Nehemiah’s task as a leader did not end with the successful completion of Jerusalem’s wall. The tiny group of survivors around Jerusalem together with the returned captives needed to become a nation that worships the true God alone and walks in His ways. Nehemiah’s greatest contribution was to help lay down solid foundations for that rebuilding.
BACKGROUND: Feast of Booths (Tabernacles) (8:14-18) The history of the feast goes back to the earliest days in the Promised Land. It was designed so that the Israelites would never forget that their ancestors had lived in tents in the wilderness. Once having reached the Promised Land and having tasted its fruits, they were to make booths of branches and palms fronds at harvest time and to live in them for a week (Leviticus 23:33-43). By contrasting between what had been and what now was, the people’s dependence on and gratitude to God would be reawakened.
II. BIBLE READING
Nehemiah 8:1 all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel. 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. 4 Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; and on his left were Pedaiah, Mishael, Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Meshullam. 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 The Levites– Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah– instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. 9 Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10 Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” 12 Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. 13 On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the scribe to give attention to the words of the Law. 14 They found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in booths during the feast of the seventh month 15 and that they should proclaim this word and spread it throughout their towns and in Jerusalem: “Go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtle’s, palms and shade trees, to make booths”– as it is written. 16 So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves booths on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim. 17 The whole company that had returned from exile built booths and lived in them. From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great. 18 Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the feast for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly.
Nehemiah 9:1 On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads. 2 Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the wickedness of their fathers. 3 They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshipping the LORD their God. 4 Standing on the stairs were the Levites– Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani– who called with loud voices to the LORD their God. 5 And the Levites– Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah– said: “Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.” “Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. (NIV)
A. The People Listens To God’s Word (vv. 1-6)
- Try to visualize and feel the events described in vv. 1-6. How would you describe the people’s attitude to God and His Word?
- a. What is our attitude to God and Hid Word today? How do we show it?
b. What should we do to really show reverence to God and His Word?
- Note that it was Ezra, not Nehemiah, who led in the reading an teaching of God’s Word. What leadership qualities do we learn from Nehemiah that he let Ezra take the lead this time?
B. The People Respond To The Word of God (vv. 7-18)
- a. What was done to help the people understand the Word of God. (vv. 7,8)
b. Why is it important for the people to understand the Word of God?
c. When we read the Word of God today, whether during services or during our personal quiet time how much of it do we understand? What hinders our understanding of God’s Word? What can be done to help us understand?
- a. How did the people respond when they understand the Word of God? (v. 9)
b. Why did they respond this way?
c. Have you ever been convicted after reading the Word of God? What happened then? Share experiences.
- a. One result of genuine renewal is a quickened interest in and grasp of Scripture. How is this manifested in Israel? (v. 13)
b. What did they learn? (vv. 14-15)
c. How did they respond? (vv. 16-18)
d. What is the significance of the Feast of Booths?
- a. Let us review what we have learned so far. Form 8:1- 18, what elements of spiritual revival are described?
b. Can you think of any action you might take to encourage or sustain a revival in your own devotion to God? If so, describe that action.
c. Is there anything you could do to encourage revival in another person, our church, or our community? How might you accomplish this goal?
C. The Solemn Assembly (Nehemiah 9:1-5)
- a. Two days after the conclusion of the Feast of Booths, the Israelites conviction of sin, caused by reading of the law and temporarily suppressed by the leaders as inconsistent with a joyous occasion, is now allowed to find its natural expression. How was it expressed? (vv. 1-2)
b. After confession, what did they do? (vv. 3-5)
- How are praying and fasting, confession, worship and praise related? How does one lead to the other?
- How do the above help bring us to a deep consciousness of the Lord our God?
- REFLECTION: Have I been renewed spiritually?
When people hunger and thirst after God, they will want to drink in His Word. Respect and reverence for God enabled them to understand it. When they respond by deep repentance and obedience, revival comes. Then it will lead to reforms in society.