Nehemiah 9, Confession of sin, worship, prayer and making a covenant with God

December 5, 2016



Nehemiah was not finished with his work for God. He could have returned to Persia where he had a successful career, but he remained in Judah for 12 years. He wanted to make the  Jews into a holy nation of God’s people again.


In chapter 8 we left Jerusalem in the capable hands of Nehemiah and Ezra conducting revival services at the Water Gate. This revival made an impact that that brought about changes that lasted for 500 years.


There are four definite features in the lives of those who have been touched by revival.


1)  Humility: “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads” (Verse 1).


2)  Confession of sin: “Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers” (Verse 2).


3)  A solemn  adopting of God’s Word as the law of their lives. “And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one–fourth of the day” (Verse 3). 


4)  Confession and worship: “and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God” (Verse 3).


This was a day of fasting, confession, prayer and worship (9:1-38). This prayer follows the celebration of the Feast of Booths, or Tabernacles, which was observed in Israel for the first time for many years. This feast followed the rebuilding of the wall, the resetting of the gates, and the restoring of order and some degree of prosperity to the city. That was a time of celebration but this occasion sounds a different note, one of confession and prayer. The people were not content to go about their business as usual after hearing the Word of God read. They realized they needed to hear more and to get right with God more completely.


Verse 1 indicates that the Israelites gathered together on the twenty-fourth day of the month, on our calendar, that would be October 31st. They were fasting, wearing sackcloth, and had put dust on their heads. These were common signs of mourning in the Old Testament when believers were mourning over their sin and ready to repent.  Believers were in deep sadness because of a loss or when they were ready


Verse 2 tells us that they had separated themselves from those who influenced them negatively and would have turned them away from their commitment to God.  As they listened to the Bible being read, they must have heard, “Live holy lives before Me because I, God, am holy. I have distinguished you from the nations to be My very own” (Leviticus 20:26 MSG). Israel’s history tells the tragic story of what happens when believers do not separate themselves from the world. The New testament says, “Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love these things you show that you do not really love God” (1 John 2:15 TLB). This also reminds us, “Do not be unequally bound together with unbelievers (do not make mismatched alliances with them, inconsistent with your faith). For what partnership can righteousness have with lawlessness? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?”  (2 Corinthians 6:14 AMP).


Verse 3 takes us back to chapter 8 where they couldn’t get enough of  the Word of God. They spent one fourth of the day listening to the reading of the Bible and another one fourth of the day in confession and worship. “And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one–fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.”     


Verses 4,5 reminds us that worship can be loud, it tells us that certain of the leaders shouted with a loud voice, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever! ‘Blessed be Your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise!’”


This model prayer here teaches us a lot for our own prayer life. (Verses 1-15):


It begins with praise: “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise} (Verse 5).


It recognizes God as the Creator: “You alone are the Lord; You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them” (Verse 6).


It reminds us that God sustains us:  “And You preserve them all” (Verse 6). We ought to be grateful for that. Let us never forget that our very breath comes from Him.


It tells us that all of the universe praises Him. “The host of heaven worships You” (Verse 6).


It reminds us that God chooses His servants, and gives undeserved blessings to those whom He chooses: “You are the Lord God, Who chose Abram…You have performed Your words, for You are righteous.” (Verse 7,8). And God keeps His promises. We owe everything to Him. “But whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God, the Creator of all light, and he shines forever without change or shadow” (James 1:17).

They confess the sins of the nation: Recalling the history of their nation, from Egyptian bondage, the parting of the Red Sea, to their disobedience at Mount Sinai, with the worship of the golden calf (Verses 9-19). Even in our disobedience God is ready to forgive and restore us. “But You are God, ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, low to anger, abundant in kindness…” (Verse 17). Never forget where God brought you from. We have been miraculously delivered from our sin by the mighty hand of God.      “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).


