In our study thus far we have no doubt about the single-minded objective of Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall. He has prayed, planned, prodded the people and pounded the opposition in his efforts to accomplish his God-given task. The wall is done – but Nehemiah is not. Rebuilding the wall was just the beginning. Now he sets his sight on rebuilding the nation.
Subtle shifts in the text have given us hints of Nehemiah’s next objective. One such shift indicating a new stage in Nehemiah’s plan is seen in the text — the first person narrative changes to the third person. For the first time, Ezra the priest is mentioned in Nehemiah’s memoirs though he has been in Jerusalem since 458 B.C. (cf. Ezra 7:1-13:44). Nehemiah is concerned about all aspects of Israel’s national life but knows that the spiritual instruction of the people is better delegated to Ezra the priest. Again we learn from Nehemiah’s example a much needed lesson in leadership. “A good leader admits his own limitations, appreciates the gifts of others, and knows how to pass leadership to someone better qualified than himself to do a particular job…”1 Therefore the narration changes to indicate Ezra’s position as spiritual leader of the nation.
Another shift was found in the list contained in Chapter 7. As previously stated, the record of people listed served to document those who would be available to repopulate Jerusalem. It is also a record of those who participated in the spiritual renewal of the nation. Here we have the names of representative heads of families along with innumerable family members. These people and/or their descendants were those who hungered for the Word of God and received it with joy and gladness. Their lives were impacted and changed as they responded in obedience to what they heard. I am reminded of those righteous individuals mentioned in Malachi 3:16-17: “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in His presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His name. “They will be mine,” says the Lord Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession.” I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
As we shall see, it is evident that Nehemiah was preparing for the next stage. His purpose was to establish a godly, mature Jewish community within the walls of the holy city of Jerusalem (11:1, 18) – a people that feared the Lord and honored him. However, in spite of all Nehemiah’s purposeful preparation, what happened next could not have been anticipated. Like the arrival of an earthquake, God rolled through the city and did what only He can do in the minds and hearts of the people. In a matter of a few days, He changed the spiritual climate of the community by renewing their hearts through renewing their minds by the Word. Today, we would call it – revival!
DAYS ONE and TWO: Reading the Word (8:1-8)
A. It is now the first day of the seventh month (7:73b; 8:2), which would be equivalent to our New Year’s Day. The seventh month held special significance in the Jewish calendar. The Feast of Trumpets was celebrated on the first day followed by the Day of Atonement on the tenth day. Then the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated from the fifteenth to the twenty-first day (Leviticus 23:23-44).
The wall was completed five days earlier (6:15). The people had returned to their home towns after several weeks of camping in the city to complete the walls. In all likelihood, Nehemiah had instructed them before they left to be sure to return on the first of the month for the reading of the Law.
1. From the text, find at least three ways in which Nehemiah prepared for the occasion.
2. In the Bible, water used for washing represents the Word of God
(John 15:3; Eph. 5:26). Water used for drinking represents the Spirit of God (John 7:37-39– the feast mentioned is the Feast of Tabernacles). What is the significance of convening the meeting at the Water Gate?
B. One of the key elements always found in any true revival is the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to impact hearts and lives by conviction, cleansing and renewal. In order for that to happen, the Word of God must be “understood”.
1. Read Chapter 8 and underline the verses that speak of “understanding”.
2. What is said about “understanding” in each of these places?
3. Read the Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23. How does Jesus emphasize the importance of “understanding” the Word?
4. The faculty of the mind must be impacted if true revival is to take place. Through consistent study of the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit changes our thinking which then changes our behavior. In what way does Romans 12:2 speak to this truth? What encouragement do you receive to persevere in your study of the Word from the following: Psalm 119:11; Philippians 4:8; Colossians 3:16-17?
