The eighth chapter of Nehemiah is one that fascinates me for a number of different reasons. The Israelites have returned from captivity and they, under the leadership of Nehemiah, have completed the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem and have settled back into some sense of normal life.
However, there is one thing that many of them have never heard or seen: the reading of the Law God gave to Moses for Israel. Therefore, this chapter details what occurred with the reading of the law and the people’s reactions to what they heard. I am also convinced that the contents of this chapter illustrate one of the greatest examples of how men who truly desire to serve God react to the hearing of his word.
Consider what is said about these Israelites of Nehemiah’s day:
– They came together as one man (Vs. 1). They did not come together because they were commanded to do so, nor did they do so as individuals with their own agendas and ideas; they came as the people of God asking for his Law to be read to them.
– Their ears were attentive to the book of the law (Vs. 3). They were not attentive to what they thought the law said, what they had always heard about the law, or what they thought the law should say; their concern was with what the law actually said.
– When Ezra opened the book of the law, the people stood up (Vs. 5). Though there are numerous ideas about why they did this, the principle seems to be that it was a sign of respect and formal desire to hear what was being said.
– They worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground (Vs. 6). They did not stand haughtily before God, but showed him honor and respect by bowing themselves to the ground before him in worship.
– They listened to, not just the words of the law, but the explanations of what the law meant (Vs. 7-8). The priests and Levites did not simply give them the law and leave it for them to figure out for themselves. It was presented with explanations so that all could understand what was commanded by God.
– They rejoiced, though they wanted to weep, because they understood the words of God (Vs. 10-12). When they heard the law, they recognized their grievous shortcomings in keeping the law and many wanted to weep in shame. Instead, Nehemiah encouraged them to rejoice that they now understood what God wanted them to do.
– They took the necessary steps to keep the law (Vs. 13-18). In the reading of the law, the priests, Levites, and chief fathers realized the command for the keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles (feast of booths) in Leviticus 23:34ff. Instead of ignoring it, they took the necessary steps to keep the feast as commanded (something that had not been done since the days of Joshua).
We need to learn the lessons from the Israelites of Nehemiah’s day. We need to be those who come together as one for the express purpose of hearing the law of God. We need to listen with our ears open and our mouth closed, more concerned with what God has said than what man’s opinions might be. We need to show the proper honor and respect for God when hearing his word; it is not a side show or an event of marginal importance: it contains the most important words we will ever hear. We need to be sure we understand what the law actually says, not what we want it to say; and though there will be times we want to weep because of what we did not know or understand, we should instead rejoice that we now understand what God wants us to do and how it can be accomplished. Finally, we must be willing to implement the expectations of God. It does no good to know the law if man is not willing to accomplish it.
I believe it appropriate to close with the words of Paul to Timothy: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15-16).