“Let them bless your glorious name.”
1. What assembly of God’s people will we learn more about? What questions should we think about?
“RISE, bless Jehovah your God from time indefinite to time indefinite.” With these moving words, the Levites invited God’s people to come together and pray to Jehovah. This is one of the longest prayers in the Bible. (Nehemiah 9:4, 5) The assembly was in Jerusalem in the year 455 before Christ, on the 24th day of the seventh Jewish month, Tishri. As we learn more about this assembly, think about these questions: What did the Levites regularly do that helped make this assembly so successful? What can we learn from the Levites’ well-prepared prayer? Let us first talk about some of the things that happened just before this special day.
A SPECIAL MONTH
2. How are the Israelites a good example for us today?
2 A month before that special assembly, the Jews had finished rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. (Nehemiah 6:15) They had completed the work in just 52 days. Then on the first day of the next month, Tishri, they gathered together at the public square to hear Ezra and other Levites read and explain God’s Law. Whole families, including children, stood and listened from sunrise until noon. Those Israelites are a very good example for us today. Even though we may attend meetings in a comfortable Kingdom Hall, we might sometimes start thinking about other things during the meeting. But those Israelites listened carefully, thought about what they heard, and even began crying when they realized that they had not been obeying God’s Law.
3. What command did the Israelites obey?
3 But this was not the time to confess sins. It was a festival day, and Jehovah wanted the people to be happy. (Numbers 29:1) So Nehemiah told them: “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.” The people obeyed, and there was “great rejoicing” on that day.
4. What did the Israelite family heads do? What did the Levites do each day of this Festival of Booths?
4 On the next day, all the family heads met to study the Law to make sure that they were obeying all of God’s commands. While they studied the Law, they realized that the nation was supposed to celebrate the Festival of Booths. The festival began on the 15th day of the month and concluded with a solemn assembly on the 22nd day. So the people started to prepare for it right away. That festival was the most successful Festival of Booths since the time of Joshua, and there was “very great rejoicing.” Each day of the festival, the Levites read God’s Law to all the people.
A DAY TO CONFESS SINS
5. What did God’s people do just before the Levites began their prayer?
5 Two days after the festival, on the 24th day of Tishri, the time was right for the people to confess their sins. This was not a day of eating and rejoicing. Instead, God’s people fasted and wore sackcloth to show how sorry they were for disobeying God’s Law. Again, the Levites read God’s Law to the people for about three hours in the morning. In the afternoon, the people “were making confession and bowing down to Jehovah their God.” It was then that the Levites began to pray for all the people.
6. What helped the Levites offer such a meaningful prayer? What can we learn from the Levites?
6 The Levites regularly read God’s Law, and that helped them to prepare this meaningful prayer. The first part of the prayer emphasizes Jehovah’s works and qualities. In the rest of the prayer, the Levites described the many sins of the people and clearly explained why the Israelites were not worthy of God’s “abundant mercy.” (Nehemiah 9:19, 27, 28, 31) What can we learn from the Levites? We should read and meditate on God’s Word every day. In this way, we allow Jehovah to speak to us. And then when we pray, we will have more things to talk to Jehovah about, and our prayers will be more meaningful.
7. What did the Levites ask of God? What do we learn from their example?
7 In their prayer, the Levites made only one simple request. Near the end of the prayer, they asked: “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.” (Nehemiah 9:32) The Levites set a good example for us today. When we pray, we should praise and thank Jehovah before asking him for anything.
THEY PRAISED GOD’S GLORIOUS NAME
8, 9. (a) In what humble way did the Levites begin their prayer? (b) What two heavenly armies do the Levites mention?
8 The Levites were humble. Even though they said a beautiful prayer, they did not feel that their words were good enough to give Jehovah the praise that he deserves. So they began praying for all of Israel by humbly begging Jehovah: “Let them bless your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise.”
9 The prayer continues: “You are Jehovah alone, 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.” (Nehemiah 9:6) Here, the Levites mentioned some of the amazing things that Jehovah created. He made the heavens and “their army,” the many galaxies of stars. He also created everything on our beautiful planet and made it possible for the many living things on it to keep reproducing. The prayer also mentions another army. It describes God’s angels as “the army of the heavens.” (1 Kings 22:19; Job 38:4, 7) These angels humbly do God’s will by serving lowly humans. (Hebrews 1:14) Today, we too serve Jehovah unitedly like a well-trained army. We should imitate the angels by serving God humbly.
