Lord's Day Evening Meditations July 6, 2003

Nehemiah 8:5-12

"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 to meet.

"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." Neh. 13:24.

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.