ANGELIC INSPIRATIONS - In Your presence is fullness of joy...Ps. 16: 11

Nehemiah 8: 1-12

The Jews had been exiled from their homeland, Jerusalem, and had been taken into captivity for 70 years in Babylonia. God used Cyrus, the king of Persia, to put into place a decree that allowed about 50,000 Jewish people freedom to return to their homeland and to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4, Jer 29:10-14). Ezra, the scribe and priest, was commissioned to go to Jerusalem and teach the law of God to the Hebrew people (Ezra 7:14, 25-26). He was thrilled to have been chosen by Cyrus through God’s leading. The opportunity to teach God’s law to God’s people was what he had desired most (Ezra 7: 27-28). He was well-respected for his knowledge and teaching of the law. He was the son of Eleazor, who was the son of Aaron, the Levite.

On the first day of the seventh month, which was the month Tishri/Ethanim, October 8, 444 B.C. on the Jewish calendar, the people assembled together at the gate (1 Kings 8:2-Zondervan Study Bible). “Tishri was one of the most sacred months of the year” (Zondervan Study Bible). This was the beginning of the Civil Year, similar to what we celebrate as New Year’s Day. Every 7 years, the people would celebrate what’s called, The Feast of Trumpets (Num 29:1-6). This was a time for sacred assembly, where they made sacrifices of burnt offerings to the Lord. They also refrained from work due to the Sabbath. Women and children did not normally attend assemblies, but because this was a special occasion and a celebration, they were invited to attend (Ex 10:10-11). 

The people had been re-established into their own towns after leaving Babylon. They had collectively gathered at the watergate square to worship and honor the Lord. Scholars aren’t sure why the assembly was held at the square in front of the water gate, but some make implications that Nehemiah may not have wanted it in the temple complex due to former tension between “Nehemiah and the priests, those who were allied with Tobiah the Ammonite (6:17-19)” (Zondervan Study Bible). The size of the crowd may have been too large which could also be an explanation for the assembly held at the square.

The people requested the book of the Law to be read. This is indicative that their hearts were open and they were eager to receive God’s Law. The Law comprised of potentially the legal sections of the Pentateuch. It could have been the entire scroll of the Torah, or possibly the five Books of Moses. Ezra may have explained just portions of the Torah. He stood on a wooden platform above the people. The idea for the platform was that the Law of the Lord may be heard clearly; also Ezra would be in full view of the crowd. “The platform was big enough to hold 14 people for the extended hours of reading and explaining” (The MacArthur Study Bible). This is why the traditional Baptist Church uses a platform today. As Ezra lifted the scroll to read, the people stood up for five to six hours to affirm God’s Law and to express their reception to His voice (1 Thess 2:13). This pattern continued for the entire week.

Ezra first blessed the Lord for His Law. This blessing usually takes place in Jewish synagogues before the reading of Scripture takes place. After the presentation of the Law, the people asserted, “Amen, Amen.” this response signified an appreciation and acceptance for the purity of God’s voice. It means, “So be it” (Be Determined, Wiersbe)! “When he utters the word ‘Amen,’ the hearer affirms the wish that God may act, places himself under divine judgment and joins in praise to God” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary). In the 70s, when my father had pastored, our services would end with a song called: "AMEN." People left worship joyful and enthusiastic about the Word of God. In 2015, Andre Crouch wrote a song called: "Let the Church Say AMEN." These songs most likely derived from this passage in Nehemiah 8. The congregates were stating that God's word is sufficient; He has spoken; let us take heed; So Be It! During captivity, the scroll was neglected; therefore, they were deprived of God's Law. Have you ever felt as if you had been deprived of God's Law? Should I ask, have you ever felt as if you were suffocating without God's voice in your life? What a depressing feeling! They were in captivity for 70 years! I can't imagine what they had experienced. This occasion and celebration permitted people to intently listen and respond to the Law of God. The lifting of the hands was a custom of the Jewish people. The men who were involved were Levites. They assisted Ezra in translating and interpreting the Law so that the people could understand the meaning of what was being read. The reading, translating, and interpretation of the Law was expositional. It was to ensure that the exact meaning of the Law was processed by all who participated. The people also “bowed down” which literally means to prostrate oneself to the ground in humble submission to the Word of the Lord. 

Ezra encouraged the people not to weep or mourn because the first day of the celebration was for the people to be joyful. They expressed heartfelt sorrow and God had forgiven them. He commanded the people to “eat what is rich, drink what is sweet, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared” (HCSB Study Bible). In other words, eat exquisitely, drink what is of quality, possibly wine mixed with honey, and remember those who are deprived. He was stating that people should be free to live pure lives before the Lord. The Jewish culture had a “social conscience and concern” for the misfortunate. He reminded them to maintain an emphasis on God’s holiness by not focusing on their sin. He says, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10). This statement meant for the people to allow the joy in their hearts for the Lord to sustain or hold them up. They were reminded not to allow their sin to afflict them, but boast in God's healing and His truth. The people responded to the Law of the Lord by departing with gratitude in their hearts. The Levites encouraged them to “be still.” In other words, be quiet and indulge in the joy of the Lord. 

When we stand before those who are seeking answers from the Lord, we must be prepared and eager to share God’s standard of truth. Sharing God's Word comprises of the filling of the Spirit (Eph 5:18), self-sacrifice (Rom 12:1), obedience (John 14:23), diligence (Gal 6:9), commitment to prayer (1 Thess 5:17), the study of the word (2 Tim 2:15), and having a joyful heart (Rom 15:13). It is life-changing, encouraging, rejuvenating, and brings deliverance and peace to those who believe. It causes a reaction of humble submission and causes one to go on emulating Christ. This act of obedience delivers one from oppression and restores one to God in Christ Jesus.  

Lord, thank you for the fullness of Your Word. You are full of wisdom, compassion, mercy, and grace. Your Word surely is a "lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path." Help us to maintain focus on the truth of Your Word. Help us to be encouraged and never fail to worship and honor You. May You, oh Lord, forever be praised! Amen. 

Encourage and Be Encouraged!