COMMENTARY ON NEHEMIAH
“ 9:26 Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to Thee, and they wrought great provocations. 27Therefore Thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them: and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto Thee, 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.” (Neh 9:26-27)
The reading of the Law has awakened the conscience of the people. They now see their history and their consequent condition correctly. The light of the Word has illuminated their past path as well as the present one. With spiritual insight, the people are confessing their past. Everything is seen within the framework of God and His will. They are able to trace both trouble and blessing to the hand of the Lord. In this lengthy prayer, no assessment is made without it being centered in the God of heaven. Failure was seen as the deliberate neglect of God Himself and what He has given. They will not trace their conduct to natural weakness, the superiority of their enemies, or an ignorance of what they should have done. The people will speak of unacceptable conduct in the strongest terms, and with an obvious sense of its inexcusable nature. The dominance of their enemies is traced to the judgment of God. Their recovery from their enemies is also perceived as the result of Divine favor and blessing. Beyond all controversy, this is a righteous prayer.
NEVERTHELESS, THEY WERE DISOBEDIENT
“ 9:26 Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee, and they wrought great provocations.” Thus far, this prayer has dealt with Israel’s creation, deliverance from Egypt, reception of the Law, wandering in the wilderness, and entrance into Canaan. Now the people will account for the conduct of their fathers after they entered into the land of promise. They will be forthright and honest in their confession, which is a requisite for effective prayer. Ignorance and pretension have no place in prayers, and the people of God must exercise themselves in this matter.
DISOBEDIENT. “Disobedient” is not a casual word. Disobedience is deliberate, and results from choice. It reveals a preference for things God forbids, and a hatred for what He requires. This is one view of the overall demeanor of the Israelites. It is a general word that describes what kind of people they were: “disobedient.” For them, obedience was the exception, not the rule. God Himself referred to Israel as “a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Rom 10:21). Here, the people confess their fathers were “disobedient” even after God lavished marvelous benefits upon them (vs 23-25). This was their response to His benefits – “disobedient.” One example of national disobedience was the failure to honor the land-sabbaths (Lev 26:34; 2 Chron 36:21). This was the cause of the Babylonian captivity.
REBELLED. Rebellion is the other side of disobedience. In fact, it is what drives disobedience. To rebel is to revolt against, to be guilty of insurrection against God. When the people murmured because they had no water in the wilderness, God said, “ye rebelled against My word” (Nim 20:34). Through Isaiah the Lord said, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (Isa 1:2). In an even more pointed manner, Isaiah testified, “they rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit” (Isa 63:10). Rebellion involves obstinance and a refusal to yield to God. Rebellion is taking up arms against God and becoming His adversary.
CAST GOD’S LAW BEHIND THEIR BACKS. Other versions read, “threw Thy Law behind their backs,” DOUAY and “threw away Your Law.” NLT God once said it even more strongly: “for thou hast gone and made thee other gods, and molten images, to provoke Me to anger, and hast cast Me behind thy back” (1 Kgs 14:9). Thus the people not merely ignored what God had said, but deliberately pushed what they knew of His Word into the background of their thinking. They refused to ponder it or obey it. The Psalmist said of such people, “Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee” (Psa 50:17). The people did this at the foot of Mount Sinai, making gods, and indulging in all manner of reprehensible conduct which the Law, they had just heard, forbade. Although they were severely chastened, the same conduct , or manner of life, surfaced when they were in the promised land. Elsewhere God said of this manner, “But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of Me” (Psa 81:11).
SLEW THE PROPHETS. Not content to disobey God, rebel against Him, and thrust His Word from themselves, the people became aggressive against His prophets. Jezebel slew prophets (1 Kgs 18:4). Elijah said the children of Israel had slain God’s prophets “with the sword” (1 Kgs 19:10). Zechariah was stoned by the people in the “court of the house of the Lord” (2 Chron 24:20-21). The Lord Jesus charged the Jews with killing the prophets (Matt 23:31,34-37). Stephen said the people “have slain them which showed before the coming of the Just One” (Acts 7:52). Paul said Israel “killed their own prophets” (1 Thess 2:15). Sin so gripped the people there was no extent to which they would not go to choose their own way over the ways of the Lord. That is the nature of sin.
