COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 9:7 Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham; 8 And foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed Thy words; for Thou art righteous.” (Nehemiah 9:7-8)
There is much to be learned in the prayers recorded in Scripture. We can read prayers of people like Abraham, his servant Eliezer, Moses, Gideon, Samson, Hannah, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jabez, Jehosaphat, Hezekiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. In such prayers we are exposed to the impact of faith upon the human spirit. A certain frame of mind is revealed that is common in all who believe. Insight and understanding, as well as dependency and fear, are made known in these prayers. Also, they are always God-centered, and focus on what the Lord has done, versus providing human assessments of situations. They are not merely “talking to God,” as though He was our familiar, but reveal a sense of His magnitude, righteousness, and Divine power. We will find these elements, and more, in the remarkable prayer in this chapter. There will be a recognition of the working of God that is staggering. The people will reason with God, acknowledging their own shortcomings, and those of their fathers. They will, in fact, assess the entire history of God’s dealings with Israel, appraising their condition with those dealings in mind.
GOD CHOSE ABRAM, AND NAMED HIM ABRAHAM
“ 9:7 Thou art the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham.” Because the multitude is coming to God as a body of people – the Israelites – they speak to Him with that in mind. They know that even though they have been in difficult circumstances, and have been judged by God, yet it is because they are His people. Further, this circumstance – that of being His people – was not the result of their own doing, but was the work of God. They are the work of His hands, and they know it. Now they will reason with God concerning their origin. This is no doubt something that had been forgotten in prior years, for God’s people cannot lapse into sin unless they forget how God has delivered them. As Peter put it, the person who fails to fulfill God’s Word “hath forgotten he was purged from his old sins”(2 Pet 1:9). Thus an awakened people now recall with insight their sacred beginnings.
THOU ART THE LORD. Ponder the expression, “the LORD the God.” Other versions read “the LORD God,” NKJV “Jehovah the God,” ASV “Jehovah Elohim,” DARBY “Yahweh God,” NJB and “Jehovah God.” YLT When you read the word “LORD” in capital letters, it is the a translation of the Hebrew Word “Yehovaw,” or, in English, “Jehovah.” The word means “the existing One,” or eternal one, and is the proper name of the one true God. The Scriptures affirm God “alone” has this name (Psa 83:18). God refers to “Jehovah” as His name in Exodus 6:3. There He declares something most significant. “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them” (Ex 6:3). In this prayer, therefore, the people are acknowledging that the God who revealed Himself more fully to Moses and the children of Israel is the same God who called Abram – even though Abram did not know Him in the capacities that had been revealed to Israel, including the giving of the Law.
CHOSE ABRAM. The choosing of Abram is recorded in Genesis as a call, or summons. It is first referred to in Genesis 12:1. “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Gen 12:1). Yet now, with further insight, these people know that calling constituted a Divine choice. Joshua said God “took” Abraham from the land beyond the river (Josh 24:3). Speaking of the uniqueness of this choice, God said through Isaiah, “I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him” (Isa 51:2).
BROUGHT HIM FORTH. Genesis 12:4 says, “So Abraham departed as the Lord had spoken unto him.” Here the people confess God “brought” Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees. In one of his later appearances to Abram, the Lord said, “I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees” (Gen 15:7). Stephen referred to the bringing of Abraham out of Ur in these words: “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia” (Acts 7:2).
The people in our text knew of their beginnings, and were able to trace them with God-glorifying precision. They did not begin with the glorious reigns of David and Solomon, but with the calling of Abraham, when God took him out of one surrounding, in order that He might lead him to another. Thus these words are all equated in the various texts we have mentioned: “called,” “took,” “chose,” and “brought.”
GAVE HIM THE NAME. When God called, took, chose, and brought the patriarch, he was “Abram.” However, God gave him the new name “Abraham.” That name was given to the father of the nation in Genesis 17:5: “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.” That took place nearly forty years after God called him.
