Lord's Day Evening Meditations July
"They Read In The Book"
We have noticed already how, when Ezra opened the
book of the law of God before the people, "all the people
stood up." That was a mark of respect for the book
that was opened before them. When I was a student at school, whenever
a visitor or official walked into our classroom, we were trained
to immediately stand up. It was a mark of respect. It seems that
this respect for older people, or for persons in authority, is
largely a thing of the past, and along with it, respect for the
Lord, His Word, His day, and all that has to do with Him. Well,
if the world loses the sense of the respect it owes, believers
should not go the way of the world. The word that expresses what
we owe to the Lord is reverence - very high respect.
"And Ezra blessed the Lord."
This was a prayer of thanksgiving before beginning to read. When
he had finished, the people all said "Amen, with lifting
up their hands," and they worshipped. In the Old Testament
we often find these outward movements in the people's prayers
or worship. This reminds me of a reference to the lifting up the
hands in 1 Tim. 2:8. "I will therefore that men pray
everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."
I understand this to be in public. The women are given a responsibility
in verse 9 but the men are given a responsibility in verse 8.
It is not that we must lift up our hands when we pray, but there
were those who did, and if so, they must be holy
hands. The point is, that if we are going to engage in prayer,
especially when others are listening, we must not be guilty of
wrong actions, or wrath, or doubting. These are serious conditions
"So they read in the book of the law
of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand
the reading." v. 8. Note how they read "distinctly,"
so that everyone could hear clearly; they "gave the sense,"
so that everyone could get the meaning of what they heard, and
everyone could "understand the reading." This
was all very important. But I believe that there was another reason
why Ezra and his helpers made such an effort to get the people
to understand what was read - a language problem. The ancestors
of this remnant had spent many years in Babylon, and had most
likely learned that language. Their children who grew up there
would most certainly have learned the language of Babylon. People
who come here from other countries usually retain their language,
but by the third generation it is mostly forgotten. So, for many
of the remnant who returned from Babylon, the language of their
Scriptures would have been a strange language. Besides, having
returned to their land, many had intermarried with people of the
nations around, and their children "could not speak in
the Jews' language, but according to the language of each people."
This suggests an important thought for us now.
This Bible is written in English, but to many English people,
it is like a foreign language. By that, I mean, that its terms,
and especially its vocabulary, is all strange to them. A brother
was speaking to a young man about his soul, and he mentioned "Galatians."
The brother said that the young man looked at him as if he wondered
whether you eat it raw or cooked; he hadn't the faintest idea
what "Galatians" meant. The children growing
up in the world today know all about the hockey teams, sports
heroes, actors and actresses, latest songs, most popular cartoon
characters, etc., but they know nothing about the simplest things
in the Word of God. They don't know who Paul is, who the Ephesians
were, or what Abraham or Noah are important for. That is all a
strange language to them. Parents, the less your children know
of the vocabulary of the world, the better it is for them; but
don't neglect to teach them the vocabulary of the Word of God.
The effect on the people was that they "wept
when they heard the words of the law." v. 9. They listened,
not only with their heads, but also with their consciences. We
find in Romans 7 that the law gives the knowledge of sin, so that
the convicted one cries out, "O wretched man that I am!"
They realized how far they had departed from the law of their
God, and they expressed their sorrow with mourning and tears.
However, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites that taught
the people, told them, "This day is holy unto the Lord
your God; mourn not, nor weep." v. 9. The reason for
this was that it was "the first day of the seventh month,"
which, according to the law in Lev. 23, was one of "feasts
of the Lord" - the feast of trumpets. v. 24. In type,
the feast of trumpets prefigures the gathering again (still future)
of Israel after so many years of being scattered. Though the meaning
of these types was not revealed in the Old Testament, yet the
character of the day was one of joy, not of sorrow. Therefore
the people were instructed to rejoice and share their joy, rather
than to mourn and weep. Everyone responded to these instructions.
There were seven feasts on the Jewish calendar,
as given in Lev. 23. Four of them have had their accomplishment,
and three will yet be fulfilled in Israel's future. At present,
in this time of grace, these feast days do not apply. There is
only one day, in the Lord's things, that is set apart now, and
that is the Lord's Day. Do we understand what is the character
of the Lord's Day and what is suited to it? Christendom has taken
the Jewish Sabbath (the last day of the week) and called it the
Christian Sabbath. There is no such thing as a Christian Sabbath.
The Lord's Day (the first day of the week) is not the Sabbath.
The name gives us the character of the day - the Lord's
Day; it belongs to Him. Of the seven days of the week, He has
given us six and reserved the first one for Himself. He marked
it out by His resurrection, His first meeting with His disciples,
His ascension, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the regular
gathering of the early disciples (Acts 20:7). If it belongs to
Him, then it is only right that it be used for Him.
What is the character of the Lord's Supper? We've
come together tonight to get something from the Word. We have
regular prayer meetings in which we come to get many things from
the Lord. We have reading meetings for the purpose of getting
more understanding of the Scriptures. Individually, we are constantly
praying for many things. It is always get, get, get, from the
Lord. That's not wrong; He wants us to do so. However, when it
is time for the Lord's Supper, we come, not to get, but to bring.
The meeting for the remembrance of the Lord is an appointment
with Him in which we come to bring to Him the worship, thanksgiving,
and adoration of our hearts, in remembrance of the cross.
Under the law, every Jewish man had to appear before
the Lord at least three times in a year, and the direction was,
"None shall appear before me empty." When
we come to remember the Lord, do we come "empty"?
If we have been walking with the world all week, we surely will
come empty. But if we have been walking with the Lord through
the week, then we'll have something to bring to Him on the Lord's
Day. Is He not worthy? Someone who goes away empty from that meeting
is someone who brought nothing. You can't bring to Him without
getting much more in return.
There are two lines of a hymn that help to understand
the character of the meeting for the remembrance of the Lord:
With joy and sorrow mingling,
We would remember Thee.
The thought of His sufferings, and of what He had
to endure for our sakes, gives sorrow of heart. But when we think
of all the love shown there, and of all the results of the work
of Calvary, we can well rejoice.
So the people understood the character of the day
and they responded to it. It became a happy day for every one,
just as the hymn expresses it, "Happy though despised and
poor." That happiness is available to us also if we understand
and respond to the character of the Lord's Day. S.L.