Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackcloths…
Notice three features in the people's religious life.
1. Their confession of sin.
2. Their external reformation.
3. Their solemn adoption of the written word of God as the law of their life. Take these as representative, universal.
I. HUMILIATION AND CONFESSION.
1. Public and united as well as private and solitary. Great impressiveness in numbers. The heart needs the stimulus of contact with great waves of feeling. There is much in the expression of religious emotion to feed and sustain it.
2. The sense of sin should not be merely the acknowledgment of individual transgressions, but of moral helplessness. "They confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers." They recounted the history of Divine grace and the backslidings of his people. It kept alive in their hearts the sense of their utter dependence on the free, unmerited mercy of Jehovah.
3. The penitential spirit will clothe itself in an appropriate dress. The people fasted and put on sackcloth and earth, as signs of mourning and self-humiliation. We are not enjoined to adopt their religious customs, but there is a natural expression of penitence which is not formality or self-righteousness. Self-denial, simplicity of life and manners, practical remembrance of the nothingness of earthly things. "Moderation known unto all men."
II. THE REFORMATION OF THE OUTWARD LIFE. There are external conditions under which alone the true service of God can be fulfilled. Such are -
1. Complete separation from alliance with ungodly strangers. The uncompromising purity of our conversation is our only safeguard. The truly consecrated heart will renounce all for God. Often a sacrifice will be involved, but to give up the old life is to save the new.
2. Attention to the public observance of religious ordinances. The most humble and sanctified natures appreciate such opportunities the most. Neglect of the house of God is a sure sign of decay of the spiritual life. Nothing can be substituted for it. Solitary religion may be sincere, but it cannot be entirely healthy, and is generally apt to grow morbid. The consecrated gifts of God's people are placed at our disposal by the mingling together of hearts and voices, and the use of a prepared expression of religious feeling.
3. The service of God in the daily life. "In the land which thou gavest unto our fathers;" "behold, we are servants in it." Religion must be made a reality, not only in the public assembly, but in the household, in the place of business, in the relations we sustain to fellow-men, in national life, in all the land.
III. THE SOLEMN COVENANT SEALED BY GOD'S PEOPLE, ADOPTION OF HIS WORD AS THE ONE ONLY LAW TO BE OBSERVED. "We make a sure covenant, and write it."
1. The covenant rests upon a covenant. We stand upon the ground which God himself has prepared for us - the history of his faithfulness and love in the past. We dare not undertake to live by the law of God except we have the assurance of his grace. The Old Testament is the precious support of our faith as we pledge ourselves to Christ in the new covenant of the gospel. We are able to surround ourselves with the cloud of witnesses.
2. The fellowship of faith our help. Those who have set their seals to the same writing hold up each other's strength in the fulfilment of the vow. Princes, Levites, priests, with the people. God is no respecter of persons; but when all ranks and offices are united in his service, the confidence of all is maintained, and the spirit of brotherhood feeds the spirit of self-sacrifice.
3. Public consecration and profession of obedience should be the result of a deep, inward work of God's Spirit, in the renewal of the heart and life. All rash vows are wrong; how much more those made in the name of religion! Because we repent and return to the Lord, we may safely make a covenant of faithfulness; but a mere sealing of the outward man, without a spiritual renovation, is a mockery and a snare.
4. Enlightenment should accompany all public religious acts. The people heard the word and understood it before they solemnly pledged themselves to keep the law. There can be no healthy revival of religion which is not founded on enlightenment. The great assemblies are easily moved to common action; but the preparation for it should be the clear, full, simple announcement of the gospel. We can never take too much account of the fact that the human heart deceives itself, that ignorance blinds, that selfishness and slothfulness hide the wonders of the past and the dangers of the future. The whole word of God should be the foundation on which religious life is built up. - R.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.