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Revival Through the Word of God

Date: Aug. 11, 2013

Author: Michael Mark

Nehemiah 7:73b-8:18

Key Verse: Nehemiah 8:12

“Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.”

Our key verse today is very intriguing. The Israelites celebrated with great joy, because of what? Because they understood the word of God. The word of God has the power to give life, it has the power to sustain our lives, but it is of the utmost importance that we understand God’s word. Dr. Harry Ironside was a minister at the Moody Memorial church here in Chicago. He was born in 1876, and was saved at the age of 12 when he heard the preaching of D.L. Moody. Like Moody, he had a passion for evangelism, and tells a story of how he won one soul to Christ. He was looking for a seat on a train one day and found a half seat available because someone was sleeping across two chairs. He had missed an earlier train, but his soul was stirred to see if there was some reason God allowed him to miss the train. He sat down next to the man, praying all the while that if the Lord had something he would not miss the opportunity. The man eventually woke up and they talked for a little bit. Finally Dr. Ironside put the question to him: “Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ?” The man immediately sat up, and he said, “That’s remarkable! I’ve been so anxious about my salvation.” He had attended a revival meeting, and knew he was a sinner that needed a savior, but he was looking for someone who could help make the way of salvation plain to him. Dr. Ironside was delighted, and he showed him some scriptures to help him find peace with God.

After going through some of the great salvation verses in the New Testament, a light broke into the man’s soul. He said, “Oh I see it, yes, Christ died for me and if I trust him as my Savior, then the matter’s settled.” Dr. Ironside said yes, that’s it. The man said, “Well yes, I do trust him, and I can thank him now.” They prayed together, the man thanked God for his saving grace, and Dr. Ironside thanked God that he could be the messenger of his word. It was God that granted the man understanding of His word. The two men kept in touch for the next 2-3 years, and Dr. Ironside would testify that it was a delight to see that man grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The man found peace with God and great joy, because he came to understand the words of Scripture. Now let’s look at the power of the word of God for the Israelites in today’s passage.

In our last study of Nehemiah, there was fierce opposition to the rebuilding of the wall. His enemies devised a scheme to harm him by setting up a deceptive meeting. When that didn’t work, they tried to ruin his reputation by broadcasting lies throughout the land. When this didn’t work, they made threats to kill him in order to intimidate him. But Nehemiah prayed to God, “Now strengthen my hands,” and all of the Israelites stayed on target. The wall, spanning about 2 miles long, was completed in an impressive 52 days. When all of their enemies heard about this, they lost their self-confidence. Everyone, including the Israelites knew that this had been done with the help of the God of Israel.

Look at v.7:73b – 8:1, “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.” According to Neh 6:15, the wall was completed on the 25th of Elul, which is the sixth month. (Elul is between Aug/Sep on our calendars). Elul has 29 days. So 5 days after the wall was complete, the Israelites threw a big housewarming party! Actually, notice in v.1 that the “Lord had commanded for Israel.” This was a mandatory celebration called the “Feast of Trumpets,” and it was to take place on the first day of the 7th month. On this day a sacred assembly is to be held with trumpet blasts commemorating the event, a Sabbath rest is observed and a food offering was made to the Lord (Lev 23:23-25). Here we see all the Israelites gathering together, but the completion of the wall makes this a more special occasion, because now they can meet as one within the walls of the city. How big was this party? In the previous chapter, we see that 50,000 people returned in the first group of exiles. In the book of Ezra, around 1,500 men returned in the second group – but if you count wives and children, it could be well over 6,000 people. The Bible doesn’t say how many people came back with Nehemiah, but we can probably estimate around 60,000 people came to the city. That’s about the capacity of Soldier Field (football stadium). Wouldn’t be something, whenever you drove by Soldier Field, to imagine everyone going there to worship God instead of watching football?

