Nehemiah 8 & 9 – Eat, Sin, Confess, Repeat

After rebuilding the wall in record time with the help of God, the exiles realized that they needed structural changes in their lives also. They urged Ezra, the teacher of the law to bring out the book of Law that Moses had written and read from it before the whole assembly.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.

Nehemiah 8:2

Notice how Ezra gathered all who were able to understand as he intended to teach the law rather than simply read from it. He appointed the Levites in the assembly to teach the people what the law meant as he read from the Torah.

Reading the word without understanding is of no use to anyone. Some simply hear the scriptures as part of their traditions or routines without having the desire to know what it means.

The Scriptures are the Living Word of God and simply reading them as a daily chore keeps us under the control of the evil one, ever listening but never understanding, being satisfied by following the commandments but never understanding why God gave us these laws.

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Nehemiah 8:8

No More Tears

The words penetrated the hearts of people and they started to weep. But Nehemiah, Ezra and the elders calmed them by reminding them to look forward to the celebrations and not grieve about the past.

Dwelling on our past failures keeps us from enjoying our renewed covenant with God. Nostalgia can be both good or bad, depending on what we are remembering. What do we miss from our childhood days, do we miss our bonds or do we miss our miserable state. Do we really want to go back to being a kid and lose all the freedom that we have as adults?

Similarly we have nostalgia for our past lives and we waste time thinking what we could have done differently. We should not be nostalgic to go back to our previous state but rather be nostalgic about the grace of God that we experience during those days. That is what Ezra and Nehemiah wanted the people to remember after the reading of the law. Not the past lives but the continuous grace of God that was always with the Israelites.

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.

Nehemiah 8:12

The exiles built for themselves temporary shelters and lived in them throughout the festival as a remembrance of how God protected their people when they were wandering in the desert for forty years.

Again, the focus should be on how God kept them safe and provided all their needs rather than pondering about how difficult it would have been for their ancestors. We also follow traditions started by our ancestors in their remembrance of God. But over the years we have made it a remembrance about our ancestors and taken God out of these festivities.

The Response

…the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads.

Nehemiah 9:1

After going through the book of Laws over the past month, the people repented as they now saw the pattern in their disobedience. Starting from Abraham who left the city of the Chaldeans to the present day when God helped them come out of the same place, Babylonia, they realized how God kept His word even when they continuously failed to obey Him. No matter how much they rebelled or refused to listen to the prophets, God still welcomed them back into His fold, with open arms.

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,

Nehemiah 9:17

Even in our lives we see a similar cycle of us falling prey to sin and leaving God, but He still reaches out to bring us back into His fold. Even after we have seemingly repented of our sins we go back to our old ways.

But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in your sight.

Nehemiah 9:28

God knew what Adam and Eve were going to do even before He created them, what Judas was about to do even before he was chosen to be part of the twelve and even about us and how many times we will betray Him. Yet He still chose to send Jesus to die for us all. That is God’s love, something that we can never fully comprehend but can only praise God for His mercy on us.

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