In the previous article based on chapters 1 to 7 of Nehemiah we looked at the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah. Now follows in chapters 8 to 13 the rebuilding of the people of Jerusalem in their faith in Yahweh as they are exposed to the word of God through Ezra and Nehemiah and others.
God’s word, the Bible is powerful. Just one verse or short passage can transform a human life. Many of us have read of a young man named Augustine. He had been living a very immoral life. He once heard Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan preaching and his interest in the Bible was deepened. Sometime later, Augustine was outdoors in Milan. He heard the voice of a child singing a song, the words of which were, “Pick it up and read it. Pick it up and read it.” He thought at first the words were part of a children’s game, but he had never heard them before.
He picked up a Bible, opened it and read the first passage he saw. It was from the Letter of Paul to the Romans, chapter 13 verses 13-14, “Not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” As he read the words he felt he had come from darkness into light. He turned from his sinful life to follow Jesus. Later, Augustine wrote his famous prayer: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” He experienced a radical transformation through hearing and reading the word of God.
In Nehemiah chapters 8-13 we read about a radical transformation that took place in Jerusalem as many people came to hear the word of God being read. What they heard changed their whole future. How did the transformation begin? It began as follows.
1). PEOPLE WANTING TO HEAR THE WORD OF GOD. (8:1-2)
(1) And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel.(2) So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month.
WHO wanted to hear the word of God? Notice it was “they” the people, not just the leaders. It was a movement stemming from the people, not something imposed from above. And from all the people, men, women and young people who were old enough to understand.
WHY did they want to hear the word of God? It was probably because they had seen God at work in allowing them to rebuild the walls of the city in spite of great opposition. He had been faithful to them. Now they wanted to learn more about Him.
2). PEOPLE WANTING TO HEAR AND UNDERSTAND THE WORD OF GOD. (vs 3-7)
There’s s a big difference between simply listening to the word of God and wanting to understand it and obey it. The people were really keen to understand the word of God. (3) “And Ezra read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. …(6) And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. (7) and others too “helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places.”
What a wonderful sight. A whole congregation of younger and older people longing to worship God and to hear and respond to the word of God. Absorbing Gods’ word. Absorbing, absorbing, absorbing the word of God.
I once encouraged a brand-new Christian to memorise some parts of the Bible. I had been converted only a few months before and had learnt about a dozen verses from various parts of the Bible. He was a married man with young children so I knew it wouldn’t be easy for him to spend a lot of time learning Bible verses.
I saw him again a few months later. I asked him how his memorisation of some Bible verses was going. He said, “It’s not easy is it?” I had to agree with him even though my memory list was now close to 20 verses from all over the Bible. I wasn’t prepared for what he said next. He said matter of factly, “So far I have only been able to memorise chapters 1 to 8 of Paul’s letter to the Romans.” He had. He was highly motivated to absorb and understand the word of God. I thought I was too, but his memorisation of 225 verses in order made my random 20 verses seem pretty mean. Mind you he did eventually go to Theological College and topped Australia with 1st Class Honours. That made me feel a bit better!) But we all need to be motivated to know, absorb and to understand the word of God.
3). PEOPLE WANTING TO HEAR, UNDERSTAND AND SHARE THE MEANING OF THE WORD. Vs 8-12. (8) “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” Ezra and the other leaders really wanted to share the word of God with the people. (Because the people were motivated to hear).
The result? V9, “all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” They had a new appreciation for the grace of God in protecting them and helping them rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Perhaps they were convicted of their sin after realising from the word of God how they had rebelled against God. But they had begun on a new path of obedience and life would be different for them from that moment on.
It was to be a time of rejoicing and not mourning. (9) And 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 wept as they heard the words of the Law. (10) Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
It was a time for rejoicing in Him. (12) “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.” Joy should a characteristic of every believer. V10, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Not God’s joy over us, though Zep 3:17 says He does rejoice over us, ”The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Rather it is our joy in knowing Him, loving Him and serving Him in gratitude for all He has done for us.
The Westminster Shorter Confession, a statement of faith puts it like this, “The chief end of man is to worship God and to enjoy Him forever.” Are you enjoying the Lord today?
4). PEOPLE WANTING TO HEAR, UNDERSTAND, SHARE AND OBEY THE WORD OF GOD. Vs 13-18. (13) On the second day the heads of fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law.
They discovered that they were meant to be “dwelling in booths during the feast of the seventh month” (v14). Their response? (16) “ So the people went out and … made booths for themselves, …. (17) And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so.” And the result of doing what God wanted them to do? JOY! 8:17, “And there was very great rejoicing.” (cf 8:12)
They were motivated to absorb the truth of God from His word. (18) And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.
As I thought about Nehemiah the words of Jesus kept coming to me. Jesus put it like this in talking about His word, Jn 15:7-.
i). ABIDING. Joh 15:7 “If you abide in me,”
ii). ABSORBING. “and (you let) my words abide in you”,
iii). ASKING IN PRAYER THAT BRINGS RESULTS. “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
iv). ATTRACTING OTHER PEOPLE TO HIM. Joh 15:8 “ By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”
Nehemiah (and later the people he encouraged) had learned to
i). Abide in God. Yahweh had become important to them. They wanted to know more about Him from His word.
ii). Absorb the word of God. Nehemiah Chapter 8 has almost a progression. First they wanted to hear the word of God. They were motivated to listen to it intently as it was read to them. Then they wanted to understand the word. Then they wanted to have the word shared. Finally they wanted to put the word into practice, they wanted to obey the word of God.
iii). Ask in prayer that brought results. They had been asking for God’s blessing and protection as they rebuilt the walls and gates of the city. He had been faithful in blessing and protecting them.
iv). Attract other people to God. As we saw in the last article, when God answers prayer His people get the blessing and God gets the glory. The blessing was obvious to all including their enemies around them. God got the glory as the other nations marvelled at the faithfulness and power of Yahweh the God of the Jews.
How do we respond to the challenge of Nehemiah? He began a year sitting down weeping about the broken down walls of Jerusalem. He could do nothing to help them except pray and hand it over to God.
He ended the year rejoicing in the city with its rebuilt walls and rejoicing with a spiritually renewed nation. He prayed and God wonderfully used him as part of the answer.
Jesus wants a changed world.
We can’t heal it. But we can pray. He told us to pray to our Heavenly Father “May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!” Many folk have been praying earnestly but it doesn’t seem to be happening as it should be. Evil still abounds throughout the earth. Why?
It has got to become more personal. As we pray for God’s kingdom to come in power we may have in mind a noisy neighbour or a recalcitrant child. But we must pray it for ourselves as well, ie., “Lord, may Your kingdom come in me and Your will be done in me and through me.” Nehemiah prayed something like this and God answered abundantly.
Today is January 10th 2016. Already almost 3% of the year is over. How do we respond to the challenge of Jesus in Jn 15:7-8?
How much closer have we learned to ABIDE in Jesus in that 3% of the year?
How much more of God’s word have we ABSORBED in the 3% of the year thus far?
How much more ASKING in prayer according to God’s will have we increased in that 3% of the year?
How much more ATTRACTING of people have we accomplished through our increased godliness and loving commitment to Him this year?
God began His marvellous renewal of the nation through Nehemiah as he prayed. What might He want to do through us as we pray in utter sincerity, “Lord, may Your kingdom come in me and Your will be done in me and through me.”
Blog No.170. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Thursday 14th January 2016