“ . . .and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” (Nehemiah 8:3c ESV)
Nehemiah 8 is a chapter of new beginnings. Here, Ezra appears for the first time in the narrative. You may recall that he determined to teach the Law of God to the people of God. Nehemiah himself is also in this chapter, which shows how the mission of both men was really one mission: to rebuild the covenant community. Nehemiah primarily took care of the physical (the walls, the defense) while Ezra primarily took care of the spiritual (the Law and obedience). Now, with the temple built, the walls finished, and the exiles returned, it was time to once again establish the covenant God made with his people.
Toward this end, Ezra and Nehemiah led a worship service of renewal. This service lasted for days. There was rejoicing and feasting. There was lifting up of hands and bowing down in worship. There was weeping and reverence. Woven throughout each day was the reading and teaching of the Law of God.
The scriptures took precedence in this time of covenant renewal. All the people – including children – listened with attentive ears and hearts. They were engaged. They responded in praise, tears, and shouts of “amen!” Ezra and Nehemiah gave the sense and the people were both convicted and encouraged.
What a record of the prominence of God’s words for God’s people! The Bible has much to say about its own authority, importance, and relevance for the believer, but here we have a vivid illustration of how God’s people ought to approach the proclamation of the Word of God.
This chapter has much to teach us. First, we learn of the scripture’s essential prominence for the renewal of God’s people. We’re awakened to faith by the word of God and so the people are continually reformed by it. Second, we learn of its essential prominence in the public gathering of worship. A “worship service” fails to honor God, even if it contains the highest-quality musical performances, if the word of God is not taught with reverence and joy. Third, we learn of scripture’s essential prominence in guiding us. The people put a lot of trust in their leaders but they were hungry for the word of the Lord and ready to obey it. The word of God, not Ezra or Nehemiah, is what stirred the people to action.
Nehemiah 8 preaches itself. Its relevance should be obvious to any believer. Do you treasure the word of God? Do you come ready and hungry to hear it proclaimed? Are you ready to obey its precepts as it is faithfully taught and preached? May the Lord revive us by his word!