New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

Nehemiah 9:1 Now in the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackcloth, and earth on them- This fasting and confession of sin (:2) is appropriate to the day of atonement, but this would have been on the wrong date. I noted on Neh. 8:14 the lamentable lack of knowledge of the law of Moses. Perhaps they were unaware of the date of the day of atonement; or perhaps given their genuine spirit, they were permitted to keep it on a different date. They were being taught thereby that the letter of the law was not so crucially important.

Nehemiah 9:2 The seed of Israel-
A similar phrase, "the holy seed", is used in Ezra 9:2, also in the context of marriage with Gentiles. Malachi wrote at this time, and pointed out that the purpose of marriage is to "seek a Godly seed" (Mal. 2:15). Marriage to unbelievers is not easily going to achieve this.

Separated themselves from all foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers- The account of Judah’s separation from the surrounding peoples reads similar to that of the purges from idolatry during the reign of the kings. They separated / purged, and then, within a few years, we read of them doing so again. Initially, the exiles separated from the peoples of the land (Ezra 6:21); by Ezra 9:1 they are in need of separating again; and by Ezra 10:11 likewise; then they separate (Ezra 10:16), only to need another call to separation by the time of Neh. 9:2; 13:3. They obviously found it extremely difficult to be separated from the surrounding world unto God’s law (Neh. 10:28). There was a powerful logic- either separate from the world around, or be separated from the people of God (Ezra 10:8). It’s a separation- one way or the other.

The confession of the sins of their fathers was not because the son suffers for the sins of the father. Rather was this a reversal of the attitude which Ezekiel encountered amongst the exiles- that their fathers had not sinned according to the great punishment given them. Instead of minimizing the sins of their fathers, in accordance with the oriental way of glorifying ancestors as perfect and wonderful- they accepted that their fathers had indeed sinned.

Nehemiah 9:3 They stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of Yahweh their God a fourth part of the day; and a fourth part they confessed, and worshipped Yahweh their God-
Confession of sin is directly connected here to hearing God's word. This is one intended outcome of all Bible reading- conviction of sin and repentance. There is a play on the word 'confess' meaning both to confess sins (:2) and to worship (:3). True worship is upon the basis of confession of sin.

Nehemiah 9:4 Then Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani of the Levites stood up on the stairs, and cried with a loud voice to Yahweh their God-
See on :5. We note the continued emphasis upon the fact that Yahweh was still Israel's God (:3,5 and often). Despite their woeful lack of awareness of His word (see on Neh. 8:14) and deep apostasy. Still He kept His side of the covenant with Abraham, to be the God of his seed for ever (:5 "from everlasting to everlasting"). Hence the reference to Abraham in :7.

Nehemiah 9:5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah said, Stand up and bless Yahweh your God from everlasting to everlasting!-
See on :4. Again we note that it is the Levites and not the priests who are prominent. The priesthood had disgraced themselves by not teaching even the basic knowledge of God's law (see on Neh. 8:14). The Levites, who focused more upon menial practical service, were the ones who are given prominence instead of the corrupt priesthood. 


Blessed be Your glorious name- Nehemiah here encouraged the singing of praise on the walls of Zion (Neh. 9:5; 12:46), possibly in a conscious effort to fulfil the words of Is. 60:18- that Zion’s gates in Messiah’s Kingdom would be praise.

Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!- Only ‘Yahweh’ was exalted above every other name (Neh. 9:5; Ps. 148:13).  But ‘Jesus’ in the NT becomes the Name above every Name (Phil. 2:9,10; Eph. 1:21); Heb. 12:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, to day, and for ever” suggests that the three tenses of the Yahweh Name were  supremely manifest in the Lord Jesus.

Nehemiah 9:6 You are Yahweh, even You alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their army, the earth and all things that are on it, the seas and all that is in them, and You preserve them all. The army of heaven worships You-
"The heavenly host bows down before you"- a reference to the court of Heaven (1 Kings 22:19). Nehemiah was aware of Angelic involvement in bringing about the restoration; this was one aspect of the promised work of the Spirit at that time. He  notes that the areas around the eretz or land of Israel, the "seas" of the Gentiles, are no less given life by God; even the Samaritan opposition.

