Devotional Reading: Leviticus 23:33-42
Lesson Scripture: Nehemiah 8:13-18
Lesson Aims: To acknowledge how God’s Word touches willing hearts; to recognize that God continues to do for us what He did for Israel; and to deepen our commitment to Him.
Background: Nehemiah, Artaxerxes’ cupbearer and trusted friend, received word that the Jews in Jerusalem were in great danger because the wall had not been repaired since the Babylonians destroyed parts of it. He mourned for his people and fasted and prayed (July 21st lesson) about the situation. He asked for a leave of absence, which the king granted, in 444 BC.
Official letters and a military escort were provided to ensure a safe journey. After his arrival, a night inspection of the wall was made. Then he identified himself to the priests, nobles and other officials. He declared God’s call for the mission and told them that the king supported the project.
The officials were committed to repairing the wall. At that point, the Jews’ enemies surfaced — Sanballat (san BAL uht), Tobiah (toh BIGH uh) and Geshem (GESH ehm). See 2:19. Nehemiah organized the community and work began (chapter 3). The opposition mounted a campaign of ridicule (bullying) to stop them. When that failed, a threat on the workers’ lives was issued. A plan was developed and implemented (chapter 4). The poor were experiencing difficulty trying to do their share due to heavy Persian taxes and high interest rates on loans. Quickly, Nehemiah fixed the problem and the work continued (chapter 5).
The opposition recognized that Nehemiah was the problem; He had to be stopped — get rid of him, problem solved. Nehemiah avoided all of their traps, ignored their threats and refused to hide in the Temple (chapter 6). Fifty-two days after the work began, the wall was completely repaired! Chapter 7 recorded the genealogies of the returnees. Three groups of returnees along with the remnant that was left numbered 50,000. The Temple had been rebuilt and the wall secured, now it was time to give thanks.
Lesson: On the first day of the seventh month (Tishri — late September early October), Ezra, the priest brings out the Law for all to hear. Facing the Water Gate, he reads from daybreak to noon. The people stand and listen attentively (8:3,5). The rabbis will incorporate this practice when the Torah is read in the congregation. The Eastern (Greek) Orthodox churches continue this today. Some Protestant churches have recently initiated this in their worship.
It is the responsibility of the Levites to translate and explain the Scripture because most of the people spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. Nehemiah and Ezra encourage them to dry their tears and rejoice because God has been good to them. They are to eat the choice food and drink sweet drinks. On the second day, they hear the passage about the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths). They prepare enthusiastically! This feast had not been observed since the days of Joshua, son of Nun. Each day Ezra read from the Book of the Law.
Mentioned first in Exodus 23:14-17, Leviticus gave specific instructions for the seven day observance. Also known as the Feast of Ingathering, it commemorates the harvest and memorializes the journey from Egypt to Canaan.
Application: Once again, God has delivered His wayward people from bondage. Hearing the Word inspires them to rededicate their lives to God, the Gracious One! We too are to praise God for His many blessings extended to us because of His grace and mercy. Our celebrations are to honor and glorify Him because of what’s been done; what is being done; and what will be done on our behalf. Each time we are blessed, our commitment to Him should deepen; not because of the blessing, but because we know that it was through Him alone. Our worship praises God but it should draw us closer and closer to Him! Have you renewed your relationship with God?
Allow me to correct an error from two weeks ago. Artaxerxes sent Ezra to Jerusalem, not Artaxerxes II. I apologize for this mistake. — M. S. Peppers