WROUGHT GREAT PROVOCATIONS. Other versions read, “committed great blasphemies,” NASB and “committed monstrous impieties.” NJB “Provocations” are things that move God to anger. It is said of Israel that they “tempted and provoked the Most High God” (Psa 78:56), and they “provoked Him to anger with their high places” (Psa 78:56). Manasseh did more wickedly than the Amorites, whose king was wicked Sihon (2 Kgs 21:11). The priests “violated” the Law, profaned “holy things,” and “put no difference between holy and profane” (Ezek 22:26). Solomon, gifted with wisdom above all men of old, allowed his wives to “turn away his heart after other gods” (21 Kgs 11:4). Thus God described them as a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (Isa 1:4). Their sinfulness was so great that God “abhorred Israel” (Psa 78:59), His “own inheritance” (Psa 106:40). Now the people have seen sin’s greatness.
DELIVERED THEM INTO THE HANDS OF THEIR ENEMIES
“ 9:27a Therefore Thou deliveredst them into the hand of their enemies, who vexed them . . . ” There are consequences to sin. Those who imagine God overlooks sin, or is highly tolerant of it must rethink their folly. There were consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve, Cain, and the people of Noah’s day. When Pharaoh refused to acknowledge God, there were consequences to be paid. Sodom and Gomorrah are confirmations of this principle, as well as Tyre and Sidon, Jerusalem, and Babylon. Those in Christ are reminded, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal 6:7). This is a truth that has been greatly obscured in our day. However, those in Nehemiah’s time are able to assess their past and behold the chastening hand of the Lord. They now account for the great difficulties they encountered with their enemies.
DELIVERED INTO THE HAND OF THEIR ENEMIES. If our hearts are ever prone to think we can sin or be indifferent toward God with impunity, we need to give heed to this word. It is written of Israel, “And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and He delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and He sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies” (Judg 2:14). Once He sold them into the hands of the king of Mesopotamia for eight long years (Judges 3:8). Another time the Lord became angry with them “and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the children of Ammon” (Judges 10:7). Another time “the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan” (Judg 4:2). Still another time when Israel “forgot the Lord,” He “sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab” (1 Sam 12:9). Another time, because Israel did evil, “the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years” (Judg 13:1). On another occasion “the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judg 6:1). Truly, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (Heb 10:31).
The Psalmist confessed, “Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads” (Psa 66:12). Jeremiah declared, “All our enemies have opened their mouths against us” (Lam 3:46). The Psalmist acknowledged, “Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbors: and our enemies laugh among themselves” (Psa 80:6). In the days of Gideon, the Midianites were Israel’s oppressors (Judges 6:2-3). When Samson was born, the Philistimes were their superiors (Judges 13:5).
THEIR ENEMIES VEXED THEM. Before Moses died, the Lord told him the people were going to “go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land.” He said they would “forsake” Him and “break” His “covenant.” Consequently, His anger would be “kindled against” them, He would “forsake” them, and “troubles” would “befall them” (Deut 31:16-17). Indeed, when given over to their enemies, Israel did not find their foes kind.
“Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand” (Psa 106:42). The opposition and vexation were so consistent that “Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed” (Judg 2:15). Of another time it is written that “the king of Syria oppressed them” (2 Kgs 13:4). The Psalmist wrote, “Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand. (Psa 106:42).
During those oppressive times Israel was reaping what it had sown. God had told them He would cast their enemies out before them (Deut 6:19). He promised that when they confronted enemies more in number than themselves, with horses and chariots, He would be with them (Deut 20:1). However, He had also told them to keep their camp holy if they expected to realize these benefits. “For the LORD thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy: that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee” (Deu 23:14).
When the people became disobedient, rebelled, threw His law behind them, slew His prophets, and did things that greatly provoked Him, they forfeited these privileges. It is simply not God’s nature to continue favoring those who despise Him, reject His counsel, and do not want Him around. That is precisely why Israel fell on hard times.
