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Neh 9:1 Now in the twenty and fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them.
Ver. 1. Now in the twenty and fourth day ] A day after the feast of tabernacles, they keep a solemn fast:
Usque adeo nihil est, ex omni parte, beatum.
There is in this present life an interchange of all things, a succession of feasting and fasting. Of the best, while here it may be said, as Pliny doth of Metellus, Infelix dici non debet, felix non potest; unhappy you cannot call him, happy you may not (lib. vii. cap. 47). One compareth him to the Ark, which was ever transported, till settled in Solomon’s Temple; another to quicksilver, which hath in itself a principle of motion, but not of rest.
The children of Israel were assembled with fasting ] As Epaminondas walked heavily the day after his triumph. Deadness of spirit is apt to follow our liveliest joys; but that must be looked to, and security prevented, which is wont to seize upon men after holy duties; like as worms and wasps eat the sweetest fruits. These fasters had wept at the hearing of the law, and were stilled by the Levites, Nehemiah 8:11 , because it was unseasonable. Now the feast being over, and their hearts yet full of grief for their great sin in taking strange wives (not yet put away, though they had vowed to do it, Ezra 10:3 , &c.), they first put away those wives on the twenty-third day, and then humble themselves by fasting and prayer on this twenty-fourth day; being wrought thereunto by the reading of the law, as is implied in the next verse.
And with sackcloth ] As acknowledging themselves unworthy of the coarsest clothing; and that, but for shame, they would have stripped themselves naked.
And earth upon them ] As those that had forfeited all, and deserved to be as far underground as now they were above.
Neh 9:2 And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.
Ver. 2. And the seed of Israel ] Called Israelites (not Abrahamites) from their wrestling with God by prayer and tears, and prevailing. Called also Jews from Judah, which signifieth the confessor. Here it is said of them that,
They stood and confessed their sins ] All their sins, either actually committed, or habitually comprised in their body of sin. This whoso doth in due manner shall have mercy, Proverbs 28:13 . Yea, he shall have heaven. Israel had power with God as a prince. Judah, the confessor, got the kingdom from Reuben. Confession is the way to the kingdom; walk in it; only it must be joined with confusion of sin, as here. They separated themselves from all strangers, they abandoned their peccatum in deliciis, their darling sin, they kept themselves from their iniquity. Psalms 18:23 . Hoc non sit verbis, Marce: ut ameris, ama Let this not be by words so that you may be loved and love. (Martial).
And the iniquities of their fathers ] i.e. Of their progenitors; which are owned, if not bewailed, disclaimed.
Neh 9:3 And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God [one] fourth part of the day; and [another] fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD their God.
Ver. 3. And they stood up in their place ] The people stood, for reverence’ sake, to the word read. See Nehemiah 8:5 . Or the ministers stood up in their pulpits, where they represent God himself as his ambassadors; and should therefore lay down all self-respects and aims at the pulpit door; and be fully of his mind, who said, I would not be found speaking or doing aught that I thought Christ would not approve of, if he were corporally present. (Ecolamp.)
And read in the book ] Giving the sense of that they read; and applying it close to men’s consciences. This was preaching indeed; for as every sound is not music, so neither is every pulpit discourse preaching. Cura pastoralis est ars artium et scientia scientiarum, saith one, It is a matter of great skill to divide the word aright. See Nehemiah 8:8 .
One fourth part of the day ] i.e. For three hours: from nine o’clock to twelve. This warranteth our preaching fast sermons; though prayer be the chief business of such a day. See Jeremiah 36:6-7 .
And another fourth part ] sc. From twelve to three: thus besides the ordinary morning and evening sacrifices, they divided the day between preaching and prayer, as those did, Acts 6:4 . And as the priests of old taught Jacob God’s judgments, and put incense before the Lord, Deuteronomy 33:10 . The Jews at this day boast that they divide the day (even the working day) into three parts; the first, ad Tephillah, they spend in prayer; the second, ad Torah, in reading the law; the third, ad Malachah, in their worldly business. But you are not bound herein to believe them.
They confessed ] Not without supplication for pardon, and power to do better.
And worshipped the Lord their God ] Inwardly and outwardly, giving him his due glory, and resting upon him by a lively faith in the gracious promises; being fully persuaded of this, that, together with the forgiveness of sin, they should have those particular blessings which they sued for, so far as might stand with God’s glory and the good of their souls.
Neh 9:4 Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, [and] Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.
Ver. 4. Then stood up ] Each of these eight in his turn, or each in his own proper place; the people being, for more convenience sake, divided into eight several congregations.
And cried with a loud voice ] Verbis non modo disertis, sed et exertis, Words not only of eloquence but shouted out, of that God might hear (which yet he can do very well without any audible voice, Exodus 14:15 1Ki 22:32 ), and all the people might hear, and join in prayer.
Unto the Lord their God ] As being in covenant with them. This shows their faith, as the former their fervency. Faith is the foundation of prayer; and prayer is the fervency of faith.
Neh 9:5 Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, [and] Pethahiah, said, Stand up [and] bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
Ver. 5. Then the Levites, Jeshua, &c., said, Stand up ] Gird yourselves, and serve the Lord, as Luke 17:8 . Be instant, or stand close to the work, επιστηθι , 2 Timothy 4:2 ; set sides and shoulders to it; rouse up yourselves, and wrestle with God. Hoc agite, Do this, said the Roman priest to the people at their sacrifices. And Sacerdos parat fratrum mentes dicendo, Sursum corda, saith Cyprian, In the primitive times the ministers prepared the people to serve God, by saying, Lift up your hearts ( De Oratione ).
