The exile in Babylon was a traumatic experience for the people of Judah, brought about by their own sin. It was, however, temporary, as the Lord in grace restored many of the people to their homeland. They returned to a devastated city. Under Ezra the temple was rebuilt and under Nehemiah the walls were rebuilt. The people had their identity once again and it was a time of spiritual renewal. In Nehemiah 8 the nation gathers to hear Ezra read the law of God. For seven days a feast is celebrated, then the people renew their covenant with the Lord. In The Bible’s Covenant Story, we consider 10. Nehemiah 9-10 Adoration and confession.
1. Adoration of God
The prayer of 9:5-38 is offered on behalf of all the people of God. At its centre is the Lord, the God of Israel. The people bow in adoration of such a glorious God. We will never be concerned about our covenant commitment unless we have a high – biblical – view of our God. He is worthy of our wholehearted dedication. Note:
(i). ‘You alone are God’ (v6). This is the core of true faith: one true God. Such a confession implies that this God is to be the centre of life, directing all we do. Our lives are to be shaped by the fact that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:11).
(ii). You made the heavens…you give life to everything’ (v6). The universe is God’s handiwork, showing his power and glory. Our every breath is by his permission.
(iii). He is a God of grace. That is a constant theme of the covenant, e.g. with Abraham (v7-8). Saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), we live by grace (1 Corinthians 15:10).
(iv). He is a forgiving God – ‘a God of pardons, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love’ (v17). He is able to forgive because of the sacrifice of his Son (1 Peter 2:24). We are cleansed by the blood of Christ, many times (1 John 1:9).
(v). He is a God who ‘keeps his covenant love’ (v32). Though he could cast us off, for our sins, his grace keeps us in the covenant. It is an awesome truth.
2. Confession of sin
If we have a biblical view of God, we will also have a profound sense of our sin. We have here a frank exposure of the sins of the people (e.g. v16). There is also a willingness to accept that their sins contribute to the sin of the nation. We need to come often to the point of confessing our sins to the Lord – ‘you have been just, you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong’ (v33). Measuring ourselves against the perfection of God, we see how far short we fall, and we cannot hide our sin from him (1 John 1:8). We need his gracious forgiveness.
3. Promise of obedience
The covenant is made (9:38), and a promise of obedience is given – ‘to obey carefully’ (10:29). The principles still apply to us as we show love by obeying the Lord (John 14:15):
(i). 10:30 – no marriage with unbelievers (see 2 Corinthians 6:14).
(ii). 10:31 – honouring the Sabbath, a good indicator of spiritual health.
(iii). 110:32-39 – supporting the worship of God. To avoid the fellowship of the Lord and his people inevitably leads to spiritual weakness and decline.