28 October 2019

Nehemiah 8

all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The Levites – Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah – instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.’
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered round Ezra the teacher of the Law to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: ‘Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and other leafy trees, to make temporary shelters’– as it is written.
16 So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.
18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.

This is one of the great chapters of the Old Testament! The entire congregation, men, women and the children who could understand, gathered in the Jerusalem square and told Ezra to read the law of Moses. That’s amazing, that’s revival!  When have you ever heard of a congregation requesting their pastor to read the Bible to them, let alone the Israelites? Not just a short reading, but the entire Mosaic law, over 200 pages in our Bibles! No wonder Ezra read for 6 hours the first day and 8 days in all.  Ezra was assisted by a number of Levites who explained the books of Moses to the people. This was necessary not only because they did not really know the law but because the Bible was in Hebrew and Aramaic was now their native language. So there was a lot of translation going on. Ezra too explained the text as he read (verse 13).  

This was so out of the ordinary that Nehemiah, the governor, Ezra and the Levites declared the day a holy day to the Lord their God.  They were not to mourn and cry – perhaps overwhelmed by the occasion, hearing God’s Word together, or mourning their sins. This was to be a day of rejoicing.  God’s people had returned to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the festivals. It was a day of celebration, not mourning; of eating and drinking and great rejoicing! Verse 10 says: ‘Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’ Their joy is hearing God’s Word read and explained. This joy gives them strength. Joy lifts us up and empowers us; mourning saps our strength and wears us down. The Word brings joy and joy gives strength. So strength in the Lord comes from the Word of God. That is as true for us as it was for them.

So let’s keep reading our Bibles, listening to the Word read and taught. That’s where our joy comes from. That’s where our strength comes from. Strength for living the Christian life, strength to love, strength to encourage, strength to give to those in need, strength to share the gospel, strength for our ministries and strength to serve. So let’s delight in the Word. Let’s delight in the Lord and rejoice! Again, I say rejoice! 

Prayer: Thank You, Lord, for this wonderful day in Israel’s history, when Your people longed to hear and understand Your Word. Lord, give us a hunger to hear Your Word, to read Your Word, to understand Your Word and to obey Your Word. Above all, Lord, bring us to the Messiah, our Saviour Jesus, to whom the Word bears witness.

Thank You, Lord, for Your Word, that we can read it in English.  We pray that soon all the peoples in the world will be able to read Your Word in their own heart language.

Thank You that we belong to a church that believes Your Word and teaches Your Word clearly to all ages. Bless all who teach Your Word at TCC. And give us all a deep love for Your Word. And bring the people of Tokai and the surrounding suburbs to TCC to hear Your Word and to find Jesus. In Jesus’ name. Amen.