Summary: The wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt, but a strong defense wasn’t enough. After reconstruction comes reinstruction. Israel needed to be strong in the Lord, and for that to happen, they needed to be a “people of the book.” Exposition was followed by adorat
In review, Nehemiah has asked the king of Persia for support to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and in spite of regional opposition and threats, the project was successful.
For the first time the people of Jerusalem were able to live normal lives without fear of attack. However, Nehemiah’s goal was never just to strengthen Jerusalem’s security, but to revitalize a spiritual community. The wall was rebuilt, but a strong defense wasn’t enough. After reconstruction comes reinstruction. Israel needed to be strong in the Lord, and for that to happen, they needed to be a “people of the book.” They had lost touch with their religious heritage. Their distinctiveness as God’s chosen people could only be preserved by obedience to the Torah--the Law of God. So Nehemiah brought Ezra the priest and scribe, to read to the people the Scriptures. More people showed up than opening day at Fenway. Ezra began with prayer, he read the text, others translated it, and then they explained it…so the people could understand God’s will.
There was no new manifesto issued that day, but rather the historic foundational articles of the faith, presented with divine authority. Ezra read from the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. It was their first exposure to sacred Scripture. The starting point for spiritual renewal is the Book of books. As Ezra read the words of life, it was like discovering a whole new world.
The people were hungry for God’s word; they listened attentively. Do you have a similar craving? Do you take time daily to read your Bible? The people of Jerusalem stood and listened for 6 hours; could you spare 20 minutes out of your day? That’s less time than a TV show. The Apostle Peter says that if you’re a Christian you crave Scripture like a baby craves milk (I Pet 2:2). 20 minutes…think of how, over time, you would gain a better understanding of your faith, not to mention the encouragement you’d receive.
God’s word directs our paths. “When all else fails, follow the instructions!” How do we respond to the reading of Scripture? Does it grip us, excite us, move us? If we’re going to be honest, we’re frankly unaccustomed to such hunger for the Bible. Yet I can remember passing out Spanish Bibles to Cuban refugees during the Mariel boatlift; you’d have thought I was passing out gold bars! The Bible was forbidden in Cuba…yet here in America with all our religious freedom, we take this treasure for granted. Do we love God’s word? Love for the Bible is normal Christianity; it may not be average, but it’s normal. We need to dust off our Bibles and read them. Do you want to hear from God? Do you want to know His will? Open the Book. A good place to start is Psalm 119, a poem in which each verse praises the value and significance of Scripture.
God seeks us--He calls us--by His word. “The Bible is an invitation to know God. If you wish to know God, you must know His word” (Spurgeon). Eugene Peterson writes, “The Bible is writing intended to change our lives and not just stuff some information into the cells of our brains.” Is that how we see it? Hebrews 4:12 calls the Bible a two-edged sword. For some, it’s a sword hung up in a closet and left to rust. God intends us to use His word as we battle with the world.
The people of Jerusalem responded in verse 6 with worship, by lifting their hands and crying “Amen”, letting it be known that they affirmed what was read. Exposition and adoration go together. By our “Amen” we are declaring that God’s decrees are established and sure, and we concur. The people of Jerusalem couldn’t help but worship after being stirred by Scripture. They showed they were teachable by submitting to God’s Law. And they were never the same people again.
This is what happens when we come under the conviction of the word. It leaves an indelible mark on us. Like those listeners in Jerusalem, we see the beauty of God and the ugliness of sin. The Bible is a mirror that shows us as we are. So many people were caught by conviction that in verse 9 they began to weep over their sinful neglect of God’s law. Their remorse was noted, but this was not a day to fast. Ezra and Nehemiah comforted the people and encouraged them to celebrate a sacred feast. They had feasted on the word, and now they were to put aside any regret and joyfully eat and drink together. They’re told to select the choicest foods, and to make sure the poor get a portion. The word that wounds also heals. God turns our mourning over sin into joy. “The joy of the Lord is our strength”, verse 10.