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Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Nehemiah 8

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Verse 1


After we have been through the rebuilding of the wall in Nehemiah 1-7, it is now the turn of teaching God’s people. In Nehemiah 8 the Word of God regains its authority after the separation from evil represented in the rebuilding of the wall. When we are in the true position before God, His Word will touch our hearts deeper than when we are in a false position. We only gain insight into God’s thoughts if we are where God wants us to be. Here is God’s people in God’s land and in God’s city, and here God’s Word is of use.

In Babylon and Assyria there may also be souls who read the law of God. But there everything is so unnatural, so contrary to what the law says to God’s people. Circumstances make it impossible to give effect to many precepts of the law. The Word then does not make the same impression as when they are in a place where it is possible to do so. Truths of Scripture that they cannot live up to because they are outside the land lose their power and speak little to the heart.

Nehemiah 8-10 belong together. They form an intermediate sentence. In Nehemiah 11 the thread with Nehemiah 7:4 is picked up again. In Nehemiah 8-10 the people go through a spiritual process. This is necessary in order to live in the cities in the right spirit. The process begins with listening to God’s Word, which then has a deep effect on the conscience and leads to sanctification.

When they examine the law (Nehemiah 8:13-2 Chronicles :), they find, as it were, something of what they have lost. This is quite late when we consider that these are people who have lived in Israel for at least eighty years. So we are not dealing with people who have just returned from Babylon. Then we could understand that because of their long stay in Babylon they have completely forgotten about the feasts. But even if the people have long since returned to the land, that does not mean that God’s Word has authority over the lives again and is being examined.

Yet God blesses when there is faithfulness. The Israelites are back in their cities. They have regained their place in the land that God has allotted to them. Then they are in the right position to receive God’s blessing through His Word. God’s blessing is always connected with His Word.

As One Man

“All the people” gathers (Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 8:3; Nehemiah 8:5Nehemiah 8:6; Nehemiah 8:9Nehemiah 8:11; Nehemiah 8:12Nehemiah 8:13). The wall is no obstacle for the whole people to gather “as one man” in the square in front of the Water Gate. The wall is not there to separate the people, but to protect the house of God.

In the same month that the first generation has returned and restored the altar (Ezra 3:1), the people are asking for the law. Divine worship, of which the altar is the symbol, and interest in the Word always go hand in hand. This is where Ezra is again coming forward. Nehemiah and Ezra complement each other and each acknowledges the place of the other. Ezra returned from exile to Jerusalem some fourteen years before Nehemiah. His teaching first had an effect (Ezra 10:11-2 Kings :; Ezra 10:19), but its influence slowly faded away. Ezra did not impose himself, but withdrew. Now that his service is being asked again, he is immediately ready to serve.

Ezra is asked to bring “the book. It is not about the opinion of Ezra or the teachings of Nehemiah, it is about what God has said. It is a bad thing if human writings or opinions are aligned with Scripture. This is sometimes to be feared in relation to the writings of esteemed brethren. Then you sometimes hear of an appeal being made to what a gifted and authoritative brother has written, as if that were the end of all contradiction.

All this time Ezra has been there, but there is no longing for God’s Word. Now that the Spirit is working in a man who is doing the work of God, there is a new longing among the people for the Word of God. Ezra and his ministry are brought in again. Happy is the servant who, like Ezra, can withdraw if his service is not asked for and who is willing to serve if one is ready and asks for it.

Verse 2

Ezra Brings the Law Before the Assembly

It is the first day of the seventh month. On that day the Feast of blowing the trumpet should be celebrated. Yet they do not come together for that. In a time of decay, the first thing to happen is not to restore the feasts, but to re-establish the authority of the Word over the consciences of God’s people.

Ezra comes without delay as soon as he is asked to come. He is as anxious as ever to teach God’s Word to God’s people. He brings the Word to the people, not his own thoughts about the Word. He does not present it as something on which everyone is allowed to have their own opinion, no, he brings “the law before the assembly “.

There is no separate teaching for each group. Men, women and children listen to the same part of God’s Word (Deuteronomy 31:12; cf. John 8:35). Together they form God’s people. To them, that is to say to everyone who can listen with understanding, Ezra brings the Word. It says nothing about the presence or absence of small children. Nor does it say anything about the possibility of coming together as men or as women or as young people. However, it emphasizes a meeting in which everyone who belongs to God’s people is present to listen to God’s Word. With every revival the Word gets the attention of the whole people (2 Kings 23:2).

