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Nehemiah 8:1. Street] Rather “square.” An open place at the gate of Oriental cities where trials were held and wares set forth for sale.—Gesenius. The water gate] Sec addenda to chap. 3. They spake unto Ezra] “The assembled people. This reading, then, was desired by the assembly. The motive for this request is to be found in the desire of the congregation to keep the new moon of the seventh month as a feast of thanksgiving for the gracious assistance they had received from the Lord during the building of the wall, and through which it had been speedily and successfully completed, in spite of the attempts of their enemies to obstruct the work. This feeling of thankfulness impelled them to the hearing of the word of God for the purpose of making his law the rule of their life.”—Keil. Ezra the scribe] “In the next verse it is Ezra the priest. This is the first mention of Ezra in the book of Nehemiah. He had come to Jerusalem thirteen years previously. He had forced the Jews to separate from their heathen wives, and had then probably returned to Persia. As we do not meet with his name in Nehemiah till now, it is probable he followed Nehemiah to Judæa to assist him in another movement of reform.”—Crosby.
Nehemiah 8:2. All that could hear with understanding] Men, women, and elder children. The first day of the seventh month] Distinguished above the other new moon’s of the year as the feast of trumpets, and celebrated as a specially sacred festival (Leviticus 23:23-3.23.25; Numbers 29:1-4.29.6).
Nehemiah 8:3. From the morning] “From the light till mid-day.” About six hours.
Nehemiah 8:4. Pulpit] A very high platform. Beside him stood Mattithiah, &c.] Probably priest. “Perhaps Urijah is the father of the Meremoth of Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:21; Maaseiah, the father of the Azariah of Nehemiah 3:23; Pedaiah, the individual named Nehemiah 3:21; the Azariah to be inserted, according to 1 Esdras, the same named Nehemiah 3:23; a Meshullam occurs, Nehemiah 3:4; Nehemiah 3:6; and a Malchiah, Nehemiah 3:11; Nehemiah 3:14; Nehemiah 3:31.”—Bertheau.
Nehemiah 8:6. Ezra blessed the Lord] Perhaps with a sentence of thanksgiving, as David did (1 Chronicles 29:10).
Nehemiah 8:7. Also Jeshua, &c. caused the people to understand] “To instruct by expounding.”—Keil.
Nehemiah 8:8. So they read, &c.] The Rabbis understand it to be a paraphrase in the Chaldee language for those who were not acquainted with the ancient Hebrew. Others, exposition and application. “Perhaps Ezra first read a section of the law, and the Levites then expounded to the people the portion just read; the only point still doubtful being whether the Levites expounded in succession, or whether they all did this at the same time to different groups of people.”—Keil.
Nehemiah 8:10. Send portions] See Deuteronomy 16:11-5.16.12; Esther 9:19; Esther 9:22; Esther 9:14-17.9.15.] The law concerning the feast of the tabernacles, of which the essentials are here communicated, is found Leviticus 23:39-3.23.43.
Nehemiah 8:17. Since the days of Jeshua.… had not the children of Israel done so] The emphasis is on so. The feast of tabernacles had often been observed, but not in such a way as on this occasion, when the whole community dwelt in booths.
Nehemiah 8:18. Also day by day] The law enjoined such a public reading once in seven years at the feast of tabernacles (Deuteronomy 31:10-5.31.11).
HOMILETICAL CONTENTS OF CHAPTER 8
Nehemiah 8:4-16.8.8. The Church’s Common Service a Primitive and Reasonable Service.
Nehemiah 8:5-16.8.6. Effect of Ezra’s Preaching.
Nehemiah 8:9. Ezra Reading the Law.
Nehemiah 8:10. The Christian in his Spiritual Joys.
Nehemiah 8:10. The Joy of the Lord.
Nehemiah 8:10. The Joy of the Lord is our Strength.
Nehemiah 8:10. On Religious Joy, as giving Strength and Support to Virtue.
Nehemiah 8:18. Daily Bible Reading.
THE CHURCH’S COMMON SERVICE A PRIMITIVE AND REASONABLE SERVICE
Nehemiah 8:4-16.8.8. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, &c.
WE might search long among the different histories of the world before we should find a scene more impressive and affecting than that which is here represented. A whole people recently re-established by God’s mercy in their own country, from which for their sins they had been long banished; assembled together to hear the solemn reading and exposition of their Divinely-inspired law, now about to be revived amongst them; and bowing down in lowly adoration of the Lord, the great God, from whom they had received it. So arduous and laborious an enterprise as the resettling of a people in full possession of their own land, and in the complete enjoyment of their several religious, social, and domestic relations, was necessarily a work of time. Many obstacles were raised to it by the malicious opposition of enemies from without, and many interruptions occurred from a want of spirit and energy within. The work gradually proceeded. Under the directions of Zerubbabel, then of Ezra, and lastly Nehemiah, the people had the satisfaction of contributing to the restoration of their dwellings, of their altars, of their temple, and finally of the gates and walls of their city. But another want remained to be supplied. The knowledge of their sacred Scriptures had been almost totally lost among the Jews. Together, therefore, with anxiety and diligence in restoring their material buildings, Ezra, who is recorded to have been “a ready scribe in the law of Moses,” combined an equal degree of care and industry in restoring the Holy Scriptures.
I. First, then, the reading of the Holy Scriptures thus publicly for the instruction of the people became, from the time of Ezra, a constant practice in the Jewish synagogues. The practice was continued in our Saviour’s days, and those of his apostles. “Moses of old time,” &c. (Acts 15:21). And together with the reading of Moses was united that of the prophets (Acts 13:15; Acts 13:27). The propriety of this practice might be inferred from our Lord’s custom (Luke 4:16). The utility of the practice may be inferred from the fact, that to this practice has been attributed the preservation of the Jewish people from the idolatrous usages of the neighbouring nations. The practice thus observed in the Jewish Church was continued in the Early Christian. Apparently recognized by St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:27; Colossians 4:16). “On the day” (saith Justin Martyr) “which is called Sunday there is an assembly of all those who live either in the cities or in the country, and those things which are written of or by the apostles, and the writings of the prophets, are read as long as time will permit.” Upon this primitive practice is founded that of our apostolical Church. To the Scriptures of the Old Testament are added those of the New. The types of the law are accompanied with the antitypes of the gospel. The promises of the prophets are combined with the historical completion of them recorded by the apostles. Thus by means of the lessons, gospels, and epistles which are read in our churches much benefit accrues to the people. Many persons cannot read the Scriptures themselves. Many who can, will not or do not read them. But no small number of these persons is drawn together to attend the public service of the congregation. And although they may not have the alacrity of the people spoken of here, who “gathered themselves together as one man,” and “spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses,” yet, when the book of God is brought, they can hardly fail of hearing some portion of its contents, and acquiring some knowledge of the truths which it reveals or records, and the duties which it teaches and inculcates. Not that any man who is able to attain more knowledge of the Scriptures ought to be contented with this. He ought not only to hear, but read, search, search daily—so to study the Holy Scriptures as to know them (John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 3:15).
