COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 9:22 Moreover Thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan. 23 Their children also multipliedst Thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which Thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it. 24 So the children went in and possessed the land, and Thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy great goodness.” (Neh 9:22-25)
Thus far, in their insightful prayer, the people have recalled 1-the creation, 2-the calling of Abraham, 3-the covenant made with Abraham, 4-deliverance from Egypt, 5-the overthrow of Pharaoh and his armies, 6-leading the people to Sinai, 7-the giving of the Law, 8-miraculous provisions to the promised land, 9-the rebellion of the people and the making of the golden calf, 10-the guidance of the people for forty years in the wilderness, 11-miraculous food and water in the wilderness, and 12-clothing and health during the wilderness. Now they will cover the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan. In all of this we see the precision of praise and the wisdom of worship. There is no “vain repetition” here, which is now commonly associated with praise. It is ever true that spiritual insight and wisdom show themselves in the speech of those possessing them – particularly in the matter f prayer. Even a cursory review of the prayers of Scripture will confirm this to be true.
HE GAVE THEM KINGDOMS AND NATIONS ON THE WAY
“ 9:22 Moreover Thou gavest them kingdoms and nations, and didst divide them into corners: so they possessed the land of Sihon, and the land of the king of Heshbon, and the land of Og king of Bashan.”
KINGDOMS AND NATIONS. Here a general statement is made that covers the kingdoms and lands given to Israel on the East of Jordan, as well on he West, in Canaan itself. The 105th Psalm also refers to the vastness of what was given to them, wholly separated from merit on their part. “And gave them the lands of the heathen: and they inherited the labor [fruit] of the people” (Psa 105:44).
On the way to Canaan, and prior to receiving the Law, Israel defeated the Amalekites (Ex 17:13). This was the occasion when Aaron and Hur held up the arms of Moses while Joshua led in the battle. While in the wilderness, they defeated the Canaanites, who were led by king Arad (Num 21:1-3). They also defeated the Midianites just before the death of Moses (Num 31:1-11).
After entering the land and defeating Jericho, they defeated five Amorite kings (Josh 10). It is written in Joshua, “And the land was subdued before them” (Josh 18:1). Although the land given to Israel was occupied by several nations, “seven” of whom were “greater” than Israel (Deut 7:1; Acts 13:19), “the LORD gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein” (Josh 21:43).
DIVIDED INTO CORNERS. Other versions read, “divided them into districts,” NKJV “allot to them as a boundary,” NASB “allotted them to every corner,” NRSV and “didst divide lots for them.” DOUAY Several things are intended by these words. First, every part of the land was given to them: i.e., “allotted them every corner.” Second, specific borders were assigned, so that Israel could not spread out according to their own will: i.e., “allot them as a boundary.” Third, each tribe received a specific part of the land: i.e., “divide lots for them.”
The latter is the particular emphasis of the text – each tribe receiving a specific part of the land. A point is made of this in several places. Moses said “the land shall be divided [distributed] by lot” (Num 26:55). Again he said, “This is the land which ye shall inherit by lot”(Num 34:13). Later, when they actually entered the promised land, God commanded Joshua to “only divide thou it by lot unto the Israelites for an inheritance, as I have commanded thee” (Josh 13:6). The 21st chapter of Joshua accounts for much of the distribution of the land – by appointed lot, or portion. Each tribe was then to occupy the assigned lot, driving out the current inhabitants of it Those who failed to do this were told the heathen inhabitants to be “pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides”(Num 33:55).
THE LANDS OF SIHON AND HESHBON. This was a land on the East side of Jordan, whereas the land of Canaan itself, beginning with Jericho, was on the West side. Sihon was “the king of the Amorites”(Num 21:21). In their wilderness travels, Israel requested that Sihon let them pass through his land. They said they would take nothing from their fields or vineyards, and would drink no water from their wells. Sihon refused to allow them to pass through his land, and instead went out to fight them. He was soundly defeated by Israel, and they possessed his land “from Arnon unto Jabbok, as far as the sons of Ammon.” It is written that “Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof” (Num 21:25). Later, Moses explained Sihon’s obstinance, saying it was from God in order that Israel might inherit his hand. “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day” (Deut 2:30). God gave Israel his land!
