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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
Still looking at the common lectionary for the year. We are in the third week after the Epiphany. The scripture this week comes from Nehemiah, one of my favorite books of the Old Testament. Nehemiah provides us a great portrait in leadership. But in today’s passages, we find Ezra, the priest highlighted. He stands before the assembled crowd and reads from the scrolls containing the books written by Moses centuries ago. He reads those laws the people had forgotten that got them into this dilemma in the first place.
Three things I want you to notice today about the scene the writer of Nehemiah describes as the day unfolds. No doubt there were lots of things he could have told about on that momentous day when the scrolls were found and the nation had the opportunity to hear once again the words penned by the hand of their great patriarch, Moses.
First, I want you to notice the reverence of the assembled crowd for the scrolls. Ezra opened the scrolls and the people stood. We’ve lost a lot of that reverence today. So may view scripture as fantasy. Something that could never happen. Something that parents tell their kids to keep them happy. They want to tell them stories about something that will scare them just enough to keep them straight. But all this God stuff? All these ancient stories about Jonah and David and Noah? How can anyone be so gullible as to believe any of that stuff? It’s all superstitious lies, right?
But these people understood the gravity of unbelief. They lived through it. These were the people who came back to Jerusalem and saw the tremendous devastation of their capital, the jewel of Judah. They understood it was their disobedience of the very commands Ezra held in his hands that caused their exile and the ruin it had taken them so long to rebuild and still as they looked around there was so much yet to do to begin to bring the city back to its former glory.
So when Ezra stood and opened the scrolls, everyone stood out of respect for the scriptures, God’s words given to Moses. We don’t think about that much anymore. They didn’t have scripture in their homes other than what they memorized. So they were eager to hear it. We have dozens of Bibles in our homes and seldom brush the dust off the cover to glance inside to see what the creator of all things has to say to us. So the first thing we see in these verse in chapter 8 is the need to both have and show respect for the scriptures, the words God handed down to us through the inspiration of his prophets.
Second, all the people worshiped and bowed with their heads to the ground. I’m not sure God cares too much about your posture when you worship him. We can worship with our face to the ground or our faces lifted up toward heaven. We can stand. We can sit. We can walk around our neighborhood or drive to work worshiping him. We can worship while we drive to work or worship as we lay in bed about to sleep. We can worship anywhere and any time. I don’t think God cares that we have our face to the ground as long as we truly worship him and not just play along with those around us pretending we know the true God by going through the motions.
We need to stop and lift our spirits toward heaven until his spirit touches ours. Will it be euphoric? Sometimes, but often not. Will it give us enlightenment? Sometimes, but often not. Will it prepare us for the day ahead? With that question, I can answer yes. Even though the events that come in the next hours seem more than you can bear, when we take the day to God, he lifts the burden. He swaps yokes and carries the heavier load. He helps us focus the day on him instead of us. He does help us through those tough days. So, yes, he does prepare us for the day ahead. We just need to worship him because he is worthy of our worship.
Finally, note there was interpretation of the scriptures. The scriptures were written in Hebrew. This assembled group of worshipers didn’t know Hebrew. They lived in exile the last 70 years, growing up in other countries, learning the language of their conquerers. To understand the word of God, they needed someone to explain the meaning of what they heard.
The same is true for us today. Although we have access to translations from the Hebrew text so we can read the words, we sometimes have a hard time understanding what we read. The reasons are many. Sometimes the translations are difficult because there are many words that can be used or we have no words in our language to express the word being translated. A clear example is the translation of the word love. The Greeks used four different words to express our one word. Another study in 2010 shows that the Eskimo tribes may have from 180 to 300 different words for snow, a necessity to describe the various bitter weather conditions in the northern most climates of the world. But how would we translate all those words except as just snow?
The other problem we have is the authors wrote to people living in their culture and in their time. Certainly many of the things God inspired them to write apply equally to us today, otherwise the canon would not survive over these thousands of years. But the language, the phrases, the culture is not of our time and place. To understand fully the words of scripture, it is good to have someone explain the setting, the culture, the nuances of the times to help interpret its meaning. For instance, how much richer is the knowledge of Jesus’ unknown time of return if you understand the culture of when and how marriages took place in his culture. A man and woman became engaged early in life, perhaps he as in his twenties, she as young as twelve. The man would then be charged with building a place for them to begin their own family. Often the dwelling was an addition to the patriachical property. A new room or two along with an expanded garden or stable. Another workbench on which to increase the family trade. The young man betrothed to his bride prepared all the things necessary to start a new life with his young bride and showed his father he could care for her in his own dwelling. When it reached a point in the construction the father was satisfied the man could care for his family on his own, he told his son to retrieve his bride. That day was the wedding day. No one but the father knew what the conditions were. No one but the father decided the right time. No one but the father knew when the time would come. The father saw the son was ready and made the decision the wedding would happen and happen now. Understanding the culture of the day, Jesus’ statements that may seem a little odd to us at first reading were perfectly understandable to those who heard him.
We can learn a lot from the behavior of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem. We should remember the image Nehemiah gives of that momentous event. We need to apply the lessons to our lives as we think about what God has done for us in restoring our brokenness. What did they do? They respected and honored the scripture and its reading. They worshiped together. And they ensured there were those among them who could interpret what was heard so they understood what they were hearing. We should do the same. Respect, worship, study and understand. When we do those things, God will honor and bless us in extraordinary ways. He gives a guarantee on his work.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.