Read Nehemiah 9:23-31. How are the Israelites described in comparison to God’s “great goodness” (Neh. 9:25)?
This next section of the prayer/sermon focused on life in Canaan as the Israelites possessed the land that God had given them. They had been handed land, cities, vineyards, and fields ready for use, but they had taken it all for granted. At the end of verse 25, we are told that “they ate and were filled and grew fat” (NKJV). Growing fat is an expression that is found only a few times in the Bible (Deut. 32:15 and Jer. 5:28), and each time it has a negative connotation.
The people might have “delighted themselves in Your great goodness” (NKJV) but theirs wasn’t a delight in God but, instead, in all they had. Apparently having everything doesn’t produce a close walk with God. Many times we think, “If only I had this or that, then I would be happy”. Unfortunately, we see that the Israelites had everything from God, and yet their “happiness” in those things only made them less devoted to God. Too often it’s too easy for us to focus on the gifts while forgetting about the Giver. This is a fatal deception.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we cannot be happy for the things that God has given us. He desires that we rejoice in His gifts, but this joy in the things He gives doesn’t guarantee a relationship with God. In fact, if we are not careful, these things can become a stumbling block.
Nevertheless, in this chapter, the leaders now confessed the ways that they had been unfaithful to God. As they looked through their history, they specifically named transgressions they had committed as a nation. A couple of aspects emerge as especially important, because they are repeated: 1 Israel cast God’s law away, and 2 they persecuted the prophets.
In other words, they realized that God’s law and His prophets were essential to their development as a godly nation and as individuals. The prayer emphasizes this conclusion by stating that “if a man does” God’s commandments, “he shall live by them” (Neh. 9:29, NKJV; direct quote from Lev. 18:5) and by highlighting that it is the Spirit that spoke through the prophets. God has given us His commandments for an abundant life, and He sent His prophets to guide us in our understanding of His truth. What we do with these gifts is the essential question for us all.