BRING US THE BOOK
Lord, teach us the correct way to worship You.
Read NEHEMIAH 7:73b—8:12
73 The priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the musicians and the temple servants, along with certain of the people and the rest of the Israelites, settled in their own towns.
Ezra Reads the Law
When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, 8 1 all the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
4 Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam.
5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; 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.
7 The Levites—Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah—instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear[a] and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.”
12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
a Nehemiah 8:8 Or God, translating it
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“In my desire for Your commands I pant with open mouth. Turn to me and have mercy on me as You do on all those who love You” (Psa. 119:131,132, GNB).
There is considerable research into Scripture focusing on engagement between individuals or small groups. By contrast, relatively little study has focused on congregational interaction with Scripture. Despite this gap in our knowledge, we can still learn much from Scripture itself. Ezra provides a model for evaluating our worship activity. Both in summary (3) and in detail (4–12), Ezra’s open-air congregation interacts in five key ways with the public reading and exposition of Scripture.
First, they are in step. The phrase “all the people” occurs 10 times. The congregation stands before God’s Word, not as a series of individuals but as a community. The people anticipate Paul’s metaphor of the church as a body (1 Cor. 12:12–27). Second, the people respond on cue to Ezra’s call to worship (6). Their double “Amen” indicates that they are raring to go. Third, the people are all ears as Scripture is read and expounded (3). Did Jesus have them in mind when urging us to consider carefully how we should listen (Luke 8:18)? Fourth, the people are awestruck by the Lord’s presence in their midst (6). As in Corinth centuries later, any stranger visiting the Water Gate would feel compelled to exclaim, “God is really among you!” (1 Cor. 14:25). Fifth, heartstrings are pulled. People weep at their failure to meet the high standards of Scripture (9). Their lamentation turns into joy, however, when Nehemiah reminds them that the Torah communicates grace as well as law (10).
How will you respond next Sunday in church, as God’s Word is read and explained? In step with others? On cue and raring to go? Listening attentively to what God is saying? Awestruck by the glory of God? Stirred to weep for your sins and to rejoice in God’s grace?
“Expectancy should mark our approach to the reading of God’s Word, and responsiveness our leaving it to enter our daily lives, if ever it is to be allowed to accomplish its primary purpose” (H.G.M. Williamson, Ezra–Nehemiah, 297).
Lord, we thank You for having raised up competent teachers of Your Word for our continued edification.