Nehemiah 8 2004-11-21
Good Morning dear B&S in the hope of our Father.
For our exhortation this morning we will be considering one of the most wonderful Bible Schools ever held. Most of us have been blessed to be able attend a Bible School or week. We know the wonderful feeling of joy we have by being together and studying the wonderful things of God's word. These are always very special occasions.
In the book of Nehemiah we are shown the events of the building of the ecclesia in Jerusalem and the great Bible School they held. Nehemiah was written about the time of the return of the Jews from Babylon. After they had been in captivity in Babylon for many years the Persian king Cyrus made a decree that the Jews were able to return to Jerusalem. They returned under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua. They were encouraged by Haggai and Zechariah to build the Temple of God. After many years the people in Jerusalem became lazy and began to mix with the people of the land and they stopped building Jerusalem.
It was at this time that Nehemiah returned and built the walls of Jerusalem with the people. We have been reading about this time in the early part of Nehemiah. Chapter 2 is in the first month of the year, the month Nisan and in it Nehemiah receives permission from the king to return to Jerusalem. He arrives in the fifth month and the rebuilding of the walls starts. The walls are finished in the sixth month after just 52 days! Chapter 8 brings us to the seventh month.
We must try to imagine the excitement that was in the Jerusalem ecclesia. They had all just helped in completing the massive rebuilding even though the nations around them had tried to stop them. They had been strengthened by the example that Nehemiah had set of trusting in God whose good hand had helped him (2v18)
This excitement motivated the people to all gather together as one man in 8v1. This is very similar to the time of the new ecclesia in Acts 2v1. Here all the brethren were gathered together because they understood the work Jesus had asked them to do and they were ready to do it. It is when we are working together on the things of God that we are able to get the most from our relationships in the truth. If we are all concerned only about ourselves we cannot come together with one mind. When we are working together preaching and studying God's word (even if we are many miles apart) when we come together we will be as one man. This is often what we feel at our Bible Schools.
We find that the people gathered together at the street or square before the water gate. This was a very impressive gate in the eastern walls of Jerusalem. The gate was newly completed by the Nethanim and priests and would have been very grand to look at. It was probably the largest open space in the city where all the people could meet. It is significant as well that is was at the water gate that the Bible was to be read to the people. The people were to hear the living water read that day!
We find that the leaders of the nation had chosen Ezra to read the Bible. Why did they do this? Why didn't they use the high priest Eliashib?
When we consider Ezra we can understand why he was chosen.
In Ezra 7 verse 1-5 we are given the family history of Ezra. From this list we see that Ezra was a priest. He was of the line of the greatest of the priests - the high priest, and we could trace his family right back to Aaron the first priest. From this we can learn that even after the many years of idolatry and false worship in Israel and Judah, Ezra's family had remembered they were priests. They had taught their children to follow in the example of Aaron the high priest so that all these hundreds of years later when there was no Tabernacle or Temple to worship in, Ezra was born and taught from young that he was a priest of God.
Reading further in Ezra 7v6 we find that Ezra was also a scribe. A scribe was someone who studied the word of God and wrote it out for others to read and learn from. At this time the most common thing that was copied was the Law of Moses so that the Jews knew how God wanted them to live. The verse also says that Ezra was a ready or diligent scribe - he was fully committed to his work.
Ezra did more than just write out the Bible though. In verse 10 we find that he did three things. First Ezra prepared his heart to seek the Law of Yahweh. Reading and understanding the Bible is not something that we can just do naturally without any effort. We have to first prepare our minds to read God's word. We need to make time to read the word, to clear our minds of the worldly things around us and carefully pray that God will open our minds so that we can understand the Bible. Bible reading and study cannot be rushed if we want it to be effective.
Next Ezra did what the law of Yahweh commanded. It is no good understanding everything God wants us to do and not doing them. When we read the Bible we must try to find lessons which we can use to change our lives to make them more like Jesus. In the time of Jesus there were many scribes but these were not like Ezra. They understood the Law and loved to speak about it but never did what they said. In Matthew 23v1-3 Jesus tells his true followers not be like these scribes, so we also must read and understand what God wants us to do, and then do it.
