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worship grief obedience 1Through the Bible in 2014 ~ Week 39 ~ Sep. 21-27
Zechariah, Esther, Ezra 7-10, Nehemiah 1-8
Worship, Grief, and Obedience: Three Responses to God’s Word

These are my notes from my ladies’ Sunday School class this morning. I’ll be posting the notes from my class here each week. Click here for last week’s lesson.

Background/Time Line:
Judah had been in exile for 70 years. As there had been three waves of deportations (605 B.C., 597 B.C., and 586 B.C.) to Babylon, there were three waves of return from Babylon.

1. 539 B.C.- There’s a new sheriff in town as world domination changes hands. Babylon is out. Persia is in.

2. 538 B.C.- Zerubbabel (Jerusalem’s first post-exilic governor) leads the first return wave. Many of Israel’s feasts and ceremonies are reinstituted, and work on the rebuilding of the temple begins.

3. 536 B.C.- Work on the temple is abandoned shortly after it begins and is not resumed for another 16 years.

4. 516 B.C.- Temple completed.

5. 483-473 B.C.- The events of Esther take place. These events happen between Ezra 6 and 7.

6. 458 B.C.- Ezra leads the second return wave (Ezra 7ff).

7. 445 B.C.- Nehemiah leads the third and final return wave. The city wall is rebuilt.

Nehemiah 8
The exiles were all finally back after 70 long years in captivity, and the wall was finished. They were home and they were safe. It was time to re-establish the nation by ceremony and celebration.

8:1: The Feast of Booths (Ezra 7:10, Leviticus 23:33-44, Deuteronomy 16:13-17)
Ezra was a scribe and a teacher of Scripture. Ezra 7:10 tells us,

“For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

It would have been natural for Israel to look to Ezra for biblical instruction. It’s interesting to me to think back to Jeremiah at this point and recall how, before the exile, all the people came together against him to oppose the word of God. Now, after the exile, the people gather en masse and ask Ezra to teach them the word of God.

It’s a little unclear in verse 1 whether the people knew it was near time for the Feast of Booths (it was supposed to start on Tishri {7th month} 15, and this was the 1st) and that’s why they asked Ezra to read the Law (it was “required reading” at the Feast of Booths), or they just longed to hear the word of God, and the elders learned during the reading or their study time (8:13) that it was time for the Feast.

At any rate, the Feast was on. God had commanded that the Feast of Booths (or Tabernacles) be held every seven years, in the autumn after the harvest had been gathered in. The first and eighth days were days of rest, and sacrifices and offerings, as well as the reading of the Law were done on the remaining days. The Feast of Booths immediately followed the Day of Atonement, a solemn assembly in which the nation’s sins were atoned for. The Feast of Booths had not been held since the days of Joshua.

The Feast of Booths had been instituted as a reminder to Israel of how God had delivered them from “captivity” in Egypt and cared for them during their “exile” in the wilderness. The booths were lean tos or huts built from leafy branches, and the people were to live in these huts during the feast as a reminder of their temporary homes during the wilderness wandering. It is the only feast in which rejoicing is commanded.

What more appropriate feast could there have been on this day in Israel’s history? Their sin had been atoned, and God had “harvested” the apple of His eye from their temporary home in captivity and exile. It was certainly a time for rejoicing.

8:2-12: The Reading of God’s Word
2- God’s word is important for everyone: women, children, families, not just men. Not only did God want His word ministered to everyone, but “all who could understand” in verses 2 and 3 indicates that they would be held responsible for what they had heard. They were to know what God commanded, what He prohibited, and obey accordingly.

3-5- Ezra read from “the Law.” Often, the phrase “the law” or “the book of the law” can mean the entire Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy), but in this instance, it seems to mean the actual “law” portions of the Law. As he read, Ezra stood on a raised platform so that he could be seen and heard. The men standing with him to show their agreement and support were probably priests and/or elders.

“From early morning until midday” would have been about 6 hours, from dawn to noon. Outdoors (in the square). Standing. Yet, the people were still attentive. Compare this to our one or two hour worship services, indoors, sitting, where the pastor is not usually focusing on the finer aspects of how much you’ll be fined if your ox tramples your neighbor’s fence.

These people were starving for God’s word. Eager to get back to living as His people. How intense is our own hunger for God, His word, holy living?

Responding to God’s Word with Worship:
6- Ezra opened with a prayer, blessing the Lord. Joining together freely in their own land to worship and hearing God’s word taught in public by one of their own teachers was a new experience for the generation that had been born and raised in captivity. By this time, overwhelmed and overcome by all God had done for them, their only possible response was humble worship. Worship is one of the right responses to God revealing Himself in His word.

7-8- Because many of the people were hearing God’s law for the first time, they needed some help in understanding it. God had raised up godly men to teach the people. This is what godly teachers do. They read out God’s word and explain it to people (exegesis). They don’t come up with fanciful ideas of their own and bend God’s word to make it fit their ideas (eisegesis).

Responding to God’s Word with Grief:
9-12 (Romans 10:13-14, Ecclesiastes 3:1)- The Holy Spirit works primarily through the teaching and preaching of His word, and that’s just what He was doing here. The people heard the word and the Holy Spirit worked through it to convict them of their sin. They began to mourn over their sin and repent. Grieving over our sin is another right response to God revealing Himself in His word.

But grieving over sin was for the Day of Atonement, a form of which, this time, would follow the Feast of Booths instead of preceeding it (see chapter 9). This was a time of rejoicing for all God had done for them in spite of their sin. As we read in Ecclesiastes,

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

Confession would have to wait.

And why did the people rejoice? Not because God performed a miracle or made their lives nice and comfy or gave them a bunch of stuff. They rejoiced because “they had understood the words that were declared to them.” How often do we rejoice in understanding God’s word or having it preached to us? It’s not often we see a Facebook status that says, “Praising God for understanding the Bible passage I read in my quiet time today!”

8:13-18: Studying God’s Word
13-14- For a Believer, one of the effects of hearing God’s word is the desire to hear more of God’s word. Hearing God’s word preached and taught led the elders, priests, and Levites to want to study the Word even further. As they studied, they discovered that there are things that God’s word actually tells us to do.

Responding to God’s Word with Obedience:
14-18- The leaders learned that there were some actual, tangible, behavioral things God had told Israel to do with regard to the Feast of Booths. They were obedient to God’s word by studying to understand these things, teaching them to the people, exhorting them to obey, and setting the example by obeying the instructions themselves.

The people responded in obedience to the word by heeding the instruction of their spiritual leaders, and by going out, gathering branches, constructing the booths, and living in them during the feast. As each individual obeyed, it encouraged others to obey, so that the whole assembly came together in obedience. And what was the result? “There was very great rejoicing.” (17)

Our response to God’s word should be no different than Israel’s. We should hunger for God’s word and desire more of it with each passing day. It should inspire us to worship the glorious King who sent His son to die for us. It should convict us of our sins and cause us to grieve over them and repent. And, we should obey God’s word, and through our obedience, encourage the rest of the body of Christ to do the same. Then, there will be “very great rejoicing.”

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