Nehemiah 8

Nehemiah 8:  The Word of God on New Year’s Day

Israel was a nation that was given the Word of God and founded on the Word of God. They were a people and a nation of the Word. In many of the same ways the Word of God made us, America, a people and a nation of the Word. When the Pilgrims and Puritans and early settlers came- their Bibles came with them. Therefore when we observe the history of the nation of Israel, we see what happened when they did not heed the Word of God and drifted away from it. Remember this principle of drifting: one not only drifts away from something, but also drifts toward something.  God was very clear in His instructions, and told the nation of Israel when they did as He commanded and instructed them to do, they would be blessed. And conversely when they did not obey His Word, they would lose those blessings and  be cursed. There would be consequences. The same applies today to believers in the 21st century.  When we drift away from the Word of God and no longer read it, respect it, believe it, love it and obey it- we can expect to lose the blessings of God and reap the consequences.

A popular Christian radio show and ministry is called , “Back to the Bible”.  That is what the nation of Israel did here in chapter 8 of Nehemiah. The people assembled and got, as it were, back to the Bible. Did you notice we are given the specific date this occurred in Nehemiah 8? It was on the first day of the new year of their civil calendar. It was the equivalent of the Jewish New Year’s Day. And looked what God placed in Nehemiah’s heart to do- have the Word of God read to the people.

Looking back in my life, I remember a day the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the verses in Psalms 1. Listen to these specific instructions from the Word of God:  “ Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly ( wicked), nor standeth in the way of sinners, or sitteth in the seat of the scornful(mockers). {Blessed in the Bible means happy, joyful, content, a condition of comfort and security.} This Psalms tells me what NOT TO  DO in order to be blessed. Do not seek counsel, advice on how to live your life from the ungodly. Do not stand with sinners- do not take their side, compromise or give them credibility. Sin is sin- no matter what the wise and sophisticated tell us. Do not associate, sit with the scornful, those who ridicule God and reject His Word as absolute truth.  Remember Lot: “ Lot SAT in the gate of Sodom”. This means Lot was a member of the city council of one of the most wicked cities that ever existed. And we know what happened to Lot and his family.

By telling us who not to associate with, the Lord is also telling us who to associate with: seek counsel from Godly advisors; seek companionship with fellow believers; and join with those who defend the truth against those who mock it.

If we are to rebuild what has fallen into ruin- we must get back to the Bible. We must speak up for the Lord, the Word, and the Church.

The second verse tells me what TO DO. “ But his delight is in the Law of the Lord; and in His Law doth he meditate day and night.” The Word of God will give me guidance and instruction on how to live my life. Psalm 119:105 tells us:  “ Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” It is our GPS that will tell  us when to turn to the right or left. I must program my mind with the Word, by meditating on it.  Notice when you are to meditate on the word- both day and night.  Listen to what God told Joshua as he took over after the death of Moses. “ Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let the Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night , so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you, will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1)

Notice this is a conditional promise, just as the promise in Psalms 1 is also. Psalms 1:3 tells us when we do these things we are told in verses 1 & 2 we will be: : “ a tree , planted by the streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose leaf dos not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

This does not mean we will not have adversity or conflict- we will have. But remember what God told Joshua and us: ‘do not be terrified or discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ He shall guide us with His Counsel as revealed in His Word.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Jesus said: ‘when an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘ I will return to the house I left. When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes in and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself and they go in and live there. And the final condition of the man is worse than at first.’( Luke 11:24-26) Now I am not advocating that a born-again believer can be indwelt with demons. What can happen to a person or a nation is one can go through a program of reform without repentance. Having a form of godliness, but denying its power.  A life reformed but lacking God’s presence will soon be re-occupied by evil and it is worse than before.

Nehemiah  realized that rebuilding the walls and the gates would not change the hearts of the people. These outward physical works were a picture of the inward, spiritual work that needed to be done. They had transformed the exterior, but it would soon fall in ruin again, if the people’s lives  were not transformed on the interior. There is only one source for this type of transformation- the Word of God.

Alexis de Tocqueville made this observation about America in its early days:  “ In the end the state of the union comes from the character of the people.” ( Democracy in America) The state of our country is a by-product of its people’s response to God’s Word.

If we are ever to rebuild America it will be because we, God’s people, turn back to the Bible and obey it, share it, love it, defend it and live our lives based on its guiding principles.

Nehemiah called on Ezra to read the Word of God aloud to the assembly. This is the first step to hear the Word of God. Notice the repeated use of the word – understand.  For the Word of God to produce and release its power to change one’s life it must be understood. The Word of God is compared  to the seed in the parable of the sower and the seed.  The soil represents the heart . The four types of soil represent the conditions and attitudes of the heart.

First the word must be heard, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word. Then the Word must be understood.  Do you know what kind of heart these people had?  Hungry hearts. Hungry for truth. Hungry for answers to their problems. There had been a spiritual famine and the people were hungry for truth. Their hunger was so deep, their thirst so great, they stood there under Ezra and soaked in the word with rapt attention for hours. They were like the frightened deer who is pursued by hunters runs with a desperation and pants for streams of water, so did their souls pant for God, thirsted for the true and living God.   Ever been that desperate to hear from God?

Proverbs 2 tells us: “ For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” I believe the greatest need of the hour for the 21st century church is to know what they believe and why they believe it. Then know how to share that with the world.

