Nehemiah still had not finished his work for God. He could have returned to Persia. He had a successful career there. But he remained in *Judah for 12 years. He wanted to make the *Jews into a holy nation of God’s people again.
v1 On the 24th day of the same month, the *Israelite people gathered together. They did not eat anything. They wore rough clothes and they put dust on their heads. v2 The families of *Israel had separated themselves from all foreigners. The *Israelite people stood and they confessed their *sins. They also confessed the *sins that their *ancestors had done. v3 The people stood where they were. For three hours they read from the book of the Law of the *Lord their God. For three more hours they confessed and they *worshipped the *Lord their God.
So the people had the special holiday of the shelters in the 7th month of the year. It lasted from the 15th day of the month until the 22nd day (Nehemiah 8:14-18). It was a happy holiday.
Two days later, they gathered together again. This time they were sad. They did not eat any food. The people also wore rough clothes and they put dust on their heads. This was to show that they were sad and sorry for their *sins. They were ready to pray and to confess their *sins to God.
The people wanted to serve and to obey the real God. They said that they were sorry for their *sins. They even confessed the *sins that their *ancestors had done. They listened to the book of the law of God for another three hours. Then they *worshipped God and they confessed their *sins for another three hours.
The people also separated themselves from all foreigners. Most foreigners served other gods, which were not real gods. God had warned the *Jews that they must not follow the ways of the foreigners. And God’s people must not serve other gods instead of the real God. So God warned them to separate themselves from all foreigners. God had sent their *ancestors into *exile because they had served other gods.
At other times, some foreigners wanted to *worship the real God. God allowed them to join with his special people the *Jews. For example, Ruth was from Moab, but she became an *ancestor of Jesus (Ruth 1:16, 22; 4:13-17; Luke 3:23-32).
v4 Some *Levites stood on the steps and they called out with loud voices to the *Lord their God. Their names were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani.
v5 Some *Levites also spoke to the people. Their names were Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah. They said,
‘Stand up and praise the *Lord your God.
The *Lord has always lived and he will continue to live always.
We praise you, *Lord. You are magnificent.
You are much greater than we can ever say!
v6 Only you alone are the *Lord.
You made the sky.
You made the highest heaven and all the stars.
You made the earth and everything on it.
You made the seas and everything in them.
You make everything continue to live.
All who live in heaven *worship you!’
Some *Levites led the people to pray to God. Other *Levites led the people to *worship and to praise God.
They remembered that God has always lived. He was not born and he will not die. He made everything. He is the real God. He is not like the false gods that the foreigners served. They were not real gods. They did not make anything, but people made them.
v7 ‘You are the *Lord.
You are God.
You chose Abram.
You brought him out of Ur.
Ur was the city where the people called Chaldeans lived.
You gave him the name ‘Abraham’.
v8 You found that he trusted you.
You made an agreement with him that nobody can change.
You promised to give to his *descendants a country where many nations lived.
The Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites and the Girgashites were all nations that lived in that country.
You did what you promised to do.
You always do what is right.’
In their prayers to God, the people remembered all the things that he had done for them and for their *ancestors.
The people remembered that God had chosen Abram. God had given him a new name, Abraham, and a new place to live. God had promised that Abraham would have many *descendants. God promised to give a special country to the *descendants of Abraham. God always does what is right. He always does what he promises to do. These people were Abraham’s *descendants. And they were now living in the country called *Judah. It was part of the land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s *descendants.
v9 ‘You saw the troubles that our *ancestors suffered in Egypt.
You heard their cry for help by the Red Sea.
v10 You performed wonderful acts of power against the king of Egypt.
You performed wonderful acts of power against all his officials and all the people in his country.
You knew how proudly the Egyptians (people from Egypt) dealt with our *ancestors.
Everyone saw how great you are.
And people today still remember this.
v11 You made a path through the sea for our *ancestors.
They walked through the sea on dry ground!
But you threw those who pursued them into the deep sea.
They sank like stones into the fierce currents of water.
v12 You led our *ancestors during the day by a column of cloud.
You led them at night by a column of fire.
This fire lit their way and it showed them where to go.’
In their prayers to God, the people remembered that their *ancestors had lived in the country called Egypt. The king of Egypt and his people had made the *Jews suffer. So the *Jews called to God to help them. God heard their cries and he rescued them from the people of Egypt. The king of Egypt did not want the *Jews to leave his country, because they were slaves to his people. But God performed wonderful acts to prove that he was the powerful real God. He made the king and the people of Egypt suffer until they agreed to free the *Jews.
