How would you know when a
revival comes to your personal life, your church,
your community or nation?
Nehemiah 9:1-5 tells us
what take place when revival comes to God’s people.
What follows in the rest
of the chapter is the longest recorded payer in the
Bible. It is a rehearsal of Israel’s history of
God’s faithfulness and Israel’s failures. The
conclusion is a new covenant with God.
The people have been
rejoicing at the completion of the wall and the
reading of the Word of God. After three weeks they
returned for further reading of God’s Word and
confession of sin.
HUMILITY BEFORE GOD
"Now on the twenty-fourth
day of this month the sons of Israel assembled with
fasting, in sackcloth and with dirt upon them. The
descendants of Israel separated themselves from all
foreigners, and stood and confessed their sins and
the iniquities of their fathers. While they stood in
their place, they read from the book of the law of
the Lord their God for a fourth of the day; and for
another fourth they confessed and worshiped the Lord
their God. Now on the Levites’ platform stood
Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah,
Bani and Chenani, and they cried with a loud voice
to the Lord their God" (Nehemiah 9:1-4, NASB 1995).
The people are clad in
"sackcloth, and with dirt upon them" (v. 1).
That must have been quite a scene with the people
dressed in a coarse goat’s hair, and dirt covered
They came together in a
formal assembly to worship the LORD God. These
people had a hunger for God. They came with empty
stomachs and grieving hearts. The act was an
expression of mourning, grief, and humiliation over
their sins. By throwing the dirt on their heads they
were symbolically identifying with death. "The soul
that sins will surely die," wrote the prophet
Ezekiel (18:4). The apostle Paul reflected on the
fact and said, "The wages of sin is death . . ."
They repented by putting
away known transgressions. Verse two informs us they
"separated themselves from all foreigners." That was
painful because many of them had married foreigners.
These Israelites "stood
and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their
fathers" (v. 2). There was open confession of their
sins. There was no false humility, pretense or
There was further reading
of God’s Word. "While they stood in their place,
they read from the book of the law of the Lord their
God for a fourth of the day; and for another fourth
they confessed and worshiped the Lord their God" (v.
How refreshing to be
reminded that when revival comes there is the
renewed interest in the Scriptures. The reading of
the Word of God was instrumental in bringing the
revival and now that it has come the people continue
to read it. The great congregation of Israel stood
in an open assembly listening to the reading of the
Word of God, confessing their sins and worshipping
the LORD their God.
From a high platform the
Levites cried out to God in prayer. They called out
to the people, "Arise, bless the LORD your God
forever and ever!" (v. 5). What follows is a great
prayer of confession and thanksgiving which
encompasses the whole history of the people of
The atmosphere in this
chapter is in sharp contrast with the Feast of
Booths or Tabernacles where there was "great
rejoicing" and celebration (8:17-18).
When true revival sweeps
over the people of God, there is a profound
awareness of the glory of God, conviction of
personal sin, and repentance. There is also an
awakened conscience of God speaking through His
Word. In Nehemiah’s day they had a hunger for God’s
Word, and sorrow for sin that resulted in a changed
The Word of God had a
profound impact on the people. It brought conviction
of sin and confession. The people spent at least
three hours confessing before God.
God uses His Word to make
us aware of sin and how to respond to it in our
lives (Psa. 51:1-4, 10; 32:5).
The prayer covers four
areas and reaches to a climax. There is prayer and
adoration (vv. 5-6), thanksgiving and reflection on
Israel’s past dealings with God (vv. 7-31), prayer
requests (vv. 32-37), and a prayer of commitment to
a new covenant (v. 38).
Ray Stedman said that
this chapter is like a great antiphonal chorus with
one group confessing sin, another group answering
them, extolling the glory and grace of Yahweh.
PRAYER OF ADORATION
AND PRAISE TO THE LORD GOD (9:5-6)
"Then the Levites,
Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah,
Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah, said, ‘Arise, bless
the Lord your God forever and ever! O may Your
glorious name be blessed and exalted above all
blessing and praise! You alone are the Lord. You
have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with
all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the
seas and all that is in them. You give life to all
of them and the heavenly host bows down before You’"
The Levites teach us how
to confess our sins before God and praise Him for
His grace and forgiveness.
There is no "if" in true
confession of sin before a holy and righteous God.
You do not say to God, "Now, if I have . . ." It is
always "God be merciful to me the sinner." "Lord I
did it." "Lord, I am the one. I neglected Your Word.
I rebelled. I have been disobedient."