Nehemiah 9:7 You are Yahweh, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees-
See on :4. The idea of God bringing Abraham out from Ur speaks of His grace. Gen. 20:13 made the same point: "God caused me to wander from my father’s house". We see the emphasis upon God bringing him out to separation from his relatives, rather than his obedience to the call to do so. By saying this, he would be growing closer to appreciating grace; that God caused him to be obedient when he of himself was not. This is the same work of the Spirit which continues in our days. The Gentile believers are in this sense 'made obedient' by the Spirit's work (Rom. 15:18; 1 Pet. 1:2). Truly our salvation is not of works of obedience, lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:9). "Terah took Abram his son... and Sarai his daughter in law" (Gen. 11:31). Abram had been called to leave Ur and go into Canaan. But instead he followed his father to Haran, and lived there (for some years, it seems) until his father died, and then he responded to his earlier call to journey towards Canaan. The Genesis record certainly reads as if Abram was dominated by his father and family, and this militated against an immediate response to the call he received to leave Ur and journey to Canaan. At best his father's decision enabled him to obey the command to leave Ur without having to break with his family. And yet, according to Heb. 11:8, Abram immediately responded, as an act of faith. Thus Abram had faith in God's promise, yet may have balked at the command to leave his country and family. Providentially arranged circumstances then resulted in his aging father taking him, implying some degree of compulsion, and leading him out of his native country. Whilst not fully understanding how he could leave his father's household whilst they looked set to be accompanying him on this journey to a strange land, he went ahead in faith. It is emphasized that God "brought out" (s.w. to lead, pluck or pull out) Abram from Ur (Neh. 9:7; Gen. 15:6,7). The calling came through Abram's hearing of the word of promise, and providentially arranged circumstances encouraging his faithful response to it.  

And gave him the name of Abraham- By grace inserting the central syllable of the Yahweh Name into the midst of Abram's name, to make 'Abraham'. The way ‘Abram’ was changed to ‘AbraHAm’ and ‘Sarah’ to ‘SarAH’ shows how God wishes to mix syllables of His Name with that of men. Jacob was changed to Isra-el, mixing God’s name with that of his father. This is indeed mutuality between God and man- and it demands so much. No longer was Abram all about exalting his own father; he was himself to be a father. We too as Abraham's children pass through this sense of redefinition; we are new creations, no longer just defined by our place in a line of genetics or ancestors, but making a radically new start, producing spiritual children who in that sense shall continue the line which we begin by the sowing of the Gospel seed.

It has been pointed out that Abram or Abiram was one of the most common names in the near East- it was common in Babylon as Abirami, and in Egypt as Abu-reheni or Abram (J.B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Oxford: O.U.P., 1950) p. 242, p. 329 note 9). Into this very common name- as normal and common as the names we bear in our societies- was added the Name of Yahweh. Abram became Abraham. The central letter of Yahweh's Name became the central letter of Abraham's. But Abram means 'my father is exalted', or more strictly as W.F. Albright suggests 'I am exalted with regard to / because of my father'. To jettison this name was to trash all Abraham and his culture held so dear- definition in terms of their father, where they came from. The call of the Lord Jesus in our age is in essence no different- to reject father and mother and instead follow Him, to be His. Not in the sense of hating them, but in being new persons, carved out as a totally new family. The 'h' in the middle of Yahweh's Name was now inserted into the middle of Abraham's name; Abram became Abraham, father of a multitude, a new family. Some miserable philological critics have claimed that 'h' was an unknown sound in the near East of Abraham's time (Angel Gonzales, Abraham: Father of Believers (New York: Herder and Herder, 1967) p. 26).  And maybe they're right, in which case 'h' would've been a new sound. It would be rather like importing the single Russian letter pronounced 'shch' into the English alphabet. The answer to the question 'What's your name?' would've been arresting and challenging to Abraham's contemporaries: 'Abraham' would've sounded strange and new to them. There will be something equally challenging and arresting to the world surrounding Abraham's seed as people come to know our name, to perceive who we really are.

