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Sunday School is a vital part of any ministry. In it, one is able to experience a deeper knowledge of God’s Word. Here at “Word For Life Says,” I want to help you help others. Below you will find resources to help you prepare for your upcoming lessons and my personal summary notes that I use when teaching. May God bless you!
“God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles”
Nehemiah 9:32-38; 10:28-29
PDF Lesson Print Out is now Located at the Bottom of the Lesson. Please Scroll Down, Click and Enjoy! Blessings.
Please Note: All lesson verses and titles are based on International Sunday School Lesson/Uniform Series ©2013 by the Lesson Committee, but all content/commentary written within is original tounless properly quoted/cited. I am glad you like to read my personal summary notes that I use when teaching, but as always you are encouraged to do your own studies as well. Blessings!)
Being in a covenant with God has a way of centering one in their relationship with Him. It is the anchor that holds our spiritual ship in place even when the waves of this world pull at us to drift away.
Israel has drifted away many of times through the course of their historical relationship with God. But, through it all, they realized they are tethered to God by one word: covenant. And, it is after the hearing of His Word and reviewing and confessing their mistakes and sins before Him, and after seeing His continued faithfulness through it all, mixed their desire to restore the proper elements of worship once again, that they seek to also renew their covenant with God Himself, as His people. They were going all out for a complete spiritual revival in the land and in the hearts of the people.
Nehemiah 9:32 “Now therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who keepest covenant and mercy, let not all the trouble seem little before thee, that hath come upon us, on our kings, on our princes, and on our priests, and on our prophets, and on our fathers, and on all thy people, since the time of the kings of Assyria unto this day.”
In the chapters and verses leading up to the point of today’s lesson, much has happened. Babylonian captivity had come to an end for God’s people. Beginning under the command of King Cyrus, the captives had permission to return to their homeland. When they went back, they went back in three different waves led by Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
Upon the return of Nehemiah, he went out to view the walls of the city of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:11-16). After the which, he encouraged the people in the rebuilding of those walls because they were in a state of great disrepair (Nehemiah 2:17-20). When opposition arose, Nehemiah spoke those monumental words that we often so quote in Christian circles, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down . . .” (Nehemiah 6:3). Then, the wall was completed.
Although other events occurred in the chapters in between, at the beginning of Nehemiah 8, they were entering the month of holy celebration. At that time, Ezra who is a scribe and priest “stood on a pulpit,” (vs. 4) and “opened the book,” (vs. 5) to read from the word of God. The books he read were from “the law of Moses,” (vs. 1) which we know today as the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).
Assisting Ezra that day were the Levites. At the reading of the word of God to the congregation, the Levites job was to promote understanding of what they heard (8:7). For the Word heard, and then not understood profits no one.
Here’s the thing, once one understands the word of God it will do one of two things: encourage or convict. Conviction is what the people felt that day, for once they understood truly what God’s law required, they wept (vs. 9). They were sorrowful over how short they fell in their sinful condition compared to the holiness of God and His standard. Tears streamed while they thought on the graciousness of God toward them, for they knew they did not measure up to what was written. They grieved in their soul over their wrong way of living. And, I must ask, when was the last time people truly grieved over not living up to God’s expectations?
At that point, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites encouraged the people to silence their tears and begin to celebrate what God has done for them, “For the joy of the LORD is your strength,” (8:10). That day ended in “great mirth because they understood the words that were declared unto them,” (8:12). At which point they entered into the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (see Nehemiah 8:14-18).
After the celebration of this feast, opening chapter 9, we see the spirit of humility and repentance take over the children of Israel. They are fasting and in sackclothes (Nehemiah 9:1). They were taking proper steps in seeking a closer relationship with God after being gone for so long from the proper heart perspective of worship toward Him. This, in turn, led them to confess their wrongs and own up to their sins (Nehemiah 9:4-31), realizing the strength of God’s love and mercy for them in keeping them through it all.
Arriving at our opening verse of today’s lesson, we see, in spite of all they did, God has never reneged on His original covenant. He is, “our God . . . who keepest covenant and mercies.” How awesome is that?! God did everything to avoid them to go into captivity but they didn’t listen. Before their captivity, Isaiah prophesied by name that there would be a man by the name of Cyrus that would release the people from their captivity (Is. 44:28), and all through the fulfilling thereof God kept His “covenant.” Now, they are back home worshipping once again with restored buildings, restored walls, and restored hearts because of “God” and His “covenant” with them.
Nehemiah 9:33-35 “Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly: Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers, kept thy law, nor hearkened unto thy commandments and thy testimonies, wherewith thou didst testify against them. For they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them, and in the large and fat land which thou gavest before them, neither turned they from their wicked works.”