And bless the Lord your God for ever ] Give him immortal thanks, all possible praise, amore more, ore, glorify him doingly, 1Co 10:30-31 Ephesians 1:11-12 . Think of the multitude, seasonableness, suitableness, constancy, &c., of God’s favours; and then give him the glory due unto his name; which yet we can never do, because his name is exalted above all blessing and praise (as it followeth here), so that if we should do nothing else all our days, yea, as long as the days of heaven shall last (said that martyr), but kneel upon our knees and sing over David’s Psalms to God’s praise, yet should we fall far short of what we owe to the Lord, who is most worthy to be praised.
And blessed be thy glorious name ] These holy Levites, having called upon the people to bless God, break forth into the performance of this divine duty themselves. So St Paul often, exhorting the saints to pray, falls a praying for them.
Which is exalted above all blessing and praise ] So that when we have done our utmost herein, we can never out do. David is oft so transported, that he seems to forget himself, as a bird that hath got a note, records it over and over, as Psalms 136:1-26 , "for his mercy endureth for ever." And Psalms 150:1-6 , in six verses are twelve Hallelujahs. "Praise him," saith he, Nehemiah 9:2 , "according to his excellent greatness," "for great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised," Psalms 145:3 ; and Nehemiah 9:5 , "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord," or, Let every breath praise the Lord. As oft as we breathe we are to breathe out the praises of God, and to make our breath like the perfumed smoke of the Tabernacle.
Neh 9:6 Thou, [even] thou, [art] LORD alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all [things] that [are] therein, the seas, and all that [is] therein, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.
Ver. 6. Thou, even thou, art Lord alone ] Jehovah is God’s incommunicable name; that holy and reverend name of his which Jews pronounce not, we too oft profane, at least by not considering the import of it; which is enough to answer all our doubts, and to fill us with strong consolation, had we but skill to spell all the letters in it.
Thou hast made heaven ] With great skill and artifice thou hast made it, three stories high, 2Co 12:2 Hebrews 11:10 .
The heaven of heavens ] Called the highest, Luke 2:14 , and the third heaven, 2 Corinthians 12:2 . Of this heaven no natural knowledge can be had, nor any help by human arts, geometry, optics, &c.; for it is neither aspectable nor movable.
With all their host ] i.e. Their furniture: angels, those heavenly courtiers, sun, moon, and stars, &c., which are all God’s servants, Psalms 119:91 , and do, in their way, worship him.
The earth, and all things that are therein ] God may be read in the great book of nature, which hath three leaves, heaven, earth, and sea. Heaven is all that is above earth. Earth is an element of cold and dry nature, thick, solid, heavy, placed in the midst of the world as the foundation thereof, and therefore unmovable, though round (and in that respect naturally apt for motion), and though founded, not upon solid rocks, but fluid waters. This Aristotle himself wondered at, Lib. ii. de Caelo, cap. 13.
And all things that are thereon ] Either therein, as metals and minerals; or thereon, as men, beasts, creeping things, &c.
The seas, and all that are therein ] As, There is that leviathan, and creeping things innumerable. God’s handiwork all of them.
And thou preservest them all ] Givest them ζωην και πνοην , Acts 17:25 , life and breath motion and maintenance; thou upholdest the whole creation by the word of thy power, and all things subsist by thy upholding, Hebrews 1:3 . God doth not cast off the care of his works that he hath made (as doth the carpenter, or shipwright), but being perpetually present with them, ruleth, disposeth, and ordereth all by a certain counsel, to his own ends, and at length to his own glory.
And the host of heaven worshippeth thee ] Angels and saints especially; who the more they know of God the more they love him and honour him; making their addresses to him with greatest self-abasement, considering their distance and disproportion. Thus angels: as for saints: "All thy works praise thee, O God," saith David, that is, they give matter and occasion; "but thy saints bless thee," Psalms 145:10 . How they do this, see Revelation 5:11-12 .
Neh 9:7 Thou [art] the LORD the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham;
Ver. 7. Thou art the Lord the God ] Heb. That Lord, with an emphasis, with an accent; and besides thee there is none other. See Nehemiah 9:6 . This is proved by his free favours to Israel, and patient bearing with their evil manners in the wilderness; there being not any God like unto our God, for pardoning of sin, and passing by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage, Micah 7:18 .
Who didst choose Abram ] God first chose him for his love, and then loved him for his choice.
And broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees ] Pulling him as a brand out of that fire, where, till then, he had lived (and might else have died) an idolater, Joshua 24:2 .
And gavest him the name of Abraham ] See Trapp on " Gen 17:5 "
Neh 9:8 And foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give [it, I say], to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou [art] righteous:
Ver. 8. And foundest his heart faithful ] He must needs find it so who had made it so. Otherwise Abraham, as well as any other, might well say, Horreo quicquid de meo est, ut meus sim (Bern.). The natural heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, &c., a bundle of sin (folly is bound up, &c.), a treasury of sin (an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, &c.), a raging sea of sin, Isaiah 57:20 , a world of wickedness, James 3:6 , If any good be in it, it is but as a drop of rose water in a bowl of poison; where falling, it is presently corrupted.
