- Neh. 8:1-10:39
On the first day of the seventh month in the year 444 B.C., the Israelites gathered in Jerusalem as Ezra read the Law of Moses. Here's what the Bible says about these events:
1 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. 2 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. 3 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.
4 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. 5 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. 6 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.
(Neh. 8:1-6 NKJV)
The Israelites were very sad as the Law was read, so they began to cry. However, Nehemiah and the other leaders told them not to weep because this day was a day of celebration to the LORD. So the people went away to eat and drink after the Law was read.
On the following day, the people again gathered to hear Ezra read the Law, and they discovered that they were to observe the Feast of Tabernacles during the seventh month of the year. All the people were to live in tents during the first week of the seventh month as a reminder of their forefathers' journey from Egypt to Canaan when they lived in tents. The Bible says that, from the days of Joshua until this time, there had not been as great an observance of the Feast of Tabernacles as the people did that year. Every day during the feast, Ezra read from the Law of Moses.
On the 24th day of the month, the Israelites gathered for a day of confession. They worse sackcloth and put dust on their heads and fasted. They separated themselves from the foreigners among them and they stood while the Law was read for a quarter of the day. Then they spent another quarter of the day confessing their sins and worshiping GOD. Several Levites led the people in prayer to GOD while the people stood. In this prayer, they recounted the events of their history from the day GOD called Abram from Ur to the present time. They told GOD that on this day they were all making a written covenant to keep the Law of GOD which they had failed to do in times past.
These events are among the most beautiful in all of GOD's word, for this paints a beautiful picture of true repentance. Let's focus on several lessons we can learn here:
- When we don't regularly read GOD's Word, we forget what it says and we fail to keep His commands.
- When we fail to keep GOD's commands, we suffer as a result, both from the consequences of our own sins, as well as the punishments that come upon us as a result of our wickedness. GOD will not allow us to simply leave Him without Him pursuing us to get us to change our ways. Think of how many years, and how many prophets He sent in hopes of returning Israel from its wickedness.
- When we realize that we are far from GOD, the path back is often difficult. Repentance is hard. These people had to make major changes in order to restore their relationship with GOD. They had to divorce their foreign wives and put away their children by these wives. They had to change their lifestyle and stop living sinful lives.
- Repentance is always worth whatever cost is involved. Jesus said, "What will a man give in exchange for his soul?"
- True worship is heart-felt and not just showing up, going through the motions. These people stood in respect for GOD's word! They bowed with their faces on the ground before GOD in order to humble themselves before Him. They demonstrated their desire to serve GOD and honor Him with a written agreement for how they would live each day. Simply showing up isn't worship, nor is it received as acceptable to GOD.