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Saturday, June 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 8

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-18

Shall we turn at this time in our Bibles to Nehemiah chapter 8.

Nehemiah has returned to Jerusalem some ninety years after the first return. Some 160 years from the beginning of the Babylonian captivity. Babylon has been overthrown by the Medo-Persian Empire. Artaxerxes has become the king of Persia. Nehemiah was his cupbearer. Because of Nehemiah's obvious sadness in the presence of the king, something that was very unusual, the king questioned him on it. He said it was because of the reports that he had heard concerning Jerusalem; the walls of the city were a rubble; the gates were burned with fire; the people were very discouraged.

And so in 445 B.C. Artaxerxes gave the commandment to Nehemiah to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. And he returned as an appointed governor over the area by Artaxerxes and he encouraged the people in the building again of the walls of the city. And in spite of all of the obstacles, both from without and within, the work was accomplished in record time-fifty-two days they erected again the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Even though Tobiah, Sanballat and others had conspired against them, brought commando raids against them and all, still they accomplished the work of God in fifty-two days. And there was a great celebration of the fact that they had finished the walls.

Now as we get into chapter 8:

And all the people gathered themselves as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, that they had made for that purpose; and beside him stood [these other scribes]. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: and Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground ( Nehemiah 8:1-6 ).

Now we see this beautiful scene. The people have gathered together in the area that was there near the porch gate, the street in front of it. Ezra is standing on a little pulpit of wood that has been made for him, and he stands on this and reads to the people, both men and women who are standing there. From morning until midday he reads to them the law of the Lord. And they stand there listening attentively. About noon, after they had been there probably for five, six hours listening to the Word of God, he blesses the Lord, gives praise unto the Lord, and the people respond by lifting their hands and saying, "Amen, Amen."

Now the word Amen means, "So be it." So it is an acknowledgment of the blessing that Ezra had made. Let it be, let it be. And lifting their hands unto the Lord and then bowing their faces to the ground, they worshipped Him.

The Jews are rather demonstrative in their worship of God. It is interesting to go to the Western Wall to watch them. I don't know if it is a learned behavior or it's just something within them, but as they are reading their prayer book, they are constantly bowing. And as they get into it, they lift their voices higher and higher and they seem to be moving even faster, you know, as they really get into their prayer book and reading their prayers and all.

And then on Friday evening, the beginning of the Shabbat, the young men come from the Hebrew school in the upper part of the old city of Jerusalem and they will come four-wide. Their arms around each other and four-wide, a group of them will come down singing songs of welcoming the Sabbath and singing songs unto the Lord. Sort of coming down with a little kind of a dance step, and they will come on down into the area of the Western Wall, the large stone area there, and then they will start dancing as they are singing. And they will get in a circle and go through all kinds of dances as they are singing and worshipping the Lord. And then when they're through, they lock arms and they go out with a little stutter step again back up to the school.

But it is a very fascinating sight and it's something that we always like to observe when we are there in Jerusalem, the Friday evening beginning of the Sabbath and the worship of these people as their voices are lifted in praise unto the Lord. And as I say, they some of them get very demonstrative in their worship, but it is always a very fascinating experience to see.

Now here, if you can sort of close your eyes and picture it, Ezra has been reading to them out of the law of the Lord, and now about noon he just blesses God and the people all lift their hands and say, "Amen, Amen." Bowing their faces now, they bow down unto the ground. They begin to worship the Lord. Beautiful scene as the people are making now a commitment of themselves to the law of God; an acknowledgment of the law of God as the governing principles by which they are going to live.

Now as we read on, that as he read the law, there were certain of the Levites,

that caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. And they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave sense, and caused them to understand the reading ( Nehemiah 8:7-8 ).

I think that there's a real key here, and I think that it is something that we need to make note of. That is, that they read the Word of God distinctly, and then they caused them to understand the meaning. They actually expounded to them the scriptures.