This is not about personal Bible study, which is also important, but about a meeting in which the whole people receive instruction from the Word of God. The shaping through God’s Word is not only focused on the individual believer, but also on the whole. Being engaged together with God’s thoughts is of immense importance for the experience of the unity of God’s people.

In order to listen fruitfully, ‘understanding’ is needed. That is not to say that God’s Word appeals to our intellect, but that a certain spiritual maturity and, above all, a spiritual mind is needed which makes it possible to absorb what comes to us from God’s Word. It does not necessarily mean that we understand everything. It is about the inner conviction that what we hear are words of God that He speaks, so that we will act accordingly.

Verse 3

Listening to the Word

The people have gathered before the square which was in front of the Water Gate (Nehemiah 8:1). There they still are when Ezra comes. To underline the importance of that place, the Holy Spirit again mentions the name of the place where Ezra is going to read now.

There is often discussion about the length of the sermon. In such discussions you can hear that a good sermon should not last longer than twenty minutes at the most. According to the ‘scholars’, this is on average the maximum that a person can concentrate. After twenty minutes the attention slackens quickly, that is the argument. Fortunately, in those days they were not familiar with studies with such outcomes and recommendations related to them. Ezra does not give a ‘twenty-minute sermon’.

By the way, he does not preach at all. He reads aloud. He does so “from early morning until midday”. And is there any slackening of attention? On the contrary. “All the people were attentive to the book of the law.” They listen with taut ears, afraid to miss a word. Boredom doesn’t get a chance to strike. The attention of everyone present is captured by the Word for at least four hours in succession. This is a beautiful and jealous spirit.

Verse 4

On a Podium

Ezra stands at a podium . That elevation was made especially for this purpose. It does not say that it was done on the advice of Ezra. There must have been a feeling that everyone should have the opportunity to get in touch with the law. It is not the intention to elevate Ezra, but the Word. Through the elevation the whole people can see the book. Probably Ezra is in possession of the only copy.

Seeing a Bible, getting hold of a copy to feel it, has already caused tears to many people. Often testimonies have been given, for example by believers in countries where the Bible is a forbidden book or by groups who get a Bible in their own language for the first time. Such a tribute can be seen in people who have either never had a Bible or have been deprived of it for a long time.

There are people who collect old Bibles because of their material or antique value. That’s not what Ezra and the people are about and that’s not what believers are about in countries where the Bible is forbidden reading. Those who are gripped by the message of the Bible will cherish a copy of it as the most precious possession.

The elevation is a kind of plateau that also accommodates thirteen Levites, six of whom are on the right hand and seven on the left hand of Ezra. It is reminiscent of Peter with the eleven apostles on Pentecost (Acts 2:14).

Verse 5

The Book Is Opened

Because of his elevated position Ezra can be seen and heard by all. All see how he opens the book. When he opens the book, a wave of reverence goes through the people. They all stand up out of reverence. The Lord Jesus also stood up to read and the eyes of all in the synagogue are also fixed on Him (Luke 4:16; Luke 4:20).

Do we, do I, get impressed every time we read the Bible or hear it read out? Can I say, “I rejoice at Your word, as one who finds great spoil” (Psalms 119:162)? Is God’s Word so special to me? Or has it become so mundane that we no longer feel the uniqueness of God’s speaking through His Word?

It is not about reverence for a material book, but about every letter in it. Every letter comes from God, “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). We do not have God’s Word in the Bible, as if there were words in the Bible that were not given by Him. The whole Word of God “is the truth” (John 17:17). Words spoken by the devil and written down in the Bible are also in it because God wants them to be in the Bible.

Verse 6

Glory to the LORD the Great God

The first consequence of opening the book is an attitude of reverence as well as a spirit of reverence. Ezra praises the LORD the great God. The right attitude in opening God’s Word is that of praise. It is also a great good that God has made His thoughts known to us. Respect and thanksgiving will fill our hearts each time we open His Word to hear Him speak.

The mind of the people is manifested in the pronunciation of the “Amen, Amen!” They affirm what God says before they have heard what He says. There is acknowledgment and consent in advance. They lift up their hands to heaven to receive the coveted blessing from the LORD. Among the believers in Berea we also see that they first “they received the word with great eagerness” and then “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). If there is a mind to accept and do everything God says without objection, the truth will be known and enjoyed.

The people feel the presence of God Himself in the presence of God’s Word. They are impressed by Him and bow down in worship before Him and pay homage to Him. They make themselves small, so that He becomes great.

