In Nehemiah chapter 8 we see people turning from their material needs to their spiritual needs. The walls of the city had been finished. People had moved into Jerusalem again and felt protected. And then the 7th month of the Jewish calendar arrived. It’s a very important month on their calendar. There are 3 special feasts that are celebrated in the 7th month:
– The New Year
– The Day of Atonement
– The Festival of Shelters.
Nehemiah 8:1 says, “In October, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled with a unified purpose at the square just inside the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the sribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had given Israel to obey.”
The material needs of the people had been met. Now it was time to address the spiritual needs. “Chapter 8-13 of the book (of Nehemiah) record that spiritual ministry: Instructing the people (chapter 8), confessing sin (chapter 9), dedicating the walls (chapters 10-12) and cleansing the fellowship (chapter 13).” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined)
There’s only one way to address the spiritual needs, and that is to get back into God’s Word. Nehemiah and Ezra recognized that. They saw that the people of Israel had not been taught the Word of God (or the Law as they called it) for some time. It was time to do that again and they started out with a great assembly in the city’s square. Ezra read from the Book of the Law and the Levites supported him by instructing the people. The people were very moved by God’s Word and they were weeping. But they had also just observed the Day of Atonement, where they confessed their sins and received God’s forgiveness. Instead of rejoicing in their forgiveness, they kept on mourning and weeping. And we see Nehemiah stepping in again and telling them: “Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the LORD your God… Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10 NLT)
The Day of Atonement was followed by seven days of happy celebration. “It isn’t enough for us to read the Word and receive the Word as others expound it; we must also rejoice in the Word.” (Warren W. Wiersbe, “Be Determined”)
And the people followed Nehemiah’s suggestion, they “went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.” (Nehemiah 8:12) The people heard God’s words and understood them, and that gave them reason to celebrate!!!
This just made me pause and think about they way I hear and receive God’s Word. Just yesterday I heard such a great sermon on “repentance” from Luke 13:1-9, and I understood God’s Word. But I did not take time to celebrate it. Why not? Well, yesterday after church we hurried home to watch the final game of the Eurocup 2012. Yeah, that’s right. A soccer game…
Today, Nehemiah taught me a lesson I hope I won’t forget so soon: Celebrate when you’ve heard God’s Word and when you’ve understood it! And what better way to do it than with great food and drinks, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength”!