I feel one of the greatest needs in the church today is the reading of the Word of God with the explanations. And expository preaching is probably the greatest need in the church today. And yet, it is amazing how little you'll actually find of the reading of God's Word and then just the giving of the explanation. You don't know how many thousands of people there are all over the United States who would like to trade places with you tonight. There are about a hundred people or so in Detroit, Michigan who have contacted us and they said, "We're praying and believing God to send us a pastor from Calvary Chapel. And we have started putting our tithes into a savings account just waiting, because we're confident God is going to send us a pastor. We've sought for a church throughout this city where we could just be taught the Word of God, where we can just gather and study the Word like you do at Calvary." They started listening to the radio, then they started sending for tapes. And now there's over a hundred people that are listening to tapes and they say, "Well, Chuck is our pastor." But they can't find a church where they can just gather and learn the Word of God. Find the teaching of the Word. It's an amazing thing how difficult it is to find a church that will just teach the Word of God and won't get all involved in the church hype or get all involved in emotionalism or something else. Just the plain teaching of the Word.

And in the New Testament church it said that they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine, in the breaking of bread, in the fellowship and in prayer. But to find a church that just does that is a difficult thing. And so we get letters. We got a call from people in Corpus Christi. There's over a hundred people down there that are praying that God will send them a pastor now from Calvary Chapel, because they've been listening to the tapes and all and they've been gathering. They gather every week, listen to tapes, and praying that God will send them a pastor-teacher who'll come down and will lead them. And it's just from all over the United States we're receiving requests of groups of people that are gathering, listening to the Word, want the Word of God, want the teaching of the Word of God, but can't find it in any of the churches in their community.

And I have a difficult time understanding this, because as far as I'm concerned, that's really what the church is all about. Learning the Word of God. Understanding what God's Word has to say to us. You don't need to learn my philosophies or man's philosophies. You can go to the university and get that. What you need is to learn what God has declared about life and the meaning of life, the purpose of life, the reason for life, the way of life.

And so this is what they were doing. They just read the scriptures distinctly and then these fellows explained them. They gave them the understanding. They made the scriptures clear to them. And they were reading out of the law of the Lord, explaining to them the law of the Lord.

Now Nehemiah, which is the [governor] Tirshatha [is the governor], and Ezra the priest and the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said to all the people, This day is holy unto the LORD your God; don't mourn or weep. For all the people were weeping, when they heard the words of the law. Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength ( Nehemiah 8:9-10 ).

So as they were reading the scriptures and as the scriptures were being explained, the people came under a godly conviction, for they realized how far they had failed in keeping the law of God. The Word of God brought conviction to their hearts. And realizing their failure before God, they began to weep as the scriptures were being read.

It's always a beautiful thing to see God's Spirit working in the hearts of people. It's always a beautiful thing to see how the Word of God is alive and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword and is able to pierce between the soul and the spirit. It really began to cut deep. That conviction just brings tears as people realize their failures. But they said, "Hey, don't weep, don't mourn. This is a day of rejoicing because we are renewing the covenant with God. It's a time of coming back to God. It's a time of restoration. And so go, eat the fat, drink the sweet. Give portions to those that have not prepared. For the joy of the Lord shall be your strength."

Oh, what joy there is in the Lord. What joy there is of the Lord. And what strength there is in that joy. God has intended that your life be filled with joy. That's God's will for you. God wants you to have a life full of joy. Peter speaks about the "joy that is unspeakable or indescribable and full of glory" ( 1 Peter 1:8 ). Jesus said, "that your joy may be full" ( John 16:24 ). And He was talking always about this fullness of joy. What a misconception it is of God to think that God wants to lay heavy burdens on all of us, to make us just have to grind through life and barely pull through. "I just pray God will help me to make it to the bitter end, you know. To endure." Well, God wants you to enjoy. And the command was to enjoy. The joy of the Lord shall be your strength. And oh what joy there is in walking with Jesus.

And so the Levites stilled all the people, they said, Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be grieved. So all the people went their way to eat, to drink, and to send portions, and to make great merriment, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them ( Nehemiah 8:11-12 ).

Oh, what a joy should fill your heart when you go from this place and you've understood the Word of God. You know, in the New Testament it talks about where the gospel went and so forth and it said, "And there was great joy in all that city" ( Acts 8:8 ) as the result of receiving the Word of God. The result of receiving the gospel always, it follows, there is great joy.

