In my Bible Study, we’ve been diving into the book of Nehemiah recently. For those of you who don’t know the story, Nehemiah is a cup bearer to the king of Persia during the Jewish exile. At this point in Jewish history, groups of exiles have begun making their way back to Jerusalem. They’ve rebuilt the temple and started to resettle the land. But, the walls of the city still lie in ruin. Nehemiah hears this and is greatly distressed. He gets permission to go back to his beloved city and start the wall rebuilding process. If you’ve never studied Nehemiah, please take the time to do so. Outside of Jesus, I think he’s one of the strongest examples in scripture of true servant leadership.
Anyways, he arrives in Jerusalem and immediately sets to work on rebuilding the wall. In 52 days, the job is completed. Once that physical need it met, he moves on to the spiritual needs of the people. It has been awhile since they’ve heard a reading of the the Law (God’s Word) and he decides to gather the community as one to hear it read. Their response to the reading of Scripture is what I want to focus on here.
Nehemiah 8:3b says that, “And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.” And as it started to be read they, “bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.” (8:6b). Continuing in verse 9b, it says that, “all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.” And then Nehemiah calls them to cease their weeping and celebrate by eating and drinking and sharing with those who have none.
What struck me in this story is how fully engaged with their hearts, minds and bodies they were with Scripture. They were attentive to the reading with their minds. They listened and wanted to understand what was being read. With their hearts and their bodies they worshiped the Lord in response to His Word being read. With their emotions, their engagement with the Scripture led them to weep. Presumably, the Scripture revealed to them their sin and they were overwhelmed by their guilt. But, God never wants us to stay in that state in the repentance process. Yes, repentance begins with recognizing our sin and feeling remorse, but we cannot remain there. We have to move on to the celebration of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and begin afresh.
That is what Nehemiah calls them to do. He says, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” (8:9a) But instead, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (8:10, emphasis mine)
Their full engagement with the scripture led them to celebrate the Lord and stirred them to action. Not only did they treat themselves but they also gave to those who had none. The reading of God’s Word should always move us to action. We are not called to read it and shut the book and move along. We are called to apply what we have learned.
James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
For me personally, I pray that God would help me to engage fully in my reading of the Scriptures. I pray that I would learn to be more attentive as I read or hear it. I also pray that I would engage fully with my emotions so that as I read I would weep over my sins and be drawn into worship as I read. I also pray that I would be stirred to action through my study of the Word.
Would you choose to listen more attentively to God’s Word and then put into practice what He reveals?