SOLEMN FAST KEPT, WITH CONFESSION OF SINS; AND VOLUNTARY
COVENANT WITH GOD ENTERED INTO BY THE PEOPLE, AND SEALED
TO BY THE PRINCES, PRIESTS, AND LEVITES (vs. 1-38)
When the law was first read to them on the opening day
of the seventh month, the people had shown strong feelings of
compunction, an earnest desire to return to God by the thorny way of
repentance. In checking this feeling on that particular day, Ezra and
Nehemiah had conformed to prevalent ideas on the subject of festival
observance, but had not intended to thwart the popular desire for some
distinct penitential action, some marked public proceedings, which should
at once furnish a vent to pent-up feeling, and serve as a starting-point from
which individuals, or even the nation, might enter upon a new career. It is a
very curious circumstance, and one not easy of explanation, that they did
not fix on the 10th of the month the “great day of atonement”— as the
most appropriate day of national humiliation and of general self-abasement.
The proximity of that occasion would naturally and almost necessarily
suggest it to them, and nothing could well exceed its intrinsic fitness. On
that day, and that day only in the whole of the year, every soul was to
afflict itself, and whatsoever soul did not do so was to be cut off and
destroyed from among the people (Leviticus 23:27-29). It can scarcely
be that the observance of the day had ceased. Perhaps the time for
preparation which the selection of this “feast of sorrow” would have
allowed seemed too short. Perhaps it was thought undesirable to select for
an extraordinary national act of self-humiliation a day which already
possessed its own routine, and possibly its own ritual, of repentance. In any
case, the fact was that the civil and ecclesiastical authorities came to the
determination not to make any special use of the regular annual fast day,
but to leave the observance of that occasion to the people’s natural bent,
and appoint a different day — one which had no traditional customs
attached to it — for the solemn act of penitence on which the heart of the
nation was set. As the feast of tabernacles lasted from the 15th of Tisri to
the 22nd, it was necessary either to select a day before that holy week or
after it. A day between the 10th and the 15th would have followed too
close upon the day of atonement; a day, therefore, was appointed after the
festival was over. Not, however, the very next day — the transition from
joy to sorrow would in that case have been too abrupt — but the next day
but one — the 24th (v. 1). Then, the multitude that had come
up for the feast being still present, a great fast was kept — sackcloth was
worn, dust was sprinkled on the head; for half the day the vast assembly
remained in the great court of the temple, listening to the words of the law
for three hours, and for three hours confessing their sins (v. 3); after this
the Levites took the word, and, in the name of the whole people, blessed
God, acknowledged His gracious providence and special goodness towards
their sins and the sins of their fathers (vs. 26-35), admitted the justice of
their present low estate (vs. 36-37), and finally brought forward a
written bond or covenant, whereto they invited those present to set their
seals (v. 38), pledging them to “walk in God’s law, and observe and do
all His commandments,” and to make a perpetual provision for the priests
and for the temple service (ch.10:29-39). The words of the
formula were, no doubt, carefully prepared beforehand, and show traces of
the influence of Ezra, to whose prayer (Ezra 9:6-15) they bear a great
resemblance. We may perhaps assume that they were his composition, and
that, though he is not mentioned, he was present, directing all the
proceedings, instructing and animating the Levites, and exercising an
influence for good over all grades of the people. (The present chapter is
closely united with that which follows, and must be studied in connection
1 “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.” With sackclothes, and earth upon them. On the use of
sackcloth in mourning see Genesis 37:34; II Samuel 3:31; 21:10;
I Kings 21:27, etc. Putting earth or dust on the head was less common;
but mention of it is made in I Samuel 4:12; II Samuel 1:2; and Job 2:12.
2 “And the
stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.”
The seed of
Compare ch.10:28, by which it appears that the “strangers” are
“the people of the lands,” or neighboring heathen, of whom there were at
times considerable numbers in
It was not fitting that these aliens should take part in a ceremony of which
the main object was that the special people of God should renew their
covenant with Him. Stood and confessed. Attitude is perhaps scarcely
intended here, since the Jews confessed their sins kneeling (Ezra 9:5),
or prostrate (ibid. ch.10:1). Hence we hear in the next verse that they
“stood up,” or “rose up” (consurrexerunt, Vulgate).
3 “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.”
In their place. See above, ch.8:7. The people and the ministers had their appointed
“places” in every gathering of a religious character. The former now “stood up” in
their proper place, and read, i.e. “engaged in the reading of the law, not, however,
as actual readers, but as listeners. The readers would be the Levites (ibid. v.7-8).
One fourth part of the day. The day and the night were alike divided by the
Jews into four parts, each of three hours duration. The nocturnal divisions
are frequently alluded to in the New Testament (Mark 13:35; John 18:28, etc.).
Worshipped. Literally, “bowed themselves down,” or “prostrated themselves.”
A Special Fast Day — How Spent (vs. 1-3)
This chapter and the next contain an account of the proceedings of a day
set apart for special fasting and humiliation These three verses give a
general description of the proceedings.
passed since the rejoicings of the feast of tabernacles. So joy and sorrow
succeed each other in life; in the religious life also. No inconsistency in the
indulgence of each in turn. The people had shown a preparedness for
special humiliation at the beginning of the month, at the feast of trumpets,
when, the law being read to them, they wept. But they were bid to restrain
their grief at that time because they were keeping a festival. Since then, on
the tenth of the month, the day of atonement, the only fast day prescribed
by the law, had doubtless been observed. But services of a more special
kind were felt to be desirable, in which, by the united expressions of
repentance and renewed covenant with God, the foundation should be laid
for a life more in harmony with the law.
exercises were to be strictly for “the seed of
have fellowship with them in their recital of God’s dealings with their fathers
and their nation, nor share their sorrow or new resolutions. The Jews
therefore “separated themselves from all strangers” for the time, and held a
meeting of Jews only. Such seems to be the meaning of the words. Observe
that community of faith and feeling is essential to united worship, and the
deeper and fuller it is, so much the more real and profitable will the united
worship be. The mixed congregation has its advantages, but earnest
Christians will desire a closer fellowship than it affords, and which can be
found only in meetings of those like-minded, apart for a time from the
formal and halfhearted.
abstinence from food, more or less rigid. A practice sanctioned by our Lord,
and employed not only as an expression of humiliation, but as an aid to
intense devotion (see Matthew 4:2; 17:21; Acts 13:2-3). Whether its very
general disuse amongst Western Protestant Christians is to be attributed to
a decreased devoutness, or an increased spirituality to which such methods
and instruments of piety are alien, or to the experience that in Western
climates fasting does not aid devotion, is worthy of consideration. What is
certain is, that it is of no worth as a religious observance except as it
promotes or expresses spiritual religion. In addition to fasting, these Jews
wore sackclothes, and put earth on their heads — usages not uncommon
with them in similar circumstances. Such signs of humiliation as these are,
however, distinctly forbidden by our Lord, at least .in the case of private
devotion (Matthew 6:16), as savoring of ostentation; and, doubtless,
the more the spirit of the gospel prevails, such external signs become
distasteful. And at any period they were valuable only as expressing and
promoting real feelings of penitence. We can easily imagine how, where
they were recognized signs of mourning, a whole assembly appearing in
them would excite each other to deeper grief, as in fact among ourselves is
done when hundreds or thousands meet, on some occasion of general
sorrow, all clothed in black.