Notice here also, a hunger, or a desire for the Word of God. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses. This is the first time we see Ezra here in Nehemiah. He actually arrived in Jerusalem 13 years before Nehemiah with the second group of exiles, but he must have been serving behind the scenes until now. They told him to “bring out the Book!” The Book of the Law of Moses consisted of the first 5 books in our Bibles – these first 5 books were all written by Moses. We still study them today, and they are as powerful today as they always have been. Many of you might have started out in the book of Genesis. But here we see that the people had a desire to listen to the word of God. According to Deut 31:10, the public reading of the Law was only required once every 7 years. Although we don’t know if this was the year it was supposed to be read, but we do see that the people wanted to know their God more. They were thankful to God for his help in building the wall, and they wanted to honor him and praise him by listening to his word. Think back to a time where you desperately called on the name of the Lord to help you in something, and he answered your prayer. Some people might have even made promises to God for answer to a prayer. When your prayers were answered, how did you respond? You wanted to give thanks, you wanted to give back to God whatever you could, and as we’ll see, the Israelites gave God worship.

Look at v.3, “He read it [the Book of the Law] 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. All the people listened attentively.” From daybreak till noon – that’s 6am until 12pm! They were having a 6-hour worship service! How about we have a 6-hour worship service? I can start right now. Verses 4-8 describes the details of this great assembly. A high wooden platform was built for the occasion, that’s what we call a pulpit. Ezra stood on the platform so that everyone could see and hear him, and there were 6 men on his right, and 7 men on his left. The platform was large enough to hold all those people. Given that it was 6 hours long, these men may have helped Ezra to read when he would get tired. Who was all there? Men, women and all who are able to understand. This might even include some children who could understand what was being taught. There wasn’t any segregation by age group or gender, but all attended to the preaching as one. And v.3 says they all listened attentively to the Book of the Law. They listened attentively. Now, they didn’t have cell phones at that time, but no one became bored, distracted or disinterested: all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. Are you all listening attentively? J

Now see how they worship. Look at v.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.” When we greet someone special or important, we stand up and shake their hand. If the president ever walked into this chapel, we would all stand up. Everyone here had a reverence for the Book, so as it was read, they all stood up. (If I open and close my Bible, will you all stand up and down)? Now look at v.6, “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” Ezra opened with a benediction, a prayer of praise to the Lord. It is not recorded what he said, but suppose it was something like Nehemiah’s prayer in Ch. 1, “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments…” And everyone lifted up their hands! They said, “Amen! Amen!” They heartily agreed with the praises, and they bowed down and worshipped with their faces to the ground. Now, we don’t have to do these things at every worship service, but do take note of the spirit and intensity of the worship. There have been times where some of us lift our hands in prayer, we say, “Thank you! Lord, thank you!” Sometimes we may be so humbled to bow our heads to the ground in our private rooms.

Verse 7 shows us that the Levites, 13 of them, assisted in the instruction of the Law. Here it says the people were standing there. During the entire time, the people stood up. Remember there are 60,000 people. It’s not clear how the assembly was conducted, but these Levites were helpful in seeing that everyone could be instructed. Maybe we can imagine it’s like one of the main sessions at our Summer conferences, but instead of 2-4 messengers there are 14, and instead of a 2 hour session it’s a 6 hour session, and at the same time there are some 13 or more group Bible study leaders leading concurrent group Bible studies. Or maybe every leader would just be preaching to a large group, or helping someone who had questions to understand.

Let’s look at v.8, “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.” The centerpiece of the worship and assembly was the preaching and teaching of the word of God. Ezra, who was the scribe and probably one of the few (if there were more) owners of a copy of the Book of the Law. Mass printing wasn’t available back then, but even now, though we all own a copy of the Bible, we need people to explain it to us. Digging out the truth and meaning of the text requires a lot of labor, but perhaps this was also part of Ezra’s job, to study the Scriptures so that he can make it clear to others. Understanding the word of God, however, requires full participation between the preacher and audience. The preacher must be able to handle the word of truth correctly. Even if the preacher is able to do so, the audience must pay attention and seek to understand. We saw here that the audience listened attentively. When Philip met the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, he heard the Eunuch reading Isaiah. Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” To which the Eunuch replied, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Even the man Dr. Ironside met in that story was looking for someone to make the way of salvation plain. If we want to understand the word of God, we must give our attention to it. Matthew Henry said, “The word of God commands attention and deserves it. If through carelessness we let much slip in hearing, there is a danger that through forgetfulness we shall let all slip after hearing.” This was my experience during the Summer conference. I was careless on listening to the messages, and I nearly forgot them all until I found the manuscripts to read what others are trying to teach.