So they went their way to just make their merriment and all because they had understood the words.

And on the second day there gathered together the chief fathers of all the people, the priests, and the Levites, unto Ezra the scribe, even to understand the words of the law ( Nehemiah 8:13 ).

So the first day, it was a public meeting. All of the men and women plus those that were able to understand. So children from junior high school perhaps on. Those that were able to understand stood there for the reading and the explanation of the law of the Lord. Now on the second day, just the rulers had gathered together that they might be taught the law of God.

And they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, or in the courtyard, or in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come out of the captivity made booths, and they sat under the booths: for since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day the children of Israel had not been keeping this particular commandment ( Nehemiah 8:14-17 ).

Now this particular feast called Succoth or the Feast of Tabernacles which takes place in the seventh month of the Jewish calendar, it was commanded in the law of Moses that during this particular feast they were to make these booths and they were to move out of their houses and for a week live in these little booths that were made out of branches. Now as they made these booths, they had to leave enough space in the walls of the thatched walls of palm branches or whatever, they'd leave enough space for the wind to come blowing through. They'd leave enough space in the roof so that as they would lie there at night they could see the stars.

The purpose of the Feast of Tabernacles was to remind them how that God had preserved their fathers through the forty years of wandering in the wilderness. That's why they were to make booths. "Your fathers dwelt in tents for forty years. Now you're living in the land that God promised. You're living in a house and all and your plastered houses and all of this, so in order that you might really remember the hardships that your fathers endured, make these little booths. Move out and live in them for a week." And it will remind them of God's preservation of their fathers through the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and to give them a little taste of some of the inconveniences of living in booths or in thatched huts or whatever. And it reminded them of the forty years.

Also, the feast was to commemorate the fact that God was faithful to His promise and He brought them into the land and gave them the land that He had promised to their father Abraham. So a two-fold aspect of the feast of Tabernacles. Feast of tents. Remember the tent that your fathers dwelt in as they were in the wilderness and how God preserved them. But then the faithfulness of God: He kept His promise, and after forty years He brought them into the land that had been promised unto Abraham.

During the time of Christ, they further celebrated this particular feast by a daily procession of the priests from the temple mount down to the pool of Siloam where the priest would fill these great water pots with water from the pool, and then would come again singing up the steps back to the temple mount. And as the people were all gathered worshipping there, the priest would pour these water jugs out onto the pavement and let the water just splash on the pavement. And that was a reminder to them of how that God provided water out of the rock in the wilderness for their fathers. And they would sing and worship God as the water was poured out on the pavement during the days of the Feast of the Tabernacles. They did that for seven days. The feast lasted for eight days. On the eighth day there was no procession to the pool of Siloam. There was no pouring out of water. This was to commemorate the fact God brought us into the land, a land that is well-watered, a land that we do not need a miraculous supply out of the rock. That we are now dwelling in the land that God had promised. And so the eighth day no pouring of water, no procession. Just as an acknowledgment that God had kept His covenant with Abraham. Kept His word with their fathers, brought them into the land.

Now the Bible tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem on the last day, the great day of the feast, which was the Feast of Tabernacles. And He cried saying, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto Me, and drink" ( John 7:37 ). This was the day that they didn't make the procession to the pool of Siloam. And Jesus declaring Himself as the Rock from which the water of life flows.

To the present day, many of the Orthodox Jews still build little booths beside their houses, and they'll move out and live in these booths for the seven-day period of the Feast of Tabernacles. When we were in Jerusalem and in Haifa and all during the Feast of the Tabernacles several years ago, beside several of the houses we saw these little booths that the people had made. And they moved out of their houses and lived in these inconvenient little booths, and they do it to the present day. There are probably Orthodox Jews here in Orange County that do live in these little booths for the period of the feast.

Now it is interesting on the feasts of the Jews... the three major feasts were Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of the Tabernacles. On these three feasts all the male Jews had to come to Jerusalem to present themselves to God. They all just came to stand here before God. "Here we are, God, Your people." And there was great celebration, great feasting and all during this period of time.