Nehemiah 9:8 and found his heart faithful before You-
Just as God "found" David to have a heart like His, so He searches hearts and minds to this day. But the emphasis is upon the state of the heart and not upon legalistic obedience. This was relevant to the exiles who had returned, having not kept the law of Moses for a long time, and were still not keeping every letter of it. "Faithful" is the word for 'belief' in Gen. 15:6. Genesis 15 is clearly in view as it lists the same nations of which we now read. By grace and in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant, his seed were to rise above the Samaritan opposition and the dominance of the Persian empire, and possess the land for themselves. But Judah refused to accept the new covenant offered to them, which was in turn based upon those Abrahamic promises.

And made a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, and the Perizzite, and the Jebusite, and the Girgashite, to give it to his seed; and have performed Your words- The covenant to inherit the land was given outside of the old covenant, and to an Abram who was very weak in faith (see on :7). Again we see the relevance to the spiritually weak exiles who had returned to inherit the land of promise, and who were being invited through the words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel to accept a new covenant relationship with their God.

For You are righteous- It was that same justice  / righteousness which saved His people which was related to God's judgment of His people (:33). The judgment and salvation by grace were all part of the same character of God.

Nehemiah 9:9 You saw the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heard their cry by the Red Sea-
Just as God had seen their affliction in Babylon. But that affliction wasn't physical, for the book of Esther concludes with the Jews popular and wealthy. The similarities were only in spiritual terms; and "their cry" was hardly heard, for we don't get the impression that any Jews were praying for the restoration to happen and for deliverance from Persia.

Nehemiah 9:10 You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh, and against all his servants, and against all the people of his land; for You knew that they dealt arrogantly against them-
Egypt were brought down for their pride (Ex. 18:11), and the pride of Persia and the Samaritan opposition was likewise to be brought down. But Israel were just as proud against God (:16).

And made a name for Yourself, as it is this day- The idea was that God through the restoration was still making Himself a Name. We learn here that His Name is not simply the lexical item "Yahweh", but His Name is associated with His salvation history and personality, which climaxes in His saving by grace. In this sense God's Name is made or created in an ever ongoing sense as history progresses (Is. 63:12).

Nehemiah 9:11 You divided the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land-
The sea was divided at creation and also at the flood (s.w. Gen. 7:11), and the "dry land" likewise appeared at creation and at the flood. There was likewise the possibility of a new creation of Zion and the restored Kingdom at the time of the restoration, as the prophets had made clear. And all opposition to that, like the Egyptians, would be cast into the sea, just as the opposition to Noah had been. And yet Judah preferred to intermarry with the Samaritan opposition and, at least initially, worship their gods.

And You cast their pursuers into the depths, as a stone into the mighty waters- The Egyptians themselves charged in there, but this was used by God, so that He as it were threw them into the waters. Here again we see God's work with human minds, confirming them in the path they choose to go. This image of a stone thrown into the waters is that used for the fall of Babylon (Jer. 51:63). The idea was that God intended Babylon / Persia to fall, and Judah to become His Kingdom in their land, no longer a mere province of another empire. This didn't happen as Divinely intended and empowered, because Judah at that time preferred the culture and ways of the old empire and didn't want to fulfil the restoration prophecies. Their sins could have been cast into the sea, as it were, at the restoration (s.w. Mic. 7:19); but although at this moment they confessed their sins, and perhaps believed God had dealt with them, yet they didn't accept that reality in any abiding sense.

Nehemiah 9:12 Moreover, You led them by day in a pillar of cloud; and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light in the way in which they should go-
This leading of Israel to the land had been seen in the miraculous protection of the groups of exiles led by Ezra and Nehemiah back to the land. Clearly the same Angels in the pillars of fire and cloud were equally active. The 'leading' then had been a sign of God's grace ("in Your mercy You led them", Ex. 15:13), a people still carrying the idols of Egypt and the tabernacle of Remphan; and His grace had been no less to the mixed up, Biblically ignorant exiles whom Yahweh had likewise led back.