While it may not be popular to say so, perhaps this accounts for the triumph of the enemies over the church. Perhaps this is why weakness prevails within the professing church, immorality is found within its walls, and its enemies seem to dominate her from within. Could it be this is the result of the rejection of the Lord by His own people? Is this why charlatans and opportunists find it so easy to exploit the church? Is this why fleshly entertainers have found a place in the church? There is something to think about!
THEY CRIED IN TROUBLE, AND GOD SENT SAVIORS
“ 27b . . . and in the time of their trouble, when they cried unto Thee, 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.” Now the people cover the time of the Judges, in which great deliverances were realized as well as great plummets into iniquity. They extol the mercy of God in dealing so favorably with His people in the time of their trouble, when they would acknowledge their waywardness.
THE TIME OF THEIR TROUBLE. Trouble does have this ministry when heeded: it provokes men to call upon the Lord, who tend to neglect Him in times of plenty. In another time the people of Israel had “for a long season been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law.” Of that occasion it is written, “But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, He was found of them” (2 Chr 15:4). Four times the Psalmist also attests to the same thing. “Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses” (Psa 107:6,13,19,28).
The “time of trouble” is the time of agitation and vexation, when oppressors are mighty and help seems far from us. Paul referred to such a time as “the evil day” (Eph 6:13). Solomon also referred to “evil days” (Eccl 12:1). This is a time when personal strength dries up and helplessness becomes very apparent. “The time of trouble” was seen by the Psalmist as a time when Divine assistance was imperative. It was a time when one sought to be hidden, when strength was needed, and deliverance was required (Psa 27:5; 37:39; 41:1). Isaiah spoke of salvation “in the time of trouble” (Isa 33:2). Jeremiah affirmed God was the Savior “in the time of trouble” (Jer 14:8).
THEY CRIED UNTO GOD. Note, help did not come to them simply because they were in trouble, but because they “cried” to God in such a time. Trouble itself does not bring Divine assistance to us. It is our response to the trouble that awakens the arm of the Lord! This is particularly true when people can associate their trouble with their own transgression. Over and over this refrain is found the book of Judges. “And when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD . . . But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord . . . and the children of Israel cried unto the Lord” (Judges 3:9,15; 4:3; 6:6; 10:10).
GOD HEARD THEM FROM HEAVEN. While there is a sense in which “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb 4:13), that is not the emphasis of this text. When God “hears from heaven” He does something about the situation. When Solomon prayed at the dedication of the Temple, he equated God hearing from heaven with forgiveness, requiting the wicked, sending rain upon the land, and rendering to every man according to his ways (2 Chron 6:21,23,27,30). When God hears from heaven, He responds. That is why He said, “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chr 7:14). Repeatedly this characteristic surfaces in God’s dealings with ancient Israel. It had always been that way, but now, in Nehemiah’s day, the people have seen, or perceived, it.
GOD HAVE THEM SAVIORS. This has particular reference to the Judges. A “savior” is a deliverer, and is so translated in several versions. Septuagint/NJB/NLT/Webster Even if we did not know this, it is apparent from the text that deliverance is the point.
After an eight year domination by the king of Mesopotamia, Israel “cried unto the Lord” and He raised up Othniel, the first judge, as their “deliverer” (Judges 3:9). After an eighteen year oppression by Eglon king of Moab, Israel again “cried unto the Lord” and He raised up Ehud as their deliverer (Judges 3:15).
Of the period of the Judges it is written, “And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge” (Judg 2:18). The people now look at their history, and in particular the time of the Judges. There were Othniel (Judges 3:9-11), Ehud (3:15-30, Shamgar (3:31), Deborah (chapters 4-5), Gideon (chapters 6-9), Abimelech (chapter 9), Tola (10:1-2, Jair (10:3-5), Jephthah (11:1-12:7), Ibzan (12:8-10), Elon (12:11-12), Abdon (12:13-14), Samson (chapters 13-16), Eli (1 Sam 4:18), and Samuel (1 Sam 7:6,15-17).
None of these judges were elected by men. They were all raised up by God. They occupied a time prior to the kings. In assessing these unique leaders of the people of God, those in our text refer to them as “saviors” that were raised up by God.
SAVED OUT OF THE HAND OF THEIR ENEMIES. All of the Judges were successful in their commission, delivering Israel from their enemies, as their book confirms.