“Abram” means “exalted father,” or “high father,” while “Abraham” means “father of a multitude,” or “chief of multitude.” The patriarch was known as “Abram” until God changed his name – and never again after that. He is mentioned by this name fifty-two times prior to his change of name. In a genealogy, First Chronicles 1:27 says, “Abram; the same is Abraham.” Our text refers to both names, referring to God changing the name. Sarai’s name was also changed to “Sarah” (Gen 17:15). Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel” (Gen 32:28). Simon’s name was changed to “Cephas,”or Peter (John 1:42). “Saul” of Tarsus became known as “Paul” (Acts 13:9). In every case, the call of God upon the people preceded the change of their name. Involvement with God changes the individual. No person chosen and directed by God can remain the same. The entirety of Scripture confirms this to be the case. The children of Judah of our text sense the significance of this, and thus go back to the time when God first became involved with their progenitor.
ABRAHAM FOUND FAITHFUL AND GIVEN A LAND
“ 9:8a And foundest his heart faithful before Thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites . . . ” We must remember that this is a prayer – an insightful prayer. While the prayer is no doubt inspired, it also reflects the familiarity of the people, particularly the Levites, with the heritage, or birthright, of the Israelites. Their assessment of the past is built totally upon the Scriptures. They make no appeal to tradition or human interpretation, a consistent characteristic of sound reasoning.
A FAITHFUL HEART BEFORE GOD. Other versions read, “You saw that his heart was true to You,” BBE “Finding his heart was faithful to You,” NJB and “didst find his heart steadfast before Thee.” YLT The fact that God “found such a heart means that He was looking for it – looking “to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him” (2 Chr 16:9).
We know by Divine testimony that the Lord “looks at the heart,” NKJV (1 Sam 16:7). He is also declared to “know the hearts of all men” (1 Kgs 9:39). He also “tries the hearts” (Psa 7:9). When Peter and the brethren asked God for direction in choosing one to fill Judas’ “bishopric,” they confessed God as “Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men” (Acts 1:24). Jesus told the churches of Asia, “I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts” (Rev 2:23). The knowledge of this has largely been lost in our day, when religious appearance has upstaged spiritual substance.
God found Abraham trustworthy – his heart was unfettered with the selfishness that characterizes the unfaithful. Elsewhere God declared He had chosen Abraham in order that he might become the custodian of His promises. “For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him” NASB (Gen 18:19). But Abraham was not intended to be a mere robot, coerced into doing the will of the Lord. He had the kind of heart with which God could work – a “faithful” heart, one that was given to faith in God. In the Lord’s succeeding dealings with Abraham, this assessment was confirmed to be precisely correct.
Paul said a similar thing concerning himself, declaring in different words that God had also found a faithful heart in him. “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim 1:12). It should be noted that God still operates on this principle. Great insights and extensive ministries will not be given to men and women whose hearts are not faithful.
A COVENANT MADE WITH HIM. This covenant is first mentioned in Genesis 12:7, where God promised, “Unto thy seed will I give this land” (Gen 12:7). It is again mentioned in Genesis 15:18, where these six nations are detailed, plus four more (Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, and Raphaims). A list of six nations is recorded in Exodus3:8, where Moses was called at the burning bush. The similar list is repeated in Exodus 33:2. There the Hivites are mentioned, and the Gergashites omitted. In his closing words to Israel, Moses also referred to these nations, adding the Hivites: “When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou” (Deu 7:1). Exodus 33:28 mentions only three of the nations (Hivite, Canaanite, and Hittite). Deuteronomy 4:38 refers to all of the previous occupants of Canaan as “nations,” without naming any of them. There is no discrepancy in the lists, for they not intended to be a precise numbering of the nations. Seven of them were especially large. The point is that all of the former inhabitants of Canaan were to be driven out of the land.