II. The reading of the law was the express object of the assembly. The manner, however, in which this business was undertaken is well worthy of our regard. “And Ezra opened,” &c. (Nehemiah 8:5-16.8.6). Here is the union which subsists between the reading of the Scriptures to the people and the offering of adoration and thanksgiving to Almighty God. All public service implies this. We assemble and meet together to render thanks to God for the great benefits that we have received at his hands. The union between the devotions of the priest and the congregation. “Amen.” Liturgical responses. In those forms of prayer which the Church hath provided we inherit the most valuable examples of Christian piety and devotion, a rich treasury of evangelical doctrine, and perpetual monuments and memorials of practical holiness.
III. Together with the reading of the law and the accompanying benedictions and adoration, a third service was combined, namely, that of expounding the law to the people. “So they read,” &c. (Nehemiah 8:8). One cause of difficulty may have been the change of language between the law as originally written by Moses and as now recited by Ezra. A thousand years had elapsed. Religious, political, civil, and domestic revolutions had occurred. From whatever cause, the fact is expressly stated. “The Levites caused the people to understand the law,” &c. Practice continued in the service of the synagogue. Sanctioned by the presence and practice of our Lord and his apostles. “When the reader hath done” (continues Justin Martyr), “he that presides in the assembly admonishes and exhorts us to put those good things which we have heard in practice. And afterwards we rise up with one consent, and send up our prayers to God.” The sermon—the exposition and application of Scriptural truth.
1. Give a reverential attention to the word of God, as read in the public services of the congregation. Grateful for the mercies of God, and sensible withal of their own manifold infirmities and acts of disobedience, these Jews received the word with lowly expressions of thankfulness, and tokens of humiliation and repentance.
2. With reverential attention to the Holy Scriptures unite a constant and serious participation in the devotions of the Church. “All the people answered, Amen, and worshipped.” If you would derive benefit from God’s word, you must derive it through the medium of his grace. If you would enjoy his grace, you must solicit it by prayer.
3. Give attendance to those who are over you in the Lord, and who watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy. It is no abridgment of your Christian liberty to give heed to those who bear God’s commission to instruct you. We do not pretend to have dominion over your faith, but we would gladly be helpers of your joy. Let your feet habitually stand within the gates of the temple of God.—Bishop Mant, abridged.
EFFECT OF EZRA’S PREACHING
Nehemiah 8:5-16.8.6. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, &c.
Though in the time of our Lord it was the custom to read the law of God in the synagogues, it does not appear to have been any regular part of the priest’s office to preach unto the people. On some occasions we find persons sent through the land of Israel to make known the law; and here we behold Ezra on a pulpit of wood elevated above the people, and surrounded by an immense congregation, who had come together on purpose to hear the word of God expounded to them. Since the introduction of Christianity, the preaching of the gospel to men has been the particular office assigned to men who are set apart for that purpose; and though we must chiefly look to the apostles as our examples, and to the effects of their ministrations as the pattern of what we may expect to see amongst our auditors, yet may we profitably look back to the time of Ezra to learn from him and his ministry.
I. In what manner the word of God should be dispensed. The mode adopted by Ezra, namely, the expounding of Scripture, we conceive to be peculiarly worthy of imitation. It is indeed but little practised at the present day, though at the time of the Reformation it generally obtained; and it has very great advantages above the plan which has superseded it.
1. It leads the people into a better acquaintance with the Scriptures. The Scriptures, except as a book for children, are but little read; persons are discouraged from perusing them by an idea that they are unintelligible to common capacities. But a very little explanation would render them, for the most part, easy to be understood by all. And what an advantage would this be! The people studying the word of God at home would be abundantly better qualified to understand it when read in public; and the explanations given to them in public would enable them to study it to better purpose at home; whereas the present plan of taking only a small passage for a motto, or merely as a groundwork for some general observations, leads to an extreme neglect of the Holy Scriptures, and to a consequent ignorance of them among all classes of the community.
2. It brings every part of the sacred records into view. There are some who bring forward the doctrinal part of Scripture exclusively, and leave the practical part entirely out of sight; there are others who insist only on the practical parts, and leave out the doctrinal. There are some also to whom many of the doctrines contained in the sacred volume are perfectly hateful, and who never in all their lives so much as mentioned the doctrines of predestination and election but to explain them away, and to abuse the persons who maintained them. But by expounding whole books of Scripture every doctrine must be noticed in its turn, and the connection between them and our practice must be pointed out. True it is that this mode of preaching would not altogether exclude false doctrine; but it would render the establishment of errors more difficult, because the hearers would be able to judge, in some good measure, how far the true and legitimate sense of Scripture was given, and how far it was perverted. The benefit of this, therefore, cannot be too highly appreciated.
3. It brings home truth, to the conscience with more authority. The word of man, though true, has little weight in comparison of the word of God; “that is quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword.” It is inconceivable what advantage a preacher has when he can say, “Thus saith THE LORD;” then every doctrine demands the obedience of faith, and every precept the obedience of righteousness. When told that the word which is delivered to them will judge them at the last day, the people will not dare to trifle with it, as they will with the declarations of fallible men. Were this matter more attentively considered, we have no doubt but that more frequent appeals would be made to Scripture in our public harangues, and that the obsolete method of expounding Scripture would have at least some measure of that attention which it deserves. But, in considering the word of God as explained to the people of Jerusalem, we are more particularly led to notice—
II. In what manner it should be heard. Truly admirable was the conduct of the people on this occasion. Observe—
1. Their reverential awe. When Ezra opened the book of God, all the people, in token of their reverence, stood up; and when he blessed God for giving them so rich a treasure, they “all with uplifted hands cried, Amen, Amen;” yea, they bowed their heads also, “and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” This was a deportment which became sinners in the presence of their God; they did not look to the creature, but to God, whose voice they heard, and whose authority they acknowledged, in every word that was spoken. What a contrast does this form with the manner in which the word of God is heard amongst us! How rarely do we find persons duly impressed with a sense of their obligation to God for giving them a revelation of his will! How rarely do men at this day look through the preacher unto God, and hear God speaking to them by the voice of his servants! Even religious people are far from attending the ministration of the word in the spirit and temper that they ought; curiosity, fondness for novelties, and attachment to some particular preacher too often supply the place of those better feelings by which men ought to be actuated in their attendance on the preached gospel. To “stand in awe of God’s word,” and “to tremble at it,” are far more suitable emotions than those which we usually see around us. The Lord grant that our duty in this respect may be more justly estimated, and more generally performed.