OG, KING OF BASHAN. In occupying the land of the Amorites, Israel also overcame Og, who went out to fight them as they came through Bashan. He is described as “the remnant of the giants,” who had a bed that was “more than thirteen feet long and six feet wide” NIV (Deut 3:11). God also gave “the kingdom of Og”to Israel (Deut 3:13).
The kingdom of Sihon, the land of Heshbon and the kingdom of Og were given to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. “And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about” (Num 32:33). The territory given to the half tribe of Manasseh was called “the land of the giants” (Deut 3:13). These tribes had an inheritance on “the other side of Jordan” (Josh 2:10). Canaan itself was apportioned to “nine tribes, and to the half tribe” (Num 34:13).
HE MULTIPLIED THEM AND BROUGHT THEM INTO THE LAND
“ 9:23 Their children also multipliedst Thou as the stars of heaven, and broughtest them into the land, concerning which Thou hadst promised to their fathers, that they should go in to possess it.”
THEIR CHILDREN MULTIPLIED. The Lord promised Abraham, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Gen 15:5). And again, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen 22:17). Centuries later, David refused to take a count of Israelites twenty years old and younger – a strategy that would have given him some idea of the military potential of Israel. The reason for him doing this is stated in the following words: “But David took not the number of them from twenty years old and under: because the LORD had said he would increase Israel like to the stars of the heavens” (1 Chr 27:23). He reckoned on the promise God gave to Abraham, persuaded that it would be fulfilled regardless of how things appeared. We also can learn to reason in this godly manner.
Now the people of Nehemiah’s time confess a period in this multiplication took place. Initially, the growth occurred in the land of bondage – Egypt. During that time of affliction it is written, “But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Ex 1:12). Commenting on that period of growth the Psalmist wrote, “And He increased His people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies” (Psa 105:24).
However, that was not the only time the people “multiplied.” They also grew in the wilderness, during the time when Divine judgment purged their ranks of those who refused to believe and possess the land of promise. When Israel came out of Egypt, there were, in round figures, “about six hundred thousand on foot that were men” (Ex 12:37). At Sinai, the number of men twenty years and upward numbered 603,550 (Ex 38:26). Before they spied out the land of Canaan the first time, and when the people were demanding meat, Moses said there were “six hundred thousand footmen” (Num 11:21).
Later, before Moses died, and shortly before they entered Canaan, God commanded Moses to take another count of the men “from twenty years and upward” (Num 26:4). Remember, the unbelieving generation all died prior to Israel entering Canaan (Deut 1:35; 2:14). When they departed from Egypt, the count was 600,000. At Sinai it was 603,050. The count before entering Canaan was 601,730 (Num 26:51). Thus, even though over 600,000 people had died in the wilderness, the people were ready to enter into Canaan with about the same number of young men that came out of Egypt. The Lord had “multiplied” the people. What is even more, He did so under most unfavorable circumstances. The multiplication took place during a time of judgment, when thousands were dying. It took place in a wilderness, where the people wandered for forty years with no permanent dwelling.
There can be no doubt that the people of Nehemiah’s day are correlating these events with their own circumstance. They are confessing the greatness and faithfulness of God, sensing that they will be blessed, sustained, and multiplied as well as their fathers.
BROUGHT INTO THE LAND. This was not simply A land, but the one that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To Abraham, God had said of Canaan, “Unto thy seed will I give this land”(Gen 12:7). Again He promised Abraham, “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever” (Gen 13:15). He specified the borders of the land to Abraham (Gen 15:18-21). God made the same promise to Isaac (Gen 26:2-3). He made the same promise to Jacob as well (Gen 48:4).
Faithful to His promise, God brought His people – a multitude of them – into the land. He did so even though Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel were barren at the first. He did so even though a famine threatened to obliterate Abraham’s offspring in the days of Joseph, sending him ahead of them into Egypt, in order that He might sustain them. God brought them into the land even though they were confined to Egypt for over four hundred years. He did so even though over one half a million of them died in the wilderness due to unbelief and disobedience. He did so although several plagues and judgments came against them in the wilderness. He did so even though they confronted adversaries in their journey to the promised land. The people went “through fire and water,” but the Lord brought them “out into a wealthy place,” the land of Canaan (Psa 66:12).
