The Reading in NEHEMIAH 8

Reading the Law books in the Old Testament can be either very boring or very convicting. When Nehemiah had Ezra read the Scriptures aloud to the Jewish people, their reaction was dramatic. What’s in this for us? 

NehemiahHave you ever really sat down and read through the early books of the Old Testament? Particularly the latter part of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy?

Depending on your perspective, it may be very boring or very convicting. If you’re Jewish and living in the redeveloping city of Jerusalem during the times of Nehemiah in the mid-5th century BC, the reading of the Book of the Law (of Moses), as it was called, would have packed quite a punch.

But what does it mean for us?

The Setup
The first 5 books of the Bible, written by Moses, are called the Pentateuch. They are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Pentateuch reflects the traditional Jewish grouping of these books together as the Torah. Genesis and the first half of Exodus comprise mostly historical accounts and events from the time of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth to the introduction of the first Hebrew; namely Abraham, in Genesis, chapter 12.

As Ezra will later recite their Jewish origins and history in Nehemiah chapter 9, for now here in chapter 8, he focuses on reading the most convicting elements of the Jewish Law. Again, this Law, passed from God to Moses, was only for the Jewish people. It is found in the latter part of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy

The Gathering
Worship in the Jewish temple is in operation, the walls are completely rebuilt, the people have been encouraged to come back and resettle within the city confines after their Babylonian captivity which began in 605 BC. After 70 years in exile and then another 90 years of tentative living in and around Judah and their decimated capital city of Jerusalem, in Nehemiah, chapter 8 the Jewish people have been gathered together by their now governor Nehemiah to hear the priest and scribe, Ezra, read aloud the Book of the Law:

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…. He read it aloud from daybreak until 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. (Nehemiah 8:1-3)

Ezra read aloud for several hours (from daybreak until noon) from a constructed platform. It would take an average person about 2 to 3 hours to read each of these 3 books. It’s reasonable that over a period of 5 to 6 hours the Law sections of the Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy could be read aloud to the people from the pulpit. 

Ezra the teacher of the Law stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion….

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. (Nehemiah 8:4-6)

The Levite priests were in the crowd explaining the Law as Ezra read it. Jewish tradition maintains that the Levites were here translating the less familiar ancient Hebrew into Aramaic, the common language of the people since the exile in Babylon.1

The Levites…instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 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. (Nehemiah 8:7-8)

The People’s Response
The people, convicted by the realization of their nation’s utter disobedience to God’s guidance and Law for them, wept openly as they listened. They were instructed to not wallow in their grief, but to celebrate the second chance they were given:

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8:9-12)

The celebration was to last 7 days as a reestablishment of the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles as a memorial to generations that God made the people of Israel dwell in booths or tents when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:43)

On the second day of the month, the heads of all the families, along with the priests and the Levites, gathered around Ezra the teacher to give attention to the words of the Law. They found written in the Law, which the Lord had commanded through Moses, that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month….

So the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters on their own roofs, in their courtyards, in the courts of the house of God and in the square by the Water Gate and the one by the Gate of Ephraim….From the days of Joshua son of Nun until that day, the Israelites had not celebrated it like this. And their joy was very great.

Day after day, from the first day to the last, Ezra read from the Book of the Law of God. They celebrated the festival for seven days, and on the eighth day, in accordance with the regulation, there was an assembly. (Nehemiah 8:13-18)

Application for Us?
Upon the surrendering of our life back to God, the Holy Spirit (like Nehemiah here, a picture of the Holy Spirit) leads and directs and provides instruction for us back to the Word of God, the Bible.

The Bible’s Old and New Testament, beyond just the Law books, reveals God’s love, hand, and ways with all of mankind, even those who are grossly disobedient.

Upon reading and studying the Bible, we learn or are reminded how far we personally may have strayed from God’s holy standards. Just like the people of Israel, our response may be heart-felt conviction, deep sorrow, and remorse. Yet the Holy Spirit, and God’s supporters around us (pastors and fellow believers), can and do encourage us to rejoice, memorialize, and move forward in celebration of our new life that’s been given a second chance.

How are you doing with your second chance? 

Then all the people went away to eat and drink…to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. – Nehemiah 8:9-12

1 ESV Bible Commentary, Ezra Reads the Law During the Fall Feasts,


Categories: Abundant Living, Books of the Bible, Calling, Church, Devotion, Discipleship, Faith, Family, Forgiveness, Israel, Jesus, Marketplace, Old Testament, People, Prophecy, Purpose

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