Nehemiah 7–10. After the Wall Was Finished.
Key Notes: A spontaneous assembly. The power of the Word. Practical outcomes of revival.
We would suppose that after the masonry work on the wall of Jerusalem was done, everyone would go home and go about their business. Instead, there was an apparently spontaneous people movement. Was it energized by a vague awareness of the liturgical year? Or was it a movement of the Holy Spirit? Probably both.
Neh.7:1–4 Nehemiah’s first order of business was to secure the City. He put his brother Hanani and Hananiah in charge. Hananiah was more faithful and God-fearing than most of his generation. The gates were to be opened at mid-morning (9AM) with guards posted at the gates and around the houses. There were few people living in Jerusalem.
7:5–73 Then God directed Nehemiah to review the census of the original band that came with Zerubbabel. The list is virtually identical with Ezra’s tally. (Ezra 2:11–70). There was no accounting of the second wave that came with Ezra. (Ezra 8:1–14). While the reason for the census is not clear, it resulted in generous giving by the leaders. A thousand darics (drachmas) of gold is 19 lb.
8:1–12 People came unbidden from everywhere on the first of the seventh month. They called for Ezra to bring the Law of Moses. He read to them on a wooden dias with stalwarts standing on either side of him.
When he opened the book the people stood up. Ezra made a blessing to God and the people lifted their hands and voices in affirmation. Amen. Amen. They bowed in worship. During the reading Levites were stationed in the crowd to help with interpretation. The reading was clear; the people understood; they responded with weeping. The leaders had to console them. They were encouraged to make it a day of celebration. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”
8:13–18 Next day the leaders had a special Bible study with Ezra. They rediscovered the command to live outside in temporary shelters for a week. (Lev.23:40; Deut.16:13). This holiday was to commemorate their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The festival is called “Tabernacles” but that word means “tents” and they were to live under branches and leaves. “Succoth” is the Hebrew word. Succoth is observed by devout Jews to this day. The shelters were set up inside the city although the original intent is that they would live in the countryside. Ezra read the Law to them every day. At the end there was a solemn assembly.
9:1–5 On the 24th, there was day of fasting and confession. They heard more of the Law.
9:6–37 Ezra made a long, penitential prayer, reciting the history of Israel.
Genesis: God is creator of heaven and earth, and all that is in them. God chose Abraham and made a covenant to give him Canaan.
Exodus: God saw the affliction of the fathers in Egypt and led them out by the miracle of the Red Sea. He brought them to Mt. Sinai and gave them the Law. They were given manna to eat and were led by the pillar of cloud and fire.
Numbers: When it came time to enter Canaan they rebelled in fear.
Exodus: Even when they made the golden calf God did not desert them.
Numbers: The kingdoms of Sihon and Og, east of Jordan, were given to them.
Joshua: They captured the fortified cities of Canaan and took possession of a cultivated land.
Judges: But then they rebelled and were repeatedly subjected to their enemies.
I,II Kings: Eventually they were given in to the hands of the kings of the Assyrians.
God was just in His dealings, but Ezra pled for mercy. ”…let not all the hardship seem small to you....” Israelites were slaves in their own land, with its riches going to foreign kings, who had control over their bodies and their cattle.
The history of Israel in short form was repeated many times in the OT and at least once in the NT (Steven’s sermon, Acts 7). Historical psalms are 68,78, 81, 95,105–7, and 136. Can someone tell the story of our country with a spiritual interpretation?
9:38–11:2. They made a covenant signed by about 85 of the leaders.
*They separated themselves from the people of the land and to the Law.
*They would not permit their children to intermarry with pagans.
*There would be no business on Sabbath or holy day. They would not cultivate the land on the 7th year but allow the land to lie fallow. They would remit debts.
*They would pay 1/3 shekel for the temple tax (Matt.17:24 calls for a half-shekel) and provide wood by lot to burn on the altar.
*First fruits would be brought to the temple.
*Levites would collect the tithes in the villages.
*People would be assigned to live in Jerusalem by lot.
Comment: We note that they met in the seventh month. This month normally had a series of four spiritual events. They were not done in the normal order (Lev.23) as listed below, but were apparently were done as they read them in the Law.
Day 1. Feast of Trumpets. (not mentioned)
Day 10. The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) . On the 24th they had a day of fasting, confession and penitence. (Neh.9:1–4). The Holy of Holies ritual entry by the High Priest was probably not carried out because the ark of the covenant was not rebuilt after the Babylonian captivity.
Days 15–21 Succoth. This was held early in the month (Neh. 8:13-), perhaps the 4th to the 11th when they first read about it.
Day 22 A solemn assembly. This assembly was held at the end of Succoth. (Neh.8:18)
This was a remarkable OT event, a revival of the people of God.
Revival is “God’s quickening visitation of his people, touching their hearts and deepening his work of grace in their lives. It is essentially a corporate occurrence, and enlivening of individuals not in isolation but together.” (New Dictionary of Theology. S.B. Ferguson, D.F. Wright, J.I. Packer; IVP,’88.)
We note that Nehemiah has stepped aside. This was not the work of the administrator / governor, but of the priest / scribe / teacher. Ezra did not initiate the revival. The people did that when they asked for the reading of the Law. It was the preaching and teaching of the Law that produced this remarkable event.
Why did the people weep when they heard the Law? It is a characteristic response to revival. It has been repeatedly observed in modern times.
“At four in the afternoon I preached again, from ‘I set before thee an open door and none can shut it.' I had gone through about two-thirds of my discourse, and was bringing the words home to the present—Now, when such power descended, that hundreds fell to the ground and the house seemed to shake with the presence of God. The chapel was full of white and black, and many were without that could not get in. Look wherever we would, we saw nothing but streaming eyes and faces bathed in tears, and heard nothing but groans and strong cries after God and the Lord Jesus Christ. My voice was drowned amidst the groans and prayers of the congregation. I then sat down in the pulpit and both Mr. Shadford and I were so filled with the divine presence, that we could only say, 'This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of Heaven.'”
--Thomas Rankin, a Methodist preacher, June 30, 1776. (Revival and Revivalism. I.H. Murray, Banner of Truth,’94; p.73)
After the day of penitential prayer, the people, who appeared to be moving without human prompting, entered into a covenant. They bound themselves to
*Marry only within the family of faith. 10:30
*Refrain from business on Sabbath. 10:31
*Support the temple and the priesthood with temple tax, first fruits and tithe. 10:34–39
*Dedicate 10% of the people (chosen by lot) to live in Jerusalem. 11:1–2
The fruit of revival was action and involved changes in basic life patterns.
Whom do I marry?
How do I spend my time?
What shall I do with my money?
Where will I live?
In summary, revival is a special and unusual spiritual movement. It is the action of God’s Spirit on the people of God, already chosen, and dedicated. It is the product of sound preaching and teaching of Scripture. It results in sorrow for sin, often with the expression of strong emotions. Lives are changed. Cities are transformed. Revival is not evangelism, which reaches the lost, although it is a logical outcome of revival that outsiders are moved by the changes they see and come to Christ in large numbers.
"The joy of the Lord is your strength."
The joy of sins forgiven by the Jesus’ pardon is a great source of spiritual strength.