Book of Nehemiah Series # 11
Getting Back to God’s Word
Nehemiah Chapter 8
By Pastor Jim May
Nehemiah 8:1-3, "And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law."
The Jews that worked with Nehemiah have now rebuilt Jerusalem to the point that it was habitable and fairly comfortable. Most of the infrastructure had been rebuilt, homes and business places were in operation, and most of all those protective walls were completed. Now it was time to begin to rebuild a nation of God’s people, to teach them who they were and what they were to be as His Chosen Nation.
What we be witnessing as we study this chapter is a revival of enormous magnitude. It’s not a revival in the sense that most of us think of revivals. But it was a revival, a spiritual renewal, sent by God to bring His people back into the place where they could live again. Revivals are given for two reasons.
1)Revivals are sent to bring wayward sinners from a life of sin and death, into a new life, as we are Born Again by the Spirit of God.
2)They are sent to renew the spiritual life and power of those who are already Born Again but growing weak and cold in their walk with the Lord.
The main thing that brings a revival is that people are subjected to a greater measure of preaching and exposure to the Word of God than normal. When we hear the Word of God, and obey the Word of God in a measure that we have not done before, then there will be an awakening and a renewal of the presence, power and anointing of God within us.
In chapter 8 of Nehemiah, the walls are finished. Much of the manual labor is finished and the people are ready to move on with their lives. But the problem now is that there is a spiritual vacuum in Israel. Their stomachs were full, their days were filled with work, laughter and the joys of being free from the power of a Persian king, but there was an emptiness, something missing. What was it that was missing? It was the fact that God desired to have first place in their lives. They were still God’s Chosen Nation but it had been many years since they had given God the place in their lives that He desired to have. In fact, if they had put God first, they would never have lost Jerusalem, never have been led away in captivity, and would have enjoyed the blessings of God for the past 70 years instead of languishing as slaves in Babylon and Persia.
What a lesson this is for us today! It’s not enough to have well constructed buildings. It’s not enough to have the best music that we can have, and the best preaching in the world. If we don’t have the anointing of the Holy Ghost and the moving of God inside our hearts, and in our churches, then we are still empty and powerless.
When you find yourself like Israel, without the presence of God and without spiritual strength, how do you get it back? We must do like they did and get back to the Word of God.
The first thing we see is that all of the Jews who were once scattered throughout the Persian Empire as slaves were now a united people, coming together to wait on God at the Water Gate.
Do you remember what the Water Gate represented from our earlier lessons? In Scripture, water often represents the Word of God. The word of God was closely associated with the Water Gate. In our study of the Tabernacle in the Wilderness we saw that the Laver, filled with clear water, shining like a mirror, was standing before the Tabernacle and this Laver is also associated with the work that was completed at the Water Gate.
Now the Jews are coming to the Water Gate, to hear and be changed by the cleansing refreshing and reviving power of the word of God. They came to an open place before the Water Gate; a place where their ears were open to hear, their minds were open to understand, and their hearts were open for change. Is that how we come to hear the Word of the Lord right now. Are we coming, united and with an open mind and heart?
The cry came from the people to bring out the book! Ezra, we want to be revived, we want to know God. We want to put away all that rubbish that we’ve known for years in captivity that’s done our hearts no good. We need to hear something good for a change.
I wish we could hear that cry more often today! You don’t see many people striving to get to hear the Word of the Lord. No - it’s bring out everything but the book!
Most people don’t even bring the Book to church? They aren’t hungry to hear the Word of the Lord. They would rather hear what is happening on American Idol almost to the point that it does become an Idol to them. They would rather watch to see who is the last Survivor on an Island called Palau, or in the Australian Outback than to learn how to survive and be victorious in this world of sin and death. Where is the cry for more of God’s Word? Where is the cry to know Him more?
Nehemiah 8:4-8, "And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading."
Who was there when Ezra began to read? Who was there crying out to hear from God? The men were there, women were there, and all who could understand were there, including the youth and children who had the ability to understand what was going on.