And madest a covenant with him ] To be his God, and the God of his seed. This was divini mellis alveare, the beehive of heavenly honey; this was more than to be made monarch of the whole world. See Genesis 17:20-21 .
To give the land of the Canaanites, &c. ] Who had filled that good land from one end to the other with their uncleanness, Ezra 9:11 , and were therefore worthily rooted out of it. So Josephus reports that in his time these Jews were grown so wicked, that if the Romans had not destroyed them, without doubt either the earth would have swallowed them up, or fire from heaven have consumed them. Bede saith of the ancient Britons (immediately before their destruction by the Saxons) that they were come to a very great height of wickedness; so as to shame the counsel of the poor, because the Lord was his refuge, Psalms 14:6 .
And hast performed thy words ] Of many promisers it may be said, as Tertullian of the peacock, all in changeable colours: as oft changed as moved. Sertorius paid his promises with fair words. Antiochus was surnamed Doson , because he oft said, I will give you this, or that, but never did. God is none such.
For thou art righteous ] That is, faithful: for there is a twofold justice of God; 1. Of equity: 2. Of fidelity. See 1Jn 1:9 Revelation 10:1 , where Christ is said to have a rainbow on his head; to show that he is faithful and constant in his promises.
Neh 9:9 And didst see the affliction of our fathers in Egypt, and heardest their cry by the Red sea;
Ver. 9. And didst see the affliction ] The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, as well as his ears open to their prayers; he knoweth their soul in adversity, et de remedio prospicit, he is solicitous of their safety.
And heardest their cry by the Red Sea ] Though mixed with much murmuring, Exodus 14:10 . So he heard that pitiful poor prayer of David, Psalms 31:22 , "I said in mine haste, I am cut off from thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications, when I cried unto thee." God heareth the young ravens, Psalms 147:9 , though they have but a hoarse and harsh note, make no melody to move pity, and cry but by implication only, and not directly unto him.
Neh 9:10 And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh, and on all his servants, and on all the people of his land: for thou knewest that they dealt proudly against them. So didst thou get thee a name, as [it is] this day.
Ver. 10. And shewedst signs and wonders upon Pharaoh ] That sturdy rebel, whom neither ministry, nor misery, nor miracle, nor mercy could possibly mollify. This was worse than any or all those ten plagues sent upon him, whereof see Exodus 3:19 . See Trapp on " Exo 3:19 "
For thou knewest that they dealt proudly, &c. ] This the just and jealous God could not away with, Exodus 18:11 . His work in heaven is (said that heathen) to cast down the lofty, and to lift up the lowly, τα μεν υφηλα ταπεινουν , &c. (Aesop. Chilon).
So didst thou get thee a name ] i.e. A great fame of thy power and justice, to the conversion of some (as Jethro, Exo 18:1 ) and conviction of others, as Deu 32:31 Jos 2:10 1 Samuel 4:8 .
Neh 9:11 And thou didst divide the sea before them, so that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their persecutors thou threwest into the deeps, as a stone into the mighty waters.
Ver. 11. And thou didst divide the sea before them ] That which threatened to swallow them preserved them. "For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him," Psalms 32:6 .
As a stone into the mighty waters ] As lead, Exodus 15:10 . So shall Rome (that spiritual Egypt) once sink into the bottom of the sea, as a millstone thrust into it by a mighty angel, with a most impetuous force, Revelation 18:21 .
Neh 9:12 Moreover thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar; and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go.
Ver. 12. Moreover thou leddest them by day, &c. ] This pillar of a cloud was miraculously moved with such variation as God thought fit, for the guiding of their journeys; much better than did or could Vibilia, that heathen fiction.
And in the night by a pillar of fire ] Though they did not usually journey in the night, yet sometimes they did; and then this pillar of fire was their guide. God is with his at all assays, and is all in all unto them, Psalms 121:4 ; see Isaiah 4:5-6 .
Neh 9:13 Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai, and spakest with them from heaven, and gavest them right judgments, and true laws, good statutes and commandments:
Ver. 13. Thou camest down also upon mount Sinai ] A place of many bushes and briers. The law there delivered, pricketh and pierceth the consciences of evildoers. Thither God came with ten thousands of his saints, as Moses (who climbed up that hill, and alone saw it) saith, Deuteronomy 33:2 .
And spakest with them from heaven ] He came down upon Sinai, and yet spake from heaven. See a like text, John 3:13 . There he spake also with us, Hosea 12:4 . See that ye refuse not him that speaketh from heaven, see that ye shift him not off, much less turn away from him, Hebrews 12:25 .
And gavest them right judyments, &c. ] All these high praises are far below the worth and excellency of God’s holy laws. They were given in the wilderness, because (saith Philo) they are to be learnt in a wilderness; seeing there we cannot be hindered by the multitude. But this is no way solid, as one hath well observed.
Good statutes and commandments ] Good they are in respect, 1. Of the author; 2. Of the matter; 3. Of the effect: for they make those good that observe them. This is true of the moral law; as for the judicial, it was fitted to the Jews, and best for them: but Carolostadius did ill to seek to force it, as needful for all Christian commonwealths. Solon being asked whether he had given the best laws to the Athenians? answered, the best for them, the best that they could suffer. So here.
