Though rebuilt it was still a shadow of the glory it had been in the day. Sure the walls were in place, the gates re-hung, the temple again marked by the ascending smoke of offerings to the Lord, but it wasn’t the Jerusalem of David’s day, not the temple as Solomon had constructed it.
But really, for hundreds of years before Jerusalem had been razed by the Babylonians, though the physical city stood, inwardly the decay of spiritual infidelity had taken it’s toll. The more the world had crept in, the more the glory had been driven out.
But that was then. This was now. The people were back. The walls stood. The temple billowed smoke. And something occurred in a manner that the people of God hadn’t known for a thousand years. And that, because the Word had its way.
And all the assembly of those who had returned from the captivity made booths and lived in the booths, for from the days of Jeshua the son of Nun to that day the people of Israel had not done so. And there was very great rejoicing.
(Nehemiah 8:17 ESV)
It’s not that the Feast of Booths hadn’t been celebrated since Joshua (1Ki 8:2,65 2Ch 7:9, Ezra 3:4), but not since Joshua had the Israelites celebrated it “like this” (NIV, NLT). Less of religious compulsion, instead of willing response. And what was the catalyst for such a glorious and joyful response? The Word had it’s way.
God had set their hearts to seek Him afresh through His word. They gathered together with unity of purpose and asked Ezra to bring the Book and read the Word (8:1). And the people were all ears and attentively listened as the Law was read (8:3). As the Book was opened, the people stood (8:5)–the Holy Word received with holy reverence. And they worshiped, hands up and face down, at the anticipation of hearing afresh from the God of their restoration (8:6). And they were taught. Learned men taking the Word that was read, and making clear it’s meaning, “so that the people understood the reading” (8:8).
And the Word had its way. They were transformed by the renewal of their mind, discerning the good and perfect and acceptable will of God (Rom. 12:2).
First, they wept tears of contrition as they realized afresh the depths of their past rebellion and the reasons for their exile. But then they were encouraged as they were reminded that they were no longer standing in Babylon, but were now in Jerusalem. And while the city might have been a shadow of a former day, the hearts of the people was set towards heaven in a way they hadn’t been in a millennia, not since the days of Joshua.
And it’s got me thinking this morning about the power of God’s inspired Word. That it truly is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). That it really is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” so that the people of God might be equipped for every good work (2Tim. 3:16-17). Such as the good work of obediently celebrating the faithfulness and provision of God.
How often do we think we need to supplement the Word in order “get results”? How often do we look to something else as the means for heart-level change? How often are we tempted to think we’ve outgrown the pat answers of the Bible and are ready for something more “sophisticated”?
I chew on Nehemiah 8 and what I see is the Word having it’s way. A hunger and thirst for righteousness created because they had tasted and seen that the Lord was good. A desire for obedience, not in order to earn favor, but as a response to the abundant favor already showered upon them.
The city around them may have been a shadow of its former glory, but the shadow of God’s glory enveloped them that day as it hadn’t for years. And that, because the Word had it’s way.
By His grace. For His glory.