From the Preacher’s Pen… Do you read your Bible regularly? When you read do you look up words you don’t understand? Do you check references and compare what you are reading to other verses that say similar things or sound contradictory to what you just read? These are just some of the things involved in real Bible study that leads to…
Understanding God’s Word
Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Many people have their own idea of what constitutes right and fair. But the New Testament uses this word in a very particular way to refer, not to human standards, but to the ideal of God’s standard for justification.
By God’s standard, the unrighteous are fully deserving of His wrath. As Peter puts it, And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? (1 Peter 4:18) On the other hand, those recognized as righteous by God are glorified by God’s gracious gift of forgiveness in Christ. Paul says it like this: For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory (2 Corinthians 3:9).
To return to Jesus’ statement, God’s promised blessing of being fully filled or satisfied belongs to those whose deepest desire (hunger and thirst) is for God’s standard of righteousness. With that thought in mind, let’s look at the events of Nehemiah 8. Following the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, a remnant of God’s people has returned to the Land of Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. They have paid an awful price for forsaking the Lord and are attempting to repent and return to Him.
With the people gathered and prepared to return to the Lord, there was still much to do. God had condemned His people’s lack of knowledge (Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6) of Him and His word as the very things that led up to their loss. So now they stood before the Lord to hear His word that they might know the will of God.
Nehemiah set the stage this way: Then all the people gathered as a single body into the plaza that was before the Water Gate. They said to Ezra the scribe, “Bring out the scroll of Moses that ADONAI had commanded Israel.” (Nehemiah 8:1) Notice in this more literal translation what Nehemiah actually said. The Pentateuch, the Law of Moses was not just given to them, but literally commanded to them. Such is still true of God’s word of Salvation in Christ. These are not God’s suggestions, opinions or ideas, but His commands to us!
Nehemiah continued: Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which included men and women and all who could understand what they heard. This happened on the first day of the seventh month. So he read from it before the plaza in front of the Water Gate from first light until midday, in the presence of the men and women, and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)
Did you notice that? Do you see the connections? These people hungered and thirsted for the knowledge of God’s word. They listened to the reading of Scripture from first light until midday!
Notice how the people then responded to hearing God’s word: Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people for he was above all the people. When he opened it, all the people stood up. Ezra blessed ADONAI, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, amen!” as they lifted up of their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped ADONAI with their faces to the ground. (Nehemiah 8:5-6)
The story of that great day continues: Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the Priest-scribe, and the Levites who were teaching the people said to all the people, “Today is Holy to ADONAI your God. Do not mourn or weep!” For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9)
The Levites got the people to understand that this was a day of joy, a day filled with the holiness of feeding their hunger and quenching their thirst for knowing and understanding God’s word. And when they understood God’s word they celebrated! Nehemiah concluded the events of this day like this: Then the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush! For today is Holy. Do not grieve.” So all the people departed to eat and drink, to send portions and to celebrate with great joy because they came to understand the words that were explained to them. (Nehemiah 8:11-12)
So, how about us? Can we, like God’s people before the Captivity, be so frivolous that we cannot spend serious time in God’s word? Can we treat understanding, real knowledge of His will with contempt and thus fail to truly hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness?
Do we realize the seriousness of Bible study, of spending time digging into God’s word that we might understand? Do we not answer that question with our attendance at Bible study opportunities? Can we imagine how God would have felt toward someone suggesting that they would only listen to Nehemiah speak and not to Ezra?
To put it bluntly, how much do we really hunger and thirst for God’s definition of righteousness? Would we spurn the serious knowledge of God’s word?
Our answers are not what we claim but in what God actually sees in our actions.
— Lester P. Bagley