to their own hand-writing, who regarded not the ten commandments, written on tables of stone by the finger of God? It was, however, very useful that there should be a public instrument to convince them of their impiety, that they might be publicly confounded if they proved perfidious deserters, by showing them their engagements, under their own hands, to future fidelity. And our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it — Thus they would become witnesses against themselves if they dealt deceitfully.