Ø The worship of God. Including:
o Praise. Declarations of the Divine glory, and recitals of
His wondrous works, in creation and in their national history.
o Confession of sins. Their own sins and those of their fathers.
The substance of the confession made is given in vs. 7-35.
Confession of one’s own sins is not only appropriate, but is a
condition of forgiveness (Proverbs 28:13; I John 1:9). But why
confess the sins of their fathers? It is to be remembered that this
was a national gathering for national humiliation, introductory to
a better national life. In such an assembly a review of the nation’s
sins would be very appropriate and profitable. It recalled the great
cause of past national suffering, and of present degradation and
subjection. It brought into light what must be avoided if better
times were to arise. It produced:
§ the personal conviction of participation in the sins of those
gone before, and
§ the necessity of abandoning them.
It enhanced the feeling of the great forbearance and
mercy of God towards their nation, which at once deepened
repentance and encouraged hope.
o Prayer (v. 32).
Ø Reading of the Law. This held a prominent place in the celebration
of the feasts both of trumpets and of tabernacles (see previous chapter),
and had been the chief means of awakening that general
sorrow for sin which had prepared the people for this special fast day.
It would seem that they had been heretofore unfamiliar with “the book
of the law,” and that what they had recently heard had excited a hunger
not easily satiated. On this occasion half the time was spent in reading and
hearing portions of the book. Its precepts and histories would increase
their penitence; the declarations which, amidst its legal enactments, it
contained of the pardoning mercy of God, and the instances of its exercise
which it recorded, would assure them that their repentance would not be
in vain; and the whole would guide and stimulate their praises and
confessions, supplications and good resolutions.
hours the congregation kept together. Half the time was employed in the
reading of the law, doubtless with explanations similar to those recorded in
Nehemiah 8:7-8, and half in worship. Perhaps the two alternated with
each other throughout the service. In times of general religious feeling very
long services may be held without weariness; ordinarily they are
undesirable; but the demand for very short ones is usually a sign of the
decay of spiritual life. In conclusion:
Ø The foundation of a new or improved religious life must be LAID
IN GENUINE REPENTANCE!
Ø Knowledge of God’s word is essential to AN INTELLIGENT,
ACCEPTABLE, AND LASTING PIETY! The reading and
exposition of Holy Scripture should therefore BE PROMINENT
IN PUBLIC WORSHIP!
Ø The reality and worth of our religious knowledge is to be estimated by
its influence on our heart and life. Does it work in us repentance and a
more godly and righteous life?
4 “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.”
Upon the stairs, of the Levites. Rather, “upon the platform of
the Levites,” the same probably as the “pulpit of ch.8:4. Bani.
Rather, “Binnui” (see ch.10:9; 12:8),the representative of the
“sons of Henadad. Jeshua, Binnui, and Kadmiel are the three principal
families of the Levites (compare ch. 3:24; 8:7, etc.; Ezra 2:40; 3:9;).
Sherebiah was the head of a family which returned with Ezra
(Ezra 8:18). Chenani is probably the “Hanan” of ch.8:7, and 10:10.
5 “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.”
Stand up. The people had prostrated themselves (see the
comment on v. 3) for confession and prayer; they are now bidden to
“stand up” for praise. Compare the practice of the Christian Church.
Blessed be. Literally, “let them bless.” The Levites turn their address, after
its opening clause, from the people to Jehovah Himself, who henceforth
becomes the subject of it. Thy glorious name. The high honor due to the
“name” of God is taught by the sacred writers with one uniform voice from
Moses (Exodus 20:7) to the last ‘surviving apostle (Revelation 15:4).
The “glorious name” of God is an expression which occurs four
times in our version of the Old Testament; but the exact phrase here
used is found only in Psalm 72:19.
6 “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.”
Thou art Lord alone. Compare Psalm 86:10 and Isaiah 37:16.
In the latter passage the phrase used is almost identical. The heaven
of heavens. Compare Deuteronomy 10:14; I Kings 8:27; Psalm
148:4. The expression has been explained as :
1. The very highest heaven;
2. The heavens in all their infinity,
The latter sense best suits the various passages where the phrase occurs.
With all their host. The “host of heaven” has been taken to mean —
1. The angels;
2. The stars.
By the immediate context the stars would seem to be here intended; but the
last clause of the verse is more properly applicable to the angels. Still, it
must be remembered that, according to Psalm 148:3, even the stars “praise”
God. Thou preservest them all. The preservation of all created things by Him
who called them into being is scarcely taught in the Old Testament elsewhere
than in this passage. The Psalmist says in one place, “Thou preservest man and
beast” (Psalm 36:6); but this acknowledgment falls very far short of the
universality of the present passage. Man naturally, but foolishly, fancies that
things once created are able to preserve themselves. Exact thought sees, that
if all things have been produced from nothing, it requires precisely the same
power to sustain as originally to produce them. Hence “preservation” has
been called “a continual creation.”
United Praise (vs. 4-6)
Commencement of the worship and confessions with general praise.
Ø As to the attitude in which they were to offer praise. “Stand up”—
the fitting posture for this part of Divine worship.
Ø As to the praise they were to offer.
o To whom. “Jehovah your God.” The true and living God,
eternal and immutable; the God of Israel — He who revealed
Himself specially to them, took them into peculiar relation to
Himself, made them the objects of special care and discipline,
gave them special promises. Christians have still greater reasons
for calling Jehovah their God, and giving Him praise.
o How long. “For ever and ever.” Indicates that God will for
ever exist, and be worthy of praise, and actually praised; and
that we should aspire and may hope to be eternally His
o Praise of God’s name. Of God as revealed and declared by
His works and word.
o Declaration of the inadequacy of all praise of God. “Which
is exalted,” etc. Not only can no words sufficiently express HIS
MAJESTY AND INFINITE EXCELLENCY but no thoughts,
no emotions (which often transcend thought as well as language;
see Romans 8:26) are worthy of them. And not only is our praise
inadequate, but “all blessing and praise.” This is not a
reason for withholding’ our worship, for then no praise would
be offered in heaven or earth, but for striving after nobler thoughts
and feeling’s and language, and offering all with deepest humility.
God condescends to accept the poorest worship, if sincere, and
the best we can present.
Ø Praise of God as “Jehovah alone.”
Ø Ascription to Him of the creation of all things (v. 6). A great truth not
only unknown to most of the heathen, but given up by many cultivated
men in Christian lands. In the praise of God the display of His power,
wisdom, and goodness in the work of creation should hold a prominent
place. (Then the glory associated with salvation and re-creation! – CY –
2015) He who made all should receive homage from all his intelligent
heaven worshippeth thee.” It is inspiring, when uniting in Divine worship,
to remember our fellow-worshippers, and thus cultivate fellowship with
them (compare the beginning of the Te Deum – an early traditional
Christian hymn of joy and praise). The Jews had not this satisfaction in
respect to any other people. They alone worshipped the true God, and
they had not learned to think and feel as to heathen worship that
it was about equivalent to their own. All the more gladly did they
recognize that their God, unknown and unworshipped by the rest of the
world, was adored and praised and served by hosts of exalted intelligences
in other worlds. (And Jesus Christ is bringing us together – See Ephesians
1:10 – CY – 2015) To us, also, this is an inspiriting truth, adapted to stimulate
and elevate our worship. The greatest beings God has made bow down with
lowliness before Him, and with all the ardor of their seraphic nature
celebrate His praise. We need not be ashamed to be like them, but should
seek to make our worship resemble theirs as nearly as possible, and be
thankful that, through the mediation of our Redeemer, in whom heaven and
earth are united, it is as acceptable to God. They praise the Saviour as well
as the Creator; we praise Him with a feeling they cannot share; FOR HE
REDEEMED US BY HIS BLOOD, not them.
