Lessons From a Well-Prepared Prayer
“Let them bless your glorious name.”—NEH. 9:5.
1. What assembly of God’s people will we consider, raising what questions?
“RISE, bless Jehovah your God from time indefinite to time indefinite.” With these stirring words, God’s ancient people were assembled to unite in a prayer that is one of the longest in the Bible record. (Neh. 9:4, 5) The gathering took place in Jerusalem on the 24th day of the seventh Jewish month, Tishri, 455 B.C.E. As we consider events that led up to that special day, ask yourself: ‘What good habit contributed to the success of the occasion? What other lessons can I learn from this well-prepared prayer?’—Ps. 141:2.
A SPECIAL MONTH
2. What fine example did the Israelites set for us at their gathering after the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls?
2 A month prior to the above assembly, the Jews had completed the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. (Neh. 6:15) God’s people accomplished the work in just 52 days, and they then proceeded to give particular attention to their spiritual needs. So on the first day of the new month, Tishri, they gathered together at the public square to hear Ezra, along with other Levites, read aloud and explain God’s Law. Whole families, including “all intelligent enough to listen,” stood and listened “from daybreak till midday.” What a fine example for those of us who today attend meetings in comfortable Kingdom Halls! Yet, on such occasions do you sometimes find that your mind wanders and you start thinking about less important matters? If so, consider again the example of those ancient Israelites who not only listened but took to heart what they heard to the extent that they began weeping over their failure as a nation to obey God’s Law.—Neh. 8:1-9.
3. The Israelites obediently followed what direction?
3 However, this was not the time for public confession of sins. Being a festival day, it was meant to be a joyous time in the worship of Jehovah. (Num. 29:1) So Nehemiah told the people: “Go, eat the fatty things and drink the sweet things, and send portions to the one for whom nothing has been prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord, and do not feel hurt, for the joy of Jehovah is your stronghold.” Commendably, the people obeyed, and the day turned into one of “great rejoicing.”—Neh. 8:10-12.
4. What did the Israelite family heads do, and what did they discover was a noteworthy feature of this Festival of Booths?
4 On the very next day, the family heads gathered together to see how the nation could conform more closely to God’s Law. In their study of the Scriptures, they found that the seventh month was to include the Festival of Booths with its concluding solemn assembly from the 15th through the 22nd day of Tishri, so they began to make preparations. It turned out to be the most successful Festival of Booths since the days of Joshua and resulted in “very great rejoicing.” An important feature of this festival was the public reading of God’s Law, “day by day, from the first day until the last day.”—Neh. 8:13-18.
A DAY OF CONFESSION
5. What did God’s people do just before the Levites represented them in prayer to Jehovah?
5 Two days later, the time was right for a public confession on the part of Israel for their failure to keep God’s Law. This was not a festival day of feasting. Instead, God’s people fasted and were dressed in sackcloth as a sign of mourning. Again, God’s Law was read to the people for about three hours in the morning. In the afternoon, “they were making confession and bowing down to Jehovah their God.” Then the Levites represented the people with their well-prepared prayer. —Neh. 9:1-4.
6. What contributed to the Levites’ offering a meaningful prayer, and what lesson does this teach us?
6 No doubt, their frequent reading of God’s Law helped the Levites to prepare this meaningful prayer. The first ten verses focus exclusively on Jehovah’s works and qualities. In the remaining part of the prayer, God’s “abundant mercy” is repeatedly highlighted along with a clear admission that the Israelites were not worthy of such kind treatment. (Neh. 9:19, 27, 28, 31) Our prayers to Jehovah will also be fresh and meaningful if, like those Levites, we daily meditate on God’s Word, allowing Jehovah to speak to us before we pray at length to him.—Ps. 1:1, 2.