2. Their devout affections. “When the people heard the words of the law,” they all wept, as feeling that they had sinned greatly against it (Nehemiah 8:9). And when they were reminded that, as the design of the present feast was to bring to their view the tender mercies of their God, and to encourage them to expect all manner of blessings at his hands, they ought rather to rejoice (Nehemiah 8:10-16.8.11), they did rejoice, insomuch that “there was very great gladness” amongst them; and they rejoiced especially on this account, that “they had understood the words that had been declared unto them” (Nehemiah 8:12). Now it is in this way that we should hear the word delivered to us. When it shows us our sins, we should weep, as it were, in dust and ashes; and when it sets forth the exceeding great and precious promises of the gospel, we should rejoice, yea, “rejoice with joy unspeakable.” We should have our hearts rightly attuned, so that we should never want a string to vibrate to every touch of God’s blessed word. But may it not be said to the generality in the present day, “We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented”? Yes; the gospel has little more power over the affections of men than if it were “a cunningly devised fable.” But we entreat you to consider, that if the law when expounded was so powerful, much more should the gospel be, since “it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”
3. Their unreserved obedience. No sooner was it discovered that an ordinance appointed by Moses had been neglected, than they hastened to observe it, according to the strict letter of the law, and actually did observe it with greater fidelity than it had ever been observed even from the days of Joshua to that present hour (Nehemiah 8:13-16.8.18). This showed that the impression made on their affections was deep and spiritual. And it is in this way that we also must improve the ministration of the word. If we attend to the gospel as we ought to do, we shall find out many things which we have neglected, and many that we have done amiss; yea, many things which are not generally noticed even among the godly will occur to our minds, and show us the defectiveness not of our obedience only, but of the obedience of the best of men. Let us have our minds then open to conviction, and attentive to every commandment of our God. Nor let us be satisfied with paying only customary attention to his revealed will, but let us aspire after higher degrees of purity, and a more perfect conformity to the Divine image. This will serve as the best test of our sincerity, and it will show that neither have you heard in vain nor we dispensed his word in vain.—Simeon.
EZRA READING THE LAW
Nehemiah 8:9. And Nehemiah, which is the Tirshatha, and Ezra the priest the scribe, and the Levites that taught the people, said unto all the people, This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.
Ezra and Nehemiah amongst the neglected books of the Bible. Contain no specific prophecies of our Saviour’s days nor of the nature of his kingdom. They do not immediately connect themselves with the consideration of our Saviour’s ministry, and therefore we are tempted to pass them by. Yet, not withstanding, they form part of “the whole counsel of God.” Their subject-matter. The character of Nehemiah shows how Divine grace, whilst it sustains the lowly, is still the best safeguard to protect those who stand in the high places of the earth. The full and perfect patriotism of Nehemiah’s character. Describe the bright contrast which it presents to the base and selfish purposes which are so often sheltered beneath that honourable name.
The people of Jerusalem mourning when they heard the words of the law. The law had not been read to the Jewish people since their return from Babylon. A large stage was erected in the most spacious street of the city, near to the water-gate. Ezra ascended to it with thirteen others of the principal elders. Ezra read the law in the Hebrew text, the Levites translated it into Chaldee. This was repeated daily during the entire festival, till they had gone through the whole law.
Observe the impression made upon the people. Their eyes were opened to the clear knowledge of those things which they had before seen only through the partial instruction of teachers in the land of captivity. Their hearts were touched with the consciousness of the great mercies which the Lord their God had wrought for them, and upon the sad return which the history of their own sins and the sins of their fathers presented. They were overwhelmed with sorrow.
The reading of the law revealed the spectacle of Jehovah’s creative glory, Jehovah’s avenging power, Jehovah’s redeeming mercy. Patriarch, prophet, and apostle had been overwhelmed with awe at this spectacle. [Story of the past rehearsed again.] Is not this day holy unto the Lord our God? Are we not assembled to hear the words of his revealed will? And do not the characters of man’s perverseness and rebellion which that revelation depicts stand out in as strong and humiliating contrast with the mercy of God now, as they did in the day of Jerusalem’s redemption from captivity? Can we listen to the counsels of God’s gracious providence unmoved? Our revelation fuller. Our redemption from a mightier oppressor. We are no longer under the law, but the gospel. Let us take heed, however, to ourselves that in so confessing that truth of Christ which has made us free we mar not the confession by abusing the freedom. We are freed from the law as a covenant; but we are not freed from the law as a rule. In preaching the law let us not put forth its terrors, in order that men may be affrighted or despair; but that they may be startled from the slumber of a false security, and fly for refuge unto Christ. “To preach the law alone” (saith Bishop Reynolds) “by itself we confess is to pervert the use of it; neither have we any power or commission so to do, for we have our power for edification, and not for destruction. It was published as an appendant to the gospel, and so must it be preached; it was published in the hand of a Mediator, and it must be preached in the hand of a Mediator; it was published evangelically, and it must be so preached. We have commission to preach nothing but Christ, and life in him; and therefore we never preach the law but with reverence and manuduction to him.”—Rev. J. S. M. Anderson, M. A., abridged.
THE CHRISTIAN IN HIS SPIRITUAL JOYS
Nehemiah 8:10. 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.
A sacred festival. “Go your way.” They were to return home and refresh themselves. He does not forbid the delicacies which they had provided. Eat the fat, and drink the sweet. But all this was to be accompanied with two things. First, liberality towards the destitute. “Send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared.” Law of Moses, gospel of Jesus inculcate this. Secondly, with cheerfulness. “Neither be ye sorry.” Joy becomes a feast. And this joy, says Nehemiah, is as important as it is becoming; for the joy of the Lord is your strength. It will strengthen your bodily frame, and, what is more, it will renew the strength of your souls. Let us contemplate the Christian—I. In the Divinity, and, II. In the utility of his joy.
I. The Divinity of it. It is the joy of the Lord. So it is called by the Judge of all in his address at the last day. “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” Now this joy enters the Christian, and as he is so contracted a vessel, he cannot contain much; but THEN he will enter the joy, and he will find it a boundless ocean. It is the joy of the Lord.
1. His in the authority that binds it upon us as a duty. “Rejoice evermore.” “Rejoice in the Lord always.” “Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous.”
2. His in the assurance which holds it forth as a privilege. “The redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy.” “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound; in thy name shall they rejoice.”
3. His in the resemblance it bears to his own. Christians are “partakers of the Divine nature.” Do we feel the joy of God’s salvation? He feels it too; and this salvation is called “the pleasure of the Lord.”