Vs. 7-31 - Compare with this long historical resume the still longer
ones in Psalm 78:5-72 and Acts 7:2-47. God’s dealings with His
people furnished a moral lesson of extraordinary force, and moral teachers,
naturally, made frequent reference to them. But it is not often that we have
so complete and elaborate a recapitulation as the present, which, beginning
with the call of Abraham, brings the history down to the time of the Persian
servitude. God’s goodness and His people’s ingratitude form the burden of
7 “Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and
broughtest him forth out of
name of Abraham;” 8 “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: 9 And didst see the affliction of our fathers in
heardest their cry by the Red sea;” Canaanites, etc. The nations driven out
were actually seven (Deuteronomy 7:1), but it is a common figure of speech to
put the part for the whole. In the present enumeration the Hivites are omitted.
Hast performed thy words. Though for a time remnants of the accursed
nations were left in the land, “to prove
ultimately all were either driven out or reduced to the condition of slaves
(see the comment on Ezra 2:55).
God’s Favor to Abraham (vs. 7-8)
The multitude, led by the Levites, now begin the recital of God’s gracious
dealings with their race; and, first, with their great ancestor, Abraham. By
the words, “Thou art Jehovah God,” they allege that it was the only living
and true God, the Creator of all things, who distinguished Abraham, and
through him their nation, by His favor. They then recount:
from others, to preserve the knowledge and worship of Himself, and to be the
Father of the people whom He appointed to be peculiarly His own.
Thus promising him a numerous posterity.
Genesis 15:6, where “believed” is part of the same verb as the word “faithful”
here (compare Galatians 3:9 — faithful Abraham ). Abraham was faithful in
heart, and that before God. He trusted God, and continued to trust Him
through all trials of his faith. He was faithful in maintaining the worship of
God in the midst of idolaters, and in teaching his household to “keep the
way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (Genesis 18:19). And
God marked and rewarded his fidelity.
referred to. The larger promises, that Abraham and his posterity should be
a blessing to all men, do not here come into view.
righteousness is recognized (v. 6).
HE WILL FULFILL ALL HIS PROMISES!
to Abraham. For He is our spiritual ancestor, “the father of all them that
believe” (Romans 4:11).
Faithfulness of Heart (v. 8)
“And foundest his heart faithful before thee.” We have here:
Ø Its seat. The heart. No merely outward practices constitute faithfulness
Ø Its reality. It is faithfulness “before God,” such as He who searches the
heart can see to exist; not merely what men might from outward
appearances erroneously think to exist.
Ø Its principle. Faith in God.
Ø Its manifestations.
o Confession. Open acknowledgment of God, and testimony
o Fidelity in use of talents for God.
o Constancy and perseverance in all.
o Notwithstanding temptations,
§ defections of others.
Ø God knows and marks it. “Foundest,” etc. “The Father seeketh such,”
(John 4:23) and rejoices to find them. If unobserved by men, not by Him.
Ø He accepts it. Though it be accompanied with imperfections, as in the
case of Abraham.
Ø He honors and rewards it. With gracious assurances, and the fulfillment
of them. To the faithful He will show Himself faithful. (Psalm 18:25)
They shall at length be addressed, “Well done, good and faithful servant,
enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matthew 25:21,23) In conclusion,
God sees all hearts; what does He find in ours?
10 “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.” They dealt proudly. The “proud dealing” of the Egyptians is
spoken of in Exodus 18:11. That God “got himself a name” by the
signs and wonders shown in
14:17; 15:14-16, etc.). (I highly recommend
www.arkdiscovery.com/red_sea_crossing.htm - CY – 2015)
The Divine Self-Made Name (v. 10)
“So didst thou get [make] thee a name, as it is this day.” “What is thy
name?” is a question asked of God by thoughtful men in all ages. How
shall we conceive and speak of God? The answer is found in the various
manifestations He has made of Himself. He is the maker and publisher of His
Ø By His works. Of nature, providence, miracle, grace.
Ø By His word. Directly instructing men how to think and speak of
Him, and enabling them to interpret His works.
Ø Preeminently by the manifestation of Himself in His Son. The
character, teaching, and works of Christ present A PERFECT
REVELATION OF THE INVISIBLE GOD! “I have declared
thy name, and will declare it” (John 17:26).
All-wise, All-good, the Holy, Just, Faithful, Merciful, Terrible, Father and
Saviour of all, especially of believers, LOVE, etc.
name is so written that it can never be blotted out, so proclaimed that it
shall resound through the world, through the universe, FOR EVER!
glory, and for the benefit of His creatures; that they may fear, trust, love,
worship, and obey Him, and thus be saved and blessed. Finally, we shall at
length in our own personal experience know and illustrate the name of
God. Which part of His name? This depends on how we are affected by
and towards it now.
11 “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.
12 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.” As a stone. This phrase is taken from the “song of Moses”
(ibid. ch.15:5). The composer of the address has also in his mind ibid. v.10.
The epithet given to the “waters” is not, however, the same, as might appear
from the Authorized Version.
The people proceed to celebrate the power and goodness of God as
displayed in the deliverance of their ancestors from Egyptian bondage.
was one of:
Ø Cruel oppression. “They dealt proudly,” insolently and cruelly,
Ø Misery. “The affliction of our fathers.”
Ø The Divine notice of their condition. “Didst see,” etc., “thou knewest,”
etc. God seemed to have forgotten them, but He had not. His eye was on
them; their condition interested Him; and at length, in the fullness of time,
He interposed to rescue them.
The plagues inflicted
on the ruler and people of
The wonders wrought at
people and Moses cried unto God; He heard “their cry” (v. 9),
divided the waters, led the Israelites safely through, and overwhelmed
www.arkdiscovery.com. - CY – 2015)
get thee a name,” etc. (compare Exodus 9:16). Jehovah secured for
name for power, terribleness, special favor to
widespread, lasting (“as it is this day,” and still in our day); a name to be
revered, trusted, loved, rejoiced in, praised, published. The Jews never
wearied of proclaiming in their Psalms the name of Him who redeemed
mind, renewed from time to time their confidence that God who had done
so much for them would not forsake them. Notice:
Ø The importance of these events for the Israelites. Not only for their
immediate effects; but they gave the nation birth, separated them from
the spiritual perils of
(I Corinthians 10:2), consecrating them to be the people of God, to learn
and practice His laws, maintain His worship, preserve the knowledge
of Him for the benefit ultimately of the world.
