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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Writings

Nehemiah 10

Verses 1-39

THE COVENANT

Neh_9:38 , Nehemiah 10

The people have returned to the word of God. They have gone over their history before God, and discovered that the source of all their present distress lies in their failure to obey the word of God. Having clearly seen and owned their past failure, they seek to provide against its repetition. The means they adopt to accomplish this desirable end, is to enter into a sure covenant, written and sealed ( Neh_9:38 ). Nehemiah, twenty-two priests, seventeen Levites, and forty-four chiefs of the people, sign the covenant ( Neh_10:1-27 ). By this covenant they bind themselves by a curse and an oath (28, 29).

1st. As to their personal walk, that it should be in obedience to the law of God given by Moses (29).

2nd. As to the nations around, they would maintain a holy separation (30)

3rd. As to Jehovah, they would devotedly render to Him His due by the observance of the Sabbath, the holy days, and the law of the seventh year (31).

4th. As to the house of God, they charge themselves to maintain the service and not forsake the house (32-39).

All this is excellent in its time and season, and the covenant of this chapter is the outcome, and fitting conclusion, of the confession of the previous chapter. As another has said, "'Ceasing to do evil' is to be followed by 'learning to do well.' It is very right, if we have been doing wrong, to begin with confession of the wrong, ere we set ourselves to do the right. But to do the right thing is a due attendant on the confession of the wrong thing. And all this moral comeliness we see here, as we pass from the ninth to the tenth chapter."

Referring to the terms of the covenant, it is significant to notice that while a very prominent place is given to the house of God, there is no mention of the city walls and gates. Why this omission, seeing that the special service of Nehemiah was concerned with the walls and gates? And why, we may ask, is so much made of the house of God? Is it not to insist on the great fact, as another has written, "that the great test of faithfulness was the upkeep of the house, the support of those who ministered it, and the necessary obedience to, and consistency with, the principles of divine order of which the house was ever the reminder and symbol. Yet there was no Presence in the house as there had been of old, and it was only of value in so far as its moral features were maintained. The people within the city and the people without the city, - the whole people - through their signatories, signified their intention to conform to the will of God, and pledged their support to the house rather than to the wall. (To stiffen the wall without regard to the universality and purity of the house would only repeat the sad departure and obduracy of previous years). So families, cattle, fruits, harvests, vintage, were all to contribute from the country to the house, for a recognition of God, and for the support of the priests, Levites, singers and porters."

The realization by this returned remnant that all their prosperity and blessing depended upon the upkeep of the house is very happy, and points the way of spiritual prosperity and blessing for the people of God in our day ( Hag_2:18 ; Hag_2:19 ). The method however, by which they sought to carry out their obligations, should act as a warning rather than an example to those who live in a day of grace. That the remnant of Nehemiah's day undertake the upkeep of the house by the way of Covenant is in keeping with the dispensation of the law in which they lived, and yet the history of their nation would warn us of the uselessness of man entering into a covenant with God. Did not Israel in their early days make a covenant with disastrous result? After three months of continual failure on their part, and unwearied grace on Jehovah's part, they entered into a covenant at Sinai, saying "All that the Lord hath said we will do" ( Ex. 24 ).

Furthermore after the reign of the wicked Manasseh, there was a revival under Josiah and a return to the word of God. Whereupon the King made a covenant before the Lord to walk after the Lord and to keep His commandments, "And all the people stood to the covenant" ( 2Ki_23:3 ).

What was the result of these covenants? Israel having entered into a covenant to do all that the Lord had said, immediately set up an idol and apostatised from God. And of the covenant of Josiah's day, we are told by the prophet Jeremiah, that the people turned to the Lord "with falsehood."

With such sad examples before us we can see the futility of men's covenants and that though the people of God may return to the authority of God's word, and judge themselves by it, yet they will not in the future be able to walk according to the word by any efforts of their own.

The people were perfectly sincere and intensely in earnest. But the fact that they had rebuilt the walls, set up the gates, and returned to the word of God, confessing their sins, apparently deceived them into thinking that in the future they would do better than their fathers. Hence in apparent forgetfulness of their own weakness, and carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, they enter into a covenant for their future good behaviour.

Yet may we not say, when viewing the remnant in the light of the dispensation in which they lived, that they had ground for the course they took? Whether they did, or did not, make a covenant they were under obligation to obey the law. This obligation they accepted by way of a covenant. The light they had would hardly warrant them in taking any other course, even though the futility of covenants had been demonstrated in the history of the nation. For the Christian there can be no excuse. With the warning of Old Testament covenants, and the light of the truth which reveals the believer's place before God as "not under the law, but under grace," how can we rightly revert to a covenant which binds by legal obligation? And yet in our own day, as throughout the Christian period, how often have the people of God bound themselves by covenants. At times sincere people, judging the prevailing low condition among the people of God, have strongly and rightly urged a return to the word of God. And the fact that a few have, in any measure, done so has, at times, deceived them into thinking that they were somewhat better than, or different from, those who have gone before them. The result being they have sought to provide for their future obedience to the word by means of that which, in principle, is a covenant written and sealed. Under the enthusiasm of a fresh movement, they seek to set forth clearly in writing the limits of their fellowship, the terms on which they propose to meet, the method of their reception and the character of their discipline. And this is sent forth subscribed by the names of their leaders. But what is this, in principle, but a covenant signed and sealed, betraying the legality of our hearts which love to have some written charter to fall back upon? The legal mind, however, while intensely sincere, is ever ignorant of its own weakness, and confident in its fancied strength. Herein lies the weakness of all such methods, they make too much of man, and dependence upon his definitions, interpretations and efforts. They make too little of the Lord and dependence upon His wisdom, His direction and His grace.

All who seek to act on the principle of the covenant written and sealed, will find that while it appears very easy, under the influence of a fresh movement, to carry out the agreed terms of fellowship, yet when the first fervour of the movement has passed away, the agreed terms are increasingly ignored, independency and selfwill assert themselves, and disintegration sets in. That such is the case only proves that it is impossible to hold the people of God together by any human formula, however sincerely, carefully and even scripturally devised.

It is not enough to get back to Scripture. We must also have the Lord Himself to guide, and the Holy Spirit to control.

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Bibliographical Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Nehemiah 10". "Smith's Writings". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hsw/nehemiah-10.html. 1832.