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Bible: What Does Nehemiah 8-13 Teach Us About the Word of God, Repentance, and Worship?
Ezra the Scribe
“All Israel”--namely, those who could understand their Scriptures-- gathers in the open square in the seventh month to hear Ezra read Torah (vv. 1-3).
In order (of seniority?), his associates stand with him on a wooden platform (v. 4).
The people rise when Ezra opens the Book of the Law, and then fall prostrate after he praises Yahweh (vv. 5-6).
Next, certain priests and Levites interpret the Law's moral standards for the people (vv. 7-8), resulting initially in great penitential mourning (v. 9).
After the Levites encourage them, however, Israel rejoices enthusiastically (vv. 10-12).
On the second day, they learn about the building of booths for the Feast of Tabernacles (vv. 13-14).
Israel constructs these temporary houses of various kinds of tree branches, and celebrates the Feast for the first time since Joshua's day (vv. 15-17).
They listen to Ezra read Torah all week (v. 18).
Learning about one's sin brings mourning to a divinely convicted heart; rejoicing comes when one realizes one’s forgiveness.
Joy finds expression in the celebration of the LORD's goodness.
Worship of the LORD
The Period of the Judges
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Worship continues all month as the people fast, confess their sins, separate themselves from foreigners, and hold divine services (vv. 1-3).
The leaders praise Yahweh as Creator (vv. 4-6) and as the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God of Israel's history, reviewing His dealings with Abraham (vv. 7-8), with the Israelites in Egypt (vv. 9-10), at the Red Sea (v. 11) and in the wilderness (v. 12).
Their prayer speaks of His grace and mercy during those times, as His chesed appeared to them in the forms of His Law [instruction] (vv. 13-14) and physical provision (v. 15).
The text recounts that the people's unfaithfulness during the crisis of the golden calf incident did not cause God to forsake them (vv. 16-19); instead, He did them good by instructing them in the truth and providing for their physical needs (vv. 20-21).
Then the leaders rehearse their conquests of Sihon, Heshbon, Bashan and Canaan (vv. 22-24), their prosperity in the Land (v. 25), but also their rebellion against God during the period of the Judges (vv. 26-27).
Verses 28-31 reiterate the cycle of rebellion-defeat-mercy.
Their prayer concludes with an acknowledgment of God's justice in light of the nation's unfaithfulness (vv. 32-37) and the sealing of a covenant with the LORD (v. 38).
[A review of Israel's history clearly portrays the need for these present-day people of God to avoid the errors of the past].
The Temple Service
Nehemiah, the priests and Levites, their brethren and various other leaders all seal the covenant (vv. 1-27).
The rest (v. 28) join with them, entering into an oath to obey the Law (v. 29), especially with regard to laws concerning intermarriage with the people of the land (v. 30) and undertaking business on the Sabbath (v. 31).
They also agree to tax themselves in order to pay for all the offerings of the temple service (vv. 32-33), and make ordinances to bring the firstfruits of their produce (vv. 35, 37), the firstborn of men and animals (v. 36), and their tithes (vv. 37-38) into the temple.
[Covenant-keeping involved serious commitments to maintain the temple service and adhere strictly to other aspects of the Law].
Verses 4-24 list the number of people (leaders) who dwell in Jerusalem: from Judah, four hundred sixty-eight (v. 6); from Benjamin, nine hundred twenty-eight (v. 8); priests' brothers, eight hundred twenty-two (v. 12); heads of fathers' households, two hundred forty-two (v. 13); mighty men of valor, one hundred twenty-eight (v. 14); Levites, two hundred eighty-four (v. 18); and gatekeepers, one hundred seventy-two (v.19).
Others include the Levitical overseer (v. 22), singers (v. 23) and the king's deputy (v. 24).
Verses 25-36 list those living outside Jerusalem.
[According to verse two, Jews regarded as special those who lived in the capital city].
Joshua, the High Priest
Verses 1-7 list the priests and Levites who returned with Zerubbabel and Jeshua.
Levites from Jeshua's line follow (vv. 8-11), and then those who are the heads of fathers' households during Joiakim's time (vv. 12-21) and during the reign of Darius the Persian (vv. 22-26).
Nehemiah brings Levites from all Israel to dedicate the wall (v. 27).
The celebration includes music and singing (vv. 27b-29), purification rites (v. 30), and the procession of two thanksgiving choirs around the stairway of the wall to various gates, with Nehemiah accompanying one of the choirs to the temple (vv. 31-40).
Great rejoicing continues citywide (v. 43).
Officials are appointed to gather gifts for priests and Levites (v. 44), and all Israel gives singers and gatekeepers portions (of food) daily (v. 47).
[Spirituality seemed on a definite upswing in Jerusalem during the "reign" of Nehemiah].
Reason(s) for Separation
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In obedience to the Law, the people of God separate themselves from the "mixed multitude" namely, Ammonites and Moabites, because the latter desired to curse Israel during the time of Balaam (vv. 1-3; cf. Num. 22-24).
In the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah cleanses Tobiah's illegally obtained (and seemingly long-held) private room in the temple (vv. 4-9).
He would have done this deed sooner had he been in Jerusalem earlier (v. 6).
The room formerly held temple articles and other products, but Eliashib the priest prepared it for his ally (vv. 5, 7).
Nehemiah's actions set this matter right (v. 9b).
He also re-institutes the law regarding supplying the needs of the Levites by appointing treasurers over the storehouse (vv. 11-13).
Again, Nehemiah prays that God would remember his deeds (v. 14).
After contending with the people who break the Sabbath (vv. 15-18), he threatens to arrest merchants who lodge outside Jerusalem on that holy day (vv. 19-21).
Nehemiah concludes with a prayer in which he asks God to remember his work (v. 22)!
The final vignette witnesses Nehemiah again contending with people.
This time he handles a problem that Ezra also faced: intermarriage (cf. Ezra 9-10).
Using Solomon's practice as an example of its evil, he exhorts them to repent and cleanse themselves of everything pagan (vv. 23-31).
The book ends with one final prayer that God remember Nehemiah (v. 31).
[Nehemiah takes some courageous measures that would not be possible in a "free" society (or so it seems).
He was a very zealous, powerful governor of a theocratic community, and thus could command its obedience to his reforms].
[Just a final note about the interesting structure remains (v. 10 ff).
Nehemiah presents a controversy (vv. 10, 15-16, 20, 23-24), contends for righteousness, often using probing, convicting questions (vv. 11, 17-18, 21, 25-27), reports results (vv. 12-13, 19, 22, 28), and concludes with a prayer (vv. 14, 22b, 29, 31b)].
1. Nehemiah discusses the evil of intermarriage as one form of the lack of separation. What is the purpose of separation, and how do people abuse this principle?
2. Before carrying out his reforms (and after), what did Nehemiah stress and practice?
3. How did Nehemiah use Israel's history to accomplish his aims?
4. What do you think of Nehemiah's practice of asking God to remember his deeds?
5. How did Nehemiah overcome false accusations?
6. List several of the methods Nehemiah used to accomplish his work for God.
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