Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
There are three main stages in the evolution of my understanding of Nehemiah. A long time ago, I thought it was a book primarily about rebuilding a wall. Then I got a bit smarter (translation: I actually read it), and noticed that the rebuilding is completed at around the halfway point of the book. ‘Ahh, I thought, ‘So the first half is all about rebuilding the wall, and the second half is about rebuilding the people’. I liked this. It was neatly divided, like a domino.
But the more I look at it, I can’t help but notice that God is doing his deep, transformative work in his people from the very beginning. This work begins with Nehemiah in chapter 1, but it soon spreads to all the people of Jerusalem. In chapter 3, they must humble themselves and work hard, together. In chapter 4 there’s an object lesson in practical-trust-in-God in the face of genuine threat. In chapter 5 their warped ideas and practices of indebting and enslaving others are exposed. The people are rebuilding the walls, but God is rebuilding them.
Having a ‘good enough’ wall was important for the functioning and security of the city, but nobody was going to look at this wall and marvel. The wall was not called to be ‘a light to the nations’ – the people were.
As much as God was teaching and forming his people through these experiences, a key ingredient had been missing: his word. It’s this they discover in chapter 8 as they call on ‘Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses’. All the people gather, and they all ‘listened attentively’. As the rest of the chapter goes on to show, they receive the word in the context of humble worship, and it resulted in weeping and, ultimately, joy. God’s word reminded them who they were, who they belonged to, and what their lives were ultimately about.
As we carry the torch, as ‘a city on a hill’ (Matthew 5:14), as God’s ‘chosen people… royal priesthood… holy nation’ (1 Peter 2:9), as ‘a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good’ (Titus 2:14), let us also ‘bring out the book’. In our anxious and distracted times, are you finding ways to be shaped by God’s word and, by the power of the Spirit, to embody its message on your frontline? And if so, how is God prompting you to live it out this week?
Church Team – Research & Development
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