"And All of the People Stood Up"
The phrase quoted as a title of this article is taken from Nehemiah 8:5 which describes the people's initial response to Ezra's opening of the book of God's law in their presence. This was not a fleeting response because, we read in Nehemiah 8:3, Ezra read from this book from morning till midday, and while the Levites helped them to understand what was read the people stood in their place (Neh. 8:7). Also we notice in this matter that they were able to maintain a worshipful attitude throughout (Neh. 8:6). This led to the restored observance of the Feast of Booths which lasted seven days (Neh. 8:13-18). Every day, for the seven days of this feast, Ezra read from the book and the people responded like the the first day. After this great time of worship conducted during the first eight days of the seventh month, the people of Israel returned for more reading and worship on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month (Neh. 9:1-3). This reading and worship led to confession of sins and reformation of lives. There are lessons for us in this example of those events.
The first lesson we can learn from this is the proper conduct while God's word is being read and explained. Is this not what we do in our Bible study and sermon periods of service? In far too many cases today we have become lax in demeanor in our gatherings to the point that reverence is not apparent. It is not uncommon to see all sorts of activity going on among those assembled to consider God's word. This is so much so that those of the world notice our lack of respect for the purpose of our gathering. Children may not act quietly all of the time and that is normal but, in some cases, it is other adults who make them this way, much to the dismay of their parents who are trying to teach them proper conduct in services. There is a time to play with children but not when we are assembled to consider God's word. It is distractive to others and our own concentration to be passing children around like toys. How can we think about spiritual matters while we are amusing ourselves with how cute our children or grandchildren are? Brethren, I do not see this happening among those who stood to listen to Ezra and the Levites. Do you?
A second lesson to learn from this event is the fact that they participated in lengthy services each day for eight days and then, with but few weeks between, they returned for more. In my lifetime we have reduced our gospel meetings from two weeks length to, in some cases, a week-end. We can hardly tolerate six days of daily assembling. Saturday evening services are far too much! Sermons must be short today, some say. Even though school lectures normally run about 50 minutes, sermons which include reading from God's word with explanation to help us understand the meaning must be no longer than 30 minutes with a rare exception of possibly 35 minutes on occasion. Brethren, we need to evaluate our attitudes in this matter. Even the TV news is so brief we often do not get the full picture from it. I am afraid that our restriction on sermon lengths is doing this to our Bible knowledge also. With our society becoming more depraved each day, do we not need more gatherings to consider God's word? Let us encourage our elders to plan more and longer periods of study by our full attendance at all services of gospel meetings and Bible classes. In too many cases the last two or three days of a gospel meeting are mostly attended by visitors from area churches. This ought not be. Was it in Nehemiah's day?
This event also teaches us something about the work we who stand before assembled Christians should be doing. Ezra and the Levites read from the Word of God and helped the people to understand its meaning. I doubt that this was entertaining. It was not designed to be. It was instructional. Are we not tempted in some cases to search for something new to preach? We dare not allow this search to take us to theologians for authority in our lessons. Quotes from scholars might be used well to help us understand what the Word says, but ought not be used in the place of God's Word. Illustrations well used help make the lesson come alive and become implanted in our memories, but they ought not become our lesson instead of the reading and explanation of God's word. Even men as great as Paul only taught the simple gospel to men who were accustomed to hearing and responding to great orators (1 Cor. 2). It is not our responsibility to be like Paul? Yes it is. Every Christian ought to demand this of our preachers. But alas, in far too many cases we see the desire for entertaining speeches which is evidenced in the fact that few come to hear Bible based preaching while crowds flock to hear lessons long on entertainment and short on substance.
The final lesson that I want to draw from this event is that it took this extended reading of God's word with the explanation of its meaning to eventually lead Israel to repent of and confess their sins. Have you ever asked yourself, "Why are we not converting more people today?" In some cases we are not even saving our own children. Could it be because we have reduced our activities of reading God's word and helping people to understand it so that the word is not able to work in their hearts? I have read from men who have conducted longer gospel meetings who have said that often the latter days of the meeting bring most of the responses. Today we end our meeting when the most fruit is yet to be harvested.
Let us close this article with an observation. The people in Nehemiah's day were very ready for the reading of God's word in order to know it. You see, they had just come out of seventy years of Babylonian captivity. This captivity was so impressive that they never returned to idolatry again. Today we who are Christians have been released from the bondage of sin and are traveling the road to heaven. How are we going to make it without the benefit of knowing God's word? Knowledge of that word is gained by reading it, learning what it means.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 2, pp. 39-40