Ø Their significance for us.
o Direct. As a display of the power and goodness of our God, His
mindfulness of His people in their sorrows, and sure deliverance
of them, though they may long have to “wait for Him.” As a
pledge of the final triumph of His Church over all its enemies.
And as one of the most marvelous of that series of interpositions
which had for their object the enlightenment and salvation of the
Gentiles as well as the Jews.
o Typical. Of the great redemption wrought for us in Christ by His
death and the power of the Holy Ghost. The creation and
consecration of a new and larger “
is, like that of the Israelites, a deliverance from slavery into
freedom, from degradation into honor, from misery into happiness,
with the prospect of a settled and blessed rest; but vastly superior
in respect to the marvels by which it was, and is, wrought, the
evils from which it saves, and the blessings to which it introduces.
Estimating these aright, we shall be prepared and impelled to
“sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song
of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are thy works,
Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King
of saints.” (Revelation 15:3).
13 “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:” Right judgments, true laws, good statutes, etc.,
are expressions which imply an immutable morality, a standard of right and
wrong antecedent to command or precept, which standard is doubtless the
eternal goodness of God Himself. The repetition of the epithets here shows
the composer of the form to be penetrated with the spirit of admiration for
God’s commandments which breathes so remarkably through the whole of
14 “And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst
them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:”
Madest known unto them thy holy sabbath. The anterior existence of the sabbath
to the law is here implied, which accords with Genesis 2:2-3, and Exodus 20:11.
Precepts, statutes, and laws. Rather a periphrasis for “the law” generally, than a
logical division of the Law into distinct parts.
15 “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.” Bread from heaven. The manna had been
already called the “bread of heaven” (Psalm 105:40) and the “corn of heaven”
(ibid. ch.78:24) by the national psalmists. The composer of this prayer now for the
first time calls it “bread from heaven”— a phrase consecrated to Christians
by its employment in John 6:32, 51, 58).
16 “But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks,
and hearkened not to thy commandments,” They and our fathers. Rather,
“they, our fathers.” The vau is used exegetically. Dealt proudly. i.e. “acted
insolently.” Compare Deuteronomy 1:43, where the same verb is translated “were
presumptuous’’ (margin). Hardened their necks. So in II Kings 17:14.
17 “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.”
In their rebellion. Several manuscripts have b’Mitzraim for
b’Miryam, which would give the sense “appointed a captain to return to
their bondage in
reference is to Numbers 14:4, where we are told that the Israelites “said one to
another, Let us make a
captain, and let us return into
speak as if the appointment had been made, perhaps regarding the intention
as morally equivalent to the act. A God ready to pardon. Literally, “a
God of pardons.” The word used is a rare one, occurring only in Daniel
9:9 and Psalm 130:4, besides the present passage. Gracious and
merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. This is quoted from
Joel 2:13, which is perhaps a conscious reproduction of Jonah 4:2.
18 “Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy
God that brought thee up out of
provocations; 19 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.” Great provocations.
Or “great blasphemies,” as the same word is rendered in Ezekiel 35:12.
20 “Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest
not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.
21 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.” Thou gavest them also thy good Spirit to instruct them.
The “good Spirit” of God is mentioned in Psalm 143:10; and the fact of
God’s “instructing and teaching” men in ibid. ch. 32:8. But instruction by
God’s Spirit is nowhere else distinctly mentioned in the Old Testament.
The people now recount the mercies of God to their fathers in the desert,
and confess the sins of which they were guilty there. After deliverance from
there the people were instructed and organized, tried and proved,
disciplined and chastised, and thus prepared for orderly settlement as a
nation in the promised land.
Ø Miraculous guidance (vs. 12, 19).
Ø Miraculous provisions (vs. 15, 20-21).
Ø Miraculous legislation (vs. 13-14).
o How the laws were given. Partly by the voice of God from
Sinai (v.13), chiefly by the mediation of Moses (v. 14).
o Of what, they consisted. In general they are described as
“right judgments and true laws,” etc. (vs. 13-14). In
particular, the institution of the Sabbath is mentioned (v. 14) –
one of the greatest and best gifts of God to them.
Ø The gift of God’s “good Spirit” (v. 20). Reference may be made to the
Spirit of God as given to Moses, and to the seventy elders (Numbers
11:17, 25), or even Bezaleel and Aholiab (Exodus 35:31-35). But
looking at such passages as Psalm 51:11; 143:10, it is quite as possible
that the enlightening influence of the Spirit on the minds and hearts
of the people in general may be referred to.
The command to
(literally “saidst to them”) should probably be “commandedst them.”
The command, however, virtually included a renewed promise. God
had “sworn to give them” it; now they are bid to go in and take
possession of it; implying that God would give them possession if
they obeyed His call.
THEMSELVES. Notwithstanding the wonderful manifestations of God
amongst them, and His great kindness.
Ø Proud and stubborn disobedience (vs. 16-17).
Purpose to return
the borders of the promised land they refused to advance into it,
terrified by the report of most of the spies, and not exercising faith
in his power who had wrought for them so mightily. Yea, they
proposed to return to the land of bondage, and “appointed a captain”
lead them thither. (“they
limited the Holy One of
Ø Idolatry (v. 18). A violation of the fundamental principle of their law.
(vs. 17, 19-20). They “wrought great provocations,” and numbers of
them were heavily punished; yea, all who came out of
were forbidden to enter
continued during their lives to enjoy Divine guidance and sustenance, so
that “they lacked nothing.” God showed Himself “ready to pardon,” etc.
(v. 17), and displayed His “manifold mercies,” and did not forsake them.
To the children He fulfilled the promises, the benefit of which the fathers
OF THEM (v. 21). Lessons:
The goodness of God
and the depravity of man. The history of
is full of both. So is all history. “The earth is full of the goodness of the
Lord,” (Psalm 33:5) and also full of human wickedness. Each is rendered
more conspicuous by the other; and the contrast makes one appear more
glorious, the other more hideous.
As, after deliverance
desert in comparison with heaven, and the journey through it is difficult
and perilous. But it lies between conversion and heaven, and MUST
Ø Through this desert, however, God conducts His people. He guides,
provides, protects, instructs, governs, and thus trains and prepares
them for the promised inheritance. This is our comfort amid all the
discomforts and dangers of the journey.
Ø In ordinary mercies the agency of God is as real as in the miraculous.
Our food, drink, clothing, etc. are as truly His gifts as the manna, etc.
which He bestowed on
as really displayed in them, and both more extensively and more
Ø Amongst God’s best gifts are His revelations of Himself and His laws;
His crowning gift is His Spirit. Under the Christian dispensation all these
are far superior to the similar blessings vouchsafed to
responsibilities are, therefore, greater; our moral and spiritual state
should be far higher, our thankfulness more ardent.
