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©Laura Haverkamp

Chapter 9:38-10 (ESV)

Posted on November 12, 2023  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 9:38-10 (ESV) - “Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests… Nehemiah the governor, the son of Hacaliah, Zedekiah, Seraiah, Azariah, Jeremiah… Harim, Baanah.”

“The rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, the temple servants, and all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God, their wives, their sons, their daughters, all who have knowledge and understanding, join with their brothers, their nobles, and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God's Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes. We will not give our daughters to the peoples of the land or take their daughters for our sons. And if the peoples of the land bring in goods or any grain on the Sabbath day to sell, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on a holy day. And we will forego the crops of the seventh year and the exaction of every debt.

“We also take on ourselves the obligation to give yearly a third part of a shekel for the service of the house of our God: for the showbread, the regular grain offering, the regular burnt offering, the Sabbaths, the new moons, the appointed feasts, the holy things, and the sin offerings to make atonement for Israel, and for all the work of the house of our God. We, the priests, the Levites, and the people, have likewise cast lots for the wood offering, to bring it into the house of our God, according to our fathers' houses, at times appointed, year by year, to burn on the altar of the Lord our God, as it is written in the Law. We obligate ourselves to bring the firstfruits of our ground and the firstfruits of all fruit of every tree, year by year, to the house of the Lord; also to bring to the house of our God, to the priests who minister in the house of our God, the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, as it is written in the Law, and the firstborn of our herds and of our flocks; and to bring the first of our dough, and our contributions, the fruit of every tree, the wine and the oil, to the priests, to the chambers of the house of our God; and to bring to the Levites the tithes from our ground, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all our towns where we labor. And the priest, the son of Aaron, shall be with the Levites when the Levites receive the tithes. And the Levites shall bring up the tithe of the tithes to the house of our God, to the chambers of the storehouse. For the people of Israel and the sons of Levi shall bring the contribution of grain, wine, and oil to the chambers, where the vessels of the sanctuary are, as well as the priests who minister, and the gatekeepers and the singers. We will not neglect the house of our God.”

Question to consider: Do you think it is a good thing to make promises to God? Why or Why not?

The last verse of chapter nine and the first twenty-seven verses of chapter ten contain the list of people who put their seal on a document that dedicated themselves to be faithful to God. Feel free to open your Bible and read through the complete list of names if you would like to do so.

What is translated as “firm covenant” is more like an oath or a written agreement and should not be confused with the covenants God entered into with Israel. Those covenants were sealed with the blood of animals and promised death to the one who violated it.

In this document, the people collectively agreed to do what was necessary to keep themselves from idolatry, to hold to God’s commands and Sabbaths, to deal reasonably in matters of business and to fulfill their obligations, to pay for the service of the temple and to dedicate their first-fruits offerings and tithes. 

Essentially, they were dedicating themselves to keep the Law because God had shown mercy to them by delivering them from captivity and forgiving their sins. It was also in part done as a bargain to convince God to set them free from their Babylonian oppressors who still taxed them and ruled over them even though they had restored the city and temple.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about such an agreement. While it may be rooted in good intentions, we always seem to fail to hold up our end of the bargain, or we end up prioritizing our word to God over God’s word to us. This agreement reminds me of the traditions of the Pharisees which came about as a hedge of protection around the Law to try and keep people from violating it. The problem was that over time, the added rules either crushed people’s faith so that they walked away, or they got modified to the point where they inadvertently contradicted the Law. By the time of Christ, they believed their traditions were a gift from God, but Jesus professed that they were instead from the devil.

The best way to deal with the word of God is to proclaim it clearly with understanding like they did back in chapter eight. This helps people not only know the words of the Law, but the Spirit of it along with the character of God. In the case of the Pharisees, their traditions may have clearly given examples of what was considered work on the Sabbath, but it neglected to convey the mercy of God and turned the Sabbath from God’s blessing of rest to another burden.

The extra offerings described in the above agreement may have ensured that the cost of maintaining the temple was covered, but it went beyond the word given to them by God. If the people would get to know God through His word rather than just be given a man-made directive to follow, they would overflow with gratitude and a generous spirit, and the temple would never be neglected.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being faithful to keep Your promises. May we come to know You through Your word and in doing so love Your Law and overflow with the grace and peace that You have given us through Christ. Amen.