NEHEMIAH 7 and 8
“Please, please, please will you read us the bible and talk to us about what it means?” – so begged the people of Jerusalem to Ezra. Now that is probably a ‘first’ for the people of God! Sadly, it seems not to occur very much in the UK’s churches these days either. (In China, if a preacher is not capable of teaching the bible for at least a couple of hours, then the church is not interested in having them preach!) When I was on a year out in Ireland, separated by quite a few hundred miles from my fiancé (now my wife), the only practical form of communication was by mail (remember, the paper version that sometimes gets delivered through your door!); so we wrote to each other once or twice a week. Anticipating and receiving those letters was a big highlight, and no-one needed to pressurise me to go searching for the post. I loved to read my fiancé’s written words because I loved her (and still do!). If we really love the Lord, then we will eagerly desire to read His words too.
So, more than forty thousand of the new citizens gathered and asked Ezra, the best bible scholar of all, to read them the Law of Moses and to explain it doctrinally and practically. And they weren’t meaning that an hour of this would do; he began at sunrise and ended at noon – six hours – whilst the people stood and listened (maybe they sat whilst he explained it). He would have been using the Pentateuch – the five books of Moses – since the rest probably hadn’t been written or at least compiled as part of the official scriptures by then. Other scribes and Levites explained quietly to smaller groups the practical outworkings in more detail.
Then the people began to weep and mourn as the words of God convicted them of sin, or perhaps they were reminded deeply of the glory that had once been Israel’s. But Nehemiah comforted them and prepared a great feast for them to celebrate with. He reminded them that “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Godly Nehemiah also made sure that the poor and needy also received their quota of food. The people all then went away “…to celebrate with great joy, because they no understood the words that had been made known to them”. A knowledge and understanding of God’s scriptures does have a powerful effect on the hearer/reader; it destroys the grip that the enemy has on the human mind, it trashes old undesirable habits, reformats the mind, elevates the spirit, renews the soul, and restores balance to the emotions. The man who meditates on the words of the Lord is like a tree planted by streams of water, never dry, always fresh, and always producing life.
Finally, the people realised that they had not been adhering to the correct method of celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles. They therefore created these temporary ‘tents’ using all kinds of foliage, building them on tops of their house roofs, in their courtyards and in public squares. Then they camped in them and ate their meals in them. It must have been an amazing community! It reminded them that their forefathers had lived continuously in temporary shelters whilst trekking through the wilderness and whilst relying for their sustenance on the Lord. It also looked ahead prophetically to that great verse in John chapter 1:14 – often read at Christmas time: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”. Literally, this means “He pitched his tent among us”.
No-one had celebrated so passionately since the days of Joshua; the people’s joy was immense! The feast went on for seven days and was followed by an entire day of worship and reading of the scriptures again. If we permit the one whose name is ‘The Word’ to live closely with us, then we will see his glory and we will live lives full of his joy! Could there be a better Christmas present?