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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Nehemiah 8

 

 

Verses 1-18

THE READING OF THE LAW

(vv. 1-12)

We have seen at the end of chapter 6 the wall was completed, and in chapter 7 appointments were made for the proper order to be maintained in the city. Now another matter of greatest importance is set before the people of Judah. Just as in any revival, the Word of God must be given the foremost place, so it is in chapter 8. For the first time in this book Ezra the scribe is mentioned. This man shows a lovely spirit. Though his ministry was absolutely essential for the returned remnant, he did not put himself forward until the work of rebuilding was finished, and even then it was not he who asked for such a place of prominence. Rather, when the people gathered "as one man" in the open square in front of the water gate, Ezra was "told to being the book of the Law of Moses" (v. 1).

God was working most manifestly in the people being unitedly gathered as they were, and the time had come when they would spontaneously recognize the value of the Word of God. This took place on the first day of the seventh month (v. 2), which Leviticus 23:23-25 indicates as "a memorial of blowing of trumpets," a time of great rejoicing. Yet here in Nehemiah there is no mention of trumpets. Why is this the case? Is it not because true joy could not be restored to Israel apart from their hearing the Word of God? Thus, at this time God would occupy them with hearing His Word apart from the trumpets.

This was no 20 minute sermon, but the reading of God's Word from morning until midday, with all the people being attentive to hear what the Book of the Law said (v. 3). This took place in front of the water gate, for water is a symbol of the Word of God (Ephesians 5:26), a necessity every day of our lives, both for drinking and for cleansing.

Ezra stood on a wooden platform, made for this purpose, to be visible to all the people and his voice more easily heard. Six men stood at his right hand (making 7 with Ezra himself), and seven at his left, thus symbolizing completeness of fellowship, for 14 is 7x2, 7 being the complete number and two speaking of testimony or fellowship.

When Ezra opened the book of the Law, all the people stood up spontaneously. This was God's doing, and thus there was seen a willing response for God's Word. Then "Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God" (v. 6). What is implied in this blessing? Mark 14:22 and Luke 22:19, compared together, make this clear, for Mark says, "Jesus took bread and blessed and broke it," while Luke, referring to the same occasion, says, "He took bread and gave thanks and broke it." Thus it is clear that Ezra's blessing was a prayer of thanksgiving. How right it was then for all the people to respond, "Amen, Amen," lifting up their hands and bowing their heads in worship.

A number of men are mentioned then who were able to help the people to understand what Ezra was reading (v. 7). Having been captives in Babylon for years, the people no doubt learned the language of their captors and the Jewish language would not be well known by many, therefore they would require help in understanding it. In the Church of God today there are many who have difficulty understanding the Word of God because accustomed to think in different terms than those expressed in scripture, and they need the help of teachers who are well acquainted with the truth of God.

At the end of verse 9 we are told that "all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law." Why so? No doubt because the law exposed the failure of the people. Yet Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites told the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn nor weep." Why not weep on account of their failure? Because the Word of God has a higher object than to expose sin: it declares His grace to sinners.

Rather than weeping, the people were told to "Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength" (v. 10). This is not mere natural joy, but the joy of the Lord, which is strength for doing good, such as providing for others who do not have the same advantages as we.

The Word of God having been given to them, with the faithful advice of their leaders, the people responded with great joy, feasting and sending portions to the poor, "because they understood the words that were declared to them" (v. 12). When God is given His place, the result will always be great joy and blessing.

THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES

(vv. 13-18)

The heads of the fathers' houses, with the priests and Levites, were evidently so impressed by the Word of God as to realize how little they knew about it, so that on the second day they gathered to learn more from Ezra (v. 13). The feasts of Israel should have been well known to the Jews, but though three of these particular occasions were prescribed for the seventh month, they were evidently totally ignorant of this. Now they learn from Ezra's reading of scripture that there was a "Feast of Tabernacles" ordained for seven days, beginning with the 15th day of the month (Leviticus 23:33-39). They had missed the feast of trumpets, which was the first day of the seventh month, for Ezra had only begun reading scripture to them on that day. But why they missed the Day of Atonement on the tenth day (Leviticus 23:27) seems questionable.

They found that during the week of the Feast of Tabernacles Israel was to dwell in booths, which were to be made with branches of olive trees, other oil trees, myrtle trees, palm branches and branches of leafy trees. Therefore the people went out and gathered the necessary branches and made booths, some on top of their houses, some in their courtyards or the courts of the temple, or in open squares in the city (v. 16). No doubt they did not realize the significance of what they did, but being obedient to the Word of God they had "very great gladness." However, this occasion signifies the blessing God will give Israel in the millennium, when they are brought back from their centuries of sinful departure from God. Actually, the Great Day of Atonement will prepare them for this, for on that day Israel was commanded to afflict their souls in repentance and self-judgment, as will be true when they "look upon Me whom they pierced (Zechariah 12:10-14), as the Lord says, and in brokenness of heart receive Him as their Messiah.

All will be changed for them. Their living in booths signifies the blessing coming to them then, even the weather always being favorable, so that no storms, rain or snow or wind will disturb their comfort even in such dwellings. There will be no fear of thieves or robbers either, no fear of violence or of unwelcome harassment, but all the people living in peace and harmony.

Though the Lord had commanded that this feast should be kept every year, verse 17 tells us that Israel had not kept this feast by dwelling in booths since the days of Joshua. Does it not seem strange to us that all through the history of the book of Judges, through Samuel's time and through the history of all the kings, this feast had been ignored? We do read of Passovers being kept, specially in Hezekiah's day (2 Chronicles 30:1-27) and during Josiah's reign (2 Chronicles 35:1-19), but why not the Feast of Tabernacles? Surely this compares with the history of the Church, for the Feast of Tabernacles symbolizes the great blessing in store for Israel, while the truth of the coming of the Lord tells us of the great blessing in store for the Church. This truth of the Lord's coming was virtually forgotten until the 19th century, though it should have been kept fresh in the minds of believers at all times. The Rapture of the Church of God will introduce us into the unspeakable blessing of peace perfectly accomplished, never to be disturbed for eternity; indeed high above the blessing in Israel of which the dwelling booths symbolizes. When the Church began to be awakened as to the value of prophecy, it was not long till the Lord made clear that the Rapture of the Church should take place at least seven years before the Lord will return in power and glory to set up His earthly kingdom.

Every day of the seven days of the feast Ezra read from the Word of God to the assembled people of Judah. Today also, as the truth of the Lord's coming is impressed on us, there has been a revived interest in searching the Word of God on the part of many. Sadly, some have searched it merely from an intellectual point of view, with no real heart to obey the Lord, but to further their own selfish interests. Yet others have a true desire to honor Christ and to serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

On the eighth day there was a sacred assembly, an assembly of special character, for number 8 speaks of a new beginning. Number 7 indicates completeness, so that both numbers have an application to the same thing, that is, our future destiny will be the completion of God's counsels for us, but in another way it speaks of a new beginning.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Nehemiah 8:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/nehemiah-8.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, December 7th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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