Nehemiah 8:1-8 - Living By the Scriptures

Dr. Steve Viars October 12, 1996 Nehemiah 8:1-8

- This morning we're moving into a new and exciting section of the book of Nehemiah.
- There are a number of reasons why:
- we are at a critical place in this story
- and a critical place in the history of Israel...
- where the choices that God's people make now are going to have a significant impact on their future...either for good or bad.

- Here's some reasons why this is such an important time:

1) The unsolved problems of chapter 6.
- Remember, even though the wall had been completed, there was still the nagging "Tobiah problem."
- There was no telling how that was going to "shake out," but clearly some of God's people had gotten caught up in this.

2) New leaders had been appointed in chapter 7.
- Remember, a couple weeks ago we studied how Hanani and Hananiah had been appointed by Nehemiah to be the civil and military rulers.
- Whenever there is a transition in leadership, how "everyone in the loop" responds is very important.

3) Discipline had occurred at the end of chapter 7.
- We did not take time to study this two weeks ago, please notice in chapter 7, verse 64, that some men were excluded from the priesthood because they could not prove their genealogy.
- While it is good that the emphasis on purity of the priesthood was made, you always wonder how people are going to respond when a stand for righteousness has been taken.

4) Chapter 8, verse 2 tells us that this was the first day of the seventh month.
- While this draws a "so what" from we Americans, the Jews would have understood the significance of this.
- They were to celebrate three important feasts that month:
- Feast of Trumpets - the first day of the Month (Like our New Year's Day)
- Day of Atonement - the tenth day of the month
- Feast of Tabernacles - the fifteenth to the twenty-first.

- How the people handled these important days would tell a lot about the kind of nation they intended to be.

- I'm happy to be able to tell you that the choices they make are good ones.
- After several chapters that dealt with problems and difficulties, this chapter is really filled with blessings.
- These men and women made some great much so that their actions recorded in chapter 8 are ones that God's people have followed since.
- Some of what we do as a church today is very parallel to what these men and women did nearly 2500 years ago--especially as it relates to the decisions they made regarding the Scriptures.
- This morning, I'd like us to look for three ways God's people ought to relate to the Word of God..

- READ Neh. 8:1-8

I. You Must Want the Word

- The events we just read about transpired when these men and women made their request that Ezra bring out the Scriptures.

A. They recognized their need .

- This wasn't something that was forced upon them --- they wanted the Word.
- They recognized their need for the Scriptures.

- Chuck Swindoll said:

It is helpful to know that at this time there was a spiritual vacuum in the city. The wall reconstruction project had been completed and the people had moved into their own dwellings. According to chapter 7, which is a detailed chapter on organizational structure, the people were now well-ordered, well-defended, and well-governed. But in this community, even though its residents had nice homes and good jobs and were well-protected, there was still something missing. Nehemiah senses the spiritual vacuum as did the people. A timeless truth emerges from all of this: It is not enough to have a well-constructed superstructure if there is little or no life on the inside. How true this is in the church. We've all seen beautiful structures and well-oiled organizational machinery, and later found that that was it.

Many a church is like an impressive machine I once read about. It had hundreds of wheels, cogs, gears, pulleys, bells, and lights, which all moved or lit up at the touch of a button. When someone asked, "What does it do?" the inventor replied, "Oh it doesn't do anything, but doesn't it run nicely?"

- These men and women did not want to be like that machine, and they recognized they needed the Scriptures to guide them in the next steps of their development.

B. They made their request as a group.

- Verse one says that they all came from the cities around Jerusalem---so they had returned to their houses after finishing the wall (many lived outside Jerusalem), and their request was a unanimous thing.

C. Both men and women were involved.

- Its important to note in verse 2 that both men and women were involved.
- That would have been especially unusual in that culture....but in both Judaism and Christianity, women were treated kindly and with respect.
D. They asked the one who could help them.

- You notice that the attention is shifting in this chapter away from Nehemiah.
- We'll have more to say about that at the end of the lesson.
- Even the way the chapter is written makes this point, because up till now it has been in first person, now it switches to third person.

- Ezra was a man who "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach Israel." (Ezra 7:10)
- He had come to Jerusalem 14 years before Nehemiah and had already been trying to bring the people back to the Lord. (Ezra 7-10).