Nehemiah 9:13 You came down also on Mount Sinai and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them right ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments-
Nehemiah continues to forget, or be ignorant, of the fact that the restoration prophets including Zechariah, who was roughly contemporary with him, had explained that the old covenant given at Sinai had been broken by Israel, and the only hope was acceptance of the new covenant offered in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. This appeal to history and the implied need to keep that covenant- was therefore somewhat misplaced. The pole of traditional nationalism had become stronger than that of God's word and spirituality.

Nehemiah 9:14 You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, and commanded them commandments, and statutes, and a law, by Moses Your servant-
The Sabbath was specifically "a sign between them (Israel) and Me (God), that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" (Ez. 20:12). As such, it has never been intended to be binding on Gentiles (non-Jews). “... the Lord has given you [not all mankind] the Sabbath (Ex. 16:29); “... You [God] made known to them [Israel] Your holy Sabbath” (Neh. 9:14). The continual breaking of the Sabbath which Nehemiah will later address was therefore yet another sign that Israel had broken their covenant relationship with God; and they needed to seek a new covenant (see on :13). All arguments for Sabbath keeping today need to give due weight to these considerations.

Nehemiah 9:15 You gave them bread from the sky for their hunger, and brought forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and commanded them that they should go in to possess the land which You had sworn to give them-
They would "go in to possess the land" if they were obedient (Dt. 6:18; 11:8; 30:16 s.w.). They weren't; but still God brought them into the land and gave them possession of it, not because they had been obedient as required, but by grace (Dt. 9:5 s.w.). This was precisely the situation with the returned exiles. The same grace was being shown to them.

Nehemiah 9:16 But they and our fathers dealt proudly-
Exactly the phrase used about the pride of the Egyptians which led to their destruction (s.w. Ex. 18:11). We noted on :10 that it was exactly because of this pride that Egypt was destroyed at the Red Sea, but Israel were in fact no better (:16,29)- they acted as the Egyptians, and were hardened just as Pharaoh and his leadership were hardened. Israel's salvation out of Babylon / Egypt was therefore by pure grace and not because they at all deserved it.

And hardened their neck, didn’t listen to Your commandments- We would likely have focused upon their idolatry and desire to return to the Egypt life. But the essential problem, as always, was human pride. The hardening of the neck was in order to refuse the yoke of Yahweh's covenant which was placed upon them; they refused to cooperate and work with Him. It was for this reason that they were taken into captivity (s.w. Jer. 7:26; 17:23; 19:15).

Nehemiah 9:17 and refused to obey, neither were they mindful of Your wonders that You did among them-
The daily miracles of the pillar of fire and cloud, the manna, quails and water from the rock, the visible presence of the glory of Yahweh in the tabernacle- were all psychologically ignored by them. This is proof enough that miracles and visible signs from God are not the basis for faith.

But hardened their neck, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage- Nehemiah may possibly be drawing a parallel with some who wished to return to Persia and abandon the entire restoration project.

But You are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in grace, and didn’t forsake them- The punishment for a hardened neck was to be sudden destruction without remedy (Prov. 29:1 s.w.). But that deserved destruction without further amelioration wasn't practiced by God because of His abundant grace; the people were not forsaken in captivity just as they were not forsaken in the wilderness, even when they rebelled and attempted to return to Egypt.

Nehemiah 9:18 Yes, they had made them a molten calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt’ and had committed awful blasphemies-
The blasphemies of the Gentiles were punished (s.w. Is. 37:3; Ez. 35:12); but Israel's blasphemies were met with yet more grace and the continued presence of Yahweh amongst them.