They praise God that supplied their every need: “You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell” (Verse 20,21). God gave them food when there was none. He gave them water from the rock in the middle of the desert. He provided clothing, physical and spiritual sustenance. These are all pictures of Christ: He is the bread of life; He is the water of life.


The remainder of this prayer is a marvelous mosaic of the rise and fall of Israel. It is a history of success and failure, of victory and defeat, of subduing kingdoms, possessing lands, defeating kings, “And they took strong cities and a rich land, and possessed houses full of all goods, cisterns already dug, vineyards, olive groves, and fruit trees in abundance.

So they ate and were filled and grew fat, and delighted themselves in Your great goodness” (verse 25).


Even after all of God’s love and care: ‘They were disobedient and rebelled against You, cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets, who testified against them to turn them to Yourself; and they worked great provocations. Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their enemies, who oppressed them; and in the time of their trouble” (Verse 26,27).


Then they cried to You, You showed mercy, then they rebelled again, acted proudly and did not keep Your word, and You did not consume them, “For You are God, gracious and merciful” (Verses 28-31). 


Then there is a plea for mercy again! “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and awesome God, who keeps covenant and mercy: Do not let all the trouble seem small before You that has come upon us…For You have dealt faithfully, but we have done wickedly. Neither our kings nor our princes, our priests nor our fathers, have kept Your law, or heeded Your commandments and Your testimonies…” (Verses 32-37).


An appeal: This closing verse ends with an appeal, “We are in great distress.” The people recognize that generation after generation; the same sin problems keep coming back. “And we are in great distress. And because of all this, We make a sure covenant and write it; Our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.” And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it” (Verse 37,38).


A covenant: Usually a formal, solemn, and binding agreement, much of the time with a seal.” The Hebrew word for covenant is berith. The general opinion is that it is derived from the Hebrew verb barah, to cut, a reminder of the ceremony in Genesis 15:17, “cutting,” with reference to the dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant. Some think that it is derived from the Assyrian word beritu, meaning “to bind.” No matter what definition is the correct one, the people of Nehemiah’s day are petitioning God for mercy, even to the point of making a binding agreement with Him, as we shall see by the signatories in chapter ten.


“Probably the most famous document in American history is the Declaration of Independence. Our forefathers signed that great statement setting forth the reasons why they felt God was leading them to establish a new nation upon this continent. Recall the closing words of that document: ‘For the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.’ History records that most of those signers of the Declaration actually did have to give up their lives. Those who did not lost their fortunes. But all of them retained their sacred honor.” –Ray Stedman


This entire chapter speaks of God’s grace. God demonstrates His greatness and His goodness in His love for His people and His forgiveness of sin, and what do the people do? They turn from Him. They refuse to obey His word. They persist in doing things their own way. In short, they sin repeatedly. At any point, God could have said, “That’s it. You’ve messed up one too many times. You’re on your own.” While He did send some correction into their lives, He never stopped loving them. When they sinned, God exhibited His grace. Or as Romans 5:20 puts it: “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” The King James Version is even more graphic: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Superabound).


Perhaps you’re like the people of this chapter. You just can’t seem to keep it together. You have looked at your life, recounting the wonderful blessings that God has given you. So much of the time we take God’s blessings for granted, thinking only about what we don’t have. And the world bombards us with the thought that we deserve so much more than we are getting.

There we are brought face-to-face with the reality of what is really going on in our lives and in our hearts: cruelty, violence, anger, thoughtlessness, immorality, child abuse, spousal abuse, sexual abuse, and other ugly, miserable, vicious practices? God has seen all of that. When we face the full picture as it really is, we learn that we do not deserve anything but the wrath of God. But that’s not what we get! We don’t get His wrath. As God was with Israel, He will be with you! God is patient and longsuffering. He withholds judgment. He lets us experience some judgment in order to get our attention, but he does not wipe us out. He is a compassionate, merciful, caring, loving God.