Neh 9:14 And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath, and commandedst them precepts, statutes, and laws, by the hand of Moses thy servant:
Ver. 14. And madest known unto them thy holy sabbath ] Not then first known to the Church; but of old observed, even from the beginning, Genesis 2:3 , about 2514 years before it was made known in such a solemn sort at Sinai; as having been much neglected and forgotten during the Egyptian servitude. So it was by the German Churches, till God awakened them by the loss of Prague (that first blow given them), and that upon the Sabbath day, which they kept not otherwise than if it had been Dies daemoniacus, the devil’s day, and not Dominicus the Lord’s day, (as their countryman Alsted complaineth), and as if it had been called Sabbath, from Sabbos, a name of Bacchus, as Plutarch dreamed.
And commandedst them precepts ] See Trapp on " Neh 9:13 "
Neh 9:15 And gavest them bread from heaven for their hunger, and broughtest forth water for them out of the rock for their thirst, and promisedst them that they should go in to possess the land which thou hadst sworn to give them.
Ver. 15. And gavest them bread from heaven ] Pluviam escatilem, et petrum aquatilem, as Tertullian phraseth it. God rained down angel’s food, and set the flint abroach; and this he did for their hunger, for their thirst, fitting his favours ad cardinem desiderii, from the desire of their heart, according to their need and request. Besides that, their bread was sacramental, whereof they communicated everyday. Their drink also was sacramental, that this ancient Church might give no warrant of a dry communion: for they did all eat of the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink, the same that we do at the Lord’s supper, 1 Corinthians 10:3-4 .
And promisedst them that they should go in, &c. ] And the like promise he hath made of heaven to all his people. "Let us therefore fear," &c., Hebrews 4:1 . Let us therefore cleanse ourselves, &c., 2 Corinthians 6:1 . Let us haste away in our affections, Colossians 3:2 .
Which thou hast sworn ] So he hath to give us heaven (because he knows how backward we are to believe him, with such a pawn), that by two immutable things, God’s word and God’s oath (which maketh his word not more true, but yet more credible), we might have strong consolation, Hebrews 6:18 , and more abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 1:11 .
Neh 9:16 But they and our fathers dealt proudly, and hardened their necks, and hearkened not to thy commandments,
Ver. 16. But they and our fathers ] God’s mercies have been hitherto mentioned, that their sins might thereby be aggravated; for good turns aggravate unkindness; and men’s sins are much increased by their obligations. It is charged upon Solomon as a foul fault, that he departed from the Lord, who had appeared unto him twice, 1 Kings 11:9 .
Dealt proudly ] Pride is the master pock of the soul, and the root of rebellion against God, Psalms 119:21 .
And hardened their necks ] As unruly beasts, that will not bear the yoke; lawless and aweless persons, that refuse to be reformed, hate to be healed.
And hearkened not to thy commandments ] But rather to the devil’s whistle, calling them off from better practices.
Neh 9:17 And refused to obey, neither were mindful of thy wonders that thou didst among them; but hardened their necks, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: but thou [art] a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not.
Ver. 17. And refused to obey ] Heb. To hearken. They not only not hearkened, but refused to hear reasons why they should; as having made their conclusion, and being as good as ever they meant to be. This is to add rebellion to sin; this is that stubbornness that Ahaz is taxed of and branded for, 2 Chronicles 28:25 .
Neither were mindful of thy wonders ] These soon grew stale to them, as the Psalmist proves by their wicked practices, Psalms 106:13 . And truly who that looketh upon our lives would ever think that God had done any wonders for us of this nation, either by sea or land, either against fireworks or water works formerly; or against a viperous brood among ourselves, here of late?
And in their rebellion appointed a captain ] They once talked (in their mad mood) of doing such a thing, and therefore they are here said to have done it, Numbers 14:4 ; like as Joshua 24:9 , it is said that Balak arose and fought with Israel; and yet the story saith no such matter. But if he did not, yet because he thought and talked of such a matter, it was a done thing before the Lord!
But thou art a God ready to pardon ] Heb. A God of pardons. One that hast set up a pardon office; where pardons for penitents lie ready sealed, that the sinner may not be to seek, that he may not perish in his sins while the plaster is in providing. It is our comfort that we have to do with a forgiving, sin-pardoning God, that doth it naturally, Exodus 34:6 , plentifully, Isaiah 55:7 , constantly, Psalms 130:4 . This should be as a perpetual picture in our hearts.
Gracious ] Doing all for us gratis, et ex mero motu, out of his free and unexcited love.
And merciful ] All-heart; whereby he is inclined to succour them that are in misery, notwithstanding their sins. See his non obstante , Psalms 106:8 .
Longsuffering ] Heb. Long of anger, that is, long ere he will be angry; not hasty of spirit, as Proverbs 14:17 ; Proverbs 14:29 , but wondrous patient, amidst a world of provocations.
And of great kindness ] Of exceeding propensity to communicate good. The Hebrew word signifies a large quantity either continued (that is, magnitude or greatness), Psalms 48:2 , or discrete (that is, multitude), Psalms 2:1-2 .
And forsookest them not ] That is, not utterly, as David prayeth, Psalms 119:8 , and after him Solomon, 1 Kings 8:57 . When God forsaketh a people or person, woe be to them, Hosea 9:12 . What a terrible text is that, Ezekiel 22:20 , "I will gather you in mine anger, and my fury, and I will leave you there!" and that other, Jeremiah 16:13 , "I will cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not … where I will not show you favour!" This last was worse than all the rest. This the prophet well knew, and therefore cried out, Lord, leave us not, Jeremiah 17:17 .
