Summary: The people responded to the Word of God in repentance and to the works of God in renewal.
We have seen the people of God making serious attempts at RECONNECTING with God.
• They responded to the hearing of God’s Word with repentance and sorrow.
• They understood His Word and obeyed what God has instructed through the Law of Moses.
We have to remember that the majority of these returnees were born in captivity.
• They were the new generation that has returned from exile for the first time.
• Except for some older ones – Ezra mentioned in Ezra 3:12 that the older priests and Levites and family heads wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, having seen the glory of the former one. But for the younger ones who saw this for the first time, they shouted for joy.
• Being back in Jerusalem and having the Book of the Law of Moses read to them was a great time of renewal for them.
• They were determined to RECONNECT with God.
Chapter 9 tells us they did not depart after the Feast of the Tabernacles.
Neh 9:1-3 1On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God.
THEIR RESPONSE TO THE WORD OF GOD
The people continued to linger in God’s presence confessing their sins, which started in Chapter 8 in response to the reading of His Word.
• They were fully conscious of their sins and the sins of their forefathers. There was a profound awareness and sorrow for it.
• There was genuine, spiritual renewal. And all this was prompted by the reading and understanding of God’s Word.
Again we see the reading of the Word of God here, for a quarter of the day, followed by another quarter of the day in confession and worship, led by the Levites.
• True renewal can only take place with a consciousness of sin in reference to the Word of God. Unless we know that we have missed a mark, we have no mark to return to.
• Sin is a lack of conformity to the Law of God. It can only be defined with reference to God’s truth. This is what makes it sin.
• It is not defined by man. It is not just being evil, mean, offensive or criminal. It doesn’t change with times. There is no shifting of goalposts with regard to sin.
And so with the reading of God’s Word, yet again, we see the people responding with confession of sins and repentance.
• The Spirit of God pierced their consciences and awakened their consciousness of sin.
• This is the mark of all true revivals in history - an awareness of how far we have drifted from God and His righteousness, and a desire to return to Him and His ways.
• No life-change can take place without this recognition of sin and our turning from it. This realisation can only happen with reference to God’s Word.
• It is a response to God’s Law. Genuine repentance can only take place when we see our actions as an offense against God.
A side note. It is interesting to read that “they confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers.” (8:2) which is common in their prayers.
• We saw that also in Ezra’s prayer in Ezra 9 and Nehemiah’s prayer in Neh 1.
• They recognised their own sins as well as, corporately, the sin of their nation. They, as one nation, both the past and present generations, has sinned against God.
• Today, most would probably blame the previous generation for the woes they suffered today, or to excuse themselves and point their fingers somewhere else.
• Paul says when one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it (cf. 1 Cor 12:26). We failed God collectively as the people of God.
Neh 9:4-5 4Standing on the stairs were the Levites-Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani-who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. 5And the Levites-Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah-said: "Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting."
• Two groups of 8 Levites, 5 of them in both, leading the people in confession and then in worship. That worship includes this prayer to God.
• It was the longest recorded prayer in the OT. It was also a prayer of confession – confessing the greatness of the ACTS of God for their nation.