Chapter 8:1-12 (ESV) - And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand, and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Question to consider: Why were the people weeping, and why were they told to rejoice?
The first day of the seventh month would be considered New Year’s day on the Hebrew calendar. It was a day of new beginnings, and the people were beginning their journey as citizens of the rebuilt city. After almost two generations of being exiled from the city and living amidst the Babylonians and Persians, they were entirely immersed in pagan culture and knew little about the Law.
When the siege came, the scribes and priests may have been able to rescue some of the temple scrolls, but it is not like the people had their own copies of scripture or were able to gather regularly for worship. All they really had was what was passed down to them from their parents or grandparents. Considering that Israel’s judgment came about because they allowed the worship of other gods to creep into the city and sanctuary, I would guess that there was not a lot of scripture being passed down to the next generation.
So not only did Ezra read from the Law, but he made sure that everyone who heard what was being read understood what was being said. Today, it is easy to get a copy of the scriptures, but people have a tendency to study individual verses that they try to apply to their own lives. It is a blessing when you can find a good church that faithfully proclaims God’s word in its intended meaning and context. This is why I choose to go through one book at a time and continually provide a summary of the context and purpose of each book. As a Christian, I also interpret scripture as it relates to Christ. Jesus was very specific about the scriptures pointing to Him. For instance, after He rose and encountered two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke wrote, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)
The people wept as the Law was read because the Law showed them their sin before God. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are somehow deserving of heaven because we remember our good deeds and kind of gloss over our bad ones. The Law helps us to see how far short we have fallen from the point in which God declared us good.
In this case, the teachers of the Law did as good teachers do. They didn’t just leave people in their grief and without hope of being reconciled to God. They followed up their Law teaching with gospel. Because the people understood their sin and grieved over it, they could rejoice in knowing that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If all we had were God’s Law, we would be without hope, but implicit in God’s commands was the promise of grace. God’s promise to Abraham was received by faith, and that faith was credited to him as righteousness according to Genesis 15:6.
The people go away rejoicing, for they understood the words that were declared to them. I would argue that what they understood was the mercy of God, for if all they heard was doom, they would have gone away weeping.
Dear heavenly Father, thank You for being righteous and building a kingdom of righteousness where we can be with you forever. We thank You also for building Your kingdom with mercy so that we can freely accept this righteousness for ourselves. Amen.