"Then the Levites . . . .
said, ‘Arise, bless the LORD your God forever and
ever!" (v. 5). In your imagination you can see them
standing up and shouting, "Bless the LORD your God
forever and ever! Oh may Thy glorious name be
blessed and exalted above all blessing and praise!"
They praised the name of
Yahweh! There is no other God but Jehovah or Yahweh.
"Thou alone art the LORD." When the Jewish person
spoke His Name, He said it all. There is none other.
There was nothing to be compared with Him.
The prayer exalts the
Creator (v. 6). "Thou alone art the LORD. Thou
hast made the heavens . . . with all their host, the
earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that
is in them."
What a great God He is!
When you see the great images that come back from
the powerful space telescopes does, it cause you to
shout praise to your Creator? When you see the
beautiful images from space that NASA releases, do
you sing "How Great Thou Art"? Do you know Him and
worship Him? That is what the host of heaven does.
"Thou dost give life to all of them and the heavenly
host bows down before Thee" (v. 6).
After beginning their
prayer with affirmation and praise to the LORD God,
they reflect on His grace and give thanksgiving to
PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING
TO GOD (9:7-31)
This portion of the
prayer reflects on Israel’s past history and God’s
dealings with them from the call of Abraham until
the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. The prayer follows
the history of Israel based on the early books of
the Hebrew Old Testament.
Of interest in this
prayer is that nothing specific is mentioned by any
one of the kings of Israel and Judah. Not even King
David is mentioned.
Vv. 7-8 reflects on the call of Abraham and
God’s faithfulness to him and his descendents. "You
are the Lord God, Who chose Abram And brought him
out from Ur of the Chaldees, and gave him the name
Abraham. You found his heart faithful before You,
and made a covenant with him to give him the land of
the Canaanite, Of the Hittite and the Amorite, Of
the Perizzite, the Jebusite and the Girgashite— To
give it to his descendants. And You have fulfilled
Your promise, For You are righteous." God
keeps His promises. Thank God he called, chose and
drew us to Himself. We are here today because God in
His sovereign grace has drawn us irresistibly to
Himself. God loved us first, and drew us to Himself
and saved us.
Vv. 9-12 recalls the Exodus and God’s
deliverance with signs and wondrous power. God saw
the "affliction of our fathers in Egypt," and "heard
their cry by the Red Sea." There He performed "signs
and wonders against Pharaoh" and the people of
Egypt. He led the people through the sea on dry land
and with a "pillar of cloud" by day, and a "pillar
of fire by night" guided them to the Promised Land.
Let’s never forget that we have been purchased,
redeemed from the slavery of sin to serve a living
God. You are not your own; you have been bought with
a price, the precious blood of the Lamb of God.
Vv. 13-15 God gave the Law, the Sabbath, made
provisions in the wilderness and commanded them to
enter the Promised Land. "You provided bread from
heaven for them for their hunger, You brought forth
water from a rock for them for their thirst, And You
told them to enter in order to possess the land
which You swore to give them" (v. 15). Praise God
for His providential care. He supplies all our needs
according to His grace and tender mercies (cf.
Philippians 4:13, 19).
Vv. 16-18 The sins and disobedience of the
people are reflected upon. They were arrogant,
stubborn, rebellious, but even then God was gracious
and forgiving. Even in the honest reflection on
their willful disobedience there is an outburst of
praise to God for His grace. "But they, our fathers,
acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not
listen to Your commandments. They refused to listen,
and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You
had performed among them; so they became stubborn
and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in
Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious
and compassionate, Slow to anger and abounding in
lovingkindness; And You did not forsake them" (v.
16-17). Note the behavior and the words that
describe the people: arrogant, stiff-necked,
disobedient, refused to listen to God’s
commandments, failed to remember, chose rebellious
leaders. "When you rebel against God, you invariably
want to go back to the evil that you were involved
in. . . . They forgot all the bondage because they
longed for the sensual pleasures of Egypt. That is
how rebellion deceives," says Stedman.
Vv. 19-21 God’s faithfulness is recalled
during the 40 years of wilderness wanderings. God
does not forsake His people in the wilderness after
they create the golden idols, but has compassion on
them and provides guidance and instruction by His
Spirit, and physical nourishment with manna.
"Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the
wilderness and they were not in want; their clothes
did not wear out, nor did their feet swell" (V. 21).
Vv. 22-25 the people took possession of the
Promised Land, expanded the boundaries, subdued the
enemies, fortified the cities and the fertile
ground. God drove out their enemies before them.
