So now today we are slaves in the land of plenty that you gave our ancestors for their enjoyment! We are slaves here in this good land. The lush produce of this land piles up in the hands of the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins. They have power over us and our livestock. We serve them at their pleasure, and we are in great misery.” (Neh 9:36-37 NLT)
Those who had escaped slavery returned due to the debts of their parents. Not debts to men, but the sin debts of God. When Israel became unprofitable for God, He sold them back into slavery – rather, they raced back into it – until the redeeming price could be raised. Until then, the people of Israel, and through them, all of humanity suffered in slavery.
Several times in biblical history, we find the rehearsing of Israel’s history of God – here, Wisdom 16-19, Stephen’s speech in Acts. Each time the people acknowledge that it was God’s mercy they kept rejecting. They would kill His prophets, corrupt His Law, and run the covenant.
During that October so many centuries ago, the native Israelites separate themselves from the children of the foreign lands to hear the Law. They left their friends and neighbors to praise God for hours a day. Their leaders began to incite prayer – Pray! Pray! Praise! – to God. So the people began to stand, to pray, to recite their history, not laying the sins against their ancestors, but accepting that ‘We have sinned!’
Then they went further – they offered to God their oath, signed, sealed and delivered. All those who could understand who had separated themselves from the nations round about bound themselves to the oath – the Leaders going first. This covenant was not one handed down from God, but offered from the people up! They promised to themselves a curse if they rejected again the Law of God as delivered by Moses. They would keep their marriages only between Israelites, to honor the Sabbath, and to celebrate the year of Jubilee, canceling all debts.
They began to establish an economy for the new Temple, 1/8 to the place of God’s name. Then lots were cast which established the rounds of priests who would serve – something lasting until the days of Zachariah, the father of a certain Baptizer. They promised one and all to do the things which were found in the Law, and,
“We promise together not to neglect the Temple of our God.” (Neh 10:39 NLT)
They began to take serious again the place where the name of God was – to do what was required of them, and sealing themselves to this oath, praying that God would bless it.