For the Love of God, Volume 2/January 20
From Gospel Translations
Genesis 21; Matthew 20; Nehemiah 10; Acts 20
NEHEMIAH 9 AND NEHEMIAH 10 NEED to be read together. Nehemiah 9 finds the Israelites confessing “their sins and the wickedness of their fathers” (9:2). Yet the scene is not of individualistic repentance and confession. There is a large-scale corporate dimension, organized yet powerfully empowered by the Spirit of God, that is wonderful to contemplate. For a quarter of the day the people hear the Scriptures translated and explained; for another quarter of the day they commit themselves to confession and worship. In this they are led by the Levites.
The corporate prayer in which they are led is in large measure a review of Israelite history. It highlights the repeated cycles of declension into which the people have fallen, and the repeated visitations of God to restore them. The heart of the confession is found in 9:33: “In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong.”
“In view of all this” (9:38), then, the people enter into a covenant with God (Neh. 10). More precisely, this is a renewal of the old Mosaic covenant. Since the prayer is led by the priests, it is not surprising that many of its elements focus on the temple. Nevertheless, there are broader issues regarding marriage (to preserve the people from pagan contamination), Sabbath observance, and a generalized commitment “to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the LORD our Lord” (10:29).
Of course, had the feasts and rites of ancient Israel functioned the way they were designed to function, this covenant renewal would not have been necessary. For strictly speaking, the great feasts were to be occasions of covenant renewal. For instance, Passover was designed to recall the Exodus and restore to the people’s consciousness the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness in rescuing them, while providing an opportunity for a renewed pledge of allegiance.
No less than the ancient Israelites, Christians are called to covenant renewal. That is one of the large purposes of the Lord’s Supper. It is a time for self-examination, confession of sin, remembering what the Lord Jesus endured to secure our redemption, and, together with the people of God in local assembly, a time to remember and proclaim his death until he comes. Thereby we renew our pledge of allegiance. If we permit the Lord’s Supper to descend to the level of meaningless rite, all the while hardening our hearts against the living God, we face grave danger. It will do us good, in solemn assembly, to review our sins and confess them, to grasp anew the Lord’s faithfulness, and to pledge fresh loyalty to the new covenant.