Too many people use any excuse in the book to keep from hearing from God’s Holy Book. You don’t need a PHD to understand God’s Word. You don’t need a High School Diploma to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to you. God’s Word was not written, and it isn’t given from this pulpit, only for the educated elite. I’m not one of those educated elite who can talk above your heads but even so, I try to make it as simple as I can, so that everyone can get something from it. I’ve always heard it said that, “You get out of something, what you put into it.” From what many put into the church, it’s no surprise that some just don’t get anything out of it. You won’t get anything if you aren’t willing to listen and hear what is being said.
So Ezra began to read out loud, in public, from a pulpit that had been raised just for him to speak from so more of the people could hear what he read, just like we do here from this pulpit. His pulpit probably wasn’t a stand or a desk like we have today. It was more than likely either a tower of some sort where he could see and be heard above the crowd, or just an elevated place where he could move about and speak to the whole congregation. Ezra stood over the people, in that pulpit and read the word of God constantly, from daybreak until noon every day.
I wonder how many of us would stay that long to hear what God’s Word has to say? In most of our Pentecostal churches, if we go more than 1-1/2 or 2 hours, people start staring at the clock, checking their watches, and fidgeting in their seats, while their mind shuts down to anything of the message that is coming forth. God forbid that we should be 15 minutes late for dinner. We have to beat the Baptists and Catholics to the restaurant! Filling our stomachs is more important than filling our hearts!
What was the reaction of the people when they began to hear the Word of the Lord? They lifted up their hands to heaven in worship and agreement with what was being read and they fell on their face before God. God’s Word was having its effect upon their hearts and they all acknowledged their great need of His Spirit. They began to understand what God was trying to do in their hearts and lives.
I hope that we come together to hear the Word of God, or to hear a message from the Lord, and not just to be entertained or to fulfill a duty. I hope that some of the messages I give are entertaining, and yes it is a sense of duty that calls us together, but it’s much more than that. We must come together to allow the messages and the Word that is read, to change us, cleanse us, and make us more like Jesus. We might not fall on our face, or raise our hands, but at least we can say “Amen” once in a while.
Ezra read the Scriptures in Hebrew, but the word had to be translated.
Why did the Jews need the Bible translated when they were the ones who wrote it? For 70 years they had been in captivity in Babylon, and they had learned things in Babylon that contradicted and brainwashed the Word of God out of them. In addition, the Hebrew language had probably been banned from use and they had to learn a different language and speak in Aramaic. In that 70-year period of time, Hebrew was nearly lost as a language among the Jews.
Ezra read and the other men around him translated God’s word and explained it to those who were listening. Sometimes we need a teacher to open the Word so we can understand it better. That’s what I’m attempting to do for you right now.
Nehemiah 8:9-12, "And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved. And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them."
As the Word was being read the people began to cry because of the guilt they felt. They knew that they were the ones being spoken of. They had committed the sins and they were guilty in the eyes of God! They were thinking back over years of darkness where there was no thought given to God’s will, or the spiritual need in their lives, in everything that they had done, and they were now realizing just how far away from God they had been.
Nehemiah 8:13-18, "And on the second day were gathered together the chief of the fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law. And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according unto the manner."
On the second day, when Ezra and the chiefs of the people came together, the reading of God’s word continued and suddenly they realized something. They realized that this was the time of one of Israel’s great Feasts that God had commanded them to celebrate.
For many years Israel had observed the Feast of the Tabernacles, but since the days of Joshua and the conquest of the Promised Land, there was one particular feature of the Feast of Tabernacles had not been obeyed - what was it? They had ceased to build booths.
Each family built a booth by getting tree branches and creating a little lean-to or hut. The Jews then dwelt under these booths for the entire Feast of Tabernacles that lasted for seven days. This was to remind them of the fact that God’s Presence in their camp had dwelt in a Tabernacle, and not in the permanent dwelling of the Temple for many years, and that the Jews had also lived in tents during their years of wandering until God brought them into the Land of Promise. They were celebrating the feast, but they were not adhering fully to God’s word in the celebration.