Nehemiah 9:19 yet You in Your many mercies didn’t forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud didn’t depart from over them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to show them light, and the way in which they should go-
There was an Angel within those pillars. Haggai 2:5 had likewise encouraged the returned exiles to recall Israel's history at this time: "This is the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit dwelt among you. ‘Don’t be afraid’". "My Spirit (Angel- Ps. 104:4) remaineth among you" (AV), just as the same Angel was with them “when you came out of Egypt”. And with us too. God encourages those rebuilding Jerusalem to have faith because the Angel is still among them: "Yet now be strong... and work: for I (the Angel) am with you, saith the Lord of Hosts (Angels): according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt (the Angel made that covenant) so My Spirit (Angel) remaineth among you; fear ye not". And so Nehemiah  recounts  the  past  activities  of  God's Angel here in Neh. 9:19-24 as a stimulus to faith in God bringing them through immediate problems.

Nehemiah 9:20 You gave also Your good Spirit to instruct them, and didn’t withhold Your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst-
see on 1 Sam. 10:9. The Spirit (Angel- Ps. 104:4) was "also" with the exiles bringing them from Babylon to Judah as it had been with the Israelites coming from Egypt to the same land. He gave a "good" Spirit / Angel, when it was in His power to send an Angel / Spirit of evil (not a sinful Angel but an Angel bringing evil / disaster, as was brought upon Saul (1 Sam. 16:14) and the Egyptians (Ps. 78:49). Although Israel had acted as the Egyptians, hardening their hearts and 'dealing proudly' (see on :16), yet by grace, God dealt with them by sending "good" upon them and not "evil", as He sent upon the Egyptians. The Spirit was given to "instruct" them, but the same word is used in lament over how Israel refused to "understand" or be instructed (Dt. 32:29). The Corinthians likewise were given the Spirit, but were not "spiritual" (1 Cor. 3:1). And with many Christians today likewise. "Instruct" is the word just used in Neh. 8:13 of Nehemiah's instruction of the people at this time. This instruction was a sign of grace, as it was in the wilderness; for the people deserved destruction.     

Nehemiah 9:21 Yes, forty years You sustained them in the wilderness-
In contrast to the priesthood of Nehemiah's time who did not feed / sustain the people (s.w. Zech. 11:16).

They lacked nothing- The promise that they would "lack nothing" on the wilderness journey was repeated in the promise that once in the land, they would "lack nothing" (Dt. 2:7; 8:9 s.w.). The returned exiles were in lack but this was because they refused to be obedient to God's plan for them; Is. 51:14 uses the same phrase, although masked in many translations, to say that "the captive exile" would "lack nothing" on leaving captivity. But they had precluded the restoration prophecies from coming about.

Their clothes didn’t grow old, and their feet didn’t swell- Just as all materially necessary was provided, so through the various decrees of the Persian kings, all had been given to enable the exiles' journey to the promised land. But they had likewise abused such grace. This is a quotation from Dt. 29:5, which makes this statement in the context of lamenting that "Yet Yahweh has not given you a heart to perceive nor eyes to see nor ears to hear" (Dt. 29:4). They refused to perceive His great and daily grace to them as witnessed in His daily provision of food and clothing, just as we can fail to perceive it today. Regular prayers of thanksgiving before food are a good way of guarding against this human tendency to not perceive such grace. The returned exiles likewise had been miraculously provided for by the decrees of the Persian kings, but refused to perceive the grace of all that provision (Neh. 9:21). The other source of this saying about their clothes not growing old is Dt. 3:4, which again is in the context of telling Israel that this had happened so that they would be humbled before God and would consider in their humbled hearts that God intended them to inherit the land be obedient within it (Dt. 8:3-5). This again is relevant to the returned exiles and the grace they too had received on their journey to it.

Nehemiah 9:22 Moreover You gave them kingdoms and peoples which You allotted according to their portions. So they possessed the land of Sihon, even the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan-
The intention here is to demonstrate God's extreme grace to His people despite their spiritual weakness. He had given them the territories in Palestine listed in :8, but He additionally gave them portions to the east of the Jordan river, in Sihon and Bashan.

