Reformation Days, part 4
by Dr. Ralph Davis
III. The Structure for Reformation: Nehemiah 9 [Covenant]
In English we should begin with Nehemiah 9:38
(which is Neh. 10:1 in Hebrew). Here, one can say, is the response to the prayer
of chapter 9, or, perhaps better, the consequence of the prayer. In light of the
ongoing history of apostasy and infidelity, what can Judah do but repent? But
how do you repent? Covenant is the vehicle of repentance. They are going
to “cut an ‘amanah,” lit., a firmness, i.e. a firm
agreement or covenant.
- The definiteness of the covenant: names (Neh.
These names include
both the leadership and the laity. Nehemiah and Zedekiah seem to be by
themselves, then the priests, listed mostly according to family names (vv. 2-8),
followed by the Levites listed as individuals rather than families (vv. 9-13),
and then the leaders (vv. 14-27; vv. 14-19a follow Ezra 2; these are mostly lay
- The heart of the covenant: separation, (Neh.
Here is a
negative separation: “from the peoples of the
Here is a positive
separation: “to the torah of
Here is a social separation:
“their wives, their sons, their
sanctification stands at the heart of how the people of God are to live
in this world.
- The seriousness of the covenant: oath (Neh.
Cf. Jeremiah 34. They
are entering under a curse, calling down judgment on themselves if they do not
keep their oath.
- The specifics of the covenant: worship (primarily)
renewal cannot thrive on generalities and vague resolutions. Note how precise
and particular these promises are:
- Marriage (v. 30).
- Sabbath (v. 31).
- Funds for worship maintenance (vv. 32-33) (see Exod.
30:11-16). The one-third shekel (v. 32) may be due to a different monetary
system in the Persian
- Firewood (v. 34). Here’s a detail that could
easily drop through the cracks.
- Offerings (vv.
These provisions deal with the
maintenance of the temple worship itself, particularly the temple staff:
firstfruits, first born, and crops. The major concern is mentioned in 39b:
“We will not neglect [lit., forsake] the house of our
Because some of these items in
this covenant do not grab our attention, we are prone to dismiss them. But the
matters in this covenant are still live issues for Christians: marriage, Sabbath
(largely ignored, though it is), and giving. But don’t look on this
covenant as legalism, as merely a document that has an eye for picky detail.
Rather, what we have in Nehemiah 10 are “fruits that show
repentance” (Luke 3:8 — note how these “fruits” are
fleshed out in Luke 3:10-14 in generosity, honesty, and contentment). This
indicates that here is a brokenness of heart that is not content simply to moan
and groan, but uses paper and ink and to itemize how it will repent.
The question, however, arises: Are our