4. His in the subject. The material of it, so to speak, is found in him, and in him alone. “Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” With him is the fountain of life. We are accepted in the beloved. “I will go in the strength of the Lord God.” All his relations are mine. He is my Physician, my Friend, my Shepherd, my Father. All his perfections are mine—his wisdom, his power, his mercy, and his truth. All the dispensations of his providence, all the treasures of his word are mine. All his grace, all his glory is mine.
5. His, finally, in the production. There may be reasons for rejoicing when yet no joy is experienced; for the mourner may be unable to lay hold of them, and appropriate them to his own use. David therefore says, “Thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.” And he prays, “Rejoice the soul of thy servant.” And he acknowledges, “Thou hast put gladness in my heart.”
II. The utility of this joy. It is efficacious because Divine. To know the force of an argument, we apply it. To know the power of an implement, we make trial of it. To ascertain the strength of a man, we compare him with others, we task him with some exertion, we judge by the difficulty of the work which he achieves, and especially by the might of opposition which he overcomes. Let us examine this joy. Let us bring it to six tests, some of them very severe ones.
1. Let us review the Christian in his profession of religion. The joy of the Lord is the very strength of this profession. For in proportion as a man possesses it, he feels satisfied with his portion, he glories in his choice, he is ready to avow it. “I am not ashamed; I know whom I have believed.” “I will speak of thy testimonies.” Let us observe the Christian—
2. In his concern to recommend religion to others. Godliness must begin at home, but it can never end here. “The joy of the Lord gives us confidence in our addresses. We speak not from conjecture, or opinion, but experience. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.” This also adds conviction and force to our testimony and commendation. Men see what our religion has done for us, and what it can do for them also. Will anything recommend a master more than the cheerfulness of his servants?
3. Let us view the Christian in the discharge of his duties. These are numerous, and extensive, and difficult. Fear chills, despondency unnerves, sorrow depresses. But hope is encouragement: joy inspires, excites, elevates. It renders our work our privilege. We not only have life, but have it more abundantly. “I will run in the way of thy commandments when thou shalt have enlarged my heart.”
4. Let us view the Christian in his perils. Perpetually surrounded with temptations in the world. These flatter him, and would entice him away from God. These he is to resist, steadfast in the faith. How? By constraints? By threatenings? These may indeed induce him actually to refuse the offers and allurements, but not in affection. The joy of the Lord is his strength; and without this a man will only leave the world as Lot’s wife left Sodom—she left it, but her heart was still in the place. Prohibition, so far from killing desire, has a tendency to increase it. Having found the pure spring, the Christian no longer kneels to the filthy puddle. Having tasted the grapes of Eshcol, he longs no more for the leeks, and garlic, and onions of Egypt. The palace makes him forget the dung-hill. The only effectual way of separating the heart from the world is to subdue the sense of an inferior good by the enjoyment of a greater.
5. We shall see that the joy of the Lord is his strength if we view the Christian in his sufferings. Afflictions try religious principle.
6. This joy of the Lord is the Christian’s strength in death. What but this can be his support then? God’s comforts delight his soul. What says our subject in a way of practical improvement?
1. Inquire what your joy is.
2. See how greatly religion is libelled.
3. What an inducement is here to seek the Lord and his strength, to seek his face evermore.
4. Your religion is to be suspected if you are habitually destitute of joy.
5. Let this joy be a peculiar object of attention to every Christian. Let him never forget that it is his strength.
6. Some know the worth of this joy from the want rather than from the experience. Seek, immediately and earnestly, an increase of it.—Jay, abridged.
THE JOY OF THE LORD
Nehemiah 8:10. The joy of the Lord is your strength
A man does not take leave of happiness by knowing Christ. The believer has a sick-bed joy, a death-bed joy—a joy that shall depart with him out of this world, go with him to the judgment, live with him through eternity.
I. The nature of the true believer’s joy. “The joy of the Lord”—a description.
1. The Lord is its AUTHOR. He creates it and establishes it in the hearts of his people. The joy of true believers is no mere animal sensation. Not “good spirits.” Not a natural feeling, but a spiritual gift. St. Paul enumerates it among “the fruits of the Spirit,” calls it “joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thessalonians 1:6).
2. The Lord is the SUBJECT of this joy. His people not only rejoice by him, but they rejoice in him—they “joy in the God of their salvation. His grace, his gifts, his glories, his perfections constitute the subject-matter of their joy.” In his presence is “their fulness of joy.” He is the Sun of their souls. And why? What is there belonging to their Lord to give occasion, for this joy?
(1) The freeness of his great salvation. Here is a daily, hourly song for the believer.
(2) The imputation of his justifying righteousness.
(3) The Giver of their present privileges, and the Preparer of their future glories.
II. The effects of this joy. “Your strength.”
1. Spiritual joy strengthens a man for DUTY.
2. Spiritual joy strengthens a man for SUFFERING.
1. To the confident professor.
2. To the desponding penitent.—Roberts’s Village Sermons.
THE JOY OF THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH
Nehemiah 8:10. The joy of the Lord is your strength
The preaching of God’s word is a very ancient ordinance. In the context we have a description of the manner in which Nehemiah conducted it. These means of instruction were useful in that day. Nor are they less necessary in every place and age. People need not only reproof for what is wrong, but direction in what is right. The Jews wept bitterly at the hearing of the law; but Nehemiah corrected their sorrow as ill-timed, and exhorted them to rejoice in God, who had done so great things for them.
I. What reason we have to rejoice in the Lord. God is often said to rejoice over his people (Zephaniah 3:17). But the joy here spoken of must be understood rather of that which we feel in the recollection of God’s goodness towards us. The Jews at that season had special cause for joy in God. Delivered from Babylon, they had prospered even to a miracle in their endeavours. Their sorrow, however just, was not to exclude this joy. Such reason also have all the Lord’s people to rejoice in the Lord. They have experienced a redemption from sorer captivity, and been delivered by more stupendous means. Every day’s preservation is, as it were, a miracle. The work of their souls is carried on in spite of enemies; yea, is expedited through the means used to defeat it. Surely, then, they should say, like the Church of old, “The Lord hath done great things for us” (Psalms 126:3). These mercies are pledges and earnests of yet richer blessings. They may well confide in so good and gracious a God. They have indeed still great cause for sorrow. Yet it is their duty to rejoice always in the Lord. To promote and encourage this we proceed to show—
II. In what respects this joy is our strength. We are as dependent on the frame of our minds as on the state of our bodies. Joy in God produces very important effects.