We have a promise of a
better inheritance than
command to journey steadily towards it; let us beware lest we come
short of it through unbelief and disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1; 12:15)
The Holy Spirit as a Teacher (v. 20)
“Thou gavest also thy good Spirit to instruct them.” This assertion is more
emphatically true of Christians than of
dispensation of the Spirit,” when the “promise of the Spirit” is more
abundantly fulfilled. We have here:
So it is to a rebellious world that God’s Spirit comes to instruct, restore,
Ø His nature. Special Divine influence and operation — the Holy Spirit
acting on and in the minds and hearts of men.
o In and through inspired men and their utterances by speech or
writing. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the
Holy Ghost.” (II Peter 1:21) By such inspiration what might
have been otherwise learned is taught more clearly and
authoritatively, and the truths which especially relate to
salvation, which could not have been otherwise known,
o In the hearts of men generally. Those especially to whom
the gospel comes enjoy this great blessing, for their
enlightenment, conviction, conversion, regeneration, and
o Through the Church. That is, through the speech and life of
Christians, and in connection with Christian fellowship, worship,
and ordinances. Not, however, as a magical influence to be
dispensed at the will of men.
Ø His goodness. “Thy good Spirit.” Intended not to describe the
personal goodness of the Holy Spirit, but the value of His influence
to men. Amongst the gifts of God to
was incalculably the best. The gifts of God which we call providential
are invaluable; those of His grace are of far higher value, and of these
this is the greatest. Without the Spirit no other Divine gift would avail
for our highest and everlasting well-being. This renders all other
blessings truly blessed. The good Spirit makes all things good to us,
even those which we call evil, yea, those which in themselves are evil.
may have the inestimable advantage of a Divine Teacher who not only
speaks to the ear, or the eye, but enters the heart, and whose instructions
are the most essential to our welfare. He makes “wise unto salvation.” The
only conditions are faith in Him and His teaching, willingness to learn and
practice His lessons, and prayer for His influences.
gifts are the responsibilities they impose. No responsibility can, therefore,
be so heavy as that which arises from the gift of the Holy Ghost; the
presence amongst us, the influence upon us, of a Divine Person proffering
and pressing His aid to lead us to God, goodness, and heaven. Happy those
who receive Him into. their hearts as a permanent guest and guide — the
life of their life, the soul of their soul. But let us take heed lest we “grieve
the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30), or “do despite unto the Spirit of
grace,” and He depart from us utterly and for ever, leaving us to the “sorer
punishment” (Hebrews 10:29) which falls on those to whom God comes
most nearly and graciously, and is rejected by them.
22 “Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide
them into corners: so they possessed the
land of the king of Heshbon,
Thou didst divide them into corners. i.e. “didst plant them
every corner of the
it,” — ultimately, that is, not at first (see the comment on v. 8). The land
of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon. The Levites must have
known that Sihon was king of Heshbon, and (if the text is sound) must
have expressed themselves as they did, by way of rhetorical amplification;
perhaps, however, the van after “Sihon” is the mistake of a copyist.
23 “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.”
As the stars of heaven. There is a reference here to the
promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:5; 22:17). On the great
multiplication which took place in
24 “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.” The Canaanites.
Sometimes, as in v. 8, the Canaanites are spoken of as one of the nations
cast out; sometimes the word is used in a larger sense, and includes the
other six nations. Here we have the wide sense.
25 “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.”
They took strong
Deuteronomy 8:7-20; II Kings 18:32. Houses full of all goods. See
Deuteronomy 6:11. Fruit trees in abundance. The fruit trees of
tree (ceratonia siliqua), the quince, the apple, the almond, the walnut, the
peach, the apricot, the mulberry, the sycamore fig, the prickly pear, the
pomegranate, and the orange. Date-palms also were anciently abundant in
valley of the
and Jeremiah 5:28, the only other places where the expression here used occurs.
The comparison will show that dispraise is intended — “they grew wanton and
self-indulgent.” Delighted themselves. (ἐτρύφησαν – etruphaesan – luxuriated –
Continuing the recital of the goodness of God to their nation, the people
narrate how their fathers obtained possession of the promised land. All is
ascribed to God.
those who left
multiplied “as the stars of heaven.”
POSSESSION OF IT. First, kingdoms east of the
the rest of the land (v. 24). Although the inhabitants were numerous and
valiant, He subdued them; through His might they took even “strong cities”
AFFORDED THEM MUCH ENJOYMENT (v. 25).
1. The perpetuation of
the nation of
of Christians, the ravages of error, worldliness, etc., its continuance is
guaranteed by the promise, “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against
it.” (Matthew 16:18)
2. The fulfillment of
the promise of
assure us of the fulfillment of all the promises of God. “He is faithful that
promised” (Hebrews 10:23), and He is almighty to overcome all obstacles
3. The possession of a good land should excite our gratitude and praise.
Our land is superior to
advantages which the labors of others have created for us; and, like later
generations of Israelites, we inherit it without conquest, and with far less
peril of invasion than they experienced. God is the Giver of all, and should
ever be praised for all; and we should be concerned lest by godlessness and
unrighteousness WE FORFEIT OUR INHERITANCE!
4. Christians are
heirs of “a better country.” Heaven is like
gift of God, according to His promises; as a “rest” after much wandering
and unrest, and as abounding in whatever can minister to enjoyment, and
cause its inhabitants to “delight themselves in God’s great goodness.” But
it is vastly superior, as a country never polluted by idolatry and
wickedness; whose inhabitants are all holy; which no foe can invade, no
sin, suffering, or death can enter; whose enjoyments are all pure, spiritual,
and without peril; and from which is NO EXPULSION! It is “an inheritance
incorruptible, and undefiled, and which fadeth not away, RESERVED IN
HEAVEN FOR YOU!”— an eternal possession. (I Peter 1:4)
26 “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.” They… slew thy prophets. Compare Matthew 23:37;
Luke 11:47. Jewish tradition states that Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel
were murdered. Many prophets were slain by Jezebel, with Ahab’s sanction
(I Kings 18:4). Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was put to death by
Joash (II Chronicles 24:22).
27 “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 saviors, who saved them out of
the hand of their enemies.” Thou gavest them saviours. e.g. Othniel and
Ehud (who are called “saviours,” Judges 3:9, 15), Shamgar, Gideon, Jephthah,
Samson, Saul, David, etc. The writer seems to have the history of “Judges”
especially in his mind (see the next verse).
The Divine Description of a Sinful Life (vs. 19-27)
FORBEARANCE. The sins of the people were:
Ø pride (v. 16),
Ø disobedience (v. 17),
Ø idolatry (v. 18),
Ø murder (v. 26),
Ø provocation, and
“Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the
wilderness.” (v. 19) This forbearance is:
Ø considerate, (in the wilderness it was so much needed)
Ø unrecognised. Thus is the obduracy of sin.
BENEFICENT MINISTRIES OF HEAVEN. “The pillar of the cloud
departed not from them” (v. 19). The sinful life has:
Ø guidance, and
Ø spiritual instruction (v. 20). Thus the ingratitude of sin!
Ø Various. Thus the willful blindness and ingratitude of sin!
TEMPORAL PROSPERITY AT THE HAND OF GOD (v. 22).
Ø Plenty. Yet the goodness of God does not lead to repentance.
AFFLICTIVE PROVIDENCES (v. 27). In all this see THE
DIVINE EFFORT TO AWAKEN THE SINNER!
28 “But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore
leftest thou them in the land 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;” After they had rest. See Judges 3:11, 30;
29 “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.” Withdrew the shoulder. Compare Hosea 4:16
is taken from the action of a beast of burden which, when required to
draw, shrinks from the yoke and starts back.
The Divine Testimony against Sin (v.29)
“And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy
law.” The Divine testimony against sin and sinners is repeatedly mentioned
in this confession (see vs. 26, 30). We may take a general view of it.