Extingui lucem ne patiare tuam.
Or if thou desert us for a time, yet do not disinherit us for ever. If thy dereliction of us be penal, yet let it not be perpetual (Mos. Gerundin).
Neh 9:18 Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This [is] thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations;
Ver. 18. Yea, when they had made them a golden calf ] An ounce whereof the Jews say is still to this day in all the punishments that befall them; though some of their Rabbis have the face to excuse this gross idolatry of their forefathers, Nehemiah 9:18 , εμοσχοποιησαν , Vitulificarunt (Piscat.).
And said, This is thy God ] Exodus 32:4 . These be thy gods. It was the serpent’s grammar that first taught men to decline God in the plural number: Ye shall be as Gods, Genesis 3:5
That brought thee up out of Egypt ] Some of them, then, did mean to worship the true God, in this false manner; hence Exodus 32:5 , there is proclaimed a feast (not to the golden calf, but) to Jehovah. Here, then, falls to the ground the Papists’ plea for their image worship.
And had wrought great provocations ] Or, blasphemies, 2 Kings 19:3 . Idolatry is no better. Jerome, as oft as be meeteth with this Hebrew word in the Book of Psalms (and that is five several times), he translateth it, to blaspheme.
Neh 9:19 Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go.
Ver. 19. Yet thou in thy manifold mercies ] Nothing else could have kept him from turning them off, and saying to them, as once Jephthah did, Judges 11:7 , "Behold, ye have thrust me out; and do ye come unto me in your distress? Go, cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation," Judges 10:14
Forsookest them not in the wilderness ] And yet he was near the matter when he would own them no longer, but even fathered them upon Moses, saying, Exodus 32:7 , "Thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves."
The pillar of cloud departed not ] It is sad with a people when God sends for his love tokens (his ordinances); when they have sinned away their light, and so wiped off all their comfortables.
Neh 9:20 Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.
Ver. 20. Thou gavest also thy good spirit ] viz. To their governors and teachers, Numbers 11:16-17 ; Numbers 11:25-26 . Yea, to every good soul, that they might be all taught of God, led into all truth and holiness, Ephesians 5:9 . For which end God hath promised to pour his Spirit upon all flesh, that is, the best thing upon the basest, Joel 2:28 . Next to the sending of his Son in the flesh (which is called the gift, John 4:10 , and the benefit, 1Ti 6:2 ), what can God do more for his people than to give them his good spirit? this is to give them all good things in one, Mat 7:11 Luke 11:13 .
And withheldest not thy manna ] See Nehemiah 9:15 . It is twice mentioned, as a singular and signal mercy. And it is well observed by a reverend writer, that this manna and water from the rock (which was Christ in the gospel) were given this people before the law, the sacraments of grace before the legal covenant. The grace of God preventeth our obedience; therefore shall we keep the law of God, because we have a Saviour.
Neh 9:21 Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them in the wilderness, [so that] they lacked nothing; their clothes waxed not old, and their feet swelled not.
Ver. 21. Yea, forty years didst thou sustain them ] Sustain them? this is a mere Meiosis, since never was prince so served in his greatest pomp as these rebellious Israelites were in the wilderness: they had their quails and their manna, and the rock to follow them, &c.
So that they lacked nothing ] Nor more shall they that seek the Lord lack any good thing, Psalms 34:10 ; Psalms 84:11 . God will not be a wilderness to them, or a land of darkness, Jeremiah 2:31 . A sufficiency they shall be sure of, if not a superfluity; yea, in the midst of straits they shall be in a sufficiency, 1 Timothy 6:6 . The ungodly are not so, Job 20:22 .
Their clothes waxed not old ] They wore not in the wearing. This was wonderful; these men lived in an age of miracles; here was no need of, What shall we put on? For the clothes they had of their own, and that which they borrowed from the Egyptians decayed not; but, as some think, grew up with their persons. See Deuteronomy 8:4 ; Deuteronomy 29:5 .
And their feet swelled not ] Nor did any other disease annoy them, while they were in the wilderness. There was not one feeble person among them: this was a sweet mercy. Non est vivere, sed valere, vita; si vales, bene est. Vincentio Pestiom, an Italian gentleman, being asked how old he was? answered, that he was in health. And to another that asked how rich he was? answered, that he was not in debt. This was the happiness of these Israelites in the wilderness.
Neh 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.
Ver. 22. Moreover thou gavest them kingdoms and nations ] God gave them all; for he is the true proprietary, he pulleth down one, and setteth up another. This Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged (after he had been turned a grazing), and Charles V, emperor of Germany, who in twenty-eight battles in America, waged by Cortez and Pizarro, won twenty-eight kingdoms. And what a world of nations are swallowed up in the greatness of the Turkish empire! America hath the happiness to be out of their reach.
So they possessed the land of Sihon ] God’s favours must not be mentioned in the lump only, and by wholesale; but particularly enumerated and celebrated.
Neh 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].
Ver. 23. Their children also multipliedst thou ] Judaea was not above two hundred miles long and fifty miles broad (not near the half of England by much), yet what a numerous people they were! what huge armies they had!