In this time of reflection over their lives, their choice, and their sins; they realize God is not the one at fault here. They are. “Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us; for thou hast done right, but we have done wickedly,” was their confession. They owned up to their wrongs. They owned up to their mistakes and did not falsely or inaccurately lay the charge at God’s feet. With a surrendered heart before God, they testified that God was “just in all that is brought upon us.” In other words, God, we deserved it. Our sin invited this trouble into our lives.
Any who want to enter into a covenant relationship with God, even now must approach Him with the same surrendered heart. A heart that doesn’t mind telling on itself. A heart that recognizes I am the one at fault; I am the one harboring sin in my life. A heart that testifies that God is always right and I am the one that needs to repent. For true repentance is always a matter of the heart and acknowledging the wrong things that were done were one’s own doing. Passing the blame won’t work here. “We have done wickedly,” they admitted.
Individually, nationally, and historically all the people have strayed and have not “kept thy law.” Titles of nobility found in “kings” and “princes” have done wrong. Titles of ministry found in the form of the “priests” have done wrong. “Fathers” and leaders of the land are not exempt from this humble outpouring of people who have failed to live up to God’s “commandments and thy testimonies.”
This group of leaders are admitting they have missed God’s holy mark time and again, with person after person, and it is staggering because people tend to follow the course their leaders set out before them and if their leaders are walking in the wrong paths and refusing the law of God, what more will the general populace do? Rather, they should have used their influence of leadership to lead people closer to God instead of further away. They should have been the stewards of God’s people and God’s Word that He positioned them to be.
Instead, it is noted in our lesson, “for they have not served thee in their kingdom, and in thy great goodness that thou gavest them.” When God blessed them and gave them a “large and fat land” the people did not remain committed to God. They took His blessings and then went out to do their own thing and refused to turn “from their wicked works.” God prospered them but they didn’t give Him the glory.
Before we judge, we must ask ourselves how committed are we to God in the midst of all the blessings He has already rendered to us? How devoted are we to follow hard after Him when He has done so much for us? Before we cry out that’s a shame, we must examine our own selves to see if we are in danger of walking the same course in our spiritual lives. Don’t ever let God bring you to a place of favor and then regret getting you there. Don’t ever take God’s blessings for granted! We must humble ourselves before Him and walk after His ways!
The people standing at that moment of confession acknowledged they put God on the back burner of their lives and didn’t give Him the priority He and His Word deserved. They misplaced God in their lives and in their worship. God was to be their number one priority. It’s number one on the list of the Ten Commandments, but “they have not served thee in their kingdom.”
Nehemiah 9:36-37 “Behold, we are servants this day, and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it: And it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.”
As a result of their neglectful attitude toward God, now they are “servants” in the same land He had blessed for them to be rulers, owners, and possessors. God subdued enemy after enemy under their feet to gain their land of promise, but now, instead of reaping the benefits of it for themselves and their families, everything it yields is going to the “kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins.”
Sin contaminates every area of life and it destroys everything it comes into contact with causing one to lose out on the blessings of God. Somebody else was getting the “fruit” and the “goods” that God had originally intended to be for His people in that “land that thou gavest unto our fathers.” Somebody else was reaping the joy of their forfeited blessings.
Previously, I wrote:
“Many pack churches out on Sunday’s to fulfill their weekly obligation of attending church without having a personal relationship with the Word; without contemplating and applying its truths to their own lives. This may make one appear spiritually rich on the outside but on the inside they have cheated themselves out of its rich rewards.” (WordForLifeSays.com/Hear and Do the Word!”
By not remaining devoted to God and His Word, they lost out and cheated themselves on receiving the fullness of the “rich rewards” He had in store for them. What are we losing out on today, both spiritually and physically? Is it worth it?
God’s promise for His people way back in the book of the Law, when Moses was reiterating all God’s commands before they went across into the Promised Land, was this: “And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them,” (Deuteronomy 28:13). The Promised Land wasn’t given to them for them to be “servants” in it. They were to be a people of honor and not in the position of dishonor. But, the condition of receiving the fullness of everything He offered was contingent on their obedience to follow after His commandments. Blessings are always attached to obedience just like curses are attached to disobedience.
God gave the people a strict warning about walking in disobedience. He warned that curses would overtake them, (Deut. 28:15). One of the consequences would be “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies …,” (Deut. 28:47-48). Their confession matches up with what God spoke. They said, “We are servants this day.”
Those kings are not only ruling the perimeter of their land, but “they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle, at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.” They control everything at the expense of God’s people. The people did the work and the kings got fat off of their sweat and hardship. Therefore, they are in “great distress.”