Ø In His holy laws. Declaring His will, denouncing disobedience, and
warning against its consequences.
Ø In His revelations of eternity, judgment, hell, heaven. “There shall
in no wise enter into it anything that defileth.” (Revelation 21:27)
Ø In the nature of man. The testimony of conscience; the evil effects
of sin on the body (diseases, death) and the soul, disordering,
debasing, blunting the conscience, hardening the heart, etc.
Ø In the effects of sin on the circumstances of the sinner.
Ø In the effects of sin on society. Destruction of mutual esteem and
confidence. Disorders, divisions, miseries.
In the methods of salvation from sin. The sufferings borne by OUR
LORD, in atoning for sin. The pains of conviction, penitence, etc.
produced by the WORD and SPIRIT OF GOD!
Ø By the Church. Its constitution as a society avowedly renouncing sin,
and called to battle against it everywhere. Its ministry, ordinances,
examples of holiness, discipline on offenders.
Ø To deter from sin.
Ø To produce repentance. “That thou mightest bring them again
unto thy law.”
Ø His hatred to sin. Which His permission of its prevalence might seem to
put in question.
Ø His benevolence. His testimonies against sin are so many entreaties that
men would not injure themselves, so many safeguards against their
doing so, so many strong reasons for turning from sin to holiness,
and thus from misery to blessedness.
Ø His justice in condemning the impenitent. Disregard of THE DIVINE
TESTIMONY against sin will work FINAL RUIN, BUT THE LOST
SINNER WILL HAVE ONLY HIMSELF TO BLAME! “Today,” then,
“if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” (Hebrews 3:15)
Let it not be said of you, “Yet would they not give ear” (v. 30).
A Prayerful Review of Divine Goodness as Manifested
in the Facts of Human Life (vs. 1-29)
· A PRAYERFUL REVIEW OF THE DIVINE NAME. “And blessed be thy
glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise” (ver. 5).
Ø It views God as the Creator of all things (v. 6).
Ø It views God as electing His people (v. 7).
Ø It views God as covenanting with the faithful (v. 8).
Ø It views God as delivering His people in the time of sore affliction
· A PRAYERFUL REVIEW OF THE DIVINE ACTION. “And thou didst
divide the sea before them” (v. 11).
Ø The act of deliverance (v. 11).
Ø The act of guidance. “Moreover thou leddest them in the day by
a cloudy pillar” (v. 12).
Ø The act of instruction (vs. 13-14).
Ø The act of provision. “And gavest them bread from heaven for
their hunger” (ver. 15).
Ø The act of forbearance (v. 17).
Ø The act of conquest (v. 24).
Ø The act of retribution (v. 27).
30 “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.
31 Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly
consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and
merciful God.” Many years didst thou forbear them. The ten tribes for 260
years from the revolt of Jeroboam, the remaining two tribes for 135 years
longer. Testifiedst against them by thy Spirit in thy prophets. Compare
II Kings 17:13, where the phrase used is nearly the same, and see also
II Chronicles 36:15-16. There was a continual succession of prophets
from the time of Solomon to, and through, the captivity. Besides those
whose writings have come down to us, we find mention of:
· Ahijah the Shilonite,
· Iddo the seer,
· Shemaiah the prophet,
· Jehu the son of Hanani,
· Micaiah the son of Imlah,
· Zechariah the son of Jehoiada,
· Huldah, and (perhaps) Hosai.
The guilt of the Jewish people was enormously increased by the fact that
they would not give ear to the exhortations constantly addressed to them
by the messengers of God. Therefore they were delivered into the hands
of the heathen, or people of the lands.
A summary of the national history from the entrance into
captivity. A dismal story; but, as was natural and suitable in a confession of
sin, the more pleasing facts are omitted.
This is described by various terms and phrases, and its heinousness exhibited in
Ø Flagrant disobedience to the Divine laws. Although so good and so
adapted to PROMOTE THEIR WELFARE, “which if a man do, he
shall live in them” (v. 29).
Ø Proud and stubborn disregard of THE DIVINE REMONSTRANCES
Ø Persecution even unto death of God’s inspired messengers (v. 26).
Ø Repeated relapses after partial reformation. Notwithstanding:
o The severity of the chastisements which produced it.
o The fervor of their prayers for deliverance, and promises of
o The signal and numerous deliverances effected for them in
answer to their prayers.
Ø The persistence of their disobedience.
Ø In sending them successive messengers to warn them and lead them to
repentance. Even when they slew some, He sent others.
Ø In inflicting punishment upon them for the same end.
Ø In repeatedly answering their prayers for deliverance.
Ø In bearing with them so long, although “they wrought great
Ø In preserving a remnant when at length He scattered the nation
(v. 31). Showing Himself throughout “a gracious and merciful God.”
1. Sin and suffering are indissolubly linked together.
2. Suffering is inflicted that sin may be subdued.
3. Amendment produced by suffering is often only temporary.
4. Persistence in sin insures ultimate ruin.
5. The goodness of God is shown in the testimony He maintains against sin,
and the chastisements He inflicts on the sinner.
6. God is faithful to His promises, although men prove unfaithful (v. 31).
7. The history of
Nations and individuals; some more, some less. Even sincere Christians in a
measure. Many can say with good George Herbert ¯
“Lord, with what care hast thou begirtt us round!
Parents first season us; then schoolmasters
Deliver us to laws; they send us bound
To rules of reason, holy messengers,
Pulpits and Sundays, sorrow dogging sin,
Afflictions sorted, anguish of all sizes,
Fine nets and stratagems to catch us in,
Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,
Blessings beforehand, ties of gratefulness,
The sound of glory ringing in our ears;
Without, our shame; within, our consciences;
Angels and grace, eternal hopes and fears:
Yet all these fences and their whole array
One cunning bosom-sin blows quite away.”
Adoration and Thanksgiving (vs. 6-15, 19-25, 27-31)
At this great and solemn gathering, which followed the feast of tabernacles, Ezra
and eight Levites led the whole assembly in a reverent address and appeal to God.
It is thought by some that the record of it in this chapter (vs. 6-38) is the exact copy
of it as then written down for the use of the Levites; or it may be the leading topics
of it as afterwards recollected and recorded. We have seen that confession of sin
is the groundwork and substance of it. But it includes adoration and
thanksgiving, for the grateful recital of the excellences of God’s character
and the graciousness of His dealings would be the very thing to deepen and
to quicken penitence for their sin. A realization of God’s holiness and a
remembrance of His kindness are inseparably connected with the sense of
our own guilt. This recital of the goodness of God, both general and
particular, contains reference to:
1. The essential greatness of God: as the one Lord; Creator and Preserver
of men; Maker of heaven, “with all their host;”… whom “the host of
heaven worshippeth” (v. 6).
2. His distinguishing goodness to
working great wonders on behalf of the race (vs. 10-11), giving them a
day of rest and a human leader (v. 14), establishing and enriching them in
the land of promise (vs. 22-25).
3. His miraculous and His abiding care for their wants: giving them “bread
from heaven for their hunger,” and bringing forth water for them out of the
rock for their thirst (v. 15); forty years sustaining them in the wilderness (v. 21).
