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.
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.”
(Nehemiah 9:32-38 NIV)
Two days after the Feast of Booths ended, the people of Israel gathered again in fasting, sack cloth, and with dirt on their heads, reading God’s Word, worshiping, and confessing their sins as a people, as a nation.
Last time we looked at the chronological history of God’s goodness and faithfulness toward His people and their unfaithfulness in return.
Today we look at the conclusion of their prayer.
Verse 32 begins with the Jewish leaders recognizing God’s faithfulness and their unfaithfulness. The Jewish leaders are paying attention to what God has done, and are begging for God’s mercy. Because of their sins, God had every right to erase them from the face of the earth, but He chose not to do so (v. 31).
Verses 33 – 35 are an admission of guilt and sin before a holy and righteous God. The Jews, as God’s people, deserved every bit of discipline they received from God’s hand. God was just in His dealings with His people.
Verses 36 – 37 identify their current status as slaves in the land God had given them. This slave status was due to the Jewish people’s sin and rebellion alone.
Verse 38 is the conclusion of their prayer. In this ending, they write down their commitment to obey God and His Word, to do life His way and not their own way.
The Jewish leaders know that they got themselves into this mess through their disobedience to the Lord. They don’t expect this commitment to change their status – this is not asking God to grant them a “get out of slavery” card.
This is, however, a humble response to God’s goodness and faithfulness over the centuries, and a desire to live up to their part of the covenant God made with Abraham, of which they are beneficiaries as Abraham’s descendants.
While Abraham was a faithful man, his salvation did not come from his ability to satisfy God’s Law. Rather, Abraham’s salvation came by God’s grace, through faith in the coming Messiah (Jesus Christ). Abraham’s example was living by faith, not by his good deeds (Galatians 3:5-13).
And the good news is that through Christ, the blessing that was given to Abraham and offered to the Jewish people of Nehemiah’s day is available to us through Christ as non-Jewish followers of Christ in our day (Galatians 3:14)
So what’s our response to today’s text?
- humility before God and confession of sin?
- obedience to God’s Word?
- thankfulness and worship?
This is not a guilt trip or a “try harder” admonition.
Rather, it is an invitation to allow God to come into our minds, hearts, and souls and do something only He can do – change us from the inside out.