Nehemiah 8 & 9

Nehemiah 8

The chapter opens by telling how Ezra read the law to the people. Verses 1-3. The name of Ezra is not mentioned in the first six chapters of Nehemiah. It is hard to imagine him being in Jerusalem during the time of the building of the wall without being mentioned. It is also hard to imagine him living in Jerusalem and spiritual conditions to have reached such a low ebb as Nehemiah found when he came to the city.

The theory is probably correct which supposes that Ezra was recalled to Persia shortly after the events with which his book concluded. He seems to have returned to Jerusalem after the wall was completed.

It was quite natural then that the assembled people would ask their former leader to read the Scriptures to them. The reading began on the first day of the seventh month. He read from the law of Moses, the Pentateuch—v. 1.

v. 2—Men, women and all children who could understand were present. See 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:15. Consider also Samuel, who was nurtured for God.

Please note that the people “were attentive unto the book.”

v. 4—A special pulpit was built, large enough to hold Ezra and 13 others. These men apparently assisted Ezra in the long periods of reading.

v. 5—When Ezra opened the Book, the people showed their respect and reverence for the Word by standing up.

v. 6—Then Ezra blessed the Lord, and the people answered “Amen, Amen.” Then they bowed their hearts, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

v. 7—Another 13 men are mentioned in this verse, and they also assisted Ezra and caused the people to understand the Law. As the Word was being explained the people stood.

v. 9-12—When the people heard the law they wept, realizing how they had broken it. However, at this point, Nehemiah and Ezra urged them not to weep. The day was the Feast of Trumpets, an occasion for rejoicing, not of sadness.

v. 13-18—The Feast of Tabernacles is restored. This was the second day of Bible reading. In their reading they had advanced to Leviticus 23. They learned there that the Feast of Tabernacles was to be observed by their dwelling in booths. It was decided to keep the feast just as the law prescribed.

Those who dwelt in the city made booths on the flat tops of their houses. The country folks placed their booths in the streets and courtyards. There was great gladness. Ezra continued to read the Word for eight days. The people did not ask for anything else.

On the eighth day a solemn assembly was held. Now let us go into the chapter and make it applicable to ourselves.

The Great Bible Reading

Revival is generally preceded by a renewed interest in the Word of God. See revival under Josiah in 2 Kings 22:23, and under Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18.

The Reformation of the 16th century.

There are seven important truths in this chapter:

1. They were a united people waiting upon God—v. 1. They met before the Water Gate—the cleansing, refreshing, reviving power of the Word of God. “They were gathered together as one man.” This condition, unity and desire for the Word was accompanied by great power and revival. The exhortation then is that we should return to the Word if we would experience revival. We must read, study, meditate upon, memorize, and obey it.

2. The people said, “Bring the Book.” It was scarce and precious. They were united in purpose and desire.

3. Ezra brought the Book and read therefrom—v. 3. They were attentive to the Book. They listened from morning to midday. Josiah had a tender heart.

4. Notice their subjection to the Word—v. 5-8. As they listened to the Word “they lifted up their hands and answered, “Amen, Amen.” Then they bowed their heads and worshipped.

5. The Word of God was a source of joy and strength—v. 9-12. They were a happy people. They were right with God. They sang Israel’s song. As we sing we are priests unto God.

6. Obedience to the Word. On the second day everyone came together again, and the reading of the Word continued. They read of the Feast of Tabernacles and at once obeyed its injunctions. They built booths with branches and lived in them 7 days. This reminded them of the wilderness journey and future blessings.

7. The Word is sufficient. They read the Word for seven days and asked for nothing else. The all-sufficiency of the Scriptures. For His people today God ahs rovided for our every need.

Nehemiah 9

In chapter 8 when the law was read to the people, and the enormity of their sin gripped their hearts, they wept. V. 9.

But because of the nature of the season and the feasts involved they were instructed not to weep but rather rejoice.

v. 1-3—Now the Feast of Tabernacles was over, they met once again, this tie for fasting and confession of sin. In connection with their grief, sack-clothes and earth are mentioned. Sack-cloth is a coarse material made of goat’s hair and was worn in that day to indicate mourning.

v. 1—Also in extreme cases of repentance dust or earth was put on the head.

v. 2—The picture now is of a nation sorrowing, mourning, fasting, and confessing their sin and the sins of their fathers, separated from those who were not God’s people.

v. 3—Once more there was a time of Bible reading, lasting for three hours. Then there was a similar period devoted to confession and worship. Confession comes before worship.

At the close of this time of confession a number of Levites “stood upon the stairs.” These were raised platforms at various places in the assembly.

v. 4-38—These men led the people in a most beautiful prayer. This prayer was probably a prepared prayer. Very likely composed by Ezra. (See the prayer in Ezra chapter 9.) this is the longest prayer in the Bible. It covers the history of the nation from the call of Abraham through to the days of judges and prophets.

v. 31-35—After the recounting of Israel’s history there is a confession of sin.

v. 36-37—Then there is an appeal to the Lord for help in their distress.

v. 38—Then finally the long prayer closes with them making a “sure covenant” with the Lord, and to show their sincerity they said that the princes, Levites and priests would sign it for them.

The relationship between the Word of God and prayer came out vividly in these first verses. The seven days of reading the Word had a wonderful effect on the nation.

Verses 1 through 3 give a most instructive order. First the Word, then prayer, then confession, then worship. What the Word judged they judged. What the Word commanded they sought to do. In so doing this remnant probably reached the highest moral state they ever occupied from the Babylonian captivity to the coming of Messiah. Their separation was complete.

The above is full of instruction for us.

Then note the first quarter of the day was given to Bible study. Following this another quarter was given to prayer. The Word and prayer should always go together.

Anyone who reads the Word, neglecting prayer becomes intellectually proud, occupied solely with theoretical Christianity. On the other hand, anyone who gives himself much to prayer and neglects Bible study tends to become introspective, mystical and sometimes fanatical.

He who reads the Word, seeking to know God’s will, and then gives himself to prayer, confessing and judging what the Word condemns in him, he will grow in grace and in the knowledge of God, and become a well-rounded follower of Christ.

The prayer itself is a masterpiece.

v. 5—It exalts God to the highest.

v. 6—It acknowledges Him as the Creator of heaven and earth, and One who is worshipped by the host of heaven. He is extolled as the faithful God, who never changes. He is praised as the God of miracles.

Sometimes it is good to take a retrospective look at our past lives. It eventually leads to an introspective look, then finally to a prospective look. All necessary in the process of growing more like Christ.