And broughtest them into the land ] Not the nearest way, but the best for them; that he might humble them, and try them, and do them good in the latter end. If God will bring us to heaven at length (as Israel in the wilderness, so) must we follow him and the line of his law, though it seem to lead us in and out, backward and forward, as if we were treading a maze.
Concerning which thou hadst promised to their fathers ] And they disposed of it by will to their posterity, as if they had been in present possession. God’s promises are good surehold: the patriarchs would be buried there, though they died in Egypt, and keep possession, as they could; for they knew that all was their own.
Neh 9:24 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.
Ver. 24. So the children went in ] After that they had been held a long while under the Egyptian servitude. God knows how to commend his favours to us, which cito data cito vilescunt, lightly come by, are lightly set by.
And thou subdduest before them … the Canaanites] There is an elegance in the original, Thou bowedst or pressedst down those crooked or depressed ones, the Canaanites, who had their very name (portending their condition) from bowing down, as born to be servants of servants, according to Noah’s curse, Gen 9:25 Romans 11:16 .
And gavest them into their hands ] If any were unsubdued, it was through their own sloth, for which they are reproved, and by which they afterwards smarted. It is the observation of a good divine, that as seven tribes are justly taxed by Joshua for their negligence and sloth in not seeking speedily to possess the land God had offered them, Joshua 18:2 , so may the most of us be justly rebuked for grievous security about the heavenly Canaan. Various of the better sort have but a title; and therefore it justly falleth out that these are buffeted by Christ, as those were disgraced by Joshua.
That they might do with them as they would ] Save or slay whom they pleased; yet not forget the laws of humanity; as the bloody Spaniards have done among the miserable Indians; causing them to cry out, that it had been far better that the Indies had been given to the devils of hell than to them, and that if the Spaniards go to heaven when they die, themselves will never come there, though they might.
Neh 9:25 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.
Ver. 25. And they took strong cities ] With no great ado: like as towns are said to come in to Timotheus’ (the Athenian general’s) toils while he slept. This he ascribed to his own prowess and policy (Plut. in Sulla), often interlacing this proud speech, Herein fortune had no part; and from thenceforth never prospered in anything he undertook.
And a fat land ] Flowing with plenty of dainties; though Strabo spitefully slandered it as craggy and barren.
And possessed houses full of all goods ] Of all pleasant and precious substance; for the Canaanites were great merchants, Isa 23:8 Hos 12:7 Ezekiel 17:4 .
Wells digged ] A great commodity in that hot country.
Vineyards, and oliveyards ] A singular help to housekeeping.
So they did eat, and were filled ] They had enough of everything, and did eat while eating was good; as they say Queen Elizabeth did seldom eat but one dish, rose ever with an appetite, and lived about seventy years. King Edward VI was wont to call her his sweet sister Temperance.
And delighted themselves in thy great goodness ] They lived in God’s good land, but not by God’s good laws; the refreshing they found by his best creatures was none other but such as his, who "warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire," Isaiah 44:16 .
Neh 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.
Ver. 26. Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled ] See how full in the mouth these holy Levites were in aggravating their own and their forefathers’ sins, which swelled as so many toads in their eyes; neither could they ever sufficiently disgrace them. This is the property and practice of the true penitentiary.
They cast thy law behind their backs ] That is, they vilipended and undervalued it. God drew them by the cords of a man (so the cords of kindness are called, Hosea 11:4 , because befitting the nature of a man, and likeliest to prevail with rational people), but they, like men (or rather like beasts), transgressed the covenant; and, as if God had even hired them to be wicked, so did they abuse all his benefits to his greatest dishonour; being therefore the worse, because in reason they ought to have been better.
And slew thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to thee ] This was the worst they did to them, and that for which they received mercedem mundi, the wages of the mad world, ever beside itself in point of salvation, and falling foul upon such as seek its good. This is that sin that brings ruin without remedy, 2Ch 36:16 Pro 29:1 for, "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints," Psalms 116:15 .
And they wrought great provocations ] Or, blasphemies. See Nehemiah 9:18 .
Neh 9:27 Therefore 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 saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.
Ver. 27. Therefore thou deliveredst them ] Flagitium et flagellum, sicut acus et filum. Sin and punishment are tied together with chains of adamant.
Who vexed them ] Heb. Put them to straits; so that they had not what shift to make or how to help themselves.
And in the time of their trouble ] Vexatio dedit intellectum. The time of affliction is the time of supplication. When out of the depths God’s people cry unto him, they may have anything, Zechariah 13:9 , speedy audience, unmiscarrying returns of their prayers.
Thou gavest them saviours ] i.e. Deliverers, such as the judges were, Judges 3:9 , and such as Flaminius the Roman was to the poor Argives; who therefore called him Saviour, Saviour, and that with such a courage, ut corvi fortuito supervolantes, in stadium deciderent, that the birds fell to the earth amazed with that outcry; the air was so dissipated with their acclamations (Plut. in Flam.).