5. What mind-set did the people have towards the Scriptures as seen in verses 1-8?
C. Who you go to the Word of God with is all important.
1. How had Ezra prepared himself for the task of teaching? (Ezra 7:10)
2. How many men stood with Ezra on the platform as a show of solidarity and support?
3. It should be noted that the people spoke Aramaic but the Law was written in Hebrew. What was the function of the thirteen other men mentioned in verse 7 along with the Levites? What do you think verse 8 means? Was their job to simply translate the text or expound and explain it?
4. Relate this teaching experience to the importance of making the Word of God available to all people in their own heart language.
D. The fact is well established that we must have a regular and systematic intake of the Word if we are to order our lives aright. The spiritual need that Nehemiah and Ezra saw for the Jerusalem Jews has its equivalent in Western society. Daily Bible instruction in the home is possibly at an all time low as children are allowed to fill their time with movies, music, video games and Internet activities. If a mere fraction of that time was spent in learning the Bible what a difference that would make in the life of that young person! No less troublesome are the numerous pleasures and distractions that fill the average Christian’s time making the pursuit of serious Bible study impossible. Furthermore, when Western Christians do gather to hear a message, one eye is on the PowerPoint presentation and the other is on the clock! It is obvious that the earnest desire displayed by the Jerusalem Jews is sadly lacking in many modern American churches today.
1. What can we do? Revival begins with the individual. Never underestimate the influence of one person who has found delight in the Word of God. That person has power to change a marriage, a family, a church, and a community as the Holy Spirit inspires and empowers him or her (Ephesians 3:20). When many such like-minded individuals band together, they can change the culture of a nation. But revival on a large scale begins with individuals – it begins you and me.
2. In what way do you need to reassess your schedule of activities and prioritize you involvements to make adequate time to study the Word? Perhaps you need to begin by asking God to give you the desire to study and spend time with Him. When you do set aside time for serious Bible study, begin by asking the Lord to open your mind to understand the deeper truths of His Word. Ask Him to give you the determination to stay with it and dig deep.
3. Who you go to the Word with is important – ask Him to show you your teachers – those men and women who are reliable in their exposition of Scripture and who can help you to understand more. Will you not choose to make Romans 12:2 your prayer?
DAYS THREE and FOUR: Rejoicing in the Word (8:9-12)
A. If God is to work through His people, they must respond to His Word not only with their mind (understanding) but with the hearts (emotions). There must be a sense of delight giving rise to emotions of joy in the heart.
1. What was the first response of the people to the hearing of the Word?
2. According to Romans 3:19-20, what is the purpose of the Law? What other functions did the Law serve before Christ came according to Galatians 3:23-24?
B. The Jewish calendar followed a specific pattern that depicts the process by which sins are put away and joy follows. Leviticus 16:29-34 describes the Day of Atonement in which self-examination, repentance and sacrifice for sins were required. The Feast of Tabernacles follows the Day of Atonement and is a time of great rejoicing. In New Testament times the process is the same. The Word of God brings conviction of sin, the Cross of Christ provides cleansing for sin, and the result is joy. It is wrong to continue to mourn over sins which have been atoned for and forgiven by Christ (because it shows a lack of faith). But it is equally wrong to rejoice when sin has been ignored and allowed to continue in the life of a Christian.
The point is that the same Word that brings sorrow and sadness to the soul also brings great joy and gladness. But one must engage in the process which is to hear the Word, understand the Word, accept conviction of sin, receive cleansing from sin, and rejoice in one’s renewed relationship with God. I think many Christians stop short of the joy.
C. Besides the joy of sins forgiven, there are many others reasons to rejoice in the Word.
1. Read through Psalm 119 looking for those verses that speak of the psalmists love for the Word. Choose a few that are especially meaningful to you and record them in your journal. Take some time to meditate, pray and simply rejoice in the beauty of God’s Word.
2. To remind you of the importance of experiencing joy in God’s Word, memorize Jeremiah 15:16: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by the name, O Lord God of hosts.” (KJV)
3. Time and space do not allow mentioning the rewards of rejoicing in the Word. But here are a few passages to reflect on and find encouragement: Psalm 1; 19:7-14; 112:1-9.