7. What did the Levites ask of God, and what do we learn from this?
7 The prayer contains only one modest request. It is found in the latter part of verse 32, which reads: “Now, O our God, the God great, mighty and fear-inspiring, keeping the covenant and loving-kindness, do not let all the hardship that has found us, our kings, our princes and our priests and our prophets and our forefathers and all your people from the days of the kings of Assyria down to this day, seem little before you.” Thus, the Levites set a good example for us to praise and thank Jehovah first before making personal requests in our prayers.
PRAISING GOD’S GLORIOUS NAME
8, 9. (a) In what humble way did the Levites begin their prayer? (b) To what two heavenly armies do the Levites evidently refer?
8 Even though their prayer was well-prepared, those Levites were humble and felt that the quality of their words could not fully express the praise Jehovah really deserves. Thus, the prayer starts with this modest appeal respecting God’s people: “Let them bless your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”—Neh. 9:5.
9 “You are Jehovah alone,” the prayer continues, “you yourself have made the heavens, even the heaven of the heavens, and all their army, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them; and you are preserving all of them alive; and the army of the heavens are bowing down to you.” (Neh. 9:6) Yes, Jehovah God created the entire universe, made up of countless galaxies of stars. Equally marvelous, he created everything on our beautiful planet with its amazing ability to sustain an astonishing variety of life—life that keeps reproducing according to its kind. Witnessing all of this were the holy angels of God, who can also be described as “the army of the heavens.” (1 Ki. 22:19; Job 38:4, 7) Moreover, the angels humbly do God’s will by ministering to sinful humans “who are going to inherit salvation.” (Heb. 1:14) What a splendid example the angels set for us as we serve Jehovah unitedly like a well-trained army!—1 Cor. 14:33, 40.
10. What do we learn from God’s dealings with Abraham?
10 Next, the Levites focused on God’s dealings with Abram, who by his 99th year had not fathered a single child from his barren wife, Sarai. It was then that Jehovah changed his name to Abraham, meaning “father of a crowd.” (Gen. 17:1-6, 15, 16) God also promised Abraham that his seed would inherit the land of Canaan. Humans often forget what they promise; not so Jehovah. As the Levites’ prayer recounts: “You are Jehovah the true God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and constituted his name Abraham. And you found his heart faithful before you; so there was a contracting of the covenant with him to give him the land of the Canaanites, . . . to give it to his seed; and you proceeded to carry out your words, because you are righteous.” (Neh. 9:7, 8) May we too imitate our righteous God by always striving to be true to our word.—Matt. 5:37.
RECOUNTING JEHOVAH’S ACCOMPLISHMENTS
11, 12. Explain the meaning of Jehovah’s name and how this was demonstrated in his dealings with Abraham’s descendants.
11 The name Jehovah means “He Causes to Become,” signifying that God, through progressive action, causes his promises to come true. This is beautifully demonstrated in God’s dealings with the descendants of Abraham when they were slaves to the Egyptians. At that time, it seemed impossible that the entire nation could be set free and settled in the Promised Land. However, by a series of progressive actions, God caused his promise to come true, thereby proving himself worthy of the unique and illustrious name Jehovah.
12 The prayer recorded by Nehemiah says of Jehovah: “You saw the affliction of our forefathers in Egypt, and their outcry at the Red Sea you heard. Then you gave signs and miracles against Pharaoh and all his servants and all the people of his land, for you knew that they acted presumptuously against them; and you proceeded to make a name for yourself as at this day. And the sea you split before them, so that they crossed over through the midst of the sea on the dry land; and their pursuers you hurled into the depths like a stone in the strong waters.” Then, the prayer continues about what else Jehovah had done for his people: “You proceeded to subdue before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites . . . And they went capturing fortified cities and a fat soil and taking in possession houses full of all good things, cisterns hewn out, vineyards and olive groves and trees for food in abundance, and they began to eat and to be satisfied and to grow fat and to luxuriate in your great goodness.”—Neh. 9:9-11, 24, 25.