Verse 7

Explanation of the Law

Ezra is not alone when he reads the law. The thirteen who stand with him (Nehemiah 8:5), are a witness together with him of what he reads. In addition, thirteen other Levites support the service of Ezra by explaining the law to the people. There is no need for the people to move. The Levites come to the people, the explanation is brought to them (cf. Acts 8:30-Obadiah :).

The testimony, the law, the Word of God, comes from above, from the podium on which Ezra stands. This symbolically indicates that the Word of God is above the people and also that it is above all doubt. Those who teach, however, should not do so from above, but on the level of God’s people. Servants are not above the people, but are part of them.

Verse 8

Reading and Explaining

When it is read aloud, it must be done clearly. This is all the more necessary for the time of Ezra because no one has a copy of what is being read and therefore cannot be read along with it. Reading aloud has always been important (1 Timothy 4:13). That’s where it starts. When reading from God’s Word, the listener is placed in the direct presence of God.

Then what has been read aloud must be explained and applied to heart and conscience (1 Timothy 4:13; Luke 4:16-Ecclesiastes :; Acts 13:14-Nehemiah :). The Levites ensure that all understand what has been read (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:9-Proverbs :). It is the teacher’s task, as the gift of the Lord Jesus to His church (Ephesians 4:11), to explain the Word of God. He will do this in a way that the hearers understand. He will also have the desire that the Word does its work in the hearts and consciences of the hearers. The spoken and explained Word is an active force, it is dynamic and works in those who accept it in faith (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Explaining it cannot be done by someone who has just come to faith. He himself must first be taught. Otherwise a blind person would lead a blind person, with the result that both perish (Matthew 15:14).

Verse 9

The Effect of the Word

The result of reading and explaining the Scriptures is that the people become aware of their failure and sin. They are not only hearers, but also doers. They have seen themselves in the mirror of the Word and have not forgotten what they look like after reading it (James 1:23-Lamentations :). The Word works in their conscience and they weep. The day of great victory becomes at the same time a day of deep awareness of sin. In the light of God’s Word, they discover how serious their failure is.

While reading and explaining God’s Word, Nehemiah is in the background. He acknowledges Ezra’s rightful place in this as God has given him. This is an example of good cooperation and appreciation of the gift that the LORD has given to another member of His people. When the Word gets its effect, Nehemiah comes forward again. There must be government again, there must be an indication of what the people must do. Nehemiah takes the initiative for this – at least, it seems, because he is mentioned first – and Ezra and the Levites join him.

These men declare that the tears can be dried. Mourning and weeping are good, but not on this day. For on this day it is not the people that are the center, but the LORD their God. It is a day especially dedicated to Him. By reading His Word He has laid hold on this day. When the Word is read and gets its effect, all honor goes to Him. In this case being busy with one’s own failure shifts the attention too much from the greatness and goodness of the LORD to the misery of man.

Verse 10

The Joy of the LORD Is Strength

Wherever the LORD becomes the center of the people, He lets the people share in His joy. Nehemiah knows his God. He knows the joy of God is to see that His people are happy and that they enjoy the good gifts He gives them. They may eat delicacies, of the best in the land, and drink of the sweet. If they so enjoy God’s good gifts, they will not forget those who have nothing. They will let the poor share in the joy by sending them a portion of their gifts. In doing so they will be imitators of God, Who has acted in goodness with the people in this way.

If the Word has discovered our failure and we repent, we will once again consecrate ourselves to the Lord. A first result of dedication is that we will enjoy the Word as a source of refreshment and strength. As a result, we will become a channel of blessing for others.

When our own failure has become clear to us, we can then be reminded of the power that preserves us from further failure. After the sadness, joy can come again. After failure service for the Lord comes again. For this service, strength is needed. That strength lies in the joy in the Lord.

If we are put on a dead end in our service, or if we do not receive thanks or recognition, it is difficult to hold on to this joy. But why should things be any different for us than for the Lord Jesus? He does not reap any thanks or recognition either. Yet He rejoices “in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). And when Paul is imprisoned, really on a dead end, he does not sit there sulking and being pathetic, but speaks abundantly of joy, as is evident from his letter to the Philippians which he writes from his imprisonment (Philippians 1:4; Philippians 1:18Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:17-Job :Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:1Philippians 4:4; Philippians 4:10).

Verse 11

A Holy Day

The Levites help Nehemiah to calm the people. If the spoken Word is to have its effect, its effect must also be guided. We see the same with the disciplinary measure applied in 1 Corinthians 5 (1 Corinthians 5:13). In 2 Corinthians 2, the man who was removed from among the believers as a wicked person is overwhelmed with sadness. The Corinthians are then encouraged by Paul to forgive and comfort him so that he is not “overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:7). Those who are impressed by the Word must also learn to subject their feelings to it in the right way. The danger of going in a certain direction is always present.

