From Unfolding Grace:
“Another leader named Nehemiah eventually returns to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. In the following text Israel gathers to hear God’s Word. The people frankly acknowledge that they are still slaves even in their own land — the exile is not ultimately over. They are slaves in their land because they are still slaves to their sin.
Yet they are back in the land and hearing God’s Word. Hope is alive. They will eventually need a far deeper restoration — a renovation of the heart and a true return to God. From this time onward they must hope in God’s promises for this great day to come.”
Wednesday, June 23rd
Larger Portion of Scripture - Nehemiah 8-10
Focused Passage for Reflection - Nehemiah 8:1-8
Reflecting on the Text:
Thirty years ago this summer I attended freshman orientation in preparation for my college studies. While at orientation, we learned about dorm life and registered for classes, but that wasn’t all. We also learned the school fight song. It was important (though not nearly as important as we made it out to be) because songs unite us. Experiences unite us. Words unite us. And we long to be united. We need to be united.
In Nehemiah 8, the people are uniting. They have been united together around the common cause of rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, but something is missing — the main thing. As the chosen people of God, they were to be people of the Word.
Nehemiah, their leader, and Ezra, their priest understood this. So in Nehemiah 8, the people gathered “as one man”. It was a corporate gathering, but some corporate gatherings are simply a group of people who all happen to be in the same place. This gathering was united, and they united to strengthen their purpose and their union.
That day, in that corporate gathering, Ezra read the Book of the Law. The Book of the Law likely consisted of the first five books of our Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. All the people came together to hear, but the passage tells us they were there to do more than listen. They were there to understand.
Four times in this passage the words understand/understood are used. Additionally, the passage emphasizes that the text was read clearly, and the leaders sought to give them a sense of the meaning.
Now certainly the private study of the Word is more accessible to us today than it was in the days of Nehemiah. We all have access to our own Bibles and study notes. That was not so when the exiles returned from Babylon. But I believe there was more behind this gathering than a simple lack of available Bibles. In other words, the leaders didn’t gather the people together simply because they couldn’t do their own private study. Private study is vital, but it is not all.
The leaders gathered the people because they were to be a people united by the Word of God. The Word was meant to shape their lives, and it was meant to shape their union. And as the text seems to emphasize, their time together as a people reinforced their understanding of the Word. That was true then. It is true now. Let us as the bride of Christ be a people who hear, and understand, and worship…together.
Questions for personal reflection:
What place does the corporate gathering of the church body hold in your experience of the Christian life?
What place does the public preaching of the Word of God hold in your understanding of Scripture?
What gets in the way of your commitment to the corporate body of Christ?