Neh 9:28 But after they had rest, they did evil again before thee: therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies, so that they had the dominion over them: yet when they returned, and cried unto thee, thou heardest [them] from heaven; and many times didst thou deliver them according to thy mercies;
Ver. 28. But after they had rest, they did evil again ] As standing pools breed vermin; as sedentary lives are subject to diseases. If men be not poured out from vessel to vessel, they will soon settle upon their lees. "Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God," Psalms 55:19 , saith David, of the wicked; and Psalms 30:1-12 , David himself was afflicted, delivered, and then grew wanton. Then troubled again, Nehemiah 9:7 , cries again, Nehemiah 9:8-9 . God turns his mourning to joy again; whereof if he surfeited not, it was well bestowed on him. But rarae fumant felicibus arae. We are commonly best when worst: and Pliny told his friend, that the best way to live well, was to be as good in health as we promise to be when we are sick.
Therefore leftest thou them in the hand of their enemies ] Who can do us no harm, but by Divine permission; though they bandy together, and bend all their forces to harm the Church, yet are they bounded by God, and can do nothing till he leave his people in their hands.
Had the dominion over them ] Ruled them with rigour.
And many times didst thou deliver them ] Even toties quoties: for as the eye is not weary with seeing, nor the ear with hearing; so neither is God with showing mercy. But as the sun shineth after it hath shone, and as the spring runneth after it hath run; so doth the Lord proceed to do good to his in their necessity; and that according to his mercies, which never fail, Lamentations 3:22 .
Neh 9:29 And testifiedst against them, that thou mightest bring them again unto thy law: yet they dealt proudly, and hearkened not unto thy commandments, but sinned against thy judgments, (which if a man do, he shall live in them;) and withdrew the shoulder, and hardened their neck, and would not hear.
Ver. 29. And testifiedst against them ] Toldest them of their sins, foretoldest them of their dangers, didst all that could be done to do them good; but nothing would do.
Yet they dealt proudly ] See Nehemiah 9:16 .
And hearkened not ] intus existens prohibuit alienum, Hear, and give ear, be not proud, Jeremiah 13:15 .
But sinned against thy judgments ] i.e. Thy statutes, though made with so much reason and respect to our good, that if God did not command them, yet were it every way our best way to practise them: Isaiah 48:17 , "I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way which thou shouldest go." As who should say, It is for thy profit that I command thee this or that, and not for mine own.
Which if a man do ] But that, as now, he cannot do, and, therefore, not be saved by the law, Romans 10:5 . Our Saviour indeed said to that young justiciary, "This do, and thou shalt live," Luke 10:28 . But that was all one, saith Luther, as if Christ had said unto him, Vade et morere, Go upon thy death; for do this of thyself, and live thereby, thou art never able.
And withdrew the shoulder ] When called to take up Christ’s yoke, or to bear his cross. See the note on Zechariah 7:11 .
And hardened their neck ] To sinews of iron they added brows of brass.
Neh 9:30 Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.
Ver. 30. Yet many years didst thou forbear them ] Heb. Protract over them; or, draw out thy lovingkindness toward them to the utmost.
And testifiedst against them ] As Nehemiah 9:29 . They wanted not for warnings or wooings, with, Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?
Yet would they not hear ] But as sea monsters or catadupes, or men born in a mill, or as one that is running a race; give him never so good counsel, he cannot stay to hear it.
Therefore gavest thou them ] As uncounselable incorrigible.
Neh 9:31 Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake thou didst not utterly consume them, nor forsake them; for thou [art] a gracious and merciful God.
Ver. 31. Nevertheless for thy great mercies’ sake] Man’s perverseness cannot interrupt the course of God’s goodness. In the midst of judgment he remembereth mercy, which beareth the same proportion to his judgment which seven (a complete number) hath to a unity.
Thou didst not utterly consume them ] God will repent for his people, when he seeth their power is gone, Deuteronomy 32:36 , and be jealous with a great jealousy when the enemy goes beyond his commission, Zechariah 1:14-15 .
For thou art a gracious and merciful God ] And this is most seen when misery weighs down, and nothing but mercy turneth the scale.
Neh 9:32 Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.
Ver. 32. Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty ] It is a high point of heavenly wisdom, in the beginning of our petitions, to propound God to ourselves under such holy notions and fit expressions, as wherein we may see an answer to our prayers, as here. See Nehemiah 1:5 .
Let not all the trouble ] Heb. The wearying, the lassitude. Afflictions are not joyous, but grievous to the flesh, which doth soon flag, and even sink under the burden, if not supported by the hand of Heaven.
Seem little before thee ] As if we had not yet suffered enough, but, as if we wanted weight, must be made yet heavier by an addition of new afflictions, 1 Peter 1:6 . God is apt to think a little enough, and spare, Isaiah 40:1 , and to take care that the spirit fail not before him, that his children swoon not in the whipping, Isaiah 57:16 . He knows that every child of affliction hath not the strength to cry out, as Luther did, Feri Domine, feri, Smite on, Lord, smite on, for I am absolved from my sins; or as another did, I thank thee, O Lord, for all mine extremity; and I beseech thee, if thou think it good, to add to it a hundredfold more, &c.
That hath come upon us ] As foul weather comes before it is sent for. Heb. Hath found us; for we sought it not, but would gladly have shunned it.
Since the time of the kings of Assyria ] Who yet were their most favourable enemies; and are, therefore, compared to a golden head in Nebuchadnezzar’s image; but any servitude is grievous; and among the Greeks, after that they were delivered from the tyranny of the Macedonians and Spartans, the error at the Nemaean games was forced to prononce the word, Liberty, iterumque iterumque, again and again. And how earnest are God’s people here in deprecating another captivity. He heareth them; and for their late seventy years’ captivity, granteth them seven seventies of years (Daniel’s weeks) for the enjoyment of their own country.