D. Let’s consider the phrase Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength”.
1. What do you think the phrase means? Remember the context in which it is said. How is the kind of joy spoken about also strength? (“Strength” as used here means “place of safety”, “refuge”, or “protection”.) Try to connect the strength of the newly rebuilt wall with the concept of strength in verse 10.
2. How do the following add to your understanding of the above: Psalms 27:5-6; 31:19-20; 46:1-3; Proverbs 14:26; 18:10; Isaiah 40:28-31?
DAY FIVE: Responding in Obedience to the Word (8:13-18)
A. Thus far we have seen that if God is to work through His people, they must respond to His Word with their mind (understanding) and with their heart (emotions). The whole person must be involved in responding to God’s Word for it to be effective. Therefore, the final response must be in the area of one’s will (obedience).
B. For the Jerusalem Jews, obedience came in the form of choosing not to neglect the application of the Law to their community life.
1. According to verse 13, what happened on the second day and who was involved?
2. If you have not done so, read Leviticus 23:33-43 for background information on the Feast of Tabernacles (also known as Feast of Booths or Feast of Ingathering). What was the purpose of this feast?
3. In verse 13-18, how did the people respond to the directive of the leaders?
4. How long had it been since the returnees had celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles? Compare II Chronicles 7:8-10 and Ezra 3:4. These passages indicate that the Feast of Tabernacles had been celebrated since the days of Joshua. How might you account for the veracity of the statement in verse 17?
5. Imagine what that would have been like for the families as everyone camped out together, sharing fun, food and fellowship. How do you think this celebration might have impacted the community in terms of solidarity and strengthening? How would this memorable time impact children as they learned about God and the great heritage and traditions that had been entrusted to them.
6. The Feast of Tabernacles finds a strong correlation in the North American holiday of Thanksgiving. Let us consider the importance of honoring God and celebrating His goodness in the company of family and friends. Some of you are over-the-top about holidays and look for an excuse to celebrate at least once a month. On the other hand, some of us get lower than a snake and can’t wait until it’s over. The reasons vary as to why some of us don’t look forward to these events with great joy and gladness. But perhaps we need to lay aside those things that steal our joy – such things as past hurts within the family, painful disagreements, disappointment, and conflict between parents and teens. (The list could go on.) Rather than allowing the painful past to control the present, we would be wiser to choose to focus on the importance of celebrating God and His faithfulness. As with the Israelites, to choose to do so will bring strength to our families, our churches, our communities and our nation.
Another reason many of us don’t look forward to celebrations is the fact that we are already over-worked and behind schedule. The burden of planning and preparing for a holiday usually falls on the woman. Typically, she’s the one who will exert the most effort to make it memorable for others. How easy it is to lose our perspective and fret over the details. Attitude is all important. We can all take a lesson from the Jerusalem Jews who gladly, and with great joy, moved out of their comfortable routines to experience in community the blessing of God.
James 1:22-25 is a familiar passage that reminds us that we need to be a “doer” of the Word and not just one who “hears” it. Those who “do” the Word are going to be blessed.
God blessed the Jerusalem Jews when they heard the Word and understood it. They were blessed when they rejoiced in their hearts because of what they heard. And they were blessed when they willingly obeyed the directive to celebrate. And God will bless you too when you seek Him as they did. So – “just do it”!!
We praise Thee, O God!
For the Son of Thy love,
For Jesus Who died,
And is now gone above.
We praise Thee, O God!
For Thy Spirit of light,
Who hath shown us our Savior,
And scattered our night.
All glory and praise
To the Lamb that was slain,
Who hath borne all our sins,
And hath cleansed every stain
Revive us again;
Fill each heart with Thy love;
May each soul be rekindled
With fire from above.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Hallelujah! Thine the glory.
Revive us again.2
1. J.I. Packer, A Passion for Faithfulness (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2001), p.149.
2. William P. Mackay, Revive Us Again The Cyber Hymnal (www.cyberhymnal.org. 1996).
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