The wall’s up, and people’s heads are soon down in the stuff of life. Houses need to be built, wells dug, orchards planted, fields ploughed up and sown, children looked after and taught. And on and on. Life is never still, never without its demands, and there are never enough hours in the day. Busyness is as old as time, and our lack of time.
In life’s busyness we fight for time. We must fight for the time to listen to God’s Word. If we don’t, the thistles and thorns of work and worry will choke our souls. Our souls need time, time for the Word. The jobs will have to wait, and some jobs need a careful and principled neglect.
So God’s people come together (8.1). Ezra is called to bring out the Law of Moses, and to read it before the community, and what a reading, from dawn to lunch! Also, what a rapt attention (v.3). People know that these are not just words – they are, as Moses said, “your life” (Deut. 32.47).
God’s Word brings joy and sorrow. Joy, in that we see the grace of God once more; but sorrow, in that we see how we disobey that Word, consciously and unconsciously. The people praise God with their preacher (v.6), but there are tears, too (v.9). Maybe this community was feeling as they needed to the weight of God’s anger which had swept their parents’ generation off to exile as the punishment for their sins.
Nehemiah, like any good leader, is alive to the feelings of his people. He speaks up, with tender words, and wonderful counsel. He knows that God is a God of grace. He knows that the joy of the Lord – joy shared and tasted by grace – is our only lasting and real strength (v.10). He calls his people to rest and rejoice.
This is the true joy of God’s Word. Are you experiencing it? When our hearts enthrone the Lord as He truly is, and bow before Him, relying on His mercy alone in Christ, there is always joy. Faith comes through hearing God’s Word, and through understanding it. Ezra had devoted himself to being an expert student and teacher of Holy Scripture (Ez. 7.10), and he and Nehemiah were totally committed to the people grasping the grace of God in His Word. What servants. In fact, apostolic ministry has exactly the same mandate, to be workers with God’s people for their joy (2 Cor. 1.24).
Enjoy the scenes of festivity in vv.12-18. The community celebrates the feast of tabernacles – the first time for many years (centuries, in fact, v.17). They are rediscovering the joy of being God’s people, and obeying His Word. God has no other will for our lives. We should have no other ambition, either.
A Prayer to Pray
Lord God, what a world of joy awaits me as I bow before You. What a world of misery I stumble through when I focus on myself. Lift my eyes, my heart, my mind, Father, to Your care and loving authority in my life. Teach me to tremble at Your Word. Amen.