The people were beginning to understand what was being read, and a revival was beginning to occur through the understanding of the word. All the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. They were weeping because they were being convicted of their sins. Some were guilty of intermarriage with foreign people. Tobiah the Ammonite, one of Nehemiah’s worst enemies, was married into 2 Israelite families. For this the Law would say, “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. (Deut 7:3-4).” In Ch. 5, we saw that some of the Israelites were selling brothers and sisters into slavery, in order to be bought back by their own people. They were charging their own people interest. To this the Law would say, “Do not charge a fellow Israelite interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. (Deut 23:19).” They were guilty of breaking God’s commands and guilty of breaking the Law of God. These were not the only laws they broke, among many others were those who committed idolatry and forsaken God. Their eyes were open to their own sins against God – but this was God’s grace to them. When they saw that they sinned, they had godly sorrow, and not wordly sorrow. The difference is, with godly sorrow, there is a faith in God.   It’s an acknowledgement of the holiness of God, and an acknowledgement of our wickedness and worldliness. But there is still a belief that God is good, gracious, compassionate and merciful, so godly sorrow will lead us to repentance. Worldly sorrow has no faith in God. That person knows he has done something bad, but either he hardens his heart, or becomes lost in despair. The Book of the Law tells us about God, and it also convicts us of our sins against him. We too are guilty. History has proven that even when God gave his Law, we are powerless to obey it. Even here, we ourselves may be guilty of idolatry, covetousness, lust, greed, envy or malice. The Israelites were grieving and mourning because they felt the guilt their sins against the holy God.

God is a God of comfort and mercy. Nehemiah now comes and joins the leaders of the assembly to give comfort and encouragement to all the people. They all tell the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” The Feast of Trumpets was indeed supposed to be a celebratory time. Sorrow and grief must not hinder our joy. There is a time for weeping and mourning, but now is a time for rejoicing. Look at v.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.’” The 6 hour worship service has now come to a close, and Nehemiah tells them to “Go” – go to your homes or neighbor’s homes, and enjoy special food. Enjoy the fat of the meat, and enjoy sweet drinks. The joy of the Lord is our strength. This is not a worldly joy – in the nice food, drinks and fellowship, this is the joy of the Lord. They are rejoicing in God’s goodness, his grace, his kindness, his peace, his mercy, and yes, even in God’s joy. Heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. And the joy of the Lord overcomes our grief and our mourning, it strengthens our faith. And when God’s people rejoice, no one is left out. Even those who do not anything prepared can share in the festivities.

Can we all please read v.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.” Look at the reason why they celebrated with great joy: it’s because they understood the words that had been made known to them. Here are some of the things they came to understand: at the end of the book of the Law, God gives this gracious promise: “When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, form there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back…The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deut 30:1-4,10)” They understood that God loves them and delights in them – but also that they should repent, return to and obey the Lord. When they understood the word they understood who God is and what duty he requires of them.