4. His faithfulness: “performing His words, for He is righteous” (v. 8).
5. His pitifulness, and mercy, and patience: seeing their affliction and
hearing their cry (v. 9); “ready to pardon, slow to anger, and of great
kindness” (v. 17); “many times delivering them” in answer to their cry
(v. 28); “not utterly consuming nor forsaking them” (v. 31).
6. His guidance and teaching: giving the cloudy pillar and the pillar of fire
(v. 12); speaking to them from heaven and giving them judgments and
true laws, etc. (v. 13), and His “good Spirit to instruct them” (v. 20).
7. His chastening love (vs. 28-30). Let us consider:
EVERY ONE OF US. We worship and bless God as:
Ø our Creator: “it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves”
(Psalm 100:3); it is He who breathed into us “the breath of life,”
and made us “living souls” (Genesis 2:7); as
Ø our Divine Preserver and Sustainer, whose visitation has preserved
our spirit; as
Ø One who has shown many peculiar and especial favors to us which
he has not bestowed on others; as
Ø One who has been opening His band and satisfying our daily want —
“daily loading us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19); as
Ø One who has been faithful in all his dealings with us; who
Ø has borne much and long with our waywardness, our fruitlessness,
our imperfection; as
Ø One who has been guiding us continually, “ordering our steps,”
(Psalm 37:23; Proverbs 16:9) leading us by a way we knew not, by
a right and a wise way;
Ø teaching us His holy will, acting on us by His “good Spirit,” and
Ø blessing us by that which we may have least appreciated, but which
has been the truest instance of His love:
o by chastening us,
o correcting us,
o “leading us into the wilderness, humbling us,”
o weakening us,
o impoverishing us,
o taking from us the “light of our eyes,”
o “breaking our schemes of earthly joy,”
that we might return unto Him, to find our rest in His love, our
portion in His service.
SOULS, SHOULD RECALL AND RECOUNT IT. There are four very
strong reasons why, in the presence of God and of one another, we should
recall His past loving-kindness and His everlasting goodness.
Ø It is in accordance with His will, and will give pleasure to Him when we
do so reverently and gratefully.
Ø It will deepen our sense of sin; for we shall feel that it is against all this
goodness and mercy we have rebelled.
Ø It will give spirituality and intensity to the voice of our praise. Such
recollections will constrain us to “make melody in our heart”
(Ephesians 5:19) when we make music with our voice.
Ø It will give depth to our abiding gratitude — that sense of
unbounded indebtedness which we carry with us from the
sanctuary, and hold in our hearts everywhere.
32 “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
unto this day.” 33 Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us;
for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:”
Our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible. Compare ch.1:5,
with the comment. Who keepest covenant and mercy. This phrase
has apparently been derived from the Psalmist’s words — “My mercy
will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him”
(Psalm 89:28). All the trouble. Literally, “the weariness;” but the word is clearly
for “suffering’’ generally. Since the time of the kings of
The kings of
original instrument for punishing His rebellious people. A king not
mentioned in Holy Scripture tells us that he defeated Ahab, and forced
Jehu to pay him tribute. Another (Pul) took tribute from Menahem (II
Kings 15:19-20). A third (Tiglath-Pileser) carried two tribes and a half
into captivity (ibid. v. 29; I Chronicles 5:26). A fourth (Shalmaneser)
laid siege to
sixth (Sennacherib) took all the fenced cities of
forced him to buy the safety of
seventh (Esar-haddon) had Manasseh
brought as a prisoner to
(II Chronicles 33:11). Hence Isaiah calls the Assyrian monarch “the rod
of God’s anger” (Isaiah 10:5).
The Justice of God in Punishing Sinners (v. 33)
“Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done
right, but we have done wickedly.” The words express a just and salutary
conviction, and make an acknowledgment suitable to accompany an appeal
to the Divine compassion.
should not only verbally utter it, but sincerely feel it. How may we arrive at
Ø By faith in God’s essential rectitude. That He cannot be unrighteous in
any of His proceedings (see Deuteronomy 32:4).
Ø By considering the rectitude and goodness of the laws against which we
Ø By remembering all that God has done to guard us against sin (see on
v. 29). If we sin notwithstanding, we are justly punished.
Ø By calling to mind our sins. Their:
o essential evil,
o number and magnitude, and
o the circumstances which aggravate their guiltiness
(God’s varied kindness, our opportunities, advantages, knowledge,
convictions, good resolutions, etc.). Such a review will lead us to
exclaim with Ezra, “Thou our God hast punished us less than our
iniquities deserve” (Ezra 9:13).
Ø By comparing what we endure with the Divine threatenings. The
Israelites had been warned of the consequences of their rebellion
against God. He was only fulfilling His word. So it is with us.
What we suffer is no more, is indeed less, than WE WERE
WARNED to expect.
Ø It will prevent our murmuring at our sufferings. “Wherefore doth a
living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?”
Ø It will greatly aid in producing repentance. Suffering is likely to do its
proper work in humbling us and making sin odious when we recognize
the justice of God in inflicting it.
Ø It will lead to an appeal to the mercy of God for deliverance. Such an
appeal, MADE THROUGH CHRIST,, will be regarded, while an
appeal to justice would be as futile as groundless. Finally, observe that
THE GOODNESS OF GOD IS AS CONSPICIOUS AS HIS
JUSTICE in the sufferings He inflicts in this life. They
have in view “our profit, that we may be partakers of his Holiness,”
(Hebrews 12:10) and so of true and everlasting blessedness. But if
through our perversity they fail of this result, they are followed by
the penalties of “judgment without mercy.” (James 2:13)
34 “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.”
Thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against
them. i.e. the testimony borne by the prophets (see v. 30).
35 “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.” They have not served thee in their kingdom. There is no
need of altering the reading here. “In their kingdom” means, “while they
had a kingdom of their own, and were not subjects, as now, to a foreign
power.” Thy great goodness. See above, v. 25. The large and fat land.
Compare Exodus 3:8. Although the limits of
the land which God flare to His people, extending as it did from the
Euphrates to the
a “large” or “broad” land.
Confession (vs. 1-5, 16-18, 26,28-30, 33-35)
The feast of tabernacles, held in such wise as
the days of Joshua (ch. 8:17), concluded, “according unto the manner” of
that festival, with a “solemn assembly” on the eighth day (ibid. v.18) — “the
last day, that great day of the feast” (John 7:37). After one day’s
interval, when nothing unusual was done, “on the twenty-fourth day of the
month the children of
very great day was held of confession, adoration, and prayer. This was
entirely an optional act on their part; it was not done to conform to any
injunction’ it was felt to be a suitable and desirable thing. Under the law
there was some — under the gospel is more — room for spontaneous
service. Not only the ordinances and services that are prescribed, but such
and so many as the cultivation of our spiritual life requires, are what the
wise and the good will practice. These should not be:
(1) So many as to keep us from taking a fair share in the duties of daily life
and of citizenship, or as to lead insensibly to formality and ceremonialism;
nor should they be
(2) so few as to starve the soul or withhold from it the full nourishment it
needs. Ezra and Nehemiah may have felt that the intense and prolonged
exaltation of heart in which they had been luxuriating was not without its
dangers, and would be wisely followed by a calmer service. In the
cultivation of our religious character, one kind of service should alternate
with another — the contemplative with the social, the spiritual with the
practical, and the joyous and congratulatory with the penitential.