13. How did Jehovah provide for Israel’s spiritual needs, but how did the people respond?
13 There were many other progressive actions that God took to accomplish his purpose. For example, soon after Israel left Egypt, Jehovah provided for their spiritual needs. “Upon Mount Sinai,” recall the Levites in their prayer to God, he “came down and spoke with them out of heaven and went on to give them upright judicial decisions and laws of truth, good regulations and commandments.” (Neh. 9:13) Jehovah tried to teach his people so that they could be fit bearers of his holy name as the inheritors of the Promised Land, but they forsook the good things they learned.—Read Nehemiah 9:16-18.
THE NEED FOR DISCIPLINE
14, 15. (a) How did Jehovah mercifully care for his sinful people? (b) What do we learn from God’s dealings with his chosen nation?
14 The Levites’ prayer refers to two specific sins committed by Israel soon after they had promised to keep God’s Law at Mount Sinai. For these, they rightly deserved to be left alone to die. But the prayer praises Jehovah: “In your abundant mercy [you] did not leave them in the wilderness. . . . For forty years you provided them with food . . . They lacked nothing. Their very garments did not wear out, and their feet themselves did not become swollen.” (Neh. 9:19, 21) Today, Jehovah also provides us with everything we need to serve him faithfully. May we never be like the thousands of Israelites who died in the wilderness because of their disobedience and lack of faith. In fact, those things “were written for a warning to us upon whom the ends of the systems of things have arrived.”—1 Cor. 10:1-11.
15 Sadly, after inheriting the Promised Land, the Israelites adopted the sensuous, murderous worship of Canaanite gods. So Jehovah allowed neighboring nations to oppress his chosen nation. When they repented, Jehovah mercifully forgave them and saved them from their enemies. “Time and again” this happened. (Read Nehemiah 9:26-28, 31.) “You,” confessed the Levites, “were indulgent with them for many years and kept bearing witness against them by your spirit by means of your prophets, and they did not give ear. Finally you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.”—Neh. 9:30.
16, 17. (a) After the exile, how did the situation of the Israelites differ from when their forefathers first inherited the Promised Land? (b) What did the Israelites confess, and what did they promise to do?
16 Even after their return from exile, the Israelites fell back into a pattern of disobedience. With what difference? The Levites continued praying: “Look! We are today slaves; and as for the land that you gave to our forefathers to eat its fruitage and its good things, look! we are slaves upon it, and its produce is abounding for the kings that you have put over us because of our sins, and . . . we are in great distress.”—Neh. 9:36, 37.
17 Were the Levites suggesting that God was unjust in allowing this distress? Certainly not! “You are righteous,” they confessed, “as regards all that has come upon us, for faithfully is how you have acted, but we are the ones that have done wickedly.” (Neh. 9:33) Then, this unselfish prayer concludes with a solemn promise that the nation will henceforth obey God’s Law. (Read Nehemiah 9:38; 10:29) To this end, a written document is signed with the seals of 84 Jewish leaders.—Neh. 10:1-27.
18, 19. (a) What do we need in order to survive into God’s new world? (b) What should we not stop praying for, and why?
18 We need discipline from Jehovah in order to be fit to survive into his righteous new world. “What son is he that a father does not discipline?” asked the apostle Paul. (Heb. 12:7) We show that we accept God’s direction in our lives by faithfully enduring in his service and allowing his spirit to refine us. And if we commit a serious sin, we can be sure that Jehovah will forgive us if we are truly repentant and humbly accept discipline.
19 Soon, Jehovah will make an even grander name for himself than he did when he delivered the Israelites from Egypt. (Ezek. 38:23) And just as surely as his ancient people inherited the Promised Land, so all Christians who endure as faithful worshippers of Jehovah will inherit life in God’s righteous new world. (2 Pet. 3:13) With such wonderful prospects ahead of us, may we not stop praying for the sanctification of God’s glorious name. The next article will discuss another prayer that we must act in harmony with to enjoy God’s blessing now and forever.