Nehemiah 9:23 You also multiplied their children as the stars of the sky, and brought them into the land concerning which You had said to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it-
This was a fulfilment of the promises to Abraham (Gen. 15:5; 22:17) which were the basis of the new covenant. And the returning exiles had been told in the restoration prophets that they had broken the old covenant, and were invited to accept this new covenant. Israel multiplied in Egypt (Ex. 1:7,12) and yet they were idolaters there. Again we see the idea of this potted history is to demonstrate the Divine grace which ran throughout it.

Nehemiah 9:24 So the children went in and possessed the land, and You subdued before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gave them into their hands, with their kings, and the peoples of the land, that they might do with them as they pleased-
“The people of the land” were to have a part in the new system of things (Ez. 45:16,22; 46:3,9), and yet this very phrase is repeatedly used concerning the Samaritan people who lived in the land at the time of the restoration (Ezra 4:4; 10:2,11; Neh. 9:24; 10:30,31). God’s intention was that they should eventually be converted unto Him; it was His intention that Ezekiel’s temple be built at the time of the restoration under Ezra. And yet Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5  criticize the Jews who returned and built the temple for continuing to oppress the stranger / Gentile. Israel would not. Instead of subduing them, they intermarried with them and accepted their gods. Just as Adam should have brought the serpent as part of the animal creation into subjection to him; but instead he obeyed its voice and fell away from God.

Nehemiah 9:25 They took fortified cities, and a rich land, and possessed houses full of all good things, cisterns dug out, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance-
A quotation from Dt. 6:11. Perhaps Deuteronomy was the part of the law which was read to the people.

So they ate, were filled, became fat, and delighted themselves in Your great grace- LXX "rioted in thy great goodness". The potted history of God's dealings with His people is to demonstrate this great grace. However, the Hebrew can be translated quite the opposite- alluding to Dt. 32:15 and Jer. 5:28, they became fat and kicked against God, rioting against Him. What should have been a riot of joy at God's grace became a riot against that grace. I suggest the ambiguity of the language is intentional. The abuse of Divine grace is an abiding temptation (Rom. 6:1). 

Nehemiah 9:26 Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against You, and cast Your law behind their back, and killed your prophets that testified against them to turn them again to You, and they committed awful blasphemies-
The Jews murdered Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, according to Jewish tradition; Ahab and Jezebel slew Yahweh's prophets (1 Kings 18:4); Joah murdered Zechariah (2 Chron. 24:22). And the Lord alludes to this in Mt. 23:37 and Lk. 11:47. The idea is that despite being given the blessings of obedience to the covenant when they were disobedient to that covenant, they abused that grace and rebelled against Yahweh just as they had done in the wilderness, when they lived under the same grace. And Nehemiah is accusing the people of his time of despising and abiding Divine grace in just the same way.


Nehemiah 9:27 Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their adversaries, who distressed them. In the time of their trouble, when they cried to You, You heard from heaven; and according to Your many mercies You gave them saviours who saved them out of the hand of their adversaries-
The Hebrew phrase for "many mercies" is perhaps about the closest equivalent in the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament concept of Divine grace- see the usage in 2 Sam. 24:14; Ps. 119:156; Is. 63:7; Dan. 9:18. And it is a major realization of Nehemiah, being used four times in this chapter: Neh. 9:19,27,28,31.

The "saviours" in view are the judges. And yet often those judges were sent to save the people by grace; Samson would be an example. Israel's deliverance at the hands of the judges was related to their crying to Yahweh in faith and repentance (Neh. 9:27,28). But it seems that they did precious little of this during the time of Samson, from what we know of them from the record. Again, the picture is of salvation by grace all the way through. The restoration was to be empowered by God if the exiles repented; they had not done so, and yet God was still seeking to save them.

Nehemiah 9:28 But after they had rest, they did evil again before You; therefore You left them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them-
Neh. 9:28,31 use the same Hebrew word for forsake / abandon in two senses. “You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies... but in your great mercy you did not abandon them” (N.I.V.). God forsook Israel, but heard them when they cried and came back to them; but in the ultimate sense He did not forsake them because of His grace and mercy. Thus Zion feels forsaken by God, but ultimately realizes this was never the case (Is. 49:14). It will then seem as just for a small moment that God forsook her (Is. 54:6,7). So when we read in Neh. 9:28 that “You abandoned them”, it may be that this is God talking through the perceptions of His people- they thought He had abandoned them, He appeared to have abandoned them, when He ultimately hadn’t. And this was one of Israel’s experiences which God’s Son suffered on the cross.

