Following their captivity in Babylon, the Jews faced years of poverty and uncertainty as they slowly rebuilt their lives along with the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Through the leadership of Ezra they had begun to reinstitute worship according to the Law and reconstitute an identity as the people of God. They had faced great adversity in their efforts to start life anew, with opposition from within the land and related decrees from Persia. From a worldly standpoint they were a humbled people, economically dependent and poor and barely able to defend themselves from other inhabitants of the land. Spiritually speaking they were a humbled people as well, but from this point of view, the results were far more positive. No longer did they copy the paganism of the surrounding peoples. No longer did they place their trust in themselves or their allies. They finally saw themselves as a people totally dependent on God. Despite their lack of standing in the world and their financial distress, their attitude toward God was a triumph all the same.
The second day after the great assembly of the people for the feast of tabernacles in which Nehemiah had insisted the people rejoice at their deliverance and renewed identification with their original purpose, the people assembled again. However, having completed this time of feasting and remembrance of God’s care, they now turned their attention to the reality that swiftly followed their deliverance from Egypt and the legacy it left for them. Gathering together this time with all the signs of sorrow, the Jews came as a people before the LORD to acknowledge their sins as a people, from the original rebellion of the first generation to the moral depravity of the generation that went to Babylon in bonds (Neh. 9:1-35). Yet, throughout this recitation, the people of Nehemiah’s day displayed a perspective vastly different from their forefathers. For rather than seeing God as holding them back, they recognized Him as the One, through His great mercy, as the One holding them up. For “You are God, Ready to pardon, Gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, Abundant in kindness, And did not forsake them” (Neh. 9:17b). They confessed that they were undeserving as a people, “Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful” (Neh. 9:31). They saw themselves finally as simple servants who needed their great God desperately and reached out to keep covenant with Him as the One who kept His covenant for generations (Neh. 9:36-38).
For many years Christians have enjoyed a life of prosperity, blessing, and relative peace at home. Throughout that time we have seen wave after wave of error sweeping through the brotherhood promoting the way of the world and modern culture rather than the old paths of God’s guidance through His Word. We have been shown mercy many times. How sad that we are just now realizing how undeserving we have been. It may be that a time of worldly difficulty is upon us. When we see our flag we may both be filled with patriotism and weep with sorrow. However, whatever our situation in the world, may God’s people always identify themselves more with their citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20). When you do, you will find it not only easier but comforting to listen to the call, “Stand up and bless the Lord your God Forever and ever! ‘Blessed be Your glorious name, Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!’” (Neh. 9:5b).