COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 9:9 And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea; 10 And showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for Thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst Thou get thee a name, as it is this day. 11 And Thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.” (Nehemiah 9:9-11)
Led by the Levites, the insightful prayer of the people continues. The accent of the prayer is clearly placed upon God Himself and His great works – particularly with regard to His people. With perception the prayer progresses from the lesser works to the greater ones – from creation to His gracious dealings with mankind. The same God who stretched out the heavenly expanse, the earth and sea, and all that is in them, is the God who called Abraham. Now the people confess Him to be the same God who focused his attention upon the Israelites, the children of Abraham, to deliver and bless them. They seem to sense the world was intended to be an arena in which God would make known His mighty works. Now, with keen perception, they review those mighty works, identifying themselves with the ancient people so favored of the Lord. In this way, their own faith was strengthened and hope was kindled, and caused to rise to a blazing flame of expectation.
GOD SAW AND HEARD HIS PEOPLE
“ 9:9 And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea.” There is a certain principle in spiritual knowledge that is essential to know. True insight has more to do with perceiving what the Lord is doing, than in knowing what man should do. In fact, it is only to the degree that we know what the Lord is doing that we obtain a proper understanding of what we are to do. Further, edification and comfort are ministered to the renewed spirit when the working of the Lord is understood, not when our own obligations are deciphered. When the works of the Lord are not proclaimed, and the duties of men are emphasized, edification and comfort are at once diminished, for duty is not the fountain from which such benefits flow.
THE AFFLICTION WAS SEEN. Other versions read, “You saw the trouble of our fathers in Egypt,” BBE “You saw the distress of our ancestors in Egypt,” NJB and “You saw the sufferings and sorrows of our ancestors in Egypt.” NLT When the Israelites first went into Egypt, there were seventy of them, and they were treated graciously because of Joseph (Gen 46:26-27; Ex 1:1-5). During a period of around 400 years, the children of Israel “grew and multiplied exceedingly” (Gen 46:27). Eventually, Joseph died, and “there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exo 1:8). This king viewed the children of Israel and saw that they now outnumbered the Egyptians, observing they were “more and mightier than we” (Ex 1:8). In order to neutralize their strength, he appointed taskmasters over them who “made their lives bitter with hard bondage.” NASB
Under this severe affliction they built the Egyptian treasure cities of Pithom and Ramses (Ex 1:11). They had no prophet among them, and no word from God. Yet, the more the Egyptians afflicted them, “the more they multipled and grew.” As a result, the Egyptians “worked them ruthlessly,” NIV making their lives “bitter with hard bondage.” Still, there was no word from God, no prophet, and no messenger of hope. The king made an edict to kill all male babies when they were born, which edict was ignored by Egyptian midwives who feared the Lord. The king then commanded that male infants be cast into the river (1:12-22). Of this king Stephen said, “He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our forefathers by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die” NIV (Acts 7:19). Still, there was no word from God, no prophet, and no deliverer. Yet, the Scripture says of that time, “And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them” (Ex 2:25).
It was during this time that Moses was born. Forty years after that, the Lord appeared to Moses in the wilderness of mount Sinai. Of that occasion we read,, “And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt” (Ex 3:7; Acts 7:34). There had not been a single abuse that had escaped His attention – even though the people were not aware of that gracious circumstance. Stephen traces the rise of the heartless king and the sudden increase of oppression to an appointed time. “But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt” (Acts 7:17). They grew during affliction – affliction which God compassionately beheld.
THE CRIES WERE HEARD. The affliction of the people was so strong that it caused cries to erupt from their hearts and mouths. Of their groans in Egypt it is written, “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exo 2:24). However, this is not the cries to which the Levites now refer. They mention “their cry by the Red Sea.” The people were out of Egypt, but not out of danger. They were free from oppression, but not from threats. Standing on the banks of the uncrossable Red Sea they saw the Egyptians as they “marched after them; and they were sore afraid.” In despair the people cried out, charging that Moses had brought them into the wilderness only to be killed. They reminded him that they had told him, “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex 14:10-12).
The Lord heard their cry, and graciously gave them a word through Moses: “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Ex 14:13-14).
