Nehemiah was the cupbearer for King Artaxerxes I at Susa. In the second chapter of the book bearing his name, Nehemiah receives permission to rebuild walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 2:1-5). While viewing the walls he meets opposition, but has the promise of God that he would prosper (Neh. 2:15-20). As the walls of the city are being rebuilt, they are attacked by their enemies (Neh. 4:6-8). Nehemiah was later appointed governor (Neh. 5:14), even though some wanted to kill him (Neh. 6:11). When the walls of the city are completed the Jews return from foreign lands (Neh. 7:73).
The seventh month of the Jewish calendar is the festival month of the year (Neh. 7:73). The first day of the month was the Feast of Trumpets. The Feast of Tabernacles and the solemn Day of Atonement also occurred in the seventh month. It is possible that the prospect of coming together for such a celebration may have led to the people's wish to hear the Law.
Divine worship had to be restored among the people (Neh. 8:1-9). There, in the city of God, in the morning light, with the new walls for a background, stood Ezra on his pulpit of wood, and amid reverent silence he lifted the sacred scroll. A common impulse swayed the crowd and brought them to their feet—a token of respect and obedient attention. It is probable that many had never seen the sacred scroll before. No wonder that, as Ezra's voice rose in prayer, the whole assembly fell on their faces in adoration, and every lip responded "Amen! Amen!" Hour after hour his recitation went on.
In this article I would like to notice some elements of acceptable worship as they gathered before the Water Gate to hear "the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel" (Neh. 8:1).
They came together for one purpose: to worship God (Neh. 8:1).God has always desired the unity of His people (Psa. 133:1). Paul had much to say about unity to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:10-17).
This "unity" does not mean we have to like the same football teams, but as Christians we must be "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit" (Eph. 4:3).
Nehemiah read the book of God "in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday" (Neh. 8:3). As a congregation everyone knows what time we start our public worship assembly on the Lord's Day—however, some seem to worry about when we stop!
When people ask how long I preach, I usually tell them, "till I'm finished." Clock watchers are the least spiritual beings among the people of God. When you go to a ball game and they go into overtime, no one leaves. Yet some carnal, wet behind the ears, babe in Christ, will be concerned if the preacher goes into a couple of "extra innings." People will pay $300 for an all-day computer seminar and then stand around asking questions till they turn out the lights! Why? Because they are learning things that will help them make a living.
If you are a clock watcher in worship you need to adjust your interests and set your priorities, "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21).
"Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose" (Neh. 8:4). The reading of the Scriptures in the days of Nehemiah was not a spur of the moment gathering—the people knew the purpose for which they had assembled on that day.
Do you prepare for worship before arriving at the meetinghouse? Do you stay up late on Saturday night, sleep late on Sunday morning, then arrive late to the meetinghouse with your lesson unprepared?
"And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up" (Neh. 8:5). It can not be shown from the Old Testament that standing for the reading of the Law was required by God, but Jewish Rabbis assert that it was the custom from the days of Moses.
Irreverence will damn the soul. We worship in the presence of a King—not just any king, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Heb. 4:14-16; Rev. 17:14).
Our worship is regulated by New Testament teaching which emphasizes reverence in the public assembly (1 Cor. 14:26-28, 40).
"So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading" (Neh. 8:8). C. F. Keil translates this verse as, "they made the law comprehensible to the hearers." Keil goes on to explain, "Hence the occurrence may well have taken place as follows: Ezra first read a section of the law, and the Levites then expounded to the people the portion just read."
Bible preaching involves the explanation of the Scriptures, not just a reading of it (cf. Acts 2:14-16; 7; 8:34; 17:2-3). Plain preaching killed John the Baptist (Matt. 14:4) and Stephen (Acts 7).
The first day of the seventh month was the Feast of Trumpets. When the reading of the sacred scroll was over, and its effects of tears and sorrow for disobedience were seen, the preachers changed their tone, to bring consolation and exhort the people of God to gladness and service.
Those who do not intend to obey do not wish to know the law. If we have no desire to know what the will of the Lord is, we can be sure that we prefer our own will to His.
David Padfield is the preacher for the Church of Christ in Zion, Illinois