Nehemiah 9:2, 31-33, 36-38
And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins…
It has been remarked that there is no prayer in this lengthy address to God. And the absence of direct supplication is certainly very noticeable. But it must be remembered that we may make our appeal to God in more ways than by directly asking him for the blessings we desire at his hand. The comparative and almost complete absence of formal petition from this address suggests to us that we may go far towards winning our cause by -
I. PRESENTING THE SOUL BEFORE GOD IN A RECEPTIVE SPIRITUAL STATE. It is only in some spiritual conditions that we can expect to be recipients of his bounty. Not to be in the right state is to lock the door at which we stand. By such an address as this the Jews either showed themselves to be in, or brought themselves into, an acceptable recipient condition. There were -
1. The solemn recognition of God's excellency; of his greatness - "Our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God" (ver. 32); of his goodness - "thy great mercies' sake;"... "thou art a gracious and merciful God" (ver. 31); of his faithfulness - "who keepest covenant and mercy" (ver. 32); of his justice - "thou art just in all that is brought upon us" (ver. 33).
2. Sense of their own ill-desert. "Thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly."
3. Readiness to separate from sin. "The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers" (ver. 2). "If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us" (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15).
4. Preparedness to pledge themselves to his service. The Jews were prepared to "make a sure covenant, and write it and seal it" (ver. 38). Thus, on this occasion, the children of Israel presented themselves before God, and not only showed, as they began to speak reverently and humbly to him, but gained more as they proceeded, a fitting spiritual condition for receiving his Divine communications. It is not by" loud speaking," nor by "much speaking" (Matthew 6:7), but rather by asking in a right temper and mode, that we make a forcible and prevailing appeal to the Divine Helper; presenting ourselves before him as suppliants in the spirit of
(1) profound reverence,
(2) deep humility,
(3) genuine consecration.
II. REQUEST IN WORDS (vers. 32, 36, 37). "Now therefore, our God,... let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, and 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" (ver. 32). "Behold," continues this appeal, "we are servants, and the land thou gavest unto our fathers,... we are servants in it: and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us:... they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress" (vers. 36, 37). This is
(1) a direct appeal to the pitifulness of Jehovah that he would have compassion on them who were slaves in their own land - their persons and their property being at the mercy of a foreign prince; it was also
(2) an indirect appeal to his faithfulness and justice. For had not God chastened them very long and very sore? - he who had promised to forgive them their iniquities when they returned unto him; he who would not make his punishment to be out of proportion to their offence. They desired to "see the beauty of the Lord" (his righteousness, his equity), that they might be "made glad according to the days wherein he had afflicted them, and the years wherein they had seen evil" (Psalm 90:15, 17). In making our appeal to God there are two things which will ever be the substance and burden of our plea: -
(1) the soreness of our necessity: our weakness, our want, our trouble, our humiliation, our darkness and ignorance, our repeated failure, our distance from the goal and the prize;
(2) the greatness of his goodness: his pitifulness, his patience, his considerateness, his promised mercy, his faithfulness. We may come hopefully to his throne because he is "a gracious and merciful God," pleading his "great mercies' sake" (ver. 31). But more than that, we may come "boldly" to the throne of his grace, because he is One that "keeps covenant" (ver. 32) as well as "mercy," because he has pledged his word to us in Christ Jesus, and he will be "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.