Yet, when they returned and cried to You, You heard from heaven; and many times You delivered them according to Your mercies- The intention was that Israel were delivered when they cried and repented before God. The Jews in Persia hadn't done this and yet by utter grace God had still delivered them from the land of their enemies. But by intermarrying with Gentiles they were demonstrating that they didn't even define their enemies as God did.

Nehemiah 9:29 and testified against them, that You might bring them again to Your law. Yet they dealt proudly, and didn’t listen to Your commandments-
"Dealt proudly" is exactly the phrase used about the pride of the Egyptians which led to their destruction (s.w. Ex. 18:11). We noted on :10 that it was exactly because of this pride that Egypt was destroyed at the Red Sea, but Israel were in fact no better (:16,29)- they acted as the Egyptians, and were hardened just as Pharaoh and his leadership were hardened. Israel's salvation out of Babylon / Egypt was therefore by pure grace and not because they at all deserved it.

But sinned against Your ordinances, which, if a man does, he shall live in them, turned their backs, stiffened their neck, and would not hear- They were intended to have the yoke of the covenant upon them, but they like a difficult beast of burden refused it. They didn't want covenant relationship with Yahweh. They "did" the ordinances as a matter of casuistic legal obedience, but didn't live in their spirit. Or we could read this as saying that living in the land was to be predicated upon doing the commandments (Dt. 4:1; 6:24; 8:1). The exiles had been returned to the land, but by grace; for they were not 'doing' the commandments; see on Ez. 20:11,12. Indeed it seems they were largely ignorant of them at Nehemiah's time.

Nehemiah 9:30 Yet many years You put up with them-
This is a poor translation. The same Hebrew phrase is translated 'drawn to', in speaking of how God would attempt to draw the exiles back into a new covenant with Him, seeing they had broken the old covenant (s.w. Jer. 31:3; Hos. 11:4).


And testified against them by Your spirit through Your prophets- I noted in :20 that the "good spirit" in view there may have been an Angel, seeing that God makes His Angels spirits (Ps. 104:4). And that may be the reference here too. Or it may simply be a reference to how the prophets were inspired by the Spirit of God, "inspired" so that their words and pleas were those of God Himself.

Yet would they not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands- The prophets were appealing to the people, Jeremiah in Jerusalem and Ezekiel already in Babylon, right up to the eve of the destruction of the temple.

Nehemiah 9:31 Nevertheless in Your many mercies-
The Hebrew phrase for "many mercies" is perhaps about the closest equivalent in the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament concept of Divine grace- see the usage in 2 Sam. 24:14; Ps. 119:156; Is. 63:7; Dan. 9:18. And it is a major realization of Nehemiah, being used four times in this chapter: Neh. 9:19,27,28,31.

You did not make a full end of them, nor forsake them; for You are a gracious and merciful God- The grace of all this was that God had indeed promised to "make a full end of them" for their sins (s.w. Is. 10:23; 28:22; Ez. 13:13; Zeph. 1:18). It was only the new covenant which promised that God would not make a full end with Israel (Jer. 30:11 s.w.). And they needed to accept this.

Nehemiah 9:32 Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and grace-
This is quoting from Ps. 89:28 about God's keeping of covenant with David's seed, Messiah. This means that this grace was being shown to Israel on behalf of God's future Messianic Son.

Don’t let all the travail seem little before You, that has come on us, on our kings, on our princes, priests, prophets, and on our fathers, and on all Your people, since the time of the kings of Assyria to this day- The rulership, civil and religious, had been punished for their actual sins, as the prophets make very clear, as Nehemiah admits (:34). There had been no injustice, and so Nehemiah's plea appears somewhat morally compromised. Assyria was the first empire to take God's people into captivity, and was followed by Babylon and Persia in keeping them in captivity.