The third thing that Ezra did in v10 was to teach in Israel the statutes and judgments of God. He made sure he did not keep his knowledge and way of life to himself. He encouraged others to do as God commands. It is very important that we too teach those around us who will listen about what God requires of us. Brothers and sisters we must all take note of the way in which Ezra taught.
If we are to be teachers of each other and those around us there are two things we must do first. First we need to prepare our heart to understand Gods law, we need to read, study and understand the Bible for ourselves or else we can never teach anyone. Then we need to do it. We cannot teach people to do what God wants without doing it ourselves or they will not listen. Only when we have done these two things can we be effective teachers.
Ezra was already known by the people because in Ezra 9v3-4 we read that he led a great repenting of all the people. This was only 13 years before the day we are talking about. Ezra at this time was very old possibly over 120 years! The people respected him as a man that knew his Bible. He had lived it all his life and now was to read it to the people.
We find that Ezra was wanted to make sure that all the people understood the Bible. It says this in v2, v3, v7, v9, v12. This should always be the reason we talk about the Bible. We should never try to show off our knowledge by speaking in words that others do not understand. Ezra wanted ALL the people to hear and understand the Bible. And the people really wanted to understand as well. In v3 they stood and listened from the dawn until midday. This was possibly six hours! Would we stand that long to hear the Bible read?
There had been careful preparation for this day. In v4 we read that there was a special platform built so that all the people could see Ezra open the book and read. This was to be a great spectacle for the nation. At the dawn when Ezra stood to read from the Bible all the people were so moved that they stood up. Do we feel this respect for the Bible? When a brother stand to read the Bible do we really feel that we are about to hear the most important words in our life? Or do we sometimes get tired of hearing the bible read and spoken about? This is an exhortation for us to think about this morning.
Ezra was very careful to show that the occasion was a great one because of God's work. He offered a prayer and blessed the great God before he read the Bible. It is just like our meetings today where we open with a prayer before we read together.
The reaction of the people in v6 is something we can learn from. They all worshipped God and thanked Him for the opportunity to read His word. It really makes us think about how much we love the word of God. Do we always read from his Bible every day? Do we love to talk about the Bible together? Do we respect those who are teaching us the Bible?
Ezra used other men to help him deliver the message that day. They are listed in v7. The leaders did everything they could to help the people understand the words of God. And the people did understand the words. At the end of v9 the people were weeping because they understood they had not been obedient to the law God had given to Moses. This is often our reaction to the Bible isn't it? We find that we are sinners. This morning we come to the meeting because we are sinners who need the help God has given by Jesus. As we realize this we can become very upset and sad, just like the people in Nehemiah's time.
Nehemiah and Ezra had to assure the people that this was a time to rejoice because they had gathered together after building the walls. It was a time to be happy with what God had done with them. This is an exhortation for us too. We cannot always be sad that we have not done what is perfect. We also need to rejoice in the work that God has done with his son. This morning we need to be filled with joy that Jesus Christ was able to defeat sin and is now able to save us!
When Nehemiah and Ezra were able to explain this to the people they rejoiced! The Hebrew word for how happy they were in v12 is used of the joy at a wedding. The people were very happy and wanted to share this with others. They sent food to those who were in need so that all the nation could rejoice together. This is an excellent example for us to care for all others that we all may rejoice about the Bible.
This is the most important thing about this celebration. The people were so happy it was like a wedding BECAUSE they understood the Bible. It is the same for us. When we gather together at a Bible School we are happy. This is not because we are on a holiday. It is not because we get to live in a hotel. It is because we together understand more of the Bible!
As we remember take the bread and wine this morning we can think of the man who was much greater that Ezra. Jesus was the perfect teacher. All who listened to him were able to understand the Bible. And today we rejoice because we have been blessed to understand the grace of God. So let us rejoice together as we talk about the Bible and always help each other to understand it. If we do we will realize that "the joy of the LORD is our strength"v10