When the *Jews escaped from Egypt, God led his people through the desert. He used a cloud to lead them during the day. And at night, he used a column of fire to show them the way that they should go. When they reached the Red Sea, God made a special path. Then they could cross the sea. The army of Egypt tried to follow the *Jews. But God drowned the army of Egypt in the sea.
We can read all about this in Exodus chapters 3 to 14.
v13 ‘You came down onto Sinai Mountain.
From heaven you spoke to our *ancestors.
You gave them fair judgements and right laws.
You gave them good rules and commands.
v14 You told them to respect your special weekly day of rest.
You gave your servant Moses commands, rules and laws for our *ancestors to obey.
v15 When our *ancestors were hungry,
you gave them bread from heaven.
When they needed to drink,
you brought them water out of a rock.
You told them to enter the country that you had promised to them.
You told them to take possession of it.’
While they were in the desert, God called Moses up to Sinai Mountain. On Sinai Mountain, God gave Moses good and fair laws for his people. God told the people to rest on the 7th day of the week. That was a special holy day for God. Then the people knew how to obey God. They knew how God wanted them to live.
Also while the people were in the desert, God fed them. He sent them special bread from heaven. He even brought water for them out of a rock. He showed them that he cared about them. He showed them that he was the powerful real God. God reminded the people that he had promised to give to them their own special country. Other nations already lived in that country. But God told the *Jews to go into the country. He told them to take possession of it.
We can read all about this in Exodus chapters 16 to 20.
v16 ‘But our *ancestors became proud.
They did not want to do what you told them to do.
They refused to obey your instructions.
v17 They refused to obey you.
They did not remember the wonderful acts
that you performed among them.
They were not loyal to you.
They appointed a leader to take them back
to the place where they had been slaves.
But you are a God who forgives.
You are very kind to people, although they do not deserve your kindness.
You are slow to become angry,
and you always love very much.
So you did not leave our *ancestors.
v18 You did not leave them even when they made
a gold image of a young cow.
They said, “This image is your god who brought you out of Egypt.”
They did very evil things to insult you.
v19 You show great kindness to your people.
So you did not leave them in the desert.
The column of cloud did not leave them.
By day, it led them in the way that they should go.
The column of fire by night did not leave them.
It lit up their way and it showed them where to go.
v20 You sent your good Spirit to teach our *ancestors.
You did not stop feeding them with your bread from heaven.
You gave them water when they needed to drink.
v21 For 40 years you provided everything that they needed in the desert.
They did not need anything else.
Their clothes never wore out and their feet never became tired or sore.’
Although God looked after his people, they did not obey his law. He gave them food and water in the desert. But they did not remember all the good and wonderful things that God had done for them. Although God led them with the cloud and the fire, they asked Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make them another god. Aaron made a gold image of a young cow and the people *worshipped the image instead of the real God (Exodus 32:1-35).
This made God very angry. But he still loved his people. So he continued to look after them. He continued to lead them by the cloud and the fire. He continued to give them food and water. And he continued to teach them what they should do to please him.
Because the people would not believe God, they had to live in the desert for 40 years. They often did not obey God and they often made him angry. But he continued to look after them all the time (Exodus chapter 16; Numbers 9:15-23).
v22 ‘You gave them countries where kings had ruled.
You gave them nations.
You made these countries the borders of *Israel.
*Israel’s people took possession of the country of Sihon, king of Heshbon,
and the country of Og, king of Bashan.
v23 You made their *descendants
as many as the stars in the sky.
You brought them into the country
that you had told their *ancestors to enter and to possess.
v24 So their *descendants went in and they possessed this country.
The Canaanites were the people who lived in this country.
But you overcame the Canaanites for them.
You handed over the kings of the Canaanites
and the people of the country to our *ancestors.
They could do what they wanted to the Canaanites.
v25 Our *ancestors took possession of strong cities.
They took land that was good for their crops.
They took possession of houses that were
full of all kinds of good things.
They took wells that people had already dug.
They took *vineyards, *orchards, and plenty of fruit trees.
They ate until they were completely full.
They became fat.
They greatly enjoyed all the good things that you gave to them.’
The *Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years. During this time, almost all the adults who left Egypt died. Although the people often did not obey God, God was still looking after their families. He led them into the country that he had promised to give to them. And he made them into a great nation. God allowed the *Jews to defeat all the nations who lived in the country.
