Ezra Reads the Law
8 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
This Day Is Holy
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Feast of Booths Celebrated
On the second day the heads of fathers' houses of all the people, with the priests and the Levites, came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. And they found it written in the Law that the LORD had commanded by Moses that the people of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should proclaim it and publish it in all their towns and in Jerusalem, “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.” So the people went out and brought them and made booths for themselves, each on his roof, and in their courts and in the courts of the house of God, and in the square at the Water Gate and in the square at the Gate of Ephraim. And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing. And day by day, from the first day to the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. They kept the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly, according to the rule.
Nehemiah 8 Commentary
by Hank Workman
“Revival: The Spirit of God working through the Word of God, in the lives of the people of God.” J. Edwin Orr
Nehemiah’s task was not just to repair the broken down, destroyed walls of the city of Jerusalem. Unbeknownst to him, he also was there to usher in healing of the broken lives of the people. It’s really a fascinating aspect here as he was not a priest but a layman yet was so in tune with his God, he would be instrumental in revival coming to the hearts of the people.
With Ezra by his side, the people gathered as one and listened to the Word of God being read. It was the first in many, many years. Their hearts were so hungry for something of Truth the passage states they listened attentively. But one aspect Ezra added to this event was he stationed Levites in varied positions throughout the crowd who understood the Law and explained what it meant to the people. (Nehemiah 8:8) This aspect is so amazing. Not just the Word read, there was an explanation of the things and ways of God from His Word, made practical.
The people wept. The Holy Spirit was all over this event and pricked their hardened hearts, their broken-down lives with conviction. They suddenly were acutely aware of how far they’d fallen away from God. Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites present encouraged the people to stop weeping but in many ways to celebrate God reawakening their hearts.
It’s fascinating really, as today a preacher or evangelist would zoom in on this sorrow of someone and drive home their need to make things right. I mean, we see this a lot. The complete opposite was done. Pause and consider what this action meant and means. These were allowing the Holy Spirit to now do His thing in their lives and let Him take it from there. In fact, as the next chapter will reveal a second worship service like none other will come about where revival will break out. In the meantime, let the Holy Spirit press in upon them but let them celebrate with joy of the goodness of God.
“The joy of the Lord is your strength.” -Nehemiah 8:10
Many times there is nothing we see of where joy should be present. There are many times that all is pressing in upon us, the monotony of our work, the mundaneness of life zaps any joy at all. Things and relationships fall apart right before our eyes and grief at times is overwhelming. But adding to these thoughts the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us has brought conviction over some of our decisions and attitudes and brokenness. There’s not much joy there at all.
Joy has never been attached to an event or a situation. Joy is something only the Spirit of God can bring alive within us. Yes, the people were convicted from the Word read but in essence what these leaders were challenging the people was regardless of their sin, God was at work personally and to celebrate that fact.
Revival of our souls is something we will never understand. Consider the words of the Word of God penetrating our hearts and the Holy Spirit taking those feelings. Only He can usher in what we desperately need. Consider the words “The joy of the Lord is your strength” if it’s simply an acknowledgment of the state we’re in and allowing the Spirit to take us to the next step. In the meantime let the joy of God resonate from deep within and be our strength as He leads us further.
Nehemiah 8 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
Why is it important to read and hear the Word of God?
Revelation 1:3 HCSB The one who reads this is blessed, and those who hear the words of this prophecy and keep what is written in it are blessed, because the time is near!
Even though this blessing is specific to Revelation, I don’t think it’s a stretch to apply it universally. Jesus offers a blessing to those who read His Word. He offers another to those who listen to His Word. In Nehemiah 8, the people decided it was appropriate to gather and listen to the reading of God’s Word.
Gather, Read, Listen
Ezra, a scribe, was passionate about the Word of God. He was inspired by the Spirit of God to read it for the people. The people were also inspired by the Spirit of God to gather together and open their hearts and minds to its truth. Anytime we are inspired to read and hear the Word, blessing will follow. This is why we gather together every Sunday to hear the Word preached by individuals who are passionate about following after God’s heart.
It is important to understand that outside of God’s Spirit, we cannot work up our own motivation to receive the Word of God. The people listened to Ezra for 6 hours! How is that possible? They respected His Word. They honored it by standing to their feet. They wept as its truth cut their hearts. When we gather together it is important that we pray and ask God to give us a divine interest into His Word. His Spirit will bless us!
The Role of the Reader
It is also important that we understand the role of the reader from this text. If the people who are listening do not come away with a greater understanding of the Word, the pastor or preacher has failed. Sermons are not comparable to other forms of public speaking. The ways of God are not intellectually discerned, but spiritually discerned. If the people who gather are only entertained by the pastor, he has failed. If the people who gather leave admiring the wisdom of the pastor, he has failed. If the people leave motivated by a prayer or three helpful steps which are not rooted in understanding the Word of God, the pastor has failed.
I personally do not care if others think my presentation was sufficient when I preach. I don’t want that praise. I desperately want others to have a greater understanding of God’s Word. I would much rather have someone tell me that my communication was lacking but that they came to understand God’s Word as opposed to my communication being flawless with no new understanding of God’s Word.
Nehemiah 8:8 HCSB They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.
Understanding the Word of God is the goal of any pastor, preacher, or teacher!
Putting It Together
If we pray for God to inspire our hearts to understand His Word and we have a speaker/teacher who is dedicated to helping us with that process, we will reap the blessings found here in Nehemiah 8. What are those blessings? As I wrote earlier, the people were divinely inspired to listen for hours and hours. They stood up and praised God, raising their hands in worship. They were excited about God’s Word and hungry to feast on it. If this is not happening in your church, then it is probably time to evaluate your heart’s posture to God’s Word, the motivation of the pastors/teachers of your church, or both.
The Word of God is full of both grace and truth. It both inspired them to praise but also convicted them as they wept and mourned. It did not return void but accomplished its purpose in the hearts of these believers. It’s absolutely beautiful.
My favorite part of this section is when Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests instructed the people not to weep or mourn any longer. Why would they do such a thing? Because the joy of the Lord is our strength.
Nehemiah 8:10b HCSB “Do not grieve, because the joy of the LORD is your stronghold.”
This entire scene ends appropriately with a celebration. Is this not the same for us today? Yes, there is conviction. Yes, there are tears of Godly sorrow. However, we are not told to stay there. Godly sorrow leads to repentance which leads to Salvation which leaves no regrets! (2 Corinthians 7:10) Through repentance, we can be forgiven and we can then celebrate all God has done in us and through us. This is the desired destination to our journey with the Lord.
Forgiveness. Repentance. Joy. Strength. Celebration.
Do not weep. Today is a holy day. Jesus is King, and through repentance, you are His child.