The Levites calm the people by pointing out that it is a holy day, that is, a day dedicated to the LORD. Dedication to God cannot go hand in hand with sorrow. They may be silent and need not be sad any more. They may rest at the thought that the LORD is at work. When He is at work, man may rest therein and rejoice.

Verse 12

The Words Are Understood

The people have understood. The message has come into their hearts. They go away to enjoy, because God has said it. This is the great enjoyment of God’s good gifts, together with a great joy. Those who have accepted God’s great gift in the Lord Jesus and all the blessings associated with it, enjoy it and also enjoy great inner joy.

What the people enjoy is the result of the reading of the law and the teaching of the Levites. First they came to repentance. Then they were told that this day with its far-reaching events is for the LORD. Then they were encouraged to have a feast and let those who have nothing to share in it. Nothing went out of the people themselves. They acted only on the instruction of the Levites. Such action receives the seal of God’s approval.

Verse 13

Desire For Insight Into God’s Word

The interest for the Word remains. The desire for the Word of the previous day has not been a superficial emotion that has vanished a day later. On the second day, the heads of the fathers, the priests and the Levites come to Ezra to be taught from the law. These men have a responsible task in the midst of the people. They realize that they first need education in God’s Word in order to carry out that task properly.

Taking the place of a student also remains necessary for a teacher. A person can only teach others what he himself has learned from others. Even the Lord Jesus has taken the place of a disciple (Isaiah 50:4). Timothy must pass on to others what he has learned from Paul (2 Timothy 2:2).

Verses 14-15

Rediscovering the Feast of Booths

Whoever is engaged in the Word with the desire to know God’s will, will discover God’s will. Here it happens in relation to the Feast of Booths. During their examination of the law, they find the commandment about living in booths in the seventh month (Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:34; Numbers 29:12; Deuteronomy 16:13-Ezra :). This feast is to be held when all the harvests of the land have been gathered. That is why it is also called the “Feast of the Ingathering” with the statement that with it also “the end of the year” has come (Exodus 23:16).

The time of effort is over; they no longer need to be busy with their work, but may rejoice in the results. When the whole harvest of the land has been gathered, can it be otherwise than that the whole people, full of thankfulness to the LORD, celebrate a feast for Him? When we oversee all the blessings with which God has blessed us, can it be any other than that our hearts overflow with thankfulness and joy?

The feast begins with a sabbath rest – which does not mean that the first day of the feast also falls on a sabbath – and it ends with it. The Feast of Booths speaks of the millennial realm of peace, the great day of rest for creation, a rest in which the nations will also share (Zechariah 14:16-Psalms :). The day of rest at the beginning speaks of the beginning of a period of rest that follows. This represents the beginning of the millennial realm of peace, the time called the “administration of the fullness of the times” (Ephesians 1:10). This is the time when God’s intention is fulfilled, namely “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Christ will then reign over creation together with His church as the true Adam with His wife.

The LORD wants them to celebrate this feast to remind them of the time when He led them through the wilderness, where they lived in tents and not in houses. He takes their thoughts back to the time immediately after their deliverance from Egypt, to His care for them during the wilderness journey. He also lived with them then in a tent. The memory of His care and His proximity will have filled them with great gratitude. Unlike the Passover, which can be celebrated in the wilderness, the Feast of Booths cannot be celebrated in the wilderness, but only in the land. It is a harvest festival and there is nothing to harvest in the wilderness.

When they discover the precept for this feast during their examination of God’s Word, they do not find anything new, but rediscover a forgotten truth. For centuries it has been in the law. But the book of law has become a forgotten book. As a result, God’s precepts for the feasts have also been forgotten. God is withheld what He is entitled to from the side of His people. His people are no longer aware of the blessings associated with doing His will. That awareness is coming back to the surface through this examination.

In Christianity, the Bible has also become a forgotten book. Many Christians barely read it. The heart does not go out to the Lord Jesus and what He values. However, as soon as the Word takes hold of the hearts again and the wrong thing is confessed and forsaken, the inquiring Christian goes from discovery to discovery. He discovers what has been in the Word for centuries, but what now takes on luster and meaning for him. Whether it is about the rapture of the church, the celebration of the Supper or the future of Israel, every new discovery is given a place in heart and life.