Particularly in our day, when much philosophizing is taking place about the inhabitants of the land promised to Abraham, this text is significant. God, who is righteous GAVE a land occupied by many other nations to the descendants of Abraham. The sociologist imagines this to be unjust. But that is only because he does not have all of the facts, and has no fear of God. These nations had all been given over to iniquity, and were not driven out until that iniquity had “reached its full measure” NIV (Gen 15:16). The “Amorites” are mentioned in Genesis 15:16 because they were the most powerful of the Canaanite nations. When their iniquity was full, the other nations were judged as well. Both Deuteronomy and First Kings refer to the “abominations” of those nations (Deut 18:9; 1 Kgs 14:24). It was for this cause God “spewed them out” of the land (Lev 18:26-28).
GOD IS FAITHFUL TO ABRAHAM AND HIS SEED
“ 8b . . . to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed Thy words; for Thou art righteous.” The people are seeing the land from a different perspective – the land that was “given” to the offspring of Abraham. It was an inheritance to be occupied. There were many inhabitants in it, but they no longer had a right to remain there.
TO GIVE IT. In truth, when God made a covenant with Abraham He said He brought him out of Ur of the Chaldees “to give thee this land to inherit it” (Gen 15:7). When Moses interceded for Israel, he used the same language: “all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever” (Exo 32:13). Again in Leviticus, the same phraseology is employed. “Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it” (Lev 20:24). Again in Deuteronomy the same view is given. “And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it” (Deu 31:7).
Thus, what God gives is said to have been inherited, and was to be possessed. The people were given a land that was occupied by reprehensible and abominable nations. For Israel to inherit, or possess, that land required the expulsion of those nations. If Israel failed to do that, or chose to mingle with those nations, they would bring Divine judgment upon themselves. Thus it is written, “But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell. Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them” (Num 33:55-56).
There is a principle to be seen here. What God gives must be possessed. While we are in this world, this involves overcoming opposing forces that have no right to the benefits of God. Each believer is charged with driving out of themselves hostile and abominable forces. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Whatever form it takes, from lukewarmness to open blasphemy, the things God has condemned, and which He has affirmed He will judge, must be expelled from our lives and from our assemblies. Canaanites in the land of Israel, or transgressors in the church of God, are simply not allowed. I fear that this is not commonly taught or acknowledged.
Israel was given a land, but did not possess it as God intended. Instead, they learned the way of the heathen. As a result, they neglected to obey clearly revealed laws, one of which was the land-sabbaths. For this reason, they endured a seventy-year Babylonian captivity. Now the people clearly see this. It is in this perspective that they are praying.
HIS SEED. Abraham himself never did inherit the promised land. Of him it is said, “And He gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on: yet He promised that He would give it to him for a possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child” (Acts 7:5). Now, some of Abraham’s seed acknowledge their entire inheritance was because of their primogenitor, Abraham. The land did not belong to them because of anything they had done, but because it was promised through Abraham, who was “the Friend of God” (James 2:23; 2 Chron 20:7).
Who cannot see the relevance of this text to our own situation. We also have been given an inheritance “for Christ’s sake” (Eph 4:32) – an inheritance that starts with the remission of sins, and concludes with an “eternal inheritance” (Heb 9:15). Let us be up and possessing what we have been given in Christ Jesus!
THE WORDS PERFORMED. God fulfilled His word concerning the land! It was only their sin that found them expelled temporarily from it. These people are now viewing their own presence in the land as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. They are not there because of Cyrus, although God used him. Neither, indeed, is it because of “Artaxerxes the king” who was underwriting Nehemiah’s work. The people’s heart had been turned to the Lord, and now He had put them in the land again, performing the promise made to their father Abraham. Perhaps they were also recalling the words of Joshua. “There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Josh 21:45). It is one thing to hear those words, and another to see them.
THOU ART RIGHTEOUS. The reason God fulfilled His word to Abraham was not because of Abraham’s character. Nor, indeed, was it because of the faithfulness of Israel or Nehemiah. It was because He IS “righteous.” He was righteous in expelling the people, and righteous in gathering them. Now the people see that, and confess it to the “Righteous One.”