God’s Covenant With the Returned Exiles
International Sunday School Lesson for October 29, 2017
To be able to admit our faults and pledge ourselves to a life that honors our relationship with God
Background: Nehemiah 9–10
Nehemiah 9:32-38 (CEB)
32 Now, our God, great and mighty and awesome God, you are the one who faithfully keeps the covenant. Don’t treat lightly all of the hardship that has come upon us, upon our kings, our officials, our priests, our prophets, our ancestors, and all your people, from the time of the kings of Assyria until today.
33 You have been just in all that has happened to us; you have acted faithfully, and we have done wrong.
34 Our kings, our officials, our priests, and our ancestors haven’t kept your Instruction. They haven’t heeded your commandments and the warnings that you gave them.
35 Even in their own kingdom, surrounded by the great goodness that you gave to them, even in the wide and rich land that you gave them, they didn’t serve you or turn from their wicked works.
36 So now today we are slaves, slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts.
37 Its produce profits the kings whom you have placed over us because of our sins. They have power over our bodies and do as they please with our livestock. We are in great distress.
38 Because of all this, we are making a firm agreement in writing, with the names of our officials, our Levites, and our priests on the seal.
Nehemiah 10:28-29 (CEB)
28 The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the neighboring peoples to follow the Instruction from God, together with their wives, their sons, their daughters, and all who have knowledge and understanding.
29 They join with their officials and relatives, and make a solemn pledge to live by God’s Instruction, which was given by Moses, God’s servant, and to observe faithfully all the commandments, judgments, and statutes of our Lord God.
You have been just in all that has happened to us; you have acted faithfully, and we have done wrong. (Nehemiah 9:33)
The time of this text was probably around 445 b.c. The place was Jerusalem. Ezra-Nehemiah, originally one book composed at the end of the fifth century b.c., described many of the changes that occurred in Judah and Jerusalem after the period of the Babylonian exile.
At the time and place of this week’s readings, the narrative focuses on what might have been the most crucial change: the change of heart of the Jewish people living in the land of their ancestors. It had been almost a century since the first wave of exiles had returned to their native Judah from Babylon. After the Persian king Cyrus had conquered Babylon in 539 b.c., he decreed that the Jews should return to their land, resume their worship, and rebuild their Temple (Ezra 1:1-4). With the prophetic encouragement of Haggai and Zechariah and the support of the Persian administrators, the Temple was completed in 515 b.c. (Ezra 6:15) during the reign of the Persian king Darius (Ezra 1–6)
In 458 b.c., the Persian king Artaxerxes sent the scribe and priest Ezra to Judah. He had the full financial and material commitment of the king as well as the authority to appoint
magistrates and judges throughout the province.
The above should give you an historical background. Our text is the final few verses of a prayer that is started in verse 5 of chapter 9, and concluded at verse 37.
The people that had returned from exile all gather together and hear for the first time the reading of the law, from the law of Moses. (Instruction Scroll of the Lord)
By the time we get from the beginning of the prayer to today’s text, most of the history of the Jewish people has been revealed. It is a history of a faithful God and disobedient people.
It should prepare us for an attitude of worship in today’s churches. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:28 Each individual should test himself or herself, and eat from the bread and drink from the cup in that way. We also must come with a prayer of confession just as even Pharaoh confessed in Exodus 9:27 Then Pharaoh sent for Moses and Aaron and said to them, “This time I’ve sinned. The Lord is right, and I and my people are wrong.
How do we get there? In the early Christian monasteries, a special way to read Scripture for a deeper understanding was developed called lectio divina (literally, “divine reading” or “sacred reading”). The practice involves reading the Scripture text slowly and in a low voice in an uninterrupted place. As Gabriel O’Donnell describes: “One reads, in the ancient sense of that word, with one’s mouth and one’s ears. In this context, a text is intended to be heard—and not, primarily, to be seen. In reading in this ancient sense, the reader becomes both proclaimer and hearer of the word and, in the case of lectio divina, of the Word of God.” Believing that the passage has a personal message from God, the reader may pause at a particularly meaningful word, phrase, or sentence and repeat it over again and again. Or as O’Donnell says, they can use a food metaphor: taste it, savor and chew it, and finally swallow or consume it. As the reading continues, the reader is drawn into the passage. What has begun as a dialogue between the reader and God’s Word can become a duet where the reader’s life blends into harmony with God and God’s will becomes the reader’s will. Give it a try.
My hymn for this week is “How Firm A Foundation.”