Explore the Bible Series
January 14, 2007
Background Passage: Nehemiah 8:1-10:39
Lesson Passage: Nehemiah 8:1, 5-6, 9-10; 9:1-2, 38; 10:28-29
Introduction: There are important differences between revival and revivalism. Many “baby-boomer” Southern Baptists will remember the revivalistic tendencies of post- World War Two churches. Commonly, Baptist churches sponsored “revivals.” These meetings occurred at regular intervals (I grew up in congregations that scheduled semi-annual revivals), and they typically involved a guest preacher and musician who led the worship. Great anticipation invigorated the church in the weeks leading up to the revival, and congregation mobilized for a season of intense spiritual renewal: cottage prayer meetings, WIN schools, youth meetings, and choir practice. Everyone hoped for an evangelistic harvest and genuine renewal of spiritual vitality.
These revivals revealed, in many cases, a genuine yearning for a more intimate experience with Christ. No doubt, many people can trace the genesis of God’s work in their hearts to a time of “revival’ at a local Southern Baptist church. It’s hard to find too much fault with regular evangelistic emphases and the urgent preaching of the gospel; nevertheless, some troubling aspects of these “revivals” deserve some sober-minded consideration. I offer these thoughts for your meditation.
In Nehemiah’s day, we observe the marks of true revival. God did a remarkable work through the ordinary leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. The renewal of God’s people did not center on the dynamic personalities of these two men; rather, the attention focused on the Lord God.
Background Passage Outline:
I. Ezra Read and Explained the Law of God (8:1-18)
A. Ezra summoned to read the Law (vv. 1-8)
1. The occasion of this reading: Nehemiah tells us this occurred on the first day of the seventh month, and commentators like Charles Fensham conclude that this was the Jewish New Year celebration; thus, these Hebrew people would have regarded this as a joyous occasion. In all probability, this reading took place in obedience to the admonition of Deuteronomy 31:9f.
venue of the celebration: The Water Gate was located in the Northeast section
3. The blessing and worship of the occasion: Verses six and eight point out the profound effect all of this had on the multitude. The congregation stood as Ezra read the scrolls, and they responded by bowing their heads and worshipping the Lord. Notice that the people actually responded to the teaching they received; that is, they did not remain impassive and inexpressive.
B. The response of the people to the reading of the Law: This section expands our understanding of how the listeners responded to the Ezra’s ministry. Initially, the reading of the Law grieved the attentive multitude, and they began to weep, no doubt, because of their awareness of their own moral failures. Ezra and Nehemiah, however, comforted the mourners and reminded them that this day was an occasion for joy and celebration.
commemoration of the Feast of Booths (vv. 13-18): In connection with the
reading of the Law, the Hebrews marked the Feast of Booths (See Leviticus
23:34-40). This memorial drew attention to the forty years of wandering in the
wilderness. It reminded Israel of God’s
deliverance from the bondage of
II. The Worship of a Renewed People (9:1-38): These people, indeed, had experienced a significant rededication of their lives to the Lord. This spiritual renewal, of course, influenced the way they worshipped God. Note some of the elements of their devotion.
A. The corporate element of their worship (vv. 1-5): God’s people, of course, worship the Lord in their private lives. Jesus reminded his disciples of the importance of entering the “prayer closet”; however, all true believers realize that worship has an essential corporate aspect as well. This public worship, if neglected, diminishes both the individual and the body of Christ. In this text, a large group of people gathered for a unified confession of sin and exaltation in the faithfulness and forgiveness of the Lord. The people of God seem to have lost track of time; that is, they did not worship in haste. They devoted half of the day to the reading of the Scriptures and confession of sin. Note, by the way, the importance these people placed on the public reading of the Law. Modern evangelical churches, following this ancient example, should devote more time in simply reading the Bible together.
awareness of the history of redemption (vv. 6-31): Ezra helped the Lord’s
people understand the history of God’s dealings with
C. The renewal of their covenant with God (vv. 32-38): The rehearsal of Hebrew history brought these people to an awareness of their own failures and the gracious redemptive posture of God toward his failing children. This renewal of the covenant involved several elements: an ownership of their sin, an awareness of their solidarity with the sins of the past, a realization of God’s wondrous faithfulness and grace, and the understanding that this situation was reversible.
Questions for Discussion:
1. What role does the public reading of Scripture play in your local church? How could your assembly improve on this essential element of public worship?
2. How can your church improve its understanding of Christian History?
3. How has this lesson shaped your understanding of “rededication”?