The Israelites had returned from exile only to find their country and the temple destroyed. Because of this destruction, gloom and despair had descended upon them and they had all but abandoned their religious practices and faith in God. After the temple had been rebuilt under the leadership of Zerubbabel, decades passed where the outer wall lay in ruins and the people continued to drift from worshipping God. Nehemiah, inspired by God, returns to Jerusalem from his appointment in the courts of Persian King Artaxerxes to take on the leadership role of rebuilding the outer walls to the Temple. Ezra, a priest, simultaneously takes on the task of rebuilding the people’s faith and adherence to the laws of Moses.
Key Verses: (MSG)
2: “So Ezra the priest brought The Revelation to the congregation, which was made up of both men and women--everyone capable of understanding.” – The rebuilding of the outer walls of the temple had been completed and now it was time to rebuild their faith in God.
3: “He read it facing the town square at the Water Gate from early dawn until noon in the hearing of the men and women, all who could understand it. And all the people listened…” – The people were familiar with the scriptures being read but this time they listened.
6: “Then Ezra praised God, the great God, and all the people responded, "Oh Yes! Yes!" with hands raised high. And then they fell to their knees in worship of God, their faces to the ground.” – Epiphany! Sudden understanding. Scales fell from their eyes and the Holy Scripture came to life.
8: “They translated the Book of the Revelation of God so the people could understand it and then explained the reading.” – The text was probably written in Hebrew and needed to be translated. In addition to reading the Scriptures, Ezra took time to teach so all could understand.
9: “Nehemiah the governor, along with Ezra the priest and scholar and the Levites who were teaching the people, said to all the people, "This day is holy to God, your God. Don't weep and carry on.” – They were weeping because they suddenly realized that all that had transpired at the hands of the Babylonians, destruction, captivity, and exile, would not have happened had they simply followed the Law of God.
10: “He continued, "Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don't have anything: This day is holy to God. Don't feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!” – Nehemiah stresses the importance of not dwelling on past failures, but to look to the future, a future surrounded by the love and joy of God.
Points to Contemplate:
Are you following your dream?
1 Nehemiah had left a life of luxury and comfort to return to Jerusalem, a land in ruin and a people in despair. He came because God instilled within him a dream that he could not set aside. Walls had to be rebuilt. Has God instilled a dream within you that you cannot set aside? Are there walls to His kingdom that He has inspired you to build? Are you following your God-given dream or have obstacles come into your path that you have allowed to block your way?
Is the Word of God the center of your life? The story of the Ezra and Nehemiah illustrates that when lives are broken and needing to be rebuilt, the Word of God is at the center of that rebuilding. Nehemiah erected walls but the true healing and rebuilding took place when Ezra read the scriptures and there was understanding. When your life needs to be rebuilt after a set back, do you turn to the Bible for strength and understanding? As you busy yourself reconstructing walls and temples, do you make the Bible your foundation? Is it possible that one reason for your suffering and despair could be that you drifted from the Word of God in the first place?
Are you weeping? As you grow in your faith and as new insights from God enter your heart, do you weep for the lost opportunities in your life that have passed? Do you agonize over the understanding that things would have been much easier for you had you listened to God in the first place? Ezra says to you: "This day is holy to God, your God. Don't weep and carry on.” Does this show you that God wants you to always be looking forward to His promised glory? That He wants you to drop the baggage of the past and celebrate the future? Can you make today a holy day to God and prepare a holiday feast for celebration with the understanding that “the joy of God is your strength?”God is celebrating, are you? Promises of the Gospel:
Nehemiah took action when others stood by. He was inspired by God to follow his dream. There were barriers along the way that he needed to overcome, not the least of which was his own comfortable position in Persia. When God inspires a dream within our hearts, stepping outside our comfort zone can be the hardest step we ever take. But when we do, the rewards are amazing. Nehemiah was rewarded by his efforts in reconstructing some broken walls by witnessing the reconstruction of broken hearts. He knew that the walls around the temple would be meaningless unless the Israelite people turned, once again, to the Word of God and followed His teaching. That moment when Ezra taught and new understanding swept through the crowd was a holy moment. It is a moment that is available to every one of us each time we pick up the Bible in search of guidance and understanding. And God rejoiced!