Nehemiah 8:1-12

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 6, 2003

God’s Call (What church is all about)

We’re going to look at a meeting that took place on one of Israel’s special feast days. It took place back in the time of Nehemiah, just a week after the people finished building the wall around Jerusalem. It took place at a feast known as the Feast of Trumpets.

(Lev 23:24 KJV) Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, In the seventh month, in the first day of the month, shall ye have a sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, an holy convocation.

memorialzikrown – memorial, reminder, remembrance
Blowing trumpets was a way to get people’s attention. It was a way to call out to people. It was a way of gathering people. I’ve often thought that one of the purposes for the Feast of Trumpets was to remind the people of the upcoming holy days (Atonement, Tabernacles) that would follow later on in the month.

Every time I read this passage, I have this idea that it’s a sort of model for church. The Jews themselves say that this event became the pattern for their own weekly synagogue services, which in turn became the pattern for our weekly church services.

As I’ve been thinking about this passage, I was noticing some other connections with the church:

Trumpets were a way of calling to people. The Greek word for “church” (ekklessia) means “called out ones”.

The feast of trumpets was a “memorial”, a reminder of the feasts around the corner. Church ought to be a place where we are reminded of what’s up ahead, Jesus’ soon return.

The church age will end with the blowing of a trumpet:

(1 Cor 15:51-52 KJV) Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, {52} In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
Some have suggested that this “last trump” was the trumpet blown on the second day of the Feast of Trumpets.

:1 all the people gathered themselves together as one man

There are going to be thousands (perhaps 50,000) of people coming.


God calls us together.

The Feast of Trumpets was a “holy convocation”, a special gathering.
As the church, God calls us to spend time together:
(Heb 10:23-25 KJV) Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) {24} And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: {25} Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Some folks have the idea that they can be just as close to God being away from church and “communing” with nature.
A country preacher decided to skip services one Sunday and head to the hills to do some bear hunting. As he rounded the corner on a perilous twist in the trail, he and a bear collided, sending him and his rifle tumbling down the mountainside. Before he knew it, his rifle went one way and he went the other, landing on a rock and breaking both legs. That was the good news. The bad news was the ferocious bear was charging at him from a distance, and he couldn’t move. “Oh, Lord,” the preacher prayed, “I’m so sorry for skipping services today to come out here and hunt. Please forgive me and grant me just one wish: Please make a Christian out of that bear that’s coming at me. Please, Lord!” That very instant the bear skidded to a halt, fell to its knees, clasped its paws together and began to pray aloud right at the preacher’s feet: “Dear God, bless this food I am about to receive.”
God calls us to be together.  We need to be together to encourage each other.

:4 And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood …

We think of a “pulpit” as something like a podium or a stand to hold notes. Here it is a platform to put Ezra and his thirteen helpers above the people so they could be heard.

:5 when he opened it, all the people stood up:


Called to His Word

We’ve seen that Ezra has “brought the law” (vs. 2) Then he “opened the book” (vs. 5) And now the people “stand up” out of respect when the book was opened.
There has been a trend in the American church over the last few years where less and less emphasis is being placed on God’s Word. Instead, churches are trying to do things to make people more comfortable, probably more like “entertained”.
I read an article this week that while many youth groups are built by things like games and upbeat music, one youth pastor was going against the flow by making a commitment to teach his young people God’s Word.
Church ought to be a place that is centered on God’s Word.

:6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

blessedbarak – to bless, kneel. The rabbi Maimonides says, it is the custom with the Jews, in their synagogues, for the reader, after he has opened the book, he says this blessing,

“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who hath chosen us out of all people, and hath given us his law; blessed art thou, O Lord, who hast given us the law; and all the people answer, Amen;”

Amen‘amen – verily, truly, so be it.  The people were agreeing with Ezra.

lifting up their hands – some feel that the lifting of the hands might be symbolic of receiving God’s blessings. Others see it as a sign of surrender. Others see it as a display of praise.

worshippedshachah – (Hithpael) to bow down, prostrate oneself

faces to the ground – humility


Called to worship God

They aren’t thinking about each other for the moment.  They aren’t thinking of their own problems.  Their eyes are on the Lord.
Ezra is leading the worship. He’s the first one to give honor to the Lord.
A worship leader’s job isn’t to tell you to worship the Lord. A worship leader is supposed to be the first one to bless God, and if he/she is really leading and worshipping, then you ought to follow. It’s like two kids having a foot race. But instead of racing to a tree or something, we are racing to the Lord.
I find it interesting that before the people are taught the Word, they enter into worship of the Lord.

:7 Jeshua, and Bani …

Thirteen more men are mentioned. Some have suggested different ideas as to how Ezra’s helpers functioned. Some have suggested that they all took turns on the speaker’s platform, each giving their own sermon. Others think that Ezra spoke and explained the Scriptures, then during breaks, these other men would be scattered throughout the crowd to answer questions and explain any difficulties.

