f you ever wondered about the power of God's word to transform people take some time to read again this chapter of Nehemiah. One group of people has rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem and made their city secure. Another group, under Ezra, has made the temple acceptable again as a place of worship. When the work was done; when the people had "settled in their own towns" a gathering was called. Its purpose, to read the Law of Moses.
A pretty common Hebraic writing style is to summarize everything in a couple of sentences and then expand on it later. That is what verse 3 does. "He [Ezra] read it [the Law of Moses] 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."
As the passage moves on we get a feel for what this actually looked like. Ezra and group of select men, and we do not know why, stood on a platform so everyone could see what was happening. Have you ever wondered why in a Catholic church everyone stands when the Gospel is brought into the sanctuary and again when it's read? Here's the scriptural evidence for it right here. Ezra unrolls the scroll and everyone stands. He praises God and the people raise their hand, that's where the Pentecostals must get it from (LOL). They cry out "Amen, Amen"; thus the Baptist practice (again LOL) and finally they fall on their faces before God.
Most likely, the way this worked was that parts of the Law of Moses were read, The Levites read from not read v.8. As each part is read it makes sense that the gathered Levites moved among the crowd to explain, expand and encourage those who have been listening. The result of this careful reading and explaining is that the people understood what Ezra and others were reading.
After this four-hour sermon they all headed off to watch football and head to the park with the family. No their response is one of sadness and anguish. Hebrews 4: 12 tells us "The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Paul tells Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness".
In the face of God's Judgment the prophet Joel writes,
"Even now," declares the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the LORD your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity." Joel 2:12-13
God's word cuts deep. The words reminded the people of how they had not been doing what God had said. The Law judged them. The Law explained how they had married into forbidden nations, and compromised their trust in YHWH.
This was no "I'm OK, You're OK" message. There was no Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller or other positive thinking preacher spinning the words of God to their own ends. No political correctness, no making everybody feel-good, no soft peddling or dumbing down God's word.
God's Law was allowed to rip the scabs off the wounds in the lives of God's people. The reading coupled with the explanation and application by the Levites had the effect of bringing the people to a place of sorrow and repentance. And they cried.
Ezra's reaction and that of Nehemiah is quick, "Don't cry!" How could you not be upset when you heard those judgments against people who did what they had done? Because God, who promised those judgments, is also the Lord pours out a constant grace. As Nehemiah says, "the Joy of the Lord is their strength and stronghold."
Instead of a diet of tears, they were ordered to have a party. The best of everything, choice food and sweet drinks, and no one was to be left out of this party. Check out verse 12 again, "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."
Let me suggest that we too can have the type of joy which Jerusalem experienced that day. Like them, the joy of the Lord is our strength; but we know the fullness of that Joy in Jesus Christ. But it is the scripture which shows Jesus to us and reveals God's commands and instructions. And when we step away from our personal responsibility to study and seek God in His Word we risk coming to a place where we don't want to be.
A week from Monday I hope each of us will begin this adventure of reading through the Bible. It won't be easy. I'll have a hard time of it as I have to carve out time but let me help you get over a couple of the excuses we offer when we think of reading the Bible.
It's too big. First of all that's why it was separated into chapters and verses about the 13th century. It's also not that long when you start comparing it to other books and series. If you read Jordan's Wheel of Time series you've got about 7,200 pages to read. If you read the Star Wars books which take place after the last movie you've got over a hundred individual books to read. If you read John Grisham's books dealing with his legal fiction you've got about 6,800 pages to read. I know some of you read that much.
Another common concern about the Bible is that it's too hard to understand. Listen to this:
Tangible personal property. Tangible personal property is any tangible property that is not real property. It includes the following property.
· Machinery and equipment.
· Property contained in or attached to a building (other than structural components), such as refrigerators, grocery store counters, office equipment, printing presses, testing equipment, and signs.
· Gasoline storage tanks and pumps at retail service stations.
· Livestock, including horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, and mink and other furbearing animals.
The treatment of property as tangible personal property for the section 179 deduction is not controlled by its treatment under local law. For example, property may not be tangible personal property for the deduction even if treated so under local law, and some property (such as fixtures) may be tangible personal property for the deduction even if treated as real property under local law.
Off-the-shelf computer software. Off-the-shelf computer software placed in service during the tax year is qualifying property for purposes of the section 179 deduction. This is computer software that is readily available for purchase by the general public, is subject to a nonexclusive license, and has not been substantially modified. It includes any program designed to cause a computer to perform a desired function. However, a database or similar item is not considered computer software unless it is in the public domain and is incidental to the operation of otherwise qualifying software.
That's our federal tax code. Want more; consider the rules that Doris and her company have to understand to run a trucking company. What about drivers tests, immigration rules or items dealing with building permits here in Portland? Folks we deal with confusing things everyday but we get by because we have to.
My prayer is that we won't let our old excuses stop us from moving in a new direction in faith. I pray we won't be like Israel, who forgot God's law, and consequently damaged their relationship with Him. I pray we will hear God's word, understand what Christ is telling us and be able to celebrate joyfully the new thing Christ's Word does in our life. Pick up your reading guide and if you need one, a journal. If we run out I'll print out some more for next Sunday.
 New Bible Dictionary [Third Edition] p. 355
 Nehemiah 7:73