Two of the feasts have been fulfilled, for they were prophetic. They were looking forward. They are all of them prophetic, looking forward to future events. The Feast of Passover commemorating the lamb that was slain in order that the firstborn might be spared the death was only a foreshadowing of the Lamb of God that was to be slain in order that we might have life. That we should "not perish but have everlasting life" ( John 3:16 ). And thus, it was significant that Jesus was crucified during the Feast of the Passover in order that He might fulfill that which that feast foreshadowed. The Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world.

The Feast of Pentecost was a celebration of the firstfruits. For fifty days after the Feast of Passover, they would go out and they would cut the corners of their fields and bind the sheaves and bring them in and offer them to God in a wave offering. And this was saying to God, "Here, Lord, are the firstfruits of the harvest that You have given to us this year." Because the spring wheat and grains and so forth all ripen up about June over there, and so they offer to God the firstfruits of the harvest there in June at the Feast of the Pentecost. And it was significant that when the day of Pentecost was fully come, as the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem, suddenly there was the sound from heaven like as unto a mighty rushing wind and it filled all the house where they were seated. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke in other tongues as the Spirit gave them the utterance with the ability to do so. And it happened right on the day of the Feast of Pentecost, which, again, is significant because there, when 3,000 people were added to the church, was the firstfruit of the glorious harvest that God was going to gather together in the church, the bride for Jesus Christ. And the firstfruits of that were on the day of Pentecost, the day in which they were offering to God the firstfruits of the great harvest. And so that feast was always foreshadowing the firstfruit of the bride of Christ, the great harvest that God was going to gather.

Now the Feast of Tabernacles. Remember it commemorates the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, but it also commemorates the covenant of God completed. Coming into the Promised Land and now dwelling in this glorious land of promise. The earth has been going through a long wilderness period. But God is going to keep His promise.

Peter said to us, "God is not slack concerning His promises as some men count slackness, but He is faithful to us-ward. But there will be those in the last days, scoffers will say, 'Where is the promise of His coming? Since our fathers had fallen asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning.'" Peter said, "Not so, there are things that you're not taking into consideration." The flood. And you're also not taking into consideration that God, well the flood that God has in catastrophes entered into the history of man to alter the situations. Plus, you don't take into consideration the time dimension that one day is as a thousand years to the Lord. A thousand years is as one day. But then he said, "God is not slack concerning His promises." And he's referring directly to the promise of the coming again of Jesus Christ. But He is faithful. And then he tells us the reason for the delay. "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" ( 2 Peter 3:9 ).

Now the earth has been going through a long wilderness experience, but we're going to be coming soon into the glorious Promised Land, the promised kingdom, the promised age. It's going to happen. And I am convinced that when Jesus returns to establish the Kingdom Age, He'll do it during the Feast of the Tabernacles. And thus, fulfill the third of the major Jewish feasts. And so I anticipate the return of the Lord in what would be in our calendar October. Not... don't say, "Chuck said He's coming this October." I didn't say this October. But when He comes to establish His kingdom and sets His foot on the Mount of Olives, it will be in the month of October.

Now I know that it's at least seven years off, at least. How many years off, I don't know, but at least seven years off because there's one more seven-year period that has to be fulfilled upon the nation Israel. So, but when it does happen, I'm certain that it will happen in October. That the third of the major Jewish feasts might thus be fulfilled. And so two of them have now been fulfilled. The third one waits. But how significant going through the long wilderness and now entering in to the promise, the Promised Land. The glorious promises of God.

And so they discovered the Feast of Tabernacles written there in the law. They had not known about it. They made their little booths and they moved out.

And they kept the feast for seven days; and on the eighth day the solemn assembly, according to the manner ( Nehemiah 8:18 ).

The Feast of Tabernacles actually lasted for eight days. The seven days of the feast and then they had this solemn assembly. It was on the day of the solemn assembly that Jesus stood and cried saying, "If any man thirsts, let him come into Me and drink."


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/nehemiah-8.html. 2014.
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