The people gather to study the Word, confess sins, and worship (1-5)
The people praise God and recall what He has done for them (6-21)
I. The people gather to study the Word, confess sins, and worship (1-5)
- How long had passed since the end of the festival?
- Why did the people gather this time?
- What was the point of the sackloth and dirt?
- What was the attitude of the people?
- Why did they gather together?
- What did they do? How long did they do it? Why is this important that they spent so long doing it?
- What can we learn from them? About the Word? About confession? About worship?
- Who is crying out to God in verses 4-5?
- How would you describe their prayer?
Verse by Verse Commentary
The events of chapter 9 take place 23 days after the events of 8:1.
The second grand assembly – The focus of the last grand assembly was celebration. This time around, the focus is on confession/repentance. When they heard the law of God read the previous time, they were convicted of their sins. The people knew that they had disobeyed God in many areas. Nothing is that shocking about the story so far. It is fairly normal and also good for people to react to God’s Word like that. However, when people walk away from a meeting like that, they simply go back to their everyday lives and forget about what they learned. Many people will feel sorry about their sins in the moment, but allow the business of life to take over again when they leave that spiritual get together and return to their normal lives. The fact that the Jews were still grieving about their sin over three weeks later tell us that they took God’s Word very seriously. It shows us the depth of their conviction.
Their repentance was shown by the depth of their grief. Physically they showed the proper signs of confession including wearing sackloth and putting dirt on themselves. Both of these were uncomfortable practices practiced by those who were grieving. They physical discomfort would be a constant reminder of the person’s spiritual state.
Their repentance was shown by their sacrifice. We learn in verse 1 that they fasted. Fasting requires giving up something that our body and our mind wants. It is self-sacrificing momentary comfort and/or pleasure for the sake of focusing on God. It also requires self-discipline. What do you sacrifice for God? In Romans 12:1 we are commanded to be living sacrifices. Are we willing to sacrifice our wants, our desires, our pleasure, our comfort in order to focus on God?
Their repentance was shown by their changed behavior. In verse two we learn that the “descendants of Israel separated themselves from all foreigners.” What does that mean? We can look at Ezra 9-10 for a comparison. In Ezra 9-10 the people had disobeyed God’s commands by intermarrying with the foreign pagan nations around them. This sin provoked Ezra’s extreme reaction in Ezra 9. The final solution was for the people to send these foreigners away (ie: to separate from them.) It is likely that in Nehemiah this separation is along the same lines. Thus those who had disobeyed God’s Word by having relationship with the foreigners around them here repented by separated from those ungodly influences. See notes on bottom of the page for comments about the same situation in Ezra 10:
Application: What application can we get from this? We must separate from ungodly influences and relationships (See 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.) The companion of the wise will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. If you have friends who are influencing you to do sinful things get away from them. If something like certain books, certain apps, certain websites, certain technology is influencing you to do sinful things, separate. If you are thinking of becoming closer friends or dating an unbeliever, don’t do it. Separate. Separating can be painful, but it is necessary for our spiritual growth.
Stood and confessed – Here again we see that they weren’t afraid of a little physical discomfort. Also, the people practiced public and corporate confession. Should we? Why or why not? See James 5:16.
Read from the book of the Law for a fourth of the day – As we learned in chapter 8, the people respect God’s Word. God’s Word is the focal point when they get together. They want to listen to it. They want to learn from it. They want to study it. They want to understand it. They want to do it. Just weeks before they had gathered together and studied God’s Word. But that wasn’t enough. They wanted more of it. Just like physical hunger drives us to food day after day spiritual hunger should drive us to God’s Word day after day. When you love God’s Word like they did you will not feel it is inconvenient to dedicate lots of time and energy to study it. You will not feel you are too busy to set aside chunks of time to learn it. You will not feel that God’s Word is too dull and boring. You will crave for it. You will be excited whenever you have the chance to study it deeper. You will want to share it with others. You will want to stay in study or church longer, not leave earlier. You will ask to stretch the Bible study to four hours instead of 2 :)
Application: How do you feel about God’s Word? Do you feel bored when you come to study? Is your mind somewhere else? Or are you excited about it and committed to it? See Hebrews 6:1,12.
