Ezra Reads the Law
8 And all the people gathered as one man at the square which was in front of the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it before the square which was in front of the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of men and women, those who could understand; and all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 4 Ezra the scribe stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam on his left hand. 5 Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 7 Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, explained the law to the people while the people remained in their place. 8 They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. “This Day Is Holy”
9 Then Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people were weeping when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 All the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to [f]celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.
Feast of Booths Restored
13 Then on the second day the heads of fathers’ households of all the people, the priests and the Levites were gathered to Ezra the scribe that they might gain insight into the words of the law. 14 They found written in the law how the Lord had commanded through Moses that the sons of Israel should live in booths during the feast of the seventh month. 15 So they proclaimed and circulated a proclamation in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the hills, and bring olive branches and [h]wild olive branches, myrtle branches, palm branches and branches of other leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” 16 So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The entire assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in them. The sons of Israel had indeed not done so from the days of Joshua the son of Nun to that day. And there was great rejoicing. 18 He read from the book of the law of God daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance.
It has often been commented that preachers talk for too long. That their sermons sometimes can carry on and on and on. Imagine what it must have been like for the people of Israel, as we read through this chapter, where they spent about six hours reading the Word of God and listening to a sermon at the people’s request. During which the people stood the whole time! And not only that, they came back the next day for more! It would be accurate to look at this passage of scripture and consider it a time of spiritual revival or spiritual renewal for the people of Israel and at the center of this revival was the reading and understanding of God’s Word. In fact as Derek Kidner put it, “This day was to prove a turning-point. From now on, the Jews would be predominantly ‘a people of the book’” (Ezra & Nehemiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [IVP], p. 106).
For many of us in the church, we desire spiritual renewal, whether it is in our churches, our families or our communities, yet we don’t know how to experience renewal or revival. As a result we look to evangelists, or evangelistic services, preachers, music concerts or books on how to begin a new work in our lives. However if we look at this chapter we see that God’s Word is a primary mark of spiritual renewal. Time after time, from the Old Testament to today, our spiritual renewal and the spiritual revival of our lives and our community is experienced time after time when men and women realize that they have turned so far from God that they return by to the heart of God through his word.
For example within the Reformation, at its heart was a revival of God’s Word. The Roman Catholic Church had neglected the Word and failed to expound the Word of God to the people of God so that they might hear, understand and live it. So John Wycliffe and William Tyndale labored to get the Bible translated into common English so that the children of God might have the opportunity to understand and experience the Word of God in their own lives. As the result of this, men like John Calvin began to preach expository sermons, explaining and applying the Word to the people of Geneva. It was this desire to experience the Word of God that the Reformation ignited a fire within the heart of people, creating a flame that would cross the entire world.
Experiencing the Word
Within Nehemiah 8, lies three truths that provides the marks of spiritual renewal in God’s Word.
Spiritual Renewal – Requires Reading God’s Word
As verse 1 tells us in this passage , the people of Israel gathered and asked Ezra to bring the book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had given to Israel. They read from the Word of our Lord publicly from dawn until noon! Matthew 4:4 tells us that “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”
The Law of Moses was not well distributed amongst the people of that day. It was not like we have it today, where many of us have multiple copies of the Bible in our homes or on our phones. In fact the Word of God was so rare that the people of Israel would spend a lot of their lives memorizing the Word of God. Even in the New Testament, Paul tells Timothy to pay attention when assembling as the body of believers, “to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13). Whether it is the Old Testament or the New Testament, it is clear that the reading of God’s Word is critical to the life of the believers. In fact it is evident that the strength of any church is directly proportional to the number of people in the church who read and study the Word of God. We live in a culture of today that at least within the first and second world nations, the majority of people know how to read. Unfortunately, most of the first world nations of today spend more time on their phones and in front of the TV, than reading and studying God’s Word. Isn’t it interesting that spend the majority of our time wasting our time and the least amount of our time focused upon the promise of life and the eternal future that lies before us.
So why it is important to read God’s Word? What does the reading of God’s Word do to our lives? The Matthew 4:4 scripture provides us the underlying reason for why each of us are called to read the Word of our Lord. As evident in our Lord’s instruction it is only through the experiencing the Word of God in our lives, do we actually experience “Life”. In other words, we cannot live without the bread of our Lord’s Word in our life. We are dead to our sins until we experience the Word our Lord in our life. All aspects of our life, from our relationships to our hopes and dreams in this life are merely ashes without the presence of the Word of God in our life. The people of God realized this that day in Jerusalem as they responded to the Word of God being read in their midst. I promise you today, that when each of us truly experience the Word of God in our lives, the molding hand of our Lord revolutionizes our future.