Now the people are able to correlate their history with their present circumstance. They know that God has seen their affliction and heard their cries again. What occurs upon earth, even though it is grievous and hard to be borne, is seen by a compassionate and loving God. The rebuilt wall and repopulated city of Jerusalem confirmed that to the people.
GOD GETS A NAME FOR HIMSELF
“ 9:10 And showedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for Thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst Thou get Thee a name, as it is this day.” In their prayer and praise the people are doing more than merely reciting history. They are standing in the glow of the truth, and are perceiving the hand of the Lord in their past. This perception is giving them confidence for the present and hope for the future. We are witnessing the articulation of faith.
SIGNS AND WONDERS WERE SHOWN. Signs and wonders were shown. Other versions read “Thou didst perform signs and wonders,” NASB “You sent miraculous signs and wonders,” NIV and “You did signs and wonders.” BBE “Signs and wonders” are transcendent to nature. They are Divine interventions, when God thrusts His mighty arm into the affairs of men. Such interventions cannot be stopped by Satan and his hosts, nor can they be ignored by men. Before he died, Moses reminded the people, “And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes” (Deu 6:22) – almost exactly what the people here confess. Jeremiah made the same confession (Jer 32:20). These works were “signs and wonders” to Israel, but they were judgments to Egypt (Ex 6:6; 7:4). They blessed Israel, but cursed Egypt.
Notice the thoroughness of these “signs and wonders” for Israel, and judgments toward Egypt. The leader of the nation was included – “Pharaoh.” All of his household were included – “his servants.” Everyone in the nation were involved – “all the people of his land.” Also observe that God refers to Canaan as “His land” (Deut 32:43; Psa 10:16; Joel 2:18), but Egypt is called Pharaoh’s land – “his land. “
THE ABUSE OF GOD’S PEOPLE WAS KNOWN. God knew Pharaoh and his people had “dealt proudly” against His people. Other versions read, “Acted proudly against,” NKJV “acted arrogantly against them,” NASB and “acted insolently against out ancestors.” NRSV The hatred of the Egyptians for the God of the Hebrews boiled over in their presumptuous treatment of His people. Their national pride drove them to deal heartlessly with the people of the Living God – and God took due note of it. The pride of Pharaoh is seen in his insolent reply to Moses: “Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go” (Ex 5:2).
When the people said God “knew” of the evil treatment of the Israelites, they did not mean He merely knew about it, or was passively aware of what was happening. Rather, this is heart language the reveals the identity of the Lord with His people. Isaiah spoke of such identity in these words, “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” (Isa 63:9). That is another way of saying He “knew” the Egyptians dealt proudly “AGAINST” His people.
When the people of God are subjected to the maltreatment of others, it is never an innocent matter. It is always a revelation of pride, arrogance, and insolence. Those who take it upon themselves to make life more difficult and miserable for God’s children are slated for Divine judgment, just as surely as Pharaoh and all of Egypt. God is affected by such insolence. It moves Him against the oppressor and in favor of His people.
GOD GETS A NAME FOR HIMSELF. Other versions read, “You made a name for Yourself,” NKJV “You won a reputation,” NJB and “You have a glorious reputation.” NLT What God did for Israel did not change Him. It did not enhance His character or add to His attributes. However, it DID cause Him to be better known, which is what He desires (Jer 9:24). God had told Pharaoh, “And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power; and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Ex 9:16). And, indeed, that is precisely what happened. That name, the people confess, “remains to this day.” NIV He showed Himself to be a Judge, King, Mighty in battle, Deliverer, Leader, and Provider! Surrounding people and nations heard of Israel’s deliverance (Ex 18:8; Num 22:5; Josh 2:10; 9:9). They learned about the mighty God of heaven.
I cannot leave this section without affirming how God has gotten Him a name through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. If God was the better known because of Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, what can be said of how He has been made known in the reconciliation of the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:18-20), the destruction of the devil (Heb 2:14), and the taking away of sin (1 John 3:5). How much is now known of His grace, His purpose, His love, and His gracious intentions for those who will believe. In Christ, God has revealed more of Himself, His power, and His will than ever before.
