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God’s Covenant With the Returned Exiles
Fall Quarter: Covenants With God
Unit 2: Called Into Covenant With God
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 29, 2017
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: Nehemiah 9:32-38; Nehemiah 10:28-29
Background Scripture: Nehemiah 9–10
Purpose: To be able to admit our faults and pledge ourselves to a life that honors our relationship with God
Key Verse: You have been just in all that has happened to us; you have acted faithfully, and we have done wrong. (Nehemiah 9:33)
The Adult Bible Studies’
writer begins expressing that the return of the exiles is possibly the most crucial change for the Jewish people living in the land of their ancestors.
Hearing the Word
The writer states the following:
- The time was around 445 B.C. The place was Jerusalem.
- It had been almost a century since the first wave of exiles had returned to their native Judah from the Babylon. (Ezra 1:1-4).
- In 458 B.C., the Persian king Artaxerxes sent the scribe and priest Ezra to Judah. He had the financial and material commitment of the king and the authority to appoint magistrates and judges.
- His mission was to strengthen Jewish loyalty to the Persian throne by showing the king’s support for the Jewish religious tradition.
- He brought the Instruction (the Torah; the “Instruction scroll from Moses,” Nehemiah 8:1) “to study and perform the Lord’s Instruction, and to teach law and justice in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).
- Nehemiah had been a wine-bearer for Artaxerxes.
- After secretly inspecting the city walls, Nehemiah set about restoring them, completing the job in an astounding 52 days.
The writer briefly moves forward to Chapter 11 with an account of the Jewish population transitioning and resettling in Judah into the city – a city still devastated by the sixth-century destruction. Then he moves back to this week’s scriptures, describing the culture of that day as one that aligned with the society and politics from religious practice and concerns. Ezra’s mission was to strengthen the faith and worship of the Jewish people, supported by Nehemiah. Nehemiah and Ezra led the mission by reading on the first day from the “Instruction scroll from Moses, according to which the Lord had instructed Israel” (8:1). The people responded with cries and the day was proclaimed as a holy day unto God because they heard and understood his words. The “Instruction scroll” was read daily during the Feast of Tabernacle (Festival) and on the eighth day the people’s cries turned in to prayer (8:1-12).
The writer conveys that by verse 30, the historical narrative of the prayer reaches the time of the Babylonian exile. We see similarities from last week’s lesson of the behaviors of a disobedient people, despite the warnings of the prophets. The people had tested God’s patience, and God had “to hand them over” to their enemies. Those who had returned to the land of their ancestors after that terrible period of exile still found themselves in a region ruled by a foreign power. In verse 32, the request of the peoples’ prayer becomes clear. The Jews confessed their wrongdoings and admitted that the Lord had been just and faithful in “all that has happened to” them. The prayer was a combination of God’s gifts and a confession of their disobedience.
Teacher: Ask the class to examine their prayer time with God; do they practice confession and repentance? What seems to be the central themes in their prayers?
The returned exiles considered themselves “slaves” in the land that was given to their ancestors because of their own sin. God gave their land to rulers beyond their borders and their kings to reign over them. The writer expresses their condition as a sense of helplessness even though they had the help of the Persian overseers (Ezra and Nehemiah were charged by the monarchy to strengthen the culture and socio-economic structure of Judah). God always extend his grace and mercy when we confess our sins and repent. The Jews received God’s mercy and grace and renewed their faithfulness to him.
The writer concludes with the people’s pledge to God and their signed agreement “to live by God’s Instruction.” The entire community solemnly pledged to live by the instructions, which had been given by Moses at Sinai and included “all the commandments, judgments, and statutes of our Lord God.” (In verse 29, the NRSV mentions a curse along with the pledge, which would have referred to the accepted punishment of those who failed to live up to the promise.) Verse 28 list those that pledged: “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.”
As we examined these scriptures, it is evident that God makes her commands known and requires for us to honor our covenant with him. His grace is always abiding for our redemption.
Dear God, we thank you for establishing your covenant in relationship with humanity and for your grace and mercy. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at email@example.com.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Fall 2017” book is used for the content of this lesson.