Nehemiah 8 – The Spirit of God, Working through the Word of God, Brings Revival
J. Edwin Orr defined revival as: “The Spirit of God working through the Word of God, in the lives of the people of God.” This chapter is a great example of this.
A. Hearing God’s word sparks revival.
1. (1-3) The people gather and ask Ezra to read God’s word.
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
a. They told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law: This demonstrates that the Spirit of God was at work even before the reading of God’s word. People do not gather together as one man for the things of God unless the Spirit of God has moved them, and they do not desire God’s word unless the Spirit of God has moved them.
i. If you attend to the hearing of the word of God, it is evidence the Spirit of God is working with you. But it is still important to cooperate with that work and not resist it. We need to cooperate and flow with the work of God’s Spirit if the word of God is going to do its full work in us.
b. The Book of the Law of Moses: This refers to the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). This was Israel’s instruction manual for how to walk before God.
c. Ezra the scribe ….Ezra the priest: Ezra was the man responsible for having the temple rebuilt, and for returning God’s people to worship. Nehemiah, in all his work of rebuilding the walls, just carried on the work that Ezra had begun.
i. We know Ezra cared about God’s word because he was a scribe – someone who copied the Bible by hand. We know he was a man devoted to God Himself because he was a godly priest.
d. All who could hear with understanding: This shows us who needed to hear the word of God. Everyone who could understand it needed to hear it.
e. Then he read from it in the open square: Ezra read God’s word from daylight to midday. For some six hours he read God’s word and the people listened.
i. This was a move of the Spirit of God. People who will be attentive to the Book of the Law for some six hours are people touched by the Spirit of God.
ii. From morning is literally, “from the light.” These people gathered from dawn to hear God’s word. They were willing to sacrifice something to hear it – they wanted it, and like Jacob they would not let go until they had their blessing.
2. (4-6) How God’s word was received.
So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose; and beside him, at his right hand, stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Urijah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah; and at his left hand Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
a. So Ezra…stood on a platform: They had taken the time to build a wooden platform, so that the word of God could be heard. They did practical things, so God’s word would have the greatest effect.
i. There are practical things we can do also to help God’s word have the greatest effect; when a room is comfortable, low in distractions, and the preacher is clearly heard, it helps God’s word have the greatest effect.
ii. But by far, the greatest preparation must happen in the heart. We must come, willing to forget about ourselves and our own agenda, and submit ourselves to God’s word – not the preacher’s word, but God’s word.
b. At his right hand…and at his left hand: On the right hand and left hand of Ezra were men who were supporting him in his ministry of teaching God’s word. The ministry of God’s word has the greatest effect when people can see men who are in support of it and obedience to it.
c. When he opened it, all the people stood up: They had respect for God’s word. They recognized it for what it was – the word of God, not the word of man. They honored it.
i. This is evidence of two things. First, that the Spirit of God is at work; second, that something good is going to happen.
d. Then all the people answered: This work of the word of God and the Spirit of God had three immediate results.
· The people thanked God (by saying Amen when Ezra blessed the LORD).
· The people prayed (by lifting up their hands).
· The people worshipped (by bowing down before Him).
i. Thanksgiving, prayer, and praise are all good measures of how the Spirit of God and word of God are working in us.
3. (7-8) God’s word is presented so the people may understand.
Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.
a. Helped the people to understand the Law: Special men were appointed to help the people understand God’s word. After the reading, they needed to understand it because if they did not understand it, it would do little good.
i. Understanding needs to be the first goal of any preacher or teacher. When a preacher stands before God’s people, there are some things to remember:
· If people leave knowing five helpful hints to a better life, but do not have a greater understanding of God’s word, the preacher has failed.
· If people leave having been amused by humor, entertained by anecdotes, or captivated by dramatic stories, but do not have a greater understanding of God’s word, the preacher has failed.
· If people leave motivated to action, or praying a prayer, but this is not based on a greater understanding of God’s word, the preacher has failed.
· If people leave admiring the preacher, but do not have a greater understanding of God’s word, the preacher has failed – and will be held to account before God.
b. Helped the people to understand the Law: It is important to see why God’s people need special help in understanding God’s word.
i. First, because the things of God are spiritually discerned and not intellectually discerned. The Holy Spirit uses gifted teachers to bring spiritual discernment to us, helping us to understand what God’s word says.
ii. Second, because it was first written in a different language, in a different culture, in a different place, and at a far distant time. Teachers help us understand it all in our own day.
iii. Third, because our minds are often slow to understand things that will convict our hearts. We often need it spelled right out to us.
iv. Finally, understanding isn’t only necessary for those who haven’t become familiar with the Bible. Sometimes if we have heard it ten times before, we still don’t really understand it. When an art restorer cleans a painting, he reveals things that were always there, but the colors weren’t as bright, and the details weren’t as clear, because they were obscured – when the painting is clean, the real impact of the painter’s work can be seen.
c. They read distinctly: The preacher must speak in a clear, easy-to-understand way. His main goal is to make the people understand, not to impress or entertain them.
d. They gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading: The preacher must communicate the sense of the passage of Scripture, and not his own agenda or favorite personal topics. The people must leave understanding God’s word better, not understanding the preacher’s opinions better.
B. Response to God’s word prompts revival.
1. (9-11) The people respond with weeping.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our LORD. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.”
a. All the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law: The word of God was doing its intended work. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us two things that the word of God is profitable for: reproof and correction. Sometimes it hurts to be reproved and corrected, and these tears were evidence of some of that pain.
b. Do not mourn nor weep: Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Levites did not want the people to mourn, even though it is a good thing to be sad under the conviction of the Holy Spirit through the word of God. Yet if the sense of conviction is greater than the sense that God is doing a good and holy work, then tears are not good.
i. Our knowledge of our sin should never be bigger than our knowledge of Jesus as our Savior. We are great sinners, but He is a greater Savior.
ii. Therefore, the joy of the Lord is your strength – even when you are being convicted of sin. When we are convicted of sin we know that God is doing a work in us, so we can be glad and take joy.
c. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength: The people felt sad because they were aware of their own sin. But they could walk in joy because God was doing a great work. Our emotions are not beyond our control; we can do God’s will even when we don’t feel like it.
2. (12) The people choose to rejoice.
And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them.
a. They understood the words that were declared to them: They went away praising God because understanding God’s word brings such a sweet sense of joy.
3. (13) The leaders gather for more study of God’s word.
Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law.
a. The heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites: Leaders have a special need to understand and walk in God’s word. Their ignorance or disobedience affects far more than themselves – it affects everyone they have an influence on.
4. (14-18) The people keep the Feast of Tabernacles.
And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.” Then the people went out and brought them and made themselves booths, each one on the roof of his house, or in their courtyards or the courts of the house of God, and in the open square of the Water Gate and in the open square of the Gate of Ephraim. So the whole assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and sat under the booths; for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun until that day the children of Israel had not done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, according to the prescribed manner.
a. And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses: This was beautiful, simple obedience. Their attitude was that God said it, so we will do it. Even though tradition did not tell them to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (it had not been done since the days of Joshua), they relied on God’s word, not on tradition.
b. That the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month: The Feast of Tabernacles was all about remembering how God had blessed and provided for Israel in the wilderness during the Exodus. They could see God’s blessing and provision for them right then, and it made something old seem brand new to them.
c. And there was very great gladness: Because of their great obedience to God’s word, there was very great gladness. We often are deceived into thinking the path of gladness is in doing what we want to do, but gladness and freedom come only through obedience.
d. Day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God: This revival began by the Spirit of God working through the word of God; it continued that way also.