“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.
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.” (Nehemiah 9:32-35)
In their prayer of praise and worship led by the Levites, they had recounted the many times God had blessed them in spite of repeated rejection and rebellion by the nation of Israel. Time after time he had allowed them to be taken into captivity because of their sin, but when they repented, every time, he had delivered them and resumed his blessings.
The longest and most severe judgment had begun when the Assyrians had conquered Samaria and the northern nation known as Israel more than two hundred years before. The Assyrians had attempted to conquer Judah for time, and later Egypt had control for a short time, before Nebuchadnezzar had taken them into captivity a hundred forty years before.
They acknowledged that God was being totally fair in the punishment, but they were asking him not to think it wasn’t enough. They realized that they had not given God much reason to trust them.
“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. And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” (Nehemiah 9:36-38)
They recognized that what they had was actually pretty good and that they owed it all to him. Because the recognized this, they made a written commitment to obey him. It would be signed by their leaders, the Levites, and the priests.
“Now those that sealed were, Nehemiah, the Tirshatha, the son of Hachaliah, and Zidkijah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah, Ne 10:3 Pashur, Amariah, Malchijah, Hattush, Shebaniah, Malluch, Harim, Meremoth, Obadiah, Daniel, Ginnethon, Baruch, Meshullam, Abijah, Mijamin, Maaziah, Bilgai, Shemaiah: these were the priests.
And the Levites: both Jeshua the son of Azaniah, Binnui of the sons of Henadad, Kadmiel; And their brethren, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Kelita, Pelaiah, Hanan, Micha, Rehob, Hashabiah, Zaccur, Sherebiah, Shebaniah, Hodijah, Bani, Beninu.
The chief of the people; Parosh, Pahathmoab, Elam, Zatthu, Bani, Bunni, Azgad, Bebai, Adonijah, Bigvai, Adin, Ater, Hizkijah, Azzur, Hodijah, Hashum, Bezai, Hariph, Anathoth, Nebai, Magpiash, Meshullam, Hezir, Meshezabeel, Zadok, Jaddua, Pelatiah, Hanan, Anaiah, Hoshea, Hananiah, Hashub, Hallohesh, Pileha, Shobek, Rehum, Hashabnah, Maaseiah, And Ahijah, Hanan, Anan, Malluch, Harim, Baanah.” (Nehemiah 10:1-27)
These were the ones who would be leading in keeping the agreement to serve God. The list started with Nehemiah, the governor, and included the priests who were to administer the Law, the Levites who were responsible for teaching it and the leaders who were to enforce it’s provisions.
“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; And that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.” (Nehemiah 10:28-31)
They committed themselves to not becoming involved with the other peoples aroung them in marriage or their religion, but would concentrate on following God’s law. Even to the point of not buying from them on the Sabbath or other holy days. They would keep the laws relating to letting the land lie fallow that their ancestors had never followed, and would bring their laws about lending into accordance with god’s commands. Obeying God would take precedence over making a profit.
“Also we made ordinances for us, to charge ourselves yearly with the third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God; For the showbread, and for the continual meat offering, and for the continual burnt offering, of the sabbaths, of the new moons, for the set feasts, and for the holy things, and for the sin offerings to make an atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God.” (Nehemiah 10:32-33)
They also committed to paying a nominal annual fee, worth about ten dollars in today’s money, for the maintenance of the temple, similar to what God had commanded in Exodus 30:13-16, although there it was to be a half shekel, rather than a third. The money was to be used to pay for the shewbread and various offerings for the nation as a whole, as well as any necessary repairs. Personal sacrifices and offerings were to be paid for by the individual.
“And we cast the lots among the priests, the Levites, and the people, for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, after the houses of our fathers, at times appointed year by year, to burn upon the altar of the LORD our God, as it is written in the law: And to bring the firstfruits of our ground, and the firstfruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year, unto the house of the LORD: Also the firstborn of our sons, and of our cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and of our flocks, to bring to the house of our God, unto the priests that minister in the house of our God: And that we should bring the firstfruits of our dough, and our offerings, and the fruit of all manner of trees, of wine and of oil, unto the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and the tithes of our ground unto the Levites, that the same Levites might have the tithes in all the cities of our tillage.” (Nehemiah 10:34-37)
As part of their fee, each family committed to bring firewood for offering the sacrifices. They were assigned the times to bring it randomly. They agreed to bring the tithes, and first fruits as commanded by the law, to be given to the priests and Levites in payment for their service to God for the people.
“And the priest the son of Aaron shall be with the Levites, when the Levites take tithes: and the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes unto the house of our God, to the chambers, into the treasure house. For the children of Israel and the children of Levi shall bring the offering of the corn, of the new wine, and the oil, unto the chambers, where are the vessels of the sanctuary, and the priests that minister, and the porters, and the singers: and we will not forsake the house of our God.” (Nehemiah 10:38-39)
Out of the tithe they received, the priests and Levites were to pay a tithe just as the people did. It was to be placed with the other offerings to be used as needed in the services so that their would always be supplies for the worship of God, so there would never be an excuse for not serving him.
Joshua had led Israel to make a similar commitment to God in Joshua 23-24. As a result, Joshua 24:31 tells us, “And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the LORD, that he had done for Israel.”