|We have condensed today’s reading, but encourage you to read the full passage. |
When the seventh month came and the people of Israel were settled in their towns, all the people gathered together in the area in front of the Water Gate. They asked Ezra the scribe to bring out the Instruction scroll from Moses, according to which the Lord had instructed Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Instruction before the assembly. This assembly was made up of both men and women and anyone who could understand what they heard. Facing the area in front of the Water Gate, he read it aloud, from early morning until the middle of the day. He read it in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand, and everyone listened attentively to the Instruction scroll.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all of the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn or weep.” They said this because all the people wept when they heard the words of the Instruction.
“Go, eat rich food, and drink something sweet,” he said to them, “and send portions of this to any who have nothing ready! This day is holy to our Lord. Don’t be sad, because the joy from the Lord is your strength!”
The Levites also calmed all of the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy. Don’t be sad!” Then all of the people went to eat and to drink, to send portions, and to have a great celebration, because they understood what had been said to them.
Until now, the focus has been on Nehemiah. Here, Ezra the priest takes center stage as the people of Jerusalem turn their focus to scripture and their hearts to God. Almost everyone within the walls convened in the square to hear Ezra read the first five books of the Bible. He reads for hours as his apprentices (the Levites) interpret the text for the people. Their willingness to gather and to listen for so long demonstrates a hunger for God’s word.
As the crowd listens, they are convicted and weep because they are aware of their own sin. Based on Nehemiah’s reproach of the people in Chapter 5, we can assume that people have not been living in accordance with scripture. But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites tell them not to mourn, but to celebrate!
It’s easy to imagine the guilt and shame the Jews felt in this moment after experiencing the power of God firsthand, working through Nehemiah to rebuild the wall and their city. It is profound that Nehemiah and Ezra don’t reprimand the Jews for their sins, and instead remind them that their joy is from the Lord.
Sometimes guilt and shame for our past actions keep us from experiencing deep relationship with God and the joy he desires for us. How would it change your life if you truly believed that God is bigger than all of your past mistakes and that he has forgiven you? Where do you need to stop mourning the past, celebrate what God has done, and move into the future with joy?