Vv. 26-31 the prayer reflects on the rebellion of
the people, killing the prophets and the exile. Even
during the time the sovereign hand of God is
acknowledged. "Therefore Thou didst deliver them
into the hand of their oppressor who oppressed them"
(v. 27a). The wilderness cycle of Judges, and even
slavery in the Promised Land is reflected on. It is
all because of their sin. Arrogance, idolatry, and
rebellion are the causes of the chastisement of a
compassionate and gracious God who was always wiling
to forgive. "However, You bore with them for many
years, and admonished them by Your Spirit through
Your prophets, yet they would not give ear.
Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples
of the lands. "Nevertheless, in Your great
compassion You did not make an end of them or
forsake them, For You are a gracious and
compassionate God" (vv. 30-31).
God is the subject
throughout the whole section. Note the words that
describe His attitudes and actions toward the
people. The emphasis throughout the section is on
God’s faithfulness in contrast to the unfaithfulness
of His people. Everywhere we turn there is the
sovereign activity of the LORD God.
The prayer builds to a
climax and now the focus is once again on confession
of sin. They made an appeal for God’s mercy.
"Now therefore, our God,
the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who dost
keep covenant and lovingkindness . . ." (v. 32). Sin
is never insignificant with God.
God is just in all His
dealings with men. "However, You are just in all
that has come upon us; For You have dealt
faithfully, but we have acted wickedly" (v. 33).
Over and over again the
failure of Israel was matched by a new outpouring of
the grace of God. How true that is in our lives as
well. This whole chapter is replete with pictures of
God’s faithfulness, God’s goodness, God’s grace,
God’s tender mercies, and God’s blessings!
PRAYER OF COMMITMENT
IN A NEW COVENANT (9:38)
"Now because of all this
we are making an agreement in writing; and on the
sealed document are the names of our leaders, our
Levites and our priests" (v. 38).
The people made a solemn
commitment in written form to the LORD God.
Nehemiah chapter ten
records the names of the leaders who signed the
agreement with God. It was a matter of obedience.
They took upon "themselves a curse and an oath to
walk in God’s law . . . to keep and to observe all
the commandments of God our Lord, and His ordinances
and His statutes" (10:29). Those who signed
represented all the people living in Judah during
the day of Nehemiah.
Moreover, they refused to
give their daughters in marriage to "the peoples of
the land," or to allow their sons to marry
The Sabbath and the house
of God became priorities in their lives. "We will
not neglect the house of God" (v. 39).
These people got serious
with God that day. It was a revival that would last
until the coming of Christ four hundred years later.
Revival is not an
emotional upheaval—it is a commitment to action. It
is a walk with God.
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
1. God’s Word will
not return to Him void. It will accomplish His
purposes. He uses His written Word to bring revival.
How tragic that we live in a day that does not take
the Word of God seriously. The Bible is God’s book
and we need to proclaim it.
2. The only
behavior that changes is observed behavior. The
people took time to reflect on God’s faithfulness
and their own rebellious lives. They confessed their
sins and signed a formal commitment to change their
direction of their lives. They got serious with God.
We have a personal responsibility to make a personal
commitment to God and keep it.
3. God’s grace is
always greater than our sins. He is ready to forgive
if you will confess to Him. There is cleansing in
the fountain that flows from the Lamb of God.
4. God is
sovereign in the affairs of nations, and not just
Judah in the days of Nehemiah. He is just in all of
His dealings with mankind. "However, You are just in
all that has come upon us; For You have dealt
faithfully, but we have acted wickedly" (9:33). Have
you confessed to God your sins and turned from them?
5. Take some time
and reflect on God’s faithfulness and goodness to
you in your life. Jot down on a piece of paper how
God has been faithful to you and your family. Pause
and give praise to Him. Thank Him for your
job, your promotions, your achievements, and your
family. Give Him glory.
6. Revival affects
every area of our lives: personal, family, social,
professional, business, church, etc. Spend some time
praying for revival.
Somewhere God got a bad
reputation by some arrogant sinners. The truth is He
is described in the Old Testament as the God of
grace, tender mercy and loving care. This great
chapter in Nehemiah reminds us just how
compassionate, patient and forgiving He really is.
Even when the people of Israel blasphemed God, He
did not destroy them, but spared them and drew them
back to Himself. Yes, He chastised them, but that is
an expression of love. We don’t’ deserve anything
but death, but God in love sent His Son to die in
our place to give us eternal life. God is patient,
longsuffering, loving toward us. He is still
compassionate, merciful, caring. What greater love
that He sent His Son to die for you? Have you put
your faith and trust in Him? Have you thanked Him
for loving you?
Index to this Series on
the Nehemiah: A Leader with a Focused Faith
9:1-38 Setting Priorities for Revival through Prayer
Series: Nehemiah: A
Leader with a Focused Faith