Spiritual Renewal – requires the Exposition of God’s Word
Our Lord tells us in Mark 8:18 that “having eyes you do not see, and having ears do you not hear, and do you not remember?” In life many of us have been married or have at least experienced a relationship where this truth is so evident. Have you ever experienced a moment where your brother, sister, wife or husband have been talking to you (or maybe even your pastor), yet in that moment even when you are looking directly at them, you see their mouths moving but you have no idea what they are saying. Or maybe they follow-up with a question after what they just said, only to find yourself wondering what exactly they said. It is for this very reason that our Lord said these words to us that day. Our Lord knew that there are many times in our lives that we fail to fully understand exactly what our Lord is trying to say to our souls. I am sure that there have been many times in your life that you have read over a passage of scripture only to find that there is always something new in our Lord’s word. Our Lord knowing that sometimes we don’t pay attention to the fullness of his promise, provides not only the patience that it required with us but he also continues to teach us moment by moment.
As we can see in verse 3 of this text, the people of God stood to attentiveness as they heard our Lord’s Word and that they stood as the Word of our Lord was read in verse 5 and 6. The attentiveness of the people provides such an illustration for us today. If we maintain our attentiveness and reverence for God and that fact that He is speaking to us through His Word, we will pay attention to what He says. If we forget that this is the Word of the living God to us, our minds will wander to other things. I realize that preachers can sometimes be boring. But if I lose your attention, direct your mind to the text of Scripture and ask the Lord to open it to your heart.
Rowland Hill was an 18th century English preacher greatly used of God. Shortly before he died, he was visiting with an old friend who told him that he could still remember the text and part of a sermon that he had heard Hill preach 65 years before. Hill asked him what he remembered. He said that Hill had said that some people when listening to a sermon did not like the delivery of the preacher. Then he said, “Supposing you went to hear the will of one of your relatives read, and you were expecting a legacy from him. You would hardly think of criticizing the manner in which the lawyer read the will. Rather, you would be all attention to hear whether anything was left to you and if so, how much. That is the way to hear the gospel preached” (told by Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students [Zondervan], pp. 391-392).
Spiritual renewal comes through reverently hearing God’s Word when it is read and preached. It requires that we press into the Word of God even when we are lost to our own thoughts, even when we are struggling to understand the word of God, even when we are struggling to embrace the truth that our Lord is placing before us.
Spiritual Renewal – it requires action
As we see here in verse 12 the people of God went away from this moment understanding the Word of God in this moment. For the majority of people, there are many truths that are shared with each us, and for many of us these truths are not only enlightening but provide a great deal of satisfaction for us. It is a moment of knowing something that is a truth that we have never heard before. Whether it is a truth that we have not previously understood or a biblical historical element that we have never grasped before, these are the elements of understanding scripture that draw us back to church. However, more than any biblical historical element or some nugget of truth is the truth of embracing the Word of God. What does that mean to you and me?
Today we are going to close off with a few verses our Lord instructed each of us within the context of biblical action. In Matthew 13:18 our Lord tells us.
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the]word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20 The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the [l]world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23 And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”
In this passage of scripture, there are four individuals illustrated for us today, each evident within the body of believers.
The Spiritually Deaf
The first individual is the spiritually deaf. This is the individual who cannot hear the truths of our Lord in their lives because Satan snatches it from their midst. This is the unbeliever who through the unwillingness of their hearts permits Satan the opportunity in their lives to remove that which God has given to them.
The Skin Deep Believer
The second individual is the “Skin Deep Believer”. This believer is the individual who hears the word of truth, thinks of it as an amazing truth however gives it over to the thorns in his life not allowing it to take root in his heart. This is the individual whose life struggles to represent that which God has given him, because the desire for the changing hand of God in his life is just not there. It is easier to just be a Christian than to allow change in one’s life. It is this individual that our Lord tells us will spew him or her out in the book of Revelations.
The Pretty Believer
The third individual is the “Pretty Believer”. This believer is the individual who hears the word of God and call for action in their lives but because of concern for what others may think, they only accept that change that will not undo their place in this life. Whether it is their place in the business world, or with their friends, or their neighbors, etc., too often we loose out on the promises of God because our social perceptions matter more than our eternal souls.
The Beautiful Creation
The last individual illustrated in this passage is the “Beautiful Creation”. This is the individual who not only hears the Word of God but uses the Word of God to mold his/her life in every aspect. It is this individual who many say, “wow did you see how John/Joan have changed”. They are a lot more loving, a lot more patient, a lot more forgiving and they have something that we wish we had. These are the individuals who are not scared to let the hand of God change their lives, because all they have in this life is the hand of God.