Here We Are, Servants Today!

Yesterday our congregation’s retired pastor gave a sermon message that was deeply interesting, as it often is when he speaks [1].  As is at lest somewhat frequent in his messages, he gave our congregation homework to read Nehemiah 8 and 9, as it relates both to this time of year during the period between the Feast of Trumpets and just after the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as to the subject of his message about the attitudes of God and of humanity–especially that of Israelites–toward God.  Since the scope of talking about the entire chapters of Nehemiah 8 and 9 are beyond my capability, especially given all that I am trying to do at present, I thought it would be worthwhile to examine two aspects of the scene in Nehemiah 9 for readers today, although I encourage everyone who wants more detail to read both chapters in detail, as I have already discussed the scene at least somewhat before [2].

First, I think it is important to note that the Bible pays a great deal of attention to the people among the returned Jews who are making the confession of historical sin in Nehemiah 9:1-5.  Often the Bible dwells on the identity of people involved in tasks that we might not consider important.  For example, the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are full of details about the identity of Levite singers and the orders of priests and so on and so forth, and 1 Chronicles begins with nine chapters of genealogies that may be the least-read chapters in all of scripture.  Yet it is of vital importance to the author of Nehemiah (perhaps the man himself) to note who it was that spoke on behalf of the people concerning the long chain of rebellion and sin against God’s way that Nehemiah 9 consists of in a great deal of painful and uncomfortable detail.  Nehemiah 9:1-5 reads:  “Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, in sackcloth, and with dust on their heads.  Then those of Israelite lineage separated themselves from all foreigners; and they stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers.  And they stood up in their place and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for one-fourth of the day; and for another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God.  Then Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani stood on the stairs of the Levites and cried out with a loud voice to the Lord their God.  And the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said:  “Stand up and bless the Lord your God forever and ever!  Blessed be Your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise!”

We may not know or care about the people named in these verses, but God cared very much about the identity of those who confessed the sins of the people to Him, enough to have recorded them in scripture so that they could be read by all who would turn to this obscure passage and read it.  The vast majority of the rest of the chapter is a long recitation of the various sins of the people of Israel from their departure from slavery in Egypt to the present-day.  They lament the rebellion and complaining of Israel in the wilderness, the construction of the Golden Calf, the rebellious desire of the congregation of Israel to return to Egypt, the lack of gratitude for the generosity of God in giving them the promised land and its blessings.  The representatives of the people note God’s power in creation, as well as his consistent generosity and longsuffering and patience with them.  They note that all of the evils that have befallen them including captivity and poverty are not even close to all that has been deserved because of the consistently unfaithful attitude of the people of Israel towards their Creator.

Perhaps most poignant is the end of their discussion, as they note their present state under Persian rule, in Nehemiah 8:34-38:  “Neither our kings nor our princes, our priests nor our fathers, have kept Your law, nor heeded Your commandments and Your testimonies, with which You testified against them.  For they have not served You in their kingdom, or in the many good things that You gave them, or in the large and rich land which You set before them; nor did they turn from their wicked works.  Here we are, servants today! And the land that You gave to our fathers, to eat its fruit and its bounty, here we are, servants in it!  And it yields much increase to the kings You have set over us, because of our sins; also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle at their pleasure; and we are in great distress.  And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it.””

I find a particularly poignant picture being painted in these verses.  Archaeologists have noted that during this period of the history of Yehud, there was a large and well-stocked gathering point for the produce of the land for tribute that had been kept up from the time of the Assyrians until the independence of the Jewish people in Hasmonean times.  This particular area where the produce was stored and paid as tribute for centuries was a visible reminder of the judgment that God had placed, and as Persian Yehud struggled with a population in the tens of thousands, poor and in great distress, as Nehemiah notes here, their rich land which had been given to them by God instead served luxurious and faraway rulers who despotically reigned over them as a result of Israel and Judah’s loss of independence.  It was only when they had lost their freedom and were servants of distant monarchs and were in distress while having no security in their property that they realized their own wrongs that had brought them to this point.  When I think of all of this and the wrongs of my own people, I hope that we may repent in time before this mournful confession becomes our own, but I have little confidence that my people will be any less stubborn and stiff-necked than the people whose rebellion against God brought upon the ruin that led the returned exiles to fast and confess their sins before God so eloquently and so long ago.

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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