Nehemiah 9:33 However You are just in all that has come on us; for You have dealt truly, but we have done wickedly-
Having given a history of God's grace, Nehemiah now throws himself upon that grace; recognizing that their judgment had been just, but still asking God to view the human experience side of it with pity. He is quoting Daniel's prayer (Dan. 9:14); we wonder if copies of the book of Daniel (which was from only a generation or so previously) were available in Persia, and Nehemiah had read it- and been influenced by it.

Nehemiah 9:34 Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers kept Your law, nor listened to Your commandments and Your testimonies that You pronounced against them-
This was the more shameful for the priests, who were responsible for teaching God's law to others. Nehemiah appears to be quoting from Zech. 1:4, which would have been a recent prophecy.

Nehemiah 9:35 For they have not served You in their kingdom-
This therefore appears relevant to the "kings" just mentioned in :34. They didn't want to be kings of God's Kingdom, instead they had hijacked His Kingdom and turned it into "their" own kingdom; just as the temple of Yahweh and feasts of Yahweh became "the temple of the Jews" and 'feasts of the Jews'. And we too can hijack the one true faith for our own ends.

And in Your great goodness that You gave them, and in the large and rich land which You gave before them, neither did they turn from their wicked works- See on :37. The land of Palestine was not "large", but the eretz promised to Abraham was- from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. Likewise, as at Nehemiah's time, the land was not always "rich", because they were punished with famines for their disobedience. So we read here of the potential which God had enabled, even though they didn't realize it.

Nehemiah 9:36 Indeed, we are servants this day, and as for the land that You gave to our fathers to eat its fruit and its good, we are servants in it-
As Hosea ‘redeemed’ Gomer in His attempt to force through His fantasy for her (Hos. 3:1), so Yahweh is repeatedly described in Isaiah as Israel’s go’el , redeemer (Is. 41:14; Is. 43:14; Is. 44:6,24; Is. 47:4; Is. 48:17; Is. 49:7,26; Is. 54:5,8). The redeemer could redeem a close relative from slavery or repurchase property lost during hard times (Lev. 25:25,26, 47-55; Ruth 2:20; Ruth 3:9,12). The redeemer was also the avenger of blood (Num. 35:9-28; Josh. 20:3,9). All these ideas were relevant to Yahweh’s relationship to Judah in captivity. But the promised freedom didn’t come- even under Nehemiah, Judah was still a province within the Persian empire. And those who returned complained: “We are slaves this day in the land you gave…” (Neh. 9:36). The wonderful prophecies of freedom and redemption from slavery weren’t realized in practice, because of the selfishness of the more wealthy Jews. And how often is it that the freedom potentially enabled for those redeemed in Christ is in practice denied them by their autocratic and abusive brethren?

Nehemiah 9:37 It yields much increase to the kings whom You have set over us because of our sins. They also have power over our bodies, and over our livestock, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress-
Ez. 34:14 had prophesied of a far greater potential: “I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel”. The restored Judah did live in a “fat” pasture land (:35), but the fatness of the land was still given to the kings of Persia because of Judah’s spiritual weakness. The fact they were paying tribute in cash and kind to their overlords was proof enough that they were still under judgment for sin (Dt. 28:33; Is. 26:13). And Neh. 5 makes it clear that the people were indeed under "great distress" in order to pay the tribute.

Nehemiah 9:38 Yet for all this, we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, our Levites, and our priests, seal it-
The referent of "for all this" is unclear. The "yet" can be dispensed with as in AV. This would then connect the covenant with the entire potted history of Israel which has occupied Neh. 9; and that has been the history of God's grace to a repeatedly impenitent and disbelieving people. In this case, "for all this", on the basis of accepting that grace, those who had just been convicted of sin, the priests, Levites and princes, made a covenant expressing their repentance. They would thereby become a parade example of how the goodness of God, in this case His grace exhibited in history, leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4).