:8 So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.

readqara’ – to call, recite, read, cry out, proclaim

distinctlyparash – (Pual) to be distinctly declared

the sensesekel – prudence, insight, understanding.

Some see this as translation:

(Neh 8:8 NASB) And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
Some of the people may have only understood Aramaic, others only Chaldee. It is also possible that the Hebrew some of the people may be speaking could be a little different from the Hebrew that Moses wrote in. Moses’ text is over a thousand years old at this time. Language changes over time.

caused them to understandbiyn – (Qal) to perceive, to understand, know (with the mind); to observe, mark, give heed to, distinguish, consider; to have discernment

The Jews believe that this was where they got the practice of reading the law in the synagogues each sabbath day. We get the idea of going to church once a week from the Jews.


Called to understand the Word

We have a definition here of “expository preaching”
Read the Word.

The message ought to be based on the Word of God. I think it’s great that a teacher will have concern for his audience and want to give them material that is helpful and relevant to their lives, but the material that will change people and help people is not found in a psychology text, it’s found in the Word.

We don’t try and come up with the message and then try and squeeze it into a Bible text. We take the Bible text and find the message that’s already in it.

Give the sense.

Make sure that the sense of the passage is clear. Are there things that are hard to understand? Are there words or phrases that might be misunderstood? Perhaps there needs to be “translation”. The original Scriptures were written in Hebrew and Greek, not King James English. My goal is to be able to read the Scripture and have a fairly good idea as to what it’s trying to say.

Cause them to understand.

I think this is taking #2 one step further. I think part of the responsibility of the teacher is to make sure that there’s a connection going on. What’s the point of the whole thing? How does this passage affect my life? How can I put the principals found in the Scripture into my life?

:9 For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.


Called to conviction

It would seem that the people were weeping because of the conviction brought by the Word.
Part of the conviction comes from the reading of the Law.

The Law is what helps us understand that we are sinners:

(Rom 3:20 KJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

The Law shows us our need for a Savior:

(Gal 3:24 KJV) Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Part of the conviction comes as the Holy Spirit is at work.

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

There may be times when you come to church when God will shake you up a bit.  If you’re not right with Him, He wants you to turn around.  He wants you to turn to Jesus.  Don’t run away from conviction, embrace it.

:10 … for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry;

holyqadowsh – sacred, holy, set apart

sorry‘atsab – (Niphal) to be in pain, be grieved


Called to joy

This doesn’t mean that the people were never to mourn over their sins and repent. They would be doing that in a couple of weeks (Neh. 9). It’s just that for this moment, this was not the right time.
This is supposed to be a time for joy
It is a “feast day” (Feast of Trumpets), not a day of mourning (like the Day of Atonement).
I would imagine that there also ought to be some celebration about the completion of the wall. The wall was completed six days earlier (Neh. 6:15).
This is not joy just for joy’s sake (like, “Don’t worry, be happy”)
Sometimes you have to put your sadness away and give praise to the Lord.
And you just can’t say, “Well I don’t feel like it right now”.
This is a part of worship. We need to praise Him whether we “feel” like it or not.
(Heb 13:15-16 KJV) By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. {16} But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

These are the same things the people were commanded to do.

Sometimes praise is a “sacrifice”.

:10 for the joy of the LORD is your strength

strengthma‘owz – place or means of safety, protection, refuge, stronghold

(Neh 8:10 ICB) “…The joy of the Lord will make you strong."


Called to His strength

Strength comes from joy in the Lord
I’m not talking about having a “positive mental attitude” on life. I’m not talking about the importance of having a sense of humor. I’m not talking about having “happy people” surround you.
There is a joy that comes from trusting in the Lord.
David wrote about it:

(Psa 28:7 KJV) The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.

Isaiah wrote about it:

(Isa 61:10 KJV) I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.

There is joy that comes simply from being in God’s presence.

(Psa 16:11 KJV) Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

We find strength as we learn to praise Him.
Matthew Henry: “Holy joy will be oil to the wheels of our obedience.”

:11 Hold your peace, for the day is holy; neither be ye grieved.


Called to choose joy

We may not want to hear this, but I think that much of our emotions come from our will. We make choices to be happy or sad.
Fred Mitchell (quoted by J. Oswald Sanders in Spiritual Leadership, pg. 119) once wrote, “It does not matter what happens to us, but our reaction to what happens to us is of vital importance.”
The people have been sad, but they are encouraged and they turn the day into one of joy.
I think you have a choice of how you are going to feel right now.
(Prov 15:15 KJV) All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.

Do you want your day to be “afflicted”, or one of a “merry heart”?

You can make a choice to turn your eyes away from your troubles and turn them to the Lord.
How can I find joy when my life stinks? Look again at Ps. 28:7 & Is. 61:10. God cares about you. He hasn’t forgotten about you.

Think of Joseph being sold into Egypt, wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit, thrown into prison, and then forgotten.

But the Lord was with him, and the story wasn’t over yet.

I think you can choose to handle your troubles with a different attitude.
(Prov 17:22 KJV) A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Trust Him.