1. It disposes for action. Fear and sorrow depress and overwhelm the soul (Isaiah 57:16). They enervate and benumb all our faculties. They keep us from attending to any encouraging considerations (Exodus 6:9). They disable us from extending any relief to others (Job 2:13). They indispose us for the most necessary duties (Luke 22:45). We cannot pray or speak or do anything with pleasure. On the contrary, a joyous frame exhilarates the soul (Proverbs 17:2). David well knew the effect it would produce (Psalms 51:12-19.51.13). Every one may safely adopt his resolution (Psalms 119:32).
2. It qualifies for suffering. When the spirit is oppressed the smallest trial is a burthen. In those seasons we are apt to fret and murmur both against God and man. We consider our trials as the effects of Divine wrath. Or, overlooking God, we vent our indignation against the instruments he uses. But when the soul is joyous afflictions appear light (Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 12:2). How little did Paul and Silas regard their imprisonment (Acts 16:25). How willing was Paul to lay down his very life for Christ (Acts 20:24). This accords with the experience of every true Christian (Romans 5:2-45.5.3; 2 Corinthians 6:10).
1. Let us not be always brooding over our corruptions. Seasonable sorrows ought not to be discouraged. But we should never lose sight of all that God has done for us. It is our privilege to walk joyfully before the Lord (Psalms 89:15-19.89.16; Psalms 138:5; Psalms 149:5). If we abounded more in praise, we should more frequently be crowned with victory (2 Chronicles 20:21-14.20.22).
2. Let us carefully guard against the incursions of sin. It is sin that hides the Lord from our eyes (Isaiah 59:2). Joy will not consist with indulged sin (Psalms 66:18). Let us then mortify our earthly members and our besetting sins. Let us be girt with our armour while we work with our hands; nor ever grieve the Spirit, lest we provoke him to depart from us.
3. Let us be daily going to God through Christ. If even we rejoice in God at all it must be through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:11). It is through Christ alone that our past violations of the law can be forgiven (Colossians 1:20). It is through Christ alone that the good work can be perfected in our hearts (Hebrews 12:2). And since all things are through him, and from him, let them be to him also (Romans 11:36).—Rev. Charles Simeon, M.A.
ON RELIGIOUS JOY, AS GIVING STRENGTH AND SUPPORT TO VIRTUE
Nehemiah 8:10. The joy of the Lord is your strength
On hearing the words of the book of the law, all the people wept. Nehemiah exhorts them to prepare themselves for serving the God of their fathers with a cheerful mind. These words contain this important truth, that to the nature of true religion there belongs an inward joy which animates, strengthens, and supports virtue.
I. Joy is a word of various signification. By men of the world it is often used to express those flashes of mirth which arise from irregular indulgences of social pleasure. The joy here mentioned signifies a tranquil and placid joy, an inward complacency and satisfaction, accompanying the practice of virtue and the discharge of every part of our duty. A joy of this kind is what we assert to belong to every part of religion; to characterize religion wherever it is genuine, and to be essential to its nature. In order to ascertain this, let us consider—
1. In what manner religion requires that a good man should stand affected towards God. Rational, enlightened piety presents God not as an awful, unknown Sovereign, but as the Father of the universe, the lover and protector of righteousness, under whose government all the interests of the virtuous are safe. With delight the good man traces the Creator throughout all his works, and beholds them everywhere reflecting some image of his supreme perfection. In the morning dawn, the noontide glory, and the evening shade; in the fields, the mountains, and the flood, where worldly men behold nothing but a dead, uninteresting scene; every object is enlivened and animated to him by the presence of God. Amidst that Divine Presence he dwells with reverence, but without terror. He is under the protection of an invisible guardian. He receives the declarations of his mercy.
Objection. Are there no mortifications and griefs that particularly belong to piety—the tear of repentance, humiliation of confession, and remorse? Reply. There may be seasons of grief and dejection, yet this is not inconsistent with the joy of the Lord, being, on the whole, the predominant character of a good man’s state; as it is impossible that during this life perpetual brightness can remain in any quarter without some dark cloud. And even the penitential sorrows and relentings of a pious heart are not without their own satisfactions. It is no unusual thing for pleasure to be mixed with painful feelings. And where the mind is properly instructed in religion, it will not long be left in a state of overwhelming dejection, but will return to tranquillity, and repossess again the joy of the Lord.
2. Consider next the disposition of a good man towards his fellow-creatures. That mild and benevolent temper to which he is formed by virtue and piety, a temper that is free from envious and malignant passions, is a constant spring of cheerfulness and serenity.
3. With respect to that part of religion which consists in the government of a man’s own mind, of his passions and desires, it may be thought that much joy is not to be expected. For there religion appears to lay on a severe and restraining hand. Strict temperance and self-denial are often requisite. But in purity, temperance, and self-government there is found a satisfaction. A man is conscious of soundness. There is nothing that makes him ashamed of himself.
II. In what respects the joy of the Lord is justly said to be the strength of the righteous.
1. It is the animating principle of virtue; it supports its influence, and assists it in becoming both persevering and progressive. Few undertakings are lasting or successful which are accompanied with no pleasure. Not until a man feels somewhat within him which attracts him to his duty can he be expected to be constant and zealous in the performance of it.
2. The joy of the Lord is the strength of the righteous, as it is their great support under the discouragements and trials of life. A good man’s friends may forsake, fortune may fail, his health decay; calumny and reproach may attack his character. Then, when worldly men become peevish, dispirited, and fretful, he can possess himself calm and undisturbed. He has resources within. Much is against us in our endeavours to cultivate this disposition. We must study to correct false ideas; persuade ourselves that there are other things besides riches, honours, and sensual pleasures that are good for man; that there are joys of a spiritual and intellectual nature which directly affect the mind and heart, and which confer a satisfaction both more refined and more lasting than any worldly circumstances can confer. To endeavours of our own for rectifying and improving our taste of pleasure let us join frequent and fervent prayer to God, that he may enlighten and reform our hearts, and by his Spirit communicate that joy to our souls which descends from him, and which he has annexed to every part of religion and virtue as the strength of the righteous.—Blair, abridged.