Confession of sin was the key-note of this entire service. It found utterance
in two ways.
· OUTWARD SIGNS OF HUMILIATION (v. 1). “The children of
them” (v. 1). They took those measures to indicate humility which in
their age and land were natural to them:
Ø wearing sackcloth,
Ø putting earth or “sprinkling dust” (Job 2:12) on their head.
Whenever outward manifestations of this kind — “bowing down the head
as a bulrush, or spreading sackcloth and ashes” (Isaiah 58:5), or fasting
— become purely formal or simply ostentatious (Matthew 6:16), they
become unacceptable or even positively repugnant to Him who demands
sincerity and spirituality (Psalm 51:2; John 4:24). But the bent
head, the downcast eye, the uncontrollable tear, the unconscious sigh —
these are often the inarticulate but eloquent utterances of contrition which
the eye of the all-seeing, the ear of the all-hearing Father fails not to see
· WORDS OF PENITENCE. One “fourth part they confessed, and
worshipped the Lord their God” (v. 3). “With a loud voice” (v. 4) the
eight Levites led their devotions, calling on them to “stand up and bless the
Lord their God for ever and ever” (v. 5), and then the people followed
them in their confession; thus:
Ø “Our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened
not to thy commandments, and refused to obey, neither were mindful
of thy wonders that thou didst among them” (vs.16-17);
Ø they “wrought great provocations” (v. 18);
Ø “they were disobedient, and rebelled against thee, and cast thy law
behind their backs” (v. 26);
Ø “they did evil again before thee” (v. 28);
Ø “they dealt proudly, and sinned against thy judgments,… they withdrew
the shoulder” (v. 29).
Ø “We have done wickedly: neither have our kings, our princes, our priests,
or our fathers kept thy law;… they have not served thee.., in thy great
Here is ample and unreserved confession of their own and their fathers’ guilt:
Ø Manifold shortcoming:
o not hearkening to commandments,
o being unmindful of wonders,
o not serving God in His great goodness.
Ø Positive and aggravated transgression:
o dealing proudly,
o working great provocations,
o rebelling against God,
o casting law behind them, etc.
Ø Backsliding: “withdrawing the shoulder” that had been given to the
yoke. We are summoned to “take with us words and turn to the Lord”
(Hosea 14:2). “With the mouth confession is made unto salvation”
Our confession should be:
Ø ample and unconstrained, including
o transgression, and, if called for,
o backsliding; it must be
Ø sincere — not a mere repetition of becoming words which other
penitents have employed, but the utterance of what our own heart
feels. (My favorite verse on prayer: “Pour out your heart before Him”
36 “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:” We are servants this day. i.e. we have now
no kingdom, we are slaves — the Persian is our master. As we would not be
God’s servants, we are handed over to Him (compare II Chronicles 12:8, where
“the service of God” and “the service of the kingdoms of the countries” are
37 “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.” It yieldeth much increase unto the kings. “The Persian
monarchs derive a large revenue from our territory.” The amount paid by
Judaea is not known; but
annually in money 350 talents of silver (Herod. 3:91), or about £90,000.
There was also a further contribution in kind. They have dominion over
our bodies. They can impress us either as soldiers or sailors, and make us
fight their battles for them. Jews probably took part in the expedition of
for their baggage-train.
38 “And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and
our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” Because of all this. Because
of our past sins and their punishment — to prevent a recurrence of similar
conduct and similar afflictions. We… seal unto it. In the East it is always the
seal that authenticates a document. Babylonian documents were often stamped
with half a dozen seals or more. These were impressed upon the moist clay, and
then the clay was baked. Sometimes each party to the contract stamped his
seal upon a separate piece of sealing clay, which he then attached to the
document by means of a string (Layard, ‘Nineveh and Babylon,’ p. 154).
Any number of seals could be attached in this way.
A Sorrowful Appeal to the Divine Compassion (vs. 32-38)
The conclusion of the public united confession. It contains:
(ch.1:5), and which would be felt as suitable after the preceding
recital of the Divine proceedings.
Ø The greatness of their past troubles (v. 32). “Let not all the trouble
seem little.” “Do not regard it as too little to require notice and relief.
Rather see how great it is, and bring it in mercy to an end.” Perhaps,
however, the meaning is, “Let it be deemed sufficient to answer the
design of punishment, and therefore be now terminated” (compare
Ø Their present depressed condition (vs. 36-37). A condition of
subjection to the Gentiles, of spoliation, and of “great distress.”
TREATMENT (vs. 33-35).
FAITHFUL UNITED COVENANT. A fitting conclusion of the day’s
proceedings. In conclusion:
Ø The justice of God in inflicting chastisement should be heartily
acknowledged by those who implore its cessation or mitigation.
Ø Review of our past lives is adapted to and should excite humiliation,
penitence, and resolutions of amendment. Therefore:
“Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours,
And ask them what report they bore to heaven,
And how they might have borne more welcome news.”
The Solemn Fast of Assembled
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.
· HUMILIATION AND CONFESSION.
Ø 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
Ø 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
Ø 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.” (Philippians 4:5)
· THE REFORMATION OF THE OUTWARD LIFE. There are
external conditions under which alone the true service of God can be
fulfilled. Such are:
Ø 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.
Ø 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. (“Forsake not the assembling of
ourselves together, as the manner of some is; and so much the
more as ye see the day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25)
Ø 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.
· 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.”
Ø 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.
Ø 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.
Ø 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.
Ø 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:
o that the human heart deceives itself,
o that ignorance blinds,
o 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.
Appeal (vs. 2, 31-33, 36-38)
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:
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:
Ø The solemn recognition of God’s excellency; of His greatness —
“Our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God” (v. 32);
of His goodness — “thy great mercies’ sake;”… “thou art a
gracious and merciful God” (v. 31); of His faithfulness —
“who keepest covenant and mercy” (v. 32); of His justice —
“thou art just in all that is brought upon us” (v. 33).
Ø Sense of their own ill-desert. “Thou hast done right, but we have
separate from sin. “The
themselves from all strangers” (v. 2). “If we regard iniquity in
our hearts, the Lord will not hear us” (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 1:15).
Ø Preparedness to pledge themselves to His service. The Jews were
prepared to “make a sure covenant, and write it and seal it” (v. 38).
on this occasion, the children of
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:
o profound reverence,
o deep humility, and
o genuine consecration.
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
“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” (vs. 36-37). This is:
Ø 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:
Ø 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:
o the soreness of our necessity:
§ our weakness,
§ our want,
§ our trouble,
§ our humiliation,
§ our darkness and ignorance,
§ our repeated failure, and
§ our distance from the goal and the prize;
o the greatness of His goodness:
§ His pitifulness,
§ His patience,
§ His considerateness,
§ His promised mercy, and
§ His faithfulness.
We may come hopefully to His throne because He is “A
GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL GOD, pleading His “great mercies’
sake” (v. 31). But more than that, we may come “boldly” to the throne
of His grace (Hebrews 4:16), because He is One that “keeps
covenant” (v. 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.” (I John 1:9)
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