Have you experienced God’s grace? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever (put your name here) believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”


One dark cold night in the city of Chicago, a blizzard was setting in. A young boy was selling newspapers on the corner; watching as people went in and out of the cold.  He was so cold that he wasn’t trying very hard to sell his papers. Hesitantly, he walked up to a policeman and said, “Mister, you wouldn’t happen to know where a poor boy could find a warm place to sleep tonight would you? You see, I sleep in a box up around the corner and down the alley and it's awful cold in there for tonight.  Sure would be nice to have a warm place to stay.”  The policeman sympathetically looked down at the young lad and said, “You go down the street to that big white house and you knock on the door. When they come to the door you just say, ‘John 3:16,’ and they will let you in.” So He did that. He walked up the steps and knocked on the door, and a lady answered. He looked up at her and said, “John 3:16.” The lady said, “Come on in, son.” She took him in and sat him down in a big rocking chair, in front of a great big old fireplace, and she left him.  The boy sat there for a while and thought to himself: “John 3:16…I don't understand it, but it sure makes a cold boy warm!”


Later she came back and asked him, “Are you hungry?”  He shyly said, “Well, just a little. I haven't eaten in a couple of days, and I guess I could stand a little bit of food.” The lady took him in the kitchen and sat him down to a table full of wonderful food. He ate and ate until he couldn't eat any more. Then he thought to himself: ‘John 3:16…I don't understand it, but it sure makes a hungry boy full!’


Soon the kind lady led him upstairs to a bath tub filled with warm water, and he sat there and soaked for a while. As he soaked, he thought to himself: “John 3:16…I don't understand it, but it sure makes a dirty boy clean! Why, I haven’t had a bath, a real bath, in my whole life.  The only bath I have ever had was when I stood in front of the big old fire hydrant as they flushed it out.”


After his bath, the lady took him to a cozy little room, tucked him into a big feather bed, pulled warm covers up around his neck, kissed him goodnight and turned out the light. As he lay there all snug in the warm bed, he looked out the window at the cold and snowy night and thought to himself: “John 3:16…I sure don't understand it, but it gave a tired boy a warm place to sleep.”


The next morning the lady invited the young boy to sit down once again to a table that was filled with lots of good food.  After he ate, she took him back to the rocking chair in front of the fireplace and picked up a Bible. As she sat down in a chair beside him, she looked into his young face and asked gently, “Do you understand about John 3:16?”  He replied, “No, Ma'am, I don't. The first time I ever heard it was last night when the nice policeman told me to use it.”  She opened the Bible to John 3:16 and began to read what it said and then explained to the young boy that John 3:16 was the greatest love story ever told.  And she told him that God wanted him to know that He loved and cared about him very much.


Right there, in front of that big old fireplace, the young boy embraced God's love for him and surrendered his young life to Him.  He said to the lady, “I'm not sure I understand all about God's love, but it sure makes a lonely orphan boy feel like he will always belong to someone.” –Author unknown


Have you experienced this John 3:16 love?




Each person must individually receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Written below is a very simple prayer of salvation. It may be very similar to a prayer you have already prayed, but for some of you, this is your actual time of decision. If you have already prayed this prayer and know you are a Christian, then just read it over once and pray for those that may be praying this prayer for the first time. But if this is your moment of salvation, then simply stop right where you are at this moment, and pray this prayer to the Lord. He is waiting with great anticipation. Only pray these words if they truly represent the desire of your heart and your decision to follow Christ:


Dear Lord God, I need You in my life. I admit that I have sinned and I come to You right now confessing my sin, asking for your forgiveness. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I believe You are the Son of God and that You died for me, and rose from the dead and that You are alive today. I open the door of my heart and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Please take control of my life from here forward and make me the kind of person you want me to be. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.


If you prayed that prayer please let me rejoice with you. Or leave a comment on this web site.


Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also the New Living Translation (NLT); The Message (MSG); The Amplified Bible (AMP); and The Living Bible (TLB).


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