Instructed in the Law of God
[This chapter is based on Nehemiah 8; 9; and 10.]
It was the time of the Feast of Trumpets. Many were gathered at
Jerusalem. The scene was one of mournful interest. The wall of Jerusalem
had been rebuilt and the gates set up, but a large part of the city was
still in ruins.
On a platform of wood, erected in one of the broadest streets, and
surrounded on every hand by the sad reminders of Judah's departed glory,
stood Ezra, now an aged man. At his right and left were gathered his
brother Levites. Looking down from the platform, their eyes swept over a
sea of heads. From all the surrounding country the children of the
covenant had assembled. "And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God.
And all the people answered, Amen: . . . and they bowed their heads, and
worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground."
Yet even here was evidence of the sin of Israel. Through the
intermarriage of the people with other nations, the Hebrew language had
become corrupted, and great care was necessary on the part of the
speakers to explain the law in the language of the people, that it might
be understood by all. Certain of the priests and Levites united with
Ezra in explaining the principles of the law. "They read in the
book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them
to understand the reading."
"And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of
the law." They listened, intent and reverent, to the words of the
Most High. As the law was explained, they were convinced of their guilt,
and they mourned because of their transgressions. But this day was a
festival, a day of rejoicing, a holy convocation, a day which the Lord
had commanded the people to keep with joy and gladness; and in view of
this they were bidden to restrain their grief and to rejoice because of
God's great mercy toward them. "This day is holy unto the Lord your
God," Nehemiah said. "Mourn not, nor weep. . . . 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."
The earlier part of the day was devoted to religious exercises, and
the people spent the remainder of the time in gratefully recounting the
blessings of God and in enjoying the bounties that He had provided.
Portions were also sent to the poor, who had nothing to prepare. There
was great rejoicing because the words of the law had been read and
On the following day the reading and explaining of the law were
continued. And at the time appointed--on the tenth day of the seventh
month--the solemn services of the Day of Atonement were performed
according to the command of God.
From the fifteenth to the twenty-second of the same month the people
and their rulers kept once more the Feast of Tabernacles. It was
proclaimed "in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth
unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle
branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make
booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them,
and made themselves booths, everyone upon the roof of his house, and in
their courts, and in the courts of the house of God. . . . And there was
very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last
day, he [Ezra] read in the book of the law of God."
As they had listened from day to day to the words of the law, the
people had been convicted of their transgressions, and of the sins of
their nation in past generations. They saw that it was because of a
departure from God that His protecting care had been withdrawn and that
the children of Abraham had been scattered in foreign lands, and they
determined to seek His mercy and to pledge themselves to walk in His
commandments. Before entering upon this solemn service, held on the
second day after the close of the Feast of Tabernacles, they separated
themselves from the heathen among them.
As the people prostrated themselves before the Lord, confessing their
sins and pleading for pardon, their leaders encouraged them to believe
that God, according to His promise, heard their prayers. They must not
only mourn and weep, and repent, but they must believe that God pardoned
them. They must show their faith by recounting His mercies and praising
Him for His goodness. "Stand up," said these teachers,
"and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever."
Then from the assembled throng, as they stood with outstretched hands
toward heaven, there arose the song:
"Blessed be Thy glorious name,
Which is exalted above all blessing and praise.
Thou, even Thou, art Lord alone;
Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host,
The earth, and all things that are therein,
The seas, and all that is therein,
And Thou preservest them all;
And the host of heaven worshippeth Thee."
The song of praise ended, the leaders of the congregation related the
history of Israel, showing how great had been God's goodness toward
them, and how great their ingratitude. Then the whole congregation
entered into a covenant to keep all the commandments of God. They had
suffered punishment for their sins; now they acknowledged the justice of
God's dealings with them and pledged themselves to obey His law. And
that this might be "a sure covenant," and be preserved in
permanent form, as a memorial of the obligation they had taken upon
themselves, it was written out, and the priests, Levites, and princes
signed it. It was to serve as a reminder of duty and a barrier against
temptation. The people took a solemn oath "to walk in God's law,
which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all
the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and His judgments and His
statutes." The oath taken at this time included a promise not to
intermarry with the people of the land.
Before the day of fasting ended, the people still further manifested
their determination to return to the Lord, by pledging themselves to
cease from desecrating the Sabbath. Nehemiah did not at this time, as at
a later date, exercise his authority to prevent heathen traders from
coming into Jerusalem; but in an effort to save the people from yielding
to temptation, he bound them, by a solemn covenant, not to transgress
the Sabbath law by purchasing from these venders, hoping that this would
discourage the traders and put an end to the traffic.
Provision was also made to support the public worship of God. In
addition to the tithe the congregation pledged themselves to contribute
yearly a stated sum for the service of the sanctuary. "We cast the
lots," Nehemiah writes, "to bring the first fruits of our
ground, and the first fruits of all fruit of all trees, year by year,
unto the house of the Lord: also the first-born of our sons, and of our
cattle, as it is written in the law, and the firstlings of our herds and
of our flocks."
Israel had returned to God with deep sorrow for backsliding. They had
made confession with mourning and lamentation. They had acknowledged the
righteousness of God's dealings with them, and had covenanted to obey
His law. Now they must manifest faith in His promises. God had accepted
their repentance; they were now to rejoice in the assurance of sins
forgiven and their restoration to divine favor.
Nehemiah's efforts to restore the worship of the true God had been
crowned with success. As long as the people were true to the oath they
had taken, as long as they were obedient to God's word, so long would
the Lord fulfill His promise by pouring rich blessings upon them.
For those who are convicted of sin and weighed down with a sense of
their unworthiness, there are lessons of faith and encouragement in this
record. The Bible faithfully presents the result of Israel's apostasy;
but it portrays also the deep humiliation and repentance, the earnest
devotion and generous sacrifice, that marked their seasons of return to
Every true turning to the Lord brings abiding joy into the life. When
a sinner yields to the influence of the Holy Spirit, he sees his own
guilt and defilement in contrast with the holiness of the great Searcher
of hearts. He sees himself condemned as a transgressor. But he is not,
because of this, to give way to despair; for his pardon has already been
secured. He may rejoice in the sense of sins forgiven, in the love of a
pardoning heavenly Father. It is God's glory to encircle sinful,
repentant human beings in the arms of His love, to bind up their wounds,
to cleanse them from sin, and to clothe them with the garments of
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