The researchers of the law don’t announce their discovery and then leave it to each person’s politeness what they will do with it. No, they are aware of their responsibility and issue an order to make booths. In doing so, they do not give any clues that they believe are more appropriate to the current situation of the time in which they live. They give orders to act “as it is written (cf. Ezra 3:4).

There is no question of new forms with an old content. Their actions are determined by what “they found written in the law how the LORD had commanded through Moses “. What is true of the feasts for the time of Moses, is true undiminished and unchanged for the days of Nehemiah. Also for our time the Word is as current as in the days in which God had His Word written down.

Verses 16-17

Celebrating the Feast of Booths

Also with the people the interest in God’s Word was not a fleeting feeling. When the precept is presented to them, they show great willingness to act upon it. They go out to fetch branches of leafy trees and make booths.

1. They do this at home, on the roof, bringing their whole family under the influence of this feast, as it were.
2. They do it around their house, bringing their contacts with the neighbors under the influence of this feast, so to speak.
3. They do it in the courts of God’s house, indicating that they involve God in this feast.
4. They also make booths in the square at the Water Gate. By doing so they show that they are celebrating this feast in accordance with God’s Word.
5. Finally, they make booths in the square at the Gate of Ephraim to show that they are celebrating as one people.

For a similar celebration of the Feast of Booths, the writer goes all the way back to “the days of Joshua”, i.e. to the early days of the people in the land. That’s about a thousand years ago. They do not argue that this feast cannot be that important, because even in the glory days of Solomon – although it is celebrated (2 Chronicles 7:8-2 Samuel :; 1 Kings 8:2) – it is apparently not celebrated in the way they do now. It is sufficient for them that it is written in the law of Moses given by the LORD. That alone is decisive for an obedient people, and not how it has been dealt with in earlier days or what has been done with it by esteemed leaders of the people.

Previous mentions of the celebration of a feast do not go so far back. When in the days of the revival under Hezekiah the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread are celebrated, it is mentioned that it has not been so celebrated since the days of Solomon (2 Chronicles 30:26). This is a reference to a celebration that took place about two hundred and fifty years earlier. If in the days of the revival under Josiah the Passover is celebrated, it is mentioned that it has not been so celebrated since the days of Samuel (2 Chronicles 35:18). This is a reference to a celebration that took place about five hundred years earlier.

Also in Christianity, what God gave to the church in the beginning is soon lost. Think of the gifts for which there is soon no more room due to the introduction of a clergy. Nevertheless, we can learn the following from this chapter. At a time of great decay in Christianity, a weak remnant that wants to be obedient to God’s Word can be a testimony reminiscent of the early days of the church. It will never be with the same strength and radiance to the outside world as it was then, but it will be accepted by God in connection with then.

Verse 18

Reading, Celebrating and Assembling

The fact that every day they read from God’s Word is further proof that the interest in God’s Word is not a whim. Every day of the feast the people came to listen to the reading from the book of God’s Law. You only have a real feast when everything happens in accordance with God’s Word. The whole of life becomes a feast when every day begins with listening to what the Lord has to say. It is important to persevere in this.

On the final day of the feast, the eighth day, a solemn assembly is held. In a way, this eighth day is no longer part of the feast, because the feast lasts seven days. It ends on the seventh day. Yet this day is directly connected to it. This is already apparent from the ongoing count. There is talk of “the eighth day” and not of a “first day” as the beginning of a new period of seven days. The eighth day certainly heralds a new period, a new beginning, but then a new beginning without end. In this eighth day we can see a picture of eternity.

Remarkably enough, the Old Testament says nothing else about this eighth day. There is no particular content given to it. Nevertheless, we have a clue about the meaning of this day in the New Testament, in John 7. There we read about the Feast of Booths where the Lord Jesus does not go up to at first, but later does (John 7:2-2 Samuel :). We also read about “the last day, the great [day] of the feast” (John 7:37), which means the eighth day. For this feast many have come to Jerusalem to meet the living God. But what do they find? The Feast of Booths has become a “feast of the Jews” (John 7:2), where there is no place for God anymore. It is all for appearances, where the heart of the searching soul remains empty and hungry.

As the crowds are about to go home disappointed, all of a sudden someone cries out and says: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink” (John 7:37). The calling One continues His invitation with the promise of streams of living water that will flow from within every believer. An explanation of this is also given. By this the Lord Jesus means the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-Malachi :).

The thirst He quenches connects the thirsty with the water of eternal life (John 4:14), in which the Spirit works. In this way someone is connected with its source: that is the glorified Lord in heaven. Whoever is connected with Him and lives out of Him will be able to be a refreshment for others.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Nehemiah 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/nehemiah-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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