December 29, 2015.
Daily Reading: Nehemiah 8-10.
Background: Nehemiah 1-7.
Concepts and Connections.
Ezra, the Law and Holy Days: After the wall and the gates were finished, we find here that all the returned exiles gather together as one man and tell Ezra the scribe to bring out the book of the Law. He did so and read it in the midst of the assembly on a wooden platform that they had made for the event. Note their devotion and dedication to the public reading of the law, as Ezra reads it from the early morning to midday. The people worshipped the Lord, and there were several priests on hand to help the people understand the Law and make it clear to them. This is a clear indication of the people’s desire to return to the Lord and his commandments, seeking the Almighty with their whole heart. We do not hear any complaining, but rather see worship and praise to God as the Law is read. They even wept when the Law was read to them, to the point where Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites had to tell them that this was a holy day to the Lord, and they were not to mourn or weep, for it was a time of rejoicing. Indeed there was great rejoicing in Judah, for the people understood the words that were declared to them.
We find their continued diligence to the study of the Law as they find the feast of booths written therein (see Leviticus 23:33-44). When they heard these words, they set forth to carry out this feast, each making booths to dwell in for a week. Day by day during this festival, the book of the Law was read to them, and on the eight day a solemn assembly was held to the Lord. This was indeed a time of spiritual revival amongst the remnant of Israel.
Confession: Continuing on in the spirit of revival, the people of Israel assemble together with fasting and sackcloth and once again listened to the reading of the Law for a quarter of the day. Then, for another quarter, they made confession of their sins. They recognized their father’s and their own folly, and here we have a record of a written confession from the people of Israel in which they renew the covenant with the Lord, sealed with the names of their princes, Levites and priests. Notice what they use for the main body of their confession. It is not necessarily their own sin, but rather a history of the sin of Israel. They begin by praising and glorifying the Lord, and then move on to the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham their father (see Genesis 12:7). They talk about their affliction in Egypt and how the Lord brought them out by great signs and wonders (see Exodus7-14). Though He did this, the people still did not trust in Him when times got tough, and they rebelled time and again. They appointed a leader to lead them back. They made a golden calf. They would not go into the promised land due to their fear. But the Lord remained faithful, and whenever His people would return to Him, He would show mercy on them. We see the vicious cycle of Israel’s history of sin, however, that when times were good, they fell away from God, but when He brought punishment, they came back. In their confession, the people recognize the folly of their fathers and the faithfulness and mercy of their God. Time and again they fell away, and time and again they came back and He received them. When they get to the present day, they recognize that they are captives because of their iniquity, and fully acknowledge that the Lord is justified in the punishment that He brought upon them. That is why they are making this confession, because they know the Lord is a just God, but they also know that He is a merciful God who loves His people. They are writing this confession to return to the Lord and renew their covenant with Him. We can learn a lot from their spirit of revival and humility.
The obligations of the covenant: The opening of this chapter contains the names that were signed to the written covenant that was recorded in the previous chapter. The rest of the chapter contains what seems to be a written record of the obligations that the people, priests, Levites, gatekeepers, singers, temple servants and all who consecrated themselves to the Law of God took on to dedicated themselves to the Lord. They bound themselves by curse and oath to walk in the Law of God and in His commandments, not intermarrying with foreigners, neither doing business on the Sabbath and also releasing debts on the seventh year (see Leviticus 25:1-7). On top of these things, the people pledged offerings to the service of the Lord, including: a third of a shekel a year to the house of God, the first fruits of the ground and trees every year, the firstborn of their sons and cattle to consecrate and offer, respectively, the firstborn of their flocks and herds and the tithes that were to be brought to the storehouses. Notice how the new covenant they were establishing came at a sacrifice to them. These were not mere words that they would return to the Lord, but they had established deeds that they obligated themselves to, to show their dedication and renewed commitment. This was also a way of keeping them mindful and active in the covenant that they were making with the Lord, so that they would not fall into apathy or mindlessness in the time to come. They had made a firm stance that they would not neglect the house of God.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 142-144.
Give glory to the Lord.