Joyfulness is the invigorating tonic of the Christian character. The thing that makes you a strong Christian or a weak one is your possession or deprivation of the joy of the Lord. Religion many-sided. Faith, hope, joy. Yet many whose religious principle is strong do not take bright views of Christian service. Some people go to sea because the blood of the sailor is in their veins; they love the sea; almost regret to read in Revelation that in the new heavens and earth of St. John there will be no more sea. Now others go to sea because duty drives them there. If they could go over-land they would; but there is neither bridge nor tunnel, so they must go to sea, and with much fear and sickness they go. It is very like that going to heaven. Some have delight at every step, and that is as it ought to be; some go with the hard constraint of duty upon them, and that is as it should not be. Take, as illustrative of the latter view, two types of religious character that have played an important part in the past of this country—Popery and Puritanism. Roman Catholicism—full of austerities; services mournful; chantings; suffer here or in purgatory; pictures; biographies of the ideal saint; dress of the religious orders; portraits of eminent saints. Whole tone a strange contrast to the “glad tidings of great joy.” Puritanism—grand but severe men and women; many fasts, but few festivals. This sentiment of the text about the strengthening power of joy was spoken by one of those grand, all-round honourable men who come as ornaments and saviours of society—Nehemiah. His people had been captive, and were restored, and wept at their restoration, and this was said to cheer them. Bring the thing into our own times. English captive among heathen holding fast to Bible and Christian faith. Patriot rising—a Nehemiah or Garibaldi—to restore. London rebuilt—reading of law. First day of national religious celebration for 150 years. Memories of past bringing tears. But sagacious leader says, “You must above all things keep up your hearts. Weeping will cleanse, but joy is the strengthener.” Thankful gladness. Is not our fathers’ God our God? Eat the fat, and send portions to the poor. Weep not, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. They were Jews, and the Jewish religion is a religion of joy. One fast and many feasts. Sabbath joyous. “O be joyful in the Lord.” Judaism was, in spite of Sinai, a service of joy. Much more is the gospel joyous. “Glad tidings.” “The joy set before him.” “We rejoice.” “Joy in presence of the angels.” Strange, after that, that anybody should have brought gloom into religion. If God did not make his creatures to be happy, why did he make them at all? If God meant us to have no joy on earth, why did he fill earth with beauty and with gladness? But he did, for God is love. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
Everybody knows what joy is. Joy means that faculty has seized what it wanted. Now religion aims at perfection; to make most of all life. Hence its attainment is attainment of joy. In this way it takes possession of the body. “Glorify God in your body.” Use it for what God has made it. Look at a machine. As those gloriously artistic ribbons come out of the loom you are glorifying, honouring the maker. Sinful gratification is against the laws of the body; for God’s laws are written on the body as truly as on the Sinaitic tables of stone. Religious joy is harmony with natural law. Same with active business. Handcraft and head-craft in righteous way. And the righteous way means the right way, and the right way means the true way. There are people who tell you that business on Christian principles means bankruptcy. There are proofs that godliness will actually pay. Golden rule. There is a divinity in business. Paul is as Christian and as holy when he sits at Damascus making tents as when he stands on Mars’ Hill and preaches a sermon. To a Christian man all life is holy, all life is joyous. The same is true of intellectual life. Search for truth is pleasant. The tree of knowledge bears good fruits. So with the relative and social aspect. Laughter and jest, wit and humour, are Divine; for Divinity stamped them into us. The laughter of some men is blighting as the laughter of a fiend, and you shrink from it as much; the laughter of another is always against wrong, and on the side of right, and is healing as medicine.
Of course we must wisely distinguish between religion and the joy of religion. Let not a man suppose he is necessarily under the condemnation of God because he lacks brightness and buoyancy. Salvation is one thing, and the joys of salvation are supplementary things:—these we may do without, but that we should not be without. Joy comes out of a steady continuous sense of acceptance with God. But a man may be a true Christian and yet often fail here. For instance, in every-day life a case like this may occur. A man gets for a little while into an unaccountably nervous state. He fears the worst. Friends laugh; doctor examines; the man is assured. Is he really more healthy? No; but still he is stronger. Joy is his strength. A great many Christians act that out in spiritual things. They are safe, if anybody is safe; but oh! for this assurance of safety. If they could believe the word of God joy would come.
Joy then is the proper result of Christian faith. “Believing, we rejoice.” Must not forget other side. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Trivial nature that always wants the countenance wreathed into smiles. Does not deep joy often fly as a resource to tears? Jesus Christ anointed with oil of gladness, and yet acquainted with grief; anointed with oil of gladness, and yet crowned with thorns. So deep and earnest and sympathetic that it must have been thus. Sorrow on surface, and joy in depths. “I have meat to eat that ye know not of.” “My joy.” “My peace.” That joy is our strength.
Then joy is a thing we are exhorted to. Joy is in our power. Not that joy must express itself after one pattern. Two persons watching a spectacle, or listening to music—one jubilant, the other silent. Prospect in nature—one exclamatory, the other still. Both have the deep joy of the scene, each in a form suited to himself. So there are these varying forms of religious experience—silent and speaking, calm and rapturous. Imaged in Revelation—voice of many waters, silence in heaven. Exultation when we say, “Come, let us sing unto the Lord a new song!” “Speechless awe that dares not move.” In Book of Genesis it says the vegetables were to increase after their kind, and animals after their kind; and so we must serve God and enjoy his salvation after our kind. The only thing is this, that if we are not enjoying the salvation of Christ we miss the mark more or less. We have not as much as God’s love has designed for us. Joy is a controllable thing. We can put ourselves in the shade or in the sunshine. We can be for ever dissecting ourselves, or contemplating Christ. Lack of faith brings joylessness. Not enough confidence in God. A sceptical man cannot be a happy man. Giant Despair’s Castle is in the way of scepticism. Sometimes we are afraid to boldly claim all that is ours. “I know whom I have believed.” “Now are we the sons of God.” Trust Christ, and all is yours. The joy of the Lord is our strength. “A merry heart goes all the day.” Band at head of regiment. Do a task you have no joy in, and one that is a delight, and see the difference. Take salvation for granted, and work from it, not for it. And, my brother, yet uncertain as to whether you ought to be a Christian or not, don’t be nervous. Christ invites you to joy. A man who has less joy as a saint than as a sinner is a very poor saint, that is all. His ways are ways of pleasantness. The joys of forgiveness are the beginning of heaven. Christian joy is the strength and manliness of all true human character. And when a man enters into the saved state it is as when he enters heaven—he enters into the joy of his Lord.
DAILY BIBLE READING
Nehemiah 8:18. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God
Daily reading of the word of God.
