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Cleaning the Slate: Nehemiah 8-10

Steve Simala Grant, May 4/5, 2002


Do you believe in a clean slate? In new beginnings, in starting again, in new life?

I do. With all my heart. I have seen God bring life out of death, hope out of despair, healing out of pain, beauty out of ugliness.

And I’ve seen God start new things where good things have been before. Bringing change when change is needed in order for there to be continued growth and excitement. That is the point I believe we are at today.

I was out in our garden the other day, cleaning away all the dead plants and flowers from last summer. I had a pair of garden sheers, and was cutting off the old dead stalks – flowers that had been beautiful last year but died back as winter came. In a number of places, as I cut off the stalk I noticed that there, growing up in the middle of the dead stalk, was a new, green shoot. You see, the root was good and strong. The same root that produced beautiful flowers last summer was alive and growing again, producing another plant which will be bigger and stronger and even more beautiful this summer. I recognized that immediately as a picture of our church. We have come through a winter, and sometimes as we look out all we see is the dead stalks, the places where there used to be life and beauty. But I know the root is strong, and I know that underneath those dead stalks is new life, new excitement and enthusiasm and joy, and it is already beginning to poke through the surface. We have a little work to do to clear away the dead parts, to cultivate the soil and make the conditions ripe so that God can provide the growth. But I know it is coming, and am excited to see what God has planted begin to bloom.

We need to do a bit of that work this morning.

Newness in Nehemiah:

I want to take us back into the Old Testament to look at a time of new beginnings for God’s people the Israelites. The story is in the book of Nehemiah, looking at sections from chapters 8 to 10.

As you’re looking that up (OT pre-Psalms…), let me sketch the background. This is more than 500 years after David and Solomon, after the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. The nation of Israel had been defeated and carried off into exile, leaving the promised land in ruins. Then King Cyrus of Persia had issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland in 538BC, and a number of them had returned under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt, and the people had settled in their towns. And as that is done, they all gather at Jerusalem. We pick the story up in Nehemiah 8:1ff

Nehemiah 8

1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

2 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. 3 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.

5 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. 6 Ezra praised the Lord , the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, "This day is sacred 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 sacred 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 sacred 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.

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