Nehemiah 9:38 “And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.”
Distress can do one of two things: it can make you or it can break you. It can make you flee and hide into an attitude of acceptance, self-pity, and hopelessness; or, it can stiffen your backbone with the resolve to do better. It can usher in the spirit of revival and renewal. It is the latter of these two that we see here.
They were so sure that they wanted to change the course of their lives for the better that they wanted to enter into a “sure covenant, and write it.” They wanted it documented that this is now their statement of faith; this is now where they are seeking to stand in their relationship with God.
They were renewing their commitment to Him. They know they did wrong before, but now they are seeking God. The Bible gives this promise, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon,” (Isaiah 55:6-7).
This covenant was to be signed off on by all the leaders: “our prince, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” The leaders stepped up to the proper place of being first partakers of this covenant.
Nehemiah 10:28-29 “And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding; They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.”
“The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God” followed suit and entered into the covenant relationship with God for themselves. One’s faith is not contingent on anyone other than themselves. They have to want God for personally.
In an article I previously published titled, Purposing the Heart, I wrote:
“Leaders are just that – leaders. They can go out in front of the pack and try to lay the course for the best plan of action but it is up to the individual to let the compass of his/her heart to be guided in the right direction. There is a personal responsibility to have a purposeful heart that will intentionally pursue one’s own relationship with God.
How we get on in our relationship with God cannot be put off on another. We can’t shun the charge to follow wholeheartedly after Him and claim that it’s the fault of others for why we didn’t follow through.
The reason for lack of follow-through lies literally at the center of one’s heart. A heart that is not fully devoted to God is a heart that won’t be inclined to continue to live for Him when those people who bring that positive influence are no longer in our lives. We have to want God for ourselves. Our hearts have to be intentional in our daily living for Him.
Purposing the heart is being intentional in going after God for one’s self. Nobody else can do it for you.” (WordForLifeSays.com)
The people had to be intentional in their pursuit of God for themselves. So, they put a difference between them who want God; who want a relationship with God, and the people of the land. There is always a difference between those who want to live holy and those who don’t. Every individual has to choose whether they will be committed to God or not.
When they became committed to God, so did their families: “their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding” were affected to change the course of their lives and make their own commitment to God and sign the deal. Their faith in seeking a covenant relationship with God had a domino effect and their families would come to know Him for themselves.
So serious were they that they “entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law.” They bound themselves to Him, for better or for worse. Whatever the stipulations were of that covenant, they accepted the responsibility that would befall them if they failed to live up to what they had committed themselves to. They wanted a relationship with God for themselves and they made this promise to “walk in God’s law.”
As the people sought to renew their devotion to God, each one of us has to be just as intentional in wanting God for ourselves. It all starts with a committed heart that is obedient to Him.
Below are activities to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
Draw the Scene: God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles Draw the Scene
Memory Verse: God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles Memory Verse
God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles Pop Up Card Craft: God’s Covenant with the Returned Exiles Pop Up Card Craft
Below are Activities/Links/Resources to support this week’s lesson. Enjoy!
“Hear, O Israel” (This activity and crafts go nicely with the background of today’s lesson. Enjoy!)
“Memory Verse Idea to use with Blocks” (Which is a great idea considering portions of the background of the lesson involve building. Enjoy!)
“Kingdom Rock – Nehemiah Rebuilds the Wall” (If you have the time and the resources this would be an awesome idea for younger children to build a wall. Enjoy!)
“Nehemiah” (Illustrations, crafts, and printables. Enjoy!)
Activities, Crafts and Coloring About Sin (It was the people’s sin that broke the covenant that they are now seeking to renew. Enjoy!)
“Becoming All New” Coloring Page from Childrensbiblelessonsplace.com
“Sin Revealed” Activity from Kids Sunday School Place
“Sin Spoils” Activity from Kids Sunday School Place
“Children’s Activities About Sin” from Ehow.com
“A Heart for Jesus Activity” from Kids Sunday School Place
“Jesus Cleanses Us From Our Sticky Sins Activity” from Christianity Cove
“Covered By Christ Activity and Coloring” from Ministry to Children
“Forgive Us Our Sins” Coloring Page from Ministry to Children
“Girl and Boy Prayer Coloring Pages” from Ministry to Children (These prayer coloring sheets are great because they have empty speech balloons. In those balloons children can write their own confession/prayer as the people did in the lesson. Enjoy!)
“1 John 1:9 Butterfly Coloring Page” from Childrenschapel.org
“Children’s Bible Object Lesson on Sin” from Creative Bible Study