Confessed and worshiped for another fourth – See Isaiah 55:11. God’s Word does not return void. When you love God’s Word like they do…when you hunger for it…when you are excited about it…when you study it…it WILL change you. You will not be the same. God’s Word is powerful and the Holy Spirit uses it to convict us of our sin and to stir our hearts to worship the God we learn about in His word. Studying God’s Word lets us to see both God and ourselves correctly. When we see our own sinful state reflected by the mirror of the Bible, we should want to confess our sins. We should learn from the Jews here not to just make a rapid-fire “I’m sorry” and then go right to our normal lives. Also, when we study the word we see God’s righteousness, holiness, power, love, compassion, etc. It is then that we will want to worship this great God we learn about. We see some of the words of their prayer of worship written down starting in verse 5 and going through the end of the chapter. Application: We should also spontaneously worship God after reading His Word. When we do study it, we should meditate on God’s character and then praise God for His character in our prayers. After all, the chief purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
From my notes on Ezra 10:
“First we need to know God’s view of divorce. The biblical view of divorce is VERY different from the view in the world. Culture tells us that divorce is an acceptable option when the two sides just cannot resolve their differences. People fall in love and then after a while this “love” grows cold and they “fall out” of love. Love is seen as something that comes and goes and people will make the excuse that “I can’t help it.” They don’t decide to not love the person anymore, it “just happens.” When this random anti-love bug strikes, the couple feels justified in getting a divorce. They often offer the excuse that it is not fair to the kids or their spouse to put them through a marriage that doesn’t have that spark anymore. Money is a leading cause of divorce. Finding a younger and more attractive partner is another. Amazingly I read recently that arguments over housework is one of the leading causes of divorce. Although when people get married they make vows, these vows are cast aside as soon as difficulty comes. This view of divorce is a stark contrast with the Bible. Read cross-references. God’s plan has always been one man and one woman for life, literally until death do them part. See Genesis 2:24.
Malachi tells us that God hates divorce. Jesus went even further to say that divorce and remarriage is adultery. He did give one possible exception, which is the infidelity of one partner. Bible scholars debate whether there is any basis for divorce, but it is reasonable to conclude that there is only one and that is infidelity. When we look at the whole context of Scripture, we know that we should forgive even seventy times seven times. So this clause should not be considered a reason to pull the trigger on a marriage after one mistake by the spouse. A godly spouse should forgive again and again. Normally a person who is brazenly committing adultery without repenting will divorce the Christian anyway, at which point the Christian should let the person go (1 Corinthians 7).
2. If God has this view of divorce, then why did Ezra agree with this plan? I can think of two reasons.
a) God hates divorce, but God also hates their sin of getting married to pagan people who would lead them astray from God. Although it is not often a good practice to rank sins, this case could be the exception. Basically the people got themselves into a serious dilemna. There were two bad choices with no good way out. Bad choice number 1 equals staying married to these people. The result would likely be disastrous in that a huge part of the remnant would gradually fall away from God. Bad choice number 2 is to immediately end these relationships. This would cause some collateral damage (specifically the children), but was a necessary step to ensure the spiritual purity of the nation. There is an important lesson here. The lesson is that our sin can lead us into situations from which there is no good way out. Remember that God did not led them into this dilemma. He warned them against it. Their own sinful choices led them into it. Can you think of other examples where our sin leads us into dilemmas? In Exodus we saw how a person’s bad financial choices could lead them to sell themselves or even worse, a child. By far the best solution is to obey God on the front side. If you do, you will avoid these types of “lesser of two evil” choices.
b) We should also keep in mind the fragile state of the remnant. There was a small remnant of people who returned to Jerusalem. They were unprotected (there were no walls). They were few in number. Their faith was volatile. God had already been judging them for their sins. Another deliberate and prolonged rebellion against God could be disastrous. So my conclusion about this issue is that desperate times call for desperate measures. This narrative account SHOULD NOT be used a justification for any believer to get a divorce. Instead we should look at the didactic teaching passages in the Bible for guidelines on this and view this as an extreme situation that called for an extreme solution.”
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