Then stood up on the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni…
The true test of the good received in religious ordinances is their sanctifying effect on the life. Many a tree is gay with blossoms in spring that yields no fruit in autumn; and so many gospel hearers, who appear full of promise in the time of ordinances, show no decided piety in their subsequent conduct.
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PRAYER. It is often easier to act for God than to pray to Him — to work in His vineyard than to wait at His throne. Activity may afford occasion for excitement, and scope for display, and opportunity to attract the admiration of others; while prayer calls to the exercise of faith, to cultivate humility, to live under the eye of God. Spiritual work, indeed, might be expected to draw the servant near to the Master for communion and help. It soon discovers human weakness and want, and dependence on almighty power for strength, for supply, for all blessing. But, instead of proving an incentive to prayer, it is often made a substitute for it; and the labourer feels as if too busy in service to find time for unceasing supplication. And thus the people of Judah here set a high value on prayer. They have laboured to restore the walls and temple of Jerusalem, and success has crowned their efforts. But activity in these sacred undertakings, so far from cooling their devotion, inspires them to growing fervour in prayers and supplications to God. In reference to the circumstances of this prayer, it may be remarked —
1. It was offered immediately after the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month this festival commenced, on the twenty-second it was closed; and "on the twenty-fourth day of this month the children of Israel were assembled" for this prayer. The time of meeting is proof of the ardour of their devotion. Formal worshippers are soon wearied in spiritual exercises, and ask, "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn; and the Sabbath, that we may set forth wheat?" It is a frame of devotion much to be desired. Protracted meetings like this, for religious exercises, may be expedient only on extraordinary occasions, but habitual love of communion with God is both the strength and joy of a holy heart. It is not one intense momentary influence, flowing from the summer sun, that covers fields with corn and trees with fruit, but the daily glow of his genial beams; so it is not a single hour in the presence of Christ, receiving one full manifestation of Him in the soul, that saves it from the fears of guilt, and beautifies it with His image, but it is an abiding in Him, a "looking unto Jesus," a "coming unto God by Him." "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. Further, this prayer was offered in a season of solemn fasting (ver. 1). In the pilgrimage to the better land, the valley of humiliation lies near the delectable mountains; and the goodly prospects of Emmanuel's land obtained from the one prepare for walking in safety through the rugged paths of the other, while the same life of faith is maintained in both. Moreover, the prayer was offered amid earnest desires after new obedience. "The seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers" (ver. 2). This sincere desire to put away sin, and to obey the Divine Word, is essential to effectual prayer. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me."
II. THE SUBSTANCE OF THE PRAYER.
1. An adoration of the Divine majesty (ver. 6).
2. A review of past mercies, The mercies celebrated are — God's choice of Israel; His deliverance of them from bondage; His guidance of them through the wilderness; and His bestowal on them of spiritual privileges.
3. We notice in the prayer confession of numerous sins (vers. 16-35). The light of Divine mercy here shows the dark cloud of their iniquities. They confess their obstinate disobedience to God (vers. 16-19). They hardened their necks, and hearkened not to the Lord's commandments. They confess their slighting of almighty goodness (vers. 20-26). They confess their refusal of Divine warning (vers. 27-30). They confess they did not glorify God in His gifts (vers. 34, 35).
4. We observe in the prayer a plea for sovereign mercy (vers. 32, 36, 37).
III. THE LESSONS OF THE PRAYER.
1. The duty of prayer in public distress. The people of Judah were here in public distress, and they offer united prayer to God for His help in their time of need.
2. The blessing of prayer to a community. This prayer for Jerusalem was succeeded by times of prosperity in the holy city, and all it represented.
3. The power of prayer for the revival of the Church.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then stood up upon the stairs, of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, and Chenani, and cried with a loud voice unto the LORD their God.
WEB: Then stood up on the stairs of the Levites, Jeshua, and Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani, [and] Chenani, and cried with a loud voice to Yahweh their God.