Nehemiah 8: Getting back to basics

It’s amazing what happens when you start digging into the Word of God.   God reveals so much of HIMSELF to us when we do that.   Personally, in this ministry break, as I’ve been digging into the word, and not just merely scratching at the surface; God has shown me stuff that I need to improve, remove, restore, rebuild, and begin again.   I love how that works   This is probably blasphemous, but the words of Dumbledore in The Prisoner of Azkaban ring true when he said: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.”  In this case, the light is the WORD OF GOD.   When we shine that light into our lives, we see things much clearer, and that’s what this chapter is about.   The work is done, the goal completed, so what now?   Life goes on, but how do you move forward when your goal is reached and how do you cast a vision to those you lead.   Nehemiah gives us an idea:  Get back to the basics.

 When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns,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.

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.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.

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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

Once the work was done, the wall rebuilt and the people settled, a gathering was held of all the returnees.   The leadership stood before the people and did an amazing thing.  Instead of giving speeches and giving honor to themselves, and of course patting the people on the back for doing a great job, they pointed the people to GOD.   They stood up and read from the LAW, the WORD and WORK of GOD.  So, big deal you’re probably saying.   Well, keep in mind this generation of returnees had probably never heard it.   They were Jews, yet, for many of them they had lost their identity, they were Jews because of birth, but it had no meaning for them.   They had no context of what it meant and who they truly were.   Ezra the High Priest, and his staff of Levites and Nehemiah were going to correct that.  You see, they had in their possession the LAW, the WORD OF GOD (up to that point) and their goal wasn’t to punish or prove to the people how bad their ancestors were and how bad they were now, the goal was restoration of their identity.   I love how verse 8 ends, because that is the mission of any teacher, leader, pastor, youth pastor, etc.   It says “They read from the Book of the Law of GOD, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”    A leader, (especially one in a Christian organization) proclaims the WORD, and does so in a way that is clear, concise, and able to be understood.    There is no hidden meaning, agenda, or prophetic word that is only for a certain number, its spoken so that everyone understands.   Nehemiah knew that, Ezra knew that, and that were burdened by GOD to help the people understand who they were, and what their place was.   They were to find their identity as JEWS in the fact that they were chosen by GOD.

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.

What happens when GOD shines the light on the darkness of our lives?  Brokenness.  Conviction.   This is what happened to the Jews.  As the Law was being read, people began to realize their emptiness, their sin, and the loss of their identity.   Tears began to flow and GOD started to move.   The Levites that were spread out among the people had to do a lot of counseling one on one to comfort.   Nehemiah and Ezra do an amazing thing.   Instead of taking advantage of the tears and using it to their advantage, they point the people to GOD.   They point out that they are reconnecting with GOD, and it’s not a reason to mourn, but rejoice.  The people aren’t being punished, but renewed.  They faith, their position, their lives are being renewed by placing them in a right position with GOD.  It was a moment to celebrate.   Probably before this, they would sit with the priests and hear them talk about GOD, but they never had anyone speak about who HE was and what the meaning of their faith was.    For the first time, they were understanding what it meant to be a JEW.   That is the lesson for a Christian leader.   Don’t talk about GOD, live and model GOD so that people understand what it means to be a CHRISTIAN.   Speak about GOD in way that people understand and relate to without sacrificing anything of HIS holiness.   What happens when we do that brokenness, but joy.   Joy in that we understand our place, position, and relationship with the ETERNAL GOD.

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.[b]

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

After the emotional first day, the leadership got together to understand what was in the law better.  They found reference to a festival that was to be held in the month that they were in.  In their zeal to be obedient, they went out and proclaimed it to their people and an amazing thing happened.  The people caught the vision.  They went out and they lived the experience to the point where the writer states that Israel and never celebrated the festival like they were doing at that time.   And their joy was great.  When a leader is obedient to the work that GOD is doing and casts the vision clearly, people get fired up.   That’s what Nehemiah and Ezra were doing.  Nehemiah had the vision for the wall, Ezra had the vision for the temple.   They came together and the pieces fit and GOD used both men to lead a revival.   Ezra labored for a couple of years prior to Nehemiah coming to build the temple.   When Nehemiah came to rebuild the temple, a partnership developed which allowed both men to complement each other and feed into the people a vision and a desire to restore a nations identity.   That’s what a good leader does.   They form partnerships with the people in their team.  They find the people who complement them and bring the best out in each other so that they can cast the vision that GOD has joined them together for.   And they changed the small piece of world that they were living in.   When you change your small piece of world, you start something that can’t be stopped and eventually, the world is changed from your small step of obedience.   That’s the lesson of Nehemiah 8.

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