- So the people demonstrated their hunger for God's truth by asking Ezra to instruct them.

E. They made the necessary preparations.

- Another interesting note is in verse 4, which tells us that the people had built a podium, or pulpit, for Ezra to use.
- they were truly ready to hear the Scriptures.

- When you think of it, this was a great way to spend this feast day.
- When you think of what the average American does on New Year's Day, it tells us something about these men and women that they wanted to hear the Scriptures.

- cf. Matthew 5:6 - "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

- cf. II Timothy 4:2-4 - "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths."

- INPUT - What tendencies do you see in American churches today that tell you "we" are becoming less and less like these people in Nehemiah 8 all the time?

II. You Must Honor the Word

- there are some key ways that these men and women showed their high respect for the Word.

A. They stood when the Scriptures were read - v. 5.

- This act says volumes about what these folks thought of God's Word.

- James Montgomery Boice said:
"I wonder if we have a similar respect for God's Word, and if we think of it as highly. I notice that the people stood when Ezra opened the scroll, and that reminds me of something that is still practiced in many churches in Scotland. It is customary in Scottish churches for the service to begin by the entrance of a man called the beadle. he enters carrying the Bible, which he places upon the church's pulpit and then opens to the day's reading, after which he escorts the minister to the pulpit. The important thing about the ceremony is that the people stand when the beadle enters with the Bible, and they remain standing until it is opened and the minister has taken his place behind it with the implied but obvious assignment to expound it. Only after that do the people resume their places."

- now you know we're not talking about worshipping//honoring the Bible --- we're talking about worshipping // honoring the God of the Bible.
- But you can't honor God without honoring His Word.

- INPUT (perhaps on white board) -- Ways a person can honor the Scriptures today, and ways they can dishonor it?

B. Prayed and asked for God's help

- Verse 6 tells us that Ezra led the people in prayer before explaining the Scriptures to them.
- That too shows how significant everyone viewed this process to be.
- they knew they needed God's help and enablement as they studied His Word.

- INPUT - What does verse 6 tell us about the what the people did during this part of the process?

1) They lifted their hands

2) They responded with "Amen."

- the overall point here is ---- the people in Nehemiah 8 honored the Word.
- The question we need to ask ourselves is, Do we do the same?

(If time --- could deal with -- how do we help our children develop an honor of the Word?)

- One last important emphasis of this text is:

III. You Must Seek to Understand the Word

- What takes place in verses 7-8 is very important.

A. The Levites explained God's Word.

- it wasn't a matter of just reading the Scriptures and then going their separate ways.

- These men apparently broke the congregation into smaller groups and then applied what had been read to the lives of the people.

B. The Word was translated.

- Many of the people would not have spoken Hebrew because they had been raised in Babylon and would have therefore spoken Aramaic.

- Those who did know Hebrew still may have "tripped" over some of what was written since it would have been Hebrew that was written 1000 years prior.

(cf. Boice's illustration about Wycliffe's translation)

C. They "gave the sense" of the Scriptures.

- the idea here is that they expounded the Scriptures.
- Ezra and his men started with the text, but then they explained what it meant, and how it applied to the people present.

- this is very similar to the way we handle the Scriptures here.
- we don't preach out of the Newspaper or Reader's Digest----we start with the Scriptures and expound them.

- Occasionally we do topical studies, but even then we try to expound several passages of Scriptures as part of that study.

- The point we've been driving at this morning is that the people in this chapter make a great choice when they asked for the Scriptures to be brought out and read.
- That tells us something about their character, and possibly how Nehemiah's life had affected them.

- next week we're going to continue to see the way the people responded to the teaching.
- But even with what we've studied so far, we need to ask ourselves....are we like them?

[If time allows, could review quotes (Barber - p. 140, Boice - pp. 130-131, and Wiersbe, p. 95) regarding how many of our country's founding fathers had this same view of the Scriptures. The goal is not necessarily that that would happen in our country again---but surely our country's churches should have that view.)

(Could conclude with point about Nehemiah and his unselfishness -- Swindoll - p. 146-147)

Dr. Steve Viars


Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation


B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and five grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

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