It was time to celebrate. A Jewish remnant had returned from Babylonian captivity and the walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt. Ezra read the Book of the Law to them and they realized it was time to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. They prepared their tents with appropriate branches to recall how their ancestors lived in tents when God brought them from Egypt to the fruitful land he promised. Nehemiah 9:15 says God promised them the land “with uplifted hand” or a formal vow as when one raises a hand to declare the truth. God used this phrase when he promised to bring the Jews into the land (Ex. 6:8).
Nehemiah 8:17 might lead us to think that the Jews had not celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles since the time of Joshua. Most commentators believe the Feast was regularly observed, but probably not during captivity. The peoples’ “joy was great” at this celebration because the remnant returning from captivity could relate to the excitement of the first Jews coming into the land.
Their prayer of praise and confession on the last day reviewed the history from the Egyptian exile to their present times. They praised the one Lord, creator of heaven and earth for choosing them and becoming their covenant God. They thanked him for protecting them from the Egyptians at the Red Sea and for his constant visible presence with them in the pillar of cloud and fire. They thanked him for providing “houses filled with all kinds of good things,” wells filled with water, and vineyards abounding with fruit (9:25). They acknowledged their ancestors were stiff-necked, disobedient, and rebellious. Stiff-necked implied a rebellious child resisting the lead of a parent’s hand. They also admitted they put God’s law “behind their backs” which describes an act of brazen disobedience. Yet, through all this, God was “gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love” (9:17). Their prayer was full of God’s protection and provisions and their confessions.
This past week I have tried praying like the remnant prayed: praising him for his character and his bountiful provisions to me and, when contrasting my life to God’s character, confessing how I fall short. I encourage you to try praying like the remnant prayed.
God, creator of this magnificent and gorgeous earth, massive galaxies of sparkling stars, the endless waves of the sea, how minute I feel. Yet, your compassion and love swallow me up in your abiding peace. Forgive me when my ego takes control of your position in my life. Amen.
Join me in praising and confessing like the Jewish remnant.