We see that the more the Israelites understand God’s word, the more they begin living as God’s people. That’s because they start to do the things God tells them to do in his word. The understanding of God’s word brings new life to a dead soul – but it also has the ability to sustain that life. We might not always have that exuberant joy, but we will have a constant peace and from time to time, we will have times of rejoicing. It seems the Israelites start from a hunger of the word to a love for the word. Look at v.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 word of the Law.” The previous day, some of these men were standing next to Ezra, but today, they have come to learn under him. They wanted to live under the rule of God’s word. This is a good example for us responsible men and women, heads of families, ministers, to continue to grow in our knowledge of the word of God. The word of God is living and active. Sometimes when we are doing our daily devotions, or at the Sunday service, the right word might speak to us at the right time. We can study John’s gospel 1000 times over, and still there might be something new we can learn from it. The word of God is the knowledge of God, it is the wisdom of God, which is infinite. Spurgeon once said, “Happily, a text of Scripture is like a diamond with many facets which sparkles and flashes whichever way it is held, so that, although I may have already printed several sermons upon a particular passage, there is still a fresh setting possible for the priceless gem, and I can go forward with my work.”

As they studied the Book of the Law, they found another command to obey – the Lord had commanded through Moses that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month. This is the Feast of Tabernacles, which God ordained to be held from the 15th to the 22nd day of the 7th month, which is the third week in that month. This is a Festival that commemorates the Israelites living in the wilderness after being delivered from Egypt, and serves as a reminder that God is their Protector and their Provider. In the wilderness God had protected them as a pillar of fire. He provided manna from heaven for them to eat. God also actually commanded this festival to be practiced. It specifically commands in Deut 16:14, “Be joyful at your festival.” This was an event everyone was looking forward too. There’s something about tents that people love. When my brother and I were kids, we would put a cardboard boxes in between our beds and spread a blanket over them, and that would be our little tent in the room. Does anyone like camping? Just imagine camping combined with Thanksgiving, for 7 days!!! It does truly reflect God’s love and grace that he ordains these festivals to rejoice and to remember him by.

The festival was supposed to take place on the 15th of the month, so the Israelites had about 2 weeks to gather materials to prepare for the festival. They found in the Book of the Law that they should proclaim this word: “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. That’s a funny proclamation. I was expecting something different, like, “Repent,” or “Be Joyful,” but the proclamation was: “Go and get some branches.” So the people went out and gathered the branches, and built their own shelters – all within the confines of the newly built wall.

Look at v.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.” They have celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles many times since the time of Joshua – they even celebrated it during their first return back from exile when they came back around 90 years ago with Zerubabbel. But it had never been like this. The wall was rebuilt. Their relationship with God was restored, and he had favor on them. That’s really the joy of life, to have God’s favor rest on you. But also, this was more than a ceremony – it was their joy of living now. There was new life to what they did. Their joy was VERY great! The word of God truly revived the Israelites, and they continued in it. Verse 18 tells us that every day, Ezra read from the Book of the Law. Although there was not a formal assembly, there were perhaps some who loved to hear the word of God.

When the Israelites understood the word of God, it revived them and enabled them to obey the commands of God, even with much rejoicing. How have you understood the word of God? What we can learn from the Israelites is that they returned to the Lord, repented, and were attentive to the preaching and teaching of God’s word. Question 3 of the Westiminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?” Answer: The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. For the Israelites, they learned that God is holy, just, he is merciful, compassionate, full of patience and full of love. Their duty was to obey the Mosaic Law, and so they held their Feasts with great rejoicing. How about us, should we uphold these feasts then? No, we do not have to. The Feast of Tabernacles pointed to one person: our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who left his home in heaven to dwell on earth as a man. All of the Scriptures point to one person: the Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. How are we to understand the Scriptures? Through the Scriptures we also learn that God is holy, just, merciful, compassionate, full of patience and love. We learn that the word of God testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. We learned that we are sinners, who cannot obey the Law (that’s why we don’t have to yoke ourselves under the old ordinances). We learn that Jesus Christ came to suffer and die for our sins, so that we may receive forgiveness and peace with God. Our work is to believe in Jesus Christ. Through the Scriptures, we seek to know Christ and him crucified, and he will give us strength to obey his commands. Apart from Christ we can do nothing, but in Christ we receive life.

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Daily Bread

I Will Spare Them No Longer

Amos 7:1-9

Key Verse: 7:8b

And the LORD said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

  “Behold, I am setting a plumb line
    in the midst of my people Israel;
    I will never again pass by them;

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Intro Daily