10. What do we learn from what God did for Abraham?
10 Next, the Levites mentioned what God did for Abram. Jehovah changed his name to Abraham, meaning “father of a crowd,” even though he was 99 years old and had no children. (Genesis 17:1-6, 15, 16) God also told Abraham that his seed, or descendants, would inherit the land of Canaan. The Levites described how Jehovah kept his promise: “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.” (Nehemiah 9:7, 8) Humans often forget what they promise. But we can be like Jehovah by always trying to keep our promises.
WONDERFUL THINGS JEHOVAH DID FOR HIS PEOPLE
11, 12. What is the meaning of Jehovah’s name? What did Jehovah do for his people that shows he is worthy of his name?
11 The name Jehovah means “He Causes to Become.” This means that God keeps working to make his promises come true. A wonderful example of this is the way he kept his promise to the descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel. When they were slaves in Egypt, God promised that they would be freed and live in the Promised Land. At that time, this seemed impossible. But God kept doing what was needed until his promise finally came true. In this way, he proved himself worthy of the great name Jehovah.
12 In their prayer, the Levites described some of the things Jehovah did for his people: “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.” The Levites continued by saying that Jehovah helped his people conquer the Promised Land: “You proceeded to subdue before them the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites.” Then the Levites added that God’s people “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,” as they enjoyed the good things that God had given them.
13. Soon after the Israelites left Egypt, what did Jehovah do for them? What did the people later do?
13 Jehovah did many other things to cause his promises to come true. For example, soon after the Israelites left Egypt, Jehovah gave them laws and taught them how to worship. The Levites said in their prayer: “Upon Mount Sinai you 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.” (Nehemiah 9:13) Jehovah had chosen the Israelites as his people and was going to give them the Promised Land. So he taught them to behave in a way that would be worthy of his name. But they did not obey Jehovah’s commands for very long.
THE ISRAELITES NEEDED DISCIPLINE
14, 15. (a) How did Jehovah show mercy to the Israelites? (b) What do we learn from the way God treated the Israelites?
14 The Levites’ prayer mentions two wrong things that Israel did soon after they promised to obey God’s Law at Mount Sinai. Because of those sins, Israel deserved to die in the wilderness. But Jehovah showed them mercy and continued to care for their needs. The prayer praises Jehovah: “For forty years you provided them with food in the wilderness. They lacked nothing. Their very garments did not wear out, and their feet themselves did not become swollen.” (Nehemiah 9:19, 21) Today, Jehovah also cares for our needs so that we can serve him faithfully. We never want to lose our faith in Jehovah and disobey him like the thousands of Israelites who died in the wilderness. Their bad example is a warning to us.
15 Sadly, the Israelites who entered the Promised Land did not stay faithful to Jehovah. They started to worship Canaanite gods, which included doing immoral things and even sacrificing their children. So Jehovah allowed other nations to treat the Israelites harshly. But when the Israelites repented, Jehovah forgave them and helped them defeat their enemies. This happened again and again. (Read Nehemiah 9:26-28, 31.) The Levites confessed: “You 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.”
16, 17. (a) What was the result when the Israelites again started to disobey Jehovah? (b) What did the Israelites confess? What did they promise to do?
16 After returning from Babylon, the Israelites again started to disobey Jehovah. What was the result? The Levites explained in their prayer: “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.” The Israelites had become slaves in the land that Jehovah had given them.
17 Were the Levites saying that God was being unfair to his people? Certainly not! They confessed: “You are righteous as regards all that has come upon us, for faithfully is how you have acted, but we are the ones that have done wickedly.” (Nehemiah 9:33) They finished their unselfish prayer with a serious promise that the nation would obey God’s Law. (Read Nehemiah 9:38; 10:29) They wrote their promise in a document that was signed by 84 Jewish leaders.
18, 19. (a) What do we need if we want to be in God’s new world? (b) What should we continue to pray for? Why?
18 If we want to be the kind of person Jehovah wants in his new world, we need to be disciplined by him. The apostle Paul asked: “What son is he that a father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7) If we accept discipline from Jehovah and keep serving him faithfully, we show that we are allowing him to train us. And if we commit a serious sin, we can be sure that Jehovah will forgive us if we truly repent and humbly accept his discipline.
If we accept discipline from Jehovah, we show that we are allowing him to direct us
19 Soon, Jehovah will do things that will be even more wonderful than the things he did when he saved the Israelites from Egypt. Then everyone will know what a great God he is. (Ezekiel 38:23) At that time, when God sanctifies his name, all who have been faithful to him will enter his new world, just as certainly as the Israelites entered the Promised Land. (2 Peter 3:13) So let us continue to pray for God’s glorious name to be sanctified. The next article will discuss another prayer that can help us to do what is needed to have God’s blessing now and forever.