Neh 9:33 Howbeit thou [art] just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly:
Ver. 33. Howbeit thou art just ] So Mauricius, the emperor, justified God, when he saw his wife and children butchered before his eyes by the traitor Phocas, and knew that himself should be soon after stewed in his own broth; he cried out, Just art thou, O Lord, and just are all thy judgments. So did the noble Du Plessy, when he heard of the death of his only son slain in Holland; which so grieved his mother, that soon after she died.
Neh 9:34 Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them.
Ver. 34. Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, &c. ] But as there hath been a general defection, so a well-deserved desolation, wherein we have all justly shared.
Nor hearkened to thy commandments ] And that because they testified against their contrary practices. This wicked men cannot away with, they hate him that reproveth in the gate, as Ahab did Micaiah. None but the gracious can say, Let the righteous smite me, be the reproof never so well tempered. No sugar can bereave a pill of its bitterness. Now the ear trieth words, as the mouth tasteth meats, Job 12:11 . And ungodly men (as they write of some creatures) have fel in aure, and must get their ears cured ere they can be in case to hear God’s commandments and his testimonies. It is said of Gerson, that he loved a friendly reprover; and of Queen Anne Bullen, that she not only was willing to be admonished, but also required her chaplains freely and plainly to tell her of whatsoever was amiss. Scilicet Christus voluit aliquando etiam reginam in coelum vehere, as Luther once said of Elizabeth, queen of Denmark. These kings and princes of Israel were nonsuch.
Neh 9:35 For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works.
Ver. 35. For they have not served thee in their kingdom ] As David did, who held it his highest honour to be the servant of the Lord, Psalms 36:1-12 ; and as those three famous Christian emperors, Constantine, Valentinian, and Theodosius, who styled themselves The vassals of Jesus Christ (Socrat.).
And in thy great goodness that thou gavest them ] In the abundance of all things, Deuteronomy 28:47 , they should have considered, the more wages the more work; and that thus to requite the Lord was to come under the censure of a foolish people and unwise, Deuteronomy 32:6 , yea, of idle and evil servants, Matthew 25:26 .
And in the large and fat land ] "But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked"; fulness bred forgetfulness; saturity, security, Deuteronomy 32:15 ; therefore he was worthily pent up and pined in a strange land, where he had liberty little enough, and prisoner’s pittance.
Neither turned they from their wicked works ] They quarrel not with their faults, but with their friends that reprove them; they turn not to him from whom they had deeply revolted. Their impenitence maketh their sins mortal, says St John, 1 John 5:16 ; immortal, saith St Paul, Romans 2:5 ; they die in their sins, as did those Jews in the Gospel, and perish for ever, John 8:21 .
Neh 9:36 Behold, we [are] servants this day, and [for] the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we [are] servants in it:
Ver. 36. Behold, we are servants this day ] This is twice here bewailed, as a singular unhappiness. They that live under the Turkish slavery feel it so. Poor Greece, that was once Sol et sal gentium, terrarum flos, et fons literarum, the sun and salt of the nations, the flower of countries, and the font of literature, is now -- vel Priamo miseranda manus even [is become] the wretched hand to Priam.
Princess of nations, queen of provinces
She was, that now thus tributary is, Lamentations 1:1 .
Out of Greece and other countries that had sometime received the faith of Christ, the Turkish tyrants draw with them to the wars great multitudes of wretched people, whom they call Asape. These carry all the baggage; these carry wood and water for other soldiers of better account; these serve instead of pioneers to cast up trenches, and raise bulwarks; and when battle is to be given, if it be in a plain field, these have then weapons put into their hands, and are thrust into the forefront of the battle, to blunt the enemy’s swords: but if a city is to be besieged, these serve as fit matter to fill the ditches with their dead bodies, or to make bridges for other soldiers to pass over upon. And if they shrink to attempt anything they are commanded, then are they more cruelly used by their commanders than by their enemies. And this the Ottoman kings count good policy.
Neh 9:37 And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we [are] in great distress.
Ver. 37. And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings ] As this land once did unto the king of locusts; when it was styled the pope’s hortus deliciarum, garden of delights, out of which he could fetch what money or anything else he pleased, so long as he could hold a pen in his hand. In the year 720, John, king of West Saxons, caused in all his dominion, in every house having a chimney, a penny to be collected and paid to the bishop of Rome, in the name of St Peter; and thereof were they called Peter pence. These continued till Henry VIII’s time; who, in his protestation against the pope, speaketh thus: England is no more a babe; there is no man here but now he knows that they do foolishly that give gold for lead, more weight of that than they receive of this, &c.
Also they have dominion ] See Trapp on " Neh 9:30 "
At their pleasure ] Their will was a law; which to argue or debate was high misdemeanour; to detract or disobey, present death.
Neh 9:38 And because of all this we make a sure [covenant], and write [it]; and our princes, Levites, [and] priests, seal [unto it].
Ver. 38. And because of all this ] Our sin and misery.
We make a sure covenant ] See Ezra 10:3 .
And write it ] Littera scripta manet, A written letter abides.
And our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it ] In the room and name of all the rest, who have sworn and will perform it, that we will keep thy righteous judgments.
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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Nehemiah 9". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent