Summary: how we can learn our corporate responsibility as a body of God’s people
The people met
‘When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, 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.’
The people met together as one man. They went to the square with a common purpose and with one aim, to hear the word of God. We know this, because they told Ezra to bring out the book of the Law of Moses. This period of history is about 500 years after David and Solomon, the nation of Israel had been captured and sent into exile and then had been allowed to return under the leadership of Nehemiah as governor and Ezra as priest. The walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt and now it was time to rebuild the spiritual walls of the people. How was this to be done? By reading the word of God, nothing more, nothing less. This spiritual rebuilding could not be done without God and so His word was central. But it wasn’t just a passage or a chapter; the Scripture was read from daybreak until noon about six hours, if we assume daybreak to be 06:00. Would we listen to a 6-hour Bible reading? Not only did they listen to it they listened attentively and stood whilst the Scripture was read. And then they worshipped. What is it that strikes you most about this passage? For me it is the fact that the people wanted this. They were not told to be in the square, it was they who told Ezra to read to them, not Ezra who instructed them to listen. The people wanted to hear the word of God together. They had a corporate loyalty to each other that meant that they wanted every person who could understand to be there in the square to hear the reading and the instruction that followed. They were hungry for their God’s wishes to be explained to them, for God’s instructions to be given so that they could obey. What was the result of their meeting together?
The people heard
After hearing the Scripture
‘Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.’
The people again led the way, they worshipped God and later we read that they had also been weeping as they heard Ezra read. Why had they been weeping? Because they had come into the presence of God and had been shown their sins and their faults. Last week Major Horwood told us of a person that he knew from sometime ago who ‘would have had this mercy seat full’. The person who leads and preaches can only do so much. We can only show the way to God, it is up to the individual to make the move, and it is up to the individual to be prepared to meet with God, to have the courage to meet with God. The Israelites were prepared, they were ready and they had the courage to meet their Lord and it was because of this meeting with God that they were weeping, they were repentant and sorry for their actions and their ignorance of God. There would have been an element of personal repentance in this weeping, but there was also corporate repentance. As a people they had failed God, not kept his commandments, forgotten his past providence. The weeping was a natural part of the repentance that the people felt, but it was not to be the complete result of that repentance, we read in verses 9 & 10
‘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.
10Nehemiah 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.”’
The ultimate result of the people hearing God and meeting with Him was joy, after the tears and the sorrow came the joy that can only come from God, that joy that says ‘God has forgiven you’, Nehemiah told the people not to weep or to grieve because this was a new start for them, they were coming to God and having the slate wiped clean, they had come to God as one people for the first time in many, many years and so for the first time in many, many years they were hearing the affirmation of God’s strength, forgiveness and care. The immediate result of this was…