The people of Israel had sinned against their God. Therefore, the Lord delivered them into the hands of their enemies. However, the Lord heard their cries. Thus Nehemiah records the grace of God, saying, “thou heardest them from heaven: and according to thy manifold mercies thou gavest them saviors, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies (adversaries).” They had forgotten their Lord; but He, through His loving-kindness, provided deliverance. In his longsuffering and forbearance with His people, He testified against them as to their transgressions through His prophets; yet they “would not give ear” to Him. “Nevertheless,” writes Nehemiah, “for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou art a gracious and merciful God.”
Confession and repentance reveal the work of the Spirit in the hearts of his people. They are not blessed because of their righteousness, but because of the tender mercies of their God. Our repentance and faith reveal that we understand our sinful position before God, who alone is just and righteous: “Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly.” Matthew Henry writes, “When confessing our sins, it is good to notice the mercies of God, that we may be the more humbled and ashamed. The dealings of the Lord showed his goodness and long-suffering, and the hardness of their hearts. The testimony of the prophets was the testimony of the Spirit in the prophets, and it was the Spirit of Christ in them. They spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and what they said is to be received accordingly. The results were, wonder at the Lord’s mercies, and the feeling that sin had brought them to their present state, from which nothing but unmerited love could rescue them.”
Because of the saving grace of God, through which the people found forgiveness and reconciliation, the children of Israel said, “because of all this we make a sure covenant and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” It is the “great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy.” It is God who makes a covenant, an alliance between Himself and His people. In verse 38, we have the people making a “sure covenant,” which speaks of a written document that declares a firm commitment to God’s Word. They are saying, “it is certain!” Their princes, along with the Levites and priests, would add their seal to the writing. The leaders and teachers of the people, the representatives of God in the office they were appointed, would set their seal upon it, lock it in place that it would be a firm commitment that they would be the people of God, and that the true God would be their God.
The Spirit of God moved Nehemiah to record the names of the priests and Levites, of the chief rulers of the people. This list testifies to the historical reality of the commitment the people made before the true and awesome Creator and Deliverer. The extent of the commitment went through the porters and singers. They all bound themselves by solemn oath to “separate themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God.” Our covenant of obedience to the law of God results in a separation from the world and its false prophets and philosophies. The people knew to what law they were to be faithful: “to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.” Their commitment to the law of the Lord extended to their families, their wives, sons, and daughters. They would not practice the evil ways of the lands around them. They would keep the Sabbath, remembering that six days were for labor, but the seventh belonged to the Lord. Thus they would not, for example, buy any goods on that day. The Lord’s Day brings to us much judgment. For the malls and stores gather more people than the Word of God. The greatest deals are advertised as beginning on Sunday. These are pure temptations of the wicked; not testing’s of the Lord.
The “sure covenant” was explained to young and old alike, to all those able to know and understand its words. We are to teach our children and children’s children. As they grow in the grace of our Lord, we are to give knowledge and understanding under the tutelage of the Spirit through His Word. The ordinances of the Lord are precious to us.
The covenant included the expenses of the temple and God’s chosen ministers. “If the community seriously intended to walk by the rule of God’s law, they must take care that the temple service, as the public worship of the community, should be provided for according to the law and a firm footing and due solemnity thus given to religion” (K-D). When we bind ourselves to the needs of those who minister to us as teaching elders, as preachers of the Gospel, we bind ourselves to faithful worship and service as the Church of our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus.
The Mosaic Law (Ex. 30:13) said that a payment of a half a shekel would be given by every man twenty years of age and older. However, during this time of poverty, it was lowered to a third of a shekel. The service of the house of the Lord would continue with its offerings and sabbaths, etc., “and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.” It was appointed that there would be ample wood to burn upon the “altar of the Lord our God, as it is written the law.” The first fruits of the labor of the people would be most honored by the Lord. Do we give what is left over today? Do we rationalize our behavior in giving as honoring to ourselves, rather than our creator and deliverer? First fruits and tithes are most honoring to our Lord. They will bring the most blessings as seed planted in the good soil of His Church.
The Levites were to be responsible in receiving the tithes and in bringing them to “the house of our God.” For these tithes are evidences of the commitment of the people that they would not forsake God’s house.” This is a solemn pledge, not to forsake the house of God. The house of God is in reality the fellowship of believers with the Lord who is their Savior and Lord. To forsake the communion of the faithful is to forsake the Christ whose blood was shed for their existence as children of God. The children of Israel were showing sorrow and gratitude for their deliverance from captivity to fellowship with their Deliverer.
Their cry is heard throughout the land, “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness” (Psa. 95:6–8). The people remembered their deliverance from the captivity of darkness, a darkness that was theirs because of their transgressions. Now they were returned to the Savior of their souls. So also we were delivered from the transgression of the law of God which afforded us the way of death. We now, by grace, live in the marvelous Light of our Savior, Christ Jesus. We sing with a sure commitment to obedience to our Deliverer, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? …One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psa. 27).
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