Lord's Day Evening Meditations August 3, 2003

Nehemiah 8:17-9:5

The Desire For The Word

We have been looking at this remnant of Israel, and have been seeing their experiences and exercises of heart. They were some of God's people in their day, because they were born into the nation of Israel. God has a people today - all of those who are "born again," that is, all who have had the spiritual birth into the family of God.

While meditating on this remnant we have noticed many faults, but we must not fail to consider the right things that they did. One of these that we have seen is the way they kept the feast of tabernacles. At the beginning of chapter 8 they had listened to the Word of God, not only with their minds, but also with their hearts and consciences. The result was that they set themselves to do what they found written there, and they kept the feast of tabernacles such that "since the days of Jeshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so." They didn't keep the feast perfectly, but it hadn't been kept that way for about one thousand years. That is quite a record! Do you remember how "the joy of the Lord is your strength?" The Lord was pleased with what they did, and so "there was very great gladness." If the Lord is happy with us, then we will be happy also.

There is something we need to notice about this feast of tabernacles; not this one that Nehemiah kept, but what became of it in later years. The original directions are found in Leviticus 23. "These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations which ye shall proclaim in their seasons." v. 4. "The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the Lord." v. 34. Compare this with John 7:2 - "Now the Jews' feast of tabernacles was at hand." Also John 6:4 - "And the Passover, a feast of the Jews, was at hand." Do you see a difference, how things had changed years later when the Lord came? What had originally been designed to be a "feast of the Lord" had become "a feast of the Jews." The Lord's feast had become the Jews' feast. The original purpose of the feast had been changed and the Jews had taken to themselves what belonged to the Lord, such that He no longer had any place there.

John 7 relates an occasion of "the Jews' feast of tabernacles." The Lord, Who had originally given the instructions for that feast, came Himself to Jerusalem at that time, but He was neither recognized nor welcomed there. The Jews had turned this feast to their own purpose, and when the Lord came to His own feast, He was treated as an intruder. "They sought to take Him," and they "sent officers to take Him." There was no longer anything there for Him, as there had once been. None of the seven feasts of Leviticus 23, including the feast of tabernacles, have any direct application to us today. They were types and shadows only. However, there is one thing that the Lord has asked of us: "This do in remembrance of Me," and in 1 Cor. 11:20 we find that this remembrance is called "the Lord's supper."

The very name tells us that it is His, and that therefore it should be done as unto Him, and Him alone. It is sad to find that the Corinthians had done to the Lord's Supper, the same thing as the Jews did to the feast of tabernacles: they set the Lord aside and turned it to their own account. "When ye come together therefore into one place, this is not to eat the Lord's supper. For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken." 1 Cor. 11:20 - 21. The Lord was not getting His rightful portion there, and we have to be careful that we don't do the same thing.

In John 11 the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus, a man who had been dead four days. In John 12, when the Jews heard that the Lord was in Bethany, "they came not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might see Lazarus also, whom He had raised from the dead." v. 9. I find that those words are very sad: "not for Jesus's sake only." Was not the Lord Jesus worth coming to see? Yes, Lazarus was a curiosity, but is the receiver of the miracle more important than the Doer of the miracle? Is the gift more important than the Giver? I don't want to change Scripture, but if we take out the "not," then the sentence would read as things should have been: "for Jesus' sake only."

How is it with us in the matter of the Lord's Supper? Do we come and take it "for Jesus' sake only"? Are we concerned that He should receive the thanksgiving, the praise, the worship, the expressions of love that He should receive? Do we give Him the place in our hearts that is due to Him? How easy it becomes to come to the Lord's Supper, as a habit, as a routine, or as the thing to do, and forget that we should be doing it "for Jesus' sake only."

Going back now to Nehemiah, we find at the end of chapter 7 that they read in the book of the law every day of the feast. As far as I know, this was not a requirement, but do you think that it was pleasing to the Lord? It certainly was, for He looks to see us interested in His Word. Remember how, when the wall was finished and they had some free time, they said to Ezra, "Bring us the Book of the law and read it to us." They listened to the Word on the first day from daylight until noon. On the second day the leaders gathered to learn more of the Word. Then, during the eight days of the feast they read the book of the law every day. They were hungry for the Word of God. That is a good thing; it is a necessary thing!

Peter wrote, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby." 1 Pet. 2:2. The little baby can't do without his milk, and he will let you know when he is hungry. You've all seen how the crying and the fussing stops when the milk arrives. That is the way we should be with the Scriptures. We can't do without the Word of God any more than the baby can do without his milk. Job said, "I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food." We feed our bodies quite well. How do we feed our souls? Would we, like Job, skip a meal, if it was a choice between that and having the Word of God?

John wrote to Gaius, "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." 3 John 2. There is the health of the body, and there is the health of the soul. Gaius' soul prospered, and John wished his body to be as well as his soul. How would it be with us if our physical health was equal to our spiritual health?

The feast of tabernacles, beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, was the last annual feast on the Jewish calendar. The next one was the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month. In Nehemiah 9 we see the people again assembling on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month. There was a command for the feasts, but there was no command for the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month. This means, then, that this gathering in chapter 9 was a voluntary one, not a compulsory one. How good it is to see this assembling together, even when not required by the law, for the purpose of being occupied with divine things.

We saw the remnant gathering at the beginning of chapter 8 and noticed the attendance, the unity, and the purpose of that gathering. In this gathering, we see fasting, sackclothes, earth upon them, separation, confession, reading of the law of God, worship, and in the remainder of the chapter, prayer. What an exceptional gathering! In the Old Testament there is much of outward appearance, eg. sackcloth and earth on their heads. The Lord does not expect us to do those things today, but what they signify is important. There is a danger of having a proper outward appearance, but of being all wrong inside, like the Pharisees whom the Lord called "whited sepulchres." Proper outward actions should come from a right inward spiritual condition, as we have been reminded of late, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." It must first be inside so that it can be worked out. S.L.