GOD DIVIDES THE SEA AND DESTROYS THE ENEMY
“11 And Thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.” There are remarkable benefits to be realized by simply acknowledging what the Lord has done. The rehearsal of His mighty works form a sort of spiritual environment in which more of the Lord can be seen, and more of His power and grace can be experienced. There is a singular consistency of this insight throughout Scripture. This is something of what is involved in the expression, “But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Psa 22:3). Such praises are insightful.
THE SEA DIVIDED. The people are not viewing the works of God as empty history, but as a revelation of God Himself. He “divided” the Red Sea “before them.” That is, He divided it before their eyes and prior to commanding them to move forward. Scripture tells us God “caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land” (Ex 14:21). The waters “were a wall unto them on the right hand and on the left” (Ex 14:22). The psalmist said God “turned the sea into dry land” (Psa 66:6), and “He made the waters to stand up as a heap”(Psa 78:13). Again, the Psalmist said God “divided the sea into parts” (Psa 136:13). Isaiah said God led Israel “by the right hand of Moses with His glorious arm, dividing the water before them” (Isa 63:12). On the banks of the Red Sea, the Israelites praised God for their deliverance saying, “By the blast of Your nostrils the waters piled up. The surging waters stood firm like a wall; the deep waters congealed in the heart of the sea” NIV (Ex 15:8). This, the people confessed, was the work of their God. He marshaled the forces of nature for His own will. Cannot this great God keep and protect His people today?
THROUGH THE SEA ON DRY LAND. The Lord did not enable the people to swim across the Red Sea. That would not have drawn enough attention to Himself. Nor, indeed, did He transport them to the other side as He transported Ezekiel by taking him by the hair of his head and lifting him between heaven and earth (Ezek 8:3). He did not instantly move them across the sea like he moved Philip to Azotus (Acts 8:40), or like the disciples landed instantly on the shore from the midst of the sea (John 6:21). Instead, the people had to walk across the sea with dry ground under them, walls of water around them, and a cloud over them (1 Cor 10:1-2). The Spirit tells us, “By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land” (Heb 11:29).
Forty years after this deliverance, Rahab told the Israelite spies the city of Jericho had “heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red sea for you”(Josh 2:10). Joshua told the people to tell their children about this deliverance (Josh 4:23). Jephthah the judge spoke of it (Judges 11:16). The Psalmist said of the occasion, “He rebuked the Red sea, and it was dried up” (Psa 106:9). Now the people derive encouragement as they rehearse that deliverance.
THEIR PERSECUTORS THROWN INTO THE DEEP. Notice how the people refer to the Egyptians. They do not call them a great and cultured nation, but the “persecutors” of God’s people. Other versions, emphasizing the ungodly aggression of the Egyptians, refer to them as “their pursuers.” NASB/NIV For the flesh, the storming troops of Egypt were a most fearful sight (Ex 14:10). As the Egyptians approached the Red sea, they saw that it remained parted. Yet, God so hardened their hearts that they “went after” the Israelites, following them “into the sea.” The Lord even troubled and agitated the Egyptians, but they went on. He took the wheels off of their chariots so that it was difficult to drive them. It was then that they made an effort to flee, for they saw God was fighting for Israel (Ex 14:23-25). With all of them in the middle of the sea, God commanded Moses to stretch his rod over the waters so that they might return. We are told the Egyptians “were fleeing right into” NASB the returning waters when they were all covered, with “not even one” remaining (Ex 14:27-28).
The inspired perception of this event is seen in the words, “And their persecutors You threw into the deep, as a stone into the mighty waters.” NKJV When the deliverance occurred Israel sang, “they sank into the bottom as a stone . . . Thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy” (Exo 15:5-6). Again they sang, “they sank as lead in the mighty waters” (Ex 15:10). Just as surely as God led Israel through the waters, He drew the Egyptians into the waters, overthrowing them in a singular display of His mighty power.
Thus, a most precise picture of deliverance is given. The clean escape of the people, and the sure destruction of their enemies. Such is the salvation that we have found in Christ Jesus. We ourselves have passed through the waters that could well have drowned us, realizing a clean escape from the corruption that is in the world. Our adversary, the devil, has also been destroyed (Heb 2:14), and his principalities and powers plundered (Col 2:15).