It was while living in these “booths,” God began the process of molding a people who would become His people and He would become their God. It was during this time of living in "booths," the Jewish people became a nation called out by the Lord to fulfill their Godly calling and destiny. It was while living in "booths," Israel became a kingdom of priests and a holy nation before the Lord God of Israel. It was while living in “booths,” they became a nation that would overcome their fears and go in and possess the land the Lord promised them as an everlasting possession. It was while living in “booths,” the Jewish people learned that the knowledge of God’s word and His mercy and protection were their guarantor for tomorrow – and for every tomorrow.
This is a shadow of what is happening to each of us right now. We are traveling as strangers and pilgrims in a foreign land. We haven’t arrived. We are on our way to our Promised Land. This world is not our permanent home. My home is in Heaven with Jesus. While I’m here though, I must dwell in this house of flesh and bones. This isn’t my permanent body, for one day it will be changed, in a moment and a twinkling of an eye, into an immortal body like that of Jesus Christ and I’ll be clothed in righteousness and live forever more.
We are still dwelling in “booths” of a sort right now. While we walk this life, God has made for us a permanent home. While we are in these “booths of flesh” we are learning God’s Word, experiencing His mercy and living under the shadow of his wings. God is our guarantor of an eternal tomorrow.
The Jews had began by observing the Feast of Tabernacles in booths but the practice had stopped for many years, even before their captivity. This Feast of Tabernacles was so gladly and perfectly celebrated in Nehemiah’s day, that it was the greatest Feast of Tabernacles since the days of Joshua.
Some of the historical works of Israel reveal what had happened to ignite the Spirit of worship at this Feast of Tabernacles and to make it a very special feast, greater than so many in the past.
Before Israel had been defeated by the Babylonians and taken away captive, some of the priests in the Temple had taken the fire from the Brazen Altar and hid it in an open pit. The fire from the Altar was considered sacred and they were determined that no heathen king should find it, and that no ceremonially unclean citizen should find it either. They sealed the dry well, or pit, and it was forgotten for 70 years.
Nehemiah then brought back the grandchildren of those priests who had hidden the sacred fire to save it from perishing. But on arriving in Jerusalem they could not find the dry pit with the fire. Every pit they opened was filled with water.
They had built an altar and placed wood on it, desiring for the fire of God to ignite the wood for the sacrifice, but there was no fire. Nehemiah gave orders to draw water from a nearby pit and bring it to him. He sprinkled the water upon the wood.
Suddenly, through an overcast and cloudy sky, the sun shone though and a great fire flamed forth upon the altar and the wood. It seems that the mud from the bottom of the pit from which they had drawn the water contained many of the ashes of the sacred fire that they had buried. All of the Jews were amazed at such a clear sign of the favor of the Lord and were filled with joy.
When the sacrifice was completed Nehemiah prayed and the priests sang a hymn of praise to God. Nehemiah again ordered that the remainder of the water should be poured upon the larger stones of the altar. When this was done a flame burst forth while the light shining from off the altar shone even more brightly than it had before.
God had shown His approval of Nehemiah’s work, and of the dedication, repentance and consecration of the Jews by sending a renewal of fire upon the Altar.
Jerusalem was now ready for occupation and the walls were rebuilt. Now the revival had begun and a Spiritual Awakening was coming alive in the hearts of the people. God was in the process of restoring Israel just as He had promised he would do. Israel needed a revival! They were ready for revival and hungry for the Word of God. They had lived in slavery long enough!
What we need more of today in our churches is that Fire Upon the Altar! We must see people falling on their faces before God in worship, in repentance, in seeking for God’s will, and with a desire to know God’s Word.
God will send the fire when we have obeyed His Word! The Fire of the Holy Ghost burns hot today. Does it burn hot in you? Is it time that the altar of your heart is sprinkled with the water of the Word?
God will send the fire when we have become hungry enough; when we have cried enough; when we have obeyed what He has commanded us to do.
We will see the Revival Fires ignited once again by the brightness of the Son of God when we have paid the price for revival to come.