After spending a number of weeks in the first half of Nehemiah reading the rebuilding of the wall, our Dec. 1 lesson turned our attention to Chapter 8 and the rebuilding of something bigger. Something that didn't take physical strength or manual labor: Rebuilding and reinforcing the spiritual foundation upon which the nation rested. Just as the wall represented the physical security people needed, the praying and reading of scripture in Chapter 8 was the start of providing for the spiritual safety of the people. We see two keys in this spiritual awakening: A desire for God's Word (vv. 1-8) and a response to God's Word (vv. 9-18).
The example of the Israelites in this chapter also provides five reflections for us:
1. How hungry are you for God’s Word? We read how all the people came together as one and told Ezra to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. And after the first day, where they stood for five to six hours, hearing the word and having the word explained to them, they went back to Ezra the next day for more. Their desire for the word was strong.
2. How do you approach God? In verse 6, Ezra praised the Lord and all the people "lifted their hands and responded, 'Amen! Amen!' Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Are you in awe of God? Do you have a high view of God?
3. What areas of your life do you need to weep over? (in other words: Repent of) Verse 9 tells us the people were weeping when they heard the word, though we're not told why. We can make a good assumption that they were overwhelmed with the word. They were reminded about how far they and their ancestors had strayed from God, and realized their sin had lead them to the their captivity. Their response, in a word, was repentance. It's only when we've reached that breaking point—true surrender and repentance—where we fess up and take our issues to God, that He can work in us to heal us.
4. Where are you on the path the Israelites took? Do you want to hear the word? Are you convicted by the word? Do you have joy? Do you want more of the word? Are you obeying the word? We can see how—and learn from—the Israelites pattern of rebuilding their spirituality: The had a desire for the word, they were convicted by the word, they were filled with joy by the word, they wanted more of the word and they obeyed the word. After determining where you are on that path, what's your next move?
5. What’s your spirit behind church activities? As the Israelites recognized the Feast of Booths, we read that "from the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great." There had never been such a level of excitement or level of joy regarding this feast since the time of their entrance into Canaan, as there was now on their return after a long and painful captivity. The feasts may have been marked and observed and the people went through the motions, but the spirit behind why the feasts were to occur perhaps was missing—or was not at the level it was in Nehemiah 8. Whether it's serving or Bible study or attending church, are you just marking the task, crossing it off your to-do list, feeling like it’s all about performance and what and how much you do—or is there a joy behind what you’re doing?
Wherever we may be on our journey and relationship with God, we're encouraged by the example of the Israelites in this chapter to:
- Get into the Word
- Talk with other about the Word
As we take those steps, we will realize our joy is not based on circumstances. It is based in our faith, which is based upon and believing what God says in His Word.