We know Nehemiah knew Ezra and here is what he knew about Ezra. “ For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord; and to teaching His decrees and laws to Israel.” ( Ezra 7:10)  Notice the sequence here:  devoted himself- that speaks of discipline, making the time; to study- hearing and reading of the word is not enough, study is required; then there is observance- that is application – putting into practice, obeying the Word of God; all of this was necessary to teach others.

Vance Havner said when you do not have discipline – you have disaster. There is no spiritual discipline more important than the intake, the absorption, the engrafting of God’s Word. There is no substitute for it.

Here we are on the first day on a new year. I do not know if you make resolutions or not- but I want to suggest one.  Read your Bible every single day. You cannot be a healthy Christian without a healthy diet of the milk and meat of Gods’  Word. It is our spiritual daily bread.

The Bible is the Word of God. Sometimes I believe we have heard this so much we forget just what this Book is- the Word of God. In it are His Laws. And a study revealed we have all broken His laws. But we also learn God’s solution by providing us  a substitute to pay for our sins with His sinless death, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are also told how to live in order to please God. So we learn how to be justified and how to be sanctified. It is all here in black and white and red in a language we can understand. In addition all believers are equipped with a Teacher, the Holy Spirit, who is the author of the Word of God. There are no excuses.

What is the purpose of Bible intake?  Obedience. Obedience to God’s law conforms us to the image of Jesus, becoming more Christ-like, more godly.

Psalms 1 tells us when meditate in the Word of God day and night we will become like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither and whatever we do prospers. Jermiah 17 tells us the same thing: “ He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

To engraft the Word of God in our hearts and minds requires the following steps: Hear the Word of God; read the Word of God; study the Word of God; memorize the Word of God; and Meditate on the Word of God.  Engrafting is for one purpose:  Obedience through application and practice.

“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Romans 10:17

“ Until I (Paul) come , devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching.” I Timothy 4:13

“Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.( Application) Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like the man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard , but doing it- he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25

If you want to be changed to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ then discipline yourself to hear, read, study, memorize, meditate and obey the Word of God.

Read it every day. Hear it from several sources- tapes, Christian radio. You can listen to a tape of the Bible being read and it will only take 71 hours. That is about the average time spent watching television in 3 weeks.

Here is the discipline you must develop

Make the time to read it each day.

Have a plan. ( Example: 3 chapters per day in OT; 3 per day in NT will allow you to read the OT through in one year and the NT 4 times in one year)

Jesus prayed to His Father before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion this prayer: “ Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is Truth.” ( John 17) God’s plan for sanctifying us is accomplished by and through the engrafting and application of His Word.

Memorization is where many stumble- it is after all work. It requires discipline. Let me give you some of the benefits of memorization to encourage you to practice this discipline.

Memorization supplies spiritual power. Remember the Word of God is called the ‘sword of the Spirit.’  We are also told the Word of God is alive and powerful.  Psalms 119:11 says: “ Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you.” The word engrafted through memorization and meditation provides the Holy Spirit with a ready source available when you need it most.  It saved my life in my early days in my battle with alcohol. Having stored a verse (I Cor. 10:13)  through memorization and meditation as a new Christian, I found this verse powerful enough to do what I had never been able to do- keep me from taking a drink during a time of temptation.

Memorization strengthens your faith.  Our daughter, Carrie, gave birth this year to twins, after successful in-vitro process. Two years before she had miscarried and as she was reaching her mid- 30’s thought having children might not be possible. Memorization of Scripture strengthened our faith as we claimed God’s promises for us from beginning to end and at every difficulty and concern that arose during difficult days.

Memorization prepares us to be witnesses and counselors when needed.

Memorization is necessary for engrafting. It equips us with our personal arsenal. It enables the Holy Spirit to answer our prayers by supplying us with Scriptural answers.

It is interesting this event in Nehemiah 8 takes place by the Water Gate. A gate that symbolizes the Word of God.  Whenever the Word of God speaks of water that cleanses- it is a symbol of the Word of God. When it speaks of water for drinking – it is a symbol for the Holy Spirit.

If we are to be like a tree planted by the river that sends its roots down deep and produces fruit and is not affected by the drought- we must absorb the Word of God through meditation and application  to be fruitful.  Hearing, reading,studying, memorizing, meditating are the necessary steps for engrafting the Word of God, the incorruptible seed. This seed needs to be watered with the Word of God. Quench not the Spirit.

Now put it all together. The link between Bible intake and prayer is meditation. Meditation is the best preparation for prayer. And prayer is the best use of meditation. Bible intake, meditation and prayer go together.

Why did Nehemiah call upon Ezra to read the Word to the people on the first day of the New Year?   I believe because he knew ‘unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.’

All our labor to rebuild our country will be in vain, unless the Lord builds it. Unless it is built on the foundation of His Word.

Nehemiah knew and we should also know- unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.

On that first day of their New Year  2500 years ago, Nehemiah knew the best thing they could do was start the year with the hearing and reading of the Word of God.

Start your New Year’s Day by reading the Word of God. Then make it your habit to read the Word of God daily. Why? Because you and I will face temptation, decisions, and troubles every day. Because every day, we need guidance and instruction and every day we need God’s grace.

The Bible is our doctrinal guideline. God’s Word generates life; creates faith; produces change; frightens the devil; causes miracles; heals hurts; builds character; transforms circumstances; imparts joy; overcomes adversity; defeats temptation; infuses hope; releases power; cleanses our mind; brings things into being; and guarantees our future forever.

We cannot live without the Word of God.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14