- Jerusalem After the Wall
- Ezra Reads the Law
- The Feast of Booths
- Learning From Mistakes
- More Names
- Other Pages to View
Chapters 7 through 11 discuss the restoration of Jerusalem. Now that the Israelites had returned to their home, built the Temple, and reconstructed the wall, it was time to get things in order. The covenant needed to be remembered and the organization of the Temple and Levite duties needed to be reestablished. This is covered here.
Nehemiah 7 parallels Ezra 2. There are a few "contradictions" which I discussed in the post on Ezra 2. The list of names provided here represents those who returned to Judah from captivity. These are often the hardest chapters to read because we aren't interested in the list. It doesn't move the story along, nor do we relate to names given. However, an interesting thing to think about when reading this, is the care taken to preserve all these names. I'm glad God preserves names because somewhere in Heaven is the Book of Life, and I would hate for Jesus to skim over my name the way I am often tempted to do so for these chapters.
Jerusalem After the Wall
After the wall is built, Nehemiah leaves Hanani and Hananiah in charge of Jerusalem. Note that Hanani is Nehemiah's brother. At this point, the city was large, but few people were there. Nehemiah was moved by God to gather people by genealogy. This is the explanation given for the list of returnees mentioned above.
Ezra Reads the Law
Despite returning to Jerusalem well before Nehemiah, Ezra was apparently still active during Nehemiah's time. There is some debate over the passage in Nehemiah 8 that confirms Ezra's involvement, however it makes sense that if he were still alive, he would take part in helping Nehemiah. As an old man he may not have been laying the bricks for the wall, but it stands to reason that he would speak when asked to speak, as told in Nehemiah 8.
The description given in this chapter about Ezra's speech reminds me of pulpits today. Ezra stands here to read the law of God to the people. This brought up one question in my mind. Today, preachers chose a passage or verse and preach about that verse, but it seems that originally, they simply read the Word of God. Although Jesus' sermons are similar in style to what we see now, Jesus is God so Him speaking of His own accord is pretty much the same as reading what God has said. My real concern/question, is why we never simply read the Bible aloud as Ezra did here. The Israelites were explicitly commanded to read the law every year, yet we do not.
When the people hear the law, they weep because they know they have failed. We often feel sadness and grief to learn of how we have come short of God's glory, but Ezra reminds them (and us) not to mourn. The simple fact that they were there listening was evidence of their journey back to God. All we can do is repent and turn back to God; once we take these steps there is no need to mourn.
The Feast of Booths
During this time the people learn about the Feast of Booths, also known as the Feasts of Tabernacles. This feast is covered in Exodus 23 and Leviticus 23 (you can see the posts here and here). As the Israelites learn critical information on the feast, such as how to prepare the booths, they become excited to honor the feast. They pitch the booths in their courtyards and on their roofs just as God instructed. The feast of booths had not been kept since the time of Joshua! Now, they read the law and kept the feast each day. On the 8th day, they held a solemn assembly according to scripture.
People often skip over the feasts in preference for the pagan holidays Christianity has adopted. However, when you stop to think about it, this sounds like way more fun. Imagine, camping out under the stars and feasting for a week! How much fun would that be?
Learning From Mistakes
Nehemiah 9 recounts the history of Israel, how they came to be a nation, and how they fell. From Abraham to Moses to their current day, they are reminded of the miracles God has shown and the times Israel has turned away. Yet, as promised, God always sent a savior when they repented. The Israelites' inability to keep the law was punished with captivity, and they knew this was the reason for their troubles. Once again the Israelites are in the position to renew their covenant and do right in the eyes of God.
This is a powerful passage. Hindsight is 20/20, but it takes a lot to admit when we are wrong. We aren't always able to say "I sinned" that’s why God punished me. Many times we feel we've been wronged or chose to ignore what's happened all together. The Jews not only acknowledged their failure and recommitted themselves to God, they wrote this down and signed it! Nehemiah 10 gives us the names of those who signed the renewed covenant. Interestingly, one of those names is Daniel—is this the same as the prophet Daniel?
Nehemiah 10 also rehashes much of the law, and goes into detail about tithes. People often forget that tithes were not money, but the first fruits of labor. The best of everything we do is to go to God first. This can be art, music, athleticism, etc. We are to give what we create to God because He created us first. How do we give to God? We can give to those who do His work, or we can give to those around us. Jesus tells us that when we do for the least among us, we do for Him. Now imagine if every farmer in the US gave 10% of their crop to the poor... If every apartment complex gave 10% of it's units to the homeless until they could get on their feet... If artists didn't just thank God on stage, but 10% of their album was music praising God... How different would the world look?
Nehemiah 11 gives us another list of people. The people listed are assigned duties within the covenant. Each family was responsible for certain tasks related to carrying out God's law. The first step to replenishing the city is to assign duties, naturally. This would provide organization as well as keep the people on track with the covenant.