1. Because of its infinite preciousness and value. “The book of the law of God.” Not a book, but the book. Value it as the gift of a Father’s love; as the legacy of the Saviour’s grace; as the instrument of the Spirit’s power. Dear to all the faithful, because they feel that they hang upon that truth all that is most precious for time and eternity. It comes clothed with the authority of infinite truth, and crowned with the attractions of infinite love. It may be compared to that river that went out of Eden to water the garden, dividing itself into four heads:—“that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;” and it is most significantly added, “and the gold of that land is good.” ’Tis a broad land of wealth unknown. Study it every day. The Scriptures are styled oracles—oracles of God which we may consult for our guidance. Not like the lying oracles of the heathen, which were distinguished for their ambiguity; these are the true sayings of God. It is like the Urim and Thummim, the holy oracle of the Jews, which they were privileged to consult for guidance and direction in all doubtful cases. It is given to be a lamp to our feet. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” God gave these oracles to convince of sin, to convert to Christ, to confirm in grace, and to direct and comfort in obedience. The book is called the Testament. The Old Testament—a legacy of God to the Jewish Church; the New—a legacy of Christ to the Christian Church. “All the promises are in him yea”—the promises of the Old and the promises of the New. The gospel describes the legacy of blessing Christ has bequeathed to his redeemed people, a legacy for both states of being, and we should study it as an heir to a great estate does title-deeds and documents. If a man does not study it, it is a sign that he does not consider there is any legacy left to him in it. And he who does may be sure to find his name in some codicil or other. “I call that legacy my own.” It is called the book of the law of God. A man ought to know something of the law of the country in which he lives, and something of the character of the country to which he goes. It is at once the statute book of the King of kings and the great charter of his people’s privileges. The law of God’s government and the law of God’s grace “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” Study it every day. Revelation, like the sun, must be seen by its own light, and the best of all arguments of its truth are those derived from its own pages. Those parts of the word are most precious which we have made our own by personal examination, inquiry, and experience. It is a law of compensation which obtains in Divine things as well as human, that any species of property obtained by our own effort has a heightened value: an acre of ground cultivated by our own hand, or a plant or flower reared and tended by our own care, exceeds all that we obtain or inherit by the labour or the bounty of others. So one promise examined, prayed over, and applied is more useful than whole books read in a cursory manner. “He that believeth hath the witness in himself.” “Now we believe, not because of thy saying!”
2. Because of its tendency to build up the inner and spiritual life—the life of God in the soul. Hence compared to manna, to bread, to living water. The life of the natural man is important; of the spiritual man surely not less. “The life I live is by the faith,” and the life of faith can only be supported by the word of life. “Man doth not live by bread alone.” All life seeks its natural food and aliment. A scientific man reads works of science; a poet converses in spirit with Chaucer and Milton; the Christian, the Divine word. “The words that I speak, they are spirit and they are life.” There has been a great education of our race going on from the morning of time, by which the souls of men have been trained for eternity, by these Divine words. The humblest Christian, in studying the word, mingles with the greatest minds, with the kingly spirits that have enthroned themselves in the hearts of mighty nations. He makes himself a fellow-student with Moses on the mount; with Elijah at the cave of Horeb; with Daniel when he conversed with Gabriel; with John the Baptist in the wilderness; with the beloved disciple as he leaned on Jesus’ bosom; nay, with Jesus himself; and he says, lifting to heaven an unpresumptuous eye, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” How can you hope for spirituality without retirement for these purposes? How can you hope for peace and joy in believing if the closet is deserted and the Bible is unread? Where is the wonder you complain, “My leanness, my leanness,” when you feed only on the husks of worldly opinion and worldly writings, and neglect to sit down at the banquet of truth? Can you wonder that you are without the comforts of the Spirit when you do not put yourself in communion with the Spirit?
3. Because all great revivals of the power of religion have been associated with high reverence for the written word. It was in the mount that Moses received the tables of stone written by God’s own finger. The prophets commenced their addresses by a careful memorial of the time and date of God’s manifestation to them: “The word of the Lord came unto me.” The finding of the book of the law was the commencement of better times in the later date of the Jewish monarchy. And it was when strengthened by these reports of faith that the ancient worthies wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, out of weakness were made strong. Our Saxon forefathers valued and prized the word of God. King Alfred translated the Psalms for them, and the Venerable Bede the Gospel of John. It was a little leaven, but it served to keep a better faith alive; a little salt, but it tended to purify the fountains of public opinion. Before Luther the Waldenses held the faith of Christ in the fastnesses of the Alps and in the valleys of Piedmont. Our own countryman Wickliffe gave to the people the whole New Testament in their mother tongue, by which he gave a resting-place to the mind, and widely sowed the seed of the kingdom. So much so that a contemporary says, “You could not meet two people by the way but one of them was a disciple of Wickliffe.” This was the crowning work of Luther—the unsealing the fountains of Divine truth to the millions in Germany. In Italy the Reformation dawned in the same manner. If ever the flame of holiness and devotion burn brightly in your bosom, it must be fed by the word.
4. Because by this word you must be judged. “God shall judge men by my Gospel.” “The words I speak, the same shall judge you at the last day.”
II. How? Different minds take different courses. Some a chapter of Old Testament in the morning, and New Testament at night; some Psalms; some Gospels; some histories; some epistles. Whate’er is best administered is best. As to states of mind.
1. With reverence. “Take off thy shoe!” There should be a pause of solemn seeking and solemn waiting for a spiritual frame. Who feels the sublime dignity of a saying fresh descended from the porch of heaven? Who feels the awful weight of one of the words of the living God? How awestruck were Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk. On the frontispiece of some Bibles is written, “How awful is this place!” “So ought we,” as Owen says, “to look upon the word of God with holy awe and reverence for the presence of God in it.”
2. With special affection and prayerfulness. Go to God by prayer for a key to unlock the mysteries of the word. St. John by weeping got the sealed book open. Daniel by prayer drew an angel down from heaven to give him more light. Bow your knees before you open your Bibles. “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.” Honour the prophetical office of Christ. It is the prerogative of the Lion of the tribe of Judah to open the books and unloose the seals. Honour the work of the Holy Spirit. No man can say that Christ is Lord but by the Holy Ghost.
3. Take time. Not time? You have time to sin—none to repent? time for the world—none for God? Could God find time to write this book, and will not you to read it? Shall the sick man find no time to read his Physician’s prescriptions? the condemned malefactor find no time to read his Judge’s pardon? Must Joshua in the midst of war and cares of government find time to meditate on the law; and shall thy shop, or plough, or a few trivial duties discharge you?
4. Keep the end in view.—Thodey.
ADDENDA TO CHAPTER 8
THE religious times ordained in the Law fall under three heads:—
(1) Those formally connected with the institution of the Sabbath;
(2) The historical or great festivals;
(3) The Day of Atonement.
Immediately connected with the institution of the Sabbath are—(a) The weekly Sabbath itself. (b) The seventh new moon, or Feast of Trumpets, (c) The Sabbatical year, (d) The year of Jubilee.
The great feasts (in the Talmud, pilgrimage feasts) are—(a) The Passover. (b) The Feast of Pentecost, of weeks, of wheat harvest, or of the First-fruits. (c) The Feast of Tabernacles, or of ingathering.
