BACK TO THE FUTURE
Lord, thank You for biblical mileposts.
Read NEHEMIAH 8:13–18
13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make temporary shelters”—as it is written.[a]
16 So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built temporary shelters and lived in them. 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.
18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.
a Nehemiah 8:15 See Lev. 23:37-40.
New International Version (NIV)
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Go as far as you can see. When you get there you can see farther.
History today is both suspected and neglected. Postmodern historian Hayden White claims that historical narratives are “verbal fictions” (Tropics of Discourse). According to the British historian Eric Hobsbawm, most young people at the cusp of the twenty-first century were growing up in “a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in” (Age of Extremes, 3). Ancient Israel also tended to ignore history. That’s why God gave his people annual public festivals as reminders of specific mighty acts that God had wrought on their behalf. Among these is the Festival of Tabernacles (or Booths). In today’s reading, Ezra helps heads of families to rediscover this festival. Living for a week in temporary shelters reminds them of their predecessors’ 40-year wilderness pilgrimage.
The significance of Tabernacles must have become blurred (17). It’s not that the festival has lapsed. We know that it was celebrated by Solomon and also in Hosea’s day, as well as more recently in the time of Zerubbabel (2 Chr. 8:13; Hos. 12:9; Ezra 3:4). However, over time the festival’s secondary focus on the harvest (Deut. 16:13) seems to have become dominant. The role of covenant renewal it fulfilled in Joshua’s time (Deut. 31:9-13) has become obscured. An ever-present preoccupation to secure plentiful harvests have squeezed out the primary focus of recalling God’s faithfulness in the past.
Nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard taught that life is lived forward but learned backwards. That is a reality with which we, like Ezra’s contemporaries, often lose touch. The Bible is a realistic narrative of God’s past acts performed on our behalf, culminating in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Every time we engage with Scripture, we are challenged to review this biblical past and to renew our commitment to follow Jesus into the future.
Lord, thank You for the grand narrative of the Bible. Help me share this Good News with others, looking forward to its grand finale at the second coming of Jesus.
Lord, keep our knowledge of history accurate and our personal memories strong.