Rejoicing at what the Lord Says - Nehemiah 8:12

Hearing, Believing, and Changing

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. … 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.” … 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. – Nehemiah 8:1, 9-10, 12 ESV

Nehemiah was a prophet who lived in the time that the Babylonian exile ended. At the time that the exiles were returning to Jerusalem, he had been in the court of the king in Babylon. But, when he heard that Jerusalem was destroyed and walls in ruins, he gave up his high position and went back to help rebuild the city. Part of what Nehemiah did for the people was to teach them about the Law of Moses. Over the seventy years of captivity and exile, the habits and traditions around keeping the law had fallen away.

In Nehemiah chapter 8, we see the effect that the renewing of the laws and traditions had on the people. Ezra the scribe was asked to read the Law of Moses to the people. As they heard it being read, clearly and so they could understand it, the people started weeping. Nehemiah and the Levites reminded them that this is a time of joy, not weeping. They said, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” (v. 9). In verse 12, it explains a little more what the people were going through, “And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions [to the poor] and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

I love this story! Everything is here that shows us what we need to do to make changes happen and stick in our lives is here. These parts are

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Connection
  • Supporting leadership
  • Willingness to obey

The first part has two elements to it: knowledge and understanding. The people weren’t being rebellious or defiant; they simply didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing. Nehemiah doesn’t try to correct behavior first thing. He knows that they have to know the truth of God and be taught it. It might seem like splitting hairs to say that knowledge and understanding are different, but the nuance of them is captured in the part that says, “They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” (v.8 NIV). They didn’t just put the words out there and tell the people to start a Bible study if they didn’t understand it. They explained it in such a way that they understood what they heard. They now had the knowledge of the law and the understanding of it as well.

The second piece of this is connection. Religion is an abstract concept. It is an idea that we can’t always define quickly and easily. These abstract concepts include things like: there’s a powerful being who is intelligent and loving, but invisible and intangible, and ideas like love, mercy and justice. Even if the intangible is acknowledged, it can be difficult to apply this knowledge to our lives, or, said another way, to care about it. To take all these things and believe that they are real and important enough to be willing to change our lives for is a huge step of faith.

This step of faith can only happen when something connects us with the truth that’s in the knowledge we’ve gained. Knowledge alone isn’t enough, in most cases, to change a person or commit their steps to a path that will cost them personally with no earthly gain in site. That kind of belief is found only in the presence of the Lord. Only when we accept the words of understanding and allow them to connect us to His Spirit. This is why the people wept, because they were so overwhelmed with the Spirit that they felt the connection to Him deeply and personally.

The next piece of this story is the supportive leadership shown by Nehemiah and the Levites. All of Israel is gathered here and is crying. I imagine that some of the Levites were a bit overwhelmed by the people’s response. Thousands of people crying would be intimidating! Fortunately, Nehemiah knew what was happening and knew how to support the people as the Spirit was working in them.

He offered them a day to celebrate the goodness of God while they absorbed the love and knowledge they’d gained. He sent them home, telling 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.” (v. 10). The first time you feel the moving of the Spirt, you might not know how to handle it. Nehemiah is given them the opportunity to enjoy the moment and to have a good meal (eat the fat) and make sure the poor in the group can enjoy a good meal as well.

The final part of this is the willingness to obey. In the next section of chapter 8 and 9, Nehemiah and the other leaders and priests start implementing what they’ve been reading in the Law, right away, no wasted time! The people celebrate and rejoice in this and join in wholeheartedly.

When we’ve been brought into a new understanding of God’s truth, we need to be willing to step into obedience as well, without hesitation and with wholehearted devotion. This is the only way we can see the true change in us: hear it, understand it, celebrate it (leaders support it), and do it.


Unified in God - Psalm 133:1,3

Life Forevermore, Unified with God

A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. – Psalm 133:1-3 ESV

David reminds us in Psalm 133 of the joy of being unified with others around us. I love the imagery he uses of the flowing, dropping over our heads. It’s a gift that’s poured out over us abundantly enough to drop off us and envelop us. David reminds at the end of the Psalm that it’s the blessing of God, and it’s life forever more. With this kind of promise, it seems like it would be a good idea to understand more about the unity he’s telling us about.

Unity on any subject is pleasing. Whether it’s simply joining a club of people who are doing what you like to do, or convincing someone to agree with you, having the same ideas and focus and priorities as those around you feels good. However, the kind of unity that David is talking about here isn’t about discussing ideas or actions until we all get a consensus or agreement. The kind of agreement we need to have for the blessings of life are talked more about by Jesus and Paul.

In Ephesians 4, Apostle Paul has just wrapped up talking about the beauty and the mystery of the revealed good news of life through Christ. After reminding them of that gift, he goes on to talk about living and walking the unity of the good news. He reminds them to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” going on to say, “there is one body and one Spirit …one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

From this we learn that the unity we’re going for is not a unity of humans, but a unity with the divine. We are seeking unity through an awareness and knowledge of the Spirit. It’s not about seeing whose idea gains the most agreement with other people. It’s about learning to become one with the Divine Presence that is in all who believe in the name of Christ.

This is confirmed by Jesus himself. In the last days of his life, Jesus prayed a prayer for all who would believe in His name (that’s us!), set down in John 17:20-26. He asked for one thing for us. It wasn’t a prayer for blessing or protection or anything like we’d probably ask for. Instead, he asks for this, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

As he’s about to leave his disciples to trouble, persecution, and murder, that’s what’s important to Jesus. He wants each of them to become one with God as he himself was one. That’s a big important thing to remember.

As I go back to the imagery of unity being poured over our heads and I combine that with the belief that unity comes from our relationship with Holy Spirit, I can see that our life evermore that David celebrated in Psalm 133 is the life that comes from a deep personal relationship with God through the blood of Jesus Christ. Don’t spend one more day seeking unity with another human; seek God! Then, as we all are unified in the one and only God, we will end up being brought together in a much deeper, more lasting unity than simply agreement can bring.