Worship, Learn & Rejoice! Nehemiah 8:1-12
This is a synopsis, or quick review, of the sermon for July 23, 2023. I am hitting most of the highlights of the message, not reproducing the entire sermon.
The Scripture Reading today is Nehemiah 8:1-12.
In our continuing saga of the lives of the “returning exiles” for Babylon, we have come to the completion of the wall around Jerusalem and the Temple, completed on the 25th day of the month Elul, in our month of June-July, (Neh 6:15). Peace has ensued as the city of Jerusalem, upon conclusion of the wall, was designated by Persia the provincial capital of the southern region of the Satrapi of Trans-Euphrates. Nehemiah is called the Governor (8:9) for the first time in our passage today.
In Chapter 8, we have a record of the first “National Holiday” of the Jews after the completion of the wall. According to the OT Law, all Israelite males are to appear before the LORD three times a year (Deut 16:16), at the feast of Passover (Mar-Apr on our calendar), Pentecost (Apr-May), and Trumpets (Sept-Oct).
On “the first day of the seventh month” (7:2) the traditional day of “the Feast of Trumpets,” and from this day onward called the “Feast of New Year” (Rosh Hashanah), all the Jews from the countryside and the city, male and female, all old enough to understand, gathered at the Water Gate, on the east side of the city, just south of the Temple court. They were there to hear for themselves “the Word of God.”
A platform had been erected, and Ezra the Scribe (some versions say teacher) stood and read the “Book, or Scroll, of the Law” and read it aloud to the congregation from sunrise to high noon. This is believed by many scholars, to be the book we call Deuteronomy, a long sermon recited and recorded by Moses as the children of Israel readied to go into the Promised Land, and Moses was going up the mountain to die.
A great deal of “pomp and circumstance” went into this event. As Ezra unrolled the scroll, the people rose and stood in honor of the scroll. Then Ezra praised the LORD, the Great God. The people replied “Amen, Amen!” Amen is Hebrew for “so be it,” or “I/we agree” in English. Then the people bowed before God, with their foreheads touching the ground. While not mentioned in the text, I believe this was accompanied with the blowing of trumpets, as the call to worship of the Feast of Trumpets. I hope I can view the event streaming online when I get to heaven 😊. This is an event of joy and rejoicing.
The key verse in understanding this passage is 8:7. I remember my preaching prof at seminary, on the first day of our first preaching class, taking us word by word through this verse and helping us see, that as “want-a-be” preachers, this was to be our primary duty in life. 1) Read the “Law of God” the Bible; 2) make it understandable to our world (literally “translating it”); 3) give its meaning or application to our listener’s lives; 4) so that the people understood what God was saying to them.
The tradition of Christianity I grew up in, was probably like many of yours. The center of worship rotated around the reading and proclamation of God’s Word. Some traditions emphasize rites and rituals, and they have their place. Many emphasize the praise and worship of God, and both have their place. But one must understand, so the rituals have the meaning, or so the praise has benefit to us. Thus, I still believe in the importance of taking “Ancient Texts and making Valid Modern Applications.” That is the title of a new book on Bible study and preaching text by Josiah Boyd (Wipe & Stock, 2023).
Notice how Ezra and Nehemiah, along with the Levites (temple priests) move among the people and kept on teaching and applying the Scriptures to the lives of the listeners. As they did, the listeners saw how far they fell short of God’s will, and they began to weep. But Nehemiah and the priests kept on saying, stop morning over sin, and praise God over His redemption. So often it is easy to read the Bible and say, “my how I have messed up.” We often feel so undeserving of God’s grace as we hear His Word read or preached, yet we, as believers, wanting to do right. Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s reply was “rejoice in the salvation of God,” do not mourn over your failures, because “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (8:10). Nehemiah is not saying, well anything goes, live any way you want.” He is saying, once we see our need for God’s cleansing, rejoice in the salvation (bath, Titus 3:4-6) He gives us to clean us up. Therefore, we rejoice in Him, not mourn and cry to Him.
As the crowd dismissed to go to their homes, they rejoiced in having heard and understood the Word of God and held a thanksgiving feast, and also sent the food to neighbors who were not as fortunate as they were.
To be successful as Christians trying to accomplish something for God in this world today, we need to remember that the Word of God, though an old book, is the guide to help us live in the 21st Century. We must read it and learn it, and let it change our lives, so we can do good in this world.
God Bless you,
CH Jim Odell