Nehemiah is an impressive leader among his fellow Jews during very, very challenging times. What he led them to achieve in such a short time was truly masterly and accomplished, but he wasn’t done yet. A more complete restoration — a spiritual one —was needed. So, with Ezra the scribe, Nehemiah led the people to hear the Law and understand it, so they could follow it.
Explaining the Law — Although there are folks who discount the value of preaching — and yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I am one — there really is more to knowing the Scripture than just reading it for yourself. Ezra not only needed to translate it (not as many knew Hebrew anymore) but there would still be lingering questions about, for example, what the term “work” might entail, so a person would not violate the Sabbath (8:7,8). And such explanations and applications are still part of a healthy diet of a Christian congregation on Sunday mornings. We all, even the preacher, need help in applying God’s word, since we’re all a little blind to our own faults and stuck in our own ruts. Look for and find the value in the preaching — apply it!
The joy of the LORD — After the Law had been explained it became heart-breakingly clear that Israel had been responsible for Israel’s low estate. There was weeping and mourning, but Nehemiah and Ezra encouraged the people to reverse directions about that and rejoice (8:10) — not to be glad about their sin and great fall, but rejoice because the Law was being read, explained, and restored among God’s people. But how is the joy of the LORD one’s strength? It’s when we’re rejoicing in the blessings of God, the answers to prayer, seeing the hand of God changing our lives, and changing others’ lives that we are emboldened, strengthened, and we allow ourselves to be empowered by the Spirit.
Seeing the big picture — Have you ever wondered why the big picture of the history of Israel is repeated so often, as in chapter 9? Well, of course, different contexts will carry slightly different nuances for these rehearsals of history; but the overarching reason for these recaps is that the bigger picture can help us to see the patterns that escape our notice on the micro level — today, the last week, the last year. I sometimes ask clients coming to me for counseling to write down a history of their lives; as they do so, patterns of behavior, dysfunction, and responsibility begin to emerge. So also for Israel. So also for the church. Have you looked at the big picture of your life? Have you ever indulged in a study of church history, the big picture of Christianity? More importantly, what will you do, when you find things to correct?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.