Nehemiah 8: This is a day holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!
Many of those listening to Ezra read and explain the Scripture this day left the land of their birth to return to this land of their ancestors. They left family and friends, security and comfort to go to an unsecured city that wasn’t a city at all; rather, it was a pile of rubble. They made the hazardous journey to Jerusalem and then braved real opposition as they labored to rebuild the wall and prepared to re-occupy the City of David. As this task is completed, a holy event is planned. Governor Nehemiah and Priest Ezra organize an event centered on the Word of the Lord. However, something unexpected happens as Ezra reads and explains the Scripture to them. These good people begin to weep and wail. The sense of celebration is replaced with a feeling of failure and fear. The leaders have to act quickly or this holy day will turn in to a day of mourning. Why is it that the people react as they do? I think it’s because they begin to grasp the enormity of their sins and that of their forefathers. Generations earlier, King Josiah responds in the same way when the Book of God is found in the Temple. As he hears it read he’s alarmed and responds in humble fear of God. There’s a place for this kind of response to God’s Word. In fact, I need to be fearful and heartbroken when I realize my sin. However, the story must never end here. The Word of God is not intended to condemn me. Instead, it’s to be for me a wonderful message of hope. I’ve failed God and should stand condemned but God is gracious and offers me hope. The bad news is that I’ve sinned against God. The good news is that he’s the God of Second Chances graciously offering me and you hope and restoration.
Take Away: God is the God of Second Chances.
Two sides of the same coin
Nehemiah 1: The wall of Jerusalem is still rubble; the city gates are still cinders.
The stories of Ezra and Nehemiah are actually two sides of the same coin. Ezra returns to Jerusalem as priest and teacher. His mission is to reestablish worship and teach God’s Law to the returned exiles there. Nehemiah returns as a builder. He brings building and organizational skills to bear on the pile of rubble that is Jerusalem. Together these two men are used by God to accomplish a fresh start for the people of Israel. If I’m ever tempted to divide “sacred” from “secular” in my life I need to spend some time thinking about Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah’s work is every bit as necessary and Spirit-driven as is that of Ezra. When Nehemiah hears of the conditions in distant Jerusalem he immediately prepares to do something about it; not by organizing work crews and accumulating building materials, but by praying. As God’s people, everything we do, even building walls, is done “unto the Lord” and therefore, falls under the “sacred” category.
Take Away: Everything we do as a people of the Lord has a sacred flavor to it.