On each of these occasions every male Israelite was commanded “to appear before the Lord,” that is, to attend in the court of the tabernacle or the temple, and to make his offering with a joyful heart (Deuteronomy 27:7; Nehemiah 8:9-16.8.12). The attendance of women was voluntary, but the zealous often went up to the Passover. Thus Mary attended it (Luke 2:41), and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:7; 1 Samuel 2:19). As might be supposed, there was a stricter obligation regarding the Passover than the other feasts, and hence there was an express provision to enable those who, by unavoidable circumstances or legal impurity, had been prevented from attending at the proper time to observe the feast on the same day of the succeeding month (Numbers 9:10-4.9.11). On all the days of Holy Convocation there was to be an entire suspension of ordinary labour of all kinds (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 16:29; Leviticus 23:21; Leviticus 23:24-3.23.25; Leviticus 23:35); but on the intervening days of the longer festivals work might be carried on. Besides their religious purpose, the great festivals must have had an important bearing on the maintenance of a feeling of national unity. This may be traced in the apprehensions of Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:26-11.12.27), and in the attempt at reformation by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 30:1), as well as in the necessity which, in later times, was felt by the Roman government of mustering a considerable military force at Jerusalem during the festivals. The frequent recurrence of the sabbatical number in the organization of these festivals is too remarkable to be passed over, and (as Ewald has observed) seems, when viewed in connection with the sabbatical sacred times, to furnish a strong proof that the whole system of the festivals of the Jewish law was the product of one mind. Pentecost occurs seven weeks after the Passover; the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles last seven days each; the days of Holy Convocation are seven in the year—two at the Passover, one at Pentecost, one at the Feast of Trumpets, one on the Day of Atonement, and two at the Feast of Tabernacles; the Feast of Tabernacles, as well as the Day of Atonement, falls in the seventh month of the sacred year; and, lastly, the cycle of annual feasts occupies seven months—from Nisan to Tisri.
The agricultural significance of the three great festivals is clearly set forth in the account of the Jewish sacred year contained in Leviticus 23:0. The prominence which, not only in that chapter, but elsewhere, is given to this significance in the names by which Pentecost and Tabernacles are often called, and also by the offering of “the first-fruits of wheat harvest” at Pentecost (Exodus 34:22), and of “the first of the first-fruits” at the Passover (Exodus 23:19; Exodus 34:26), might easily suggest that the origin of the feasts was patriarchal, and that the historical associations with which Moses endowed them were grafted upon their primitive meaning. It is, perhaps, however, a difficulty in the way of this view that we should rather look for the institution of agricultural festivals amongst an agricultural than a pastoral people, such as the Israelites and their ancestors were before the settlement in the land of promise.
The times of the festivals were evidently ordained in wisdom, so as to interfere as little as possible with the industry of the people. The Passover was held just before the work of harvest commenced; Pentecost at the conclusion of the corn harvest, and before the vintage; the Feast of Tabernacles after all the fruits of the ground were gathered in. In winter, when travelling was difficult, there were no festivals. After the Captivity the Feast of Purim (Esther 9:20) and that of the Dedication (1Ma. 4:56) were instituted. The festivals of wood-carrying, as they were called, are mentioned by Josephus. What appears to have been their origin is found in Nehemiah 10:34. The term “the Festival of the Basket” is applied by Philo to the offering of the first-fruits described in Deuteronomy 26:1-5.26.11.—Rev. Samuel Clark, M. A., in Smith’s ‘Bible Dictionary.’
SENTENCES FROM OLD WRITERS
I. The Reading and Exposition of the Law. They spake unto Ezra the scribe. “The people may, if need be, say to Archippus, Look to thy ministry that thou fulfil it. The gifts and abilities of all good ministers are theirs, and they may call for them” (1 Corinthians 3:22). “Ezra knew that the best need hear the law, that they might be kept within the bounds of obedience. Not the unruly colt only, but the horse that is broken, hath a bit and bridle also.” “The commandment was a lamp, and the law a light. The Greeks call the law the standing mind of God. And if Demosthenes could say of men’s laws, that they were the invention of God; if Xenophon could say of the Persian laws, that they kept the people even from coveting any wickedness; if Cicero durst say of the Roman laws, that they far excelled and exceeded all the learned libraries of the philosophers, both in weight and worth, how much more may all this and more be said of this perfect law of God, the book whereof was here brought forth by Ezra, and read and expounded in the ears of all the people?” Before the congregation both of men and women. “Souls have no sexes. In Christ there is no difference.” “Little pitchers have ears, and little children will understand much if well principled.” “As a scribe Ezra wrote the law; and as a priest he read and expounded it.” “Five or six hours they spent in holy duties, whereas the most amongst us think long of an hour; they sit, as it were, in the stocks whiles they are hearing the word read or preached, and come out of the church, when the tedious sermon runneth somewhat beyond the glass, like prisoners out of a gaol.” “St. Paul laid one text to another, as artificers do the several pieces of their work, that they may perfectly agree the one with the other.” “The prophets give us Moses unveiled.” “Parallel texts, like glasses, set one against another, do cast a mutual light; like the sun, the Scriptures show other things, and themselves too.”
II. Religious Joy. “The joy which has the Lord for its object, and comes from him, is the cause of renewing spiritual strength, so as to run and not be weary, walk and not faint, in the ways of God.” “Thou canst not be fully comforted, nor have perfect refreshment, but in God.” “It is no hard matter to despise human comfort when we have Divine.” This day is holy unto the Lord your God. “Your mourning, therefore, now is as much out of season as Samson’s wife’s weeping was at her wedding.” “One being asked whether a good man might not feed upon sweet and delicate meat; eat the fat and drink the sweet, even the choicest wines and chiefest viands? answered, Yes; except God made bees only for fools.” “Spiritual joy is such a precious commodity, as that no good can match it, no evil overmatch it.” “The peace of a man’s conscience will appear in his countenance, as Stephen’s did.” “To the truly joyous the cross is anointed.” And all the people went their way to eat. “To do all that they were directed to do. They had been in the furnace of mortification; and now they were willing to be cast into the mould of God’s word and to be whatsoever the Lord would have them to be. They were only his clay and wax, a willing people, waiting for his law.” And to make great mirth. “All kind of honest jollity; for the better exciting their hearts to true thankfulness.”
III. Sacred service. On the second day they were gathered together. “Divine knowledge is as a great lady, that will not easily be acquainted with us but upon further suit.” “Popular men should esteem knowledge as silver, noblemen as gold, princes prize it as pearls.” The priests and Levites. “These teachers of others took no scorn to learn of Ezra, that perfect scribe.” “The greatest part of those things which we know is the least part of the things which we know not.” “God will not take up with a careless and slubbered service.” “To do nothing for God more than needs must account too little.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany