Summary: A spontaneous act of dedication, an outpouring of divine blessings, a day of revival: the makings of a memorable holiday.
A PUBLIC BIBLE READING
Nehemiah 8:1. Revival is a sovereign act of God, in which His Holy Spirit stirs up the hearts of the people of God to seek Him. This is illustrated in the spontaneity of the crowd gathered for festival at the Water Gate in Jerusalem, who “as one man” called for Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book. They longed to sit under the Word of God (Psalm 119:131), and panted after fellowship with God Himself (Psalm 42:1).
A gate was a place where judgement and deliberation took place. At the Water Gate, the Word could be read to both the ritually ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. In times of revival there is also a renewed interest amongst those on the fringes of the church, and outside - and these must also be provided for.
Nehemiah 8:2. Ezra the priest brought out the Book. More than once we are told that his open-air congregation consisted of both men and women, and “all that could hear with understanding.” The Bible is the Book for everyone.
It was a very special day. Nehemiah’s work on the city wall was at last completed: but it is not the walls that make a city, but the moral fibre of its citizens. Similarly, a church is not a building, but a Spirit-filled people.
Nehemiah 8:3. Ezra read at length, from the morning until midday. There was a unanimity of desire as (literally) “the ears of all the people were to” the law of God. Attentive listening to God’s Word is also in evidence in times of Christian revival.
Nehemiah 8:5. Everyone was able to see and hear the reader, because he was elevated above them on a wooden platform. When Ezra opened the Book, all the people respectfully stood up. It shows something more than just a casual interest in hearing the reading of the Word.
Nehemiah 8:6. Like Solomon at the dedication of the Temple many years before, Ezra “blessed” the LORD. The people answered with their twofold “Amen.” They raised their hands in worship, and bowed their heads in humility.
Nehemiah 8:8. The Book was read distinctly, and the appointed ministers caused the people to understand what they had heard. Many of the people may have been unfamiliar with the Hebrew language, so the Levites would translate the Word into a language which they could understand. Some no doubt engaged in preaching, “giving the sense of it.”
It is necessary to have the Bible available in a language that people can understand, so I would encourage prayerful and practical support for those who are engaged in Bible translation work. Preaching is also a necessary supplement in order that God’s people may be able to comprehend what they are reading. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest” (Luke 10:2).
Nehemiah 8:9. The people initially wept when they heard the law. They mourned because it revealed to them the type of people that they were. Nehemiah the governor joined “Ezra the priest the scribe” and the Levites in calling the people to cease from their mourning.
Nehemiah 8:10. This day was rather to be a holiday. They were to eat and drink, and enjoy the good of their labour - which is from the hand of God (Ecclesiastes 2:24). In keeping with the law, they were to send portions to those for whom nothing was prepared: “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
In a few days time would come the annual Day of Atonement, when their sins would be borne away by the scapegoat (Leviticus 16:20-22; Leviticus 16:29-30; Leviticus 16:34). There was an end to mourning - until the next year. Apart from Jesus, there is no permanent remedy for sin - but the law has now fulfilled its purpose as a schoolmaster leading us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).