Surely you can see the relevance of this to your own pilgrimage from earth to glory! The Lord will also bring you through all manner of chastening, opposition from foes, and the trials of the wilderness. However, if you keep the faith, you will possess the land!
LAND POSSESSED, ENEMIES SUBDUED, CITIES TAKEN
“ 24 So the children went in and possessed the land, and Thou subduedst before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, and gavest them into their hands, with their kings, and the people of the land, that they might do with them as they would. 25 And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in Thy great goodness.”
WENT IN AND POSSESSED. What God gives is intended to be possessed! Until it is actually obtained, it remains a promise to be fulfilled. From the days of Abraham until Israel reached the borders of the land of Canaan, it belonged to them by promise. But the time came when they had to enter it and possess it. The very first time the people came to the border of land, Caleb told the unbelieving multitude, “Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it” (Num 13:30). But, alas, their unbelief kept them from possessing it (Heb 3:19). The generation that believed, however was able to possess it.
THE INHABITANTS SUBDUED. From this point of view, God “cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line” (Psa 78:55). In truth, He “brought a vine out of Egypt . . . cast out the heathen, and planted it” (Psa 80:8). This is why the people were able to possess the land. It is written of the people who were led into the land by Joshua, “And the land was subdued before them” (Josh 18:1).
GIVEN INTO THEIR HANDS. This accounts for why Israel triumphed over the inhabitants of the land. The Canaanites, their kings, and their people were “given” into the hands of Israel. Their defense “departed from them” (Num 14:9), and they were not able to stand before Israel. Whatever God gives into the hands of His people can be possessed by faith. But faith is a requirement, as the generation of unbelieving Israelites can attest.
THEY INHERITED THE WORKS OF OTHERS. Early on, God spoke through Joshua to the people, “And I have given you a land for which ye did not labor, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” (Josh 24:13). The cities of the land were kept in tact, save for Jericho and Hazor (Josh 10:1; 11:13). The “strong cities” became Israel’s possession, and they occupied them. When the people received their various lots, it was with “all the cities and their villages” of that territory (Josh 13:23.28,30,31; 15:21,36,41, etc.). There were sixty cities inherited in Bashan alone (Josh 13:30). The fifteenth chapter of Joshua lists 112 more cities (15:32-62).
Houses full of goods. The people of God moved into houses they did not build, which were literally filled with good things. Of them Moses said, “when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land . . . to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, and houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not” (Deu 6:10-11). Now the people recall the days when their fathers had occupied the land by God’s power.
They also inherited “a fat land,” or a “rich,” NKJV and “fertile,” NASB land. Elsewhere it is called “a land flowing with milk and honey”(Ex 3:8,17;13:5; 33:3; Jer 11:5; 33:22). Ezekiel referred to the land as “the glory of all lands” (Ezek 20:6). Moses said it was “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey” (Deu 8:7-8). Pre-dug and flowing wells of water, vineyards heavy with rich clusters of grapes, olive groves with bumper crops, and fruit trees laden with much fruit – all of it belonged to Israel with no labor on their part. It was like the back-payment of wages for their years of toil in Egypt! As soon as they entered the land, it all belonged to them. They only had to possess it.
GOD’S GREAT GOODNESS. The people “ate, were filled, and grew fat, and reveled in Thy great goodness.” NASB God’s “goodness” was all about them, and they filled themselves with it. Eventually, however, the abundance ignited more lust in them than thanksgiving. They “waxed fat, and kicked,” even as Moses said (Deut 32:15). Because of unbelief and pride, Divine “goodness” became a curse, and plentitude became a cause for judgment.
Now the people with Nehemiah will confess to the waywardness of their fathers. They have seen that it was not owing to any withholding on the part of God. The decline of the people was not because they had received nothing from God, for it is inconceivable that they could have received any more in the flesh than they did. Now the people see that bad hearts cannot receive anything from God without corrupting it. For those with hard hearts and stiff necks, Divine gifts only become an occasion for judgment. Oh, that this were better known among the churches of our day!