So the people entered the country to live in it. The people found that the land was good to produce crops. There were already good cities and houses in the country, which the *Jews did not have to build themselves. They did not have to dig wells because the previous people had already dug wells. The people enjoyed many good things for which they did not have to work. God gave all these good things to his people in their new country (Deuteronomy 6:10-12; Joshua 21:43-45).
v26 ‘But they did not obey you.
They refused to do what you told them to do.
They turned away from your Law.
They killed your *prophets
who warned them to turn back to you.
They did very evil things to insult you.
v27 So you allowed their enemies to defeat our *ancestors.
These enemies caused them much trouble.
When this trouble happened,
our *ancestors cried to you for help.
And from heaven, you heard them.
And, because you are very kind,
you gave them leaders to save them.
These leaders rescued them from their enemies.
v28 But as soon as our *ancestors had peace,
they did wicked things again.
So you let their enemies overcome them.
You let their enemies rule over them.
But our *ancestors turned and they cried to you again.
And, from heaven, you heard them.
You rescued them many times,
because you are very kind.
v29 You warned them to obey your Law again.
But they became proud
and they did not obey your commands.
They did evil things that were against your rules.
If a man obeys your rules,
he will live.
But our *ancestors turned against you.
They became unwilling to obey you.
They refused to listen to you.
v30 For many years, you were patient with our *ancestors.
By your Spirit, you warned them by your *prophets.
But our *ancestors would not listen.
So you let the people from other countries overcome them.
v31 But because you are so kind,
you did not destroy our *ancestors.
You did not leave them.
You are a kind God, although people do not deserve your kindness.’
God was good to his people the *Jews. He looked after them and he gave them a good country to live in. But they did not obey him. God sent *prophets to warn them, but they killed the *prophets. So God punished the people. He allowed their enemies to defeat them. Then the people called out to God for help. God continued to love his people. So he heard their cries and he rescued them. But then they forgot God again and they did not obey his Law. So, again, God punished them. He allowed their enemies to defeat them and to rule over them again. Again, the people called out to God and he heard their cries. He rescued them and he warned them to obey his Law.
This happened many times during the history of the *Jews. The people did not obey God, so he punished them. He allowed their enemies to defeat them. Then the people were sorry and they asked God to rescue them. God did rescue them and he warned them to obey him. But the people soon forgot how good God was. Then they did wicked things again.
Although the people often forgot God’s kindness, God still loved them. They did not deserve his kindness. But he was still good to them and he did not destroy the nation.
v32 ‘You are our God.
You are great and powerful.
You are magnificent.
You always do what you promised.
And you are kind to us.
So now, please consider all our troubles to be important to you.
Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our *prophets
have suffered these troubles.
Our *ancestors and all your people have suffered these troubles.
We have suffered them from the time
of the kings of Assyria until now.
v33 But you have been fair when you allowed all these things to happen to us.
You have done what is right.
But we have done wicked things.
v34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our *ancestors
did not obey your Law.
They did not listen to your commands.
You warned them, but they did not listen.
v35 You gave to our *ancestors many good things
when they lived in their own country.
You gave to them this large country.
And it was a good country in which to produce crops.
But they did not serve you there.
And they did not stop doing wicked things.
v36 But now we are slaves.
You gave to our *ancestors this land.
So then, they could eat the food that it yielded.
You gave this land to them
so that they could enjoy all its good things.
See, we are slaves in this country!
v37 The harvest of this land is great.
But we have done wicked things.
So this harvest goes to the kings
that you have placed over us.
They rule over our bodies
and over our animals.
They do what they like with us.
We suffer much trouble.’
So the people in Nehemiah’s time remembered their history. They remembered that God had been kind to their *ancestors. So they praised God. God always does everything that he has promised to do. They realised this fact. So they thanked God. And they asked God to help them in their present troubles. They knew that God was right and fair to punish his people. They knew that they too had behaved like their *ancestors. They and their leaders had not obeyed God’s laws. Although the people were living in *Judah again, they still had to serve the king of Persia. They felt like slaves in their own country because they had to give much of their harvest to a foreign king. So the people appealed to God to help them.
v38 ‘Because of all these things, we are making an agreement that nobody can change.
We are writing down this agreement. Our leaders, our *Levites and our priests are signing it.’
So the people decided to make promises to God. They wrote down their agreement with God and their leaders signed it. Then everybody would know what they had promised to do.
We can read about this agreement in the next chapter.